Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) **½

     1988 was awfully late for Moustapha Akkad to try getting back into the slasher game. Frankly, I doubt that the attempt would have worked at all had Akkad been stuck with any less exalted a title than Halloween to exploit. But despite one sequel that was acceptable only by the standards of a subgenre with a notoriously low median quality level, and another that was unacceptable by any standard, the Halloween brand still had enough cachet to succeed at least moderately with a sequel that explicitly billed itself as a return to form. Alas for Akkad, he was unable to pull the trick off a second time. Far from matching the encouraging ticket sales of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, the redundantly titled Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers underperformed so badly at the domestic box office that most overseas distributors dumped it straight to video in an attempt to cut their losses— and a few of them took several years to get around to it! That’s too bad, because Halloween 5 is in most respects a small but noticeable improvement over its immediate predecessor. Whereas Halloween 4’s principal virtue was that it wasn’t Halloween II or Halloween III, The Revenge of Michael Myers hits a genuinely enjoyable stride in the third act, foregrounding a remarkable performance by a juvenile actress, and playing shockingly rough with her character considering the cultural climate of the day.

     At the same time, though, Halloween 5 takes a few important cues from the first sequel, beginning with a slightly retconned restatement of the preceding film’s conclusion, and pursuing a degree of inter-episode continuity that one seldom sees in a slasher sequel. To recap, after escaping from the maximum-security loony bin where he spent the last decade, serial killer Michael Myers (played this time by Don Shanks, of Sweet Sixteen and Urban Legends: Bloody Mary) went home to Haddonfield, Illinois, in order to slay his eight-year-old niece, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris, reprising her Halloween 4 role). Jamie, who somehow ended up orphaned a while before, was being cared for with an eye toward adoption by the parents of one of the kids whom her mother used to babysit as a teenager, but neither of her legal guardians was on hand to protect her when Crazy Uncle Mike came calling. Instead, the child found herself with three defenders of varying ability: her new stepsister, Rachel Caruthers (Ellie Cornell, also returning from the previous movie), who rose admirably to the occasion despite the two girls having a somewhat strained relationship under normal circumstances; Sheriff Ben Meeker (Beau Starr, yet a third familiar face from last year), who had been a low-ranking deputy at the time of Michael’s horrendous Halloween night rampage ten years earlier; and Dr. Sam Loomis (the indispensable Donald Pleasence), the killer’s rather gearloose psychiatrist, who keeps finding himself playing Van Helsing to his patient’s Dracula. As we rejoin the story, all parties have converged near the entrance to a closed-down mine on the outskirts of town, with the result that Myers goes down in a fusillade from Meeker and his deputies, falling into the mine itself. The sheriff then tosses a bundle of dynamite in after the killer, figuring that should finally just about do the trick of getting rid of him permanently. What neither Meeker nor Loomis nor any of the deputies realize, however, is that there’s another way out of the mine, a drainage culvert connecting to the river that flows by Haddonfield. Myers has already reached the culvert by the time the dynamite goes off, so that instead of killing him and annihilating his body, the explosion propels him into the relative safety of the river. He washes up, considerably the worse for wear but still very much alive, on the bank a little ways downstream, within sight of a cottage where there lives a curmudgeonly old hermit (The Unnamable II: The Statement of Randolph Carter’s Harper Roisman). The old man takes Myers in, having no idea what he’s getting himself and his community into by doing so, and sets about nursing him back to health.

     There’s another aspect of Halloween 4’s conclusion that needs alteration, however. Like Friday the 13th, Part V: A New Beginning, The Return of Michael Myers implied as its parting shot that there would be a new psycho in town for the next sequel, by having Jamie don a familiar-looking clown suit and stab her adoptive mother to death. And as with Friday the 13th, Part V, that became rather embarrassing once the producers decided not to go that route after all. So for the purposes of Halloween 5, Jamie didn’t quite finish the job on her foster mother, the victim got better, and the girl spent the ensuing year in a psychiatric hospital for disturbed children. Obviously the kid has some lasting psychic scars, though, because she’s suffered from hysterical muteness ever since she was committed, communicating via a combination of gestures, silently mouthed words, and messages scribbled on a small, portable chalkboard. Oh— and she’s also developed some kind of bullshit telepathic bond with her uncle. That hasn’t mattered for the past 364 days, while Michael was convalescing nearly comatose in the hermit’s cabin, but now that he’s feeling enough like his old self to get up, murder his benefactor, and strike out on his own once more, Jamie starts having seizures in which she receives sensory transmissions from Uncle Mike’s twisted brain, enabling her to see what he’s up to at that moment. Unsurprisingly, Uncle Mike is never just telling the counter clerk to drag his hotdog through the garden or something when she has those episodes, either. And during the first of her seizures, Jamie grabs her chalkboard and scrawls, “He’s coming for me.” Her regular doctors may not know quite what to make of that, but Loomis sure does.

     This wouldn’t be much of a slasher flick, though, if Myers had only Jamie, Rachel, and Dr. Loomis to threaten, now would it? Right. So how about we go meet some of Rachel’s friends, who are apt to find themselves standing, advertently or not, between the killer and his intended prey? First and foremost among the group is Tina (Wendy Kaplan, of Homecoming and The Labyrinth), who has come to regard Jamie as a surrogate kid sister, nearly to the same extent as Rachel herself. Tina rarely lets more than a couple days go by without visiting Jamie in the hospital, and she’s forever finding ways to smuggle the Caruthers’ huge Doberman pinscher in with her, in stark violation of the clinic’s rules. Loomis finds her indescribably irritating, and I’m sure Jamie’s regular doctors like her even less. Tina is dating a creepoid macho gearhead named Mikey (Jonathan Chapin), who constantly gives her shit about all the time she spends hanging out with a crazy little girl when she should be paying attention to him. Then there’s a second girl called Samantha (Tamara Glynn), the big news in whose life is that her long campaign to catch the eye of Spitz (Matthew Walker, from I’m Dangerous Tonight and Child’s Play 3), the somewhat older boy who works evenings at the local liquor store, seems finally to be paying off.

