Wednesday, September 19, 2018

40 Years of Halloween - Halloween 5

Mistakes were made during the production of Halloween 5.

Blog contributor Jay Burleson once wrote an article that served as a Defense of Halloween 5, but my outlook on the 1989 Halloween sequel isn't as positive as Jay's is. I can't stir up much enthusiasm for this one, although while watching it I do get the feeling that it could have been a better movie than it is with some tweaks... And it certainly should have been a better movie, since it was following the awesome Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.

The problem with Halloween 5 is that the filmmakers were somehow overthinking things while simultaneously not thinking them through enough. As odd as that is, it's sort of a recurring problem for the Halloween franchise, as that's the same thing that happened with Halloween II when John Carpenter, who had established in the first movie that masked slasher Michael Myers was an evil force of nature who rolled into Haddonfield, Illinois and randomly chose to stalk babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and murder her friends, decided that random evil couldn't sustain another film and dropped in the revelation that Myers was actually Laurie's older brother and came to Haddonfield with the intention of finding and killing her.

Myers sat out Halloween III: Season of the Witch, and by the time in his return in Halloween 4 rolled around Curtis had left the series, so Laurie was written out and her young, orphaned daughter Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) became the new target of Myers' homicidal obsession. Halloween 4 was, for the most part, a simple stalk 'n slash, as a Halloween movie should be. But when the time came to make a sequel to it, the filmmakers decided to drop in some new, strange, unnecessary twists and turns.

After beginning with a title sequence that plays out over the rather violent carving of a jack-o-lantern, a sort of callback to the title sequences of earlier Halloweens, Halloween 5 starts its story right at the end of Halloween 4, with the sight of Michael Myers (then played by George P. Wilbur) being blasted into a well. It then shows us what happened down in that well - an injured Myers (now played by Silent Night, Deadly Night stuntman Don Shanks) crawls into a waterway and gets swept downstream. This takes him to a crumbling little shack on the outskirts of town, where he's taken in by an old hermit mountain man (Harper Roisman) who has a parrot named Spooky. Myers collapses as soon as he enters the shack... and the old man makes the baffling decision to let this silent murderer spend an entire year convalescing in his home. The film jumps from Halloween 1988 to Halloween Eve 1989 and the old guy just has an unconscious Myers laying on a table.

Sensing his favorite holiday approaching, Myers regains consciousness, gets off the table, puts his mask back on (the old man was kind enough to keep it hanging right beside the table), then kills the old dude. None of this makes any sense, and in the middle of it all we get some extra nonsense when we're shown that Myers has some kind of symbol tattooed on his right wrist. When the hell did Michael Myers get a tattoo?

Halloween 5 would have been a better movie if director Dominique Othenin-Girard had stuck with the idea that was in the screenplay he wrote with Michael Jacobs and Shem Bitterman. The idea that Myers was taken in not by a kind old man, but by an occultist referred to as Doctor Death. It still wouldn't have been great, but it would have made much more sense for someone like that to spend a year caring for the killer, and in the script it was Doctor Death who tattooed the symbol, a symbol that was supposed to mean "eternal life", on Myers' wrist. Doctor Death's scenes were actually filmed, but then the filmmakers second guessed themselves and decided it would be better to have an old man caring for Myers instead of an occultist. Doctor Death was removed from the film with some additional photography, but for the tattoo, now unexplained, was kept on Myers' wrist so they could do something else with it.

That "something else" was to shoot scenes where a mysterious man dressed all in black arrives in Haddonfield on a bus and spends most of the film lurking around at the edge of scenes, watching the events play out. Nobody working on the film had any idea who this Man in Black was. Not the director, or the co-writers, or producer Moustapha Akkad, nobody. They did, however, have Shanks play the Man in Black just in case it might be revealed in a sequel that the Man in Black was actually Michael Myers' heretofore never mentioned twin brother. That never happened, thankfully, as it would have been even more ridiculous than the explanation that was eventually put together for Halloween 6.

Halloween 4 had set up the fact that Michael and his niece Jamie somehow had a bit of a psychic connection to each other, although the film hadn't gone very far with that touch of the supernatural. Halloween 5 does. Having been tained by Michael in some way at the end of the previous film, so much so that she stopped speaking and even tried to stab her foster mother to death, Jamie is now a patient at a Children's Clinic and is so connected to Michael than she can even see through his eyes. She knows when he rises in the hermit's shack, she gets glimpses of what he's up to as he makes his way around Haddonfield and resumes his stalking, murderous ways. She struggles to get across the information she knows since she can't speak anymore, but Michaels psychologist turned nemesis Doctor Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is there to hang on her every word. Loomis is quite mad himself by this point, and more intense and determined in his mission to stop Michael than ever before.

The inclusion of the psychic connection is questionable, but I suppose you have to shake things up in some way when you're this deep into a franchise... And there are plenty more questionable things to pick apart here. Like the lack of respect shown to Jamie's foster sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell), who was introduced as a solid heroine in part 4. I'm not even counting the fact that Rachel is killed off early on to be a sign of disrespect; that sort of thing happens in horror sequels all the time. The problem is, this formerly smart character comes off as a dimwitted stereotype in most of her scenes, and she's simultaneously objectified, shown taking a shower and running around in a towel. It just wasn't the right way to handle that character.

Worse still, once Rachel is out of the picture she is replaced by her friend Tina (Wendy Kaplan), known for being one of the most annoying characters in one of these major horror franchises. Tina does seem to care about Jamie, but those heartfelt moments are just sprinkled in among scenes of Tina being a hyped-up party girl airhead who drops lines like "I'm never sensible if I can help it!"

Also on the chopping block is Tina's friend Samantha (Tamara Glynn), who is kind of a sweet girl, but she's planning to give up her virginity to her insufferable prankster boyfriend Spitz (Matthew Walker). Tina's boyfriend is also a douchebag, Jonathan Chapin as Mikey, a Fonzie wannabe who hates cops and loves his Camaro. This group plans to spend their Halloween partying at a remote farmhouse called Tower Farm, but that doesn't turn out so well for them.

The best thing involving these young slasher fodder characters is a scene where Michael removes his usual mask and puts on the ogre mask Mikey had been intending to wear to the Tower Farm costume party. He picks Tina up at her house like Mikey was going to, and proceeds to start driving her across town... with Tina not realizing the man in the mask isn't her douchey boyfriend. Before we can see where this situation is going, Jamie breaks it up with her psychic powers.

Things go to hell at Tower Farm despite the presence of a pair of police officers who are meant to be watching over Tina, since Loomis knows Michael will be going after her. Played by Frank Como and David Ursin, these two are credited as Deputy Nick and Deputy Tom, but they're better known to me as the Clown Cops - they're comic relief characters, meant to make you laugh with their dopey behavior and incompetence. In case you didn't realize they're meant to be humorous, composer Alan Howarth drives the point home by putting clownish sound effects over one of their biggest scenes. That may be the most cringe-inducing thing in this very cringeworthy movie.

After a lot of missteps and confusion, Halloween 5 does eventually get to a point where the good outweighs the bad. Annoying characters are killed off one-by-one, then we get a sequence where Jamie and her fellow clinic resident Billy (Jeffrey Landman) are chased through the Tower Farm property by Michael, who's at the wheel of Mikey's Camaro. This leads into a climactic sequence set at the home where the series began - the Myers house, which has somehow transformed from a regular two story house into a crumbling mansion, but if you can get past that bad continuity the sequence set there is actually pretty cool.

In an effort to draw Michael out, Loomis and the local police force take Jamie to the Myers house and wait for the killer to show up. But Michael figures out a way to get the police to leave his house: he kills a bunch of people at the Children's Clinic. These kills were supposed to be on screen, but in the finished film they're just mentioned in dialogue before the police rush off. I would love to see what was filmed for the clinic murders, which included Michael killing SWAT team members.

When Michael arrives at the Myers house, only Jamie, Loomis, and a couple police officers are still there... and we see that Michael has this place set up for his niece. He has even put the coffin of a little girl he dug up from the local cemetery in the attic of his house, so he can put Jamie in it. Taking up almost 20 minutes of the movie, the Myers house sequence is sort of a masterpiece contained within a movie that is definitely not a masterpiece overall. The greatest part is when Jamie is trying to escape her knife-happy uncle by crawling around in a laundry chute.

Then we get a cliffhanger ending involving the man in black that wouldn't get resolved for six years, in a movie that's an even bigger step down than this one.

There have been times when I've had a stronger distaste for Halloween 5 than I do now, but I've come around to seeing it as mediocre as watchable. There are elements in here that verge on painful, but I can still see the glimmer of a good movie in there. I don't think it ever had a shot at greatness, I don't think the script had the right sensibilities or characters for that, but I do think it could have been better than it is if Othenin-Girard had been able to just bring the initial shooting script to the screen. Don't replace Doctor Death with the mountain man, don't add in the man in black, show us those SWAT team kills. That would have been a better, more entertaining film, even if it did still have Tina and the Clown Cops.

One thing I have grown to like more and more about this sequel is the performance of Don Shanks as Michael Myers. He does bring a feeling of methodical evil to the role, even though he was stuck with a mask that didn't look very good. While the mask of the original Halloween and Halloween II was a modified William Shatner / Captain Kirk mask, the mask for Halloween 5 was created by combining molds of the faces of Shanks and special effects artist Greg Nicotero. This Shanks-Nicotero hybrid mask just doesn't look like the classic Michael Myers mask, it's odd.

In addition to being good at stalking and killing people, Shanks also gets to play the most emotional moment Michael Myers has ever had, when Jamie convinces him to take his mask off and show her his face. A tear rolls down his face while sharing this moment with the little girl he feels compelled to murder... Then he snaps back into his murderous rage when she tries to wipe that tear away.

Halloween 5 could have been improved at the time, but instead it was burdened with last minute changes that dragged it down further. The finished film isn't terrible, although it has terrible things in it, and it isn't great, despite having great things in it. Mediocre is the word. After having a great revival with Halloween 4, the series took a tumble.


  1. A great analysis and review of a movie I've never been very fond of either.

  2. Halloween 5 is easily amongst the finest slasher films ever made. It is also far and away the sequel that comes closest to emulating the template of the original. If you think that a sequel should adhere to the qualities that made the original so strong, yet still be original enough so that you don't feel as if you're sitting through the exact same movie, Halloween 5 is hard to beat. What always set Michael Myers apart in the original was that he was the ultimate stalker, in addition to being this unstoppable force of nature. Some of the sequels get the second part right....but only Halloween 5 can rival the 1978 version when it comes to Myers as stalker, as hunter and gamesman. Halloween 2 is truly outstanding, but even that one doesn't quite capture the aura of Myers as the ultimate 'Bogeyman in the closet' quite like this one does. I enjoy the two films equally, but part 5 comes down firmly on the side of Myers as stalker, just like the original did. When he's in the house with Rachel, and then Tina, that is as close as the series ever comes to the tone and aura of the original. And the barn sequence, if anything, SURPASSES the original. The barn sequence of Halloween 5 takes the whole 'cat and mouse' motif to the level of an absolute art form. This movie is a masterpiece, and far and away the most ridiculously underappreciated slasher film ever made.