"Death has come to your little town" : Dr Sam Loomis
Is it the music, or the eerie facelessness of Michael Myers, or the sheer simplicity of the script that has made Halloween my favourite horror film of all time? Who knows/ but really, those are deep questions for a more prychologically introspective blog that I might write one day. For now, let's just take a look at the original movie and the peaks and toughs which followed it. Actually, maybe I should've called this piece "The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall of Michael Myers". As ever the movie title links will take you to Amazon, were you can find out more about the film and make the purchase, if you like.
Okay, enough sales talk, let's fire up that Jacklantern and settle down for the long road through Haddonfield.
It started out simply. It was 1978. There was a young independent director named John Carpenter, a young producer named Debra Hill, a script they co-wrote titled "The Babysitter Murders" and a tiny budget. The result was an iconic phenomenon that helped shape the glut of slasher movies that became a genre all their own in the late 1970s and early 80s to the dispair and dismay of decency watchdogs, self appointed censors and do-gooders everywhere, but particularly in the U.K.
It was decided that The Babysitter Murders would be re-titled Halloween and it gave rise to holiday themed massacre movies, based on the slaughter of promiscuous teens on certain days of the year. In quick succession, April Fool’s Day was a day to be feared, My Bloody Valentine spoke for itself, Happy Birthday to Me was anything BUT a day of celebration and nobody in their right minds would even venture in to the woods if it happened to be Friday the 13th. If anybody’s counting, Easter , Thanksgiving and Bar-Mitzvahs are still available.
Halloween was filmed on location - though not in Illinois in the autumn where the film is set , but California in early spring. The dead leaves blowing across the road had to be brought in, swept up at the end of the day and used again. The cast of mainly unknowns starred virginal Jamie Lee Curtis, who quickly became the cover girl for horror fans world-wide, also on hand was veteran British actor Donald Pleasance adopting what could easily qualify as the single phoniest American accent heard on film to that point. Pleasance joined the cast after both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee passed on the project. A decision which Christopher Lee in particular would later regret.
The story was an exercise in simplicity. On Halloween night in 1963 in Haddonfield, Illinois, teen aged Judith Myers is stabbed to death by an unseen assailant after sex with her boyfriend. The murder is seen subjectively as though we, the audience are looking through a mask. As "we" leave the scene of the slaughter we are approached by a couple of adults, the camera pulls back to reveal Judith’s young brother. Michael - a child.
Quickly moving to the (then) present day, Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasance) and a nurse are hurrying to a psychiatric hospital on a stormy night. They find the patients wandering around in the rain, almost zombie-like. But Michael Myers has escaped, and he’s heading back to Haddonfield with some unfinished business.
Unease mounts as the anonymous Myers, wearing blue overalls and a store bought "Captain Kirk" mask seems to home in with both a seeming randomness and a robotic determination on three girls, Annie (Nancy Loomis...and that really WAS her name) Lynda (P.J.Soles) and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). The two sexually promiscuous girls are killed, good girl Laurie survives the carnage as Dr Loomis empties his gun at the seemingly unstoppable killer. Following a textbook exercise in creating unease, writer director John Carpenter has one final shock in store. He rewrote the rules. After decades of seeing the monster or killer or vampire in the horror movies killed before the credits roll thus allowing audiences to go home to their beds happy, Carpenter shows us that the horror most definitely isn’t over. Myers is still on the loose.
Three years later in 1982, the story continued with "Halloween 2". As the poster stated simply "More of the night HE came home" and the cheap Don Post "William Shatner" mask would again enter our nightmares, especially when worn by an unkillable mass murderer wearing blue overalls. The film picks up where the original left off and scriptwise has to cope with the indestructibility of Myers now being known to the audience. Despite a script by Carpenter & Hill, most of the subtlety and ingenuity of Carpenter’s masterpiece are abandoned by director Rick Rosenthal in favour of more "in your face" kills, as the budget back in 1978 wouldn’t stretch as far as prosthetics, fake blood or make-up. But this time we’re shown, variously death by sharp instrument, naturally, also death by injection into an eyeball, death by flame - and even death by Jacuzzi.
