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Posts Tagged ‘Danielle Harris’

I was talking to my nephew the other day about the difference between a ‘good’ sequel and a ‘bad’ sequel (and he even managed to stay awake); a good sequel exists because someone has had a good and original idea about doing something new with the material, probably moving the story on, and either expanding or deepening the world of the story (maybe even both). (The example I suggested was The Empire Strikes Back.) A bad sequel, on the other hand, is just there to revisit the key elements of the original for the purposes of making more money. (And at this point the majority of the stellar conflict films made in the last six years or so came up.)

The weirdest thing about Dominique Othenin-Girard’s Halloween 5 (aka The Revenge of Michael Myers) is that very occasionally it really does feel like someone attempting to do a ‘good’ sequel. This is what sometimes happens well into a franchise or series – some ambitious young talent is brought in, possibly from an entirely different film-making background, to freshen things up and use some brave new ideas. What often happens, however, is that the producers or studio get frit, because the daily rushes look just a bit too ambitious, fresh, and brave, and the final cut invariably attempts to drag things back to familiar territory, often at the expense of things like coherency and logic. The result is usually a very bad sequel indeed.

This is what happened to Halloween 5, I think. That said, as the film gets underway it feels more like a mid-period Hammer sequel than ever before: the end of the previous film is revisited, which previously seemed to show the antagonist’s apparent demise – however, the secret of how they survive into the new movie is also revealed.

The previous film ended with Michael Myers being repeatedly shot by the police and falling down a mineshaft (which, in the recap, someone then throws dynamite into: I think this constitutes excessive force under the terms of most police handbooks). However, he crawls off just in time and is washed out of the mine into a river, which carries him off. The odd thing is that the film feels like it’s almost urging us to root for Michael and cheer when he survives; he’s the only character we’ve properly seen so far and he does seem very much like the underdog (for the first time in the series so far).

Anyway, Michael crawls out of the river and into the dwelling of someone who appears to be a hermit, where he collapses. The implication is that he is then in a coma for nearly a year, no doubt receiving the top-quality medical care and general support that all hermits are famous for providing, before waking up on ‘Halloween Eve’ the following year. (Just go ahead and call it Halloweeneen, why don’t you; dearie me.) There’s a quick shot of a tattoo on his wrist which eventually proves to be just simply confusing, before he murders his host, masks up, and picks up where he left off in the previous film. The sheer mass of odd creative choices and things which are just plain dumb and stupid get the film off to exactly the wrong kind of start.

Anyway, the focus of the film is still Michael’s pursuit of his niece Jamie (still Danielle Harris); she is in a clinic for the pathologically upset after having possibly-or-was-it-all-a-dream stabbed her stepmother at the end of the previous film; Halloween 5 fudges the question of exactly what happened to an unforgiveable degree. Still hanging around in Haddonfield is Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasence), although the events he’s been caught up in (in addition to making his burn scars change between movies) also seem to have driven him completely nuts. (That, or too much red wine has inspired Pleasence to take it way over the top.)

I say ‘the focus’, but after a while everything becomes rather centred on Michael Myers’ pursuit of a teenage girl named Tina (Wendy Kaplan), for no particularly convincing reason – the main character of the previous movie, Rachel (Ellie Cornell), is unceremonious shifted off-screen, another creative choice which is simply rather baffling. This is all very slasher-convention-congruent and rather reminiscent of something out of a Friday the 13th movie, right down to the bit where a couple of teens enjoying some whoa-ho-ho in a barn are interrupted by someone wielding agricultural implements.

It may come as no surprise if I reveal that the closing sequence of the film, which doesn’t have much connection to this, doesn’t make a whole lot of sense either, but the sheer brazen oddness of what happens might well be; an ominous figure dressed all in black has been stalking Michael and Loomis around town for most of the movie (his stature as an emissary of the Dark Powers is somewhat undermined by the fact he travels on the bus); he has the same tattoo as Michael. Suffice to say the connection between this mysterious personage and Michael Myers is central to the ending of the film, not to mention the fact that it doesn’t really have one.

This is, as you may have guessed, the point at which the ‘occult curse’ storyline really becomes prominent in the Halloween series, but on the other hand it seems like most of the exposition relating to this has been cut out by nervous producers, in favour of pedestrian and un-scary scenes of Michael Myers killing unsympathetic teenagers and tooling around Haddonfield in a stolen muscle car he shouldn’t really be even able to drive (though to be fair he does something similar in the original movie).

You almost feel sorry for the director, if this is the case: the series certainly needed a new direction by this point. (Whether the occult curse angle, or indeed the more humanised version of Michael Myers Othenin-Girard was also keen on introducing, are actually notions with any mileage to them is a different question, of course.) You certainly feel sorry for Donald Pleasence, who delivers virtually all of his dialogue with the same bug-eyed expression and in the same raspy whine; it’s as if he got sick of being the only person in one of these films actually bringing any class to proceedings and just decided to fit in with all the others.

The most remarkable thing about Halloween 5 is the way it manages to make Halloween 4 look like a coherent and thought-through movie. The difference is between something pedestrian, predictable and dull, and complete mess. So maybe the message is that sometimes you should be grateful when things are merely really bad, rather than absolutely dreadful. Which even for a horror movie is a rather downbeat message; depressing rather than actually scary. Then again, that’s a good summation of Halloween 5, unfortunately.

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That leap beyond the second sequel is an important step for a young film franchise: you’re not just settling for being a trilogy, you’re potentially in this for the long haul. It is not surprising that many series take some time to reflect before coming back for a fourth instalment – Jurassic Park took fourteen years, the Indiana Jones series nearly twenty (and many people still feel the eventual decision may have been the wrong one in this case).

The Halloween series took a relatively brisk six year break between third and fourth outings – grit your teeth, but it also switched from Roman numerals (Halloween III) to the more regular kind (Halloween 4) at this point. Given that this series seems to have been a reliable income stream for the Akkad family, who were loathe to give it up, one suspects the delay was initially due to logistical concerns, and ended up having something to do with the value of releasing a film for the tenth anniversary of the original.

Apparently John Carpenter initially wanted to do a ghost story for the fourth film; whether this had anything to do with a proposed script about a spectral Michael Myers being summoned into existence in a fear-wracked Haddonfield, I’m not sure, but Moustapha Akkad opted not to take any chances and commissioned another screenplay much closer in tone and substance to the first two films. The result was Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, directed by Dwight H Little.

So we end up with Michael Myers, who has been comatose for a decade after being repeatedly stabbed, shot, and blown up in a gas explosion on Halloween night 1978, being transferred by ambulance from one institution to another. Unfortunately one of the medics overseeing the move makes the mistake of mentioning that Michael has one sole surviving relative, a little girl living back in Haddonfield. Needless to say this perks our man up, and soon he is ramming his thumb through someone’s skull like he’s never been comatose at all.

Yes, we are told that Laurie Strode has died off-screen in a car crash, leaving behind a young daughter named Jamie (played by Danielle Harris, who is nearly as cute as the in-joke behind her character’s name). She is living with a foster family, and has a dislike of Halloween (unsurprisingly, given it seems to be public knowledge that her uncle is ‘the bogeyman’). Her foster sister (Ellie Cornell) is Rachel, and she is one of those decent and virtuous but slightly dull final girls fairly and squarely in the lineage established by Laurie Strode herself. Rachel and Jamie prepare for Halloween, unaware as they are that Michael is coming to town.

Equally unaware that Michael was due to be transferred was good old Dr Loomis (Donald Pleasence), who has made his own impressive recovery from being stabbed and blown up in Halloween II; Pleasence has some burn-scar make-up on one cheek that makes him look a bit like he’s still playing Blofeld, and also does a limp. When he learns that Michael has escaped again, Loomis delivers another variation on his usual ‘He’s not human… pure evil… they should have listened to me!’ speech and sets off in pursuit.

And you can probably write most of what ensues for yourself, given a passing acquaintance with the first two films in this series – in fact, whatever you come up with will probably be rather more imaginative and interesting. The cycle of slasher movies Halloween had inaugurated had arguably peaked by 1988, when Halloween 4 came out – Friday the 13th Part VII came out a few months before this film, indicating a certain degree of market saturation – and there is a definite sense of creative exhaustion about the film. It’s not so badly done that it’s completely risible, it’s just often very predictable and not especially tense, scary, or cinematic.

Even the bits that are surprising aren’t necessarily positive features. There’s a definite sense that Michael Myers has transformed from a figure who is terrifyingly simply because his crimes are so inexplicable, to a single-issue monomaniac with a weird compulsion to hunt down his surviving family members. He also displays a surprising degree of tactical thought in this film, carrying out a de facto pre-emptive strike against the Haddonfield PD and also taking out the town’s power grid (needless to say, this is achieved by throwing a hapless lineman into the works).

While this is going on, we keep cutting back to the doings of Rachel and Jamie – particularly Jamie, who is mixed up in a teen soap-opera subplot where her boyfriend (who doesn’t exactly seem like a catch) takes the first opportunity to get a little jiggy with her friend, the sheriff’s daughter. Needless to say they meet the fate of anyone who gets amorous in a mainstream slasher movie, and even the T&A is unexpectedly tame (the whole movie is surprisingly well-behaved – apart from the thumb-through-the-skull scene and a bit where Michael tears a man’s throat out with his bare hands, there’s so little explicit violence in this movie it could almost have been made for TV). Soon enough Michael catches up with his niece and the stage is set for a low-octane chase.

Given the fact the film is silly, dull, and often not scary, I was quite surprised to learn that Halloween 4 is considered by some serious critics to be the second-best film in the series. To me it just seems the purest kind of knock-off, inferior in every way to the first film, and not as cinematic as the second one. Donald Pleasence remains a terrific presence – he’s the only reason to see the film, really – but he’s so much better than everyone and everything around him that in a funny way he’s the one who becomes incongruous.

The film’s one and only interesting idea is alluded to early on, when Jamie chooses a Halloween outfit suspiciously similar to the one Michael wore twenty-five years earlier, the night he killed his sister. This is setting up the conclusion of the film, which is a little too laborious to count as a twist ending, but is certainly striking and offers some potentially interesting new directions for future episodes. You can sense the series losing touch with all the things that made the original film so great, but such is the nature of the franchise business, I fear. Halloween 4 was not born out of a desire to do anything interesting or creative, but just to extract more money from a lucrative property. It may have made money back in 1988, but these days the film looks just about as bad as you might expect.

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