All Our Times Have Come

In the last two reviews of David Gordon Green’s Halloween trilogy, I’ve addressed how they resemble the game “plan” of the Disney Star Wars sequel trilogy (insofar as you’d believe either trilogy had actual plans). So I guess I may as well open this review with how Halloween Ends mirrors the coffin nail to StarWars-as-cinematic-event The Rise of Skywalker: they are both grand “Final Statements on Everything and Anything” in their respective brands by way of introducing an entirely new conflict ad hoc and divorced from their preceding installments.* I know there’s also a desire of the internet to label Halloween Ends as the Last Jedi of Halloween and I guess that fits insofar as Ends takes some real swings.

Those swings also allow this movie to briefly and all too promisingly map unto the sudden shift in story focus that the third Halloween movie, Season of the Witch, performed. This is apparent by the time the opening credits occur, stylized in bold italicized blue type that would have to be an homage to Halloween III and not Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me. Before those credits though, we’re at a pretty great start with an opening sequence that I’d argue is the single best stretch of Green’s entire trilogy. One year later from the events of Halloween ’18 and Halloween Kills, we are introduced to a fresh-faced 21-year-old named Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell) who agrees to babysit neighborhood kid Jeremy (Jaxon Goldenberg). For the little amount of time we spend, we can see that Corey is a little bit extra sensitive to taunts and scares while Jeremy is kind of a little shit that enjoys bullying the hell out of a fella almost twice his age. That’s not going to land well for either of them: as Jeremy gets to the end of his hazing by locking Corey in a dark room, Corey busts open the door either without knowing or caring that Jeremy was on the other side and that door ends up knocking Jeremy over the extravagantly high stairwell of his house and splattering his skull just as his parents came back from their Halloween party.

After the credits, we leap forward an extra year and Halloween Ends plays its hand: David Gordon Green, trilogy co-writer Danny McBride, and this year’s other co-writer models Chris Bernier and Paul Brad Logan have made the protagonist of the film not Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney; this time Nick Castle doesn’t have a single frame under the mask, but he has a tacky out-of-costume cameo) as that big dude appears to have disappeared since Halloween Kills. Nor is it now-orphaned nurse Allyson Nelson (Andi Matichak) after being flagged as the next generation of final girl for the last two entries or the series regular that is her grandmother Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, who I’m willing to bet fucking money will eventually come back to the Halloween franchise), the latter of whom has now moved out of her isolated burnt-down shack outside of the town into Haddonfield proper despite the fact that for some reason she’s become a pariah over “causing” the events of 2018. Did not one person get informed that Michael’s attacks were manufactured by a Dr. Loomis knock-off? Even the Deputy (Will Patton) who was nearly murdered by said doctor? And more particularly where do we get the connective tissue for Laurie’s characterization from “40 years spent in a survivalist trap alienating her whole family” to “2 years since a much larger massacre and one dead daughter and son-in-law later now happily living in the same town where the murderer is still at large and almost everyone hates her”. Ostensibly the 2-years-later conceit would like to paper over these gaps in Laurie and Allyson acting significantly different than the previous entries but that doesn’t stick at all. It’s a massive fucking backwards leap that suggests Green and McBride figured way too late what they wanted Strode to ride through.

Ah well, that rant was interrupting what I was addressing: neither Michael, Laurie, or Allyson are the main character of Halloween Ends. It’s Corey, who has also received a major pariah status that is obviously more warranted but still a little cruel for a timid young man who did not intend to hurt anyone. Still it appears Corey is so very vulnerable that a bunch of high school marching band members could push him off a bridge and get away with it. One of the few helping hands Corey receives is from a concerned Laurie, who is even more concerned for her granddaughter’s libido and ships him with Allyson in a way that hits off without any credibility. This appears to be the worst time for Corey to enter the Strodes’ lives though as he has by chance found the missing Michael deep in a sewer tunnel and upon physical contact has… apparently caught an infectious enjoyment for murder? The weird editing seizure that occurs once Michael grabs his throat and locks eyes with Corey deliberately suggests some supernatural spirit of the knife now transferred on the outcast kid.

By the last two nights of October, Corey begins donning a cool scarecrow mask (though he is interested in Michael’s good ol’ white Billy Shatner mask) and makes his way to vengefully dispatching anyone who troubles him or Allyson (best kill is easily one involving a turntable and a tongue). That it’s connected to snapped tension within the character makes clear the movie would like to use “alienated malcontent lets his toxic masculinity bubble into reactive violence” compound the trilogy-long concerns with “TRAUMA” in a manner disconnected from the reality of living with trauma or familiar with any form of toxic masculinity outside of the movies. Corey’s story is basically just Joker beat-for-beat except the cinematography is less interesting to look at and the performances are across-the-board worse, where Campbell as central performance feels like an impression of the Tom Holland Spider-Man finally getting that symbiote assholery. He’s definitely a lot more committed and interesting to watch than any other entity in the film, including and especially Curtis, but that feels just as default of the film forcing him to be the only dynamic character (outside of the 180 Laurie makes from Corey’s new best friend to suddenly hating him without any knowledge of his killings) rather than the merits of his otherwise gee whiz screen presence. Plus the invocation of Michael as a vessel for contagious murderousness deeply undercuts Corey’s transformation into slasher villain as something coming from a lifetime of external abuse.

Still this new direction is definitely the most radical thing that Green and company have done and I might find it admirable if they believed in their convictions enough to stick by it, even if it would have ended in a terrible movie. No, they decided to suddenly course-correct at the last act to the “final showdown between Michael and Laurie” in a sequence that belongs to an entirely different film than what we just watched, one where Michael ideally had more than 5 minutes of screentime up until then. And the movie shifts the function of Michael rather than a symbol of transmissible evil to a flesh-and-blood man whose power only comes from the despair the people of Haddonfield fall to rather than his own stature, which sounds like an idea I can probably get behind as a grounded back-to-reality response towards Michael Myers as a figure, his relationship to Laurie, and the last two Halloween movies’ hysteria. But EVEN THAT ends up not being the last word on the character or franchise, as the movie slips its final beats into a ceremonious sequence treating Michael as a larger-than-life figure affecting everybody in Haddonfield to the point that they about-face after hating Laurie for battling him right back to respecting her for battling him again? Narrated mind you by dialogue we learn is being typed by a character into a memoir, a move that mirrors the final scenes of that bro-y HBO comedy Eastbound and Down that Green and McBride collaborated on before these movies. So a contradictory set of treatments towards Michael as figure within the story – most of which are slamming into each other in the last 20 minutes – just muddles what were already inarticulate themes in three movies that ineptly attempted looking into Society circa 2018-2022, a disastrous end point for that goal.

And all of that is fine enough to make this the worst Halloween movie since Resurrection and the worst David Gordon Green movie I’ve ever seen (my gaps are The Sitter and Manglehorn and while I’m sure I’ll dislike both if I ever get to them, it would be impressive if they don’t clear the low bar this movie sets). But there’s one element of Halloween Ends that really grinds my gears, more than the dragging pace of this movie’s near-two-hour runtime, more than how Green and company are so concerned with scrambling together every last faux-wisdom they can instead of constructing a singular and focused horror story, more than the movie’s inability to feel in conversation with any other movie in the franchise including the two Green and McBride previously made and thereby being a complete flop as a closing statement for a franchise and subgenre that never ever means it when they have “Final” or “Ends” in the title**. It’s the fact that despite at least feeling somewhat like the midwest atmosphere from the previous two movies is kept intact by cinematographer Michael Simmonds, this is the movie in all 13 entries that feels the least bit concerned with having any sense of Halloween autumnal atmosphere in a movie with fucking Halloween in its name. A couple of pumpkins and that’s it. Ideally the bare minimum of making a movie named after such a holiday is that it feels in spirit of that holiday, so we have the ultimate indication of missing what about a Halloween movie lives up to that name.

*I would like it to be clear on this: while I dislike them both and would prefer to never watch either again, I’d sooner put on any entry of the Star Wars sequel trilogy than any entry of Green’s Halloween trilogy.
**To their credit, producers Jason Blum, Malek Akkad, or John Carpenter are all refusing to pretend a finale is the case. And what does it say about this movie’s score by Carpenter, his son Cody, and godson Daniel Davies that I genuinely have no remark positive or negative to give on it?

Overkills

I’m a bit hesitant to claim that Halloween Kills as the direct successor to Halloween – David Gordon Green’s 2018 sequel to Halloween, John Carpenter’s 1978 horror masterpiece – is less interested in respectability than I just ended my previous rant claiming about Halloween ’18. It certainly hammers on harder with the didacticism that made the earlier movie so annoying, easily the most verbose of the original films and no closer to making a single character sound like a human being. But one thing is certainly true: Halloween Kills is also the closest any of David Gordon Green’s Halloween trilogy got to feeling like a conventional slasher. Much as I was happy to welcome the extended bloodletting – especially in the extended home video cut – I unfortunately do not think that’s a strength in the favor of what it is trying to do.

Beginning no more than 2 hours from the end of the previous entry, when Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) altogether trapped Strode’s stalker-from-40-years-ago Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney, with once again a few ceremonious shots of original actor Nick Castle) in her shack and set that shit on fire with him in it. Ostensibly Laurie has spent the last 40 years completely forgetting the fire department exists as they rush right over there to do their job, only to find Michael miraculously surviving the inferno. For some strange reason said firefighters immediately wield their tools for life-saving and attack Michael one-by-one like action movie henchmen, which of course does not end in their favor and only becomes the beginning of Michael’s singular stomp deep into the town of Haddonfield once more, leaving a trail of bodies behind him. Ostensibly he hates married couples especially, given how we have 3 pairs attacked before the movie is over.

For the record, this completely stupid Michael vs. the Fire Department battle is the highest point of Halloween Kills. And if all the movie was was what I described, Michael on a bloodied track to someplace unknown to us (though foreshadowed by the movie’s opening flashback, a distant second high-point in how Michael Simmonds’ cinematography recaptures the quintessential nighttime blues of the original and has a fairly convincing piece of makeup resurrecting Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Sam Loomis albeit with significantly less convincing voice performance), I think this might salvageable as a work of trashy slasher cinema.

