Imagine what it must be like to be Daniel Farrands… you’re a die-hard HALLOWEEN fan and aspiring filmmaker, given the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to write the screenplay for a new entry in the Michael Myers franchise. Now imagine that you have a mountain of expository baggage and a jungle of loose ends from the previous sequels to tie up. Worse, you have cynical studio executives and a mercenary director watching your every move and placing the fate of the fruit of your labors in the hands of a test audience full of teenagers. You do the best you can, only to see your film bomb at the advance screenings and undergo emergency surgery intended to remove a good number of elements that you were given no choice but to include in the first place. Your baby is mutilated almost beyond recognition and released to abysmal box-office and even worse reviews. It’s enough to make one pity the poor guy.
At least until one sees the original edit (the so-called “Producer’s Cut”) of CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS, after which all of one’s pity is reserved for the late Donald Pleasance and the boogeyman.
The artistic and financial failure of the theatrical print of the sixth HALLOWEEN sparked a lot of interest in the original version among fans on the internet. The legend of an untainted print of the film which reportedly cleared up the mysteries of Michael’s ties to the Thorn cult and the final fate of Dr. Loomis had already grown to mythic proportions by the time a copy of this “lost masterpiece” became readily available through bootleggers. Myers devotees who were rightly unimpressed with the official version couldn’t wait to get a look at the scenes that the greedy accountants at Miramax didn’t want them to see, believing that somehow a decent movie was lost to Hollywood committee thinking. Sadly for those who have bought into this myth for all these years, nearly everything that made the theatrical cut of CURSE so terrible is present in the Producer’s Cut, and then some.
If one is inclined to accept all of the clunky backstory about mysterious cults and Michael’s singular obsession with slaying his kin established in parts 2, 4 and 5 of the series, the basic premise of both versions of CURSE is not bad at all – the followers of Thorn periodically select a child to sacrifice his own family to maintain cosmic balance, and Michael’s turn is almost over. All he has to do is find and kill the newborn son of Jamie Lloyd, the niece he spent the last two films (and the first ten minutes or so of this one) stalking, and his evil power will be passed on to a young boy who just happens to reside in the house he once called home. An added wrinkle involves an administrator of Michael’s other childhood home, Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, turning out to be the leader of the cult (in both prints) and trying to trick Sam Loomis into assuming the same role once the new killer has been christened (in the Producer’s Cut). None of this bears much resemblance to the simple, horrifying tale of a faceless killer stalking nubile babysitters in suburbia from John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN, but it’s a workable attempt to bring the convoluted stories of the various sequels to a cohesive end, and there are some interesting ideas presented (though handled rather clumsily) here.
Beyond the basic set-up, however, both cuts of CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS are unredeemable messes in just about every way imaginable. The new characters range from repugnant (loutish father John Strode, sleazy shock jock Barry Simms) to unremarkable (female lead Kara Strode, mother Debra Strode) to wholly forgettable (idiot teen Tim Strode and his girlfriend, Beth). Worst of all is young Danny Strode, the cherubic little runt who is all set to inherit a bad case of Druid fever. Essayed with a complete lack of emotion by Devin Gardner, Danny elicits no sympathy whatsoever from the audience, and more often than not would disappear completely from scenes if the other characters didn’t keep shouting his name. The only saving grace for any of these people in the Producer’s Cut is that, unlike in the release print, Papa Strode’s fat head doesn’t explode.
By this point in the review, anyone who’s never seen either version of CURSE should be asking themselves, “Am I reading this right? The people who moved into the old Myers house are Strodes?!?!? As in, relatives of the late Laurie Strode, who was nearly killed by Michael Myers in 1978?!?!?” That’s right. Farrands obviously felt that setting the film in Haddonfield and Smith’s Grove, and including the Myers house, Jamie Lloyd, Dr. Loomis and all of the other logical ties to the earlier films wasn’t enough to legitimize his script or satisfy the rabid fans. So, in what might be the most idiotic move in the history of this series (including having death incarnate karate chopped by Busta Rhymes), the writer made the central characters of his tale the nuclear family of Laurie’s uncle, John, who apparently inherited the family real estate business after his niece’s All Hallow’s Eve babysitting gig turned into a bloodbath. Worse, they all seem completely oblivious to the history of both the house and their family, as though they’d been living in a cave somewhere in Sri Lanka for the last two decades and somehow managed to miss the whole “Halloween’s banned!” ordinance when they moved back to Haddonfield. Frankly, it’s hard to imagine a bunch of characters that are harder to give a damn for.
