The Enjoyable Dumbness of the Halloween Franchise

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2015-10-31 00:14
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Many words can adequately describe John Carpenter’s Halloween: lean, efficient, precise, perfect. One word that absolutely doesn’t come to mind is “dumb." Carpenter’s craft is too calculated, too razor sharp in its focus; just as Jesse Ventura doesn’t have time to bleed in Predator, nor does Halloween even have time to be dumb. How is it, then, that it launched a franchise that often took the dumbest turns possible? Even more, how did it manage to consistently survive these decisions and lumber on, sort of like a hulking serial killer that’s too stupid to feel pain? Considering the give-and-take between horror franchises in the 80s, it’s almost appropriate that Halloween became the Jason Voorhees of slasher franchises: dumb, ridiculous, and, above all, impervious.

If Halloween is a perfect movie, then the very existence of a Halloween II is the dumbest possible decision. In addition to its efficiency, Carpenter’s original is also a perfectly self-contained experience, one that thrives on mystery and inexplicability. Just about any attempt to follow up or peel the curtain back on this is ill-advised. For a while, the first sequel seems to actually recognize this: in the tradition of many slasher sequels, it’s more of the same, with Michael now prowling suburbia, offing random victims. What it lacks for plot, it makes up for with delivering exactly what you’d expect from a typical slasher follow-up, at least until it detours into a plot literally derived from the bottom of Carpenter’s beer can.

In a twist even the director himself admits is a desperate reach, the script reveals Michael and Laurie Strode to be siblings, a connection that almost immediately lessens the mystique and inexplicability of The Shape. Now less a boogeyman and more a guy looking to finally fulfill a familial bloodlust. Still unnerving to be sure, but suddenly not as unnerving as Michael becoming obsessed with Laurie because she happened to be the first girl who arrived on his doorstep on Halloween. Again, however, Carpenter at least seems to be aware that this truly left the franchise with nowhere else to go and rightfully conspired to send Myers and Sam Loomis off with a blaze of glory. Definitively killing off Michael Myers is perhaps the smartest thing Halloween II could do with its dumb, unasked-for existence. That it taps into the dark, sinister ambiance of the actual holiday in a way its predecessor didn’t is pretty clever, too: despite so much working against it, Halloween II is functional, making it the first time the Halloween franchise took a bullet and kept on ticking anyway.

In keeping with the smart decision to kill off Myers, Halloween III rightfully leaves The Shape at rest. Completely breaking away and attempting to instill an anthology format is the most inspired move the franchise took after 1978—from an artistic standpoint anyway. Monetarily speaking, this was just about the dumbest possible direction to take; had Carpenter and company decided to do so with the second film rather than with the third one, it may have worked. By 1982, however, Halloween was definitively the night he came home. Far be it from me to criticize it for doing so at any point, though: Season of the Witch is a thoroughly bonkers movie built on—you guessed it—a supremely dumb collection of lunacy involving killer Halloween masks, Stonehenge, robots, and Tom Atkins playing James Bond reimagined as a scuzzy American wielding six packs of Miller and skipping out on his kids.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Halloween 3: Tommy Lee Wallace turns in the best Carpenter imitation you’re likely to ever witness, and the infusion of pagan Celtic lore explores adds a sinister touch. But, again, killer masks that turn kids’ heads into bugs with the assistance of lasers fired out of Stonehenge, you guys. I wish Hollywood still had stupidly terrific ideas like this more often.

By all accounts, Halloween III should have been the nail in the coffin for the series. With Myers dead and the anthology format a box office dud, it would take another dumb idea—such as resurrecting Myers—to revive it. Of course, that’s exactly what happened with The Return of Michael Myers, a sequel I actually have few qualms with. Considering the deck stacked against it, Halloween 4 is probably the least misguided of the sequels and arguably closest to the spirit of the original. Even if it’s stuck with the family angle introduced in Part II, it’s at least clever enough not to completely retread the original and minimize its more ridiculous choices, such as having Myers transform into a Voorhees clone, impaling-thumb-to-the-face and all. (And this is to say nothing about the mask here, which is less William Shatner and more street mime.)

In time, though, even it can’t outrun the questionable silliness of having Myers hunted and gunned down by a redneck posse, or ending with the implication that Jamie Lloyd has now contracted her uncle’s psychosis. For about 80 minutes, Halloween 4 is just clever enough to fool you into thinking that it isn’t hoarding some bad decisions that it eventually springs on you. Halloween 4 is like a relative that begins to tell you about their dubious exploits once the liquor kicks in at a family gathering.