But it’s not. Green, trilogy co-writer Danny McBride, and their current co-perpetrator Scott Teems have about two parallel start points going on here: Laurie is of course rushed to the hospital on account of a stab wound she received in the previous film. A few scenes later, Deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton) is admitted, a character in the previous film who has the distinction of being maliciously attacked by someone who is NOT Michael (though the third film in this trilogy will make this less rare). In the way that the previous film was a retread of the very first Halloween picture, this shall match up by retreading Laurie’s complete lack of any action or agency in Halloween II while she espouses extended twitter threads about fear with Hawkins, as though they were on pleasant rocking chairs in a porch rather than dealing with severe abdominal stab wounds. Perhaps the best excuse for how idiotic their dialogue is for the majority of the film is how they must be on a major amount of morphine.

And the other plot thread, which will eventually intersect with Michael’s in a way that Laurie’s never does*: apparently every Halloween, the fellow survivors of the 1978 massacre get together to drink and commemorate. Those individuals are of course Nurse Marion Chambers (returning actor Nancy Stephens in another retconning appearance after being killed in H20), Laurie’s babysitting wards Lindsey Wallace (returning actor Kyle Richards who now is better known as a reality tv star!) and Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall, replacing Paul Rudd who decided if he was gonna embarrass himself with a legacy sequel, it’d be a Ghostbusters movie!), and Lonnie Elam (Robert Longstreet) who is literally retconned into this movie to have encountered Michael back in ’78. And I guess it sort of makes sense that these particular characters would want to comfort each other once a year, but this apparently also happens to be a point of notoriety in the entire town which… ok, I guess town gossip is believable enough. But then once it’s heard at the bar they’re lounging in that Michael is back in town and hacking and slashing, it seems the ENTIRE TOWN was so involved in this minor massacre that they form a mob hunting down the first unfamiliar face they catch, a frightened escapee (Ross Bacon) from the same bus crash that freed Michael.

So now in addition to being a terrible delivery system for observations on trauma, Green and company are making their movie a terrible delivery system for observations on mob mentality (and given the obvious “immediate relevance” that having . And against the odds of a franchise that has reasonably been trying to balance the sensational basis of slasher storytelling with at least some reasonably dimensionality in its characters including this movie’s direct predecessor, Halloween Kills meets an all-time low with the counterproductive ways it delivers shallow assertions regarding psychological harm through lip service on one hand and then Green as director genuinely embodies this subgenre’s active indulgence for that violence without the slightest bit of shame. Probably the most painful shot it gives itself in the foot is how one of the goriest and detailed deaths in a movie with a lot more average blood than the body count Kills claims is in fact a tragic suicide late in the film, but this also wouldn’t be as huge an embarrassment if there was the slightest bit of profundity to Kills‘ desire to be “A Very Special Episode of Halloween” instead of just letting its characters ramble and spin wheels any time they are not being fatally interrupted by the big dude in the mask. The closest it gets is a 10-second throwaway set of cuts to a mother screaming as she recognizes her son through a morgue window during one of the film’s most high adrenaline sequences, her voice drowned out by the pummeling score of John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Dan Davies (a score which is a better overall composition than Halloween ’18 but honestly gets that way by abandoning any real recognizability as a Halloween score).

The mean-spirited nihilism that would be a better fit for a less-ashamed version of a slasher film wins out this movie’s soul, particularly in the final moments of the film where its fan service plays in a way so clumsily dark that I highly doubt it’s intentional. Because this is not a movie that wants that nihilism to feel as lurid and amoral as it truly is in its nonsensical writing, its hideous cinematography (aye, it looks good in the flashback sequences like I said but the present-day material is all smeary in its color and untethered in its lighting), or in its maddening lack of understanding how people react to such traumatizing events. Which is why such a saving grace for this movie as slasher cinema could be if Green somehow had a moment of clarity during post-production and just decided to surgically remove all the movie’s sobriety and streamline the narrative strictly to the hunt for Michael Myers, this might actually be a more watchable piece of entertainment. One that could accommodate the heavy amount of brutality that it eagerly portrays, enough that puts this pretty close to the largest body count in the entire franchise if not at number one.

But no, instead not only was Green proud enough to drop this second part of the world’s most ill-advised attempt to make a therapy version of a notoriously violent and reductive horror franchise (as dictated by a drunk bro you walked into at a party you’re trying to leave rather than a qualified person who understands such pain), he probably realized at the end of the job “well fuck, this movie really was just a bunch of running around to nowhere” and doubled down on the worst elements of Kills to make sure this trilogy ended truly on a useless, contradictory, and flat note…

*Insofar as we remain with my Star Wars sequel trilogy mapping: Halloween Kills aligns with The Last Jedi, as an area where the major players deliberately refuse to interact with each other and both movies are a lot of wheel-spinning to remain basically in the same spot at the beginning as in the end. And they also both resemble the second entry in their predecessor trilogies).

A Take Re-Shaped

Honestly, when I first started this series of reviews for the Halloween franchise, it hadn’t crossed my mind to provide a second post for the 2018 sequel by that same name*. While my opinion on it has severely depreciated in the time since I saw it on its first release and gave it a reservedly positive write-up, I couldn’t imagine there was much I could add to it: it seems like the stuff has stayed the same, I just look at it differently now. But rewatching it in sequence with the rest of the franchise has solidified precisely how low I found myself responding to the film. Especially in the wake of grappling with my attitude on Rob Zombie’s films and in the newfound context of writer/director David Gordon Green and co-writer Danny McBride’s much much worse sequels to this entry, I became interested in grappling with what Halloween ’18 represents as Halloween entry, legacy sequel, and horror cinema of the 2010s.

It’s no secret by this point that the core subject of Green’s entire trilogy is TRAUMA in big capital letters and it feels like this movie postures itself as a definitive approach to what after-effects come when facing Michael Myers (publicized hardcore as the triumphant return of original actor Nick Castle to the role except he only shot one single scene in the role, the grand majority of Michael’s screentime is performed by James Jude Courtney). Yet we’ve had four different entries in the franchise that pretty sincerely approach that weighty subject and – I’ve been biting my tongue hardcore on this for each entry but I must now let it out – all three of those movies do it much more credibly than Halloween ’18: the greyed misery and snapping lines of Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, the generational aspect of Halloween 4, the labor in running away with Halloween H20, and even the nightmares and inaction of Halloween 5, the latter of which is easily a worst movie than 2/3 of Green’s entries (admittedly Halloween 5 accomplishes this solely on the back of Danielle Harris’ performance).

Halloween ’18’s suggestion (Jeff Fradley making a third co-writer in this entry alongside Green and McBride) as a potential aftermath of Michael is to revisit once more Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis’ own triumphant return for the second time) and suggest that she has spent all 40 years after surviving the flash of Michael’s blade by developing into a survivalist, obsessed that Michael will eventually be coming back to finish her. Not necessarily implausible on its own merits and honestly could have made for a fun little face-to-face showdown, the latter being one of the things that made this a much anticipated movie back in 2018 for me. But the wrinkle in that is that Laurie somehow has a family here: daughter Karen (the ever ill-used Judy Greer), son-in-law Ray (Toby Huss), and grand-daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) are all exhausted at the high tension the grand matriach projects onto them. And that means I have to picture this version of Laurie – heavily Sarah Connor’d up to entrapping herself in her own woodland shack with all kinds of gates and flood lights and firearms and apparently not a single thought to actually leave Haddonfield if she’s that paranoid – to have at one point been relaxed enough to have and raise a child. And with all due respect to Curtis’ performance which is perfectly fine in a vaccuum of psychological character work (nothing on the level of H20‘s best stuff but I should probably stop comparing this to better Halloween movies), but she’s so dedicated to sharpening the edges of Laurie’s personality that I absolutely cannot see that happening. Anyway, as fate would have it (lest we get no movie), Michael would find himself loose of his post-1978 captivity to walk right up into Haddonfield and find himself a-killin’ again, after a brief detour to murder that most agreeable of murder target: podcasters (because they had his iconic white mask in their possession). And all three Strode women find themselves needing to stick together to survive what grandma Laurie had been waiting for her whole life.

Credit where credit’s due: I do think Green and McBride are genuinely inspired fans of this franchise in full. They certainly work hard to maintain the mystique of Michael’s encounter with Laurie, such as in the decision to have this movie retcon all previous entries out of canon including the reveal of Michael and Laurie’s sibling-hood. No sirree, Michael has no tie or interest in Laurie as far as Halloween ’18 is concerned, especially when a certain twist pops up 2/3 into the movie stressing the randomness of Michael’s path towards the Strode shack. That twist does lead to some of the worst material of this movie as it trips up Laurie’s arc and the relevant actor transforms into a comic book supervillain at that point. Still the way that twist resembles a Loomis development in Halloween 6 is one of many ways Green and McBride happily tip their hat to those that came before throughout: we get explicit quotes or callbacks to virtually every entry before the movie is over in amiable good fun.

Green also brings in a lot of the stuff that made him once the most exciting American filmmaker of the 21st Century: his casual ability to capture small-town atmosphere was what telegraphed him as a phenomenal fit on paper for the central Illinois-set story of Halloween and he has pockets of that showing up here and there, like the non-actor bit roles (most notable still being Jibrail Nantambu and his ad-libbed dialogue with Virginia Gardner’s babysitter character Vicky, by far the most interesting pair of characters with too short screentime) and the wistful and chilly exteriors cinematographer Michael Simmonds captures for prime autumnal vibes (the interiors – especially the overlit nighttime ones of the climactic fight – leave a bit to be desired, though). And Simmonds’ visuals even has a proper platform to marry itself to the horror elements in an extended long-take setpiece where Michael weaves in and out of households killing women from the distant view of the camera, either in dark hallways or porch windows.

There’s further the satisfaction of some exceptional gore effects – the grand guignol level image of a character whose lower jaw is pierced by the point of an iron gate, leaving his body hanging there; a skull that is crushed like a watermelon under Michael’s boot; a corpse holding the decapitated head of another victim and having a flashlight alight into the open throat so it looks like a grotesque jack o lantern – and the score by a returning John Carpenter, this time in tow with son Cody and godson Daniel Davies. Maybe the sole arena where I’ve grown more fond: I found the music unremarkable in 2018 except for the shiny new cue playing when “The Shape Hunts Allyson” as the track’s title aptly describes (and it’s a cue that is started by one of those incredible gore images) but now it feels like a proper return to the minimalism of the original masterpiece (referring to both the 1978 film and score). The toys are a bit nicer which means less character in the music, but it’s comfortable enough for me.