The one new character who is decent is Thorn leader Doctor Wynn, played by Mitch Ryan. Ryan appears aware that the whole plot is ridiculous, but he plays his part to the hilt and has some fun in a movie sorely lacking in that area. Donald Pleasance is typically solid as Sam Loomis, although his “pure evil” rants are tired and repetitive by this point. The other returning characters, grown-up versions of Jamie Lloyd and Part 1’s Tommy Doyle, are played well enough by new actors J.C. Brandy and Paul Rudd, respectively. The problem lies in the way they are used. Jamie has inexplicably spent years in the custody of the Thorn cult (the Producer’s Cut does show her being abducted in a flashback, but makes no effort to explain why she never tried to escape before now) and is given little to do but flee from Michael and die. Though she lives longer in the original print than in the theatrical release, her death is still unceremonious and unsatisfying, and the climactic revelation about her baby’s father is unappetizing, to say the least. Rudd’s Doyle is an obsessed weirdo, a sort of youthful version of Loomis who lives in a tenement across the street from the Myers place and spends all of his time spying on the house and researching Druid runes on the internet. He serves little purpose in the film other than to provide expository dialogue that otherwise would have fallen to the ailing Pleasance. This character will remind no one of the likable kid who feared the boogeyman and Lonny Elam in the original movie.
With the exception of the town itself (which is more faithfully recreated here than it was in Parts 4 and 5), nothing about this movie feels right. Composers Alan Howarth and Paul Rabjohns monkey around with the music, changing notes and pitches here and there so that the iconic theme often sounds more like a cheap, unlicensed knock-off than a re-orchestration of Carpenter’s original score. This might have been okay if Michael himself wasn’t so poorly realized, wearing a generic mask and looking more like an actor in a costume at a horror convention than an unstoppable force of evil. George Wilbur returns to the role he played in HALLOWEEN 4, but he’s too bulky and stiff to pass for the killer who terrorized Jamie Lee Curtis in 1978. Director Joe Chappelle does nothing to compensate for Wilbur’s “dime store Frankenstein” performance, proving that he knows precious little about building suspense or creating a pervasive sense of dread by letting Michael disappear from the story for long stretches and filling every nighttime exterior scene with heavy, artificial fog. In Carpenter’s original, Michael was scary because he was in a real town, terrorizing ordinary people in ordinary houses. Chappelle’s misty attempts at gothic “atmosphere” only expose the phoniness of his film, and his own lack of understanding of the character. CURSE looks and feels for all the world like a really bad HALLOWEEN theme park attraction. Or, perhaps more accurately, it feels exactly like what it is – a misguided fan film.
The Producer’s Cut of CURSE is just as poorly-paced, sloppily-directed, flatly-acted, and illogical as the theatrical print, but does it answer the questions fans have had since the re-edited version was released in 1995? To put it more succinctly, is it any better at all? I’m sorry to say, not really. Though it does flow better from the ungainly HALLOWEEN 5 and doesn’t lose its focus on the Thorn cult, the climactic sequence of the P-Cut (as some fans call it) is utterly ludicrous. Wynn and his fellow robed nutcases tie Kara to an altar and prompt the blank-faced Danny to kill her the moment Michael completes his mission and slays the baby. Of course, these clever Druid-worshippers didn’t bother to kill or incapacitate Loomis or Tommy first, ensuring that our heroes will bust in and save the day at the opportune moment – the moment right after Michael hesitates (that’s right, hesitates!) to execute the child. The once terrifying Shape is reduced to standing inert as the cultists apparently step aside and let the good guys run off with girl, kid and baby in tow. Then Michael decides to follow, only to be rendered harmless once again when Tommy throws some “good” runes on the floor before making his exit. Wynn runs up to Myers and we cut back outside, where the youngsters drive off and leave Loomis to head back in for his “unfinished business” (just like in the theatrical print). The good Doctor finds “Michael” lying on the floor. Removing the mask, we see that it is really Wynn, Michael apparently having donned his master’s trench coat and headed for parts unknown. Loomis screams as the Thorn symbol appears on his wrist, and it’s pretty much over. Unless the filmmakers had shown Michael rescuing some orphans from a burning building and skipping off into the sunset smelling a daisy, they couldn’t have done more to neuter what was once the most frightening monster in cinematic history. And we still don’t really know what happened to Loomis. At least the theatrical print has Myers go on a gory, berserk rampage in the last reel.
To say that either version of HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS is better than the other is a bit like saying stepping in it is better than tracking it all over the carpet. Both cuts of the film are sad finales to the Jamie Lloyd trilogy and the career of the legendary Donald Pleasance. In truth, however, the theatrical print is probably the stronger of the two because it does not completely undermine the power of its antagonist in the closing moments. The idea of a cult trying to use Michael for its own evil ends and paying a dear price for their hubris is still a bit more palatable to those of us who grew up thinking the Shape was the ultimate screen terror than the notion that the boogeyman was their pawn from the beginning. The release version also has more (albeit, rather cartoonish) gore, and its open ending works slightly better for continuity nuts trying to link Part 6 to HALLOWEEN: H20. The Producer’s Cut is a curiosity piece worth seeking out for completists and die-hard HALLOWEEN fanatics, but don’t believe the hype that surrounds it. As a film, it is just as arduous and ridiculous as the official cut, and it would likely have done far more damage to the legacy of Michael Myers had the studio not had the foresight to give it a makeover before unleashing it on the ticket-buying public.