Donald Pleasence

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995, Joe Chappelle)

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers doesn’t even run ninety minutes and gets boring fast; the last twenty minutes are completely mind-numbing. Nothing makes sense, characters act without motive, cults cult without purpose, it just goes on and on. At least Donald Pleasence is lucky enough to get knocked out for a bunch of it.

Pleasence isn’t in Curse very much. The scenes he does get are usually silly, sort of half expository, half bridging scenes to keep things moving. He has no narrative of his own, which is fine. He’s so uninvolved with the film’s events he shouldn’t have one. Of course, no one gets their own narrative in Curse. At least, nothing approaching a completed one.

Lead Paul Rudd doesn’t. His character survived the first Halloween as a kid, which makes him early-to-mid-twenties. He lives in a boarding house and obsesses over Michael Myers while peeping on new neighbor Marianne Hagan across the street. She’s a single mom moved back in with her family–mom Kim Darby, dad Bradford English, brother Keith Bogart. Devin Gardner plays Hagan’s kid.

So Hagan and Rudd don’t show up for about twenty minutes, maybe a little more–though Rudd does narrate the opening titles, which are set over J.C. Brandy giving birth and then running from Michael and a cult. From a basement. Director Chappelle likes his basements. He likes to poorly direct scenes in them; cinematographer Billy Dickson lights these basement scenes poorly, like everything he lights in the movie. It’s all poorly lighted. Dickson and Chapelle shoot their night exteriors with a lot of blue light. Bright blue light.

Back to Brandy. She’s from the last couple movies but it was a different actress. The movie introduces her in the Rudd voiceover during the titles and there’s no time spent establishing her character. Even though her escape subplot goes on forever, it’s filler. And badly directed. Chappelle badly directs everything in Curse. The movie doesn’t just not having anything to recommend it, it has nil positive elements.

Chappelle’s direction? Bad. Daniel Farrands’s script? Bad. Dickson’s photography? Bad. Randy Bricker’s editing? Bad. Alan Howarth’s music? So bad.

And none of the actors are any good. Once Rudd and Hagan take over the movie, it’s all about Rudd finding Brandy’s baby and then trying to find Pleasence. Meanwhile Hagan’s got a subplot about… nothing? She’s got a couple scenes showing she’s suffering–dad English is physically and mentally abusive, Gardner’s a weird kid–but no subplot. On one hand, it’s good Rudd and Hagan don’t have a romance subplot, but it’s also bad because it’d be so godawful it might be fun to watch.

Rudd’s really bad. Hagan’s better. Darby’s okay. English is bad. Bogart is bad. Mariah O’Brien–as Bogart’s girlfriend–she’s bad. She’s got this subplot about bringing Halloween back to the town. There’s a festival, which doesn’t appear to have actually been staged because Chappelle’s terrible at establishing shots. He, cinematographer Dickson, and editor Bricker are really terrible at tying scenes shot in different locations together. Sure, the plotting is herks and jerks along, but Bricker has no rhythm. There’ll be a bad establishing shot, then a second–longer–bad establishing shot, just on a first unit location. Curse is a visual mess.

Leo Geter is awful as a shock jock who figures in, but not enough.

Mitchell Ryan is in it a few times as Pleasence’s old boss, who wants to hire him back even before Michael Myers returns. Even though Pleasence is clearly not in shape for a nine-to-five.

The jump scares are all cheap, usually red herrings, usually with terrible Howarth music accompanying. But mostly there’s gore instead of scares. But the gore is often insert shots; obvious insert shots. Like Chappelle has something to prove. He can keep finding ways to make the move worse, even as every other “creative” impulse runs out.

Curse is bad. And it goes on too long to be amusing at all in its badness.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Chappelle; screenplay by Daniel Farrands, based on characters created by Debra Hill and John Carpenter; director of photography, Billy Dickson; edited by Randy Bricker; music by Alan Howarth; production designer, Bryan Ryman; produced by Paul Freeman; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Paul Rudd (Tommy Doyle), Marianne Hagan (Kara Strode), Mitchell Ryan (Dr. Terence Wynn), Devin Gardner (Danny Strode), Kim Darby (Debra Strode), Bradford English (John Strode), Keith Bogart (Tim Strode), Mariah O’Brien (Beth), Leo Geter (Barry Simms) and J.C. Brandy (Jamie Lloyd Carruthers).


Halloween II (1981, Rick Rosenthal)

Halloween II is not always a crappy sequel set in a closed setting without any sympathetic characters. It is a crappy sequel set in a closed setting without any sympathetic characters. But it wasn’t always.

Even though it gets off to a rocky start–the recap of the first movie is too abbreviated for unfamiliar viewers and superfluous for familiar ones, not to mention director Rosenthal clearly unable to reign in Donald Pleasence’s enthusiasm for histrionics–the first twenty-five minutes has potential.

