The Middle Years: Halloween 4-7
Some horror franchises refuse to die. Halloween being over 40 years old and with more sequels planned is definitely among the oldest of the well known franchises out there. While the first movie captured lightning in a bottle and served as a template for future holiday themed slashers, the rest of the series leaves fans in a divisive state (some so divisive that direct/fan Gordan Green was okay with ignoring everything save the original in his installment in 2018).
Regardless of mixed critical receptions, the series kept on going strong after the weird experiment that was Halloween 3: Season of the Witch. I think it’ll be interesting in looking at what’s kept momentum going for the series and also what I still enjoy about each of these entries.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Meyers (1988)
There it is, folks, right in the title. No catchy commercial jingles, no druids, no robots, just the return of the main masked man.
Having survived his showdown with Loomis at the end of part 2, Meyers has been recovering in a dormant, mostly vegetative state. That is until one night during a patient transfer, he overhears some orderlies mention there’s a niece out there. Michael Meyers escapes as a sequel is gonna sequel.
If the opening of this movie seems familiar, it’s probably because the setup largely mirrors the first Halloween movie. Since the sequel was a direct continuation, it avoided the feeling of going back to the well in many ways. Here the 4th entry wants to recreate the feels of its most popular one and in some ways I would say is successful. Right out of the gate the stakes are out in the open and we have Dr. Loomis on the case again to track him down. Donald Pleasence is the gift that keeps on giving with this franchise and is a nice narrative anchor in a movie that now feels like it’s operating in an 80s slasher movie mode (unlike the more restrained original from 78). In many ways 4 combines the now well worn tropes of 80s horror movies with the more mythos connected early first 2 entries and while the mix isn’t always good, it often is entertaining.
Like I mentioned the other day, while some prefer having Meyers just this mysterious killer, I don’t mind the family connection stuff. Although it doesn’t end up going anywhere, I actually think where this movie heads would have been an interesting direction for the series when it ends with Jamie the young niece stabbing her foster mother in a scene reminiscent of the very opening of the first Halloween. Seeing this family rage/evil passed on could have made for a new twist in the series but alas lessons were already learned and Michael Meyers would be here to stay.
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Meyers (1989)
With the a very short turnaround, Meyers would return to the Haddonfield and cinemas just a year later after once again being seemingly laid to rest.
I think one of the biggest missteps with part 5 is how much of the ending of 4 is undone. I don’t mean the part where Michael dies as his return would seem inevitable but the part where it seems like his niece might be following down similar dark footsteps. Instead, Jamie is now a mute due to her trauma but otherwise is still the nice young girl from part 4. If they wanted to set up a psychic link with the uncle there are probably more interesting routes than via a mute niece is all I’m saying.
Once again Loomis is one the scene to try and stop Meyers once and for all and damn if Pleasence doesn’t seem a bit tired at this point. To be fair this is his third and a half rodeo. Of course Loomis is the character insistent that they must use Jamie’s psychic link as a means of dealing with Meyers. Along the way, the bodies pile up again this time dispatching with Rachel , Jamie’s foster sister who survived part 4, and once again survivors face off against Meyers , this time in his abandoned childhood home. Using Jamie as bait (oh doctor, what lovely ethics you have) Meyers is tranqued, trapped and beaten into submission and taken to jail awaiting further transport from the feds. What happens next is a narrative mess that will never fully untangle as it sets up for part 6- Meyers is broken out of jail by a Man in Black and the two disappear leaving the rest of the police in the station dead. A great cliffhanger for a season of X-Files maybe a but a dam big WTF moment in the Halloween franchise for sure.
Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Meyers
AKA again with the druids? The other day I mentioned my love for comic books and the weird turns in continuity a long running title can take. Well as far as weird turns go, Curse of Michael Meyers certainly is trying some new things.
Horror franchises usually go to lengthy distances to add layers of backstory to either explain supernatural or emotional motivations of its killers. What this does is then usually it gives the killer an additional backstory/point of motivation.
Jason drowned as a kid due to lack of responsible supervision and then saw another young person decapitate his mom years later, and after he was killed the first time we was revived via lightning into the shambling unstoppable hockey masked killer he’s now famous for. Freddy was birthed through an extremely icky backstory involving a nun and a scenario straight out of a grind-house exploitation flick and then later in life was killed by mob/vigilante justice and now it’s Michael’s turn for some high grade backstory BS.
You see, as best as I understand it, there is a cult out there promoting an ancient Druid curse known as the Thorn and it’s followers believe Michael Meyers was inflicted with this curse and they can harness its evil for their own gain. This new twist which in almost no way was set up at ANY point in the years (some fans point to a drawing and scribbling of the word Samhain on a blackboard in pt 2 as head cannon that there was some hints early on) adds what exactly to our unstoppable killer? Not much honestly, while the cult serves as secondary villains in 6 they mostly seem to make the whole mythos seem even more bloated and confusing than ever.
On the plus side, this was Paul Rudd’s first theatrical release and there was nowhere for him to go but up after this. He isn’t given much to do here as Tommy Doyle (the young boy Laurie was babysitting in part 1) but he brings a nice low key energy to a film that’s down right bonkers in parts.
Oh and here’s some rare footage I found while putting this together. It’s pretty cool/weird to watch
Needless to say, part 6 laid a lot of ground work for the franchise that pretty much all following films would ignore. Maybe there’s a reality out there where druids can fit into the franchise; maybe that’s David Gordon Green’s long-term plan.
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
So how soft should a soft reboot be?
Technically there’s nothing in H20 that contradicts anything else that came before it you allow one simple caveat: this was all pre-internet and Laurie Strode had simply been hiding away from any news involving Halloween and killers while also ignoring she has a daughter out there because after being in a car accident she decided to let herself die publicly, abandon her daughter and start life over as new woman all in the hopes that her being dead would allow the past to die as well.
So while that headcannon probably doesn’t hold up, I think we can all agree it was for the best the script writers didn’t decide to double down on druid death cults.
In a sensible move, after the passing of Pleasence, bringing back Curtis helps get the story back to some of its roots while also exploring how the events shaped the character over the passage of time. In many ways this is a similar ground explored in the newest Halloween movie although its interpretation of Laurie 40 years later is less optimistic.
Honestly this is probably among my favorite horror sequels because there’s a narrative simplicity to it all while still working within a longer timeline’s framework. We get callbacks to the first movie in spoken lines and similar shots. Laurie is still our main character but now she’s the teacher of the type of class she used to zone out in. There’s a neatness to it all that feels almost mythic and meta in a way that recalls a fully meta horror movie sequel-ish film: New Nightmare. In a lesser vein, H20 really feels more a piece of the meta type of slasher in the 90s that New Nightmare and Scream were and less like the I Know What You Did Last Summer’s felt like.
If it was made on a higher level, H20 is the type of film that could have felt like a curtain call to the slasher genre in the way The Searchers was to the Western genre. As it is, it’s not a bad entry and one I get a lot of enjoyment revisiting a character and her arc that I certainly don’t mind revisiting within the story of a masked psycho with a kitchen knife and a wonderfully painted Shatner mask.
Tomorrow we end one era, start a new era, and then begin a whole other one after that.