Halloween Feature

A Halloween Retrospective Part 2: Diminishing Returns

Halloween has been through the early stages of a franchise starter. There was the original, the quick cash-in and the interesting off-shoot. Now we settle into the waning years, where a franchise lurches forward, occasionally attempting new ideas, but mostly squandering any goodwill, the original managed to build.

When Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers was released, it had been ten years since the original. Four films in 10 years sounds about right for a normal franchise, but it was lagging behind when it came for horror films. Hell, by this point Friday the 13th was on its seventh film in eight years. There had been a few ideas for a Halloween follow-up over the years, including one about Haddonfield outlawing Halloween, and they finally settled on the sequel/reimagining that was Halloween 4.

One of the most successful things about these middle years in the franchise is the return of Dr. Loomis. He’s probably the most interesting character in the entire franchise besides Michael himself, no offense to Laurie Strode. These chapters in the story continue a strong throughline that the first two movies had, which is that Loomis is a really shitty doctor and kind of a shitty person in general. Obviously, this would be explored even further in the Rob Zombie films. But if the fourth, fifth and sixth films in the Halloween franchise succeed at anything, it’s the characterization of Loomis.

Loomis is an important figure in the Halloween mythology. He’s not quite the Victor Frankenstein to Michael’s creature, but it’s pretty close. Michael was always a troubled youth, but Loomis is the kind of doctor who runs around calling his patients pure evil and screaming at people to kill. How much can we actually trust this dude’s credentials? In the first two films, he’s more of a Professor Van Helsing type — forgive me for comparing him to multiple Peter Cushing characters, but it’s necessary — but there was always that undercurrent of mismanagement, asshole-ishness, and downright malpractice. These middle Michael Myers movies take that undercurrent and absolutely go to town with it.

But the primary job of these films is finding a way to deliver what the audiences wanted: more Michael Myers. So how did they bring the big guy back? Let’s find out.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

It was Michael Myers. He’s come home to kill.

Obviously, after Halloween III: The Season of the Witch baffled audiences and was thoroughly rejected, the idea of the Halloween series becoming an anthology was a non-starter. That meant bringing back Michael Myers. It would seem like no easy feat, considering the last we saw of Michael he was being blown the hell up. But… This is a horror movie we’re talking about. Other than a burned face and hands Michael seems healthier than ever when he makes his way back onto the screen.

This time Michael is after Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), the daughter of Laurie Strode. Laurie recently died in a car accident (this won’t be the last time the series kills Laurie Strode off), and Jamie has been adopted by a kind family, the Carruthers. Unfortunately, Jamie is also being plagued by visions of her uncle, Michael.

Halloween 4 is considered a return-to-form for the franchise, especially after the swerve of Halloween III. I’ve actually never been much of a fan. I dig the made-for-TV movie style of shooting, but it gives the movie a veneer of low quality. Not an effective, down-to-earth cheapness, but an ABC network TGIF lineup kind of cheapness. I found myself enjoying it more this time around though, even if I don’t hold it in quite as high regard as some.

The movie definitely gets a few things right. If we can’t have Jamie Lee Curtis back as Laurie then focusing on Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) was the right call. It’s been years since the original. Loomis is still running around calling his patient crazy and annoying Haddonfield’s Sheriff’s department. This time around he’s got some facial scars because he blew himself up at the end of Halloween II.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

Loomis doing some solo investigating, tracking Michael down after he escapes from a prison transfer, definitely kept me interested throughout the first half of the film. There’s an action-packed confrontation at a gas station that’s over-the-top and very entertaining. But the same can be said about Donald Pleasance in general.

Anchoring the other side of the story is a hell of a child actor, Danielle Harris. Jamie’s character generally falls into three categories: sad, worried, or terrified. Harris knocks all three out of the park. I don’t really find Jamie’s adoptive sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell) that interesting — a lot of the teen stuff feels like an afterthought because Michael has to kill teens — but Cornell does a good enough job to make me care about her and Jamie once Michael comes to kill his niece.

My favourite parts of the film come near the end. Michael’s rampage through Sheriff Meeker (Beau Starr)’s house is entertaining, Jamie and Rachel escaping on the roof stands out in particular as an interesting set piece.

My other favourite part is the weird addition of a mob of drunk, redneck protectors. These guys rush straight from the bar to the police station and are egged on by Loomis to become a vigilante mob, roaming the town for Michael. They even accidentally kill one of their own friends! But at the very end, they take Rachel and Jamie out of town in some sort of heroic caravan. It’s a cool and quirky aspect of this film that these fuck-ups play such an integral part in the finale.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

I think a big part of Halloween 4’s goodwill in the horror community is the gut-punch of a finale. After Michael is “killed” everyone is back at the Carruthers household. We see a POV shot of someone walking upstairs, echoing the opening of the original film. Jamie’s adoptive mother is killed in the bathroom. When Loomis rushes to the stairs, he sees Jamie, wearing her clown halloween costume, holding bloody scissors. He screams in anger and distress, Jamie apparently traumatized and broken like her uncle before her.

