Welcome to Back to the ’80s. This recurring feature aims to take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from horror’s most beloved decade. Regardless of which category a particular film falls under, this segment will spotlight films that horror fans can appreciate for one reason or another. We will look at how some of these flicks have stood the test of time and others have not aged quite so well. Regardless of what they look like today, these efforts from the 1980s laid the groundwork for the horror genre as we know it today.
We are only a few months away from the release of a new Halloween sequel. This next installment is reportedly carving out another timeline for the franchise. As was done with Halloween H20 and Resurrection, and, obviously, with the Rob Zombie remakes, the fourth, fifth, and sixth installments in the Halloween series are being ignored. (Interestingly enough, Halloween II is additionally being disregarded because of the brother-sister relationship between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode). Arguably, this is a necessary course of action to streamline the series and achieve a new level of suspense. This move eliminates distracting plot lines created in the past. However, these changes should not discount the contributions from the 1980’s incarnation of Michael Myers or of Danielle Harris to the franchise.
Halloween 4 and Halloween 5 were released back to back. In the 1980’s, for every horror film that got it right, there was another that got it wrong. From the atmosphere to the acting, audiences never knew what was about to hit them. Halloween 4 and Halloween 5 exemplify that notion. Of course, taking into account personal preferences, I believe that there is no question that Part Four is the more successful film. Where the former succeeds in simplicity, the fifth installment contains awkward choices and unnecessary complications. Yet, when I marathon the series, I find Part Five to be one that I look most forward to watching.
Both flicks center on the vulnerable Jamie Lloyd (Harris) and her attempts to survive each encounter with Uncle Michael. After Michael’s attack on the transportation staff from Smith’s Grove (leaving one with undoubtedly a splitting headache), the audience gets a first glance at Halloween 4’s newest, and youngest, scream queen. We watch as Harris’ chocolate brown eyes stare uneasily out the window at the ominously familiar ambulance parked across the street. A moment later her foster sister, Rachel (Ellie Cornell), joins the young girl to deliver the exposition needed to catch up the audience. The two girls are adjusting in their relationship as the following scenes reveal they do have a genuine sisterly love for each other.
As Michael Myers makes his inevitable trek towards Haddonfield, pursued by the ever-vigilant Doctor Loomis (Donald Pleasence), Jamie and Rachel are faced with their own separate social obstacles. Jamie is teased (quite cruelly) by the kids at school, and Rachel fears babysitting duty will ruin her relationship with Brady (Sasha Jenson). Loomis enlists the help of Sheriff Meeker (Beau Starr) and they gather all the main players at the sheriff’s home.
Halloween 5 picks up a year after the previous film’s events left off. The survivors are picking up the pieces. Loomis is convinced Jamie is the key to terminating Michael’s rage. Two damaging mistakes occur in the front half of the film. The first is Jamie being stricken mute and leaving an important character in a frenzy to communicate. The second error is eliminating a beloved survivor in order to achieve a Hitchcockian effect. For the sake of the tone, this move does heighten the risk to the remaining characters. However, this robs the fans of the investment they have making the success of Halloween 4 feel a wasted effort.
Despite initial errors in judgment, Halloween 5 does have redeeming qualities. Once one gets past odd choices such as comical music identifying the presence of zany police officers, Dominique Othenin-Girard does create a suspenseful atmosphere. Several sequences play well to set a frightening tone. Particularly, the scene in the woods and Jamie’s unfortunate occurrence in the laundry chute. The entire laundry chute sequence barely lasts three minutes, and to this day the claustrophobic near-miss still gets to me. A favorable quality of both features is the way in which the filmmakers utilize plausible scenarios for a child. A young girl could escape these situations that are also genuinely scary.
Sprinkled liberally throughout the fifth movie are illogical moments. There is an attic containing two human bodies and a deceased dog. The excessive amount of police officers manage to overlook this attic. Either that or Michael is able to magically set everything up in minutes. Not to mention the dozens of candles he managed to light up. Halloween 4 and 5 show horror fans the best and worst of what the decade had to offer. With every thrilling surprise, there is also an element of rushing out a product too soon. There are characters such as Tina (Wendy Kaplan) that audiences either love, love to hate, or just hate. The prominent films of this time typically featured an iconic villain. From re-introducing Norman Bates to the consistently resurrected Jason Voorhees, Michael Myers certainly contributed to the surge of 1980’s horror.
Resulting from this time frame is another contribution to the horror genre, and specifically the Halloween franchise, and that is Danielle Harris. She begins the journey of Jamie Lloyd and continues all the way through as Annie in Rob Zombie’s Halloween sequel. Harris demonstrates the way a singular performance becomes detrimental to a franchise. Audiences flock to watch Michael Myers; however, a villain becomes truly iconic by facing a worthy final girl. Harris develops Jamie from a vulnerable child into one bravely willing to stand up to her uncle. Additionally, she holds her own with the great Donald Pleasence. Despite the back and forth she has endured behind-the-scenes, Harris is found in current media to still hold a torch for the series. Among the scariest moments or the silliest from the franchise, every performance from Danielle Harris is full of remarkable talent.
Pleasence shines in each Halloween film he played Sam Loomis. In both Halloween 4 and 5, Pleasence really catapults the role as Michael’s doctor to a whole new level. From the desperate obsession to his ominous warnings, Loomis becomes a formidable foe to Michael’s rampage. Pleasence played the character straightforward in the first two movies. In Halloween 6, he encapsulated a melancholy tone representative of the 1990’s. However, the fourth and fifth installments showed Pleasence elevate his character to one nearly as iconic as Michael Myers. He is outrageous and over-the-top in all the best possible ways. No matter how successful any following Halloween film, the presence of Donald Pleasence will always be missing.
During the time period of these films, fan frustration centered on how the intricate plot painted itself into a corner. This was before the now common practice of “starting fresh” within the Halloween franchise. Nowadays, beginning with the original film, the fans are able to play “choose their own adventure.” There is the Jamie Lloyd/Thorn Cult route. Or the path that leads to Laurie Strode’s faked death. A new trail is now being developed that will take audiences to the “Nope, Laurie never faked her death” choice. Only time will tell if this is the right decision. There is definite logic to arguing this line of reasoning.
So, the existence of any Halloween flick produced in the 1980s is going to be denied. However, the contributions of these incarnations of Halloween are immeasurable. This applies to many of the films from this decade. The 1980’s version of events kept the franchise alive. Love it or hate it (and I think more of you love Halloween 5 than you dare to admit), these films taught us that we can start again if events become too complicated.
Or, we can even pick up at a new timeline. Jamie Lee Cutis is the eternal (scream) queen of the franchise. Danielle Harris, though, is the princess. There is no rule stating her Jamie Lloyd is beyond a new look. Another timeline could be forged that discovers a new route out of Halloween 5. The franchise does boast of such fascinating titles as Halloween: H20. This new one could even be called Halloween 5.5: Jamie Lloyd 35 Years Later. Judge me all you want. I would watch it.