Still those are small comforts in a movie whose watchable visual polish makes it overall extremely boring and over-familiar, feeling not much else than pro forma semi-indie cinema. I’ll cop to what I’m about to say not necessarily being the fault of Green and company, even executive producer Jason Blum who is known to have his pulse on exactly what’s in vogue in contemporary horror cinema, since I presume this wasn’t apparent at the time of development but… there is no shortage of horror movies about trauma. It’s been a thing for a while now, arguably fired on by The Babadook‘s legacy as ground zero for what type of varnished prestigious and theme-heavy genre picture would be labeled “elevated horror”** but The Babadook is way too great to blame it for that shit. In any case, Halloween ’18 does feel like the sort of movie that would resemble a parody of elevated horror if it wasn’t so po-faced: didactic in its overt discussions on what’s going on with the Strodes without giving any distinct language to the characters besides the writers dividing a single lecture on different people in the room (and still this movie is a little more tolerable on this front than both of its sequels), eager to showcase aesthetic technique without a real profound application of that technique for underpinning the story, even more eager to discuss Serious Universal Matters and cash in on the gravitas of those topics without bothering to really support that with a solid plot progression. And cosmos help me when Halloween movies threaten to turn me into a person who complains about plot, but this is literally just duck-taped together for motivation on virtually anything that happens around the only character who has the excuse of no motivation: Michael.

What IS probably the fault of Green and Blum is how the movie really sets itself up for taking a leaf out of one of the 21st centuries’ landmark trilogies and probably the quintessential of legacy sequels: the Disney Star Wars trilogy. Halloween ’18 is The Force Awakens undeniably: by the time Michael escapes, this movie is running through the same beats as the 1978 original Halloween mostly with Allyson introduced in the same spot as Laurie being the next generation of protagonist for this franchise (her friends – Vicky among them – fitting snuggly into the roles of Laurie’s friends in 1978) and with a whole lot more clomping in its lengthened runtime than the efficiency of the 1978 film, except in the way its climax reverses the familiar imagery of the third act of the original to have Laurie and Michael swapping roles. It feels in some weird way more fidelious to the original than Zombie’s 2007 remake was, which at least shifts gears from square one. And yet this is not necessarily a bad move either in and of itself: the visual callbacks are just as much a source of satisfaction for me as the Illinois October air (as portrayed by Atlanta in January) and Carpenter’s music. But that’s kind of the issue with Halloween ’18 in a nutshell: anything that works and feels stable feels like brand management on the part of Blum, Green, and the Akkads and anything that doesn’t work feels like well-meaning fan fiction that nevertheless reminds me why I’d rather functional handymen like Carpenter be behind these sorts of movies making a rock-solid piece of thriller storytelling than Green try to fumble around with materials and fail to get them to stick together.

Certainly this movie was the monumental place where Carpenter gave his highest blessing to any entry made since he left the franchise and I’m sure he’s sincere about it. But that just feels like another step in the way that Halloween ’18 is over-interested in respectability, that interest being a central characteristic of elevated horror. And I’m of the ungenerous opinion that if you’re that desperate for respectability, you’re not likely to meet it and more likely to express a reticence about your own material itself like how Green and McBride’s sense of humor undercuts this thing. Genre cinema didn’t need to reach for respectability in 1978 and it doesn’t need it now.

*And indeed, I shall go ahead and point out how frustrating it is that now there is not only 3 movies by the single name of Halloween – the 1978 masterpiece, the 2007 remake, and the 2018 sequel – there shall now live in Motorbreath 5 reviews under that name. Not to mention that in the frustratingly long line of horror sequels/prequels that only adopt their predecessors’ titles without change – The Grudge, Candyman, The Thing, Scream – this movie has the least justification for that move.
**I know “elevated horror” is something of a bad word in contention with genre fans. For my part, I don’t like it as a qualitative term, but I do think it’s a reasonable lens in terms of what turned the wave of critical reception towards horror cinema from dismissive in the 2000s to its new invigoration in the 2010s, to the point of arthouse studios and theaters pursuing it ecstatically.

Now It’s Too Late for You and Your White Horse to Come Around

Here’s something I find fascinating about horror movie fandom: Halloween II – the 2009 sequel to Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween, which is decidedly NOT a remake of the 1981 film of the same name and makes a major note out of that – has quite the contingent. I don’t know if there’s anybody who identifies exclusively as fan of the franchise that considers the movie to be the best Halloween entry since the 1978 original, but there is definitely Rob Zombie fans who consider it to be so and on top of that there are Rob Zombie fans who consider it to be the outright best of the franchise OVER the original and on top of THAT there are Rob Zombie fans who consider it to be out-and-out his masterpiece. And mind you, all of these superlatives appear to be unanimously contingent on the film’s director’s cut that released on home video.

I have another superlative to consider with regards to Halloween II without the scruples those other three bring out of me: Rob Zombie’s Halloween films are fundamentally his epic and Halloween II is as critical to that collective qualification as Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather Part II connects with The Godfather essential to what gives that full story the operatic scope and weight. Zombie’s Halloween films each had the same budget – $15 million, which would be by a significant amount the largest budget he’d work with as of 2022 – but it feels like the remake was precisely the sort of thing he had to get out of the way in order to REALLY dig into what about this material fascinated him. Halloween ’07 was a small scale-story of Michael Myers, but Halloween II expands that canvas to a variety of approaches both familiar to Zombie (as in a roaming travelogue reflecting on America’s curdled soul a la The Devil’s Rejects, my pick for Zombie’s best film) and forward-looking (as the psychological and hallucinatory elements would foresee The Lords of Salem, my favorite Zombie film).

Before either of those things, we are however treated with a note-perfect slasher mini-movie that IS sort of a remake of Rosenthal’s 1981 follow-up as it follows Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), the final girl to Michael’s sudden rampage in the first movie, hours after she shot Michael Myers (Tyler Mane, with flashbacks to him as a child now performed by Chase Wright Vanick as Daeg Faerch had matured two quickly in the 2 years between these movies) being admitted into Haddonfield’s local hospital in a disorienting sequence of frenzied first responders moving bodies through halls and cutting into open wounds and physical trauma with horribly microscopic shots of bloodied instruments and flesh being opened and closed all over, a clinical context of the sort of brutality slasher films traffic in. One of the ambulances is on its way to the morgue with Michael’s body bag in tow, but somehow a disastrous crash is enough to wake him from death itself walk down a foggy rural road to a destination kept ambiguous enough for the following scenes to maintain a brilliant contextualization gambit that I’ll say no more to keep it fresh for anyone who has not yet had the privilege of watching Zombie’s Halloween II yet.

When the film proper begins though, we are treated with three different plots to follow: Most critical of these is Laurie in the aftermath of that shocking event now living in the care of Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Brad Dourif) and her best friend Annie (Danielle Harris), who turned out to survive her encounter with Michael, and finding herself still psychologically scarred by the event despite her certainty that Michael is dead. Michael, in his own storyline, has become a drifter since being rejected by Laurie which we know to affect him because she is in fact his unsuspecting baby sister. But she’s about to get hit with that fact as Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), a fellow survivor of that violence and Michael’s former psychiatrist in the 15 years between his first and second set of murders in Haddonfield, has published a sensationalist tell-all true crime book of the full Myers affair and is touring that novel as a publicity-seeking primadonna, a rock star approach to hiding his own pain and guilt. Needless to say, they are all connected by that favorite theme of recent horror cinema: trauma and trying to explore that Laurie (and Annie, though not as much in focus), Michael, and Loomis all came away from that awful Halloween night with deep wounds that they simply don’t know how to close. Which is something I find equal parts ambitious in its scale and generous in its sympathy.

The results of this three-way split vary: Loomis’ material is outright godawful, maybe my least favorite thing in any of Zombie’s movies in its shrill attempts at celebrity satire and mostly responsible for why I’m not on the raves for this, but Laurie and Michael’s are easily the parts that inspired Zombie most as Michael’s functions as the surveying long walking journey I mentioned resembling The Devil’s Rejects‘ unspoken cynicism about America and both storylines find pockets in which to shovel in the most macabre autumnal imagery to dreamily project the damage in these characters onto the viewer. These images – cut with awe-struck focus by Glenn Garland and Joel Pashby while frequently featuring Sheri Moon Zombie returning as Deborah Myers – invoke wholly with the festive ghoulishness of Halloween or the ephemeral ghostly textures of black-and-white on film, particularly the case when it comes to a mental breakdown Laurie has at the trashiest Halloween barnhouse party. They also weaponize what Zombie and cinematographer Brandon Trost have put together as my single favorite depiction of Illinois in late October in this franchise and the closest I think they ever got: Michael’s journey normally takes place at night within the sad blues given visual depth by fog and field stalks that cover him through while Laurie’s daytime life ends up dressed in the miserable grays of the sky against falling arbor reds that stress how much everything is dying and how that dying infects the soul of these characters. I especially enjoy the weird rural Midwest isolation that the Brackett home has, nothing there but a house and a single leafless tree.

13 years ago when I first watched this, I would have considered the slasher genre a poor context for which to try to uniform melancholy on both killer and survivor but I guess re-visiting this and especially being exposed to the Director’s Cut have allowed me to open up what it wants to communicate: it fucking sucks being a character in a slasher movie, whether Final Girl or Slasher or in between. Your fate is set and any control you could have is lost before you realized it. It’s not necessarily as self-referential as that sounds, but what’s truly impressive is how it doesn’t approach the matter in a way that postures at having any of the answers to dealing with these issues, it merely wants to explore and empathize with the difficulty without the slightest sense of didactism or exploitation. By the time Michael reaches Haddonfield, there is no real “that’s so cool” vibe about the grindhouse aesthetic like Zombie usually transparently wears in his film projects nor is there very much blood in the movie at all outside of its opening hospital sequence. The most heartbreaking kill happens entirely off-screen and we are forced to watch more than one character in separate scenes collapse in reaction to finding the corpse (and the director’s cut takes this even further by intercutting home video footage of the actor as a child).

