Othenin-Girard: Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

In many ways, Halloween V departs more dramatically from the atmosphere and spirit of the Halloween franchise than any of the other films to feature Michael Myers. In part, that’s because Myers is more interactive and more interpersonal – in his own way – than in any of the previous films, starting with a prologue in which he is rescued from the events of the fourth film by a kindly woodsman, who nurses him back to health in a homage to Bride to Frankenstein. Whereas Myers is virtually indestructible over the rest of the franchise, it takes him a full year to return to full throttle here, although the point of the time lapse doesn’t seem to be to imbue him with any real vulnerability, so much as to set the scene for a film in which he plays the role of a child more emphatically than in any of the earlier installments. No surprise, then, that Danielle Harris reprises her role as Jamie Lloyd, Laurie Strode’s niece, who, at the end of Halloween IV, appeared to have internalised Myers’ spirit by murdering her own mother. Rather than present Jamie as evil, however, the fifth film places her in a mental health institution, where the burden of enacting Myers’ will has robbed her of her voice, and left her in need of psychotherapy for her post-traumatic shock.

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Despite differentiating Jamie from her evil actions at the end of the fourth film, Halloween V also makes it clear, from the outset, that she hasn’t entirely divested herself of Myers’ presence, since her defining symptom is a psychic apprehension of his movements around Haddonfield, especially as they grow closer to wherever she happens to be. The majority of the fifth film takes place in this psychic space between Myers and Jamie, which often recalls the lurid dreamscapes of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, especially because Jamie’s synergy with Myers tends to be strongest just before and after nightmares. In an effort to capture that telekinetic space, director Dominique Othenin-Girard adopts a hyperkinetic camera that is quite new for the franchise, pairing it with convulsive framing and histrionic blocking to try and evoke Jamie and Myers as a part of the same shared body, and the same shared space, even or especially when they are presented in different frames, and in different parts of Haddonfield. With Myers so psychically present in every scene, his physical presence isn’t quite as powerful or as important as it is in the previous films, while his studied scrutiny of his victims is deflected into a more circumambient presence and potentiality. Whereas Myers was once identified with the camera, his rapport with Jamie often seems to exceed cinematic language, just as her efforts to break into speech are initially deflected into a series of hyper-kinetic mannerisms, postures and facial expressions that brim with an inchoate and traumatic prescience that the camera can’t quite articulate.

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To his credit, however, Othenin-Girard treats that as a challenge, rather than an impediment, replacing the precise thresholds and Steadicam sequences of the earlier films with a more magical sense of porosity and permeability. Despite being released in 1989, the result is possibly the first real 90s slasher film, since every mise-en-scene brims with the same restless, hyperbolic, hyperspatiality that you see in the 90s slasher revival – a nascent version of hyperspace in which every space is shot as if it is trying to exceed and transcend itself in the name of an experiential horizon that lies beyond physical space altogether. That gives Myers’ presence an incredible liquidity and omniscience, in which he is everywhere from the very beginning of the film – he doesn’t wait to reveal himself, as in previous films – but somehow more displaced and mercurial as well, making for his single creepiest incarnation since Carpenter’s original. Moreover, his appearances are often dissociated from any single victim or purpose, anticipating the scenes in Scream in which Ghostface appears for the sake of it – not with any fixed intention, but as the syntax or connective tissue holding the entire spatial scheme of the film in place. Invisible simply by virtue of existing on the threshold between spaces, or in spaces deemed invisible by conventional divisions of perceptual labour, Myers is here, finally, so identified with the syntax of suburbia that he can only be articulated, indirectly, through Jamie’s hallucinatory visions. In scene after scene, he’s clearly visible, but not really noticed, since he doesn’t occupy the world of his victims but is that world, managing to be everywhere and nowhere all at once.

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That results in a very different iconography of Myers from the previous films, one that focuses on his feet as much his mask, as if to emphasise his mobility and fluidity over the static immobility of his unwavering gaze (and this is also the first film in which he removes his mask since the original). In fact, the feet arguably belong to a different Myers, since his omniscience, and the film’s effort to envisage him inmultiple places at once, splits him into two different incarnations, one of whom saves the other in the eerie final sequence. This splintering of Myers has been a feature of the franchise since the second film, as the media event generated by his spree of murderers produced a subset of comic copycats in Haddonfield over the subsequent decade. In Halloween V, however, those alternative Myers aren’t played for laughs so much as part of a broader and more radical sense in which Myers has not simply become the syntax of suburba, but of American media itself, so identified with the dissemination of information and panic that his own visibility is almost impossible to articulate. Once again, I was often reminded of Scream, and especially of the sequence at the end of Scream in which Gail Weathers’ news team sets up a camera inside the house party in an effort to catch Ghostface, only to realise – too late – that there’s a ten second delay. Much of Halloween V also seems to take place in that ten second delay between action and mediation, with Myers displaced from his body and self to instead occupy the space between his multiple mediated selves and the site where his real self is meant to be.

