Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #113
Number of Views: Multiple
Release Date: October 21, 1988
Sub-Genre: Eighties Slasher
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $17,768,757
Running Time: 88 minutes
Director: Dwight H. Little
Producers: Moustapha Akkad, Paul Freeman
Screenplay: Alan B McElroy
Story: Alan B McElroy, Danny Lipsius, Larry Rattner, Benjamin Ruffner
Special Effects: John Carl Buechler, Michael Deak, Larry Fioritto, John Foster, Wayne Toth
Characters: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Cinematography: Peter Lyons Collister
Score: Alan Howarth, John Carpenter
Editing: Curtiss Clayton
Studio: Trancas International Films
Distributors: Galaxy International Releasing, Braveworld, Digital Entertainment Ltd, Anchor Bay Entertainment
Stars: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, Michael Pataki, Beau Starr, Kathleen Kinmont, Sasha Jenson, Gene Ross, Carmen Filpi, Raymond O’Connor, Jeff Olson, Karen Alston and George P. Wilbur as Michael Myers
Suggested Audio Candy:
Alan Howarth Main Theme
The tail end of the eighties were not the best period for slasher. After such a strong showing in the first half of the decade, things had began to stagnate and ideas were becoming rather thin on the ground. With the public seemingly having had their fill of masked marauders, it appeared that the entire movement was winding down. It’s hard knowing exactly where it all went wrong, although the Friday and Elm Street franchises offered a prime example of executives being satisfied with churning out annual updates without sparing a thought for quality control. Indeed, many of the big names in horror cinema could not be seen flipping burgers at roadside cafes and it was a relatively dour state of affairs for all involved, none more so than dedicated Grueheads like myself who weren’t quite ready to contemplate a life without slasher representation.
The Halloween series too had endured a turbulent time after Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch had received a somewhat spiteful non-welcome from critics in 1982. They castigated this fine movie for no apparent valid reason other than its admittedly speculative marketing and, as a direct result, The Shape went into hiding and the picturesque streets of Haddonfield were considered safe once again. However, if there’s one thing you can bank on with mass murderers, then it is that they’re not easy to keep down and it was only a matter of time before somebody dusted down that William Shatner mask, slid the elongated kitchen blade from the rack, and shipped another busload of perky post-pubescents into the most intimidatory block in America once more.
To Dwight H. Little’s infinite credit, he did the franchise no harm at all, despite the less than ingeniously titled Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers arriving soon afterwards with its laces tied together. Despite being mildly diverting, Dominique Othenin-Girard’s entry was like the cinematic equivalent of Swiss cheese, with plot threads dangling like titty tassels and no intention of explaining their relevance. While the two films were shot pretty much back-to-back, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers did far more right than wrong. There were no wayward cowboys pictured only from the waist down like Mammy Two Shoes, the only mysterious figure was The Shape himself and the plot was tighter than an amphibian’s ass flower. As rousing comebacks go, it was just what the doctor ordered although the long-suffering Loomis may not have been so enthused as his retirement plan was to be well and truly scuppered. Indeed, Donald Pleasence was the only returning actor this time round.
It begins as Michael Myers awakens from a ten-year coma to discover that somebody has been researching his family tree while he has been out cold. Needless to say, it isn’t long before he has slaughtered any paramedics in his path and heads off back to his home town with a decade’s worth of missed birthdays to make up for and, again needless to say, former psychiatrist Sam Loomis is straight back on his trail like the stubborn old dog that he is. Meanwhile, Laurie Strode’s daughter Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) is living in a foster home with the Carruthers family and, with All Hallow’s Eve celebrations imminent, it is left to her foster-sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell) to put her plans for the festivities on hold and babysit, much to her annoyance. This means having to cancel her date with her boyfriend Brady (Sasha Jenson) and, while he promptly makes alternative arrangements, she is left home to play mommy.
Unbeknownst to Rachel, the extracurricular activities of her duplicitous other involve a round of dip the wiener dog with the sheriff’s busty daughter Kelly (Kathleen Kinmont), a scheming vixen known for wearing an oversized T-shirt and precious little else. Upholding fidelity for one so chock full of raging hormones as Brady is a tough ask and he inevitably weakens for one prolonged moment of madness that costs him dearly. The trust bank is overdrawn and, for poor Rachel, it appears as though the night can get no worse. It can of course as Myers is quite the party planner and Halloween just to happens to be something of a specialty for him. All the pawns are in place, Loomis is having just as hard a time keeping up with his hard target as always, and the Haddonfield police department are once again about to be led a merry dance. Game on.
There are two performances here that stand out. Cornell is an astute choice to play Rachel and tackles final girl duties with considerable gusto. While just as congenial and dedicated as we expect from our last line of defense, she is also undemanding on the eyes and a little more sassy than the customary mousy-haired cherry graspers that traditionally run such a gauntlet. However, the true find here is the fresh-faced Harris in her debut role as little Jamie. Since breaking her duck (and celebrating her 11th birthday on set), she has gone on to become one of the true scream queens of the new millennia and is often portrayed as hard-hitting quick-witted heroines, and we owe that all to her convincing turn here. Indeed, her plucky performance resonated so strongly with Rob Zombie that he cast her in his 2007 remake and again for its sequel two years later. It’s no stretch working out why as she tackles a tricky part with a conviction all too rare in one of such tender years and even manages to put many of her seniors in the shade.
Of course, we can’t forget the distinguished Pleasence who reprises his role as the Van Helsing to Michael’s Dracula with the usual aplomb. Despite sending the majority of his screen time limping around and chasing shadows as is par for the course for Loomis, his appearance is always welcome and he brings that dash of class that Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween Resurrection could have done with further down the road. This time, Charles Cyphers isn’t on hand to offer back up as Sheriff Leigh Bracket so his badge goes to Ben Meeker (Beau Starr) who deputizes more than ably in his absence. However, it is Loomis who is running the show and his ill-health wasn’t to become apparent until the next entry and his ultimate swan song.
Despite the fact that Little’s film is widely regarded as one of the stronger entries in the long-running series, it was not without its tribulations. John Carpenter wrote a treatment with the focal point of the townsfolk of Haddonfield and the consequences of The Shape’s earlier sprees. His efforts were considered too wishy-washy and snubbed in favor of a more orthodox slasher approach, thus concluding his involvement with the franchise. Alan B. McElroy’s script was written in eleven days in order to beat the writer’s strike and it was decided in post that the film needed more bloodshed so John Carl Buechler’s safe pair of hands were brought in to film additional gore scenes at the eleventh hour.
The resulting piece had no right to be as good as it was, but the culmination of their efforts was a tense, well-played slasher which boasted Pleasence close enough to the top of his game, a spirited turn from Cornell and, of course, presented the overture for the career of young Harris. Aside from The Shape’s ludicrously ill-fitting mask which looked as though it had been constructed for the head of Lionel Richie, this presented the last creditable outing of The Shape aside from Steve Miner’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (although I would still argue that this is the slightly better movie). One thing’s for damned sure, it wasn’t Halloween Resurrection and there’s nothing small about that particular mercy.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 3/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers & Pelt-Nuzzlers: Before now, Myers was known for his methodical approach to butchery but Little’s film marks a move towards a more boorish avenue of destruction. Thumbs are pressed through foreheads, windpipes crushed, and shotguns used for improbable impalement showing The Shape as a less thoughtful aggressor than previously, not that that’s a bad thing. Meanwhile, Kinmont’s sizeable lung hats make an appearance and, for around six and a half minutes, I would have paid top dollar to be in love rat Brady’s shoes.
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Crimson Quill: Savage Vault Enterprises 2013 (Revised Edition 2016)