Halloween V: Re-carving the Pumpkin – Michael Myers Zombie-style

Halloween V: Re-carving the Pumpkin - Michael Myer Zombie-style

 

Halloween had tried a partial reboot for its 20th anniversary, but it was Rob Zombie who took the definitive slasher back to basics just before it’s 30th. Are you ready to head further behind the mask of Michael Myers than ever before? It’s brutal and all a little bit like history repeating…

“Sam, it’s a fucking massacre”

NINE TIMES LUCKY. AFTER 2002’s RESURRECTION WRENCHED THE FRANCHISE BACK TO ITS CLUMSY SIXTH INSTALMENT, THERE WAS AN APPETITE FOR THE FIRST FULL-SCALE REBOOT OF THE DEFINITIVE HORROR SLASHER. The leaner world of 21st century horror saw most box-office diverted to the dominant sub-genre of torture porn and graphic bodily violence, increasingly removed from the supernatural-tinged slashers of the ‘80s and ‘90s. 2003’s Freddy Vs Jason had closed the door on the slasher anti-heroes of the 80s, even if Michael Myers’ invite had been lost in the post, so there was only one way to go. Ditch the post-modern; go for a straight bat / carving knife.

It took five years for Rob Zombie’s reimagining to return Myers to the screen, returning to the slasher original, its shape reassembled to contemporary tastes. The new director was successfully hooked by rights holders Dimension Films following the favourable reception to his films, House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. But before he allowed himself to be loose on the Shape, Zombie sought the sage advice of franchise grandee John Carpenter. Himself a master of the straight bat, Carpenter either advised, or requested, that Zombie, “make it his own”.

The former White Zombie front man was a compelling successor to Carpenter. As well as writing, directing, and producing, the sequel he could also carry heft in the music department (credited as music supervisor), like his illustrious predecessor – even if the ‘best horror film score’ ever had been taken. And the two films that emerged made for a compelling return. A closed chapter in the franchise, capturing a stark flavour and focus of its own, and one indelibly attached to Zombie’s name. His two-film run is a considered success, certainly beating other reimaginations in the genre, including 2009’s Friday the 13th or 2013’s The Evil Dead; although the pickings were slim.

Zombie’s intended to reclaim the original menace, reintroducing cinema goers to Michael Myers while showing them far more of the icon’s back story. That enabled Zombie to address what he perceived, ironically, as an over-familiarity with the slasher. One that had similarly dampened icons like Krueger and Vorhees in their sprawling horror franchises. He intended to stitch a biographical ambiguity into Michael’s famous journey back home. But adding a past and diluting the original purity, comes with consequences. Consequences for retuned characters, a set sequence of events, and the central antagonist’s MO. Tune up the keyboard. Let’s journey back to Haddonfield.

Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009)

“Look Miss Myers, I do not enjoy calling you down here every five minutes”

Zombie’s decision to delve into Michael Myers’ backstory has major implications for a film that, when in full slash mode replicates the original quite faithfully. The most notable change in those Haddonfield scenes is the considerable shortening of familiar scenes and relationships. The slow build-up and tension so essential to the emergence of the Shape in 1978 is compacted, affecting his appearance, style and movement as well as the web of characters he disturbs.

Child’s play

Halloween Season of the Witch and the Return of Michael MyersThere’s an uncompromising start, of course focussed on the Myers house. But instead of the tracking shot and reveal, we see the dysfunctional family in full, and barely watchable, swing. For all the attempt to add backstory to the hulking monster at the heart of the story, the film has to acknowledge that we already know who Myers is and what he will become. There was never the chance of a shock reveal, which pushes the weight of the narrative on the boy’s journey animal mutilator to knife-obsessed psychopath, although there’s plenty of the clown suit. We meet the live-in lout of a father figure and night-working mum; we see the horrors domestic abuse, the bullying at school, and the older sister who’s a factor in both. Crucially, we also see the baby at home, nicknamed Boo’ by her older brother – here, Michael’s aged to 10 – and also the child psychologist the school calls in when they find implicating pictures, and souvenirs of animal mutilation in his bag. A certain Dr Samuel Loomis.

Animal harm is the first introduction we have to Michael. As Loomis says, “Typically, the thrill of causing pain to small creatures… Is often an early warning sign”. An attempt to add some legitimate serial killer psychology to this emerging specimen; the animal mutilation stays with him. The front of the film follows the killer emergence from the “angelic” boy, just before his first murder.

