With Halloween closing fast there’s no better time to revisit some Halloween films, in this case the Donald Pleasence (O.B.E) ones, the Sam Loomis narrative.

Halloween Part III: Season of the Witch departs from the Michael ‘Mask’ Myers storyline and is a standalone film. Halloween H20 (Twenty Years later) saw the return of Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode but ignores part 4, 5 and 6. Needless Scream-alike Halloween Resurrection ironically killed the franchise, annihilating what was set up in H20. Then came Rob Zombie’s remakes. All of which I’ll share my thoughts on over some pumpkin pie in the future.

For now here’s a few ponderings on the films that cemented amoungst other great roles Donald Pleasence’s place horror history, introducing him to a new generation while in the process making William Shatner masks famous, turning them into the stuff of nightmares.

Halloween (1978)

A psychotic child institutionalised after committing several murders now as an adult escapes and goes on a mindless killing rampage. Can his doctor stop him?
John Carpenter’s 1978 [retrospectively] textbook horror slasher film is perhaps the most a perfect horror film, arguably Jaws (1975) will always have a plastic shark. What makes this different to many other babysitter stalker films is the production value, Carpenters direction and score that reeks of dread. Perfect leads include, heavy weight Donald Pleasence as Doctor Loomis and ever reliable Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode) as they try to out wit an escaped psychotic murderer.

Halloween is a well produced basic, yet essential horror that contains very little nudity or blood for this type of genre. What maybe a little tame for gore hungry audiences of today still remains a defining archetype horror film, as without the masked Michael Myers there wouldn’t be many of the horror’s there are out now.

A must see for any horror fan.

Halloween II (1981)

Laurie Strode is rushed to the hospital after the killing spree of Michael Myers. While Dr. Loomis hunts the streets for Myers the killer has already begin another murderous rampage at Haddonfield Hospital.

To the writer/producer team John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s credit it picks up where the first left off giving it a nice air of continuity. Halloween 2 is a basic killing spree sequel that builds on the suspenseful original with a revelation of who Strode really is but more so adds a lot of bloody deaths. That said, there’s little story and literally goes from one death to the next.

Jamie Lee Curtis plays the shell shocked ex-babysitter in distress perfectly although there is little room for her character to develop due to the scripts time scale. Donald Pleasence is as loopy and obsessed with Michael as ever and is the weight in this limited event. Dick Warlock plays Michael Myers and does a good job especially when taking a bullet or two. Although all the extras are Michael fodder they do enough to keep you interested.

Veteran Dean Cundey’s cinematography is the star of the show. Despite some choppy editing, possibly caused by Carpenters re-shoots and drawn out closing, Rick Rosenthal direction is more than satisfactory encompassing some suspense in the dark and ominous lit hospital.

Overall it builds on the unstoppable killing machine film concept and while not perfect it’s a good sequel to a series that arguably should have finished there.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

10 years after the events of the first & second Halloween Michael Myers escapes and returns to Haddonfield to hunt down his niece.

There’s a lot going on in this instalment that goes back to the roots of Halloween ignoring part three. Part 4 is grander, a police station is wiped out and locals turn vigilante. Teenage shenanigan’s go on that are more synonymous with slasher films that weren’t really present in part 2.

Despite being the fourth in a series and putting aside what the critics say Halloween Return of Michael Myers is a very strong entry.

It’s strength is not only Donald Pleasence’s great performance, take a look at the early gas station scene but it’s the likability of both Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris’ characters. Thanks to Alan B. McElroy’s writing every character is fleshed out more than usual for the time and genre.

Harris is a good child actress and gives Jamie an air of realism. Whereas Cornell gives depth to Rachel’s moral issues and concerns. The supporting cast are all more than adequate including Beau Starr as Sheriff Ben Meeker. George P. Wilbur’s take on the Shape/Michael is debatably the best portrayal of killer in the series.

Credit should go to director Dwight H. Little and legendary producer Akkad for capturing the feel and the look of the first two instalments. Little makes good use of the lighting and music building some great tension, notably the rocking chair, rooftop scene and truck escape. The surprise ending fittingly echoes the first and 4 has the right mix of horror, action and suspense without the cringe worthy cheese that come with most copycat slasher pictures of the time. An underrated guilty pleasure.

