“I prayed that he would burn in hell. But in my heart, I knew that hell would not have him.”
I feel like there’s some unwritten rule somewhere that the fifth entry in the myriad horror franchises out there has to be the most polarizing titles in their respective series’. Let’s call it The Rule of the Fifth. The best example is FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING which attempted to reboot a franchise that killed off its box-office draw – Jason Voorhees – in the previous entry by way of “remaking” the first film in its series, and ended up coming off as a giallo-infused, trailer trash murder mystery that despite audience consternation had more commonality in its plot plumbing than most people like to let on (revenge for the death of someone’s child). Lest we forget A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 5: THE DREAM CHILD, which welded a Euro-gothic sensibility to a pro-choice plot device and stapled in the series’ increasing penchant for ludicrous reverse-engineered, not plot-generated, nightmare sequences. Naturally, I cannot say that this applies to every single horror franchise that’s moved over five films, like WITCHCRAFT V: DANCE WITH THE DEVIL (though I would take Paul Freitag-Frey’s advice on whether or not this entry sends people into polarizing hives), but it’s a trend I’ve been acutely aware of.
As for the HALLOWEEN franchise, there are numerous titles that set people’s teeth to grind. There’s HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION, which would serve as a mediocre HALLOWEEN film all on its own would it not be for the frustrating, catharsis flaming, terribleness of its opening sequence (do not try to tell me this film is defensible). There’s also the twin bad-boys of the Rob Zombie reimaginings, and then the former whipping boy of the HALLOWEEN films, HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH which went from overly maligned sequel to “hey, it’s actually one of the better horror movies of the ‘eighties” to people bitching that people are saying “hey, it’s actually one of the better horror movies of the eighties.” But to keep things in line with my fifth film thesis here, HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS seems to get grief from a lot of the horror fandom circles I flitter in and out of, and while I agree with a lot of the problems that people seem to bring up when discussing REVENGE (more on this later), I think the film gets far too little credit for what it gets right. So, on the thirtieth anniversary of HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS, I’m going to tell you why it’s one of the best sequels in the hallowed halls of the HALLOWEEN series.
Let’s just get the flaws out of the way so we can get to the good stuff. There’s the mask for starts. No, I don’t know what the hell they were thinking when they decided on this mask for this iteration of Michael Myers. It’s an indefensible element of the film. I wonder what KNB were thinking when they made the mask. It’s tragic really, HALLOWEEN was one of the series that never got its iconic masks right after the first one. My only hand-wavy argument is that the mask looks all jacked-up because Michael was submerged in water for a hot minute at the beginning of the film. Rubber degrades … I don’t know … shut up! Secondly, the Thorn/Man in Black stuff is silly* and takes the piss out of the canonized, mythologized evil that encompasses Michael Myers’ identity. Who knows why Dominique Othenin-Girard and his co-writers added it in? Was it an attempt to lend the film some soap opera antics? Was someone a fan of DAYS OF OUR LIVES, and this was Season Twelve’s “Michael got amnesia and uh-oh, he’s in a cult now” arc? We’ll never know.
Then, there’s the ridiculous circus music that plays upon the appearance of the two cops that’s supposed to be an homage to THE LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT? Give me a break. The choice to have the kazoo-y music in LAST HOUSE is also a poor decision that nearly extinguishes some of the film’s fire. Also, I kind of like the doofy cops, they’ve got this screwball rapport and energy that endears. A big complaint is about how the Myers house changes from a compact two-story house to a sprawling Victorian mansion to which I’d rebut that for a third act cat and mouse to be a little successful, you need space to play and from what we’ve always seen of the Myers house in the first two films, there ain’t a lot of room to play a violent game of hide and seek. Sure, they could’ve made it work – which would’ve been expensive (rebuilding a set in Utah where they shot the film), but personally a haunted family like the Myers needs an equally haunted looking house and the one in REVENGE fits the bill. Oh, what else do folks flap their gums about – ah, yes “COOKIE WOMAN!” which seems idiotic until you realize that you’re watching an eighties slasher film and they are not immune to having absurd dialogue choices. And at least this one moves the plot along. The one complaint I never hear about tragically is the dreadful ADR on the cop that Michael kills towards the end of that film. I sometimes hear his horrid capering in my dreams. It’s haunting. I’m also certain that people have problems with the psychic angle in that now Jamie has this mental tether to her murderous uncle. To that, I’d argue that RETURN set up their connection pretty clearly, what with Jamie buying a similar clown costume to Michael’s, and of course, her hacking up a family member (though it ends with a less homicide than his murderous bout of rage). Also, it’s a lot more believable for a character to have a paranormal connection to someone who has always been a mythic sinister force, even before the Cult of Thorn business. It’s definitely rational compared to a film about a zombie killer living in a theretofore grounded reality squaring off against a telepath.
