Gotta hand it to John Carpenter and Debra Hill: they took a seemingly innocuous pagan festival, diluted over the centuries into a silly excuse for masquerades and kids ODing on candy, and transformed it into, quite possibly, the most terrifying night of the year. There’s no getting around it: John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978) remains a cut above the rest – not only when compared to its mostly inconsequential sequels, but also any other horror film franchise yet attempted in Hollywood. The difference is obvious to anyone who has seen more than one or two ‘slasher’ movies in their lifetime. Carpenter’s meticulous plying of suspense and chills is done mostly through Dean Cundy’s brilliant manipulation of light and shadows, predicated on the fact Carpenter had little money to make a flashier film. As they say, necessity proved the mother of invention, resulting in a scare-fest unlike any other before or since; Halloween’s blinkered serial killer, Michael Meyers dogmatically slicing his way through some prime teenage flesh for no apparent reason other than his demonic obsession with Laurie Strode; alas – the one lass his Ginsu never could touch. I’m sure Freud could make much of Michael’s sexual frustrations, though none of the films ever debates this point.
The original Halloween isn’t a slasher movie per say; not really – the murderous motivation of its antagonist, obscuring the fact Carpenter has carefully concocted a superior thriller that serves up all the fixin’s of a traditional horror flick. But what Carpenter and his producer, the late Debra Hill, implicitly understood was the power in not showing the audience everything. Alas, after Michael Meyers was blown to bits by Dr. Sam Loomis inside Haddonfield’s Memorial Hospital in part II, subsequent Halloween sequels (with the exception of part III) played to an unlikely ‘supernatural’ quality not in keeping with Carpenter’s original intent; Michael’s merely obsessive impulses reincarnated as something far more sinister from a seemingly darker than anticipated netherworld.
It’s become something of a joke, actually. Rob Zombie’s reboot of the franchise in 2007 seemed so promising at first; starting over from ground zero, as it were, so we could finally expunge the pall of Halloween III: Season of the Witch from our collective memories, along with the incongruous narrative misfires perpetually plaguing the series thereafter (as in…Michael’s dead. No! He’s alive! No, he’s dead. We cut off his head! You get the picture). Except that Zombie’s penchant for ghastly carnage effectively deprives us of the last vestiges of spookiness the original movie and Rick Rosenthal’s brilliantly conceived first sequel had in spades. Trading nail-biting anxiety for the more obscene SFX laden chop-shop menagerie of brutal dismemberments has not only devalued the franchise, but in hindsight, it has severed all ties with the original concept, making Halloween just another run-of-the-mill gore-fest; something Carpenter never intended it to be.
I have to be honest; it’s only the first two movies that continue to hold my interest with the deepest admiration for Carpenter, Hill and Rosenthal. Even with the obvious passage of time and changing audience tastes, their work really does hold up under the closest of scrutiny; Carpenter eschewing even the notion of doing any sequels, and, handing off Halloween II to Rick Rosenthal; who miraculously achieved a momentous coup in the horror genre by recapturing the essential flavor of the original, while cleverly anteing up the body count in inventive new ways. There’s an integrity to these frights being exorcised in both Halloween and Halloween II (1981). The movies are meant to titillate and scare. They serve both purposes masterfully. However, neither talks down to the audience and, in hindsight, Halloween – Carpenter’s original – remains the Citizen Kane of all contemporary horror pictures.
Even the name Michael Myers has since entered the popular lexicon as a horror icon. But it’s important to recall the character never began this way. Carpenter’s movie was just a B-budgeted programmer, meant to get his own name out there in the Hollywood community. Indeed: it did just that. Halloween is a visceral experience – like a bad dream we can’t quite collectively wake up from even after the houselights have come up. Unlike so many horror/slasher flicks that followed it, Halloween does not coarsen the audience’s sensibility with buckets of blood. It preys upon a more insidious trepidation. Carpenter was, of course, blessed by kismet in his aspirations to make a good movie; the casting of the legendary Donald Pleasance as Dr. Sam Loomis (who never quite understood what he was doing in the movie, but nevertheless gave it his all, and, to bone-chilling effect); Jamie Lee Curtis, fresh from film school as Laurie Strode (daughter of Hollywood royalty and only just begun her own acting career); Nick Castle as Michael ‘the shape’ Myers (who remains the curiously ‘eloquent’ menace like no other horror icon before or since) and finally, master cameraman, Dean Cundey (establishing the template for all the imitators to follow and badly mangle in the interim).
Halloween is an ironically ‘blessed’ project on a very cursed subject; the Carpenter/Hill screenplay capped off by Carpenter’s own skin-crawling score; elemental in its three bar structure, but utterly effective and immediately recognizable. In retrospect, Halloween was a happy accident for all concerned; the shoot in California establishing a familial and ever-lasting camaraderie among cast and crew. Even Donald Pleasance enjoyed himself, his scenes shot together to keep production costs down. In many ways, Halloween is the ultimate exemplar of the ‘grassroots’ popcorn movie from the 1970's, a decade overshadowed by the steep, steady decline of the film industry and the rise of independent film makers stirred by their own passions to make movie art on a shoestring.
