Halloween III: Difficult Middle Children

Halloween III Season of the Witch - the Difficult Middle Child

The third of Jokerside’s surveys of the Halloween franchise. All hopes of an anthology series had gone and the franchise was set on building a new continuity that paid close attention to the past. As it stretched into the late 1980s and mid-1990s, Halloween struggled to keep the Shape in his favourite pastime in a changing world of horror.

MICHAEL MYERS’ THIRD APPEARANCE IN HALLOWEEN 4 HAD ACHIEVED SOMETHING INCREDIBLE. A NEW BLOODLINE AND THE SERIES’ GREATEST TWIST. Spurred on by the return of buoyant box office, there was little chance the Shape could stay off the screen. A fifth instalment was quickly pushed into pre-production. But Myers was rivalled in threat by events away from the camera as the franchise strolled on. It’s impressive that a constantly the revolving teams of talent behind each instalment stuck to Halloween’s important continuity. It’s not surprising that the Shape couldn’t stave off the horror of diminishing returns.

Halloween 5: The Return of Michael Myers (1989)

“In my heart I knew that Hell would not have him”

Donald Pleasance rightly gets top billing at the start of the fifth Halloween film, before an effective if inexplicable pumpkin slashing exercise backs the main credits. After part four jumped straight into the action, Halloween 5 takes time to recap the ending of that previous film and show an unlikely escape for the masked killer; to the bottom of the mine shaft and then a fast running river. Who knew? Of course Myers survived, and with the slightest of nods to Frankenstein finds some respite at the house of an old man he dispatches… When he emerges from his coma a year later. It’s the same kind of continuation that the first two films relied on, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the following 97 minutes always seems to have keep an eye on Halloween 2. Here more than ever we’re watching this silent, homicidal anti-hero survive rather than his victims.

One year on

“She has something to tell us”

Moving on one calendar year has mixed results. The idea that Myers wakes up on Halloween may be a growing and compelling element, but loses a bit of power when the film flits through the year he spent undisturbed and physically unaffected in someone’s house. It’s more important that this missing year allows his bloodline to move on. After the twist of the last film, Jamie’s year in hell has left her mute like her uncle, under constant supervision in Haddonfield Children’s Clinic. It was no dream, but also she’s no murderer. Her foster mother survived and she is being treated rather than pilloried.

The fifth film explores the evident link between niece and uncle that the previous film established. She dreams of Myers as he wakes from his coma and we see a strange Norse symbol tattooed on his inner wrist for the first time. Even before the nod to earlier films, as she sees her uncle standing under a tree in the clinic gardens, she scrawls ‘He’s coming for me” as she assumes her role as a Myers detector and a tool in Loomis’ crusade to locate the murderer he knows is not dead.

“Have you come back home Michael? I know what you want from her…”

The treatment and sympathy of the town sit at odds with Loomis’s usual role as a lunatic outsider. Fortunately this time, although the audience can see the link, the Children’s Clinic is uninterested and the eminent Doctor of Myers is more desperate than ever. But as the killer circles once again, Loomis struggles to pull his plan into gear in a typically uncooperative town. The format needs to stretch around the Jamie developments, but it ensures that he remains the outsider with a view that no one will buy into too much. And his derangement only increases with his conviction. It’s almost a relief when early on he stumbles into the old Myers house, now derelict and overgrown, and manages to smile when he’s surprised by a dead rat. But rather oddly convinced that he has the answer to Myers, Loomis will now take unprecedented risks to stop the killer once and for all, and that early trip just serves to set up the finale. He might not be altogether with it if he thinks the original Halloween events took place “12 years” before but amid this unscrupulous desperation comes the oddest of things. After three films that painted him into a catalogue of errors, the indefatigable doctor actually gets some things right in Halloween 5.

Continuity

“They should ban Halloween in this town”

Banning Halloween. What a good suggestion that is, one of the best Haddonfield’s ever heard. But still, it hasn’t happened. After the misstep of calling a curfew in the fourth film, one thing Loomis does get right is listening to Jamie’s warning and quickly trying to save Jamie’s foster sister Rachel. But for all that warning and the continuity with the previous instalment, she is cruelly dispatched early on after a strangely gratuitous dressing sequence.

