For this installment of Dusting ‘Em Off, we’re shifting away from our record shelves and, instead, consulting our film collection for a horrific screening of the truly horrendous Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. Twenty five years ago, director Dominique Othenin-Girard further derailed John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s original story, introducing clown cops, telepathic children, and one Tina Williams. In support of one another, Justin Gerber, Michael Roffman, Adriane Neuenschwander, and Dan Caffrey examine the film’s effects on the Halloween mythos and re-evaluate actor Troy Evans in the process.
Justin Gerber (JG): There are a great many moments that don’t make sense in Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, but the first instance of confusion comes directly after the “Moustapha Akkad Presents” title card flashes across the screen. It’s here that the film’s title is revealed, but according to the opening of the movie, its title is simply Halloween 5. There isn’t a “Revenge” or a “Michael Myers” in sight. I always found this odd. But for the purposes of this write-up, and in spite of whatever the late Mr. Akkad and director Dominique Othenin-Girard’s intentions were, let’s go ahead and refer to it as Revenge.
As I go about my day-to-day business, I always forget how much I dislike Revenge. Memories of my disdain for this 1989 entry in the Halloween franchise only come back to me when I talk about it out loud with others, or, of course, when I watch it again. I’ve seen it countless times over the past 20 years, and as much as I’ll sit here and bash the hell out of the movie, I guarantee you I will watch it again this year. And next year. And the year after that. It’s as though I receive a thorough memory wipe that leaves me unable to remember the number of issues I have with the film, like the kids who forget Pennywise in It once they leave Derry. Are any of you like It’s Mike Hanlon, destined to be the one who always remembers how horrifying the monstrous clown was, or in this case, how lame Revenge is?
It is the The Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 of the Halloween franchise. On paper, it looks great: returning cast, continuing story, one of the greatest screen villains of all time, and an intriguing poster. So at what point in the movie do you begin to realize that something is rotten in the city of Haddonfield?
Michael Roffman (MR): It’s not the worst — that honor goes to 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection, a film so bad that fans don’t even acknowledge its existence anymore — but it’s very close. After all, there’s nothing worse than a pair of clown cops with circus cues tossed in for good measure. (That’s not an exaggeration. They’re there, horns and all.) But really, any problems with Revenge began with its predecessor, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Sure, that film’s better overall, but not by very much. The opening credits of Dwight H. Little’s 1988 blockbuster return to Haddonfield are about the greatest thing that film has going for it. What follows, instead, is an action movie no different than The Terminator. It’s not scary, and it solidified The Shape into Michael Myers, a Jason Voorhees copycat in the corner.
And that’s always depressed me for a variety of reasons. One, Halloween came first. Two, it’s a much better (and smarter) film than Friday the 13th. And three, Michael Myers was never supposed to be this eternal Hulk-like menace. He was the boogeyman, the enigma that somehow was always there, even if you locked the door, bolted the windows, and turned off the lights. Of course, that’s the exact premise for Return, but it felt so action-oriented and self-aware, and the scares were about as inspired as the conclusion to every Mortal Kombat match. At one point, Myers goes toe to toe with the hapless boyfriend (Sasha Jenson) in what’s shot for shot a remake of the final battle between Kyle Reese and the T-800. It’s stuff that has people reaching for the popcorn instead of tossing it in the air.
What I do appreciate about Revenge is that Dominique Othenin-Girard at least attempted to bring Myers back into the shadows. There’s a scene early in the film in which he stalks hero Rachel Carruthers (Ellie Cornell), and it’s easily the most frightening sequence of the late ’80s Halloween era. Unfortunately, it’s also a major wrench in the plot with regards to characters, but really, the film is such a disaster on every level that I guess it’s worth appreciating apart from everything else. On the whole, what bothers me about Revenge over Return is that they didn’t have the balls to follow up on the previous ending. Akkad could never let his precious Michael go (though neither could the audience; see Halloween III: The Season of the Witch), and so we were spoon-fed more of the same when clearly the writers were trying to go for something different.
Also, four words: The Man in Black.
Adriane Neuenschwander (AN): Man, Michael, you hit so many nails on the head. Hopefully I don’t parrot you too much. I agree with both you guys: this movie’s a real turd, and it lets you know it right from the get-go. First off, the way Michael Myers is saved from that exploded mineshaft — by a hermit — kind of bothers me. Are there really that many hermits wandering around Illinois, and doesn’t it make you the world’s worst recluse if you let a masked stranger recuperate for a full year in your living room? But I digress; the movie’s real crime is backpedaling on the fourth installment’s ending. I’m not a huge fan of Return, but the final scene, where Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) stabs her foster mother, is one of the best in any of the sequels. It was so daring, basically passing the torch from Michael Myers to his niece. Sadly, Revenge lets the foster mother live and paints Jamie as a victim of psychological trauma rather than the second-coming of evil.