Interestingly, key parts of Myers’ journey are shown to have external catalysts. First, it’s the arrival of Loomis that prompts Michael’s first kill and subsequent Halloween night familial rampage to the familiar theme. A natural development of the hapless psychologist who constantly made things worse during the original films.

The First Night

Having already crossed a line, it’s the promise from his mum that “Tomorrow things are going to change, so I suggest you live it up tonight”, abandoning by his promiscuous sister, winding up by abusive Ronnie, and the sight of trick or treaters outside, that tip a child ready to boil over the edge. The rampage is an extended sequence with a variety of kills, setting the scene for the killer who became famous for examining each corpse as if trying to understand more about death with each one. When slicing his ‘step father’s’ neck, Michael’s clown masked head cocks in a familiar animal fashion. The deaths are gruesome, replete with savage stabbing, bludgeoning blood spurts and Texas Chainsaw Massacre-style nerve twitching. During the most focussed, pre-meditated attack, his sister slaps him through the mask. The first indication of his trademark impassiveness.

The highlight of the repugnancy of these first murder, if there is one, is the origin of the mask. Clumsily introduced by his sister’s boyfriend and so innately tied into the coital. It’s when the 10-year-old adopts that adult mask to slay his sister, forming an odd chimera with his children’s clown suit as he lopes after her, that the film kicks into gear. The middle-ground between child killer and adult slaying machine, it’s a brilliant image.

Later comes the difficult segue into incarceration. His mother discovering him sitting on his porch clasping his baby sister after the crime, the press announcement that he’s been held in custody, then young Michael staring from a police car directly down the camera.

Captivity

“Michael has begun to obsess on the construction of these primitive masks”

The unwatchable quality of those earlier scenes is hard to maintain in the institution as we watch Michael introvert under the friendly – probably useless – guidance of Sam Loomis. His obsession with masks grows as he shifts behind them. From the “Angelic young boy” Loomis warns about to hulking tinder barrel. Moulded by his incarceration, it gifts Loomis the meta-dialogue as he describes Michael becoming, “a sort of ghost, a mere shape of a human being”. Heh. Shape.

And a shape he becomes, 15 years later he’s mute, long-haired and huge (embodied by Tyler Man), although still fixated with his delicate mask building.

Danny Trejo’s ex-con cleaner turned friendly warden is here just to push Michael into his mind, then indicate how ruthless and single-minded Myers is. And the less said about the hick abuse the better. Although that’s the second catalyst. If not abused and invaded, Myers would never have escaped. As Loomis later points out to his former colleagues – the bizarrely over-cast Udo Kier and Clint Howard. Myers’ first kill in 15 or so years is the pounding against a wall of an utterly un-sympathetic character we’ve barely met. Wearing a pumpkin-coloured mask, the breathing and cocked head as he ponders the corpse of the guard, make a welcome reappearance. He’s unrelenting and merciless on his way to freedom.

The inimitable Dr Loomis

“It’s strange… in a way you’ve become like my best friend”

Halloween III Season of the WitchPerhaps the greatest change across the two films is in the bearded Loomis. You might say a perfect storm of failure that’s a fine enhancement from the hapless Doctor’s plight in the first sequences. Intended or not, Loomis is barely redeemable in those first six films. Top marks for enthusiasm, but it’s rare that his presence doesn’t make matters worse – from the moment he gifts Myers his car. He may not provide the slasher his wheels in this film, but he’s wonderfully culpable as well as sporting an assortment of fantastic facial hair. His arrival pre-empts Myers’ first kill.

In Haddonfield, Loomis’ story is shortened along with every other returning character. Immediately propelled to his former patient’s home town, while Myers heads to the Strode’s, Loomis goes gun hunting. With the hardware break-in of Carpenter’s original removed, it takes just one trip to the vandalised grave of Myer’s older sister (complete with a mutilated animal) to confirm the Doctor’s suspicions. For the majority of that segment, he forms a double-act with Brad Dourif’s Sheriff Brackett. The Sheriff’s response gets to the heart of Loomis’ true character, rising above marvellous lines like,” I know it in my bones sheriff”. Brackett immediately labels him a “book peddler” as he proves to be.

In the first film, the switch from a doting, if ineffectual physician, to self-publicist doesn’t quite stick. We’ve seen Loomis guide us through Myer’s development to adulthood. He calls him a “Soulless killing machine driven by pure instinct,” pulling out the increased animal qualities of this version when the imagery can’t quite match. An effective sketch where he explains black as the absence of colour to young Michael segues into his lecture tour, where he talks about his subject’s eyes. “His eyes will deceive you” says Loomis of this perfect alignment of “external and internal factors”. “A psychopath who know no bounds.” Damage creating both a perfect specimen, and a career for the Doctor.