It’s admirable that REVENGE takes by following the continuity of RETURN in following up its gangbusters, game-changing climax (though some would argue that it’s annoying that the film doesn’t follow up by having Jamie go full on evil – it’s the same thing with Tommy Jarvis and A NEW BEGINNING, it’s less obvious when they don’t go evil). The film does just enough by having Jamie be ostracized by the town as evil, showing us what would have conceivably happened in the wake of Michael murdering his sister back in ’63, (we get shades of this in HALLOWEEN II). Not only do they give us a plausible out in how Michael escaped his almost certain doom at the end of the previous film (by crawling out of that pit, taking a brief swim and getting nursed back to health by a hermit who seems to live in a bizarre French fantasy film – it’s also quite hilarious that Michael murders this kind old man after living in his hovel rent-free). The twist with killing Rachel deep into the movie works well, because a) she’s a likable enough character here and in RETURN and b) she lives just long enough for the audience to believe she’s safe from Michael’s wrath (most sequels will usually kill off returning characters in the next entry’s cold open, though that’s not always the case). People usually grouse about this development because it paves the way for Tina to be our lead alongside Jamie, and Tina is often referred to as an annoying personality, which I disagree with because while she’s a bit much – very brash indeed, she’s also deeply sympathetic and protective to Jamie which I find to be heartening. The scene with Jamie in the children’s clinic is heartbreaking when she finally lets loose on Loomis to leave the little girl alone. I’m also admittedly biased because Tina is absolutely gorgeous and getting to see Wendy Kaplan all dolled up in her sexy kit won’t warrant any complaints from me.
One element that ties REVENGE to its’78 forefather is that it gives Halloween back to the teenagers, similarly to how in Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN, there was a lot of time spent with Laurie, Annie and Lynda just traipsing around Haddonfield prior to Myers pulling his deadly tricks. Sure, in RETURN there were teenagers puttering around the frame of the film, but most of the time was spent from Jamie’s POV and getting Michael back to Haddonfield. In REVENGE, he’s already in the town and so we spend a portion of the film just watching the kids kill time getting dressed, chatting about boys and procuring spirits for the party at Tower Farm. That’s kind of the spirit of the day in a nutshell, isn’t it? Wasting time during the daylight, so that the real fun can drop when night falls. And correct me if I’m wrong, but is this not the first HALLOWEEN film to even have its characters go to a Halloween party (albeit one that’s over just as soon as it starts). That’s one of the best parts of the damn holiday!
Many folks presume that just because THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS is a late-stage sequel to one of the scariest films of all time that it means it falls flat in the fright department. Absolutely not. The whole film is chockablock with scares and suspense set-pieces. It starts with the opening credits, which are just as good at setting the autumnal atmosphere as the previous entry did, especially with Alan Howarth’s new riff on the classic Carpenter theme (the way it bleeds into the traditional Carpenter arrangement as the fourth film’s climax starts up is excellent). It’s clever how Othenin-Girard mimics Carpenter’s “Michael is everywhere” conceit, by having the masked maniac just stalk around the periphery of the characters, note the scene where Tina and her friend Samantha are just chatting outside the children’s clinic and you just see Michael watching them from afar. The camera doesn’t put an exclamation point on it, but he’s there, watching and waiting. Or how we see Michael watching Rachel from the inside of her house – actually, him stalking and killing her in the house is all very creepy. I like that this is the first of the HALLOWEEN films to feature daylight killings, which puts things off-kilter when Michael murders … Mikey (definitely an incel) behind the convenience store.