Anyway, I may as well dig up the lede I’ve buried: a lot of this effect that Halloween II has is so much stronger in that Director’s Cut that everyone raves about than in the Theatrical Cut, although I do very much admire both versions. The majority of the added or re-arranged material is on the Laurie storyline which fully intensifies just how devastating it is when your mind and emotions have not healed at the same rate as your body: the theatrical cut postures these events as taking place a year after Halloween ’07, but the director’s cut pushes it further back 2 years to add more frustration and particularly the extended material deepens the relationship between Laurie and Annie into a disconsolate breakdown of what we once saw as a loving friendship: Laurie is consistently antagonistic and lashing out at Annie, who is clearly tired of maternally holding her friend’s hand and appears to have an unspoken tendency to trap herself in her home added further by the extensive scarring we can see on Annie’s face lest we forget that unlike Laurie she’s the one who was stabbed and mutilated (in the meantime, Dourif’s Brackett is so on the outside of this conflict that he’s not even aware of how often he ends up mediator when he’s able to reach out to Laurie just by eating pizza weird). There’s further stretching out of Laurie’s even more angry sessions with her overtly patient therapist (the late Margot Kidder, who was herself no stranger to battling trauma and mental illness) that now mirrors Michael’s own sessions with Loomis in the first picture. Probably the most upsetting addition for me is a sequence of Laurie walking down the street, finding a petting zoo, and smiling as she meets a baby piglet that’s totally benign and ostensibly a rare moment of respite for her in this psychiatric maelstrom, but cross-cut in the director’s cut with a distressed therapy session to re-contextualize this as one of her worst triggers and destroying any sense of warmth that such an activity could associate with.

Laurie in the theatrical cut is staying above water but watching the level rise, Laurie in the director’s cut is already losing breath and watching the surface get farther and father above her and this makes all the difference when it comes to the density and thickness of Halloween II‘s moodiness, earning the hopeless manic tragedy of its climax and particularly the director’s cut ending. It also just gives deeper framing to Michael’s own resignation to his inhumane beastliness (a theatrical cut sequence where a child innocently encounters him and asks if he’s a giant a la Ghost of Frankenstein is beat at its potency by a moment where Michael encounters a roadside billboard of Loomis’ book and stares at it with the saddest eyes through his hood and decaying mask, even in spite of the scene being juxtaposed by the editing with my least favorite scene in both cuts) and Loomis’ pathetic inability to even acknowledge his injury as anything except a means to capitalize.

Halloween II IS in the end a messy imbalanced movie by any cut, but it is dealing with whole sincerity on unwieldy topics and struggling with it in a manner honest to how critical it feels about us not being properly equipped to tackle those topics: us being horror cinema, us being the United States, and us being the people who do have to live with that trauma in different sorts. And it’s by that effect a terribly heavy movie because of the sobriety of those topics, but remains wholly watchable in invoking Zombie’s characteristic style constructed from quintessential horror language in color and textures and visual subjects in the only context where he turns that on its head to suggest “what is sitting at the other side of this sort of stuff?”. In the cosmic sense, only more and more pain likely for the unlucky ones who have to live with it. But to at least contain it in some small realm similar to its predecessor, Halloween II has at its center a broken family unit: Deborah, Loomis, Michael, and Laurie all revolving around each other in a way that forebodes on a final reunion by the great equalizer.

The Night He Rode Home on a Dragula

The 2010s were a very fundamental time for my movie-going in a lot of ways, the most relevant to this review being that there was a handful of, shall we say, vulgar auteurists whom I had disliked in the fashion of the conventional reception that I began to re-evaluate after releases they had dropped in my early 20s that I responded hugely towards. That in turn begin my development into out-and-out apologists for them as artists by the time I turned 30. Such examples being Lana & Lilly Wachowski, Paul W.S. Anderson, Zack Snyder, and our current subject Robert Zombert Cummings who is a heavy metal musician and horror filmmaker better known by the name of Rob Zombie.

This is basically a roundabout way of acknowledging had I been writing about movies in 2007 and talked about my feelings for Zombie’s remake of Halloween that released this year, we would have probably gotten a different tone, a largely negative one. And to be real, regardless of director, the proposal of a remake in the late 2000s when remakes were fucking drowning genre fans to one of the most perfect works of horror cinema ever created is already a dubious in itself. As the follow-up to a sequel that all but threatened this franchise’s consigning to the direct-to-video purgatory of Dimension Studios’ Hellraiser and Children of the Corn editions, even less promising. And I think it’s fair to say that there are things on paper that Zombie’s screenplay basically goes firmly against the core of what made the original film such a perfect little fairy tale, but I also think it’s fundamental to understand those decisions as deliberate and the product of Rob Zombie’s Halloween trying to do an entirely different thing than John Carpenter’s.

Let’s address that thing straight on: Halloween ’07 looks to revisit the same kind of beats that occur in Halloween ’78 and makes its way through them all before the film is over but the rub is that the very first two beats – Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch when we first meet him) kills his sister Judith (Hanna Hall) and is institutionalized with Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) examining him – is expanded to feature length for the entire first hour. Hell, Zombie starts even further back as we initially witness what sort of environment Michael grows up into a day before he decides to commit his act of violence and it’s really not surprising to see what the director of The Devil’s Rejects visualizes: a white trash realm of hostility with a venal stepfather who also meets young Michael’s knife (William Forsythe), a neglectful sister in Judith, and a caring but absent mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie, as is Rob’s habit to cast his wife in his films and frankly I think they get a lot more shit for this than they deserve) who also is the subject of a lot of high school bullying for Michael as a notorious stripper.

And so the unknowable shape in the shadows of the 1978 film is made flesh and blood and recognizably human, but to my great esteem he’s still largely unknowable in spite of where we find him: for one, it’s not particularly like there was a “last straw” written for the character since the first thing we witness is the implication that he murdered his latest pet, all of whom it seems he’s tortured to death. So it ends up being an inevitability when one particular bully (Daryl Sabara, who I am forever unable to disconnect with the Spy Kids franchise in spite of Sabara’s later niche of douchebags like this, The Green Inferno, and World’s Greatest Dad) meets his unpleasant end with Michael only hours before the fateful night where he murders his sisters, her boyfriend, and his step-dad all in one go.

But for another in that unknowability, once we are thrown into the aftermath sentenced processing of Michael, he seems to have virtually no memory of his actions: he states he has no clue why he’s there, asks of his family’s well-being, and Faerch performs these sequences with a sort of blank child-based naivete that feels like an unnerving mask for young innocence in the context it’s given (introduced already early on by a casual throwaway scene of him playing with candy just before he retrieves a knife). This is not helped by Michael’s insistence on interacting with everyone from behind his makeshift paper masks like an aspiring member of Slipknot, which Deborah and Dr. Loomis indulge with unease until Michael’s growing frustration with being forced into a box for possibly the rest of his life transforms into his slow insularity from speaking to either his mom or Loomis to a vicious murder of a nurse where everything between the three central characters in this half of the picture collapses. Deborah exits the picture in heartbreaking desperation unable to cope with what her son became, Loomis deems Michael a lost cause after 15 years pass and his ward has developed into an adult (Tyler Mane) without saying a single word since his mother left the picture.

At which point Michael eventually escapes from the institute in violent fashion and leaves to Haddonfield – killing the coolest truck driver in the world played by Ken Foree* – with Loomis racing after him so that Zombie can put into play the same beats of the 1978 original for the remaining hour and such. Zombie is basically performing a structural gambit that resembles his original pitch to the Weinsteins and Malek Akkad (Moustapha’s son who took over fully after his father’s tragic death, having been involved with the franchise since Curse): he wanted an entire movie dedicated to Loomie and Deborah trying to reach Michael that ended at this precise point of his disappearance into the night and then a sequel that went through the events that befell poor Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) as Michael fixates on her one Halloween in Haddonfield.

Frankly, it’s clear which of these halves is the one that most animated Zombie as a storyteller: Michael’s backstory gave license for Zombie to invoke all his hellbilly aesthetic honed in his first two Firefly pictures (including a very indulgent soundtrack of classic rock needledrops) with Michael’s upbringing, a perhaps obnoxious but effective way to fray out the mental state of any viewer who has to spend the little time we have with Forsythe’s disgusting and antagonistic performance and the cluttered mess of dinge that the Myers house is. But even outside of that house, there’s an uncomfortably intimate cruelty to Michael’s violent acts that makes it impossible to consider this as spectacle the way most slasher movies present their murders as. For example, the bully – Michael’s very first human kill – is shot almost exclusively in close-up with his crying bloodied face intercut with serene trees against the sun. We never see a single blow outside of the one to his knee that knocks him to the floor. And once we are stuck within those uncomfortable white walls with Michael, Faerch’s sudden shift from surly focus and unhinged lashing out to playing out the high-register boyishness is precisely what we’re not prepared with: actively rejecting remorse is one thing, but not even having remorse figured as a concept in a logic we can’t compute is just a knife wedged into us to align with Moon’s exhausted desperation at losing virtually all of her family with Michael’s psychological receding.

And there’s still room for sympathy with Michael himself, especially in the director’s cut where we are frequently hit back-and-forth with black-and-white footage and tape of Loomis’ observations that treat Michael like a bug under a microscope at times, in spite of the ostensible sincerity Loomis has with Michael’s well-being. In the end, Michael is a tragic figure certainly but he still remains a complete blank to not only us but to the people who ostensibly care about him in an entirely different way that Carpenter’s original boogeyman of the shadows: Michael is a human being but he just did not keep his humanity. When that was, who knows? It’s likely something that snapped before the movie even begins. Nevertheless, it lends itself to a presentation of movie violence and its aftermath in a way that’s fully distressing and makes our investment in this murderous child who is forced upon us as protagonist to be hopeless and futile, especially in the knowledge of what’s on the other side of this material. Punctuating this is a humane bit part performed by none other than Danny Trejo and used savagely as an indication of just how impossible it is to salvage Michael’s human quality.

Suffice it to say, I think this first half of Zombie’s Halloween is… near-perfect. What keeps the theatrical cut version for me from being perfect is the lack of that Loomis tape material, what keeps the director’s cut version from that is a remarkably awful and brutal rape scene ostensibly used to facilitate Michael’s escape but clearly the theatrical cut was able to circumvent around. It is horrible enough to undo the good-will of the added material and make the theatrical cut my preference (though I am kind of tempted to make a fan-cut of the director’s cut replacing that sequence maybe for my own watching). In any case, there is no doubt a drop of quality to come once the movie arrives back in Haddonfield and realigns itself to Laurie as a protagonist, a speed bump I feel the movie has trouble recovering from particularly because of Taylor-Compton is never more than adequate in the role. I think she’s relatively accurate to a high school girl in 2007 with her casual vulgarisms and affable sisterhood towards her friends, especially Danielle Harris triumphantly returning to the Halloween franchise now as Annie Brackett. But there’s nothing there that stands her out as the sort of girl who would believably be willing to babysit two kids over going to Halloween parties and it feels like our alignment is merely a formality to indicate we are now back to retracing the steps of Carpenter’s film. Much of its relevance feels like that pre-existing knowledge, particularly when it comes to Laurie’s true identity as Angel Myers… the baby sister of Michael who was the only person in that home who Michael showed kindness to and spared on that horrible night.