It’s the transition of the revelation of Laurie’s true identity to the first film, via the sheriff in an exchange that diffuses the mistrust between the two that rival’s Loomis as the major alteration. When the sheriff finds his brutally injured daughter, his removal from the plot is not only handled far better than in the second film of the original series (a rapid off-screen exit), but leaves Loomis free for the end confrontation. Again, that’s shortened, and naturally more savage, than in the original film.

Unable to reason with Myers, Loomis shoots the killer before he can harm Laurie, and rather foolishly leaves him for dead in a swimming pool. In some ways, that sequence matches the close of the original, a hanging birds eye shot of the presumed corpse in blue filter, among the leaves. When Myers inevitably reappears, smashing into Loomis’ car after he’s confirmed to the distressed Laurie that he is the “boogeyman” (a description again developed from an earlier chat during Laurie’s babysitting duties) Loomis manages to survive a head-crushing and being dragged across the floor of the old Myers’ home by his trunk-like leg. It’s a slip on the killer’s part – we’d already seen him dispatch the kindly Trejo character, but not the film’s only one.

The great success in the second film is expanding on this fresh take on Loomis, complete with brand new moustache. A year on, we see him far removed from the action for much of the film, erratically clinging on to his perceived reputation on book tours. Author of the Devil Walks among Us and Stories of October 31st he, he is deranged by journalists’ questions, screaming “Michael Myers is fucking dead,” and determined that he’s “Selling the sizzle, not the steak”. Wandering around with his publicist a bit like Alan Partridge, and at peak Loomis, utterly unravelling the plot in Haddonfield without even being there – that’s when he’s not being threatened at signings by the fathers of victims from the first film (“You butchered my baby”). Malcolm McDowell’s fantastic in the role, really pulling out a rather shallow, nasty character from the part that’s almost as effective as Pleasance’s earnest and definitive version. It’s an utterly bizarre takedown by Weird Al Yankovic and a hotel room meltdown, that destroys Loomis. With a cry of “It’s over”, and a chance news item. he finds redemption… And a gruesome final failure back in Haddonfield at the hands of his best friend.

The familial element

In the first film, Loomis and the Sheriff find a common goal through the latter’s revelation; his quick reaction to the devastation of 15 years when he took the Myers baby and found her a new home. Pulling that into Laurie’s story, although crucially keeping her in the dark until the second film, changes the emphasis greatly and further reduces the mystery of his original return. Myers has the background and compulsion; the sense of family is rooted from the start. Bu while watching the creation of the monster has some merit, it’s mainly a prolonged and inevitably de-mystifying sequence. Instead of that mystery, there’s confusion as to Michael’s intent. His baby sister ‘Boo’ is the only member of his family he lets live on that Halloween night 15 years before, but it’s the picture of his baby sister his mother hands over at the crucial time he’s withdrawing behind his mask that prompts a savage attack on a nurse and point of no return. And also, the suicide of his mother following the nostalgic montage that bridges Michel’s youth to adulthood. As Loomis knows, a free Michael can only return to where his sister is, but his intent isn’t so clear.

The day he came back for a Mask reunion

“I like the mask because it hides my face”

John Carpenter HalloweenIn Haddonfield events progress in a fashion familiar to Carpenter’s original. Some things can’t be messed with. But on the way there, comes a vital change. Tracking back to that need to explain and journey with Myers, making him a more believable psychopath in the heritage of real-life serial killers, he loses some compelling abilities. He hasn’t been sat for 15 years in the thrall of his return, he’s been rudely awakened and there’s no pretence that he can drive. We need to settle for Myers who walks more and pounces quicker.

So, the night he returns home is 31 October, but it’s almost by accident. Fortunately, we’re in the safe hands of one of the film’s musical tributes, Mr Sandman. And there’s a return to the mask, as young Michael had the wherewithal to bury it in his former home. Did he know he would return, or leave it as a monument? We’re little clearer come the end, despite the dramatic shortening that coalesces around his return and the haunting additions of the sequel.

And of his target? Laurie Strode is oddly unlikeable when we first meet her, coarsely winding up her mother while her father archly describes the faceless monster of corporate America in the newspapers. Laurie first sees Myers across the road, as she sits in a library rather than from the school classroom. But later, the journey home is intact, as she again loses her friends on the way. Myers is only on foot of course, and her friends ridicule him, in the language of horror, earning their later fates.

Trick or treat

There’s a random chapter heading, Trick or Treat, during the Haddonfield sequence of the first film, but it’s a framing sequence that doesn’t stick. It’s a blunt introduction to Halloween night itself, the franchise’s crucial witching hour. Blue Oyster Cult’s Don’t fear the Reaper makes a return to give Mr Sandman a run for its money. And that’s the soundtrack, along with silence, as Myers takes down Laurie’s friends, usually in far greater states of undress than they were in 1978. The strain of film’s heavy prologue is acute as we haven’t really got time to know them, or quite understand how the politics of their babysitting works. It really helps to know the beats from the film it’s reimagining, which isn’t ideal.

There are some fine touches though. One comes as he impales a young male on the wall and stands there for an inordinately long period of time, surveying his work or quite probably trying to understand death. If he’s aware of his strange – yet depreciated from the original – imperviousness, perhaps he wants to check that his victims aren’t.

Myers changed approach is effective. Always on his feet, stalking in shadows but often leaping on his prey. There’s less lurking and more jump cuts and blunt force to match the shortened narrative. As soon as he regains his mask we have the animal eyes. And then there’s the breathing – urgent and quite often, growling. This Myers is feral like no other. The Shape emerges from shadows with a low rumble, and is more likely to throw his victims around to the menacing score. Looks wise, the more shaped mask seems to sit at a long, inhuman angle with the extended neck. He’s an inhuman hulk, even when we’ve seen him mask les. An impressive transformation.

Oddly, this Myers has retained the select murder pattern. His savage attack on Annie Brackett leaves her alive. While lurking in the house, towering above her body as she shouts at a desperate Laurie off-screen he pushes the corpse of her boyfriend, hoisted from the ceiling like a piñata. It’s a new and effective addition. And important to note that the new, more believable this Myers lacks the foresight to cut the phone lines. An intriguing development in the age of cell phones.

As Laurie’s able to call the police, she brings not only the Sheriff and Loomis to Myers, but also two cops, and so more victims to the domestic scenes. The savage chase that ends with Laurie attempting to shoot her attacker in the head on the lawn outside spirals quickly. The plotting, involving the children and circling characters is tight enough.

The curiosity in the third act is the shrine Myers has built in the cellar of his old house. In a moment of calm, dropping his knife and mask as he appeals to his sister. His sister’s fate is sealed when she understandably stabs him in the neck, and he returns to character by re-donning the mask. Of course, there’s be no simple chance for ether sibling to kill the other in the first film. In unadjusted box-office, Zombie’s reimagining claimed $80.2 million worldwide against its modest $15 million budget, claiming the third spot in the franchise rankings. Financial and historical concerns made a sequel inevitable, if not a middling critical response.

Creating the second

Halloween V: Re-carving the Pumpkin - Michael Myer Zombie-styleThe shadow of the original sequel hangs over the second film, mainly for the intense, simple concept that it starts the minute the first ends. It’s a challenge Zombie’s sequel tackles head on, by having its cake and impaling it.

The reimagined film has a killer cliff-hanger to pick up: Laurie eventually fires a gun at her brother’s head and his blood splatters her following their fall from the old Myers’ balcony. It’s heightened, but true to the original as it lands us in hospital. We have Annie Brackett under the knife, with hideous imagery and talk of plastic surgery, as well as an injured and highly traumatised Laurie. In the increased realism, the incapacitation of major players doesn’t promise much. Still, thoughts of an odd spa diversion aren’t far away, before the film pulls the rug and jumps forward a year. The effect is disconcerting. Particularly as it’s such a full-pelt opening, with the wonderfully atmospheric addition of torrential rain to go with the franchise’s most gruesome body horror. Some of what we saw in Laurie’s implied dream must have been real, even up to the end. It’s a blunt trick but also a defiance of the original sequel.

What’s likely true is Myers devastating escape from an ambulance after being taken from his old house. It’s graphic, showing an increase in gore and urgency than even the first. The original second film added gruesomeness to the mix itself. The horrors of a road traffic accident are topped off with a banging Myers bursting from the back of an ambulance to reintroduce himself, and promptly decapitating a barely alive paramedic with a shard of glass. Shunned by the previous film, this sequence uses slow-motion, an extra level of grime to add to the gritty 16mm film it was shot on. Yes, the Shape’s back.