Now that’s a way to end a horror movie.


Halloween Stat Count

Kills: 19; 18 by Michael, 1 by rednecks

Jamie Lee Curtis: No, but Laurie is mentioned and seen in a picture

Dr. Loomis: Yes

Danielle Harris: Yes

Druid/Cult References: No

Redneck References: Yes

Ben Tramer Alert: Nope

Does Michael Myers Die?: Falls into a mineshaft, so obviously no

Continuity Status: The Original (minus Season of the Witch)

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

Uncle Boogeyman.

A mere year after Halloween 4 is released, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers came bursting onto the scene, impressively worse in every way. Almost instantly the finale of Halloween 4 is wiped away. Michael made his way out of the mine and floated down-river where a kindly old man nursed him back to health like he was Lassie or some shit. Also, Jamie killing Mrs. Carruthers at the end of the last movie was because she was psychically linked to Michael, now she’s under the care of Dr. Loomis at a Children’s Clinic.

Halloween 5 makes some weird choices right from the start. The man in the shack who cared for Michael for a year is an odd inclusion because they don’t really do much with it. It’s kind of a throwback to any time Frankenstein’s Monster meets a kindly villager and ends up killing them, but the concept is raced through so quickly it hardly makes an impression. Michael wakes up, offs the old dude and wanders out to fuck up Haddonfield on Halloween again.

Another odd choice is killing Rachel off so quickly. We see her visit Jamie and we’re introduced to her friends. Then, she’s dead by the end of the first act. With Jamie hospitalized and the friends not making much of an impression at all, we’re basically left without a protagonist for a large chunk of the film. It kind of sucks the life out of the proceedings.

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

On the positive side of things, Halloween 5 finally lets Loomis go full Mad Scientist. He’s a bug-eyed lunatic in a lot his scenes, trying to find a way to use Jamie’s psychic connection to Michael as a way to bury the evil for good. So, if you want to see several scenes of Donald Pleasance screaming at a little girl while only inches from her face, this is absolutely the movie for you.

There are a couple of instances where the movie kind of threatens to do something interesting. There’s a section of the film with costumed party-goers and kids being chased through the foggy woods that feels like a fairy tale, which goes with the new fantastical elements* in this outing. There’s also the shadowy figure we see a couple of times that could have a decent payoff. (Spoiler alert: he doesn’t).

*What is it with horror movies adding psychic shit after a few sequels? I mean, it makes sense in something like the A Nightmare on Elm Street series, because that’s about a killer who attacks you in your sleep. Hell, I’ll even buy it in Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, because at least Jason is a zombie, for all intents and purposes. The Michael Myers entries in the Halloween franchise have generally been at least a tiny bit grounded, but then they drop a psychic-connection bomb on us and expect us to buy it. Nuh uh, sir.

The ending has Loomis rigging up a crazy, Scooby Doo style trap and brandishing a terrified child at Michael while screaming at him. And it actually works! This movie legitimately ends with Michael being recaptured. Then we’re treated to what I’d consider an inverse of Halloween 4’s finale. This ending pissed me off. The shadowy figure we had seen glimpses of throughout the film goes into the police station, kills a ton of cops and busts Michael loose. A terrified Jamie wanders the aftermath of the breakout. It’s a big, fat nothing of a finale. It must have been especially galling for fans when the next movie didn’t come out for another six years. But it must have been worth the wait, right?



Halloween Stat Count

Kills: 21; 13 by Michael, 8 by the shadowy figure

Jamie Lee Curtis: No

Dr. Loomis: Yes

Danielle Harris: Yes

Druid/Cult References: Some cult shit definitely goes down

Redneck References: No

Ben Tramer Alert: Nope

Does Michael Myers Die?: No

Continuity Status: The Original (minus Season of the Witch)

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

It’s over! It’s finally over. It’s all over.

Critics and audiences seemed to agree that Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers was a piece of shit, so it was a few years before they ended up making another movie. Because of the wait, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers — classic move dropping the numbered title to trick morons into thinking this isn’t the sixth entry in a franchise — wasn’t made until 1995.

This movie is a good example of a long-running horror franchise struggling to find its way out of the ‘70s and ‘80s. This is slightly too early to be part of the post-Scream slasher renaissance, and it shows. It’s a movie at odds with itself, depicting the traditional elements of a Michael Myers film with the flashier style of the decade. Michael stalking his victims is accompanied by music video style editing, the music is full of guitar wails and distorted scream sound effects. It just doesn’t work. The movie looks like it’s uncomfortable in its own jumpsuit.

The movie starts with Jamie Lloyd (now played by J.C. Brandy) is being held by a druid cult. She’s 15 and very much pregnant — classic disgusting cult shit — and ends up giving birth to a son. As Jamie is escaping the hospital she’s being held in she comes across Michael, just wandering the halls like some guard dog. That’s a big problem with Michael in this film. He’s more of a henchman for the Cult than an actual antagonist. I think it removes the mystique of the character in a worse way than the Rob Zombie films are accused of doing.

Jamie’s quickly dispatched by Michael, in a brutal and undignified ending for a former protagonist (not the last time this series gives its hero a shitty send-off) and we meet the main characters of this film.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

It’s an interesting idea to bring back the character of Tommy Doyle, the child Laurie babysat in the first film. Here he’s played by “Paul Stephen Rudd,” who joins the ranks of Jennifer Aniston, Adam Scott, Henry Cavill, and Leonardo DiCaprio by starring in a truly shitty horror franchise sequel early in his career. There’s also Kara Strode (Marianne Hagan), who is a cousin of the family that adopted Laurie*, her son Danny (Devin Gardner), and good old Dr. Loomis.

*The family dynamics when it comes to the Myers, Strode or Lloyd families is more convoluted than a soap opera.

Loomis is much more of a kindly grandfather figure than anything else. He’s visited by his friend, Dr. Terence Wynn (Mitchell Ryan), who tries to bring him back to work at Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. Loomis turns him down because he’s “very-much retired.”  I wonder if anything might happen that will bring Loomis out of retirement?

There’s a lot of dumb cult shit that we find out through Tommy’s exposition since he’s been obsessed with Michael since he was a kid, and Dr. Wynn, who is obviously the shadowy figure from the previous film. There’s a poor explanation for why Michael kills that does cleverly tie to the origins of Halloween but feels very lame and disconnected.  

This movie has some really terrible acting in it. I feel bad for saying it, but Paul Rudd isn’t good at all. Clearly, the man is immortal, because his looks haven’t changed at all, but I’m glad he’s acting has. It doesn’t help that he’s given dreadful lines to deliver, like the completely unnecessary opening monologue. He does his best work physically when he gets a chance to mug for the camera, overact in terror or, in one weird but interesting choice, lurch around mysteriously like Quasimodo.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

The end of the film can’t come soon enough. We’re treated to some by-the-numbers kills that are undercut by the over-editing. Michael kills an obnoxious radio DJ, Kara’s obnoxious brother, and his obnoxious girlfriend. The only really good kill in the film is when Michael shoves Kara’s abusive father’s head into a fuse box, and the head explodes. I mean, if you’re gonna be dumb then at least be fun.

The finale has Michael decide, for some reason, that he’s had enough of being the cult’s attack dog and he slaughters a whole bunch of them. Tommy, Kara, and Danny escape with Jamie’s baby. In a really anticlimactic ending, Tommy beats Michael with a big pipe. As the survivors are leaving Loomis decides to stay behind because he has “a little business to attend to here.” The last thing we see is Michael’s mask laying on the ground, and we hear Loomis screaming in the distance.

That’s another limp finale, but the title card dedicating the film to Donald Pleasance is a nice touch. He died before the movie was released, but he absolutely earned to dedication. Pleasance is the one consistent highlight throughout the ups-and-mostly-downs of these three films. No matter which Loomis they wanted him to play — smart, kind, off-the-walls bonkers — he came through for them.

It’s just a shame a movie this shitty was his final turn as the character.

Halloween Stat Count

Kills: 21, plus more members of the Thorn Cult

Jamie Lee Curtis: No

Dr. Loomis: Yes

Danielle Harris: No, Jamie is played by J.C. Brandy

Druid/Cult References: Yes, too many even

Redneck References: No

Ben Tramer Alert: Nope

Does Michael Myers Die?: Maybe, Tommy may have beaten him to death with a pipe

Continuity Status: The final entry in the Original continuity (minus Season of the Witch)

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers was a mess behind the scenes as much as it’s a mess in general. The film went through reshoots and numerous cuts in the editing room, with almost an hour of alternate footage in a bootleg “producer’s cut” of the film. It did well at the box office but was clearly a franchise struggling under its own weight and not knowing what the hell to do with its continuity. Halloween as a series continued to build and expand. It ultimately lost track of what made the first film so special.

The next entry in the series makes the bold choice of ignoring a large chunk of the franchise and getting back to basics. It won’t be the last time decides that’s the best way to tackle a problem either.

If there’s one thing recent horror movies are known for more than a string of endless sequels, it’s the modern remake. I have no strong opinion about remakes in general. I take them on a case-by-case basis. I’ll be back to discuss what I think about the remakes in this franchise in… A Halloween Retrospective Part 3: Modern Takes.

Halloween 6
I would absolutely buy an album with this cover.

A Halloween Retrospective Part 1

Michael Walls-Kelly

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