“I met him, 15 years ago; I was told there was nothing left; no reason, no conscience, no understanding; and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, of good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up because I realized that what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply… evil.”
For 17 years, Donald Pleasence would remain a steadfast fixture of the Halloween franchise as the unwavering Dr. Sam Loomis, longtime adversary of Michael Myers. Where there was Michael Myers, there needed to be Sam Loomis, too, as the only one to truly understand the boogeyman and stand in his way. Though John Carpenter wrote the character, including his dialogue, it was Pleasence that would shape him into the tragically obsessed hero that we love so much still 40 years later.
Pleasence wasn’t the first choice for the iconic role, however, as John Carpenter had initially approached the likes of Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing to play Loomis. Both turned him down, a move that Lee would later state that he regretted as an actor. Feeling pressure to cast a big name in a film of mostly then unknowns, Pleasence won out, only accepting the role due to alimony bills that needed to be paid and a daughter that was a big fan of Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. A huge fan of the actor’s work, Carpenter was initially intimidated to work with Pleasence, the most experienced actor on set, but quickly forged a close friendship.
Pleasence shot all of his scenes over 5 days, and it’s funny to think that all of his scenes amounted to just 18 minutes of screen time in the movie when he wound up being much more intertwined with the series than lead final girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Those 18 minutes of Dr. Sam Loomis were important to the mythos of Michael Myers, the character delivering important backstory to his time at the sanitarium, the one to save Laurie in the final showdown by shooting Michael six times, and the one to ultimately leave an opening for the sequel.
That he managed to portray the character with that perfect of balance between too serious and too campy spoke to Pleasence’s tremendous experience as an actor. His experience also meant bringing more logical changes to his character. In the script, Loomis was supposed to have a phone conversation with his wife. Pleasence didn’t do it; he ultimately felt his long-running obsession over his failures with Michael Myers meant he shouldn’t have a family or a past. The script also called for Loomis to have a surprised reaction at the disappearance of Michael Myer’s body from the lawn at the end of the movie, but Pleasence felt his reaction would be a knowing one, as if to say he predicted it would happen. So Carpenter shot it both ways, keeping Pleasence’s take on the character reaction in the final cut.
Dr. Sam Loomis would return to Haddonfield, again and again, to warn the town of Michael Myer’s impending return and to save those in his path. From Laurie Strode to Jamie Lloyd, and even a grown Tommy Doyle, Loomis would survive explosions and injuries to stand between Myers and his targets. Even after Donald Pleasance passed on, his character remained integral to the story, providing warnings from beyond death Halloween H20: 20 Years Later.
Rob Zombie would turn the character from one of fervent obsession to one rooted deep in greed in his remake and sequel. Despite a great performance by Malcolm McDowell, it’s hard not to look at his version like a betrayal to Donald Pleasence’s memory. Pleasence brought depth and humanity to Sam Loomis. His was a character who tried to do the right thing again and again only to fail, yet it never stopped him from persisting. Michael Myers is an unstoppable boogeyman, and Dr. Sam Loomis was the one weapon that seemed to work against him.
Now 40 years later, with Halloween set to begin anew, Dr. Sam Loomis is a character noticeably absent from the cast list, which is a move that seems to be more befitting of honoring Pleasence’s memory. There’s no true recreating what Pleasence brought to the table, time and time again. Thanks to Carpenter and Pleasence, Dr. Sam Loomis is one of horror’s most enduring characters. Even though Pleasence delivered countless memorable roles, many in horror alone, the lasting legacy of Dr. Sam Loomis is one that fans hold in highest regard.