Less Than Pulp, Issue 21
Thoughts on Halloween (1978), The Curse of the Thorn, and Halloween Ends
“You can’t kill damnation, Mister.” - Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Every year around this time, I rewatch the original Halloween, as well as some of the more enjoyable sequels. Last year and this year, we were given new entries to the franchise, which made for some variety in my viewing.
John Carpenter’s seminal film is often credited with kickstarting the popularity of the slasher subgenre. While this is true, it’s far from the first film to employ slasher tropes. Psycho and Black Christmas predate it. The latter’s use of POV shots was an acknowledged inspiration for Carpenter, which makes sense; if you believe the rumors, Halloween was originally developed as a sequel to Black Christmas. Dario Argento’s Suspiria also came out the year prior, and like Halloween, its music is almost a character in itself, a constant menace lingering around the characters as they walk an eerily lit set.
All that said, Halloween (1978) is so much more than a slasher movie.
Full disclosure: I love slasher movies. At their best, they’re the horror equivalent of hangout movies. I just enjoy watching people having fun, even if there’s someone sinister lurking in the shadows about to ruin everything. There’s something incredibly visceral about that for me.
That said, these movies seldom have much in the way of depth. Halloween is one of the rare exceptions. It’s all in Dean Cundey’s cinematography, which gives the impression of The Shape as a mood, a killer impulse that could overtake anyone at any time and only happened to choose Michael Myers. It’s a frightening idea, one that’s punctuated by those final shots of the now-empty houses and streets, suffocated by Carpenter’s theme and Michael’s husky breathing.
Halloween 4 is a more straightforward slasher, cementing the inevitable Jason-ization of Michael Myers with more brutal kills and supernatural healing abilities (remember, his eyes were shot out at the end of the second film, yet he can see again; he’s been in a coma for ten years, but his muscles have lost none of their strength). In fact, I argue that, as far as pure slashers go, it might be one of the best. It doesn’t do anything new with the already established tropes, but it executes them to perfection, even incorporating moments that make the movie feel like a blockbuster production (i.e., exploding gas stations and elaborate car stunts).
Three elements elevate the fourth entry above standard slasher fare. First is the cinematography by Peter Lyons Collister who has done literally nothing else I care about, but whose work shines here. Those establishing shots in the beginning do a great job setting the autumnal mood. In fact, the visual details pop in every scene, from the sadistic to the sublime. Second is Donald Pleasence. He’s always great as Dr. Sam Loomis, but here one gets the impression that his character is a stand-in for God or Dr. Frankenstein, madly pursuing his dangerous, out-of-control creation. Last, but not least, is the performance of then child actor Danielle Harris as Jamie Lloyd. The ending, in which she seemingly takes up the mantle of her murderous uncle, could have only worked with someone of her ability. The franchise honestly could have ended there, and it might be remembered even more fondly.
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers is the sort of mess that happens when the studio rushes production and the writer or writers have a creative vision that clashes with the tried-and-true formula the studio prefers. The film doesn’t seem to know what it wants to be, but there are moments that feel like the creators had something unique in mind. Specifically, Michael has an apparent moment of internal conflict toward the end that raises some questions. Unfortunately, moments like these aren’t exploited nearly often enough.
As a budding, teenage horror fan in the late 90s/early 2000s, the producer’s cut Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers was like a white whale for me. True, you could get the bootleg of it on eBay, but because I mostly enjoyed the theatrical version, I was content to wait for an official release. Had I known it wouldn’t happen until 2014, when my physical media collecting days were over, I would have sprung for the bootleg.
I was pleasantly surprised to see the producer’s cut available for streaming this past week, so I decided to give it a whirl. I’ve always had a soft spot for this entry. Where a sixth film in a well-established franchise could easily stick solely to its formula, this one tried something new, and it tried something new without retconning out details of previous entries. The theatrical version has some terrible editing that is thankfully gone from this cut. That said, it’s not without its flaws. Jamie Lloyd’s death is even more infuriating in this cut than it is in the theatrical, and the ending feels weirdly anti-climatic, almost unfinished. I dug it overall, though.
This brings us to Halloween Ends. In the conclusion of David Gordon Green’s trilogy, Michael has been gone for four years since the ending of Halloween Kills and Laurie Strode has been trying to rebuild her life. Meanwhile, Haddonfield thinks it’s found a new boogeyman in young Corey Cunningham for reasons I won’t reveal here because it’s a new film, and I don’t want to spoil anything.
This entry is a mess, full of half-baked ideas and some truly bizarre choices of symbolism. Perhaps some of this could be forgiven if Green and company hadn’t spent the last five years pontificating about how they were taking the franchise back to basics and grouping their trilogy in with this current wave of so-called elevated horror. Some of the more baffling creative decisions would have made more sense if Green hadn’t been so adamant that Michael was absolutely not supernatural in his retconned vision.
One has to wonder if they were so determined to “end” the franchise that they made a bad film on purpose so no one would be tempted to touch it for a while. As far as I’m concerned, no one is allowed to trash the Thorn Curse or the Rob Zombie entries ever again after that fucking mess.
On the writing front, I wrote enough of For Our Love, I’d Eat the Whole Wide World to feel good about kicking it back to Wile E. Young. I also started plotting a book I’m tentatively calling The Uncanny Chronicle. I’m hoping for something novel-length that I can subsequently use to launch a series.
The family is good too. Our oldest is practicing drawing every day and getting better every day. His current obsession is drawing characters from a game called Rainbow Friends. Our youngest is saying more and more words. I heard “kitty cat” and “Peppa Pig” very clearly this week. Wild stuff.
On this week’s Make Your Own Damn Podcast, we discuss the Argentine zombie film Plaga Zombie. You can listen to it here or by clicking the video below.
As always, books here.
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