At the time, Carpenter never had any notion what he had created was a pop cultural blueprint for a decade-long obsession with stalker movies. No - then he was merely interested in creative control - a request willingly granted him by producer, Irwin Yablans who convinced producer Moustapha Akkad to put up $300,000 to make the original Halloween. Today, a thirty second TV commercial can’t be done for this money. But even in 1978, Carpenter was working under very stringent budgetary constraints. From the outset, he assumed a daunting task - to shoot, edit and score a film in under four months, working primarily with a cast and crew who had never made a movie before. Try doing that today – much less, do it as well as Carpenter did!
The screenplay by Carpenter and collaborator, Debra Hill opens in the small hamlet of Haddonfield, Illinois (homage to Hill's upbringing, although actually shot in and around Hollywood). On Halloween night, Michael Myers (Will Sandin), a child with an unhealthy Freudian sexual appetite, murders his half-naked babysitter in her upstairs bedroom. Discovered by his parents on the front lawn with the infamous bloody knife still clutched in his hand, Michael is locked away in a minimum security sanitarium where psychiatrist, Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) struggles for a decade to reach him. Realizing Michael is evil incarnate, Loomis secures the state’s complicity to move him to a maximum security institution for the criminally insane.
Unfortunately, on this rainy eve of transfer, Michael (now played by Nick Castle in a modified Capt. Kirk mask and briefly glimpsed as Tony Moran without it in the film’s final moments) escapes the hospital by attacking a nurse, then using Loomis' car for his getaway. Arriving in Haddonfield, Loomis attempts to warn Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers) of the impending slaughter. “Death has come to your town, sheriff.” No one takes Loomis seriously. Meanwhile, Michael becomes fixated on shy introvert, Laurie Strode (Curtis) and her oversexed friends; Annie Bracket (Nancy Kyes) and Lynda Van der Klok (P.J Soles).
Laurie is the first to see Michael eerily lurking behind bushes and looming in between backyard clothes lines and fences. Yet, she still manages to start for the Doyle's house. After all, there is safety in numbers. Annie and Laurie will be babysitting across the street from one another. Meanwhile, Lynda and her boyfriend, Bob Simms (John Michael Graham) just want to have some fun and are hoping Annie will let them use the upstairs for…well. After Annie convinces Laurie to watch her young charge, Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards), she inadvertently becomes the first victim. The fates of Lynda and Bob are quickly dispatched by Michael, whom Laurie’s charge, Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews) first witnesses carrying Annie’s lifeless corpse back into the house from the garage. No one, least of all Laurie, believes him. However, Laurie becomes disturbed when a call from Lynda is interrupted; Laurie listening on the line while she is being strangled by Michael with the telephone cord. Assuming this to be a prank, Laurie decides to walk across the street and confront her pranksters. Discovering the bodies in an upstairs bedroom, Laurie is brutally attacked by Michael, but manages her escape; sending Lindsay and Tommy down the street for help. Michael is thwarted in his slaughter of Laurie by Dr. Loomis who, having heard Tommy and Lindsay’s screams, has rightfully assumed the evil is near. However, pumping six bullets into Michael’s chest is hardly enough to end the nightmare; Halloweenconcluding on an ambiguous note of death; ever-present and continuing to hunt for human prey – but particularly, our terrorized ingénue.
Wisely recognizing that what can only be seen in half shadow is infinitely more terrifying, Dean Cundey’s cinematography comes across today as more slick and stylish than it actually is. Although only the latter third of the movie really concentrates on Michael's methodical stalking of his victims his presence is everywhere from the onset of the film. Owing to the immediate, overwhelming, and frankly unexpected success of Halloween, producer Mustapha Akkad had to have a sequel. Alas, John Carpenter wanted no part of it. He also harbored a minor grudge over royalties never paid out to him. So, Akkad went ahead with his plans to continue the story, hiring Rick Rosenthal to helm the sequel.
Halloween II (1981) ought to be ‘required viewing’ for any director attempting a horror sequel; Rosenthal pulling off the near impossible task of seamlessly matching Carpenter chill for chill. The movie is reverent to the mood, style and pacing of the original. Hence, continuity is upheld. The result: watching both movies back to back feels like an investment in one horror epic. Dick Warlock takes over from Nick Castle as Michael. Carpenter was persuaded, along with Debra Hill, to write the screenplay, picking up exactly where the original movie left off. Regrettably, Michael is immune to Loomis’ gunfire. He gets up and continues his bloodthirsty pursuit of Laurie Strode, the sole survivor from the first movie. However, after witnessing the slaughter of virtually all her high school friends, Laurie is in a state of catatonia. She is rushed to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital by attending EMS workers Budd (Leo Rossi) and Jimmy (Lance Guest). Dr. Mixter (Ford Rainey) administers a powerful sedative that leaves Laurie incoherent and barely conscious. Meanwhile, Michael has arrived at the hospital. Systematically he picks off the unsuspecting employees in fiendishly clever ways.