And yet, it’s all absolutely worthwhile that Halloween 4 paints the franchise into a corner, if only because it’s so morbidly entertaining to watch it attempt—and fail spectacularly—to claw its way out over the course of the next few movies. When the makers of the previous sequel effectively made a mess and hoped their successors would kindly clean up behind them, they had no way of knowing that absolute madman Dominique Othenin-Girard would take the reins.

Nearly all of his solutions feel calculated for maximum absurdity. Myers fell into a mine shaft thanks to a hail of shotgun fire in the previous film? Well, he actually just landed safely in a nearby river, into the waiting arms of a hermit who has no qualms about attending to a comatose psycho for an entire year. What of Jamie’s sudden violent outburst? Well, she’s hasn’t so much taken up the family business so much as she’s developed a telepathic link with her uncle during a year-long stint in a psychiatric clinic. Fan-favorite Ellie Cornell returns as Haddonfield sweetheart Rachel Carruthers? Well, that’s nothing a pair of scissors to the throat can’t take care of during the first act.

Quite frankly, Othenin-Girard could not give less fucks, which explains how the Myers house has inexplicably transformed into a Victorian mansion. It explains why an inordinate amount of time is dedicated to a couple of doofus cops, complete with cartoon theme music. It explains why the script requests the obviously-too-good-for-this-shit Donald Pleasance to earnestly utter the phrase “cookie woman?!” It even explains why Myers sheds crocodile tears during an outrageous climax that involves tranquilizer darts, a chain net, and Dr. Loomis beating the shit out of old patient in an unhinged rage. What it doesn’t explain is the presence of the mysterious Man in Black who roams around Haddonfield before orchestrating a jailbreak for Myers with his tommy gun.

In case you hadn’t figured it out by now, Halloween 5 is fucking amazing. To be honest, it’s actually the film that inspired this article since I found myself caught the inevitable glow of AMC’s yearly airing (which is likely set to repeat approximately ten times over the course of 96 hours). At some point during the past five years or so, I’ve come to realize just how much I love this dumb movie. Almost nothing embodies the resiliency of the Halloween franchise more than a movie that does almost everything wrong, yet manages to consistently entertain. Years ago, I insisted that Halloween 5 is simply Halloween 4, only everyone’s “dumber and an asshole,” and that still couldn’t be more true. Also true: it says a lot that best stretch here involves Myers stalking a group of teens only tangentially vital to the actual story. For a few, brief moments, The Revenge of Michael Myers gives viewers a respite from Dr. Loomis terrorizing children and simply delivers a scythe-wielding Shape cutting through teenage wheat in a barn. Remarkably, Halloween 5 is not so dumb that it completely forgets to be a Halloween movie.

Somehow, the extraordinary dumbness of Halloween 5 was but a prelude to the madness of the sixth film, The Curse of Michael Myers. By now, a pattern has certainly emerged wherein previous films make a mess of themselves with the hopes that someone will bring order to chaos. You would think that Othenin-Girard himself may have been sympathetic to such a plight given his own position, but nope: Revenge ends on a big ol’, dumb cliffhanger that wouldn’t be resolved for six years thanks to franchise rights disputes. By the time Curse arrived in 1995, it may have been forgivable—if not downright prudent—had everyone just assumed that maybe audiences had forgotten or had no interest in the previous film’s bizarre ending (seriously, Myers dwelling in a jail cell is some uncanny valley shit).

But, as we all know, the Halloween franchise has little use for prudence. Rather than avoiding this thorny patch of story issues, it dives headlong into them, and predictably emerges bloody as a result. If Halloween 5 was the moment the franchise perched itself at the edge of a high-dive, this was the moment it dove straight off into the deep end by embracing pagan mysticism, cults, and implied incest. With Myers having already been steadily demythologized, there was no point in turning back now: if he could no longer be the anonymous Shape, why not put him at the mercy of pagan constellations and weird old guys masquerading as a cult? You could do worse, such as explain him as the product of a troubled childhood home.

What’s more, The Curse of Michael Myers manages to be supremely dumb in spite of reshoots whose purpose should have been in the service of minimizing said dumbness. Somehow, this attempt at applying a Band-Aid only resulted in more hemorrhaging, as the theatrical version makes less sense. This is a good point to remind you that this is not the version that ends with Paul Rudd stopping Myers with magic rocks. That’s actually the one that makes more sense. Again, however, neither cut is not so fundamentally flawed that Halloween 6 can’t function as a decent slasher, especially the one that has the good sense to feature an exploding head to distract audiences from realizing just how far away the franchise has strayed from the original. Halloween 6 doesn’t let its bad ideas—which also include reducing Pleasence’s screen time during his final turn as Loomis—completely trip itself up. It may stumble, but you can bet your ass it recovers well enough to cut off your balls and wear them as earrings.

