Film

The Narrative of the 'Halloween' Saga Gets Confused Over Time

The message of John Carpenter's Halloween is simple: "Evil is here!" To expect any sequel to enhance that idea is to miss the point.

<i>Halloween</i>'s Downward Slide

The downward slide started by Halloween 4 continues with Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989). Set a year after Myers' return in part four, Dominique Othenin-Girard's film works against the idea of Myers being Evil incarnate. In earlier outings, Carpenter (and Dr. Loomis) made clear that no human force could stop Myers because he is not human. Here, however, we are treated to a rational, step-by-step process of his escape from the previous installment's mine explosion, which was believed to have killed the monster for good.

"Michael Myers was an absence of character." --John Carpenter

Overall, the movie is emblematic of the worst tendencies of lesser slasher films, particularly the mechanism to introduce characters whose sole purpose is to be killed for the enjoyment of the viewer. Matthew Walker's annoying "Spitz" is all but begging to be added to the kill count. The staging and pacing of his death scene (by pitchfork, no less) encourage us to root for the moment and method of his departure.

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Halloween 5 also errs by relying too much on anguished and/or imperiled children for emotional effect. The violence enacted upon young Billy Hill (Jeffrey Landman) earned the film an X rating. Though subsequent changes lessened the graphic nature of these scenes, there is no denying the centrality of brutalized children to the plot.

Mute from the trauma of part four, Lloyd is a girl in the grip of fear. Harris is put through the wringer. Though her performance remains compelling, the actress seems to be unduly exploited for her evocation of suffering. In the third act, Lloyd is used as bait to catch Myers. It is a crass story event that underscores the excessiveness of filling a second feature length film with the pain of this little girl.

Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

Halloween 6 Is Genuinely Dangerous to Children

Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) is the nadir of the series. The film is remarkable in its narrative convolutedness. Though a "producer's cut" (available in the limited deluxe edition of this set) is popularly said to have a clearer storyline, no alteration changes the peculiar perversion of Halloween 6. Directed by Joe Chappelle from a script by Daniel Farrands, the movie distorts Myers' origins by expanding on the Thorn cult plotline established in part five.

Paul Rudd appears as Tommy Doyle, the boy babysat by Strode in the original Halloween. Rudd's comically creepy variation on a Norman Bates type is entertaining, but the allusion lacks inspiration in the hands of these filmmakers. Halloween 6 is a movie in which each significant formal and/or narrative dimension seems to be at war with one another, prisoners of incomprehensible writing, directing, and editing.

Furthermore, the film cannot be enjoyed for its badness because the writer and director commit to (or rather, commit) violence against children to a greater degree than any previous film in the series. The introductory events of the plot involve a baby born to Lloyd. Everything in the film's confusing narrative is suspect, but it is clear that this child is the product of any number of depraved means and motives.

And it is the appearance of a real baby being used in a blood ritual/sacrifice that makes Halloween 6 impossible to view as just some trifling piece of horror movie fiction. A baby was chosen to play this child. The baby had no say in the matter. Babies cannot consent to appear in films. The director chose to put this infant in this position. The reality of the production forms a gross contradiction with Carpenter's themes. Gone is the fear of (and caution against) evil preying on youth. Here, the film itself is dangerous to children.

Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later (1998)

Halloween After the Scream

Steve Miner's Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998) is not a great film. However, several conditions combine to make it a movie worth celebrating beyond its inherent merits. The breakout success of Wes Craven's Scream (1996) significantly changed the direction of slasher and horror movies in the second half of the '90s. Dimension Films, the distributor of Scream, is also one of the companies responsible for Halloween H20. It is evident that this revived Halloween is an attempt to resume the blend of horror, comedy, reflexivity, and irony so strongly familiarized by Kevin Williamson's script for Scream.

One major contributing factor to this shift in direction is the disavowal of most of the preceding Halloween installments. Only the events of Carpenter's film and its immediate sequel exist in the story world of Halloween H20. At the beginning of the movie, more than 20 years have passed with no news about Myers. Strode (Curtis) is back, here having succeeded in life by becoming headmistress of a boarding school. She is the mother of John (Josh Hartnett) and lover of Will (Adam Arkin). Most of the action takes place in and around the school, as the security Strode has struggled to establish crumbles upon Myers' return.

The script, by Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg, is as knowing and tonally satisfying as Halloween 6 was perplexing and dissonant. There are perfectly executed references to Psycho and Halloween, a thread of humor throughout, and a resurgent, strong female lead in Strode. Curtis clearly relishes the opportunity to bring Strode back to life. Her mother, Psycho's Janet Leigh, is a scene-stealer in her brief appearances. The young cast includes Michelle Williams and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who are fun to watch in early roles that bear little of their current cachet as acclaimed actors.

Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

Myers Stalks Myers

Halloween II director Rosenthal returns for Halloween: Resurrection (2002). The film begins with an intense first act, which extends Strode's/Curtis' "final girl" heroics that brought Halloween H20 to a close.

There are different ways to interpret this showdown between Strode and Myers. The immediate interpretation is to enjoy the spectacle of an all-or-nothing physical confrontation more than 20 years in the making. But a secondary, more reflective reading is that the circumstances that bring them face to face for this rematch, diminish her victory over Evil in Halloween H20.

The bulk of the plot concerns a group of college students that participate in an Internet reality program set at Myers' childhood home. As with Halloween H20, this sequel is important for its place in horror trends that were re-shaping the genre around the millennium. Formally, the movie rides the found footage horror wave set into motion by films such as The Last Broadcast (1998) and The Blair Witch Project (1999). Much of the horrific action within the storyline is captured on consumer-grade video and transmitted crudely online.

Rosenthal and writers Larry Brand and Sean Hood deserve credit for offering creative variations on the "youth in danger" theme on which this series has lived, died, and been resurrected. One example is the participants' limited awareness of how their reality program works. The series, produced by a company called Dangertainment, manipulates the setting and events of the story, contributing to confusion regarding real and contrived threats. These aspects of the film could be said to predict the later plots of Scream 4 (2011) and Cabin in the Woods (2012). Text messaging, now ubiquitous in all sorts of films, also figures into the plot of this installment.

Noteworthy too is the film's attention to the susceptibility of the horror audience. Young viewers gather around a computer to watch their peers transmit death at the hands of a slasher. These spectators refuse to believe that what they are seeing is real, no doubt because they are accustomed to seeing these sorts of images in the movies. Carpenter would likely approve of the movie's inclusion of this point, of how the concern for not recognizing imminent danger has evolved for the Internet age.

Finally, the smartest and most satisfying moment of Halloween: Resurrection is the sight of Myers stalking Myers. Because Dangertainment has blurred the line between actual and artificial threats, it is difficult to know which Myers is which. Reading just a bit deeper, there is no better image to sum up the cumulative confusion of the Halloween narrative over time, than to physically present a multiplicity of Myers stalking one another.

Halloween (2007)

Rob Zombie Builds Michael Myers' Backstory

The fourth and most recent phase of the Halloween series is brought to the screen by writer/director Rob Zombie. His remake of Carpenter's film exhibits a sort of identity crisis; it is in some ways deferential to the source material, but in other ways it oversteps the boundaries of taste and subverts the myth of the original.

Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) and his sisters live in an environment of domestic horror. His mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie) tries her best to keep a stable home, but her grotesque boyfriend Ronnie (William Forsythe) emotionally terrorizes everyone in the house. This version of young Myers is already killing animals and being bullied at school, and his chaotic family life seems to send him over whatever edge he was already breaching, psychologically speaking.

Thus, the root causes for Myers' rage, which were noticeably absent in Carpenter's original, are abundant in Zombie's telling. However, the filmmaker promoted his movie with a tagline, "Evil has a destiny", a phrase consistent with Carpenter in the single most fundamental idea that drives Myers as a character and concept. So regardless of how the evil enveloped him, Myers is, for both Carpenter and Zombie, cloaked in it and marching forward into the Halloween night.

As envisioned by Zombie, Myers' initial acting out against human victims occurs in a state of absolute brutality. The filmmaker chooses to stage these two scenes (at least in part) as vengeance against bullies, somewhat complicating the viewer's response regarding movie characters that "deserve" what is coming to them. However, Myers' retributions against a bully from school and then his mother's boyfriend Ronnie have such a cold and punishing manner that any enjoyment that might be derived from seeing the victims' comeuppance is extinguished. Zombie's directorial hand is deft, staging the crime scene of the family murder as a moment frozen in time. This tableau is a picture-perfect visualization of trauma that needs no explanatory dialogue or accompaniment of any sort.

As it so happens, a lot of dialogue follows that moment of dramatic crystallization. Malcolm McDowell stars as the verbose Dr. Loomis. Although his scenes at the sanitarium with young Myers and Deborah are bloated with exposition, he, Sheri Moon Zombie, and Faerch are well cast. They perform so ably that the scenes feel necessary to the emotional development of the characters. Zombie's Psycho allusions are more subtle than those of his predecessors in the Halloween series. One is situational, in the sense that this boy's best friend is his mother. Another is visual, as Myers' face twists to terrifying effect after an attack on a nurse.