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Michael survives the shootings of Sheriff Meeker and his men and returns on October 31st with a vengeance.

In the tradition of Halloween II, Halloween 5 picks up where 4 left off then quickly moves forward a year. Danielle Harris plays Jamie niece of Michael once again and this time she is traumatised by previous events. Again Harris puts on a good acting show especially for a child actor as she seems genuinely haunted and harassed by Michael and her visions.

Due to the writers Bitterman, Jacobs and Othenin-Girard’s prerogative Ellie Cornell returns briefly as Rachel and is sadly missed for the majority of the film, which is a shame given that she set out good foundations for her character in 4. Donald Pleasence once again is Loomis and gives the film some credibility and weight. He’s obsessed to a point of madness putting pressure on the young child which is disturbing in itself. Don Shanks this time is Michael/The Shape and has an imposing presence, the car scene when he wears a different mask is particularly unnerving. He’s both subtle and brutal.

Five departs from the slasher flick formula adding a cult, supernatural and telekinetic physic connection that includes a mysterious man in black. Obligatory shower scene, teenage girls, cars and boyfriends cheapens it towards Friday the 13th territory. Although the story is uneven director Dominique Othenin-Girard and cinematographer Robert Draper give the film its own unique look with much of it shot in the daylight. It adds an air of uneasiness but lacks the ominous atmosphere of the 1; 2 and 4 until very late in the latter half.

The pacing of Revenge is off as the film is very muddled with a weak narrative linked by a series of false scares, misidentification and a few bloody killings. There’s an issue with the character of Tina (Wendy Kaplan) who for a short time inherits the role of Jamie’s protector. Kaplan lacks the credibility of Curtis or Cornell and the script doesn’t help her performance either as she aimlessly if forced to go from one scene to the next.

Even Alan Howarth’s score or the interesting spring a trap closing can’t make up for the padded middle segment. Sadly all the tension and suspense is crammed into the finale and retreads ideas from the forth, notably a Police Station assault. If Tina, the psychic link and the Man in Black had not been included the film may have perhaps turned out better leaving Loomis, Myers and Jamie being the focal point. This may have treaded old ground but it may have made Revenge more palatable.

It has some appealing moments mainly between Pleasence and Shanks or Harris and Pleasence but the scenes are few and far between.

Halloween (6): The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

After Jamie Lloyd daughter of Laurie Strode gives birth, Michael Myers sets out to find his niece’s baby.

From the elaborate opening of an older Jamie giving birth and her frantic escape, Curse’s focus shifts from the menacing unstoppable killer slightly in place of a wider underground cult theme, hinted at in the previous instalment.

Myers obsessed Tommy Doyle (child survivor from the first film) played by Paul Rudd is fine in a main role. Minus scar makeup aged Pleasence does his best with the material he’s been given and plays the retired doctor Loomis superbly despite his age and weakened voice he still steals every scene. Actress Marianne Hagan’s Kara Strode is slightly wasted, fleeting in and out like her son Danny and many of the other characters. George P. Wilbur (who played Michael in Revenge) returns once again as The Shape with good screen presence and movement.

Anyone unfamiliar with the series may have a difficult time following the unnecessary convoluted story. The screenplay hints at a town moving on but doesn’t build on the theme, nor expand on Michael coming home. It has some interesting character dynamics but its cluttered like its predecessor with many new elements that the audience has to buy into including more characters to accept and warm to.

Alan Howarth and Paul Rabjohns’ music is edgy enough especially when coupled with the original theme. Director Joe Chappelle delivers elaborate deaths and Curse is well filmed with sharp editing, flashing images and slick dialogue but it is far removed from the simplistic, primal original concept.

Apparently it was a troubled shoot and many alternative scenes were shot, this may explain its unevenness. These issues spawned the notorious Producers Cut. Nevertheless, it’s just as inconsistent as this version. Curse suffers like the fifth entry injecting the needless cultist sect sub-plot, mysterious symbols and a physic kid. That said, even taken with a pinch of salt it’s still unsatisfying and you really feel the series has lost its way.

Worth seeing if only for Donald Pleasence’s last performance.

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