There’s a lot to blame Rosenthal for with Halloween II. His inability to direct actors or even to compose shots of actors is a big one. He doesn’t have a sense for it; he additionally wastes Dean Cundey’s cinematography skills for the majority of the film, which is one of the film’s greater sins. But there are a handful of decent moments in Halloween II and even a couple good ones. And lots of bad ones with just too many problematic pieces, but not mishandled entirely.

But Rosenthal’s not entirely responsible. Writers and producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill, instead of embracing a bigger budget studio sequel to their indie horror sensation (hyperbolic enough?)–they try to undermine it at every step. That first half hour has potential because you can see Hill and Carpenter thinking about things, thinking about the implications of the first film. In the second two-thirds (at ninety minutes and change, the film almost perfectly splits into three sections), after creating a goofy subplot to give Jamie Lee Curtis something to do besides play unconscious, they stop. They’ve moved into their new story, that crappy one in the closed setting without sympathetic characters. Halloween II is shockingly inept at its characterization.

As such, it’s hard for the supporting cast to give good performances. Gloria Gifford is fantastic. Lance Guest isn’t. Hunter von Leer is simultaneously terrible, miscast and likable. Some of Leo Rossi’s performance is similar. And Pleasence is a complete ham. He’s got maybe one decent moment. Rosenthal just can’t direct him at all.

Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s score is too loud, too thoughtless. The same can be said for the editing.

It’s a bad film but has enough qualities to prove it shouldn’t have been.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rick Rosenthal; written and produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Skip Schoolnik; music by Carpenter and Alan Howarth; production designer, J. Michael Riva; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Leigh Brackett), Jeffrey Kramer (Graham), Lance Guest (Jimmy Lloyd), Pamela Susan Shoop (Karen Bailey), Hunter von Leer (Deputy Gary Hunt), Leo Rossi (Budd), Gloria Gifford (Mrs. Alves), Tawny Moyer (Nurse Jill Franco), Ana Alicia (Janet Marshall), Ford Rainey (Dr. Frederick Mixter), Cliff Emmich (Mr. Garrett) and Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers).


THX 1138 (1971, George Lucas)

Director Lucas makes one attempt at audience accessibility in THX 1138. It’s actually the first thing he does–he shows a clip from an old Flash Gordon serial to let the audience know the story is about the future. The clip also lets the audience know the future isn’t going to be happy.

And once he’s made that concession, he stops being accessible at all. There are no explanations in the film, no foreshadowing, no acknowledgement of the characters’ realizations, Lucas doesn’t even introduce his leads in an easy fashion. Lucas instead just quickly visually familiarizes the audience with the leads–Robert Duvall, Maggie McOmie, Donald Pleasence–before focusing in on Duvall amid the first action confusion.

Lucas’s secret weapon in THX 1138 is co-writer and sound designer Walter Murch. While the film definitely has distinctive visuals right off, the sound is even more important to setting the film’s tone. Lucas and Murch confuse the viewer at the same time they confuse Duvall–it’s the only way to put the viewer on anything near a similar level. Later on, when Pleasence is exploring his future world for the first time (and the viewer’s), he stops and gives up, not wanting to know. Only then does his introspection reveal anything to the viewer about the future world.

Except there’s no explanation of the terminology, which leaves the viewer again removed.

The film’s biggest problem is its length–it’s just too short to submerge the viewer–but it’s still a masterfully produced film. Great photography and editing too.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Edited and directed by George Lucas; screenplay by Lucas and Walter Murch, based on a story by Lucas; directors of photography, Albert Kihn and David Myers; music by Lalo Schifrin; produced by Larry Sturhahn; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Duvall (THX), Donald Pleasence (SEN), Don Pedro Colley (SRT), Maggie McOmie (LUH), Ian Wolfe (PTO), Marshall Efron (TWA), Sid Haig (NCH), John Pearce (DWY) and James Wheaton (OMM).


The Great Escape (1963, John Sturges)

While The Great Escape runs nearly three hours, director Sturges and screenwriters James Clavell and W.R. Burnett never let it feel too long. Part of the quick pace comes from the first half hour being told in something like real time and another big part of it is the aftermath of the escape taking up the last hour. So for ninety minutes, the audience is getting to know and like the characters. It gives the escape aftermath a breakneck pace, even though Sturges doesn't do much different.

The Elmer Bernstein score also plays a large part. It's frequently upbeat and congratulatory to the characters (and sometimes the audience), but Bernstein also bakes in the possibility of tragedy. The music can go from light to dark in a second and the film trains the audience to prepare for such moves.

