[Misunderstood Monsters] 'Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers' Isn't a Curse On the Franchise at All
Welcome to my new column, "Misunderstood Monsters", in which I'm taking up the torch for sequels that are trashed, beaten, stabbed, and set on fire by angry mobs, and attempt to defend their bloody honor...
...When it comes to the Halloween franchise, there is one film that it often seems many Halloween fans and horror fans in general consider to be a curse on the franchise: Part six, The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), directed by Joe Chappelle (Phantoms) and written by Daniel Farrands (The Girl Next Door) and celebrating its 25th anniversary today. It’s a mess, they say. The Cult of Thorn doesn’t work at all, they say. I’d rather wear a pumpkin on my head for the rest of the year than have to watch that film again, they say.
Okay, they don’t say that last part, but you get the idea.
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers is a highly debated film in the franchise. The troubles the film went through are legendary, from rewrites to reshoots which had to be worked around after the death of Donald Pleasence, and a director who didn’t care all that much for the franchise. But is it a terrible mess of pumpkin guts, or are there seeds of greatness that make it not just a decent sequel, but a respectable entry in the franchise? Personally, I lean towards the latter. That doesn’t mean I’m right, but below are nine reasons why I think The Curse of Michael Myers isn't as much of a curse on the Halloween series as some believe it to be.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
RESOLVES THE JAMIE STORY
Most Halloween fans enjoy Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, but one area where it really does fans dirty is with the wrap-up of Laurie’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) story. And I get it. Curtis’ career was taking a different direction in 1988, and without her, it was a lose lose for the studio in wrapping up Jamie’s thread. Still, to tell fans that one of their favorite “final girls”, the Scream Queen herself, was going to just disappear from the franchise with an unseen car accident was a major blow. Keep in mind, this was at a time where we had no idea Jamie was eventually going to come back (not just once but a few times), so at the time, the last we were seeing of her in the Halloween franchise was in a photo in part 4 with some hand-wavy detail about a car accident.
Curse at least has the courtesy to settle the storyline of Laurie’s daughter, Jamie (Danielle Harris). Granted, that settlement is a brutal death in the first fifteen minutes and without Harris in the role, ending Jamie’s unbelievably brutal life filled with nothing but Michael Myers and tragedy, but hey, at least she got an on screen ending!
DR. LOOMIS IS STILL A RAVING MADMAN, THE KEY TO EVERY HALLOWEEN FILM; IT’S ALSO HIS LAST HALLOWEEN
When you think of the Halloween films, one of the first things that may come to mind is Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) raving like a madman. Either he’s warning everyone he meets about Michael’s devil eyes in part one, screaming “I shot him six times” in part 2, or attempting to shake cooperation out of Jamie in part 5 as he accuses her of causing the death of her friends, a lunatic Dr. Loomis is the peanut butter in the Halloween PB&J sandwich. Loomis holds everything together. He’s the character we return over and over again to see next to Michael. He’s so vital, it’s why Blumhouse’s Halloween 2018 (poorly) tries to resurrect the character, with Laurie claiming Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) is “the new Dr. Loomis”.
And while Loomis may not be quite turned to 11 in Curse as he is in part 5, he’s still the loveable, raging uncle Loomis Halloween fans grew to love, warning all of the terror that is Michael Myers wherever he goes. The fact that this is Pleasance’s last film as the character also adds weight to the value of this pumpkin. Pleasance passed the same year that the film was released, marking it as somewhat of a tribute to the actor, and for that alone, we should cherish it. That last moment, when Loomis decides to stay behind as the others leave, mentioning some sort of unfinished business, and meets his end at the hands of Michael…that moment has a sad resonance when considering that was the last time we’d see Donald.
PAUL RUDD’S FIRST BIG FILM
Technically, Curse was Paul Rudd’s first film, even though Clueless came out earlier that year, giving him the “introducing Paul Rudd” credit. Paul is the star here, and that’s part of what makes it so memorable. Each previous entry up to that point had featured a female star, a member of the Strode family, yet here comes Rudd as Tommy Wallace, all grown up from the first film and traumatized nearly twenty years later! And Rudd plays it beautifully. Actually, Rudd is terrible in the film, but, with Tommy written as such an awkward, perverted creep watching his neighbor get changed Rear Window style, Rudd’s stiff acting actually kind of works, and sells the trauma of Tommy.
I also like to imagine that every Halloween, the incredibly successful Ant-Man star is forced to relive this film by relatives who will never let it go. Picture it, every year at the Rudd household, an annual bashing of Paul with everyone watching Curse as he sits there with a pumpkin beer and that “lay it on me, man” smile on his face. The thought warms my Halloween-loving heart.
EXPANDS ON LORE IN A WAY THAT MAKES SENSE...SORT OF
For me, this is the reason you either love or hate Curse, and why I think haters should give it another chance. Ninety percent of the time whenever Curse comes up, naysayers will reference the lore that gives Michael a reason for going after the Strodes beyond simple relation. And that’s fine. Most of us don’t like when our favorite horror villains are too “over-explained”. But you know what? The mythos introduced by Curse works. It makes sense. And it was the best shot this franchise had at going somewhere new and interesting before reverting right back to the Laurie story again with H20.