Zombie, I have to say, spent his remake duology (as we’ll see when we get to his Halloween II) making a boon out of that relationship rather than its twist ending treatment in Carpenter’s movies fucking up the complexity of the original. It’s not NOT treated as a twist here when Annie’s father Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Brad Dourif who reliably gives a competition for best in show the way that Dourif has done his whole career) reveals he was responsible for Laurie’s re-adoption by the Strodes (played by Pat Skipper and that patron saint of movie moms, Dee Wallace, with a particular scene in the DC between Wallace and Taylor-Compton that patches over my least favorite beat in the younger actor’s performance). But it feels like the eventual point we are going to get to considering how much screentime in the early few minutes is dedicated to establishing the presence of a baby in all of this madness and her reaction to Michael’s presence, especially given the cries of that baby are the very last thing we hear before that 15-year jump.

And that’s not the only “past fuck-up” that Zombie has made into a strength: after the past two movies specifically forcing us to keep looking at Michael’s eyes behind the mask when he’s best visually portrayed with empty shadows there, now we have reason to see them: an anchor to that young boy (which is interesting in that none of his paper masks give us a window to his eyes) and a recognition of the curdled soul within this large behemoth of a man that Mane is. It brings focus to the brutal source of these events.

But that knowledge of Laurie and Michael’s relation and the journey we took with Michael watching him curl into the shadows of unknowable thoughts behind his paper masks ends up all the movie needs (even though I think it would do better to just keep Michael as the single point of view for the second half) to act as auto-critique regarding what the original film depicts in the fashion of how that most dismissed of horror movie remakes Psycho acts as auto-critique of its own act of remaking a classic. The beats are familiar indeed, even with the notable diversions (biggest of all being a layover in Michael’s wrath towards the Strode parents themselves), but the differences are THE point of the movie and being tethered to the first half means we recognize these unpleasant and ferocious actions are not in a vaccuum at all. Michael is all too real and so is the irreversible sadism he delivers, consistent from first frame to last. None of which undoes the horror we feel when met with the carnage he’s causing, which is sustained in ways that uncharacteristically refrain from focusing on the (still present) blood that is discharge with every contact he makes or even twice over using the still nighttime exterior of a home disrupted by Michael’s malignant actions. It’s just a wholly distinct tone from Carpenter’s film with the same material and in its deliberate approach, it feels essential to recognize that however one lands with the film overall at the end.

I’m not entirely decided on that, to be clear. In the 15 years since its release, I’ve truly come to admire what it does and probably because I came to be more of a Rob Zombie fan* and I think writing these 2500+ words (way more than I aimed for) have come to make me realize that enough goes right in Zombie’s Halloween to accept it as a passing film. I don’t know that I’d call it great yet: even in the understanding that this is the result of having a lot of stuff to explore and being able to recognize the rhythms in the second half I couldn’t once, it feels quite long in its 2 hours and the fact that the movie bulldozes past the ending beat of the original to several more minutes of further aimless flailing in gray dustiness until this movie finally finds an emotionally harrowing closing note. The early introduction of our recognizable Michael Myers mask as a tool for sex-play feels like an arbitrary bit of contempt for the material. And I appreciate how certain moments late in the film bring a nugget to what Zombie would explore in his sequel, a single sequence of confusion between a horrified Taylor-Compton and a soulful and exhausted Mane, but it feels like it’s in the wrong Zombie Halloween movie. Keep in mind both of those irksome elements feel tied to elements that I think are brilliant which I think embodies how this movie feels like dealing with good and bad tied together.

But I now come to feel the good outweighs the bad: Zombie may have had his public struggles with the studio to make his Halloween films his way, but I think he succeeded in making something idiosyncratic by the time his first film landed and presented a view of a quintessential horror movie killer that interacts with the audience’s knowledge of what he will become to investigate how far back can you explore him psychologically before just giving up and recognizing that’s nothing there. That’s a proposal that I think is no less scary than just the idea that there’s a mysterious shape in the shadows that might just arrive and force you to the big sleep, simply because that is what evil does and some people just are.

*Justice for Joe Grizzly, I wanna see a Joe Grizzly trucker picture, bitch.
**as filmmaker, mind you; I’ve honestly been banging Hellbilly Deluxe, La Sexorcisto, and Astro-Creep as Halloween time replays since I became a metalhead in middle school so there was never room for revisionism there.

Lipstick on a Corpse

I mentioned in the last review that Jamie Lee Curtis’ return to the Halloween franchise in H20 included some conditions and it’s about time we talk about the most crucial one: she was coming back under the strong impression H20 was going to be the last word on the franchise and more particularly that her character Laurie Strode would be the one to kill Michael Myers ensuring the full wrap-up. Well, the wrinkle in that deal is that Moustapha Akkad has his own contract with its own terms, a major one being that Michael Myers cannot die. Kevin Williamson was ordered to invent a lifeline through which Michael could cheat death once more. The result was a development in which prior to Laurie’s climactic hijacking of the ambulance in which Michael was being transported at the end of the previous film, the paramedic who was moving Michael was knocked out and made incapable of speech before having his clothes swapped with the serial killer. So when Laurie finally swung that axe that decapitated her boogeyman, it was not in fact him.

Curtis was understandably furious at this sudden undercutting of her character’s development and close to dropping right out of H20 before being alleviated by a new set of terms:

1 – any footage that gave the slightest inkling Michael was still alive could be filmed during H20‘s production (and indeed material was shot the very day after filming ended) but would not appear in the feature and could only be intended for use in the follow-up.

2 – the very first thing the follow-up would do is have Laurie die as penance for killing an innocent person.

Indeed, when Halloween: Resurrection finally rolled out in 2002 – four years since H20 dropped – it opens specifically to satisfy the latter request: Laurie is shown to be institutionalized for her trauma and crime as a pair of nurses (one of whom is played by Lorena Gale, making her one of two future cast members of the excellent 2003 Battlestar Galactica remake show) dump that explanation on how things REALLY rolled in H20, complete with the footage shot four years ago on that set. Michael (now played by Brad Loree) finally shows up to finish her off, but she’s went and set a trap in anticipation of this which gets her dangerously close enough to killing him that she hesitates to wonder “what if I’m wrong again?”. She wasn’t, as the knife shoved in her would prove before being dropped down to her death. Throughout this miserable obligation of an opening sequence to be totally divorced from the rest of the film, the returning nemesis of this franchise Rick Rosenthal provides more perfunctory direction than he did in Halloween II and Jamie Lee Curtis is simply fucking done, maintaining the one “thousand yard stare” for the entirety of her screentime so she can dissociate from what a major betrayal she’s forced to give a character she worked so hard on. It is thoroughly dispiriting, that opening of Halloween: Resurrection is.

And here’s the rub: this is the best part of the movie, the only moment the film feels like it has consequence. Not a single fucking thing goes right in that section, least of all how it begins to introduce this movie’s transition of Michael Myers from mysterious shadowy force to broad and burly Jason Voorhees. Michael doesn’t open doors, he busts through them messily like he’s on a drunken bender. Meanwhile, Rosenthal uses Michael as a proxy for the one thing that will end up connecting this introductory scene to the rest of the movie: there’s a really shitty moment of Michael’s POV handing some dweeb in the hospital the knife he killed Laurie with, with the angle suggesting Michael is moonwalking out of the patient’s room and into the hallway.

For you see, Halloween: Resurrection proper is about an reality show set to stream live on the internet from none other than Michael Myers’ childhood house in Haddonfield on Halloween night. The brave souls who have been recruited for the endeavor are a bunch of college students who seem to have no personality beyond loudness (including Katee Sackhoff, the OTHER Battlestar Galactica cast member here with no opportunity to showcase the wonderful work she’d do in that show). We can pinpoint the final girl to be Sara (Bianca Kajlich) simply because she’s the quiet one and looks frequently bothered by stuff. Regardless of their capability to walk in a straight line, every participant is fitted up with a webcam rig that lets audiences see what they see.

Good for the drunken high school douchebags at a Halloween party we keep cross-cutting with throughout the movie as they find this broadcast compelling enough to watch, but for yours truly… this is torture. The quality of the web cam footage is about as poor as you’d expect in 2002, very noisy and busted up with video disruption and the movie is happy to pad its remaining 75 minutes with as much of these dingdongs flinging around a lens with a string connection as it possibly can. This shit starts before the college kids start their stay, since we get another Michael POV shot where he shows us and the poor cinematographer setting up cameras in his house he’s learned a kill from Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom. At least he’s getting his proper slasher education, y’know. For indeed, Michael has been sticking around in the house since killing Laurie left him with nothing to do. And who is he to be rude to his guests and leave them unattended?

Anyway, it’s really thin gruel as a story that writers Larry Brand and Sean Hood put together for this toss off, harmless enough as to be expected from any slasher sequel THIS close to be a direct-to-video dump. But including reality tv? Internet shit? Circa early 2000s primitivism? Featuring a subplot where Sara’s chatroom catfish friend Deckard (Ryan Merriman), an attendee of said Halloween party, is her only hope to survive as he watches all angles of the house to see where Michael is? This is just made grating and dated. Much as Halloween 6 and Halloween H20 embodied the most annoying parts of 90s culture in their own way, Halloween: Resurrection turns round the millennium with The Blair Witch Project as the latest horror movie craze and trying to figure out “how do we use 21st Century technology to make this the stupidest fucking thing ever?”. The reliance on a visual resource that was not even ready for the family’s trip to Disneyland, let alone a professional and wide-released feature film with Hollywood money, just blankets over everything already wrong and casual about this money job of a picture and makes it agonizing to force upon my eyes, accompanied with shrill characters to torture my ears, and not a single fucking bit of it feeling spooky.