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As an embodiment of media, Myers also regulates how suburbia interacts with everything outside it, with the result that Halloween V both features the most hyperbolic suburban vistas of the franchise to date, but also hollows them out into a different and more abstract kind of space. Starting with a party sequence about halfway through the film, the action shifts away from suburbia, first to a looming farm, then to a haunted wood and, finally, back to a house that feels straight out of a Gothic novel, rather than American suburbia. This is where Loomis lures Myers in the final act, using Jamie as bait, who he houses in a turret whose cobwebs, stained mirros and trails of ivy all lead to the attic, which turns out to be Myers’ lair. Full of victims and other talismans displayed in one macabre tableau after another, it’s centred on a coffin that doubles as Myers’ bed, and in which Jamie seeks refuge after he chases her upstairs in the film’s penultimate sequence. By this stage, the film has moved far beyond the suburban syntax of the previous four features in the franchise, turning Myers into the mediator between suburban normality and a more diffuse, baroque and abstracted space that nevertheless feels like the subtext of the entire franchise as well.

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If Myers’ mediation regulates suburbia’s relation with everything outside it – and clarifies how suburbia perceives everything outside it – then it’s only because he’s also permitted to really be a child for the first time in the franchise. While Myers may have committed his crimes as a child, and gradually narrowed his focus to children, he’s never actually taken on the role of a child himself, or been treated as a child by any of the other characters who encounter him. Yet if, as the previous films suggest, the child is the emblem par excellence of American media and suburbia, then it’s only by arrogating every facet of childhood to himself that Myers can so thoroughly occupy the syntax of the film. Accordingly, he is subjecified for the first time in the franchise, at two distinct points, first by Loomis, who speaks to him as a child, and then by Jamie, who appeals to him as a fellow child. In both cases, the histrionic appeals to Myers’ inner child imbues his silence with a more operatic and melodramatic quality than the blankess of the earlier films, especialy in his encounter with Jamie, who appeals to him as “Uncle, Boogeyman” and induces him to take off his mask for the first time since the original film. Unlike the original, however, Myers’ face is no longer presented as an exercise in prosthetic grotesquerie, but as a source of melodramatic intensity, condensed to a single teary eye before he turns away from Jamie, overwhelmed.

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What ensues, in the last act of Halloween V, is an incredible summary of the dual roles played by the figure of the child in 80s horror. On the one hand, children were often imagined by films of this era as vehicles for new media, and as entering a media realm that extended beyond the reach of the paternal suburban voice. At the same time, however, children were also seen as in need of protection from new media, and as capable of restoring that paternal voice with new potency if they managed to connect it with a younger and newer generation of media – to mediate it – in the right way. Those contradictory depictions of the child find perfect expression in this concluding sequence, as Myers embodies the child in all its horror, and all its alignment with the alien forces of mediation. While Jamie is ostensibly the “good” child, she’s also compromised by her own alignment with Myers, meaning that she has to be disciplined and regulated by paternal authority, resulting in one of the most punishing sequences ever devised for a child in a horror film, culminating with a scene in which Jamie becomes caught in a laundry chute, and grows more and more hysterical as Myers tries to pull her out from above, then tries to pull her down from below, and then stabs through the metal, forcing her to climb back out again, in a passage that looks as if it must have been physically traumatic to simply act and rehearse.

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The paradox, however, is that the only paternal presence to attach itself to this brutal regulation of Jamie’s body is Myers himself, since Loomis, when he does arrive, is more ineffective than ever. By contrast, Myers’ body language becomes more deliberate and tactile whenever he gets close to Jamie, imbuing even his most violent actions with a strange kind of care, as if approaching a distant version of himself. With Myers absorbing every claim to childhood, but arrogating paternal authority at the same time, we’re left with a disheartening vision of American suburbia in which paternal authority is so dependent upon the figure of the child that its own development is arrested and left to hang in a state of suspended childhood in which any delay of gratification of affirmation is treated as an ideological and ethical affront. Hence the eerie conclusion, in which the “second” Myers frees the “real” Myers from the police station, and Jamie arrives shortly after to be confronted with her uncle’s empty jail cell. The scene she encounters is unlike any other we’ve seen in the Halloween franchise so far – the aftermath of a mass shooting, rather than a horror rampage, in which one police officer and civilian after another have been gunned down by what appears to be a semi-automatic weapon. At the core of the franchise’s criticism of infantilized paternal authority is thus a vision of a white terrorist attack and that vision effectively brings the classic phase of the franchise to a close, with Halloween VI establishing a revisionist reimagination that has continued up to the present.

About Billy Stevenson (667 Articles)
Massive NRL fan, passionate Wests Tigers supporter with a soft spot for the Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs and a big follower of US sports as well.

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