As example: he drains the blood from head nurse Mrs. Alves (Gloria Gifford) in an operating room, strangles Budd, drowns Budd's girlfriend, Nurse Karen (Pamela Sue Shoop) in a scorching recuperative bath that peels away her skin, sticks a hypodermic needle through Nurse Janet's (Ana Alicia) eye, whacks a hammer into security guard Mr. Garrett's (Cliff Emmich) head and sticks a knife into Nurse Jill's (Tawny Moyer) back, twisting its handle to raise her to the ceiling until her shoes fall off. If nothing else we have to give Carpenter and Hill top marks for keeping such grotesqueness ghoulishly amusing and extremely varied. But we should also tip our hats to Carpenter’s creative genius to finish the job begun in his original movie; namely, putting a definite period to Michael Myers by blowing him up.
Halloween II is a very creepy film. In keeping with Carpenter’s original intent, the murders are ‘tastefully’ photographed in half-shadow with quick edits. We get just enough to shock us out of our seats without turning our stomachs. Rosenthal is clever in a way incoming Halloween alumni, Tommy Lee Wallace can only guess at with Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982). To be fair to Wallace; he had nowhere to go but down. Deprived of the first two movie’s arch nemesis, and, as yet unaccustomed to the incongruity of churning out movie sequels that make absolutely no sense at all, Wallace was forced to embrace an entirely different story for this third installment to the franchise. The enduring problem with Halloween III is that it has absolutely nothing to do with the first two movies. Tricking an audience with the pretext they are about to see a continuing, and much anticipated horror saga, but then completely depriving them of this experience, remains fairly underhanded to downright dirty marketing.
If only for an ounce of continuity or perhaps a change of title, or even returning Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis to the franchise, Halloween III might have given the audience some hope for a perilous ‘good time’. Alas, no: instead we get elderly shopkeeper, Harry Grimbridge (Al Berry) running for his life down an isolated road at night; trailed by a carload of monolithic businessmen toting concealed weapons. Clutching a jack-o-lantern mask from the Silver Shamrock novelty factory, Grimbridge eludes his assailants only to be murdered in his hospital bed a short while later by another ‘businessman’ (Dick Warlock); followed into the hospital parking lot by Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Akins), who witness the unidentified stranger set himself on fire.
I have to admit the first fifteen minutes of Halloween III are exceptionally solidly scripted and deftly handled for maximum ominous skin-crawling delight. Regrettably, from this rather haunting opener the chills generally evaporate; the plot degenerating into a turgid who-done-it with Challis walking away from his medical profession to play an ineffectual Poirot with Grimsbridge’s sultry daughter, Ellie (Stacey Elkin) as his doe-eyed Miss Marple. The two have a fling while following a new lead in Santa Mira. They meet Buddy Kupfer (Ralph Strait), his wife, Betty (Jadeen Barbor) and their young son, Buddy Jr. (Bradley Schacter) who have been invited by Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), the good-natured CEO of Silver Shamrock Enterprises, to partake in an advanced preview of a ‘very special’ Halloween mask promotion. Cochran is an unsettling presence; a charmer on the surface whose courtly polish hide a more sinister ambition.
While touring Silver Shamrock’s production facility, Ellie and Challis are alarmed to see Grimbridge’s car in the parking lot, guarded by more monolithic men in business suits. Returning to their hotel, Challis discovers he is unable to call out. Ellie is kidnapped and taken to the plant with Challis breaking in after hours in the hopes of a gallant rescue Instead, he is discovered by Cochran; the businessmen revealed to him as androids created by Cochran to do his bidding. Cochran has Challis view a video monitor of the Kupfer’s in their motel room. The TV plays the Silver Shamrock commercial and Buddy Jr. is instructed to put on his jack-o-lantern mask. Implanted with a chip that channels the witchcraft powers of Stonehenge, the mask devours Buddy’s head, unleashing a vast assortment of bugs and snakes that kill the Kupfers as they helplessly look on.
Cochran informs Challis that on Halloween every child in America will be wearing one of his masks and thus, suffer the same fate. Breaking free, Challis destroys the factory and its androids. The powers of Stonehenge consume Cochran while Challis and Ellie steal away into the night. But only a few miles from the factory Cochran is attacked by Ellie who is actually an android copy. Presumably the real Ellie has died in the factory. After a brief struggle, Cochran destroys android Ellie, then, with frantic pleas, attempts to convince the TV stations not to broadcast the dreaded Silver Shamrock commercial set to trigger the next apocalypse.
Halloween III – once thought of as the redheaded stepchild of the franchise - has since acquired something of a reputation as a cult classic among horror aficionados. Yet, whether one chooses to regard it as a legitimate installment to the franchise or an ambitious and complete departure, the results – at least for me - are the same: awful. Wallace begins his sojourn with a very strong, exceptionally moody set piece, but then completely deflates the suspense with a middle act that plays more like a maimed TV mystery movie of the week. The last act is as badly mangled: so thoroughly convoluted and incoherent it neither explains away the purpose of the first two thirds nor brings any closure to the story – such as it is.
Is Cochran just a perversely demented old man with the same tired dreams of world domination run amuck? Or is he truly the resurrection of a modern day warlock who believes his money can help him channel the unwieldy Gaelic spirits of Samhain? Was Ellie always an android, hoping to lure Challis to his death and if so, to what purpose? Or was she really kidnapped by Cochran, murdered and then replaced with a likeness: again, to what purpose? After all, Cochran’s assumption was, having captured Challis, he would die at the Silver Shamrock factory. So why create an Ellie double to pretend to be Ellie until she can kill Challis?
