It’s tough to keep a franchise on the tracks, but aside from the aberrant Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which deviated from the story, the Halloween franchise was reasonably solid up until this point. The first film is a classic, the second is a sound (if unnecessary) follow-up, and the fourth film is a worthy way of continuing the story while modifying it. But with the fifth film, although it’s not truly bad, it’s easy to see where things are starting to go astray.
One person who isn’t to blame for this is actor Donald Pleasance, who once again returns as the world’s most durable child psychologist, and once again treats the material seriously and skillfully. Also returning is Danielle Harris as young Jamie Lloyd, the niece of Michael Myers and current target of his rage. She does well enough once again, though she’s given some ridiculous material to work with. No, the blame here for the film’s unevenness has to go to writer-director Dominique Othenin-Girard. While there are several logical ways to follow-up on part 4, the screenplay here takes a tactic that is not at all logical.
Now, it may seem mean to criticize a horror movie for being illogical, as it’s a genre that isn’t known for running on logic in the first place. But one nice thing about the previous three Myers-centric Halloween films is that they’re fairly grounded. Michael Myers is tremendously hard to kill, but this is the only inexplicable thing about him (and is a trait shared with his perpetual hunter, Dr. Loomis). There is nothing seemingly supernatural about him, other than the fact that he just won’t die. At least, there wasn’t.
The film takes place a year to the day after Halloween 4, and Jamie Lloyd is recuperating in a children’s psychiatric hospital. Still traumatized by the events of that film, she has become mute and suffers episodes of night terrors. This is where the ridiculousness begins to set in, for now Jamie has a psychic link to her evil uncle — she knows when he starts moving about again, when he is hunting, and when he starts to kill once again. This largely involves Danielle Harris faking a wild seizure while screaming. As is often the case in horror films, the extra screaming effectively oversells things and cutting away from the killer to show the little girl reacting hampers the suspense some.
Characterization in the film also suffers. Gone is the competent Rachel from the previous film, giving us a friend named Tina (Wendy Kaplan) who is essentially the stereotypical sex-crazed teen of horror movies. One of the strengths of the first, second, and fourth films was that the heroine (be it Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie or Ellie Cornell as Rachel) was actually something of a heroine, capable of thinking on her feet and of fighting back to some degree. The franchises loses something without a competent heroine, as it leaves us with only one hero to root for. And Dr. Loomis is a little more unhinged here and alternates between screaming at Jamie to find Michael, and actually trying to reason with Michael, the boy he once said had “nothing left” inside his mind.
Technically that might be his job as a psychologist, but it’s about 25 years too late at this point.
Side characters are essentially two-dimensional victims-to-be. Nothing unusual, and it’s not really a bad thing, save for two characters. As usual, local law enforcement isn’t terribly useful at stopping Michael Myers — though at least now they’ve apparently learned to just go along with whatever Dr. Loomis says on Halloween. But the two deputies who are on the screen most of the time (Frankie Como and David Ursin) are deliberate comic relief, complete with on-screen acknowledgement from themselves that they’re terrible cops — and clown noises whenever they’re present. It really, really does not work.
Leave the jokes at characters’ expense to the critics, OK?
And finally, the plotting suffers from a bizarre, inexplicable — or at least, unexplained — tangent. Also stalking through the town of Haddonfield on Halloween night is a tall man in black, who has a runic tattoo on his arm — a tattoo we are also shown on Michael Myers’ arm. Who is this man? What are his goals? And when did Michael Myers have the opportunity get inked up anyway? None of this is actually addressed in the film, we just have this guy mysteriously clomping around for no apparent reason.
Suffice to say, it’s a film with its flaws. But it’s not without some value as well. Although it’s taking a supernatural bent to things, it doesn’t completely forget its roots. The atmosphere of the film is still effective, with dark secluded areas providing a sense of fear; it’s not quite as striking as the “heart of suburbia” feel that the first film managed to blend with fear, but it works well enough for its purposes. And though hampered by the “psychic visions”, it still manages to build suspense reasonably well; Michael Myers is returned to being a methodical, planning killer who waits for opportunities, rather than one that builds elaborate traps for his prey. Ignore the invitations to make comparisons with previous films in the franchise, and Halloween 5 holds up reasonably well as a slasher film.
But of course, it is part of a franchise, and those comparisons must be made. And by abandoning the themes of a competent heroine and a mundane menace, the film has become something the franchise wasn’t, and is diminished by it. So while it’s an OK slasher film, it’s a disappointing follow-up to the prior entries in the series.