I wanted to do something related to the HALLOWEEN franchise for this week's Face-Off, for obvious reasons - the best holiday of the year is fast approaching! There have been several HALLOWEEN movie Face-Offs in the past, but one that hasn't been done yet is a battle between the two separate paths Michael Myers took after HALLOWEEN II (and after sitting out HALLOWEEN III). HALLOWEEN 4 begins a new chapter in the Michael Myers saga that HALLOWEEN H20, the seventh film in the series, made the controversial decision to ignore completely. But is it better than the film it ignored? Let's see.
HALLOWEEN II FOLLOW-UP
Ten years have passed since the events of the first two films in the HALLOWEEN franchise, ten years that murderer Michael Myers has spent in a coma. During that time, heroine Laurie Strode, the sister of Michael Myers, has passed away and her 7-year-old daughter Jamie Lloyd has been adopted by another family that lives in Haddonfield, Illinois, the setting of parts 1 and 2. When Myers hears of his niece's existence, he awakes from his coma and heads back to Haddonfield to put an end to his bloodline... This sequel shifts gears a bit and gives Myers a new objective, but it is very much in line with its predecessors. In fact, it feels a lot like a bigger budgeted remake of the first movie, telling essentially the same story but with more deaths, gunfire, vehicular action, and explosions.
Ignoring 4-6 and only grudgingly acknowledging 2, H20 picks up twenty years after the events of the first two. Michael Myers has been missing since '78, his psychiatrist Dr. Loomis has died, Laurie Strode has changed her name and gone into hiding. And yet Myers is somehow aware that Laurie had a son, and when he turns 17 Myers gets back to killing, finding Laurie's address in Loomis's files, which were kept by Marion Chambers - a character from the first two movies, a nice touch. Myers goes to California to kill his sister and nephew on Halloween... It's a serviceable attempt to get the series back to its roots, except the inexplicable part about Myers going after relatives when they're 17. The tombstone in the first movie said his eldest sister was just shy of 16 when he killed her.
George P. Wilbur replaced fellow stuntman Tom Morga (who had played the Jason Voorhees copycat in the fifth FRIDAY THE 13TH film) as Michael Myers early in filming, and he makes for a decent Myers. Imposing figure, methodical movements, he stands around silently real well. Most of his screen time comes in the last 20 minutes, chasing the heroines and massacring fodder characters. At times Wilbur can come off as being a bit too stiff and slow, but it has never hampered my enjoyment.
The impression stuntman Chris Durand makes as Michael Myers isn't helped by the fact that he's wearing some of the worst masks in a series known for having bad masks in its sequels. They tried multiple masks trying to get it right here, even slathering on some CGI in post for some shots, and it still didn't work. Beyond that issue, Durand has his moments but really doesn't make for a very intimidating Myers. His walk, movements, the way he carries himself, it all feels awkward to me.
Danielle Harris kicked off a genre career that has lasted to this day with her endearing performance as Myers' niece, little Jamie. Equally likeable is Ellie Cornell as her teenage adoptive sister Rachel, who gets caught up in some love triangle shenanigans while also trying to protect Jamie from her homicidal uncle. The film benefits greatly from the presence of Donald Pleasence as Myers' adversary Dr. Loomis, who partners up with Beau Starr as Sheriff Meeker, a strong presence himself. This film has a great group of characters at its core.
Jamie Lee Curtis reprises the role of Laurie Strode (now going by the name Keri Tate), but this isn't Laurie as we knew her. Now headmistress at a gated boarding school, she is a long-damaged woman, a temperamental, alcoholic, overbearing mother. She's not a very likeable character anymore. She frequently butts heads with her son John (Josh Hartnett), who has a bland girlfriend and a stereotypically super-horny couple as pals. LL Cool J is a security guard who survives too long, Adam Arkin has a nice role as Laurie/Keri's boyfriend.
Michael Myers wakes from his coma even stronger than he was before, which is evident as soon as the first kill, which involves him shoving his thumb into a man's forehead. He goes on to rack up a body count well into the double digits, tossing people around like they're nothing, leaving body parts strewn around crime scenes. His trademark kitchen knife is put to use for some kills, but he'll use whatever's handy - including impaling someone with a shotgun. He doesn't pull the trigger, he's dedicated to being a slasher. If he doesn't have a weapon, he can just crush a throat in his bare hands, or tear it open with his fingers. It's enjoyable, but it's a bit much for Michael Myers.
After a few sequels with higher body counts, this one pulls back closer to the 5 count of the original film, with Michael Myers knocking off 6 people himself and causing the death of another. This time he uses the kitchen knife almost exclusively, although he causes people damage in other ways, like crushing a girl's leg in a dumbwaiter. The most over-the-top death occurs off screen, with a character being found with an ice skate stuck in his face. Other than that, the kills are pretty straightforward stabbings and throat slittings. They'd be disappointing for some other slashers, but Myers doesn't have to be too showy. The kills in this film fit the character as seen in the original.
HALLOWEEN 4 really shines in the atmosphere department, establishing a wonderful Halloween feel right up front with fall imagery and holiday decorations on a farm property that has nothing to do with the story that follows. The locations the story does take place in, however, do tend to be well decorated, with glowing jack-o-lanterns, masks, sheet ghosts, paper decorations, etc. Kids run around in costume, trick or treating (Jamie among them), playing pranks, throwing toilet paper in trees. This feels very much like Halloween in small town, midwestern America.
H20 starts out with a very Halloween-ish atmosphere. The first shot is of a woman carving a jack-o-lantern, and the camera pulls back from that to show an Illinois neighborhood all done up for the holiday, pumpkins all over the place. That Halloween feeling is largely lost when the film moves on to California. We get quick glimpses of decorations and kids in costume, but it really doesn't feel like the holiday season at Hillcrest Academy - which makes some sense given that the place is run by a woman who's not too fond of Halloween, but that doesn't help the movie.
I know a lot of HALLOWEEN fans are going to disagree with me here, but a lot will agree with me as well - in my opinion, HALLOWEEN 4 trounces HALLOWEEN H20. In nearly every way, I find the fourth movie to be a more enjoyable and more satisfying viewing experience than the seventh film. 4 has better characters and perfectly captures the feeling of an '80s Halloween. H20 just doesn't work very well for me.
What are your opinions on these films? Share your thoughts on them in the comments section below. If you have movie pairings in mind that you think would make for a good Face-Off article, you can send suggestions to me at CodyHamman@joblo.com.