Headstuff writers revisit memorable horror movies in the run-up to Halloween.
Just 17 years passed between John Carpenter’s original masterpiece and Michael Myers completing the Pink Panther Prophecy of Sequel Titling (Return of/Revenge of/Curse of), during which time the cinematic landscape of masked burly vengeance men had changed immeasurably. The slasher genre (arguably invented by Halloween in the first place) had become a bigger and badder beast of a thing, with spiraling stakes (ahem), shark-jumping reveals and blood-soaked sequels to films like Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm St and even Hellraiser multiplying in scale and volume by the month. The Halloween franchise had mutated from the simple story of an ominous boiler-suited man in a William Shatner mask stalking a teenage girl into a convoluted, grisly revenge odyssey of a seemingly immortal, supernatural killer trying to erase every last trace of his family tree. Should it come as any surprise that the sixth installment devolves into sheer lunacy?
The original cut of Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers is infamous for doubling down on the cryptic mythology alluded to in the fourth and fifth films, wherein a mysterious Thorn symbol appears on Michael’s wrist, and a fedora’d man with cowboy boots appears out of nowhere to break Michael out of prison in the final act. Far too many franchises nowadays would dump any of this kind of extraneous baggage at the first sign of trouble and reboot back to familiar territory (as the very next instalment of the series would end up doing).
Instead Halloween 6 (released a full six years after the fifth film!) dares to charge into this brave new world, one populated by men in silly cult robes like something out of Power Rangers Ninja Storm, one where the Myers family tree has grown so unwieldy that incest has finally reared its ugly branch, one where we are given the gift of an excited (and hilariously miscast) Paul Rudd ranting about runestones counteracting ancient energies like Giles from Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
From the loose, disparate elements left dangling in the previous film, a whole bonkers mythology about an ancient Druid cult is extrapolated, culminating in a scene where Michael Myers is rendered inert by a carefully assembled circle of Druid rune stones, a sort of Michael Myers kryptonite. It’s this steadfast commitment to the tomfoolery of the assignment that makes Halloween 6 so interesting to some and so loathsome to others.
It is ultimately understandable (if deeply disappointing) that the studio reneged on the original cut and literally drew blood from a stone – eschewing the mysticism for a far more palatable, pedestrian ending where Paul Rudd batters Michael with a metal pipe (we are also treated to the always welcome sight of an exploding head a few scenes prior). The hallowed ‘Producer’s Cut’ would go unreleased for two whole decades, although bootleg tapes did manage to creep onto the convention circuit, like the last few sweets in a trick-or-treat bag otherwise full of monkey nuts.
Halloween 6 languishes unfairly near the bottom of far too many Halloween best-of lists. If anything, either cut is more interesting and considerably less tired than some of the multiple Jamie Lee Curtis-flavoured attempts at recharging the series. Despite JLC’s best efforts, the sixth film represents one of the only successful attempts at recapturing the vibe and the chilling Autumnal atmosphere of the 1978 original. Noticeably more cinematic in its scope than its immediate predecessors, the film (particularly the Producer’s Cut) admirably dials back the pace so that it can focus on building out its world.
There are some genuinely unsettling sequences, chilling kills and impressive performances that go some length towards making up for the workman-like style of the otherwise decent fourth film and the complete stupidity and obnoxiousness of the fifth (a film which looks and feels like a rip-off of Friday the 13th, a series that was a rip-off of Halloween to begin with). The pre-Scream earnestness of 6, while quaint, manages to be something of a breath of fresh air as well – the later instalments (including some of the most recent ones) grew increasingly grating as they tried to mimic the snark of post-Williamson slasher fare.
As always, the sequel stallion himself Donald Pleasence anchors everything, even if his ill health is apparent and at times difficult to watch. One wonders if his no-nonsense commitment in these lovably crap films felt a bit more genuine than Jamie Lee’s increasingly goofy “It’s a film about trauma!” bank account refreshment overtures. A prototypical Paul Rudd is the reason to watch though – his so-bad-its-good gurning and TV movie-quality Norman Bates turn as Tommy Doyle is so hilariously out of place, that I still expect him to retroactively denounce his work in the film as an elaborate long-term gag for Conan O’Brien to laugh at on a podcast years later.
As bafflingly strange as the Druid cult/Runestone madness is, it’s just as fascinating as it is ill-advised, and it speaks to how unfit for a long-term franchise the original film actually was, an issue that still plagues the series to this day. For everything good and bad about Halloween 6, it’s my favourite of the Halloween sequels and a film I revisit every year.