Monday, 12 March 2012

From the archives: Halloweens 4 & 5

Here is another old, old review. At the time Rob Zombie had just burst onto the horror scene with his muddled but entertaining House of 1000 Corpses. His zenith, The Devil's Rejects was a couple of years down the line, meaning that his rapid decline to the nadir of his output, the hackneyed and distastefully lascivious Halloween remake, was still some years away.
There are certain conceits in american movies that I truly adore. One is that of the avenging posse of drunken, shotgun wielding , blue collar 50 year-olds in pickup trucks. Another is the cheating boyfriend whom seeks redemption through heroic action only to get his skull crushed. All of which brings me nicely around to this review of Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers. In actual fact I'm going to review Halloween 5 too as I watched them back to back this evening (about nine years ago) and they are perfect examples of how sequels can contribute to and detract from a series. For irst up is no 4, which is actually the third Michael Myers movie as Halloween 3 was some weird departure that had bugger all to do with the the first two.


Ten years have passed since Michael Myers was consumed in flames, along with his arch-enemy Dr.
Loomis . Naturally the  loopy killer survived and is being transferred between secure hospitals the day before Halloween. Dr. Loomis isn't happy, and not only because he is sporting some fetching scarrage.  Myers kills his escorts and is off back to Haddonfield to do serious injury to anyone unfortunate enough to get between him and his niece (daughter of the now dead Laurie Strode) Jamie.
Chaos ensues and many people die, so no surprises there then. What IS surprising however is just how good this film is. Danielle Harris is great for such a young actor effectively having to replace Jamie Lee Curtis as the main protagonist and Donald Pleasance is characteristically enthusiastic in his portayal of the battered and almost crippled Dr. Loomis, never forgetting for a moment to signal pain in his movements and exasperated fatigue in his face.
The photography is crisp and the foreground and background are equally well regarded by the camera and other than the 1.85:1 aspect ratio director Dwight Little crafted a worthy homage to Carpenter's style. POV shots are not used gratuitously and enhance the tension, and the relative lack of gore is adequately compensated for by the movie's effectiveness as a thriller. Alan Howarth's music is low key and efficient and the first instance of only sparing usage of the Halloween theme punctuates a moment of recognition between Loomis and Myers at a dust blown gas station, and when it kicked in it genuinely gave me goose bumps. In fact the movie's greatest strength is in its ties to the original; the theme, Donald Pleasance and the eponymous villain, the familiar, signature  Carpenteropening titles, and a lack of the gratuitous nudity which is all too common in the rest of the slasher genre. This is far from a simple copycat however and the familiarity does not breed contempt, largely thanks to the characterisation of the stricken town of Haddonfield. The aforementioned pick-up posse are well drawn and contribute to the picture of Haddonfield as a scarred town with a traumatic past. The film moves with a sharp pace and builds to a surprising conclusion that reprises one of the key scenes from the original Halloween and is sold beautifully by Donald Pleasance.

In conclusion this is a good example of how, if you're thematically consistent with the original and respect those things that made it a classic then you don't need to reinvent the wheel. When confronted by Myers a plucky victim warns, 'Don't try that Halloween shit with me!' and that's what the audience say, only half meaning it but hoping 'that Halloween shit' will still work, and in this case it does. I actually preferred this to Halloween 2, the neat ending being especially satisfying but, as we well know, any original twist introduced in a sequel can be easily demolished and devalued by subsequent episodes, which brings me nicely on to Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers.


There is one great scene in this installment. The sight Of Dr. Loomis laying into Michael with a 2x4 is particularly satisfying, but not even Pleasance's delirious penultimate turn as Loomis can save this ill-considered sequel from utter mediocrity. The chilling uncertainty of the previous climax is swept away as that scene is 'ret-conned' in a fashion all too common in uninspired sequels.
Obviously Michael is up and about again but this time the crux of the plot is that he and Jamie have a psychic link. Yawn. All the things that identified 4 as a respectful and carefully crafted sequel are absent. The music is intrusive and the Halloween theme is battered senseless to the point of having no meaning (despite the score being by Alan Howarth), even lowering itself to the depths of comedy whistles and honks to accompany a slightly goofy pair of policemen. The director uses POV like it's going out of fashion, thereby eliminating any tension as you almost always know where Michael (in his new, slightly rubbish mask) is. The psychic link storyline gives the director an excuse to throw in a 'Nightmare On Elm Street' style dream/reality crossover to no purpose whatsoever. The cleverly constructed 'Traumatised Haddonfield' characters are conspicuously absent, replaced with hugely annoying teenagers who run around waving knives dressed as Michael Myers and DON'T get turned into human colanders by  nervous policemen with good memories. The only positives are that the performances from Pleasance and the one year older Danielle Harris are first rate and there is an attempt to introduce a new direction for the series.
The new direction takes the form of a mysterious stranger (you know he's mysterious as he wears a long black coat and a hat) with a tattoo on his wrist matching one (which has miraculously appeared) on Michael's wrist. This is not expanded upon until part VI (and when it is it is predictably crap).
In conclusion then...

[The Good] Halloween 4

[The Bad] Halloween 5

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