There’s only one salve, one true saving grace, a champion for this disaster of a picture: rapper Busta Rhymes as Freddie, one-half of the founders of this reality show Dangertainment (the other is celebrity Tyra Banks doing her… Tyra Banks thing). He knew there wasn’t a single fucking thing anybody could take seriously about this movie and he rolled with it from there: providing impromptu speechifying for his persuasive character, imbuing an obsession with kung fu flicks that leads into his character’s hand-to-hand with Michael himself, and even making a boon out of H20‘s heinous decision to let us see Michael’s eyes so we can watch the fearful death of a paramedic by having an extended amount of the film be Freddie trying to manufacture terror on his show and play at being Michael in a cynical fashion. It’s the sort of deranged character and performance that would be so-bad-it’s-good in any other film, except that his ability to provide enjoyment out of a film so vehemently anti-pleasure as this one means that one can’t possibly take an ironic distance from the genuine entertainment he brings. Busta Rhymes is doing God’s work in the Godless place that is Halloween: Resurrection, walking away from one of the worst movies ever made (which of course it joins Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers‘s theatrical cut so its not bereft of company in this franchise) without a single thing to be ashamed of and blessing us with the one-liner to end all one-liners as we head out the door:

Hallowater

Enough was enough for Daniel Farrands after Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers was such an exhausting and failed power struggle that he decided to exit out of the development of a follow-up. Enough was enough for Moustapha Akkad as well who used the money the franchise had generated for him over the last 2 decades to wipe his tears after observing the extant profits of the last four entries were dwarfed by what the first Halloween movies brought in.

What did those two movies have that the rest of the franchise didn’t? To be frank, a lot. But the critical needs became evident – especially in the absence of the now-dead Donald Pleasence, whose Dr. Sam Loomis cameos in voiceover by Tom Kane – when Kevin Williamson, hot off the success of Scream and with Dimension Films still involved in this entry, pitched the return of Laurie Strode to the franchise (not even the first writer to pitch Laurie’s return to the producers, ’cause it was evidently that desired). And Jamie Lee “I Dislike Horror Movies and Don’t Watch Them (Despite My Early Career Being Propped Up by the Genre)*” Curtis agreed to come back, to certain conditions that I think it’s best to discuss with the next Halloween movie. With the triumphant return of the series’ original heroine after establishing her death, we come to the first of the Halloween franchise’s two major retcons, assuming we ignore the way Halloween III and the Rob Zombie remakes throw further wrenches in chronological solubility. And yet The Texas Chainsaw Massacre is right next door having literally every sequel re-write the last entry.

Curtis was also interested in seeing John Carpenter come back to the directing chair, but that collapsed when Carpenter demanded enough money and a multi-picture deal with Dimension that would restitute payment he felt owed for on the original 1978 film. Not to worry though, as Akkad instead hired Steve Miner for the job, a slasher film habitué by then with his Friday the 13th entries. One of those entries – Part 2 – is essentially the slasher film from which I compare all other slasher films, so how does the ceremoniously titled Halloween H20: 20 Years Later… fare against Part 2?

Not really all that well.

Williamson, for the record, is not the credited screenwriter. Robert Zappia is and I’m sure he earned that credit by building the entire set of events on Williamson’s pitch. But it’s also a known fact that Williamson had a major hand in carrying the production with Miner, including retouches of Zappia’s screenplay that I’m certain were extensive and ok’d by either Akkad, Weinstein, or both in the desire to re-capture that hip winking attitude of Scream (obvious to the point that even the credited composer for this movie, John Ottman, had his own score retouched by Scream‘s composer Marco Beltrami. Even outright cues from Scream were recycled here).

I don’t like Scream and I REALLY don’t like Williamson’s manner of writing, especially dialogue. It belongs to teenagers, sure, but the most annoying teenagers possible. And as it would turn out: Halloween H20 had been transplanted to take place in Hillcrest Academym a boarding school populated by such teens. Our main focus turns out to be John (the eternal non-entity Josh Hartnett, who would star in another Kevin Williamson/Dimension Films production The Faculty later that year). For you see, John is the son of the headmistress Keri Tate and Keri turns out to be the brand-new identity of Laurie, who faked her own death by car crash** and re-located all the way to sunny California to escape her past. Which means – with our first Michael Myers entry that does not take place in Haddonfield – we are shortchanged from any of this franchise’s characteristic indulgence in color-correction and chilly atmospheres to disguise its locations as the Midwest, save for a very satisfying opening sequence in which the movie plays the same trick with then-tv-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt that Scream played with Drew Barrymore.

Here’s what I will cop to: convincing Curtis to come back absolutely paid off because she brought a vengeful interest to interrogate how one truly goes back to living after an experience as horrifying as the events of 1978. She’s doing a lot of deep character work connecting what Laurie was back then with the now hyper-protective potential alcoholic that IS able to keep everything together but looks like she won’t give herself an inch more breathing room than she has right now. It is very tempting in 2022 to compare Keri Tate in H20 and Sarah Connor in Halloween ’18 because H20 appreciates with that perspective, but even on its own merits, the movie is rather excellent when Laurie’s internal struggle with walking through life with painful psychological scars and letting her son live his own life.

John is treated as a duotagonist and gets his own extent of material out of the shadow of Curtis. And by god it is really dire, a teen drama about wanting to sneak out because “parents don’t understand” so he can hang out and drink with his crew. A crew which includes an early-career Michelle Williams as Hartnett’s girlfriend, who I forgot broke out with Williamson’s later smash hit tv show Dawson’s Creek and was once capable of rivalling the wet blanket Hartnett for worst performance in a movie before she’d meet Kelly Reichardt. The dialogue is very “how do you do kids?” in a sterile way and the goals are shallow enough in a manner that makes sense for any middle-of-the-road slasher looking for a body count (and this is the smallest body count of any Halloween movie since the original). Those failings are thrown into sharp relief compared to the three-dimensions of Curtis’ material and ends up frustrating how little of this after-school special about lying to your parents acts like a horror film. Prior to the 50-minute mark in the shortest Halloween movie (at 86 minutes), there’s 2 thriller setpieces: the afore-mentioned opening scene and one that “subverts expectations” by putting nobody in the scene in any real danger.

That “subverts expectations” element is a real bruiser when Michael Myers (Chris Durand this time) finally makes his way to the campus of Hillcrest Academy and gets close enough to John that Laurie needs to get into action and face her stalker once-and-for-all(-for-the-first-time). As we become aware of Michael’s presence and the horror movie conventions that should be activated by him entering the movie, there’s just so many fake-outs: fake-outs of what gruesome violence will be enacted like putting a person’s hand in a food disposal or a character suggested to be dead coming back just because the name celebrity playing him needs to survive, I guess. It feels like another symptom of H20‘s desire to be another Scream despite being significantly more irritable than anything Scream performed.

But if there’s one thing Miner as slasher filmmaker has shown himself reliable at: it’s Final Girl moments. And H20 would, by its premise, demand quite a Final Girl moment so all the development of Laurie as a figure wouldn’t be for naught. It gets it: Curtis expectedly gives a lot of hyper-tension and furious release in impressive modulations while Miner keeps a phenomenal handle on the geography of this two-way hunt and the impact of each blow made in this struggle. It particularly makes a boon out of cinematographer Daryn Okada’s naturalist interiors in the dark and the shafts of lighting cutting through the darkness that give the fight a real comic book gravitas.

Halloween H20 is a movie that really does open and close on its best material, right down to the very last shots of Jamie Lee Curtis’ face as the climax spills over from that final girl sequence to the seconds prior to the end credits that suggest this might be the best performance of Curtis’ whole career. So it’s not particular a movie I find all that difficult to watch. But those good moments are very imbalanced by the awful stuff: the 90s hipness, the teenage characters, the impish teasing over horror fundamentals, and most of all an understandable but heinously fatal decision to provide Michael with a shit-designed mask and lighting schema that allows us to see his FUCKING HUMAN EYES. Who needed that? Who wanted to feel like there was any humanity behind this being in any capacity? Turns out that it was fundamental to the manner through which this “final” face-off between the two central figures in the Halloween franchise leads into the next (and worst) film…

(as a fun little N.B.: like its immediate predecessor, this entry has a title card dedicating itself to Donald Pleasence, but this time misspells his last name as “Pleasance”. It was this particular error that caused me to realize I spent my entire life to this point misspelling Pleasence’s name.)

*Halloween, Terror Train, Prom Night, Roadgames, The Fog and – if you count it – the nepotism of being the daughter of the star of Psycho (from which Loomis himself got his namesake) who herself cameos in this picture.
**Which we shall note was the reported cause of death for her in the Jamie Lloyd trilogy and therefore this movie’s existence doesn’t necessarily negate that set of films. There was a scene that was never shot involving Laurie learning of Jamie’s death and I suspect that would have been a lot more upsetting than this movie is equipped to handle.

Like a Thorn in the Heart

As I mentioned in the previous review, Halloween 5 wrote out checks on the mysterious appearance of a Man in Black and his relationship to white-masked killer Michael Myers. Those checks were intended to be cashed in by the sixth Halloween movie. Except the writers for Halloween 5 did not end up coming back for that sixth movie and a ridiculously protracted development history – partly spurred on by Moustapha Akkad finding the reception for Halloween 5 disappointing and trying to figure out the best way to right the ship – that eventually landed on franchise super-fan Daniel Farrands to construct ten different screenplay drafts. The one that stuck involved an extensive supernatural mythology surrounding Michael that would make up the spine of that sixth Halloween movie. A dreadfully malformed spine that couldn’t possibly support any movie, let alone the two that essentially would have to make up our current subject.

For you see, there’s the rub in discussing the sixth Halloween: throughout the production, Bob Weinstein (as head of Dimension Films, which had partnered with Akkad’s Nightfall in producing the film) and Akkad butt heads a lot over the direction of the picture and this climaxed after the movie’s initial NYC test screening in which audience members responded to a lot of the plot developments with derision and confusion. From there, Weinstein went above Akkad’s head to have an entirely new final act drafted by an unknown replacement writer and then had it reshot and cut into the picture with absolutely no grace whatsoever. The subsequent legal battle between Akkad and Weinstein landed on Weinstein being able to release his new cut in theaters in 1995 and Akkad’s cut – subsequently called The Producer’s Cut – became a bootleg item until its first official public screening in 2013.

So we have two versions of the sixth Halloween picture available for all: the 87-minute theatrical cut (which features the title card referring to itself as Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers) and the 95-minute “producer’s cut” (which features a title card Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, with the “a”s made in the form of a familiar rune). Despite mostly following the same plot thread for the majority of their runtimes, they are radically different movies beyond their divergent final acts and it’ll take more than a bit of housekeeping to discuss the two of them thoroughly.

But let’s start with what they DO have in common, which begins in a horrible place for us to revisit our heroine Jamie Lloyd in the 6 years since we left her: she’s been kidnapped by that mysterious Man in Black alongside Michael, has somehow been impregnated within the custody of their evil underground cult, had the child removed from her care upon birth, and worst of all… she is not played by Danielle Harris. No, Harris dared to ask a $5 million dollar budget production for a $5,000 payment and was balked at, so now Jamie is played by J.C. Brandy*. Probably just as well since it’s already upsetting enough to imagine the young traumatized child being carted off to be raped without having to recognize her in adulthood. Either way, the treatment of Jamie as a character within this film is a level of mean-spiritedness on par with Rachel’s disposal in the previous film. And I know that cruelty is an essential part of this subgenre, but it feels like the degree of suffering and targeting a character who basically acted as our emotional anchor for the last two movies feels unnecessarily punishing in a way that cuts out the fun of the subgenre, y’know?

But I digress: Jamie is aided by an ill-fated nurse to retrieve her baby and escape as Michael follows her relentlessly through the dark and stormy night (George P. Wilbur returning to the role officially after Halloween 4, even though he still performed stunts for the character in Halloween 5). He catches up and violently attacks her, but Jamie manages to hide her child beyond Michael’s grasp and make a wide call for help on a radio broadcast before meeting her fate.

A call heard by not only Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence in his final outing with the role, passing away months before the movie’s release) and his colleague Dr. Terence Wynn (Mitch Ryan), but another individual who has history with Michael: Tommy Doyle, the young boy who Laurie Strode babysat that fateful night in 1978. He’s now grown up, obsessed with his childhood near-death experience, and played by a fresh-faced actor known as Paul Rudd who would notoriously retain that boyish look into his 50s. Undoubtedly the subsequent stardom Rudd experienced left him not missing this production one bit. Anyway, Tommy deduces Jamie made her call at the local bus station and finds the baby there, bringing it back to his home right across the street from the Myers house itself.

A house populated by another strand of the Strodes it turns out, headed by Laurie’s until-now-unseen uncle John (Bradford English). John appears to be a complete piece of shit to everyone under that roof, especially his daughter Kara (Marianne Hagan) and her out-of-wedlock son Danny (Devin Gardner) as she tries to rebuild her life moving in with her parents and going back to school. Also there is Kim Darby of all actors playing John’s long-suffering wife, surpassing Pleasence as the most overqualified actor in the picture. Loomis tries and fails to convince the Strodes to vacate the home, whose history was shadily known only to John. Kara and Danny are at least brought out of harm’s way by Tommy, who begins to unwrap the mystery behind why Michael does what he does as the Man in Black and his cult tightens in on our protagonists.

I think that gets about as far as the two cuts come before splitting entirely into their different movies, but already by this point watching one yields unalike experiences from the other. The best summary one can give about the two cuts’ distinctions is how clearly jumpy and jagged the theatrical version is. It feels like Weinstein saw the patient breathing room that Akkad, Farrands, and director Joe Chappelle brought to each thriller setpiece and thought “why is it taking so long?” because it’s very clearly the same material but the space between incidents is fully removed so everything is high impact. Added to that is the increased amount of gore shots crafted by the legendary John Carl Buechler (who also the designed the film’s mask and therefore supplied Michael with his best look in any of the sequels), some of which is much appreciated like how the most unlikable character has his head explode. And there’s a heinous musical score that Alan Howarth and Paul Rabjohns forced upon the viewer by pasting hair metal guitar and drums over the Producer Cut’s moodier synthesizer music. In general, the theatrical cut leans into an incoherent amount of aesthetic excess that underline all the things wrong with the disorienting visual choices Chappelle and cinematographer Billy Dickson dig in. Farrands considered the resultant version with its continuous flashes and bombastic sounds to be “more of an MTV music video and a Halloween movie” and he’s right. The Producer’s cut is still not an elegant little thing with added material that makes it feel denser in the way that forcing a lid on an overfilled jar also feels denser. And I haven’t determined whether I find the dispatching of Jamie as a character in the theatrical cut is less contemptible than Akkad/Farrands’ version (the theatrical cut is of course gorier, but the Producer’s cut feels more miserable in its prolonging). But at least the Producer’s cut allows itself a coherence and legibility that the Weinsteins’ version willfully neglects.

There is are at least two major saving graces that are consistent regardless of the cut you’re watching, at least in terms of the recent Scream! Factory release through which I watched these. One of them is Pleasence, who makes his final go-round count and treats every development with a whole lot more dignity than it deserves. The other is the exterior photography, especially in the daytime, which grasps hard to every red, yellow, and brown that appears in frame and stresses the autumnal atmosphere of this Haddonfield Halloween, ending up the closest these never-shot-in-the-Midwest movies felt to being Midwestern late Octobers. Granting this was retained in both cuts I watched, my understanding is that the originally bootlegged Producer’s Cut – which was more workprint than official release and therefore more unfinished – had ENTIRELY different color grading from the theatrical. That’s not really the case with the Scream! Factory 2022 releases so I must assume the change occurred at least before then (I do own the 2014 blu-ray release and am curious if that has the original coloring, but am in no rush to rewatch this. I’m sure y’all understand).

But really when reckoning with how there are two unalike movies under the guise of being the sixth Halloween, one truly has to acknowledge the contrasting final acts of both because… it’s really something. They both maintain the production’s desperation to ride on that latest X-Files craze that was rolling in the mid-1990s with a determination that Michael is driven by the Druid curse of the rune þ (pronounced “Thorn”) and that rune is being controlled by the mysterious Man in Black and… goddamn is that some doofy fan fiction out of Farrands (ostensibly this was pulled from the novelization of the original 1978 film and that’s why books are obviously evil).

But then there’s the Producer’s cut, which at least revisits the opening sequence with as a cyclical structural decision for the film’s climax. It even tries to make a resolution out of the Man in Black reveal (because of course his identity is revealed) and Tommy’s knowledge of Druid runes. It’s just that it’s all so blatantly stupid and impossible for me to take seriously despite Pleasence’s best efforts.

And it’s still more satisfying on its own merits than the theatrical cut of the final act. First off, it is so disinterested in clarity that it took me refreshing myself with Wikipedia JUST AFTER watching that version to get what happened. Then there’s the further flop sweat behind the movie’s aping of X-Files by setting itself in a location that stresses science fiction and medical conspiracies over the primitivism of how the Producer’s Cut presents Thorn cult’s lair. And then there’s the blustering way it transforms into a Michael Myers ex machina AND back to a generic slasher chase sequence, except at a level of incoherent shot assembly that completely collapses the theatrical cut into a work of anti-art. The final moments of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers as released to paying audiences in 1995 is fully illegible and outright disorienting, with a repetition of same-scale and composition shots of Paul Rudd going toe-to-toe with Michael Myers at inhuman velocity and assaultive flash cuts that suggest you are literally dying as you watch the film and instead of your life flashing before your eyes, it’s one of the worst fucking movies of the 1990s. And then to top it off, it rips out the context for Pleasence’s last acting beat in the entire franchise, maintaining the pained scream he delivers but making it feel like it just generated out of thin air and like he… idk… just Ben Kenobi’d his way out of Halloween forever?

Halloween 6 – the Producer’s cut – is undeniably more functional than Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers – the theatrical cut – as the latter’s method of reconstructing the film and shoveling both new material and a re-assemblage of the same material gives the impression of performing a heart surgery by removing the intestines and lungs and kidneys and deliberately neglecting to put that shit back after inserting a pipe bomb where the heart should be. It’s honestly fascinating in a way: both because the formal wrongness of the theatrical cut just invites more awe in how Hollywood men can fuck something up with their money on the line, but also in how the ways it fails are so evidently “corrected” effortlessly with the Producer’s cut that the sole value of the picture is illustrating the difference between function and dysfunction in all aspects of post-production. Still, even for academic reasons, I couldn’t bring myself to recommend a version to watch, but that’s largely because I couldn’t bring myself to recommend the sixth Halloween movie at all. It’s all the same shitty movie, just served differently in a manner where the poisons you pick are either one of the worst Halloween movies (Producer’s cut) or one of the worst movies ever made (theatrical cut).

*This shan’t however be the last we see of Harris in the Halloween franchise, of course.

On Wings of Fear, The Terror Sweeps

It’s tough to write about as a masterpiece where everything said has already been said, as is the case with the 1978 original Halloween. Almost as tough is trying to write about a movie that is such an empty nothing and provokes virtually no response from you. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers* is that nothing, a movie that it’s hard to even muster hatred for.

Let’s start with observing that the screenplay written by Michael Jacobs, Shem Bitterman, & Dominique Othenin-Girard – the last of whom is also the director – embodies the sort of contempt for its immediate predecessor that ALIEN³ has for Aliens and by the same means. Fortunately, Jamie (Danielle Harris) is alive. Not well, mind you, as the final beat of Halloween 4 saw her attack her adoptive mother in the aftermath of Michael Myers’ chase and she’s been admitted into a clinic accordingly with enough trauma from her non-lethal actions to go completely mute. But she’s alive one year later and she’s being visited with lots of love by her sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell) and their friend Tina (Wendy Kaplan) right up until Michael (now played by the appropriately-named Don Shanks wearing I think the same mask from Halloween 4, but worse for the wear and completely loose at the neck. Which I suppose makes sense given what we watch the killer go through, but it’s hideously unintimidating in how thin it it makes his face look) goes and stabs Rachel to death in a characteristic “vulnerable girl who just got out of the shower” slasher sequence whose prolonging fizzles out any tension when Rachel is trying to figure out what that uneasy sound is in the house. It’s also where we meet two intolerable comic relief police officers (Frank Como and David Ursin) and their musical cue that sounds like an off-brand version of the “Bulk and Skull” theme from the Power Rangers franchise.

Turns out Michael has survived his ostensible death at the hands of the posse in Halloween 4 by diving out of the open mine he was blasted into and landing in a river just as they tried to finish the job with dynamite, giving us the single most hilarious image of the entire franchise as we watch Michael float through the river as the franchise’s theme music tinkles along. Also turns out Jamie’s nightmares of Michael from that film have developed into full-on EyesofLauraMars-level real-time visions from his point of view, leading to her watching Rachel’s death without being able to do anything. Understandably, such an experience has her retreating further from the interactions of others, especially that of Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence). After learning of Jamie’s psychic connection, Loomis has been trying to coerce her into assisting him to find Michael and put him away once and for all. His insistent speechifying leads to the most exciting and engaged acting Pleasence has given since the first Halloween, but it’s also definitely the sort of shit that would intimidate a traumatized child into inaction.

