Tuesday 6 December 2011

A dish best not served at all

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers didn't set cinema on fire, but grossing almost $18 million on a $5 million budget was enough for Moustapha Akkad to greenlight a sequel. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, released in October 1989, made a profit, but the precipitous drop in box office returns compared to its bearable predecessor killed the notion of further Halloween films for a full six years. This fact encourages those of us who steadfastly believe in audiences' intelligence, for The Revenge of Michael Myers is terrible.

We open with the worst title sequence of the series, confirming an ironclad rule: the opening credits of any Halloween film are an excellent indication of the quality of what is to follow. Glowing, swirling text is intercut with a soul-crushingly awful sequence of someone using a knife to eviscerate... a pumpkin. With attendant metallic slashing noises. I haven't been so terrified since the Masks of Doom in Season of the Witch.

So anyway, we see the ending of Halloween 4 again, but now we learn that the hole Michael Myers (played this time by Don Shanks, an old friend) fell into was some sort of mineshaft. He crawls out through a ravine and into a river, is washed downstream and nursed back to health by a character the credits identify as 'Mountain Man' (in Illinois - but Halloween 5, like its predecessor, was filmed in Utah, which accounts for the more realistic depiction of autumn). After being in a coma for a year, Michael awakens, kills the Mountain Man and marches off to murder his niece Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris, still out-acting everyone but Pleasence), who has been confined to a children's clinic after stabbing her foster-mother while under Michael's mind control at the end of Halloween 4. She's visited by her foster-sister Rachel (Ellie Cormell) and Rachel's friend Tina (Wendy Kaplan), and I'd just like to say that I normally feel sorry for the fools who befriend Michael Myers's extended family, but Tina is hateful beyond belief.

Jamie goes into convulsions when her psychic link to Michael tells her her uncle is back to his murderous ways, sending the doctors into a panic. And then we get what is perhaps my favourite scene in any Halloween sequel. Ready? So the camera looks up from Jamie's perspectives, doctors and nurses standing over her preparing to operate - and then Loomis, who we had no indication to believe was anywhere near, suddenly hobbles into shot, screaming 'NOOOO!' and doing the Crazy Eyes of Pleasence. That's the character's first appearance in this film, and if there's a finer summary of the glories of Samuel Loomis I don't know of it. Anyway, he convinces the doctors to just wait for Jamie to calm down, and that does the trick.

Rachel, meanwhile, takes a shower at home and walks around her petty-bourgeois bedroom getting changed in a scene that has so much almost-but-not-quite nudity you'd think we're in a 2000s slasher. After some hijinks, Michael murders her with a pair of scissors and spirits her body away. (He also kills Max the Doberman, in another instance of Michael Myers's unending crusade against America's dogs.) With the loose end thus tied up it's time to meet the meat, in an absurdly padded sequence. There's Tina and her boyfriend Mikey (Jonathan Chapin), who's even worse than Tina and dies in a most satisfying manner, their friend Samantha (Tamara Glynn, who was apparently drunk on set), and Samantha's awful boyfriend Spitz (Matthew Walker). It seems that these teens are all headed to a Halloween party at The Tower Farm, an out-of-town agricultural site and prime murder territory.

Much of the blame can safely be directed at the screenplay. Originally written by Shem Bitterman, revised by Michael Jacobs because it wasn't any good and then revised again by director Dominique Othenin-Girard, it is a tremendous mess, leading to a film whose plot is a veritable Swiss cheese. It's all over the place, but most of all it's enormously boring. There's no reason to care about any of the characters: despite all the time we waste with them, Tina, Sammi, Mikey and Spitz are clearly nought but expendable meat, existing solely to pad the body count. (They forget Rachel ever existed once she's dead, too.) Worse, whichever of the writers decided to add comic relief in the form of two goofy coppers should be executed in front of his family. (It's just a joke, like on Top Gear. But coincidentally...)

Speaking of, the murders are very Friday the 13th. Michael Myers was always a knife nut, but here he enjoys using farm tools: Spitz is impaled with a pitchfork mid-sex in a scene that rips off Friday the 13th, Part 2 (which in turn stole the idea from Twitch of the Death Nerve), while Sammi is killed with a scythe and Mikey has his skull caved in with a garden hoe. I find the inconsistent portrayal of Michael Myers only a year after Halloween 4 really quite baffling: here he's not quite as gigantic, and his mask is looking totally different again. Oh, and he does a whole lot of driving. I'm not entirely sure where he learnt that, since he's lived in asylums since the age of six.

It's pretty obvious they just didn't care. Dominique Othenin-Girard, a hack who mostly directs TV films, doesn't even try to make Halloween 5 scary. For example, he bungles a scene in which Tina and Sammi are talking in the foreground while Michael watches them in the background, seen in the space between them; and when comparing that to John Carpenter's effective use of similar stalking tropes in Halloween, one must weep. Shot by the rightly forgotten Robert Draper, The Revenge of Michael Myers also ends the series' tradition of fine cinematography: the ugliest, for my money, are the scenes set in the Myers family home (which is now a sprawling mansion, apparently). Composer Alan Howarth, too, seems to have given up, turning in a repugnant remix of Carpenter's Halloween theme.

At least you can't accuse them of being totally indifferent to series continuity (as if that was a bad thing...). Halloween 5 is full of foreshadowing that didn't pay off for a whole six years. Michael Myers has the letter thorn (you know, þ) tattooed on his wrist, as does a mysterious Man In Black whose face we never see, but who sure spends a lot of time walking around Haddonfield; and the rune turns up again drawn on a doorframe in the old Myers house. I fear the payoff will be terrible, but in a film that's otherwise the most dispiriting hackwork the series has seen so far, any relief is welcome.

In this series: Halloween (1978) | Halloween II (1981) | Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1988) | Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) | Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) | Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) | Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998) | Halloween: Resurrection (2002) | Halloween (2007) | Halloween II (2009)

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