Note: this review contains TOTAL SPOILERS.
A contextual prologue
Halloween 6 was the first real attempt to make sense of the various story tangents, undercooked ideas, and muddy myths that were introduced into the franchise over the last few years by teams of writers and rotating directors, each of whom applied their own touch and spin on John Carpenter and Debra Hill's original and sublimely simple concept: a babysitter killer comes back to his home town for murderous revenge.
Carpenter and Hill can be blamed for introducing Druidic/Celtic mythology into the franchise in Halloween 2 (the singular reference has Dr. Loomis and the local cops finding the word “Samhaim” scribbled on a school blackboard), but it's producer Moustapha Akkad who decided to shepherd the franchise into an ongoing series of revenge-adventures, with further genetic strains of the Strode family traumatized by Michael Myers - the ultimate boogeyman who always knows where his kindred is hiding.
Loomis evolved into an increasingly blather-heavy Van Helsing variation, chasing the Frankenstein monster he presided over at Smith's Grove Sanitarium prior to Myers' breakout and first return to Haddonfield. From one film to the next, Loomis' dialogue and character morphed from a head shrink, grappling with a shocking but still-human form of evil, to a loon chasing a supernatural brand of evil that seemed destined to wipe out humanity, town by town.
Laurie Strode, who disappeared at the end of Part 2, was, up until H20: Twenty Years Later (1998), never heard from again. In her place was her daughter, Jamie, a moppet who was needle-dropped into a foster family, although Jamie would introduce a minor theme of a child always feeling like an outsider in a psychologically abusive household.
At the end of Part 4, Jamie is suddenly poised to follow Myers' murderous instincts after having killed her foster mom, but in Part 5, she's been re-aligned as a recovering killer who now has a psychic link to uncle Michael (now sporting a mystic "Thorn" tattoo on his wrist). As an added bonus to the narrative, she can “see” her killer uncle stalking his latest prey, which provides a means to propel an otherwise dumb storyline to its red herring finale: a ‘Man in Black’ rescues Myers from jail, and little Jamie wanders into the wrecked police station to confirm Myers is once again free.
Too many cooks in the kitchen
As Halloween 6 screenwriter Dan Farrands (The Girl Next Door) explains in an extremely detailed and candid interview at Icons of Fright (see end of review for further links), Akkad and his production team had a serious set of problems with Part 6: they had a firm release date, no workable script, and they somehow wanted to further the franchise with Loomis, who clearly died of a heart attack prior to Myers' prison escape in Part 5.
Farrands is a serious Halloween fan, so to some extent the producers were saved by a writer steeped in the various elements introduced in each film, and his efforts to genuinely make sense of the nonsense in Part 5, while bringing back some nostalgia with the return of old characters, set 6 years later.
It was a noble deed, but Part 6 may well be the worst in the series (Part 3 excepted) because you have the writer trying to explain the mystic nonsense apparently emphasized by Part 5's director, Dominique Othenin-Girard, and satisfy the whims of the Akkads, as well as the people at Dimension Pictures, who had just taken over the franchise.
The result is narrative that's almost hypnotic in the way it proceeds with a brutal determination to stick with the Druidic/Celtic mythology, and actually make it central to Michael Myers' raison d'etre. By the end of the film, Myers is reduced to an action doll/pseudo-religious relic of death who kills to keep evil alive on the Earth through successive generations.
More grave to the franchise, though, is the existence of two versions of Part 6 that showcase the problems producers faced when their first version went sour with test audiences.
Branded the Producer's Cut [PC], the first edit had Myers being protected by the doctors at Smith Grove - each of them cult members who, all along, knew that Michael was a special boy possessed by pure and very powerful evil. We're not sure what the hell the cult will do with this 'power,' but we know they enjoy the spectacle of perversion, whereby an uncle (Myers) awaits the birth of the child he conceived with niece Jamie.
In the PC, an obstetrician still helps Jamie and her baby escape from the bowels of the loony bin, but rather than be killed by Myers using a vicious farm machine, she instead survives a stabbing, and is abandoned by Myers, who continues his search for the son Jamie had stashed somewhere prior to the car chase that ended at the barn.
In a critical care wing and in a coma, Jamie recalls her impregnation and some peripheral cult activities before she's shot to death by a cult member - a minor subplot completely excised from the Theatrical Cut [TC], since she's clearly killed in the barn scene.
Also cut are further bits of dialogue between Loomis and Dr. Wynn (played by ever-slimy Mitch Ryan), who reveals himself as the Man in Black (Why the costume? Why the cape? Why the pointy jingling boots?) as well as the cult leader.
In the PC’s film’s final reel, Wynn further explains that Loomis must be the next guardian of the next child possessed by evil - Kara's son Danny - and then has Loomis conked on the head and left in the office, where he'll eventually awaken and presumably take on his new responsibilities after Wynn has presided over Kara's sacrifice
The PC also contains bits of extended dialogue, short scenes, and very minor transition footage, but there' also a further elaboration on the significance of Thorn, a Celtic symbol that appears in the film, and is explained by Tommy Doyle (Paul Rudd), the young boy Laurie Strode babysat in Part 1.