Also contributing to the film's relative brevity is how the script pairs characters up. Usually it's a strong personage with a weaker one, but the actors do such a good job–and Sturges often sticks with scenes of characters' frailties until they're uncomfortable–the pairings are never hollow. Even Steve McQueen, who gets a huge solo set piece at the end, starts off with a sidekick or two.

Most of the acting is spectacular. Richard Attenborough might give the best performance; him or James Donald. They both have the most responsibility and it clearly weighs on them. But James Garner, McQueen, Donald Pleasence, Gordon Jackson, Hannes Messemer–also all excellent.

It's an outstanding picture.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by John Sturges; screenplay by James Clavell and W.R. Burnett, based on the book by Paul Brickhill; director of photography, Daniel L. Fapp; edited by Ferris Webster; music by Elmer Bernstein; released by United Artists.

Starring Steve McQueen (Hilts), James Garner (Hendley), Richard Attenborough (Bartlett), James Donald (Ramsey), Charles Bronson (Danny), Donald Pleasence (Blythe), James Coburn (Sedgwick), Hannes Messemer (Von Luger), David McCallum (Ashley-Pitt), Gordon Jackson (MacDonald), John Leyton (Willie), Angus Lennie (Ives), Nigel Stock (Cavendish), Jud Taylor (Goff) and Robert Graf (Werner).


The Passover Plot (1976, Michael Campus)

For the first few scenes, Alex North definitely composes The Passover Plot like a big Biblical epic of the fifties. It’s not, of course, and not just because Plot’s from the seventies. It’s cheap and director Campus uses that reduced budget interestingly. Maybe not well, but definitely interestingly. Actors get close-ups when they don’t need them, there aren’t any establishing shots for scene transitions (not right away anyway) and there’s no expository dialogue. The only frames of reference for the viewer are the opening and closing text scrawls. Plot feels like a low budget, subversive seventies movie, which is actually an exact description.

It just happens to be about Jesus.

Or Yeshua. I’m not sure if they went with Yeshua for accuracy or to be less controversial. Even though the film–with Plot right there in the title–is about how Yeshua (played by Zalman King) decides to fake his resurrection, he’s still really cares about people. It’s like if Jesus wasn’t magic and was just a good guy.

King’s effective, but not exactly good. There isn’t a lot of room to act in Plot, not with Campus’s strange choices regarding pacing and then there’s the script. It jumps all over the place and never gives the viewer a comfortable grounding.

Harry Andrews is a lot of fun, chewing away at the scenery, and Donald Pleasence is pretty good.

For what the filmmakers attempt, Plot’s a moderate success.

Except Adam Greenberg’s photography; he lights it too dark.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Michael Campus; screenplay by Millard Cohan and Patricia Louisianna Knop, inspired by the book by Hugh J. Schonfield; director of photography, Adam Greenberg; edited by Dov Hoenig; music by Alex North; produced by Wolf Schmidt; released by Atlas Film.

Starring Harry Andrews (Yohanan the Baptist), Hugh Griffith (Caiaphas), Zalman King (Yeshua), Donald Pleasence (Pontius Pilate), Scott Wilson (Judah), Daniel Ades (Andros), Michael Baseleon (Mattai), Lewis Van Bergen (Yoram), William Paul Burns (Shimon), Dan Hedaya (Yaocov), Helena Kallianiotes (Visionary Woman), Kevin O’Connor (Irijah), Robert Walker Jr. (Bar Talmi) and William Watson (Roman Captain).


Halloween (1978, John Carpenter), the television version

The television version of Halloween has an interesting story–the original film ran so short, when the network wanted to run it on TV, there wasn’t enough film after they cut out the violence. Carpenter was producing Halloween II at the time so he came back and filmed some more scenes to pad it out.

Most of these scenes are with Donald Pleasence, which seriously throws the film off-balance. Besides the opening, Pleasence disappears for long stretches while Carpenter establishes Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes and P.J. Soles. With so much more Pleasence at the beginning of the picture, one notices his absence more. He ought to be around, given his lengthy presence at the beginning.

The added scenes are also done with the sequel in mind, which means the film no longer makes sense if one has seen the second one and how the new scenes fit. However, during the final sequence everything happens at such an insistent pace it’s hard to dwell on the plot holes.

I’ve seen the television version a couple times and it always seemed like a lesser work, even though it does give Kyes (Halloween‘s unsung comedic star) another scene. This time’s no different.

This viewing must be my seventh or eighth of Halloween and I just now noticed the Psycho reference at the open and how Dean Cundey’s subjective camerawork does everything for the film’s mood.

In other words, awkwardly added scenes or not, Halloween‘s always got more to offer.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Tommy Lee Wallace and Charles Bornstein; music by Carpenter; production designer, Wallace; produced by Hill; released by Compass International Pictures.