Then there’s the cast. Sure, there are some returning characters, including Jamie, Rachel, and Loomis (Donald Pleasence), but none of them get the chance to shine. Rachel gets killed off early on, Jamie’s stuck in an asylum as a mute for the first half of the film, and Loomis just seems tired and broken. It’s almost painful to watch Donald Pleasence, an actor I’ve always admired, sleepwalk through his performance. Still, I’d take a subpar Donald Pleasence over the other terrible schmucks the film sticks us with, most notably a quartet of horny, one-dimensional teens who are too dumb to realize their friends keep disappearing as the night wears on. I realize I’ve just described the protagonists in 95% of all the slasher movies ever made, but I think that this is the first time in the Halloween franchise where it’s the case.
With the exception of Season of the Witch, which is an outlier anyway, every installment prior to Revenge has a strong female lead with a head on her shoulders — Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in I and II and Rachel in Return. Unfortunately, Revenge saddles the audience with Tina (Wendy Kaplan), Rachel’s dimwitted best friend, for half the film. I suspect that Tina’s final scene, where she sacrifices herself to Michael Myers so that Jamie can escape, was even an afterthought. It’s almost like the screenwriters (it took three of ’em to make a script this bad) realized they’d forgotten to give fans anybody to root for for the first two acts, so they just made Tina a martyr, even though it was completely out of character. I could keep going, but I want to save some stuff for Dan to rag on.
Dan Caffrey (DC): Man, I don’t know if there’s anything left for me to rag! Except those two bumbling cops. But we’ll get to that.
I’d actually like to defend some of the more subtle points of the movie. Don’t get me wrong — all the stuff you guys said is certainly valid — but out of all the post-Halloween II sequels, Revenge scared me the most as a kid, and for good reason. Mike, you touched on some of this already, but what the movie lacks in story and character, it makes up for in atmosphere. Despite one of the worst masks in the series — I hate the overly slicked-back hair, how the back of it sticks out of his shirt and hangs over his collar, it drives me crazy — Michael Myers remains consistently frightening throughout. Chalk it up to Dominique what’s-his-name putting him back in the periphery, something that pretty much went away in the fourth film. Here, though, Michael’s usually in the background for a long time before he strikes, appropriately menacing and out of focus. We’ve talked about the stalking of Rachel, but what about the final confrontation with Loomis? Our grouchy hero enters the Myers house, knowing his enemy is there, and just starts talking to him. Michael casually materializes from the shadows, illuminated by dusty rays of light coming from the windows. Truly eerie stuff. Then there’s the car chase in the woods. Once again, Loomis knows Michael’s there, and he calls to him, prompting his silhouette to slowly drift in and out of the tree line.
Even that annoying-as-hell scene between Tina and that other friend (the virgin who dresses like a slutty devil and gets killed in the barn — another spooky Myers segment!) in the park has Myers lurking around in broad daylight, which is a nice callback to the original. Other than the truck stop scene in Return, he remained exclusively a creature of the night, and that thankfully changes here. Michael Myers has always been scarier in the sun.
In addition to the Myers scenes themselves (the film flounders whenever he’s not in it), I have to at least tip my hat to the director for trying to sneak in a bunch of homages to the Golden Age of Hollywood. Do they work? Hell no. But he’s at least trying something new with the series: the Frankenstein callback with how Michael gets resurrected, the idiot policemen nodding to Keystone Cops. I can’t stress enough that I don’t think these choices were actually successful. But they were at least choices. It keeps the film from being lazy.
Alright, I’ve talked long enough. Am I alone here? Does anyone else at least find some redemption in the Michael Myers-ness of this film? And we still haven’t talked about The Man in Black. Whoever goes next, please amend that!
JG: Rachel’s death early on completely derails the movie. A ‘80s “final girl” played by a decent actress in Cornell was a true rarity, and I’m still not entirely sure why they thought offing her so early on was the right thing to do. At least have it happen in the third act, which would have ratcheted up the terror and the stakes considerably. Of course, for a movie that bailed on the ballsy ending of its predecessor, stakes and taking chances clearly weren’t as important to the Othenin-Girard or the Akkad family.
When A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master killed off the heroine from its preceding film in the first 20 minutes, at least we were left with Alice, a character strong enough to carry the underrated A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (a movie I’m sure we’ll be covering in the future). With Revenge, we get Tina, who everyone here seems to dislike as much as I do. I just keep picturing her in her Halloween outfit running around making goofy noises and shrieking in her shrill voice, and that’s before she realizes danger is all around her. How Myers let her live that long is one of the great mysteries of the Halloween franchise.
As for the mysterious “man in black,” the filmmakers didn’t even know who he was during the production of Revenge. In an interview, Donald Shanks, a.k.a. “The Shape”, said that Myers and the man in black were related, and the latter “was meant to be his alter ego. Like his twin brother. The thing about when they do the incantation … the Thorn. They get that split personality. Through the druids, they get eternal life.” Apparently, this was to be revealed in the sixth film, but don’t worry; they went in an entirely different (albeit equally confusing) direction.
