In many ways, Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers formed the last residue of 80s slasher horror before the 90s slasher revival got into full swing. While it may have been released the same year as Scream, and featured many of the same stylistic traits as the films Scream inspired, it doesn’t have the same ironic distance from the classic horror cycles of the 80s as most of the great 90s slasher films, even if it does happen to be the most revisionist film in the Halloween franchise to date. Infamous within horror circles for being one of the most butchered and fragmented releases ever to come from a major studio, as well as for the various uncut versions of the film that have circulated amongst collectors, it started off as a prequel, or origins story, for Michael Myers, but in its current version plays as a series of more or less discrete narratives that never quite cohere, and are sometimes completely incoherent. At its core, however, is the germ of a really brilliant, terrifying film, while even in its compromised state it’s still the most ambitious sequel in the franchise in terms of world-building, attempting to imbue Myers with a backstory and mythology that would remain unmatched until Rob Zombie’s reboot of the Halloween saga in the late 2000s. Yet while its frenzied effort to reimagine the franchise might often recall the hyperactive self-referentiality so typical of the 90s slasher, this is also the most sombre and chilling sequel in the franchise as well, playing as a dirge on Carpenter’s original that feels like a sustained eulogy for Donald Pleasance in particular, who appears here in his final role but died eight months before the film hit theatres, so protracted was the process of editing.
Even after all that editing, however, Halloween VI moves at a dissonant and disjunctive pace, playing out as a series of more or less disconnected scenes and stand-alone sequences. Some of these relate to a new family who move into the Myers house, some of them deal with an obsessive Myers fan, played by Paul Rudd in his first role, and some of them take us into the heart of a Halloween cult that is held to be responsible for the emergence of Myers’ peculiar powers in the first place. Since there’s so little continuity, this is a film driven by editing as much as directing, with the sudden shifts from scene to scene replacing linear progression with a more kaleidoscopic sense of simultaneity, whose rapid-fire pace tends to be visualized by way of the lightning flashes and strobe lights that play such a major role in articulating the mise-en-scenes. Many of these bright bursts of light feel injected after the fact, often imbuing the film with the surreal discontinuity of a music video, especially when the trademark synthesized score is subsumed into a more aggressive and abrasive series of metal motifs. In a weird way, then, the botched nature of the film turns Halloween VI into an exercise in what would be called intensified continuity, or post-continuity, mirroring the rise of the kinetic and hyperactive editing style of Michael Bay, and its disregard for conventional shot syntax. As we move from one semi-independent sequence to the next, that produces an eerie sense of hyperreality, making for a film that alternately feels pieced together by a devoted fan, and a film that comes closer to adopting the fragmented perspective of Myers himself than any before or since in the whole series.
That fragmentation also gives Halloween VI more license to experiment with and extend the franchise than previous, more cohesive sequels – a process that starts with the introduction of a new villain, the Man in Black, who appeared briefly at the end of Halloween V. Revising Myers’ gait and body language for the Goth 90s, the Man in Black leaves a new kind of moody, emo, angsty atmosphere in his wake, as well as anticipating the focus on urban legends, conspiracy theories and diffuse networks of information that would become such a critical part of the 90s slasher film, where these motif produced a new source of horror that mitigated against the tendency to ironise and neutralise the terrors of the past. Like most 90s films, Halloween VI makes you feel as if you’ve been jettisoned on the edge of a vast network of information, in a space where the network itself partly functions as a source of dread, but so too do the possibility of experiences and information that deny the network’s purview. Against that backdrop, motifs and tableaux start to emerge that closely parallel Scream in particular, whether it’s the series of phone calls that take place with shadowy figures in the background, or the escalating suspicion around who actually lies behind the mask of the Man in Black, and whether or not they’re a character that we have already met.
Between that new stylistic approach, and the fragmented nature of the final product, a sense of virtual reality emerges that makes Halloween VI quite similar to a video game in the abruptness with which it moves from one exotic space to the next. Even John Carpenter’s musical theme now sounds like a gaming score, underlying a series of sequences in which characters appear to move from one “level” to the next, rather than developing in any conventional or realistic way. This sense of the film being arranged as a hierarchy of different levels also works well to contour the cult that brings Myers into the world, meaning that its arcane rituals always feel present, even if we only glimpse them at the beginning and end of the film. What we do discover is that Myers sprang from a Druid-like cult that worship the Runic symbol of the Thorn, which also appears in the sky whenever Myers embarks upon his annual killing sprees. As a result, Myers is more of a supernatural entity here than in any of the other films, while his violent acts are more ritualistic and sacrificial as well, typically executed in a much more ceremonial and deliberate way, and nearly always centred on impaling his victims against a wall or vertical surface in a reflection of the cultic ceremony that opens the film. Concomitantly, and leading on from the end of Halloween V, the Myers house is also imbued with a much more supernatural potentiality, and is often presented as a cult site in itself, and an object of scrutiny, whether it’s from the Druids themselves, the obsessive fan who lives across the road and studies it through his binoculars each night, or the new family who moves into it.
In that respect, Halloween: Resurrection, which focuses on teenagers who shoot a internet show in the Myers house, plays more as a direct sequel to Halloween VI than to Halloween H20, despite the presence of Jamie Lee Curtis in both of the later two films. In fact, you can almost see the inspiration for Halloween: Resurrection here, in a brief subplot featuring an obnoxious radio shock jock from out of town who plans to record his latest broadcast in the Myers household, only for Myers to get to him before he can cross the threshold. As moments like that attest, the Myers house starts to take on much of the burden of mediating suburbia that Myers adopted during the previous two films, as does the baby that plays a pivotal role in the later act of the film. What, exactly, this baby means is a bit unclear in the cut of the film as it now stands, but it plays, figuratively, as a continuation of the childlike persona that Myers adopted at the end of the fifth film, even as it absorbs the supernatural import of this sixth film in ways that gradually displace Myers himself from the point of focus. Between this baby and the Myers house, then, a new kind of mediating space balloons out to articulate and accommodate the perverse demands of suburbia, culminating with one of the most extraordinary – and incoherent – sequences in the franchise to date.
This concluding sequence ostensibly follows the small group of remaining characters, headed by Loomis, as they recover this baby from Myers, but it quickly loses any real sense of narrative cohesion and instead subsists on action, suspense and, above all, physical space, resulting in a pastiche of the occult cinematic 90s that unfolds in a zone somewhere between a hospital, a prison, and a corporate cult headquarters. Without a doubt, it’s the most spatially flamboyant and vibrant addition to the franchise since the third film, and feels like just as much of a departure from the main Halloween narrative, as Myers’ mask simply becomes a provisional holding-point for charting out and thinking through a new kind of spatial sensibility that would be unthinkable in a more mainstream film, or even in a more cohesive and coherent horror sequel. Moving from hyperactive montage sequences, to strobe-lit action, to long, fluid tracking shots, to weird moments of eerie stillness, this concluding act combines the post-continuous sensibilities of Michael Bay, music video and digital gaming to envisage something like the spatial horizon of analog cinema, offering up an exhaustion of physical space that plays as an effort to articulate and aestheticise hyperspace as the true subject matter of 90s slasher horror. While it might start in the world of Halloween V, then, this sixth film is truly in the realm of Hallowen H20, by the time it concludes, making for the most transitional, and ambitious, sequel in the entire franchise, even if those ambitions aren’t quite met or fully articulated by the film as it currently stands.