     All five teens have big plans for Halloween this year. Rachel’s parents are going out of town (who can blame them after last year?), so the Caruthers house is the agreed upon venue for a more intimate get-together following the humongous party being thrown on the grounds of one of the nearby farms. Obviously Michael Myers I going to fuck up everything for the lot of them, giving Loomis, Meeker, and the Haddonfield Sheriff’s Department another hideously hectic All Hallows’ Eve. This time, though, Myers won’t be doing it alone. We’ll have to wait for Halloween 6 to find out what the fuck this is about, but a black-clad man in cowboy boots, whose hand bears a tattoo identical to the one that Michael very conspicuously never had in any of the preceding films, arrives in Haddonfield by bus, and starts prowling shadily about town, intervening where necessary on the killer’s behalf.

     I can’t tell you how badly I wish that idiotic, unresolved subplot about the stranger in black wasn’t here. Don Shanks, who played the stranger in addition to his main role as Michael Myers, claims that screenwriters Michael Jacobs, Shem Bitterman, and Dominique Othenin-Girard (the last of whom also directed the film) themselves had no idea who the character actually was, and I have no difficulty believing that whatsoever. Indeed, it was the impression I formed myself while watching Halloween 5. Furthermore, it is immediately obvious that by the time they figure it out for Halloween 6, the explanation is going to end up being stupid. The matching tattoos are enough to tell you that, since for Myers to have any tattoo would require either (1) that he had it done before he went into his first mental hospital at the age of six, (2) that he found a couple hours of downtime in which to get inked during one or the other of his Halloween murder sprees, or (3) that somebody slipped a tattoo gun into his hospital room at some point during his ten catatonic years in between the events of Halloween II and Halloween 4. And it’s extra-galling that when the man in black finally gets around to doing something, what he does is just a note-for-note reprise of the police station massacre from the previous installment, which had itself been copied from The Terminator. The stranger seems for all the world to have wandered into Halloween 5 from some other movie, and The Revenge of Michael Myers was having a hard enough time squeezing its story into the ill-fitting framework of a Halloween sequel already.

     I say “ill-fitting” because what Halloween 5 really wants to be is the story of a child pursued by a monstrous older relative, with whom she shares a mysterious psychic bond that initially terrifies her, but which she eventually learns to use as a way to outmaneuver him. Nothing in any of the preceding Halloween installments lends itself to that concept, beyond the mere existence of both Jamie Lloyd and Michael Myers. The central premise of The Revenge of Michael Myers sits awkwardly atop everything we’ve hitherto seen in this series, and yet what has gone before so constrains this fourth sequel that it must constantly put its main business on hold in order to satisfy franchise expectations that are simply no longer relevant. To start with the most obvious, Dr. Loomis by this point has nothing left to do but to go ineffectually through the same old motions one more time. A main-sequence Halloween movie without him was unthinkable so long as Donald Pleasence was alive, however, and so here he is anyway. Indeed, so desperate are the screenwriters to find gainful employment for Loomis that they invent an entirely new theory of the nature of Michael’s insanity, which they spring on the audience out of nowhere in the final approach to the climax, in order to justify why anybody still cares what the killer’s old shrink has to say about anything. And the ultimate confrontation between Loomis and Myers is undercut by the fact that the series already played so many of the same cards at the end of Halloween II. All the remaining encore characters save Jamie face similar difficulties, too. Myers, as I said, gets a new paranormal ability and a new psychological mainspring, along with a new, secret motive implied by the business with the stranger in black; at this point, it’s getting hard to recognize him as the inscrutable boogeyman figure from the original Halloween at all. Sheriff Meeker could have gained some much-needed extra depth as a result of the death of his daughter the last time around, but The Revenge of Michael Myers makes no use of that except to have Loomis wave it in the sheriff’s face at one point when the latter is being uncooperative. And Rachel suffers the ignominious fate of most returning Final Girls (even if she wasn’t, strictly speaking, Final in Halloween 4), becoming Michael’s second victim.

     What salvages Halloween 5 is Jamie Lloyd, and the remarkable young actress playing her. So long as The Revenge of Michael Myers is looking through the eyes of this severely damaged yet unexpectedly resourceful child, we actually get to see the movie it’s trying to be. The key to the character is that under the pressures of her second clash with her evil uncle, she regains the sanity and strength of mind that the first one took from her, and the progress of that restoration is tracked by the gradual inversion of her relationship with Tina. Tina’s sisterly protectiveness toward Jamie goes into overdrive once she realizes that Michael Myers is on the loose again, but Jamie’s psychic bond with the killer gives her an advantage in dealing with him that nobody else in Haddonfield can match. As Jamie herself comes to recognize that, she increasingly sees it as her job to protect Tina— and she comes heartbreakingly close to succeeding, considering what she’s up against. To be fair, this aspect of the film would have resonated a lot more if it had been Rachel in the big sister role once more. Still, the Jamie-Tina subplot makes for compelling drama, effective suspense, and an emotionally satisfying developmental arc for both girls. That’s more than we have any business expecting from a high-numbered slasher sequel released while the entire subgenre was running on fumes. And of at least equal importance, Danielle Harris puts in easily the best, most nuanced, and most convincing performance among the entire cast, handily eclipsing even Donald Pleasence (who was in full mortgage-payment mode at this phase of his career). Halloween 5 doesn’t really deserve Harris, but her presence elevates it to a level that few movies of its type were even trying to reach anymore in the late 1980’s.

 

 

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