Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Halloween: The Under-Appreciated Gems


Did you happen to hear my scream of joy late last year? When news broke that Jamie Lee Curtis would be reprising her role as Laurie Strode for another Halloween film, like most horror fans, I was super geeked. This is the reunion I’ve been waiting and hoping for but never in my wildest cinematic dreams did I think it would come to fruition. If you know me personally or read my guest posts for this site, you know my love for the Halloween franchise runs deep— okay, that’s an understatement. My love for the Halloween franchise borders on hysterical adoration. The original Halloween (1978) is my favorite horror film and one of my favorite films of all time. It continues to inspire me as a filmmaker in this genre. I also watch it every. single. Halloween.

So with the news of the new Halloween film coming out later this year, I felt it necessary to deep dive once again into the franchise as a whole but truly honing in on the often under appreciated films in the Halloween canon: 4, 5 and 6. First, let’s just acknowledge: Halloween '78 is a masterpiece and the sequel, Halloween II (1981) is one of the best movie sequels of all time and is an excellent horror film in every way that matters. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) veers far from the franchise and canon in a way that it deserves to be discussed as a stand alone film. Most people just know it as 'the weird Halloween film without Michael Myers' but it’s actually so much more. The only other film that gets discussed or acknowledged and receives collective praise is Halloween: H20 (1998) because it’s a really great film and it brings Jamie Lee Curtis back into the fold. (Side note: Halloween fans have come to accept that the franchise exists in parallel dimensions concerning Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode being alive or dead.)

So what about the other darlings in the franchise? Well, I get that without Jamie Lee Curtis/Laurie Strode they feel a bit removed from the spirit of the first two Halloween films but I also think that’s partially the reason they unfairly get overlooked.

In terms of maintaining the spirit of its franchise, of the unholy trinity of iconic slashers (Michael, Freddy, and Jason), A Nightmare on Elm Street does this best and most consistently throughout its films. But my horror-movie heart belongs to Halloween and I’m dedicating this post to why you should revisit the Haddonfield legacy in full (except for Resurrection. We’ve all decided that film didn’t happen). Watch all the Halloween films again. But especially—especially these three films that often get forgotten, overlooked or just completely dismissed:

WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS AHEAD!

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988): Yes, trying to move forward in the franchise without Jamie Lee Curtis/Laurie Strode was a difficult task, but the filmmakers found a way to do it and still make a really interesting and entertaining film. We are introduced to Laurie’s very young daughter Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) who is living with a foster family after the death of her parents. She has a foster sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell) who ends up having to babysit her during Halloween night. Michael Myers has been comatose in a psychiatric hospital for several years but when he awakens he learns of Laurie’s death and also that she has a daughter. So you know he’s now headed to Haddonfield to kill his niece and will leave a gruesome trail along the way.


Jamie knows the story of Michael Myers but doesn’t realize this is the same man she is having nightmares about. Even without Laurie Strode, the presence of Donald Pleasance’s super committed performance as Dr. Loomis holds this film and the franchise together. Dr. Loomis is always exciting especially when he’s talking about Michael’s “evil”. I really enjoyed this film overall, especially the brilliant final scene plot twist at the end when we discover young Jamie has stabbed her foster mother and Michael’s brutality has transferred to her. That final scene of this little girl in her blood-spattered clown costume holding a pair of scissors still gives me goosebumps—a chilling parallel to the first film when a young Michael killed his older sister Judith.

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989): Often thought of as the most lackluster of these three films but I liked it a lot. It does lack a certain atmosphere of the other films but I think the psychology of the film is intriguing. Jamie is now in a children’s clinic still plagued by horrific thoughts of brutally attacking her foster mother who survived. I found Jamie’s bond with Rachel to be tender despite what happened. Rachel still treats Jamie like her little sister. Sadly, since the horrific event in the last film, Jamie has now lost her ability to speak due to trauma. She has seizures and fits as she still feels “mentally” connected to her murderous uncle Michael Myers.


This, to me, lifted it above the other plot elements of the film that didn’t work and were much less compelling. What was also really fascinating is that Jamie gets Michael to take off his mask. It’s a surreal moment where we are forced to reckon with both the human and supernatural aspects of Michael Myers all at once. I found the moment shocking and wrestled with how to feel about it. But it’s something you never forget. Other than that, Michael’s brutal revenge plays out in a by-the-numbers way but I will always give the film props for attempting to explore the way trauma can be passed down through generations and it can be a connecting force in terrifying ways that hampers one’s ability to move forward, especially if we are unable to push past what we can’t understand and all the darkness attached to it.

Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995): I’m in the minority when I discuss how much I love this film and that’s quite alright. It’s darker, stranger and also much bloodier. I think what I’m drawn to most is how gripping the story is: here we have Kara Strode (Marianne Hagan), a young woman with her son Danny (Devin Gardner) and her family living in Michael Myers’ childhood home. Living across the street is a creepy-eyed (but still cute) Paul Rudd playing Tommy Doyle, the kid Laurie Strode was babysitting during the first film—now all grown up. What better way to honor the canon and expand upon it? I really liked Kara as a final girl because she possessed the “every girl”, earthy quality that Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode character did yet, I must admit, I wanted something more for Kara that never quite materialized.


This Michael Myers was much creepier in this film too. The elements of Michael’s evil origins being attached to the “Curse of the Thorn” are explored in ways that may have drove some fans away but as one who is intrigued by the occult, I found it to be a cool way to layer the story. Michael is “evil” but the evil is ancient and therefore, eternal. We learn that in 1989, Michael and Jamie had been abducted from the Haddonfield police station. Now six years later, we meet Jamie having a baby that ends up being taken away by a “Man in Black” cult figure. She escapes with the help of a mid-wife who is killed by Michael. Jamie also isn’t so lucky and is gruesomely killed by Michael Myers but her baby is safe. It eventually ends up in the hands of Tommy Doyle.

With Kara, Tommy, and Danny, who sees visions of the “Voice Man,” we get a dark film swirling with mayhem and lots of occult creepiness. We also get a final performance from Pleasance  before the actor’s death. I enjoyed the way this film honored the franchise and the Halloween mythology while trying to expand upon it in unusual and deeply unsettling ways with the smallest of details: Danny dropping the pumpkin is reminiscent of the first film where young Tommy drops the pumpkin at the elementary school. The way the scenes of the camera following Kara in the similar way it followed Laurie Strode for example. There’s also homages in small ways paid to When A Stranger Calls (1979) and The Shining (1980). You really can’t ask for much more in the sixth installment in a slasher franchise. I applaud the team behind this film for trying to do something bold, exciting and weirdly compelling.


About the Author

R. Shanea Williams is an award-winning filmmaker, writer, script consultant and proud nerd, who resides in Queens, New York. She loves movies, music, and long romantic walks to the refrigerator. Follow her on Twitter (@rshanea722)
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