For the love of God, will someone talk about “Charlie!” or the music played for the comedic cops?
AN: Justin, I totally believe Donald Shanks’ story. It seems like the screenwriters for Revenge threw as many ideas as they could onto the page, and then they all just shrugged their shoulders and said, “Eh, the next guy can clean this crap up.” I will say that the Man in Black, as ill-conceived and unnecessary as he is, is central to the plot of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, a terrible movie that I secretly love for being so batshit insane (it also features the weirdest performance Paul Rudd ever mustered up). But in Revenge, he’s pretty much just a clear indicator that there’s going to be a sixth installment, which negates most of the tension that the film attempts to build. Even though Loomis beats Myers with a wooden plank, you know he’s going to live. And even though Myers gets thrown in jail at the end, you know he’s going to escape. Why? Because the movie’s almost done, and nobody’s explained who the hell the Man in Black is yet. It’s just bad storytelling.
And poor Charlie. Even though he’s only in it briefly, I think that Deputy Charlie (Troy Evans) might be the most sympathetic character in the whole film. Loomis hatches a bonkers scheme to use Jamie as bait to attract Michael Myers, and who gets stuck protecting Jamie? This kind, round-faced deputy, who tries soothing the girl and eventually gets killed helping her escape. Part of the reason Charlie is so tragic, besides the fact he’s one of the only characters in the film that acts selflessly, is the casting. Troy Evans has such as memorable face. The guy’s been in almost 150 TV shows and movies over the years, including roles in Teen Wolf and Twin Peaks. So when you see him on screen, there’s a brief moment of recognition, which is quickly supplanted with the dread of knowing this lovable lug is gonna be toast.
As for those damn cops, I think everyone has touched on them briefly. In my opinion, using these bumbling idiots as comic relief was the worst decision the filmmakers made. They completely take you out of the movie with their wacky musical accompaniment, which sounds like it was scored by the Ringling Brothers and whoever penned the theme to Hee Haw. What was Othenin-Girard thinking? Maybe he was referencing Keystone Cops, as Dan suggested, but I suspect it was a poorly devised homage to Wes Craven’s Last House on the Left. That movie also features two goofy cops that throw the film’s tone out of whack, but critics almost universally bashed Craven for including them. Why would a director pay homage to the very worst scene in a classic horror film — one that already proved itself to be a spectacular failure? Maybe it’s just because Othenin-Girard is French. I’m sure he would’ve hired Jerry Lewis to play Michael Myers if he had the budget.
MR: I don’t know. Charlie gave off a weird pederast vibe. I was happy to see him thrown out the window (an act he’d follow up again, albeit off-screen, in Ace Ventura: Pet Detective). Personally, the only supporting character I felt sympathetic to in either Return or Revenge is Sheriff Ben Meeker (Beau Starr), a poor man’s Leigh Brackett, sure, but quite flexible to Loomis’ demands. Not only do they strip him of his babe of a daughter, but they also fail to give him a proper death. He is one of the victims at the shootout in the finale, right?
Speaking of which, why does this also end with a shootout? This goes back to my point that these aren’t horror movies anymore, but straight-up action. Adriane, you call Curse terrible, and in some ways it is, but really, screenwriter Daniel Farrands had to clean up this mess, specifically a stranded Jamie Lloyd, an obliterated Haddonfield Police Department, the mythology of an underdeveloped figure (The Man in Black) — and, oh, yeah, almost a decade of time in-between.
Over the years, I’ve come to really love Curse, and I blame Return and Revenge for that. Not only does Curse have the best performances since, well, the original sequel, but it’s also legitimately scary. The stakes are the highest they’ve ever been, and you really do feel as if nobody is safe. Given Loomis’ fate at the end, they weren’t. It’s still a shame they’ve never been able to follow it up, though the comics did an admirable job trying.
JG: “Charlie! Charlie!” — Dr. Loomis
DC: God, that music. But once again, while it totally doesn’t work, I respect the boldness of it and that it’s an homage to another film.
After all, isn’t that something we can all agree on? Revenge may not be amazing, but it’s far from lazy. It actually makes some interesting choices, and, as we’ve all said, despite the annoying-ass characters, the weird line inflections (“Chaaaarlie…”, seriously, you’ll just have to watch it for yourselves, folks), and bucking logic, there are some truly chilling moments in it: the periphery, the laundry chute, the car chase through the woods. These are all things that felt within the Halloween wheelhouse while still being somewhat fresh. I don’t think Michael Myers had ever tried to mow someone down in a muscle car up until that point.
Then again, maybe the apologist in me is opting to call H5 “interesting” instead of “flat-out terrible.” But I’m not alone, am I? Guys? Guys? Hey, come back! I’m scared. I don’t want Michael to get me! Or even worse, The Man in Black…