Most of all, since Jamie is psychologically and emotionally out of commission for the time-being, the only protagonist left for us to latch onto is Tina and… she is just… the worst. She’s somehow the least obnoxious of the party teens that make up her friend circle and therefore the early body count of Michael’s violent return to Haddonfield (the worst is her greaser boyfriend Mike, performed by Jonathan Chapin like a future domestic abuser). But she’s still absolutely the worst protagonist I can think of in the franchise: doomed to exemplify everything about the 1980s that damn well should have stayed dead in the 1980s from the garish wardrobe design (where her first outfit is some unholy cross between a goth corsette and a loud purple lace boa that is sewn on to look like it’s the worst flotation device ever) to her shallow party girl attitude that can’t even convincingly segue into her character’s ostensible concern for Jamie’s well-being without feeling like Kaplan’s playing it as a small joke. It’s a dive down in quality from the work Cornell did in the previous film and in that context the amount of time we have to spend with Tina is torture.

The good news is – and forgive me as I will acknowledge this is a vague SPOILER ALERT but I strongly suspect anyone who was that invested in the plot of Halloween 5 has seen it by this point – but Tina is NOT our final girl and she’s forced to carry only 2/3 of the picture at most. Michael’s terrorizing of her eventually catalyzes Jamie to help Loomis and Sheriff Meeker (Beau Starr being the fourth returning actor from the last film) to set up a trap in the old Myers home for Michael, which leads to a mildly satisfying chase sequence for Jamie.

The mechanics of that final girl sequence is not the only satisfying element of the protagonist switch, but simply the fact that Harris – with the challenge that Jamie brings as a role in refusing to speak and requiring expressiveness through other means – has enhanced her already incredible work in Halloween 4 while Pleasence allows himself a chance to strategically map around Loomis’ raves and desperate appeals into maybe the most emotionally accessible version of the character he’s ever provided.

But their efforts are for naught when put in the context of a movie directed by Othenin-Giraud, recommended to franchise producer Moustapha Akkad by former co-producer Debra Hill in an act that I must assume was vengeful sabotage on her part**. He seems to just be demanding Charles Tetoni and Jerry Brady at the editing chairs construct the movie out of shots that merely happen to have the characters in them performing the script’s directions rather than any conscious progression that could be determined from the sequence or any desire to establish the spaces in which the incidents take place. This is most horrid in the disastrous cutting for a talent show at the clinic, but it’s also film-destroying for crucial thriller moments like Michael interrupting a roll in the hay by having one of his victims run through the barn in mediums that establish no direction to her flee or a critical moment in the above mentioned chase where Jamie slides down a chute to escape Michael’s grasp, climbs back up as Michael races down to meet her at the end, and makes her way back to the ground floor. And that latter one ostensibly should be straight forward in ups and downs, but Othenin-Giraud clearly hasn’t met any angle in such a closed space that he didn’t love.

Most vital (at least for me), Othenin-Giraud has not done any work with cinematographer Robert Draper to give this the characteristic atmosphere that the first four Halloween movies aimed for. Returning to Salt Lake City as a filming location, the two neglect color-correction so hard that the movie ends up looking in its bright greens more like California than the entries that were ACTUALLY shot in California and the night sequence just feel so flat and matter-of-fact with no sense of chill or dreaminess or anything. It’s a movie fully lacking in visual personality, probably the greatest backbone to making even the bad Halloween movies watchable in some capacity.

Halloween 5 is not alone in its company of slasher films for the absurdly terrible year that 1989 – when it was released – turned out to be, with A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child and Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan each heralding the first death of the slasher genre’s heyday. But it feels like the entry with the least to offer, everything about it basically going through slasher movie motions without the slightest bit of inspiration. The most engaged the film seems to be with itself is the suggestive presence of a mysterious Man in Black (also played by Shanks) hanging around in the background and watching over the proceedings with a menace that leads itself into the movie’s exhausting sequel hook final beat. But that in itself seems to reveal what makes Halloween 5 feel so much like an obligation: it was a movie made to act as a trailer for its next entry, like a proto-MCU movie that’s trying to shovel in a mythos for a character like Michael Myers who did not invite any reason to explore what makes him such an impactful entity. If only the movie in and of itself promised any excitement to come.

*Mind you that subtitle is missing from the actual in-film title card.
**The originally targeted director was Jeff Burr, who went on after losing the job to direct another major slasher sequel Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III. That movie’s not very good either, but compared to this disaster, it makes me think of what could have been.

Homecoming

So Halloween III made less money than expected? That was enough to make Dino de Laurentiis jump ship. And audiences apparently demanded to see more of Michael Myers and nothing else? Well, that wasn’t exactly enough to convince John Carpenter and Debra Hill to disembark, but their early struggles in development to determine a suitable premise in agreement with Moustapha Akkad led eventually to them just deciding to wash their hands of the franchise by selling their rights to it*. So now the entire franchise was left in the hands of the moneyman to just arbitrarily write-off the deaths of not only Michael Myers but also Donald Pleasence’s zealous psychiatric adversary Dr. Sam Loomis after they pretty conclusively got sucked into a fireball at the end of Halloween II. And to top it all off, the screenplay Akkad seemed satisfied enough to move forward with production on was written by Alan B. McElroy, a scribe who we have the foresight in 2022 for recognizing over such exemplary dramaturgy as Spawn, Left Behind, and Ballistic: Ecks vs. Sever. All for the sake of maintaining some credibility with the franchise name. Halloween is basically doomed, isn’t it?

Well it is, but surprisingly Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers was not a nail in its coffin. In fact, it tore off a couple of those nails. The production gave Halloween a new lifeline despite the absence of Carpenter, Hill, cinematographer Dean Cundey, or star Jamie Lee Curtis (who was too deep in the momentum of her post-slasher stardom to go back to that well just yet…). All four of those are pretty critical shoes to fill as causes for the first movie’s success as a work of art, but if I was to pick the most essential one to Halloween 4‘s accomplishment, it’s probably Curtis’ replacement. Instead of simply one actor for the role of final girl, Halloween 4 saw the adequate substitute to be two: Ellie Cornell was cast as the teenage Rachel Carruthers while Rachel’s adopted little sister Jamie Lloyd was played by Danielle Harris.

Jamie Lloyd is central in the fixations of a surviving Michael Myers (this go-round being played by Tom Morga or his mid-production replacement George P. Wilbur and donning a new mask whose eyebrows and cheeks make it tougher to take seriously as he looks more like… shall we say… Teddy Perkins?). This is because she is in fact his niece – the orphaned daughter of a deceased Laurie. And Jamie herself has got her own fixations on Michael with continuous nightmares of a masked man rolling up and killing her, which is enough to make her uneasy within a foster family that is as benign as one could hope. The only real tension comes from Rachel being volun-told to babysit Jamie over her Halloween boyfriend plans. Once Myers decides to fulfill these nightmares by escaping a custody transfer, Dr. Loomis races right back into Haddonfield to catch the attention of the current Sheriff Ben Meeker (Beau Starr) and get Jamie and Rachel holed up in Meeker’s barricaded home with a set of officers. As Michael finds his way into the home, Rachel finds herself the one person between her sister and her living doom.

As you can tell, this is a sparse narrative almost as worthy of Carpenter and Hill’s original screenplay. And while it’s not particularly a swift movie even with the below-90-minute runtime it has – there’s a subplot involving Rachel’s unscrupulous boyfriend Brady (Sasha Jenson) finding his way into the Sheriff’s home ahead of time to answer a booty call by Meeker’s daughter Kelly (Kathleen Kinmont), ostensibly existent only to answer the tawdry demands of the slasher genre and pad the body count – but the simplicity in the three-pronged conflict between Rachel, Jamie, and Michael is an appreciated manner of refocusing what this franchise’s strengths were in thriller fundamentals. And the locked house scenario at the latter half acts as a horror movie remake of Rio Bravo the way that you’d expect Carpenter to indulge (and he did).

Really though, Halloween 4‘s winning strategy ends up being its focus on Rachel and Jamie’s relationship as sisters, which is given good enough bones from the screenplay but truly enhanced by Cornell and Harris as actors. The two of them give here the two best performances the franchise would see since the original film and arguably the remainder of the franchise save for one final return by Curtis, certainly outshining Pleasence’s frustratingly sedate outing as Loomis until the ending beat allows him to shout like we want him to. Harris handles a complex mix between unrelenting dread that escalates into terror but then transforms that into fascination with finally meeting the figure from her worst dreams. By that merit, her psychologically sophisticated performance is single-handedly justifying Halloween II‘s infamous twist more than any other non-Rob Zombie follow-up. Cornell is more down-to-earth and conventional as a slasher film heroine comes, but her chemistry with Harris grounds the conflict with a recognizable desire to protect your younger sibling and deepens the most essential stakes of this film.

That’s a lot of words without even acknowledging the director Dwight H. Little and that’s mostly because he stays out of the way of the parts that make it work, acting as a much more functional journeyman than Rosenthal in Halloween II in that he’s not interested in mimicking the long takes and color grading of the 1978 film. That makes things a little less stylish and visually interesting but Little does bring one boon to the proceedings: he is the first director in the franchise to come from the Midwest and the Ohio-born director works exceptionally well with cinematographer Peter Lyons Collister to transform the springtime Salt Lake City into a believable Illinois in the middle of autumn, starting the movie at its peak of gorgeousness with magic hour fields against the opening credits. Collister goes even further to distinguish this from his predecessor Cundey’s work when it comes to ignoring all the nighttime blues (which remain present in outdoor scenes) for heavy blacks that weigh down the interiors of that Sheriff’s house, bringing a different flavor of visual intensity from the dreaminess of the first two Myers entries.

Nobody will ever mistake Halloween 4 for a masterful work of art, but its ambitions were never such and that does plant a hard ceiling on how well it works. But all the ingredients introduced to replace the best components of the 1978 masterpiece end up resulting in something that is more than the sum of its parts. The outcome is an entry that is satisfying enough as a middle-of-the-road slasher thriller, but also brings a lot more promise in its two young heroines and the direction they can take things story-wise. No way the franchise could possibly undercut them after saving Halloween, is there?

(Also this has a personal place of esteem for yours truly as one of two movies that most inspired my favorite contemporary musician of all, guitarist Brian “Buckethead” Carroll. So, y’know, extra love for that even if the other movie is the shrill Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2).

*Carpenter, once again in characteristic fanboy fashion, fought hard alongside Debra Hill to get a greenlight on a draft they commissioned from another genre literature heavyweight: Dennis Etchison.