Owing to the brutally negative reception of Halloween III, it took producer Mustapha Akkad nearly six years to deliver another sequel. Dwight H. Little’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) would challenge the finale of Halloween II. Alas, in Halloween II the original Michael Myers mask (actually a modified Captain Kirk children’s mask spray-painted porcelain white) had been destroyed by Rosenthal for the movie’s fiery and penultimate showdown with Dr. Loomis, leaving producers to seek out another similarly occupied plastic visage for the shape. A pity the one chosen in no way replicated the ominous allure of the original and did not photograph as well to mirror the startling close-up of Michael’s deep eye-socketed visage featured on the movie’s poster. This time, the screenwriting duties were given to Alan B. McElroy, who came up with the not terribly original notion Michael should stalk his niece, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), Laurie Strode’s daughter. The plot also resurrected Dr. Loomis from the flames; Donald Pleasance given over to a hideous makeup application to reflect the charred flesh, arguably, even more frightening than Michael’s mask.
Initially, Carpenter and Debra Hill had intended to use the Halloween franchise to introduce a series of unrelated horror stories; Halloween III being the first. After Halloween III’s implosion at the box office this idea was vetoed, leading to the resurrection of Michael and Dr. Loomis; a narrative wrinkle Carpenter has always maintained as ‘very silly’. Halloween 4 begins ten years after Part II, Michael in a coma ever since the explosion at Haddonfield Memorial. However, like the vial Vesuvius he is, lain dormant though hardly inactive, upon overhearing he has a niece, Michael is stirred to awaken from his coma and continue his carnage; killing the paramedics responsible for transporting him from back to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium.
Learning of Michael's escape, Dr. Loomis resumes his pursuit to prevent the inevitable. In Haddonfield, a sad-eyed Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) is living with her foster family; Richard (Jeff OIson) and Darlene Carruthers (Karen Alston), who think nothing of leaving her in the care of their teenage daughter, Rachel (Ellie Cornell), who would rather be off sweating up the backseat of her boyfriend, Brady’s (Sasha Jenson) car. The narrative machinations to fulfill the same purpose – the slaughter of a relative – are more unnecessarily elaborate in Halloween 4; Michael unable to murder Jamie in broad daylight inside a local drugstore, but instead waiting until dark, then skulking off to a power station to electrocute two engineers, thus plunging the town of Haddonfield into complete darkness. It’s pointless, actually, and distracting from Carpenter’s original claustrophobic vision for the story. In hindsight, Halloween 4is the beginning of Michael’s transformation, from merely disturbed mortal, into demonic deity; one who cannot be destroyed.
While Dr. Loomis appeals to Haddonfield’s new sheriff, Ben Meeker (Beau Starr), Michael single-handedly murders the entire force. In the meantime, Rachel discovers Brady with the Sheriff's daughter, Kelly (Kathleen Kinmont). In her wounded confrontation, she loses Jamie. Michael, of course, seizes upon this opportunity to make several awkward attempts on Jamie’s life. Instead, she is repeatedly rescued by Rachel who is introduced to the Sheriff and Dr. Loomis in short order. The last act of Halloween 4 is so predictable it cries out for even a spark of originality, woefully denied. The girls are taken to Beeker’s home for safe keeping. Put in a room with Kelly and Brady, old wounds reopen and Michael begins his assault. Interestingly, while he was fairly slick in his annihilation of an entire police force, Michael is quite unable to kill a handful of gawky teens without considerable stealth.
Halloween 4’s back story is more fascinating than its premise; an exemplar of the old adage about too many cooks spoiling the broth. After Halloween III, producer Moustapha Akkad wanted Michael Myers back in the flesh. In the meantime, John Carpenter was approached by Cannon Films to direct Halloween 4. But this plan to reunite old friends proved more complicated; Debra Hill unable to iron out the narrative wrinkles with the film’s first screenwriter, Dennis Etchison, who came to the project already having adapted the second and third movies into successful pulp paperback editions. Etchison’s high concept for Part 4, whereupon a group of local teens mentally will the memory of Michael Myers back into existence in defiance of the city’s ordinance to ban Halloween, was considered too highbrow. Moreover, Carpenter and Hill decided to divest themselves of their shares in the franchise; selling the title and characters outright to Akkad for a song. McElroy’s synopsis, written in record time during a writer’s strike, was adhered to without fail; Akkad demanding the series returned to its roots. For budgetary reasons, the original ending to Halloween 4 - the Meeker’s abode engulfed in flames - was scrapped; a boring ‘soap opera’ about broken hearts and wounded feelings between Rachel, Brady and Kelly emphasized, and the subplot, involving Jamie’s conversion to the dark side, by murdering her foster mother while drawing her bath, scrapped.