Ghosts and Vagrants

Having resolved the origins in the first film, Zombie has to dig deeper. And delving into Myer’s mind reveals the white horse of the opening quote (crucially, not Loomis this time round) and his princess mother. From the Subconscious Psychosis of Dreams: “Linked to instinct, purity, and the drive of the physical body to release powerful and emotional forces, like rage with ensuing chaos and destruction.”

The white horse is physical for Michael, and soon reveals a beautified version of Myers’ mother alongside. They act as Myers urges, a voice to accompany his psychosis, and one that can be retconned into his psychology in the first film. They’re also, crucially, symptomatic. Linking the psychosis to the familial, they can be caught. While the gore is ramped up, there’s a softer side to this psychological journey. There’s no mistake that Mr Sandman and Don’t Fear the Reaper are replaced with The Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin.

As we head behind Myers’ eyes, the monster himself is physically deconstructed. His mask is ripped and battered from the earlier ambulance crash, soon one eye is exposed. Zombie is intent on breaking it down. Rain-sodden, lank hair, damaged mask for a different beast, although it’s a shame that the early ambiguous dream sequences – as he demolishes a portacabin with a growl – doesn’t show him with an undamaged, almost perfect, mask. That concession to keep us fooled isn’t strictly necessary, but the sequence is the double-bill’s unique misdirection.

The mid-stretch of the film develops the slasher into a figure never seen before: a vagrant. Still shunning vehicles, he stomps arable land. Haunted by the vision of his mother as a man-boy these dreams explain his absence, survival, where and why he goes.

A different canvas

Addition as and the ruse of the first act make for a different canvas in the second film, Myers incursion a year before has had massive consequences, and for the first time the film can explore that in Haddonfield with the same characters. On October 29th Laurie is suffering PTSD, popping pills and living with the Bracketts, Annie carrying the scars of her vicious attack. There’s new territory as Laurie visits a psychiatrist, her hubs at the sheriff’s house again removed from the suburbia the films are happiest in. It’s the psychiatrist who unhelpfully points out that “they never found his body”. Unhelpful psychology is a definite theme, but Loomis and Laurie are estranged for much of the film. We see them coping in different ways, heading for a reunion from different sides.

In between the intriguing beginning and the incipient change in having Myers pacing there is an unfortunate and distracting amount of filler. There’s awful and gruesome dispatch of little seen characters, particularly the prolonged and unnecessary takedown of the strip club and the token hick farmers. Even the forgivable moment he encounters a trick or treating child is superfluous.

Halloween returns

Halloween H2O Michael MyersWe reach October 31st at the 51-minute mark of the second film, as Laurie discovers her true identity by reading Loomis’ book The Devil among us. It’s a book that pushes her away from her new family, drags in fresh victims, and also has a hidden meaning. On that new family, a word for the truly tragic member of the piece – Annie Brackett again severely beaten, but this time, and at length, dying as Laurie watches. With Laurie apparently follows the plot path of Jamie Lloyd (Laurie’s daughter from the originals sequence), it’s a rather notable end for the character played by Danielle Harris, who played Jamie Lloyd in the fourth and fifth films.

With Loomis the remote villain and heading towards the end of his story, the revelation that Laurie is Angel Myers kick-starts her unravelling. Her older brother may have been the victim of repeated abuse, here the link trauma, framed in the classic Halloween theme of familial destiny.

When Laurie gains the ability to see and be influenced by the vision of the horse and her mother, she adds in her child version of her brother.

The film has a fascinating, downbeat but also finite ending. With the murder of her brother, and with the king dead, the very real implication is that Laurie has inherited the mantle. The family curse no one really knew existed continues. Or rather the curse is revealed not to be Michael Myers, but a larger web he had been the major victim of. So far. Love Hurts plays over end, and it’s a credit to Zombie that he pursues the theme of family, keeping it running through the piece as a central spine, so intently. In whole, this fascinating double-parter that sits as a separate chapter in a soon to be 11-part franchise, achieves something quite impressive: it pays tribute to the arc of the whole original six film sequence, and doesn’t even involve a death cult. Early 21st century Halloween is over.

But there’s always room behind the mask for a reboot.

“Happy Halloween boo”

Next Halloween: Halloween will return again, resetting to the aftermath of the second film, 40 years on. You can’t keep a good boogeyman down.

Catch up on the retrospectives so far, starting with that date in 1978…

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