There’s the harrowing chase sequence where Jamie is chased through the basement of the children’s clinic by “Michael” (a sequence that’s still a nail-biter despite the knowledge upon repeat viewings that it’s a “fake-out” scare). There’s the great barn sequence that paces things out just right to maximize the tension, and fake the audience out with the merry pranksters – Spitz (probably an incel) and Samantha scaring Tina, until Michael steps out of the shadows to offer up death blows. The set-piece where Michael chases Jamie, Tina and Billy through the woods though illogical (Michael doesn’t try and run folks over!) has a great punchline with the extended beat of Michael’s head resting on the blaring car horn post car crash … and then it goes quiet. Hell, Loomis pleading for Michael to go home, and all we see is the empty, dark woods is pretty spooky. And of course, there’s the tremendous third act cat and mouse/mano y niece in the Myers Mansion (that laundry chute scene is golden).
One takeaway I have from revisiting the film is how magnificent a performer Danielle Harris is here. I first caught notice of her talent recently in THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS, specifically in the scene after she’s been bullied into a panic attack, and she’s calming herself outside of school – god, she’s great. Here she’s carrying a film in a largely wordless performance (the way she indicates how painful it is to try and speak is wonderfully realized), and holds her own in the last third of the film, going head to head with without a single thing to defend herself but her wits. Perhaps it’s because I have a daughter roughly the same age as Jamie is supposed to be, but my sympathy for this little girl goes full on Chernobyl when I have to see the gauntlet of shit she has to go through while being traumatized by firstly, the catatonia that’s induced by her shared visions with Michael, and also the loneliness of being stuck in a hospital with her physical and mental state being jabbed at by the doctors and berated constantly by Doctor Loomis, only to end the film in a fate worse than death, and as the sequel will tell us years later, captured, impregnated and killed by the man who sexually assaulted her. It’s some grim ALIEN 3 fate assigned to a character who had a rough lot in life. It’s the reason why when I revisit the film, I usually try to avoid watching the whole police station sequence, despite my love of the cliffhanger slash soap opera antics therein.
Is HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS nearly as bad as the reputation it’s earned? Certainly not, though as I’ve stated throughout, it has its flaws, the few of which fortunately do not damage the film irreversibly. As a slasher film, it acquits itself tremendously and as it a HALLOWEEN film, it locks itself perfectly in as an ever expending piece of John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s legacy. I know that we as horror fans tend to put on blinders when defending our horror films, a tradition I think that stems from the age that we saw a particular horror film, whether it was the first entry we viewed in that particular franchise, and doubly so if it’s a title we first watched on VHS in our youth (which this is, hello video stores in Kroger’s). When I find myself revisiting the franchise in the off-season (you know, the pre-Halloween times), and there’s something warm and inviting about the Haddonfield, Illinois of part five (similar to the Springwood, Ohio of latter-era NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET) that hits my intense craving for late-1980s suburban set slasher films. Give it another look. It may take another viewing or two, but eventually you just might see it the way I do.
*For an alternate take on the Cult of Thorn, don’t miss this classic DG joint by Anya Stanley!
Tags: Alan Howarth, Beau Starr, Danielle Harris, Danny McBride, debra hill, Dimension Films, Dominique Othenin-Girard, Don Shanks, Donald L. Shanks, Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Greg Nicotero, halloween, Horror, jamie lee curtis, john carpenter, Michael Jacobs, Michael Myers, Moustapha Akkad, Rob Zombie, Robert Draper, Sequels, Shem Bitterman, Tamara Glynn, The 1980s, The Shape, Troy Evans, Wendy Kaplan