Laurie Strode(Jamie Lee Curtis again) is taken to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital after her narrow escape from Myers. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is still after Myers, and the small town is in a panic as news of the massacre spreads.
Myers still seems to have some kind of homing signal on Laurie and overhearing a news broadcast, follows her to Haddonfield Memorial, which is the least populated medical facility on the planet. Apart from a few babies which are conveniently forgotten when the facility blows up at the end (no mothers mentioned) Laurie seems to be their only patient. Myers soon works his way through the sparse nursing staff, using an endless supply of sharp surgical instruments for his own purposes, while Laurie, who is sedated, flashes back to a forgotten childhood memory of a brother. I suppose it made sense at the time, that if fashion was to be followed and Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker’s father, then Michael Myers could be Laurie Strode’s brother. The reason for his single minded pursuit was that he wanted to finish the job he’d started back in 1963, but the underlying motive wouldn’t be revealed until Halloween 6. Tonight wasn’t his night though, and Laurie would be saved for the second time by Dr Loomis who would sacrifice himself by blowing up the hospital to destroy Myers for once and for all. There is a remarkable scene where a stunt stand-in for Myers walks toward the camera completely engulfed in flame for several seconds before falling. Unfortunately the cumbersome fireproof suit is all too apparent, but it still looks good.
Besides, who wouldn't love the use of "Mr Sandman" on the closing credits?
Halloween 3: Season of the Witch
That was it. The story was told. Michael Myers was dead and gone, never to return. To prove the point, Halloween 3 - Season of the Witch wasn’t even about Myers. Tommy Lee Wallace directed his own screenplay which was in turn based on a concept by famed and acclaimed British sci-fi writer Nigel Kneale. Producers Carpenter & Hill wanted the "Halloween" franchise to continue with the simple concept of releasing a horror movie with the day itself being the continuing theme, rather than the ongoing saga of a murderous maniac. This story, basically of microchip witchcraft fit the bill perfectly and is a better movie than it’s often given credit for.
But you can’t keep a good man down. Michael Myers was created by John Carpenter & Debra Hill but would return to screen despite them in 1988 with Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. The rot started here and for a long time, the only way for Myers to go was downhill.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
The title sequence of Halloween 4 bodes well, with a series of really atmospheric shots depicting late October. Mainly rural and suburban scenes, with scarecrows, pumpkin patches, and Jacklanterns, but that’s about as good as it gets. This film actually peaks with the title sequence, I’m afraid.
It’s 10 years since the events of Halloween 2 and back at the beleaguered Smith’s Grove "where society dumps its worst nightmares" there’s a patient pick up and transfer. These rarely seem to go well at Smith’s Grove. The patient is Michael Myers, who nearly burned to death along with his doctor. Myers is almost comatose with tranquillisers but breaks free when her overhears a nurse mention that he has a 7 year old niece, Jamie (Danielle Harris) who lives with her step family, following the death of her mother Laurie in a car accident 11 months earlier.
Jamie has been having recurring nightmares involving multiple Michael Myers sightings, despite the fact they’ve never met. As halloween approaches, the sightings seem to be getting worse.
Loomis, now sporting facial burn scarring, comes back on the trail, telling anybody who’ll listen - which amounts to nobody - that Myers is headed back to Haddonfield, which is of course entirely correct. There is a neat visual reference in this film where Jamie picks out a trick or treat costume, and it’s identical to the clown suit worn by young Myers on the night he killed his sister in 1963. But she’s not the only one out looking for a costume. Myers is also at the same store, and picks up a mask. Now, this mask is in no way identical to the blank faced classic of the previous films, this one makes him look a bit bemused. In fact, in certain scenes at certain angles he’s a dead ringer for Star Trek - The Next Generation’s "Data".
As night falls and the halloween festivities start, little Jamie gets separated from her stepsister Rachel (Ellie Cornell), the town is plunged into darkness by Myers who seems to be in two places at once, Haddonfield finds itself practically without a police force thanks to an off camera massacre at the precinct, leaving pick-up trucks of redneck vigilantes trying to keep control by shooting anything that moves and Loomis gets thrown out of a window in his never ending pursuit of his patient.
In a final attempt to escape to safety, Rachel allows the rednecks to take both her and Jamie out of town in a pick-up, but Michael has somehow stowed on board without being noticed (don’t ask). Dispatching the men, he crawls on the roof of the pick-up but falls victim to the oldest trick in the book. Rachel brakes hard and Myers’s momentum throws him forward, in front of the truck so he can be run over. Still alive and staggering, he is repeatedly shot and falls into a well.
The final scenes show Loomis - even more scarred, but alive. He certainly overacts enough when Jamie appears at the top of the stairs with a large knife, having murdered her stepmother...in the clown costume. Nice ending with a smart visual cue to tie in with the rest of the series, but it’s a long, hard road to get there.
Halloween 5 - The Descent Into Madness Continues
Worse was to follow in 1989 when Halloween 5 : The Revenge of Michael Myers would be unleashed upon an apathetic audience. Starting with a flashback to Myers’s demise a year earlier by car, bullets and well, there’s an added twist of a hand grenade being thrown in to the well for good measure which wasn’t in the previous film. This leads to a "Bride of Frankenstein" moment, where Myers, much like Karloff’s monster in the Universal classic, survives his plunge, plus the fire, plus the water and collapses at the home of a hermit who takes care of him.
Flash forward a year and we see Jamie is in a psychiatric hospital following the murder she committed. Remarkably, Rachel is as devoted to her as a real sister would be, despite the fact that she carved up rachel’s mother. The bulk of the rest, we’ve seen all before. Myers wakes up at halloween, kills his benefactor and starts up a pursuit of Jamie. Loomis is back - more deranged than ever, which begs the question of why is he still allowed to do this. Surely after his previous attempts on what is, after all, a patient, would’ve had him struck off. Anyhow, Myers hits Haddonfield...again. But this time, a mysterious fedora wearing figure in black is trailing Myers. Rachel gets killed within the first 20 minutes of the film, Jamie has some sort of psychic link with Michael, Loomis gets thrown to his apparent, but not quite, death and Myers is eventually caught in a stell chain net and shot full of tranquillisers. He will spend the rest of his days in a maximum security prison....but the man in black we’ve glimpses throughout the film mysteriously springs Myers from his holding cell in Haddonfield prior to his transfer, leaving Loomis aghast and Jamie screaming. Awful. Let’s move on.
Halloween 6 - I Can't Believe They Made Another One
Rock bottom came in 1995 with "The Curse of Michael Myers". Inconsistencies would be the order of the day in the theatrical cut which despite a sound concept, fails on every conceivable level with execution. In the opening sequence a pregnant girl on a trolley is wheeled through what appears to be a large basement corridor to a cavern, where she gives birth among a bunch of hooded occultists. We learn this is Jamie (J.C.Brandy - an actress with virtually no resemblance to Danielle Harris). The events here take place six years after part 5, which was a year after part 4, where it was established that Jamie was 7 years old. That would make her 13 at the most here. Hmmmm. I don’t think so ! As Jamie is helped to escape, we find that Michael is also on the loose in the same place, with no explanation.
Halloween is now understandably banned in Haddonfield, and this is the subject of a radio phone-in as Myers is headed back, yet again, in pursuit of Jamie who’s trying to get home but is murdered on the way. Her baby is found by Tommy Doyle, the youngster that was babysat by Laurie Strode back in the original film. He lives opposite the Myers house, now occupied by the dysfunctional relatives of the original Strode family (this gets complicated). Tommy watches the house, knowing that Michael will be back one day. This is a safe bet as Myers has been regularly breaking out of his asylum since 1978.
What’s interesting about this film is that it tries to explain Myers’s origins. He is a force of pure evil, called "Thorn"which explains the hooded occultists at the beginning of the film. The head of this cult is the senior doctor at Smith’s Grove, Dr Wynn (Mitch Ryan) who is also the black garbed mysterious man who sprang Myers from prison in the previous film. Other members of the cult include Tommy’s deaf, kindly, elderly and seemingly harmless landlady, Mrs Blankenshipp and they want the baby - giving the film a sudden "Rosemary’s Baby" jolt as the Thorn cult abduct the baby.
So, it’s Tommy and Dr Loomis, who has suddenly lost his facial scarring as well as his American accent, to the rescue. In the basement levels of Smith’s Grove, the baby is being prepared for sacrifice, while Myers goes on another killing rampage with a machete he picked up from a hospital trolley. What kind of a hospital has a machete ? Using the massacre as a diversion, the baby is saved and Michael is lured to a trap where he’s pumped full of drugs by Tommy and beaten senseless with a length of steel pipe. As they leave, Loomis decides to stay behind with business to attend to and the film ends. Really. The film ends THERE !
By all accounts, the film tested badly when first screened and there were issues between actor Donald Pleasance and director Joe Chappelle and the cut described above was deemed the releasable "improved" print. The uncut version fared little better creatively but at least plugged a few plot holes.
In addition to the preceding, we learn that the baby was taken by the black clad figure, there’s a flashback to part 5 showing both Jamie AND Myers being taken from the prison that’s all new. The absence of scars on Loomis’s face is explained by plastic surgery, the absence of an American accent is explained by a stroke (?). There’s a lot more family footage of the Strodes, and a lot less graphic killing by Myers, but the main differences are towards the film’s end where it’s explained that the Thorn cult consider him a cleansing weapon and that he must kill every member of his family which explains his unrelenting pursuit of Laurie in the first couple of outings. An unpleasant aside has a heavy implication that Jamie’s baby has been fathered by Myers which really doesn’t bear thinking about. They are, after all, uncle and niece. Michael doesn’t get beaten and drugged in the uncut version - Tommy stops him in his tracks with some ancient Runes after the rescue , and when Loomis goes to attend to his previously unseen business, he finds Dr Wynn under the Shatner mask - Michael has changed places and is free to kill again.Certainly, that ending is better than no ending - as previously seen.
Halloween H20 - Now THIS Is More Like It
1998 was the 20th anniversary of Carpenter’s ground breaking film, and it was celebrated in style "Halloween H20" set twenty years after the original. Jamie Lee Curtis was back as Laurie Strode. She is living under the witness relocation program as the head of a private school. She is still in fear of her brother finding her, especially as Dr Loomis has passed on. All the students are away on a field trip, save a few...and an unwelcome visitor.
This was a return to form. There is no "Thorn" nonsense here. It distanced itself from the previous three films and was essentially a sequel to Halloween 2. (The distance was further reinforced in Halloween: Resurrection when the continuity of the fourth, fifth and sixth films was overlooked entirely during a recap). The film is a smart, effective addition to the series, and effectively closes a trilogy when watched with the first two, which is, in fact how I prefer to watch them. Michael meets his demise at Laurie’s hands when she beheads him, bringing his reign of terror to an end.
Or did she ?
Halloween: Resurrection - One More Time
Halloween: Resurrection was released in 2002, and was notable only for the closure of the Laurie Strode arc. He escaped beheading in "H20" by swapping clothes and mask with a paramedic whose larynx he’d crushed, thus rendering him unable to speak. Myers catches up to his sister in a psychiatric facility and kills her. Sadly, the rest of the film concerns a reality web cast from the Myers house on halloween night with Myers crashing the party. It’s entertaining, it’s effective, but adds nothing to the continuity other than Laurie’s last stand. Perhaps they should’ve left it at "H20" which had a real sense of closure.
However bad the films may have got during the fours, fives and sixes, and let's face it - Thorn? What on Earth were they thinking? There's something special and eerie about the image of Myers stalking Laurie Strode, taking his time, walking at a measured pace, with that music score in the background that is unmistakeably iconic and still, to this day, almost 32 years after I saw the film for the first time, STILL makes it required viewing at this time of year.
Copyright © 2010 - 2012 Robin Pierce. All Rights reserved.