Wednesday 7 December 2011

Thorn in the U.S.A.

I may have been a little mean to some of the previous installments in the Halloween franchise. I'd like to apologise for that. Whatever the faults of Michael Kills, Michael Kills Again etc., there was always something to enjoy in them, and be it only bit parts and gore effects. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, by contrast, is without any redeeming merit whatsoever.

The Curse of Michael Myers was released in 1995, in the deepest dark age of the slasher, before the genre was rejuvenated by 1996's Scream; and like pretty much all slashers from that period, it's mercenary and uninspired. It's not bad in the almost charming way of its predecessors, though. No, its rankness is nineties through and through, all flash cuts and MTV aesthetic; and my utter loathing for the film has something to do with that. Before I count the ways, though, a little plot recap.

There is no title sequence, proving, by the rule of Halloween credits, that The Curse of Michael Myers is beyond the pale. Instead, we get a cold open: Jamie Lloyd (J.C. Brandy, who is very bad), abducted from the police station together with her brother Michael at the end of Halloween 5, is wheeled through some sort of underground labyrinth on a gurney, before giving birth surrounded by cloaked figures. The cheap-ass sets and props (it's pretty much ominous cult 101: stone walls, cowls, torches, the like) look like the sort of conspiracy pap one might find on the telly on Saturday afternoons: Relic Hunter, say.

Our bad direction alarm goes off at once, too: director Joe Chappelle uses nonsensical Dutch angles and appalling slow-motion during this sequence, and all of that is very nineties indeed: the hacks behind previous Halloween installments at least knew how to point the camera straight at whatever inane thing they were filming. I have no idea who Joe Chappelle is, but I hate him.

Jamie gives birth, the baby has a thorn rune (þ) smeared on its belly in blood, and not soon after a nurse helps her escape; she tells Jamie to run and 'Save your baby!' At this point my notes read, 'Who the hell wrote this?' We are, for the record, less than five minutes into an 84-minute film. And since you wonder, it was written by Daniel Farrands, by now something of a veteran of third-rate horror films; perhaps he's improved since, but in 1995 Farrands couldn't write a halfway competent line to save his life.

Anyway, Jamie cum baby escapes, the nurse is murdered by Michael (George P. Wilbur for the second time, after Halloween 4), Jamie flees in a truck whose owner Michael also kills and gets to a bus station, from where she calls a local radio show (why not, say, the police?). It's DJ Barry Simms (Leo Geter) doing a segment on the Haddonfield murders, and he pretty much laughs at Jamie.

It just so happens, however, that Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence, looking like he's at death's door - which, sadly, he was) and Tommy Doyle (Paul Rudd. Yes, that Paul Rudd in his first film role, and he's pretty bad), the boy Laurie Strode babysat back in 1978, are both listening to the radio (why, I have no idea: it's not the sort of station Loomis would care for). I will now give the film my only bit of praise: its brief sketch of Haddonfield as a community still in the grip of Myers, who's become something of an urban legend (Halloween has been banned in the town since 1989, to the chagrin of the younger generation), is pretty good.

Jamie has to flee again, eventually crashing her truck into a huge pile of pumpkins (sigh) and running into a barn where Michael kills her by pushing her into a corn thresher. It turns out, though, that Jamie didn't have the baby with her. Instead, Tommy, who's become obsessed by the Myers legend, discovers the boy at the bus station and takes him in. Loomis, meanwhile, visits the scene of Jamie's murder with his colleague, Dr Wynn (Mitchell Ryan), declaring that the thorn rune burnt into bales of straw is '[Michael's] mark'. Which, from the evidence of previous films, is in no way true, but Farrands cares not for your pathetic continuity worries.

And now it's time to meet the Strodes, who have just moved into the old Myers house. They're John (Bradford English, who is bad), brother to Laurie Strode's foster-father, his wife Debra (Kim Darby, who is very good in a small role) and their daughter Kara (Marianne Hagan) with her six-year-old son, Danny (Devin Gardner), whose very existence raises John's ire. And then there's the Strodes' son Tim (Keith Bogart), but he's only expendable meat. The fact that the parents are obviously named for John Carpenter and Debra Hill is interesting, by the way, given that John is an enormous jerk.

That's more plot synopsis than I've ever done for a Halloween film, I think, and this despite the fact that most of it is too stupid to relate in detail. In some ways, The Curse of Michael Myers isn't a proper slasher film: Michael is mostly an obstacle, wandering around inconveniencing our heroes, whose real beef is with the Cult of Thorn. (Incidentally, the identity of the traitor who's secretly leader of the cult came as a surprise to me: not because it was a clever twist, since the character in question was clearly only introduced so he could be the villain, but because I'd forgotten said character existed due to boredom.)

According to Tommy's research Michael is under the Curse of Thorn, an ancient Celtic rune that represented a demon that spread sickness and destruction, and that there is a Cult of Thorn (the hooded chaps we saw earlier) who want to control him, or something. Now, this is mostly hilariously wrong: thorn is a Germanic rune and thus didn't exist in '500 BC', no matter what Tommy may claim, and the rest is just made up; but since thorn stands for þurs, a malicious giant/troll in Norse folk-belief, the sickness demon isn't too far off. It's almost as if Farrands did some research and then decided to discard most of it, so that the thorn business would fit with Samhain.

All this is very far removed from the 'Michael is pure evil' simplicity of Halloween, and it seems apt that Michael is pretty much at his worst this time round. George Wilbur's second stab (ho ho) at the character is not noticeably improved, and he's impeded by the old 'slasher villains walk slowly' trope: as in Halloween II, there's a scene in which he could easily catch our heroes if only he hurried up a little. More power to the make-up team for remembering his hands should be burnt, though - even though Loomis's face is mysteriously pristine again.

It's mostly bad in a really sleepy fashion, as if everyone involved wished they were elsewhere. The kills are bloody, but still quite tedious, and the gore effects are poorly done. Marianne Hagan looks bored; Paul Rudd, embarrassed. The excessive ninetiesness of the entire affair - profoundly overbaked sound effects, slick, vapid cinematography courtesy of Billy Dickson, flash cuts, strobe lighting, slo-mo, all to no avail - dates The Curse of the Michael Myers in the worst possible way. It does, however, suggest that there is a pronounced visual continuity between the pre- and the post-Scream slasher; and in this, the worst possible sense, The Curse of Michael Myers is still with us.

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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