Sunday, October 31, 2010

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers / Halloween 5

Ten years after wiping out sixteen people on Halloween 1978 (seen in HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN II; HALLOWEEN III did not involve the characters from the earlier films), “evil on two legs” serial killer Michael Myers (stuntman George P. Wilbur in the Myers mask) returns to Haddonville, Illinois to kill his last surviving relative in HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS.

Eight-year-old Jamie (future scream queen Danielle Harris in her film debut) is the daughter of the late Laurie Strode (played by Jamie Lee Curtis in the first two HALLOWEENs) and living with a foster family that includes older “sister” Rachel (Ellie Cornell).

It seems unlikely that the virginal Laurie would have borne a child right out of high school, and that’s hardly the most implausible aspect of Alan B. McElroy’s screenplay (he claims he wrote it in eleven days, and it shows). With the solid but unspectacular Dwight H. Little (MARKED FOR DEATH) at the helm, HALLOWEEN 4 is a decently constructed slasher movie shot on appropriately bleak Utah locations, but certainly inferior to the earlier pictures that bore the imprint of series creator John Carpenter.

Donald Pleasence is a joy as Dr. Sam Loomis, whose unhealthy pursuit of Myers has turned him almost as loony as his prey. The authorities don’t believe that Myers, awakened from a ten-year coma, could have possibly escaped custody and torn a murderous swath across the Midwest in search of Jamie. It’s understandable they would write Loomis off, considering Pleasence’s unhinged and enormously entertaining performance, but how could they know Myers is not only as strong as ever, but also powerful enough to push his thumb through a man’s skull.

Whether Little intentionally went for a blood-free approach to the terror or anticipated an MPAA backlash, HALLOWEEN 4’s violence occurs mainly off-screen, which may disappoint slasher fans. There’s little to distinguish the movie from most horror fare of the era, and as technically proficient as HALLOWEEN 4 may be, it’s perfectly forgettable. Also with Beau Starr, Michael Pataki, Sasha Jenson, Kathleen Kinmont, Karen Alston, and Leslie Rohland. Music by Alan Howarth. Executive producer Moustapha Akkad got the main cast members back a year later for HALLOWEEN 5.

Almost exactly one year after HALLOWEEN 4 did okay business in U.S. theaters, tiny Galaxy International Pictures had HALLOWEEN 5 unspooling with much the same cast. In lieu of H4’s Dwight Little’s meat-and-potatoes storytelling, French director Dominique Othenin-Girard (OMEN IV), an unusual choice, seemed to care little about logic with a scattershot approach to the material that doesn’t work.

Little Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), still hospitalized and speechless after the traumatic events exactly a year ago, now shares some sort of psychic link with her uncle Michael Myers (Don Shanks), which causes her to freak out whenever he kills. Othenin-Girard and his co-writers made the odd decision to rip off the FRIDAY THE 13TH series, not just by giving the heroine psychic powers, but also by setting part of the film at a wild party with drunk, horny teenagers and idiotic comic-relief cops (who even have their own “wacky” theme music).

Donald Pleasence was notoriously dismissive of HALLOWEEN 5, and it’s easy to see why. His character of unhinged psychiatrist Loomis has nothing new to do besides recite the same “he’s the boogeyman” dialogue as before, and the screenplay is certainly the worst of any HALLOWEEN he had done to date. Most maddening is a mysterious spurs-jangling Man in Black (also played by Shanks), who was intended by the director to be Michael’s twin brother (!), but ultimately plays deux es machina.

HALLOWEEN 5 has to be judged as a disappointment on any level, but compared with what was to come…well, let’s just say the HALLOWEEN franchise still had room to fall.

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