The film's protracted opening gives Myers more depth than Carpenter gave him, but fortunately, Zombie does not expand his characterization at the expense of Laurie Strode. Here played by Scout Taylor-Compton, Strode is worldlier than Curtis's teen girl of 1978. There is also a greater degree of self-examination or regret on the part of Strode's reckless friends. Lynda Van Der Klok (Kristina Klebe) worries that she will be perceived as a "slut" because of her sexual promiscuity. Harris, now a grownup actress, appears in the role of Strode's friend Annie Brackett. Her shocking encounter with Myers and her experience of his wrath has heightened significance within Zombie's reimagining of the story.

As Zombie retraces the steps of Carpenter's plot, everything is turned up considerably. There is more nudity. The killings are more graphic. The director's cut included in this set features an extended rape and murder sequence prior to Myers' escape from the Sanitarium, which vastly diminishes the film's quality.

What is frustrating about Zombie as a director is that his penchant for extremity overshadows several other interesting things he achieves as a filmmaker. In "Re-Imagining Halloween," a supplemental feature included on the disc, he cites Alejandro González Iñárritu's 21 Grams (2003) as a key visual reference point for his approach to this film. Those viewers unable to deal with the excessive content of Zombie's vision, however, might not find themselves able to appreciate his eye for form, particularly with respects to the director's cut.

Halloween II (2009)

Rob Zombie's Halloween II Is, Tragically, a "Stab-a-Thon"

Zombie's second contribution to the Halloween saga is his own Halloween II (2009), a film promoted with the tagline, "Family is Forever". As with his first entry, the director's cut is the version included in this box set. However, in this case, the filmmaker's version is superior to the theatrical release. Zombie's cut spends more time examining a central motif of the film, which is a vision of a white horse associated with the release of "emotional forces, like rage".

There is no shortage of rage in Zombie's Halloween II. Myers' acts of violence reach a stomach-churning level of brutality more in common with New French Extremity films than American slasher films. The movie takes seriously the effects of trauma. A 13-minute sequence of Strode in a hospital refers to the original Halloween II but elevates the storyline to a hallucinatory fever dream, complete with Moody Blues soundtrack and a cameo by pre-Academy Award win Octavia Spencer. The hospital sequence is compact storytelling stunningly realized.

The rest of the film is divisive. Strode is living a nightmare, and the pull of her family and its dysfunction is getting stronger. She is not at all pleasant, lashing out at the Bracketts, who do everything they can to help her recover. Dr. Loomis has also turned into someone else. He is pompous in his fame and seeks fortune in the wake of the tragic events of the first film. Detractors of this change of character might stop to consider that Donald Pleasence was trapped in a repetitive cycle with the Dr. Loomis character, at the mercy of writers who never gave him anything new to say or do in sequels. Here, at least McDowell is given the opportunity to take the character in a different direction, and it is one that could be the believable consequence of participation in a happening of violence-turned media event. This version of Dr. Loomis could stroll into the satire of David Fincher's Gone Girl (2014) to great acclaim.

The actions that bring Myers and Strode together are most effective when their nightmare existence is a shared vision of rage and insanity. Myers' acts of violence on his way to her could be largely excised and the plot would not suffer. But as is his tendency, Zombie overdoes the violence and therefore undermines his best intentions. On the commentary track, he describes his goal to end the film decisively as a "tragedy" rather than a "crazy stab-a-thon." Evaluated in that context Halloween II is, on the whole, a failed attempt.

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Perhaps it is appropriate that the latest entry in the series ended in such ambivalence. In recent years/months, new installments have been planned and developed, but nothing has materialized. 2018 is not far off, so a 40th anniversary release might arrive and inject a similar sort of invigorating energy as Halloween H20 at the 20-year mark. Scream! Factory and Anchor Bay are to be applauded for collecting the story so far and presenting all of the strengths and weaknesses of the series for fans to enjoy and new audiences to discover.

But any viewer who wants the story to continue should also consider the words of Carpenter, who said to Deadline in October 2014, "I’m flattered by the fact that people want to remake them, but they remake everything these days, so it doesn’t make me that special. But Michael Myers was an absence of character. And yet all the sequels are trying to explain that. That’s silliness -- it just misses the whole point of the first movie, to me. He’s part person, part supernatural force. The sequels rooted around in motivation. I thought that was a mistake."

In Zombie's Halloween, Dr. Loomis says to Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif), "Tomorrow is too late. Evil is here!" His statement is the essence of the original Halloween. To expect any sequel to enhance that idea is to miss the point.

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