Sure, the thought of Michael hunting down family members as sacrificial tributes to Samhain with the help of an evil cult is a bit much, and countless reshoots confused the final storyline, but when you look through the Halloween franchise, the Cult of Thorn itself makes perfect sense. All the way back in John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978), we’re posed the question, just who exactly was giving Michael driving lessons? Curse answers that. The cult, of course! Pagan cults feel like a natural addition in the Halloween franchise, especially with the existence of Season of the Witch, and it calls back a bit to Carpenter’s original idea of different Halloween-set stories for each Halloween film. Curse still has Michael, but the cult gives the franchise a fresh new take, and opens the doors for other evil groups/killers/creatures in the universe.
But no, yeah, let’s just go back to Michael stalking his sister, instead. Sigh.
THE MASK IS STILL BETTER THAN H20
It’s true. You know it. I know it. People who don’t even watch Halloween know it. Love or hate the mask from Curse (I dig it), nothing is or can ever be worse than the mask from H20. As Dr. Loomis often reminds us throughout the franchise, Michael has the “blackest eyes. The Devi’s eyes.” So when he comes stalking around the corner in that goofy H20 mask with giant eyeholes showing his very human face, it kind of loses the effect that the black voids of nothing with other masks, including the one used in Curse, creates. It’s not seeing Michael’s eyes except in brief moments that has always made him scary.
ONE OF THE BEST KILLS IN THE FRANCHISE
It’s funny talking about gore with a slasher franchise that originally had nary a drop of blood in 1978. But, as the slasher genre grew in popularity and gore became a way to outdo one another, Halloween followed in the trend’s footsteps, and none of the films (again, not counting 3), were as over the top gory as Curse. In Curse, Michael Myers hangs a woman on a spike like a coat on a coatrack, Jamie gets shredded by a tiller, and that’s just the first few minutes! Curse is much darker than previous entries in the sense that many of Michael’s kills feel more violent. More angry. And much less restrained, since by 1995, audiences looked at slashers as the more gore, the better.
The real coup de grace though is the death of John Strode (Bradford English). One thing that generally kept the Halloween franchise separated from the likes of Friday the 13th is that, more often than not, the Halloween films are a tad more restrained in their violence. Michael Myers more often than not opts for stabbing, neck-breaking, the occasional choking, but he’s hardly ever out there popping eyeballs out of sockets like Jason. For whatever reason though, Curse goes all out with John’s death as Michael stabs him, electrocutes him, and then blows his damn head up! It’s one of the most ludicrous kills in the franchise, and gets my applause every time.
You laugh, but it’s true, Curse is a very pro-Halloween film! Okay sure, at first glance we’re talking about a story where an evil cult is using the holiday to kill and turn a little boy into a murderous monster, all of it leaving the Strode family eternally scarred by the holiday. Not a great case for a pro-Halloween film.
There are other things going on in Curse that we don’t see in previous entries. Parts 4-5, and even entries that came after Curse, all deal with deep set trauma related to the holiday, and Halloween represented as Fear over Fun. Curse is the only one besides the original to fully embrace the idea of Halloween and the simple joys that it does offer. A constant theme in Curse is that of a town which is tired of suffering and living in fear. Curse finds Haddonfield during a time where the youth is over the town’s cancellation of Halloween, and is fighting to bring Halloween back to Haddonfield, with one scene showing Tim Strode (Keith Bogart) and girlfriend Beth (Mariah O’Brien) shouting about such things at a public gathering. They’re protesting for more Halloween, not less. Unfortunately, it happens to come on the same night that they both meet their doom at the hands of a Halloween killer, but the message is still the same: Halloween rules, living in fear drools. Curse embraces Halloween like the warm glow of a candlelit pumpkin, and I love it for that.
SCORE IS EERIEST SINCE PART 1
A fun story from Carpenter’s Halloween is how the film was played for producers without Carpenter’s score, and no one found it scary. Throw in that unforgettable beat which has become an October mainstay in the social sphere, and you suddenly have a terrifying hit. Music matters, and it can completely change the perception of a film. Which is why Curse, for me, is the most effective sequel in that regard, up to the point it was released. Alan Howarth co-wrote the score with Carpenter for Halloween II, and then took over the role for parts 4-6, keeping the same vibe as the originals. And then Paul Rabjohns stepped in on Curse to do rewrires of Howarth’s score.
Now, I’m not sure who did what for the final score, but whatever the case, Curse offers something a bit different in the composition than the others, giving the film a dark, strange vibe with screams and echoes of blades slicing through the air mixed in that fits with the Cult of Thorn and Michael's murdery evil. Like I mentioned, Curse has a much darker vibe than its brethren, and a lot of that is due to the eerie score which gives Michael a new edge.
HINTS AT MICHAEL MYERS IN SPACE
Most of you probably groan at the idea of Michael Myers in space. Some of you I’m sure even loathe it. But I love the idea, and Curse may be the closest reference to Michael in space that we’ll ever get from the franchise. During a scene with a caller on Barry Sims’ show early on in the film, Barry is heard mocking the thought of Michael in space. Yes, it’s ridiculous, but it could be so much fun, too!
Michael stalking through dark, steamy corridors. Nowhere to run to but the darkness of space, darker than Michael’s Devil eyes. Maybe he’s chased a distant relative to Laurie Strode on board, I don’t know, but why not? Space is where all franchises go to “die”, but I’ve always found them to be surprisingly entertaining. Hellraiser 4, Leprechaun 4, they’re a blast. Just last month, I wrote about what makes Jason X worth a trip to a galaxy far, far away for this same column. It’s shocking Michael hasn’t found his way into space yet, so if it never happens, at least we have this one movie to make us wonder what could be.
By Matt Konopka