All grown-up now and renting a room across from the Myers home where a distant branch of the Strode family now live (Kara and Danny’s parents), Tommy explains to Laurie's cousins (played by cinema one-timers Marianne Hagen and Devin Gardner) that when the stars line up, they form the Thorn symbol, which makes Myers kill.
It’s a revelation that's drunkenly stupid, if not a key (and equally daft) plot point seemingly borrowed by Part 6's first set of writers from The Final Conflict (1983), the third Omen film wherein the alignment of stars signal the birth of the Nazarine and mitigate the evil cult over which Damian Thorn (Get it? Get it?) presides, and his orders to kill not one but all babies born at the moment of stellar alignment.
The stars align, a baby must die, and a cult's appetite for power is satisfied.
Easy as pumpkin pie.
Unique to the PC are some further Celtic details that actually relate to the alternate ending that was dropped from the TC. Using computer graphics on his PC, Tommy explains that alongside bad symbols like Thorn, there are good ones, too, and if those, in the form of rune stones, are used correctly, Michael Myers will be neutered.
Kara is eventually abducted by the cult and served up as a sacrifice for Myers, although what he's supposed to do with her is never really clarified; is he supposed to kill the baby and impregnate his niece, or what?
Now, incest on the big screen in 1995, even in a horror context, was a big no-no with the MPAA, so by keeping that taboo on a faint subtextual level and aiming for an R-rating, test audiences were further baffled as to what the hell the filmmakers were trying to explain. However, it was Michael's final actions in the alternate ending that altered his character from a serial killer to a guarnd dog.
Disguised as a robed cult member, Tommy rescues Kara, Danny, and the baby, and as they flee, Loomis takes them up in an elevator, while Tommy spreads the other rune stones and some of his blood on the floor, which render Myers inert. Tommy then joins the others above ground, and drives a Jeep with Kara, Danny, and the baby away to safety, while Loomis stays on to 'finish up some business.'
Loomis then returns to where Myers is 'trapped' on the floor by the rune stones, and when he pulls off the iconic Shatner mask, he discovers Myers has switched wardrobe with Dr. Wynn. As Wynn lies dying (From what? Indigestion?), he formally anoints Loomis as his successor, after which Loomis sees a Thorn symbol identical to Myers' suddenly burn onto his wrist. Loomis screams a great big "Noooooooo!" while Myers walks away in his cool new duds (but minus a mask).
This finale did not work, so in addition to reshooting Jamie's death, references to rune stones were dropped, Loomis positioned as the new guardian was dropped, and the finale (scribbled by another writer) was completely redone while the editor used as much of the existing Loomis footage, because actor Donald Pleasence died soon after the PC's completion.
The new finale has Tommy rescuing a white-garbed Kara from a basement sanitarium. Why change her clothes if there’s no incest/sacrifice finale? To keep continuity with the costume she wore in the hallway, elevator, and final Jeep scenes with Loomis.
Although Tommy and Kara are pursued by Myers to the building’s main level, they manage to rescue Danny and the baby from a batch of surgeons who are suddenly butchered by Myers as they were about to perform some inexplicable operation. (In the Icons of Fright interview, Farrands explains Wynn was actually filmed being killed by Myers, but the good doctor isn’t shown dying in the final edit, so as to allow his sudden return to the franchise at some future point.)
Myers eventually chases the fleeing quartet to a dead end, where Tommy plays the old real baby/fake baby switcheroo on Myers, and stabs him with several green neon syringes conveniently lying around that incapacitate the killer just enough to enable some serious head bashing with a pipe. Apparently green neon goo means “poison” in medical parlance.
The group then flee to the surface with Loomis, where they separate, as in the PC. As the quartet drive off, Loomis re-enters the clinic, and there's an off-screen death scream, signaling the end of the good doctor.
A new low in cinematic fear
This is the thing that was released in theatres, and while one can laud the editor's ability to craft a new finale using existing footage, it's still a disaster. The marriage of old and new footage is fascinating to examine from an editorial angle, but there’s also a major seam that probably didn’t look so bad on the printed page, but stuck out like a washed-out bridge on film.
Prior to her abduction, Kara jumps out of a window from a three story home to escape Myers, and lands on the lawn. The camera tilt mimics the famous finale in Part 1 where Myers is shown dead on the lawn, and then in a matching cut, is gone.
Director Chappelle fades out on Kara’s immobile body, and fades up with Loomis and Tommy standing where Kara lay, questioning each other as to why they were left alive and drugged (drugged?) by the cult members.
It’s a gigantic gaping whole in the film, and shows how the filmmakers really had no credible way to tie the mysterious behaviour of the first half to the sacrificial shenanigans of the second. The solution was to have Loomis explain ‘it’s all part of his plan’ (one assumes “his” is Myers), and we’re off to the loony bin where Kara, unaffected by hard contact with a window and lawn, is waiting to be rescued.
