Pop Optics: Introducing DisenFranchisement!

Welcome to the inaugural entry of DisenFranchisement, a sub-feature of Pop Optics that I am dedicating to the exploration of film franchises. I’m going to focus on horror right now because that’s a film genre rife with franchises and long-running series. Should I get bored or run out of ideas, I might break out into other genres, but I’m fine with sticking strictly to horror. My main objective with this series is not to summarize or review an entire franchise but rather to focus on the films within that follow a specific timeline, characters, or narrative arc for a fragment of that franchise. I want to look at those films that are a self-contained series within, like a nesting doll of thrills and kills, and whether or not they could serve as a series unto themselves, independent of the main franchise.

Horror is probably the genre that is most rife with franchise, or at least multiple sequels, which I’ve already discussed before, so it makes sense that I start there. Also, the spooky season is nearly upon us, so let’s consider this getting an early start as you unpack your pumpkin spice and apple cinnamon from the attic. When a genre can foster so many series, with so many stories, it’s very likely that keeping their own history straight will be nearly impossible. Horror films are also rife with retcons galore, with the dead never staying dead for long, twists that don’t make sense, and dropping plot points without explanation. That can mean that sometimes the story can get really choppy the longer a series goes on.

What I want to do is just determine if the films I’m examining either make the most narrative sense or are the strongest of the series overall, and not focus on the history or backstory of these films, only commenting on that when the insight will be helpful. With that all said and expectations set, let’s begin.

For the debut article, I will be discussing three films in the horror franchise that is home to one of my absolute favorite films (not just horror) of all time, Halloween.

Franchise: Halloween, The Jamie Lloyd Saga

Entries: Parts 4, 5, and 6

The Halloween series picked up seven years after Season of the Witch did enough to put it on ice. By this time, the slasher genre had peaked early, but there were already newer forces dominating the market in A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. The latter had gained a lot of ground by 1988, releasing it’s seventh entry, while Nightmare was growing out of its infancy with its fourth film. Ironically, both Halloween and Nightmarewere releasing their Part 4’s in the same year, despite Halloween being a decade old at this point. In the slasher world, that’s fucking old – the franchise was a relic and even though people were asking “Where’s The Shape?” after Part III, you have to wonder if Michael Myers could still be a terrorizing figure this late in the decade.

I have to hand it to executive producer and franchise booster Moustapha Akkad on reviving the franchise. The Return of Michael Myers is a straight continuation from the conclusion of Halloween II, but yet, is titled Halloween 4 for reasons. Even though Part II ended with Michael ON FUCKING FIRE, crackling like a marshmallow roasting over the flame, he survived and has been in a coma all that time. On the eve of Halloween, he’s being transported back to Smith’s Grove where they’ll probably lock him away and revoke his driving privileges for the rest of his life. In decision that’s clearly just plot magic but also pretty dumb, the medics along for the ride mention that Michael still has family living in Haddonfield in the form of his niece, Jamie Lloyd. “Family” is the magic word, reviving Michael who proceeds to kill everyone in the ambulance and now must make his way back home to Haddonfield to maybe kill his niece? Is that what he’s going to do?

Michael likes to play a more intense version of Hide And Seek

Return sets up a timeline where Laurie Strode is dead and her daughter has been placed with a foster family. She’s haunted by visions of her uncle, whom she’s never met but I assume that most people would avoid discussing that with her. She’s cared for by the Carruthers, which includes their teenage daughter, Rachel. Rachel has a typically frosty relationship with the younger Jamie, who’s somewhere around age seven in this film. I can relate to that, as I have an eleven year age gap between myself and my sister, with whom I had a mutual antagonistic relationship. Things have improved, but I can still sympathize heavily with Jamie. Meanwhile,  Loomis is still Loomis, though becoming more unhinged with each Halloween.

It’s okay – he’s a doctor.

What Return does is pin the plot on Jamie and creates a parallel between her and Michael. It isn’t quite filling in the backstory on Michael’s childhood, but instead positioning Jamie as the proxy. Her experiences are meant to hint at her taking over the role of the new evil (I’ll get to that later). She’s an outcast everywhere she goes, being bullied by other children, who chant taunts that she’s not only an orphan but that her uncle is the boogeyman. It makes sense that Michael’s exploits are town legend, but it adds an extra sting when it’s common knowledge that it’s a terror that runs in the family.

When Michael returns to Haddonfield, his mission is to eliminate his niece. Why? We’re not really sure. Either he has a compulsion to kill those in his family, or he wants to see what it’s like killing a child for a change. It’s clear there’s a psychic link between Jamie and Michael, but this isn’t fully explored in Return. There’s plenty to like about Return when we’re watching the relationship between Rachel and Jamie mend as well as Jamie wanting to prove to herself she can be a “normal” kid and not let the teasing push her out. The connection between Jamie and Michael is made more clear when shopping for a costume, she picks up on a clown outfit that bears a striking resemblance to the same one young Michael wore the night he killed his sister. The reflection in the mirror even changes to that of six year old Michael.

Loomis, meanwhile, makes his way to the Sheriff’s department to find that Sheriff Bracket has retired, replaced by Sheriff Meeker, who is fully aware of who Loomis is, thus making him prepared for his bullshit. However, when Loomis reveals that Michael has escaped and is making his way to Haddonfield, Meeker agrees to go along with Loomis’ theory. No one should blame anyone in a position of authority when Loomis is Loomising, but you should always humor Loomis. He’s often always right, even if he sucks at communicating.

Where Return falters is its secondary characters, though, they’re not all that dull. It’s just that they’re mostly flat and are there to pad the kill count later in the film. There’s also a subplot involving a mob of maybe drunk townsfolk after the rest of the police force was eliminated by Michael. The first thing this posse does is inadvertently kill one of their friends who was, again, possibly drunk and shambling through the bushes. It’s comical but doesn’t service the plot. All it does is establish that this amatuer malitia isn’t coordinated enough to hunt snipe let alone a serial killer.

Inevitably, Michael and Jamie’s paths converge at Meeker’s house, which is meant to serve as a safe place but, come on. Michael took out a police station. The sheriff’s house ain’t gonna do shit to stop him, either. Anyway, more people are killed, Jamie and Rachel are chased away, there’s a detour to the elementary school and then Rachel and Jamie get picked up by the Yokel Patrol. Michael pulls a Sideshow Bob and hitches a ride under the truck. Eventually, he kills off all the armed good ol’ boys, leaving Rachel to take control of the wheel. She slams the brakes, Michael tumbles off the roof. As he stands up, she shifts gears and guns for him, ramming full speed into Michael, who goes flying through the air and landing in a conveniently located graveyard. More police show up and unload every round they have into Michael, who then falls through some sort of plot or well, bringing all the debris crashing down on top of him. He’s presumed dead and Loomis escorts Jamie and Rachel home. With their bond now strengthened through escaping death, Jamie decides to reward her foster sister with the shock of stabbing their mother. Jamie appears at the top of the stairs, echoing Michael as a child, and Loomis screaming “No,” as the Evil has returned and is now in the child. He brandishes his standard issue psychiatrist’s gun but is thankfully stopped before he can shoot the child.

The last scene was meant to bring everything full circle and maybe have Jamie take up the role of The Shape in the next film. For whatever reason, the prospect of following a seven year old killer probably caused some hesitation among studio suits, so they swerved in a new direction for The Revenge of Michael Myers. While I think there was untapped creative potential in exploring the evil that was in Michael be passed on to his niece, I do see why maybe that wouldn’t mean commercial success. So, instead, Jamie’s near-sorta-matricide is lamp-shaded and we examine her telepathic link to Michael. Revenge ramps up the absurdity of this plot point, sowing the seeds of the Cult of Thorn story that would dominate in the next installment.

Michael survived the police assault and floated down a river to a hermit’s shack. Upon arrival, he collapses and goes into a coma because he wakes up the next year, on Halloween, and kills the poor hermit. I like to think that he wasn’t asleep for a year but instead, was just a friendly if silent friend before he remembers that he’s a possibly possessed psycho killer and must do as he’s commanded to by the powers of some supernatural force. Again, that will get filled in more in Part VI.

WHEEEEEEE!

Revenge sidelines Jamie, locking her away in a psychiatric facility for kids, with Loomis doing his thing, except even more batshit than usual. Rachel, meanwhile, gets dispatched as well, finding herself the victim of Michael’s revenge. In her place, we get Tina, Rachel’s best friend (for this film). They at least establish that she and Jamie have a relationship, and I do appreciate that Tina is depicted as being fond of Jamie, but they make her too flighty when there’s obviously a need for her to step up as being protective of Jamie while Rachel is MIA. Loomis tries to plead with her to skip out on the things that teenagers do in films like these and stay with Jamie, but Tina decides to peace out on all of that and heads to a party at some farmhouse.

Killer party, Tina! Also, Killer Party is another movie worth checking out.

I could dedicate an entire article to the missteps in Revenge alone. It’s a weak film and does just enough damage to the goodwill Return brought to the franchise. Maybe that’s hyperbolic, but I’m only going to defend the aspects that I feel this film did well, which is not a lot. Tina ends up seeing some of her friends killed, then get chased by Michael herself. Meanwhile, Jamie flees the children’s hospital with her friend, Billy, to rescue Tina. The result is Billy gets injured and Tina gets killed. Good job, Jamie. At least now you’re back in the safety of Loomis, who hatches a plan that involves going back to Michael’s home.

Wait, that sounds like an awful plan! It truly proves to be, as more cops get killed, Michael hunts Jamie through the house, including a harrowing scene where she crawls up a laundry chute while Michael stabs away. She reaches the top, which appears to be in the attic, where she finds Rachel’s body along with an empty casket. She decides, what the hell, and climbs in, waiting for Michael to arrive. He does and before he can plunge that shiny kitchen knife into her, she stops him with the magic words of “uncle” and “boogeyman.” Michael appears to have some remorse for his actions, as if he’s actually thinking over what he’s done and where he went wrong in his life. Perhaps he should go home, look inside himself, spend time with his family and try new restaurants. Well, I guess he is home with his family, so that’s enough work for today. Jamie asks if she can see the man behind the mask and he obliges her request. We don’t get to see his full face, as he’s cloaked by shadows, but this is still a compelling scene. Throughout the film, Jamie had been rendered mute and her visions were mostly her seeing what Michael saw. Right now, that’s all abandoned but we have a tender moment where Jamie tries to connect with her murderous uncle and search for the humanity within him. She finds nothing because Michael flips out as feelings are for jerks. Jamie flees, Michael puts the stupid mask back on and then finds himself staring down Loomis, who has hold of Jamie and now uses her as bait. Michael makes his way towards Loomis, who now releases Jamie and then drops a chain net on Michael. How did he get this shit set-up? He manages to subdue The Shape, and more cops show up to take him into custody.

At the station, Michael sits in a cell, fidgeting with his shackles. Thinking the nightmare is over, there’s an explosion. Jamie wanders the halls of the station to find all the cops dead and Michael gone from his cell. Much like the ending of the last film, it’s now her turn to repeat “No” over and over at the horror before her.

Which is unfortunate because it would be six years before the next sequel, The Curse of Michael Myers, would be released. It’s funny how much Scream did for horror films in the 90s because we tend to examine everything in terms of “post-Scream” but rarely touch on the “pre-Scream,” of which Curse is certainly an example.

40 whacks with a wet noodle, Loomis.

Curse takes everything that was established in the last two films and says “fuck it.” This movie takes a bomb to the continuity of the previous two films and tries to make something from the ruins. Or something from the runes, eh? Eh? Get it? Because in the movie, Thorn is a rune that controls Michael and his drive to kill people. It’s a little thin, honestly, and makes the logic behind the chips of Stonehenge in Season of the Witch seem more coherent. So, where to begin with this mega pile piece of shit?

Look, I’m going to spoil much of this movie. They roll with the gap in releases, baking that into the plot that after the end of Revenge, Jamie was kidnapped and has been imprisoned by the Cult in their compound all this time. Doing what? Why, being used to birth a child for sacrifice is all! You know, the usual for a Halloween film. Christ, this series has really gone off the rails here. Anyway, Jamie gives birth, manages to escape, is pursued by her uncle, hides out in a bus station, stashes the baby there, gets chased again by Michael to a farm, and then is caught and impaled on a wheat thresher and dies (or dies later, depending on which cut of the film you’re watching).

This movie has the nerve to ice the lone compelling character it’s had since Laurie and they didn’t even bother to bring back the same actor for a third go. Makes sense, I guess, if they’re just going to kill her in the first ten minutes or so. What Curse is trying to do is make up for the lost time. I imagine that if public response to Revenge was better, we’d have seen another film within the next year. Instead, everything was put on pause and the future of the franchise was in doubt. If this is what they thought was the best idea to film with nearly six years of reflection, then everyone involved deserves to be sent away to the University of Minnesota’s Spankalogical Protocol. 

The plot contends that Michael wasn’t some disturbed kid who one day decided to murder his sister, no, he was compelled to by an ancient rune, which is also a constellation of stars, known as Thorn. There’s a bunch of people who follow this sign for reasons not really established, and it’s led by none other than Dr. Wynn, who was a colleague of Loomis at Smith’s Grove. Oh, you don’t remember them? They were there in the first film, talking with Loomis about how it would be impossible for Michael to be heading to Haddonfield given the distance and his inability to drive. 

Accounting for the time that passed between Revenge and Curse, you could argue that Jamie would have been too old to follow if they wanted to focus the plot on a child as opposed to pre-teen/teen. So she gets replaced by another precocious kid with family issues, and a supporting cast of delinquents and defective personalities, the most prominent of whom is none other than America’s Sweetheart, Paul Rudd as Tommy Doyle. He’s here to serve as another legacy character coming back to serve as an exposition machine while also obsessed with Michael and watches people from his room, Rear Window style.

“Hi, yes. I’m calling back about that role of the guy who wants to boink his step-sister. It’s not a porno, right?”

There’s so many things going on in this film that I feel like I’m going to be all over the place trying to explain things. At this point in Haddonfield, celebrating Halloween is frowned upon because of the association with Michael and his exploits. There’s a contingent that aims to liberate Halloween, but that’s really a c-plot to this film. The a-plot is the Cult of Thorn’s control over Michael, while the b-plot is the Cult’s attempted luring of Danny, the son of main character Kara Strode, a relative of Laurie. I believe she’s meant to be the cousin as her dad was Laurie’s uncle, running the same Strode Realty company from the first film. Then there’s a d-plot that bleeds into everything else, which is The Man In Black, a mysterious stranger who strolls into town and is maybe psychically linked to Danny, much in the same way Michael was with Jamie. Turns out, The Man In Black is Dr. Wynn, Loomis! It was Wynn all along! And no one cared.

“I’ll take this over Dharma & Greg.”

It was a noble effort to try to make the film as compelling as possible for the audience to the point that they re-shot the hell out of it, even after Donald Pleasance passed away. Knowing that this was his final film role feels like such a slap in his face (until whatever the hell they were thinking in Halloween Kills).

The whole of the film is a mess and doesn’t make sense. I’m not sure why we needed a supernatural element to Michael, let alone a cult. There’s a seed of a good idea in this film where Haddonfield has decided to go Footloose on Halloween, with any celebrations banned but then the rebellious teens decide to party anyway, only to incur the wrath of Michael. Okay, yes, this is just the plot of My Bloody Valentine. Go watch that instead.

Contribution to the Franchise

I want to say that these films had a devastating impact on the reputation of the franchise overall, except that Return clearly revitalized it. Separating them from the rest of the series, they make for an interesting trilogy, but one that starts off strong and collapses after the first lap. There’s a reason why the franchise rebooted itself in 1998; the abysmal performance that was the abomination known as Curse cratered all possibility of carrying on in this timeline. However, Scream helped to revive the horror genre for the 90s, commenting on horror film tropes in real-life situations. Thus, you get a reset of the timeline picking up 20 years from that fateful Halloween night in 1978 and Laurie Strode is still alive. The Jamie Lloyd saga is overwritten, just as Return did to Season, and we have what feels like a true third Halloween film.

The turnaround time between Curse and H20 was shorter than between Revenge and Curse. However, H20 doesn’t totally factor into this; it’s just fascinating to think that if either Curse succeeded or Scream failed, H20 might not have been. The reality is that these three films exist and mark a decline in the franchise in parallel to the decline of the slasher sub genre as well as horror overall. Halloween didn’t know how to exist in the 90s; it barely got through the 80s. What’s a real shame is that Return is truly a good film and worth a watch. Danielle Harris’ performance is not one to miss; she shines as Jamie and gives her a vulnerability you empathize with. For those of us who grew up with trauma, we recognize this in her story. We see it in her eyes as she’s teased by her peers or mocked by her family. Unfortunately, Revenge couldn’t capitalize on what was set-up in Return, and Curse felt like a big “fuck you” to the franchise as a whole, not just the last two films.

Yet, I’m willing to sit down and watch any of these three films. There’s something captivating about them, beyond the bizarre. It’s an investigation into where they went wrong and trying to uncover just exactly what they were trying to accomplish, even if it drives me mad.

Final Ranking

  1. The Return of Michael Myers
  2. The Revenge of Michael Myers
  3. The Curse of Michael Myers