I know what you’re thinking when it comes to Halloween H20: finally, a smart decision. After two movies built on a mountain of ruinous decisions, the only wise move would be to furiously mash the reset button in an attempt to hearken back to the first two films. They even coaxed Jamie Lee Curtis back and everything, meaning that nothing, surely, could go wrong. But would a smart person decline the opportunity to pay John Carpenter to return to the director's chair? Furthermore, would a smart person then hire Steve Miner to deliver a pale imitation?

Everything sort of unravels from there with one bad decision after another: Laurie Strode is now a rip-roaring, alcoholic asshole, which still might be preferable to the group of teenaged Scream clones we’re stuck with more most of the movie. Outside of the film’s effective bookending sequences, H20 is a slog even at 86 minutes, as its bad decisions aren’t bad enough in light of its looney predecessors. Say what you want about the previous two sequels, but they at least doused shit in gasoline in an attempt to send the franchise out with a blaze of glory; H20 seems to be more content to send it out in the most agreeable manner possible, with a tidy return bout between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers that’s thrilling enough but hardly compensates for its reluctance to actually be a Halloween movie. If not for some of the dialogue, you’d never know Halloween H20 occurs on or near the holiday, and John Ottman’s Frankensteined score heightens the film’s generic, wannabe nature. You’d probably never guess it at first glance, but H20 actually makes one of the dumbest decisions possible by being a bore.

Of course, it wasn’t totally bereft of the one good idea to definitively knock Myers off for good, even though nobody really bought it. Upon leaving the theater, there wasn’t a question of if Myers was really dead—it was a matter of just how dumb the next film would go in an effort to bring him back. Enter Halloween: Resurrection, another black sheep (if not the black sheep at this point) trying to keep the franchise on life support. Unlike its predecessor, its best idea comes up top, as it stages a final confrontation between Strode and Myers, thus truly closing the saga for good.

The bad news is that there’s about 70 minutes of movie left that basically amounts to Myers having to drag himself out of retirement to kill a bunch of trespassers filming in his home for a reality television show. That the show is produced by Busta Rhymes provides some sweet assurance that Resurrection will at least be more in the gonzo spirit of the earlier sequels. On this count, it both does and doesn’t disappoint: I don’t know that Resurrection is really dumb enough to stay riotously entertaining, but it is the only one where Busta Rhymes curses out Michael Myers and later compares him to a killer shark wearing baggy-ass overalls.

But there’s a lot of filler, too, including a go-nowhere thread involving Myers’s childhood, which is rightfully revealed to be a hoax (again, could you imagine anyone being misguided enough to actually take this clichéd route?). For the most part, the slashing is unmemorable, and the reality-television conceit only feels like a desperate attempt to latch onto relevancy and trends (ironically, even though the sparse found footage style is an attempt to ape The Blair Witch Project, it somehow feels ahead of its time since a glut of similar movies wouldn’t arrive until years later). Of the many questionable decisions involved in Halloween: Resurrection, the worst might be not sending the franchise out on a bigger, dumber note. After the delirious highs of earlier sequels, this crash is too sobering: the dumb fun is gone, and you’re left with plain old dumb.

(I can hear the chatter of folks wondering “what about Rob Zombie?,” and I can only assume this was a mass hallucination since nobody in their right mind would have thought that was a good idea.)

We’re left, then, with a franchise that has been sort of quietly bonkers. Like Myers itself, it’s unassuming and sneaks up on you with its insanity before knifing you in the gut. Maybe it never succumbed to the cartoonish madness of the Nightmare on Elm Street series or the gimmicky foolishness of later Friday the 13th entries, but it can be argued that no franchise tried to shoot itself in the kneecap more gloriously and kept on ticking anyway. Sure, they never sent Myers to space, but they did leave him in the custody of Rob Zombie.

However, even that won’t be enough to kill him. Despite the recent snag in production on the next Halloween film, Michael Myers will return--the only question is just how silly it'll be and just how much I'll have to talk myself into eventually accepting it. At some point, you have to learn to stop worrying and love the dumb, even if it involves watching Busta Rhymes roundhouse kick Michael Myers into oblivion.
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