The reason the film in either version fails so completely is because it's a grand mess of old and new ideas with no linear flow. You know you're in trouble when there's an intro narration recapping who's who after the events in Part 5 (although even the narration was tweaked in the TC. In the PC, it's Loomis who reads the character tally over the main credits instead of Tommy, but the PC also includes a flashback that shows the last reel of Part 5 where Jamie, played by Danielle Harris, is taken away by the Man in Black).
Farrands' attempts to please all levels - the fans, the producers, and Dimension - resulted in overly complex plotting largely drawn from half-assed concepts even the writers of Part 5 knew made no sense and had no dramatic purpose within the Halloween mythos.
If neither the writers, director Othenin-Girard, nor Akkad knew why the Man in Black was there, why attempt to make sense of it in Part 6?
There's also the issue of keeping Jamie in the mix. In the Icons of Fright interview, Farrands fought to bring the only compelling character of the prior sequels back, and use her for an intended but unfilmed final confrontation with Myers, but the studio wanted her reduced to a minor role, so she dies in the final PC and TC scripts.
That may have made more sense, because Loomis has always been involved in an inevitable face-to-face confrontation with Myers, and up until the ending in Part 6, the two foes never meet, so Loomis had to be involved in the finale.
Jamie's hospital scenes in the PC were therefore completely useless, because aside from a coma-level flashback, she's dramatically inert - a problem Carpenter and Hill knew was central to Part 2's failure, because Laurie Strode spends most of the film in bed, doped up on happy pills. You can’t have your heroine half-conscious for most of the film.
Getting rid of Jamie in such a grandly gory fashion in the barn was therefore quite appropriate. (It’s also completely logical, since Myers always kills his victims with one or two assured strokes. He never leaves them wounded and dying like some sloppy amateur. He is pure evil, right?).
The TC has more gore (Kara's asshole father is shown being electrocuted far longer onscreen, followed by a fully exploding head), but one does suspect more death details were shot for each killing, because some deaths lack the overt wetness given to others.
(A good example in the TC is a surgeon who runs down a tunnel from Myers, only to have his head shoved against a barred door. When Myers emerges on the other side, the doc's head tumbles to the floor, and it's clear the face was either smooshed into the bars, ripped off, or perhaps julienned prior to beheading.)
Some online commentators have also noted a different score in the PC, but that's easily explained: it's a temp track. None of the theme cues are part of Howarth's final synth/rock revision, and the haunting choral track played over the ceremonial scenes is Popol Vuh's title music from Werner Herzog's Nosferatu (1979).
Dimension threw enough money to get fairly decent talent (note Star Trek's Kim Darby - "Miri" - playing Kara's emotionally battered mum), so on a superficial level, Part 6 is one of the most beautifully shot in the series; Billy Dickson's cinematography isn't in 2.35:1, but his lighting makes director Joe Chappelle's daylight attacks quite chilly, and without any of the voguish effects and colours that have made Parts 4 and 5 very much examples of their now-dated era.
Alan Howarth's score is more sound design and ambient weirdness, and that's actually an improvement over the deadly dull theme restatements he was forced to apply in the prior two films. This time, Carpenter's theme is given a synth/rock spin, but it's the waves of sound textures that are more effective in the kill scenes. There are also less pop songs, so the film feels more organic. (More amusing to film music fans, though, is how Howarth sneaks in one of his own cues from Retribution as a short radio source.)
Certainly for fans, Halloween 6 deserves a special edition that houses both versions, but it's highly doubtful raw, critical comments by the production's participants will be allowed, much in the way Fox let a documentary team analyze and trace the flawed judgments and decisions which led to the mess of Alien 3 in a recent special edition.
Candor mandates honestly, frankness, and room to criticize corporate as well as creative figureheads, and that's an unlikely allowance when the 'guardians' of the Halloween franchise want to make sure each film is not only a valid, if sometimes flawed installment, but a film you should definitely buy.
Part 6 is sadly notable because it's also Donald Pleasence's final film role. Loomis' intro via a slow tracking and pan shot is done with obvious affection, and his few scenes show the veteran character actor once again giving his narrow role far more breadth and subtext than it contained on the script page.
Those wanting a good movie, however, will find nothing but a total betrayal of the simple concept that seeded one of the most successful indie films of all time: babysitter killer comes back to his home town for murderous revenge.
End of story.
For more info on the creation and production of Part 6, you’re encouraged to read the Icons of Fright interview with Dan Farrands, as well as a shorter but equally relevant interview at 73 Miles to Haddonfield.
Those wanting some overview of the Producer’s Cut should check out the Wikipedia entry, and more deleted scene details (albeit repetitive) at the IMDB.
Films in the Halloween franchise include Halloween (1978), Halloween II (1981), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween V (1989), Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), the seventh part, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998), the eighth part, Halloween: Resurrection (2002), and Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007).
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan