Wednesday, October 01, 2014

'90s Horror Poll: Honorable Mention - Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (Producer's Cut)

Our first Honorable Mention piece is from Christopher Fujino, a friend from Letterboxd, who encourages you to give the infamous "Producer's Cut" of Halloween 6 a try.

This review contains minor spoilers about the previous films in the series. Having seen all these films, I personally don't think it matters, but if you really don't want to know if Michael Myers dies at the end of the second film, you should stop reading now.

Okay, still here? Yeah, he dies.

I'm usually a stickler for official titles. It's not really "The White Album," it's called "The Beatles." The book isn't called "Alice in Wonderland," it's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland." But for this series, I'm just gonna number them. First, because who really knows the difference between The Return of Michael Myers and The Revenge of Michael Myers? And second, because there seems to be no consensus on what the heck this film was titled. Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers? That seems most logical. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers? The studios started doing this in the '90s, leaving out the numbers because it was getting embarrassing. Halloween 6? I guess the studio really didn't care what they called this. And you know what, neither do I.

Further complicating matters, there exists three different versions of this film. They have been dubbed by fans the Producer's Cut (think of this as version 1), the Director's Cut (version 2), and the officially released, theatrical cut (version 3). For those who are in the behind-the-scenes goings-on of filmmaking, there's a lot of information on the difficult production of this film. For everyone else, here's the short version:

The film started as a spec script written by Daniel Farrands, a big fan of the series. It was startlingly original, pulling together various loose ends from different films in the series, and also exploring the motivation of the mysterious Michael Myers. In other words, written by a fan for the fans.

After production wrapped, series veteran Donald Pleasance died. The filmmakers put together a complete cut of the film and test screened it for a dissatisfied, confused audience that "consisted primarily of 14-year-old boys." This is the Production Cut.

A dissatisfied, confused studio seized control of the project (which, to be fair, was always supposed to be a cash grab) and cut out the most controversial and complex parts of the plot, added some more exciting kills, and shot a completely different, action-packed ending (without Pleasance). In other words, they took out all the interesting parts, and were left with an unoriginal, yet incomprehensible mess. This is the Director's Cut. But this was too graphic to get an R-rating, so they trimmed some of the most gruesome bits. Say hello to the version that disappointed Halloween fans in theaters everywhere.

Somehow, VHS copies of both the Producer's Cut and the Director's Cut circulated among hardcore horror fans, and eventually a dedicated fan spliced together the gritty VHS footage of the "Producer's Cut" together with the scenes it shares with the DVD release of the theatrical version, forming a sort of cinematic Frankenstein's monster, and sold as a bootleg and distributed on file sharing networks. As a response to this intense interest from fans (and I'm sure the realization that they were losing potential revenue), Disney/Miramax decided to include the Producer's Cut in their 15-disc release Halloween: The Complete Collection, available for the first time digitally mastered.

And so, the question which must be answered is: is it really worth all the trouble? Well, sort of. It's certainly not a masterpiece on the level of the original version of The Magnificent Ambersons, or the newly discovered footage of Lang's Metropolis. It's more akin to Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut, an interesting parallel history, offering insight into the tension between the art and business of filmmaking.
For fans of the series, and especially the fourth and fifth films, it also answers a lot of questions. Why does Jamie stab someone in the fourth film? Who was the man in black who rescues Michael at the end of the fifth film? And why is he so darned determined to kill all his relatives? Not only does it answer these questions, but it does so in totally bizarre and unexpected ways. This is not an especially scary film, but it is original, and after years of watching horror films, I value originality more. And especially in the '90s, an uncomfortable period of transition for horror cinema, there were those who tried to lay on more gore, guts, and sex, and then there were those who dared to try something new, and that's what this version of Halloween 6 is. After this, the franchise would revert to recycling the original formula with the return of Jamie Lee Curtis for Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, making this one even more unique.

Ironically, the weakest part of this film is Michael Myers. Especially in the middle section of this film, Michael Myers goes through the routine, and he kills 5 or 6 people whose names I honestly could not tell you (and I just watched the movie). The problem is that this film is more of a mystery than a slasher film, and thus the important characters have to at least make it to the final act, so Michael has to kill off unimportant characters who haven't really been established. This is the stuff that should have been trimmed, but I'm sure Miramax imposed some kind of kill quota on the filmmakers. Oh well.

This film, as it appears in the Producer's Cut, was clearly made for the fans. That doesn't mean, however, that all Halloween fans love it. When I wrote enthusiastically about this film on Letterboxd, a passionate fan wrote in the comments and spoiled a crucial plot point (which I won't repeat here). When I complained that he was spoiling the movie, he replied:

“There's something more important here: deterring as many people as possible from seeing that version of the film. This is like the one time in history that we're able to stop a franchise crime from happening! The least we can do is let people know why the original version of Halloween 6 should be buried forever.”

Then again, nothing will make people want to watch a movie more than burying it!

Finally, if you're going to watch this movie, I have a little cheat sheet which I made while rewatching it. I had already seen this movie once before, and I've seen all the movies preceding, but I was still completely lost as to who was who, especially since the characters who appeared in previous films are all portrayed by different actors.

Tommy Doyle - portrayed by Paul Rudd
Not directly related to either the Myers family or the Strodes, Tommy was a minor character in the first film, being babysat by Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).

Jamie Lloyd - portrayed by J. C. Brandy
Laurie Strode's daughter, and thus Michael Myers' niece, and thus Michael Myers' niece. Her mother's character was written out of the series as having died in an automobile accident before the fourth film, thus leaving Jamie Lloyd an orphan. She was the star of the fourth and fifth films, where she portrayed by Danielle Harris.

Kara Strode - portrayed by Marianne Hagan
Laurie Strode's cousin, though not by blood. Kara's father is the brother of Laurie's adoptive father. They are also living in the Myers' house, where Michael originally killed his sister.

Dr. Terence Wynn - portrayed by Mitchell Ryan
Longtime administrator of the Warren County Santiarium, where Michael Myers was hospitalized up until his escape at the beginning of the first film. Appears briefly in the first film, where he was portrayed by Robert Phalen.

And so, this hasn't so much been a review of the film as an exploration into the strange story behind its genesis. And I think ultimately I like this movie so much because of how strange it is. It's eerie watching the legendary Donald Pleasance, knowing he would soon die and be cut out of the ending of the theatrical version. It's exciting to finally have a new villain, the man in black, take the spotlight and recontextualize Michael Myers. And, at least until that massive box set arrives, it’s a guilty pleasure to watch a fan-reconstructed bootleg of the cut that those almighty studio execs thought you were too stupid to appreciate.

- Christopher Fujino is an IT consultant who moonlights as a compulsive list-maker on Letterboxd. His favorite filmmakers are Francis Ford Coppola, the Coen brothers, and Hayao Miyazaki. He has seen every film in the Aliens vs. Predators universe, but he hates The Boondock Saints, I Am Sam, and Lost in Translation with a passion.

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