“Why, why are your protecting him? …There’s a reason why he has this power over you”

Without Rachel, much sisterly connection falls to Tina Williams, although the connection isn’t drawn out. She’s certainly very close friend of Rachel and particularly fond of Jamie, and a lot hangs on that connection come the mid-point of the film.

Teenage Wildlife

“Great, Psycho boyfriend…”

Again it’s teens, thanks to their difficult romances, who make up the main body count. There are two notable variations to Myers’ MO, effective despite distancing the killer from his quarry. One comes when Myers dispatches Tina’s irredeemably dislikeable boyfriend, another Michael, by churlishly scratching his car and puncturing his head with a garden tool before taking his place at the steering wheel – for once wearing a different mask. It’s a similar odd ruse to the ghost dress in the first film, although this time he legitimately gains a car out of the deal. Although the Tina’s awkward kissing in the car doesn’t match the horror of the hot tub mistake in the second film, the change of mask does mark the welcome return of Myers’ heavy breathing. It would be too much to see this fatal playfulness as some childish inquisitiveness. The film continue to push him into the role of a one-sided slasher.

“Unbelievable, no respect for authority anymore”

The second diversion comes in the extended sequence that builds on the multiple-Myers pranking of the last film. It’s slightly over-played but effective as director Dominique Othenin-Girard really pulls out an excellent tri-partite pay-off. The trick is to take Tina from Jamie’s side, through police escort and friendships, reducing her down to one lonely figure. First comes Tina and friends’ Myers prank on the hapless police after they’ve seen his car arrive at a barn Halloween party and dismissed it.  Then the real appearance of Myers in a laudably unexpected attack on Tina’s friends. The film’s goriest deaths by fork and scythe befall who are possibly the franchise’s archetypal slasher couple. At least the Straw bales that pack out the barn are no more clichéd than the open fire that appeared in the previous film.

Then we see the comedy Cops jeering at the Myers when they think they’re being pranked again. The audience knows it isn’t – but it’s still an effective surprise when Tina discovers their bodies. It looks like they were caught before they could leave their car. What’s particularly astonishing about Tina’s almost martyr-like death is that it’s remarkably downplayed. She’s not a victim Myers is happy to provide a swift and efficient death to. Jamie’s arrival to meet her, only for Tina to give her life so the youngster can escape presents a return to Halloween’s grand homicide auto – albeit with a greater tang of Christine or Duel, just as Jamie’s abilities widens the franchise’s reference points to Carrie territory. A particularly well played surprise is the car horn suspense, the monotonous tone stopping just before Myers inevitably rises from his crashed vehicle, like an inverted heart monitor.

Loomis’ endgame

“Now are you going to help me? …There isn’t a minute to wait…”

As much as Tina’s role isn’t fleshed out, her death is the film’s pivot. It finally opens Jamie up to Loomis’ demands, it switches the sheriff’s office on to the danger and lets the doctor put his game plan into play. For Loomis, it’s what he’s been waiting the entire film for. Pleasance’s shouting at Myers as the killer stalks the woods, pulling him into a trap is a nice follow on to the previous film’s gas station stand-off. Everything seems to be pointing to a certain conclusion, but of course, things aren’t so simple.

“I shall be there waiting for you…”

Halloween 5 attempts one of the franchise’s strongest endgames.  Away from the desperate siege of part four, now Pleasance is let off the hook with threats and fantastic one-liners in the face of peril. From setting Myers up to pointing guns at police to attempting another unwise one-on-one with the Shape… For a second, just a second in the broken Myers’ house it looks like he can get through to Myers. But he, far better than us, should have realised that’s impossible.

“Michael… it will destroy you too one day. Michael, this rage which drives you”

In this showdown there are ups and downs, and that’s not all to do with the stairs. Myers’s ruse cuts down the police presence at his old house, a wise move after the climax of the last film, before he prowls in using a police car. His prolonged murder of a cop, heard over walkie-talkie, is effective but not so well thought out is Loomis’ plan is to use Jamie to remove Myers’ inner rage. It’s never clear exactly what risk this poses for Jamie or even what steps Loomis would go to stop his nemesis once and for all. It may even be for Jamie’s own good that Loomis’ bold attempt gets him brutally taken out of the picture… Were it not for the fact that this leaves her alone with her uncle.

“Michael Myers is outside”

Perhaps the most over-thought part of the ensuing chase through Michael’s old home is the laundry chute scene. A masterclass of tension, but with an unsatisfactory conclusion as it lands both players back at square one. It would seem a cynical attempt to fill out one of the series’ longer films, but is greatly enhanced by the play costume Jamie’s wearing after an earlier play. It’s rare that the two ends of this blood line have such a prolonged and close chase with no one else around. Come the attic, absurdly a space Myers has had time to craft into a shrine, Jamie retains composure even when she and the audience find out the fate of Rachel and other victims. Just as in the first film, Myers shows that he likes to arrange his kills. When climbing into a coffin in the attic, Jamie replicates the delaying tactic her mother tried in the second film. “Uncle” this time she even gets to see his face as she tells him “You’re just like me”. Myers doesn’t appear to carry much evidence of scarring. Fortunately, Jamie gets closer than Loomis and her distraction allows Loomis time to engage in an unhinged self-sacrifice that nets and tranquilises the Shape.

Deus ex

“He’ll never die”

But then, there’s always the tricky ending. For once we see Myers as he must have been for the decade and a half of his original incarceration, conscious but silent, turned and facing the wall. It’s clear from the outset that something isn’t right, and perhaps any attempt at a bold twist that can compete with the last film is scuppered by some of those unavoidable oddities. The fact the Sheriff takes Jamie to see Myers, that the police allow him to keep his mask on. It’s all rather strange. But most extraordinary is the mysterious black-coated figure who earlier arrived on a coach and kicked a dog half-way through the film. In a rapid series of events he massacres the station, releasing the killer, as we realise through Jamie’s eyes.  It’s a strange grab that can’t hope to compete with the previous film. And unlike the laid out hints that came in the fourth film, it’s deeply illogical that a figure would turn up so early solely for the purpose of breaking Myers out of captivity come the end of the day. After all, the Shape had never been captured before.

Still, while Halloween 5 may not stand up to scrutiny like the fourth instalment, it carries some fine sequences. Swiss director Othenin-Girard may have been lumbered with one of the Halloween series shortest pre-production periods (As series godfather producer Moustapha Akkar describes it, they were drunk on success following part four and started work straight away), but he makes the most of the series greatest continuity in almost a decade. When Othenin-Girard says the film is very much like the first one, I’d suggest it’s far more like its sequel. That’s especially evident when looking at what came next.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

“Then only thing more terrifying than how it started… is how it ends!”

The final chapter, as the title suggests, was intended to bring the franchise to a close. It’s a shame then, that the sixth film sticks out like a blond-haired mask in its tone, story and shambolic resolution. No other Halloween film suffered such a difficult production and the end result is certainly the most disappointing. Saddest of all, this was to be series icon Donal Pleasance’s final film, passing away shortly after production and before some significant reshoots resulted in an extraordinarily rough conclusion. As if to rub the horror of that in, it resulted in multiple versions including a Director’s Cut and Producer’s Cut… Triple the horror.

It’s no coincidence that the sixth film fell under the Weinstein company’s Dimension Films after a prolonged legal battle, making it stable-mate to the Hellraiser and other lesser horror franchises.

Repurposed

“Enough of this stinking Michael Myers bullshit”

At times, Curse doesn’t feel like a Halloween film at all, having more in common with the pagan mysticism of the Phantasm series and its ilk. Myers had been bulked up in the previous film, but this time he appears far more like the belligerent machete wielder Jason Voorhees from Friday the 13th. He’s also inexplicably controlled just as that belligerent hulk would be in 2003’s mash-up Freddy vs Jason. That’s a strange by-product of the film’s intention to tie up the preceding four outings of the Shape. While Curse picks up characters and themes from its predecessors, it jumps ahead to distort them into something far removed from the franchise’s original concept. The story, the style, the reach – it all seems very different for a series that had continually built on the iconic original. In the context of baffling reshoots and repurposed endings, in many ways it’s a waste of a final chapter. Reassuringly it would prove to be the anomaly rather than the main finale.

“Suddenly, Halloween became another word for mayhem”

Opening voice-overs are seldom a good sign. This time it comes from the returning Tommy Doyle, now a man pushed into Loomis-style paranoia and obsession by his encounter with Myers when Laurie Strode was babysitting him so many years before. The film has some fun with that, such as the moment he startles the young boy Danny into dropping and smashing his pumpkin, and it’s amusing to see the charismatic Paul Rudd take an early role that is reminiscent of Johnny Depp in the original A Nightmare on Elm Street.

We soon learn that the baby born in the opening moments is that of Jamie Lloyd. She hadn’t just seen the devastation of the police station massacre at the end of the previous film, but been kidnapped. Six years on, the film’s contemporary to its release, making Michael 38 years old his mission still unfinished.

Purposed Thorns

 “You should know, it’s not wise to play Halloween pranks on me”

Curse is intent on providing a purpose, motivation and origin for the Shape, and the sharply accelerated growth of his blood line is part of that. Picking up hints to explain a character defined by mystery may sound unwise, but it’s particularly terrible when it reduces him to a homicidal pawn rather than a directed, unstoppable machine of purpose.  By the end of this short entry, the audience was no doubt confused, despite the exposition concerning Myers’ origins coming thick and fast fairly early on. The ancient druid symbol of the Thorn designates a child cursed to offer a blood sacrifice of its next of kin every Samhain, governed by the appearance of the corresponding Thorn constellation. His tendency to pop up at Samhain, now Halloween and survive anything may provide some explanation for the established timeline but it doesn’t explain how it’s connected to Myers’ family home – a place apparently sacred to him – how Myers could be manipulated and how the immortality that drives him could be contracted by other children of grafted on to new-borns by medical science.  The clue to the Thorn power comes as soon as we see the same mark on the wrist of Jamie’s baby. It’s as inexplicable how that medical application has been led by ritual and symbolism rather than scientific analysis of the phenomenon as it is that Jamie’s survived so long. The incarceration and pregnancy of 15 year-old Jamie, timed to give birth exactly on 31st October, is as sinister as Myers’ happy slavery is absurd.

 “It’s his mark”

Curse may as well be sub-titled Curse of the Thorn, as the tattoo revealed on Myers’ wrist on the previous instalment, and now something that he’s happy to burn into hay stacks like a calling card, is the root of his immortal evil. All this time and Sam Loomis was on to something – not that these revelations would help him. Writer Daniel Farrands has mentioned that Pleasance thought the script for this film the strongest since the first, which makes it all the sadder that it unravels at the end, having never really gained an even pace.

Stand-outs

“For years Halloween represented everything wrong with Haddonfield”

That said, somehow there are some stand out moments in Curse. Myers’ first appearance, emerging from the shadows to kill a midwife in the opening minutes is a brilliantly done. And for all the other films attempts, it’s probably the best representation of the Shape standing and surveying his handiwork of a corpse impaled to the wall. Titling his head, as if he’s trying to understand death. Truly one of the greatest characteristics of Michael Myers and done very well.

The opening radio broadcast makes an inspired opener.  It connects the main players, reinforces the idea that Michael now has celebrity and crucially gives the escaped Jamie a one-way beacon to Sam Loomis.

“I thought Michael was a monster, but you…”

The new branch of the Strode family presented here is curious in its difference to any family we’ve seen in the franchise before. They, despite the one-dimensional fleshing of the nasty father, weak mother and dopey brother, help create a very ‘90s feeling compared to its ‘80s and ‘70s predecessors. Marriane Hagan’s character Kara Strode is a notably refreshing character – the unwanted girl who left for five years and has a young son. While that son one provides chillingly effective scenes, the reason for his aptitude to the Thorn, and parallel role with Jamie’s baby, is muddled. Still, his mother makes one of the best stabs at escaping the masked force of Samhain the series has shown. She’s the strongest female character seen for some time. And she’s rewarded with some escalation on classic conceits of the series. It’s none better than when Kara is caught in the same window from which Doyle had earlier proved himself a Peeping Tommy when spying on her. Except this time, she gets to watch her brother’s girlfriend slayed by Myers after the always punishable pre‑marital sex.

“He says things, bad things”

However, some of the film works against type. When Myers his stalking his house – now astonishingly repaired after the disrepair of the last instalment – for once he doesn’t cut the phone lines. Out of character, but it actually gifts Curse with one of its creepiest moments. There then comes an extended washing line sequel to the Shape’s posing in the first film. Director Joe Chappelle brings a very different and kinetic filming style to these sequences, far exceeding some of the reception his direction has received. Still, that sure touch wouldn’t work quite so well later on when Myers pursues the new residents of his house and… The bullying Mr Strode inexplicably explodes when electrocuted.

If there’s one distinct change of intention, it’s that finally, thanks to the odd and crude diversion of the film crew and talk show host – who quite rightly meets a horrid if showy end at the hands of Myers – Haddonfield has finally realised that it shouldn’t celebrate Halloween.

Loomis

“Not dead… Just very much retired”

Pleasance is typically brilliant, but looks tired after almost 20 years in the role. It’s great to see him at home, finally getting over his obsession – as unlikely as it is that he would have given up on the AWOL Shape while listening to a radio phone in. But the contrivance that brings him back to Haddonfield, bumping into Tommy Doyle on the way to the end revelations do him the real disservice. There isn’t even the chance for Loomis to concoct a plan to go wrong this time, unless you count the ambiguous ending.

False roots

“What’s the boogeyman?”

If Halloween 5 had inadvertently looked back to Halloween 2, Curse makes a stab at retreading the original. It’s a lofty aim. We see the return of the black and white horror on the televisions and the idea of the suburban detached houses as island states. At one point Kara is trapped outside a front door much like Laurie in the first two films. There’s constant chat of the boogeyman and when the Halloween theme returns, it’s less dance beat than the sequels had made it. When Kara boldly dives out of a window to escape her pursuers, the film awkwardly cuts straight to Loomis and Doyle surveying the ground, her body gone, an impression left just as in the first film.

“The most brutal mass murderer in history”

Here the twists come from the most expected and un-Halloween places. Characters we meet like Mrs Blankenship are there simply for exposition than revealed to be an acolyte to the cause. Halloween should present a town united against a single, unstoppable force. That simplicity has disappeared, and in that misreading it’s no surprise that the location of the endgame is chosen to be Smith’s Grove and not Haddonfield.

Endgame

“Evil, pure, uncorrupted, ancient…”

Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. Where Myers had been hidden all that time. His other home.  And where the secret of the Thorn is almost unravelled. The franchise doesn’t have anyone from the psychiatric profession left in the hold who isn’t reputationally damaged. Even Loomis has been tarred with incompetence since the very start. That means the arrival and reveal of Wynn as the closest thing to a franchise mastermind never quite fires. His control of Myers is inexplicable, but at least the casting of Dark Shadows alum Mitch Ryan shows some deliberation. One wonders what would have happened if the producers had worked out Farrand’s earlier suggestion of Christopher Lee for the role.

Having lost a lot of what makes him the Shape, a better nickname come this film may well be the Hand. Yes, the twitching hand of Myers is very evident here. As a henchman he’s necessarily weakened, even stalking the corridors of what Loomis calls his home. His slow determined walk is more obvious than ever. But a least there’s the return of the breathing, the shadow on the wall, set against series regular’s Alan Howarth’s notable stray into thumping percussion and guitar. Until that is, Myers is again tranqed and then pounded with a bar by a smirking Tommy Doyle.

The End

“No, I have some business to attend to”

It’s sadly the end of Loomis. Inexplicably turning down a lift that’s suggested to start a new life for Danny, Tommy and Kara away from their respective fears. Loomis has something left to finish. And in a final shot we hear his agonised scream. That’s called ambiguity. And it’s a horrid end to the original sequence.

Halloween, the franchise that had defined the slasher genre from its constituent parts ended in many ways with the sixth film. There would be more, but they would cut the neck at the traditional point of Season of the Witch as it rebooted half the franchise. As come the middle of the 90s things had moved on for 17 year old concept.  1995 was the same year as Seven, a year after Wes Craven’s New Nightmare and a year before Wes Craven’s Scream. The media satire of that franchise would make Halloween’s media plots look like child’s play. The horror stakes had moved and it was the franchise that had to move around the irrepressible, unstoppable, uncontrollable Shape.

This Halloween retrospective will return alongside Laurie Strode, as these four films are written out of history. Halloween H20 and Halloween Resurrection

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