The biggest complaint I have with the franchise from Halloween 4 on is that none of its subsequent directors truly understood the subtlety of Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece; certain not Dominique Othenin-Girard, the instigator behind the camera of Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. Nevertheless, Othenin-Girard did take his cue from the causal link between Carpenter’s original and Rick Rosenthal’s first sequel; beginning Halloween 5 at precisely the point its predecessor left off; with Michael tumbling down a mining shaft. State troopers gather to toss a stick of dynamite after Michael; the explosion presumably meant to entomb the serial killer for good. Predictably, Michael escapes moments before the blast. Herein, we get shades of James Whale’s The Bride of Frankentstein (1933) in the screenplay coauthored by Othenin-Gerard, Michael Jacobs and Shem Bitterman; Michael, like the Frankenstein monster, stumbles to a hermit’s cottage where he is cared for. Unlike the monster, Michael’s philanthropy is predictably wicked. He kills the hermit, and returns to Haddonfield.
Jamie, now committed to a children's psychiatric ward, is mute but exhibits signs of a queer telepathy with her demonic uncle. Dr. Loomis intuitively realizes this link and attempts – again, to no avail – to convince Sheriff Meeker their ordeal is not yet over. Meanwhile, Michael easily kills Rachel and begins to stalk her best friend, Tina (Wendy Kaplan); first, murdering her boyfriend, Mikey (Jonathan Chaplin). To fatten this ever-thinning herd of victims, we’re introduced to Tina’s good friends, Billy Hill (Jeffrey Landman), Samantha Thomas (Tamara Glynn) and Spitz (Matthew Walker); token lambs fit only for the slaughter and who, of course, are destined to meet with their own untimely ends. Jamie is stirred by visions of their imminent peril. Too late for Sam and Spitz, the latter impaled on a pitchfork, the former cut in half with a garden scythe. Tina discovers these corpses and Michael chases her down in Billy’s car; fakes his own death by wrapping the car around a nearby tree, only meant to lure these ridiculously stupid teens to investigate. They do and Michael kills Tina. At Loomis’ request, Jamie agrees to act as a plant to flush Michael out of hiding.
The last act of Halloween 5is seriously flawed and a mostly frenetic affair; Jamie repeatedly – if narrowly escaping her uncle’s many failed attempts to destroy her. While Jamie appeals to Michael’s humanity, Loomis uses a tranquilizer dart to subdue the threat, taking out his frustrations by beating Michael unconscious with a wooden plank. In an even more incongruously rendered moment of revelation, Michael is freed from a maximum security prison by a mysterious stranger cloaked in black; Jamie discovering the cell that once contained him empty. The initial plan had been to have Jamie be transformed by her ordeal; either, into Michael’s accomplice or the next link in this disturbed family lineage. Neither happened in the final cut; the movie shot without the benefit of a finished – or even, competently evolved – script; the scenarios changing daily. In the editing process, director Dominique Othenin-Girard’s more gory vision was toned down by Mustapha Akkad; presumably to keep the censors at bay from branding the movie with the dreaded ‘X’ rating.
By now it had become rather glaringly obvious, even to devotees, the Halloween movies had settled into a predictable rut; the tired old chase scenario infused with no new lifelines in director Joe Chappelle’s Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1996). In an attempt to explain away Michael’s immortality, the dangerously flawed screenplay by Daniel Farrands introduced some fantastical elements of ancient mysticism to the backstory. Michael Myers is now a man who seemingly cannot die because he has been inflicted with the ‘curse of the thorn’. Begun with an ambitious cultist slant, the aforementioned mysterious figure in black belonging to a Druid-esque cult, has abducted Jamie Lloyd (now fifteen and played by J.C. Brandy). She is impregnated and gives birth in captivity, but is rescued by Nurse Mary (Susan Swift), only to be brutally murdered by Michael (again played by George P. Wibur). Halloween 6was a troubled shoot almost from its inception; the producers warring with Farrand who had, in fact, begun his association with them six years earlier; originally hired to write Halloween 5.
Unfortunately, what sounded fine and fairly original on paper eventually became the crux of a controversy that delayed Farrand’s involvement. Halloween 6 would be plagued by endless rewrites and re-shoots; its final edit veering far off the mark from the original work print assembled, reaching theaters with nearly 43 minutes excised. Over the years, the so-called ‘producer’s cut’ of Halloween 6 would develop a very strong following; circulating in poorly mastered bootleg copies. Too bad it’s the truncated version most people saw in theaters, earning Halloween 6 the dubious distinction of being the worst film in the series. Indeed, Farrand’s ambitions to bridge the chasm between the first two movies and the latter installments, that he believed had grossly mismanaged the Halloween legacy, were deemed too avant garde. Even the film’s original title: Halloween 666 was dropped; the screenplay mutating through eleven drafts until it barely resembled Farrand’s original hope for the project.
Halloween 6 begins in earnest, appropriately, six years after Halloween 5. After Jamie and her baby escape the cult, she is taken to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, her pleas for help overheard by none other than Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance in his last appearance in the franchise), though virtually ignored by pompous radio D.J. Barry Simms (Leo Geter) who is doing a broadcast on the Haddonfield murders. Escaping in a stolen truck, Jamie is run off the road by Michael. She flees to a nearby barn, but is almost immediately impaled by Michael on a corn thresher. It seems Michael is after her child. Mercifully, the baby is not in the truck. Meanwhile, back in Haddonfield, Tommy Doyle (all grown up as Paul Rudd), has become obsessed to uncover the truth about Michael Myers. To this end, he’s moved into a boarding house directly across the street from the old Myers house, presently occupied by relatives of the Strode family; parents Debra (Kim Darby) and John (Bradford English); their daughter, Kara (Marianne Hagan), her eight-year-old son, Danny (Devin Gardner) and her teenage brother, Tim (Keith Bogart). Aside: are they serious?!?
It’s old home week as Tommy inadvertently bumps into Dr. Loomis, informing him of the family’s residency in the town’s most notorious haunted house. Loomis pays a call and forewarns Debra of the cursed history. Taking Loomis’ advice to heart, Debra telephones John at work, insisting they move immediately. Alas, that’s not quick enough; Michael killing Debra shortly thereafter. Kara discovers Danny and Tommy in a tete a tete over the Druid cult; Tommy believing Michael is infected by the Curse of the Thorn; an ancient symbol capable of spreading pestilence. In ancient times, to prevent this, one child was chosen from each Druid tribe to bear the curse, offering a blood sacrifice to appease the evil on the night of Samhain (a.k.a. Halloween). This explains why Michael is consumed with killing his entire family. It also accounts for his inability to be killed. Like Halloween’s 4 and 5, Halloween 6 begins with a clever set up, only to botch the concept with a return to the rather formulaic slasher flick.
Halloween 6 predictably ratchets up the body count, Michael hacking into the likes of Barry Simms (not a part of his family) then, Tim Strode and his girlfriend, Beth (Mariah O'Brien). Too late, Dr. Loomis learns Smith’s Grove’s Dr. Wynn is the leader of the ‘cult of the thorn’; Wynn kidnapping Kara, Danny, Steven, and Michael and taking everyone, including Tommy, back to the sanitarium. Wynn explains how Jamie's baby represents the dawn of a new age for the cult. Alas, Loomis’ intervention in a rescue is thwarted by another cult member; Tommy freeing Kara. Predictably, they run into Michael, witnessing him slaughter Wynn and members of a surgical team about to exploit another human test subject for their cultist purposes. Tommy manages to inject Michael with tranquilizers, before beating him unconscious with a lead pipe. As Loomis, Tommy, Kara, Danny, and Steven are about to escape, Loomis instructs them to go on ahead. He returns to the lab, discovering Michael’s mask lying on the floor; his defeated screams echoing throughout the halls of the sanitarium.
Halloween 6’s ending is a misfire, cobbled together after producer, Paul Freeman and the movie’s director, Joe Chappelle, could not see eye to eye on practically any aspect of the production. With deadlines looming and actor, Donald Pleasance passing away before the film’s completion, certain concessions were made. These did not benefit the story; the theatrical cut becoming a mishmash of ideas stripped of their continuity and horrendously reassembled into something vaguely resembling a plot. Lost in the shuffle were several key points. Also, Chapelle elected to ditch the cultist slant in the movie’s final act, leaving everyone wondering why its’ first third so heavily relied on the premise.
In hindsight, there is little to doubt the influence of Kevin Williamson’s Scream (1996) on the decision to mildly re-brand the Halloweenfranchise with an all-star cast, headlined by Jamie Lee Curtis. Steve Miner’s Halloween: H20 (1998) ought to have been a reunion picture for Curtis and John Carpenter. In Halloween 4, we had been told of Laurie Strode’s demise in an automobile accident. This, alas, proves not to be true: Strode faking her own death to remain under Michael’s radar. Developed by Robert Zappia, who also co-wrote the screenplay with Matt Greenberg, H20 was a direct sequel to the first two movies; choosing to completely ignore the history established in parts 4, 5, and, 6. The plot, appropriately advanced 20 years from the events taken place in the original first two movies, now focused on Laurie Strode’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) post-traumatic disorder; still living in constant fear of her murderous brother. Inevitably, Michael resurfaces, forcing Laurie to confront evil for what will, presumably, be the last time.
As had become something of a habit for the franchise, H20 reintroduces the audience to a memorable character from the not so distant past: in H20’s case, Marion Chambers-Wittington (Nancy Stephens) who had been Dr. Sam Loomis’ former colleague and the nurse Michael attacked to steal his getaway car from Smith’s Grove in the first movie. Upon returning home in H20, Chambers discovers her house has been burglarized. The neighbor’s teenage son, Jimmy Howell (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) investigates with his trusty hockey stick, but finds no evidence the perpetrator is still lurking inside. He also doesn’t take Chambers very seriously. Alas, Chambers quickly realizes she is not alone. The files on Laurie Strode that were in her home office cabinet have gone missing. Chambers now rushes next door to have Jimmy call the police, only to discover both he and his best friend have been brutally murdered. Michael Myers (now played by Chris Durand) slits Chamber’s throat, the police – as is usual in any horror movie – arriving too late to be of any use. Michael departs unseen with Laurie Strode’s file in hand.
Flash forward to Laurie’s pseudo-idyllic life: as girlfriend to Will (Adam Arkin), raising her teenage son, John (Josh Hartnett) and managing a career as headmistress at the Hillcrest Academy – a private school. For the long weekend, John and his friends elect to throw a Halloween bash in the school’s basement; Michael reappearing from the shadows and murdering John’s classmate, Charlie (Adam Hann-Byrd) after they become momentarily separated. Charlie’s body is discovered by another reveler, Sarah (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe) who makes a valiant attempt to get away from Michael by crawling inside a dumbwaiter. Bad timing, and even worse luck, and Sarah, of course, dies heinously by his hand.
In the meantime, John and his girlfriend Molly (Michelle Williams) have decided to go in search of the missing pair. They discover what’s left of Sarah dangling in the pantry; Michael reemerging from the shadows to pursue John and Molly across the school grounds. Saved by Laurie and Will at the last possible moment, this foursome now take up refuge as Laurie prepares to face the demon that, for so long, has controlled every aspect of her private life. Will accidentally shoots the school’s security guard, Ronny (LL Cool J) five times in the chest, and is then killed by Michael. But Laurie, John and Molly escape his wrath; Laurie taking out her twenty years of pent up aggression on Michael; repeatedly stabbing him in the chest. Ronny, who has inexplicably survived his ordeal, restrains Laurie from finishing the job. Sometime later, the police zip up Michael’s bloody remains in a body bag. Laurie, however, does not believe Michael is dead. She is, of course, quite right. In the penultimate confrontation between these two old enemies, Laurie manages to pin Michael against a tree and decapitate him.
Halloween H20 was decidedly a disappointment to fans, not the least because, at barely an hour and a half, it seemed too much of a rush job. There is something to this: the plot so remedial and, occasionally, meandering, it required the talents of Jamie Lee Curtis to pull it off; arguably, her presence in the film the only logical reason to see it. Originally, Curtis had expressed a strong desire to work together again with John Carpenter. Carpenter was, in fact, willing to partake. However, his fee of $10 million proved something of a deterrent; the stalemate between Carpenter and Moustapha Akkad begun so many years before (Carpenter believing Akkad had gipped him out of royalties owed on the original film) intact. Under Miner’s direction H20 jettisoned all acknowledgements to series 4-6, purging any references to Jamie Lloyd; Laurie’s daughter, originally meant to be confirmed deceased in the earlier planned prologue to H20. Even though Halloween H20 turned a considerable profit, the general consensus among even some of its most hardcore fans was the producers had sold the franchise out prematurely.
The original series had its final bow with Halloween: Resurrection (2002) directed by Rick Rosenthal, who had not attempted another installment since his superb first sequel; Halloween II. Maintaining the continuity of H20’s timeline, the Larry Brand/Sean Hood screenplay also avoided references to series 4-6; concentrating on Michael’s vial rampage on his childhood home, derelict and being used for a live internet horror podcast. The beginning to Resurrection makes absolutely no sense at all: a false revelation; that the person wearing the mask and outfit at the end of H20was not Michael Myers, but actually a paramedic Laurie accidentally decapitated instead of her psychotic brother. The cumbersome machinations concocted by Brand and Hood to ensure this outcome, having already left behind a sour taste on the palette, Resurrection now succumbs to a lethal dose of ennui and déjà vu. In place of exposition, Rosenthal returned us to the hospital setting from Halloween II as Michael once again inflicts death upon the unsuspecting staff at Haddonfield General.
Perhaps the biggest transgressor in the entire franchise, Halloween: Resurrection allows Michael his murderous élan; the killing of Laurie Strode whom he tosses off the hospital’s rooftop. His mission complete, and Rosenthal left without a purpose to carry on, Resurrection falls back on the overused and formulaic prospect of six college students - Bill Woodlake (Thomas Ian Nicholas), Donna Chang (Daisy McCrackin), Jen Danzig (Katee Sackhoff), Jim Morgan (Luke Kirby), Rudy Grimes (Sean Patrick Thomas), and Sara Moyer (Bianca Kajlich) winning a competition to appear on an Internet reality show, directed by Freddie Harris (Busta Rhymes) and his assistant, Nora Winston (Tyra Banks). The plot of this show within a show is for each character, affixed with head cameras, to explore the old Myer’s house in search of clues to unlock the mystery behind Haddonfield’s most notorious serial killer. Given the relative smallness of the property, it makes even less sense for this troop of bravely stupid kids to separate into three groups to cover ‘more terrain’. Seemingly oblivious to the fact they are on live internet, Donna and Jim decide to sex it up in the basement. Before anything can happen, a wall filled with corpses buckles and falls on top of them. Initially overwhelmed by the occurrence, upon closer inspection Jim realizes the bodies are actually mannequins and wisely deduces the whole premise for the show is a silly ruse.
He storm off. Donna, however, notices a concealed tunnel behind the collapsed wall, exploring the narrow dark passage with her head cam on, only to realize too late she is being stalked by Michael, who promptly impales her on a spike in the wall. Sara’s friend, Myles Marton (Ryan Merriman), who has been watching the broadcast at a nearby Halloween party, is unable to convince the other revelers in his midst that the murder he has just witnessed is real. Meanwhile, the show’s director dresses as Michael to spice up the broadcast; quite unaware he is Michael’s next intended victim.
From here on in, Halloween: Resurrection degenerates into the sort of grim gore-fest we’ve come to expect from other horror movie franchises; the body count mindlessly and exponentially rising without any real purpose except to repulse. In hindsight, this film may be viewed as a precursor to Rob Zombie’s grotesque and un-suspenseful reboots. To those expecting a more complete and concise assessment of the plots of either Zombie’s remakes, I’ll simply apologize forthwith and state that I hold neither film in very high – if any – regard. They are commercially orchestrated for maximum revulsion; the murders so violent as to the point of rendering them pointless, mere exercises in gruesome frivolity; because a present day schlock-meister like Rob Zombie, let loose in any SFX department, is always a dangerous proposition.
If only Zombie had not chosen to muddy the waters of his Halloween (2007) with more than blood and guts; his pop psychoanalytic critiquing of Michael’s warped mind rehashed and then hacked together with all the implicit medical comprehension of a first year pre-med student; then again, I suspect I ought to have known better. We are and, after all, talking about the same director who gave us the ghoulish House of 1000 Corpses (2003) and The Devil's Rejects (2005); two of the most repugnant ‘snuff’ movies masquerading as camp horror. There’s just nothing here for the viewer who has even a shred (pun intended) of morality left; Zombie brutalizing his audience with fancifully graphic nonsense; his unbridled ability to simultaneously rape our sight and insult our intelligence knows no boundaries. If anything, Zombie’s Halloween II (2009) is an even grimmer affair. Having thoroughly violated all sense of integrity in the first movie he has nowhere else to go, but deeper into the warped cynicism and depravity of this raving psychotic. Just so we’re clear, I was referring to Michael Myers here. Enough said.
Now, how do these transfers look? Well, let’s just talk about the elephant in the room first, shall we? The potential buyer of this 15 disc box set is getting very little that is new. Yes, you read right. With the exception of the extended cut of the original Halloweenin 1080p, the TV version of Halloween II(presented alas only on DVD!!!) and the aforementioned ‘producer’s cut’ of Halloween 6, none of the discs in this box set are remasters of the previously issued/independently minted offerings available from their respective distributors for some time. This is great news for the first three movies, already given a stellar release in hi-def. But it’s not so hot for The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), Halloween H20 (1998) or Halloween Resurrection (2002).
These transfers, culled from Echo Bridge Entertainment are – in a word (and, I’m being most kind here) – shoddy!The quality, if I can even refer to it as such, is just a shade above bootleg. This will undoubtedly leave some to question the integrity – if not the marketing strategy – behind releasing a ‘comprehensive’ collection. And please, let’s just set aside the notion this will be the one and only ‘last call’ and last word on Halloween. I can already see a re-remastered box set to include brand new transfers of the aforementioned movies bungled herein; also to include the extended work print editions (still absent) and a ‘new to Blu-ray’ edition of the TV version of Halloween II (only given a DVD release herein).
This set is, alas, a mixed blessing and, frankly, a waste of time for anyone who couldn’t wait for these movies to get slapped together in a single, and, very thin cardboard sleeve. The original Halloween is the remastered 35th anniversary transfer, sporting radically different color balancing than its predecessor on Blu-ray. I have to say, I much preferred the more fully saturated original Blu-ray to this specimen; also in its more lavishly appointed extra features. Mercifully, extras are one area where this box set doesexcel. So expect all of the goodies from every previous edition ever made available herein.
Disc specs are as follows: (1) and (2) theatrical and alternative cuts of Carpenter’s Halloween – the image quality less robust on disc 2 with less fully saturated colors and an ever so slight image wobble. Discs (3) and (4): Halloween II – the theatrical on Blu-ray; the TV version on standard DVD only. Aside: why?!?! Disc 5: the first Frisbee, in my opinion: Halloween III: Season of the Witch – great looking transfer of a still very mediocre and non-related movie. Disc 6: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers; the image so sub-par it might as well have been a DVD! Disc 7: Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, a marginal improvement over the aforementioned travesty, but still in no way replicating the theatrical experience – not by a long shot!
Disc 8: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers - Theatrical Cut: an obscenity made in the editing room and a film only Myer’s own mother could love. Disc 9: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers Producer's Cut: ah yes, the whole point for reissuing these films in one box: the bootleg work print, remastered and looking pretty damn fine, prematurely hailed as a veritable masterpiece. I’ll concede, it’s positively Shakespearean when directly compared to the aforementioned theatrical cut. Disc 10: Halloween H20: 20 Years Later – not the work print, but the theatrical, and still about as terrifying as watching red picnic table varnish dry. Just a mid-grade hi-def transfer too, with absolutely no oomph. Disc 11 - Halloween Resurrection; sounding magnificent but looking as though its original camera elements were force-fed through a meat grinder. Disc 12 - Rob Zombie's Halloween: no comment. Disc 14 - Rob Zombie's Halloween 2: ditto. I should, in fairness, state that both Rob Zombie movies don’t look all that great in hi-def: middling efforts on two decidedly subpar installments in the franchise.
Extras: hold on to your socks and hose and pull. Disc 1: a new commentary from Dean Cundey, editor/production designer, Tommy Lee Wallace and Nick ‘the shape’ Castle. A second audio commentary from Carpenter, and Jamie Lee Curtis. Herein, we get the stultifying ‘The Night She Came Home’ documentary; basically a PR junket with Curtis posing for photos with fans. At 60 minutes, it’s a s