Starring Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Nancy Kyes (Annie Brackett), P.J. Soles (Lynda van der Klok), Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Leigh Brackett), Kyle Richards (Lindsey Wallace), Brian Andrews (Tommy Doyle), John Michael Graham (Bob Simms), Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers), Arthur Malet (Graveyard Keeper), Mickey Yablans (Richie), Brent Le Page (Lonnie Elamb), Adam Hollander (Keith), Robert Phalen (Dr. Terence Wynn), Tony Moran (Michael Myers, age 23), Will Sandin (Michael Myers, age 6), Sandy Johnson (Judith Margaret Myers), David Kyle (Judith’s Boyfriend), Peter Griffith (Morgan Strode) and Nick Castle (The Shape).


Halloween 5 (1989, Dominique Othenin-Girard)

Halloween 5 shouldn’t be mind-numbingly boring. There’s no chance something called Halloween 5 is going to be smart, so I was expecting mind-numbing stupidity… but not boredom.

The movie opens with a recap of the previous entry, with some changes to the ending to keep Michael Myers alive (he escapes in a manner straight out of an old Universal monster movie) and to make his nine year-old niece, Danielle Harris, retain sympathy.

Of course, she’s been rendered mute, which helps Harris’s acting quite a bit.

Halloween 5 has some really bad acting. It’s dumb and all, but there’s just some godawful acting. Ellie Cornell, returning from the last one too (where she was bad), shines in comparison. But director Othenin-Girard underuses any of the more capable (and capable is a stretch) actors and gives more attention to people like Wendy Foxworth, who’s atrocious.

Poor Beau Starr doesn’t have enough of a presence either, with the film promising him better screen time and then failing to deliver.

As for the always present Donald Pleasence? Halloween 5 is, apparently, the one where he’s willing to burn his acting legacy. It’s hard to say what’s more unbelievable… a hermit nursing Michael Myers to health or Pleasence getting away with roughing up Harris every chance he gets.

Composition-wise, Othenin-Girard could be worse. Alan Howarth’s score has its moments too.

But Halloween 5 can’t overcome its stupidity or its repetitiveness. Every “homage” is lame and everything original is horrendous.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard; screenplay by Michael Jocobs, Othenin-Girard and Shem Bitterman, based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Robert Draper; edited by Jerry Brady and Charles Tetoni; music by Alan Howarth; production designer, Brenton Swift; produced by Ramsey Thomas; released by Galaxy International Releasing.

Starring Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Danielle Harris (Jamie Lloyd), Ellie Cornell (Rachel Carruthers), Beau Starr (Sheriff Ben Meeker), Jeffrey Landman (Billy Hill), Tamara Glynn (Samantha Thomas), Jonathan Chapin (Mikey), Matthew Walker (Spitz) and Wendy Foxworth (Tina Williams).


Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995, Joe Chappelle), the producer’s cut

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers spends about twenty minutes resolving the previous movie in the series and, gingerly, setting up the characters for this one. Chappelle sets these events to a radio talk show–Curse screams early nineties–but there is an attempt to make it feel “real.” The shock jock is a ludicrously bad Howard Stern imitation.

When the movie does actually start, the setup isn’t terrible. It even reminds of the unproduced John Carpenter treatment about a town recovering from a masked spree killer. Sadly, Chappelle’s direction is laughable, the script’s terrible and the acting is mostly atrocious. Somehow Kim Darby manages to maintain some dignity.

Leading lady Marianne Hagan isn’t particularly believable as a young mother, but she’s not bad. The kid playing her son, Devin Gardner, is terrible. So’s Bradford English as Hagan’s abusive father. And Paul Rudd (in his first film)? He’s hilarious. If he were in it more, Curse might be worthwhile as comedy.

Poor Donald Pleasence looks exhausted; he died soon after production finished. Given he’s acting opposite Mitch Ryan (who gives English a run for the worst performance prize), he doesn’t come off too bad. Maybe because Pleasence doesn’t really need directing, which Chappelle’s incapable of providing anyway.

Daniel Farrands’s script is astoundingly stupid–it’s full of cults, basement lairs, eugenics and so on. Curse never has a chance; it blissfully ignores the solid town recovering concept.

Worst of all (comparatively), Alan Howarth’s score is terrible.

I’ll avoid a cursed pun.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Chappelle; screenplay by Daniel Farrands, based on characters created by Debra Hill and John Carpenter; director of photography, Billy Dickson; edited by Randy Bricker; music by Alan Howarth; production designer, Bryan Ryman; produced by Paul Freeman; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Paul Rudd (Tommy Doyle), Marianne Hagan (Kara Strode), Mitch Ryan (Dr. Terence Wynn), Devin Gardner (Danny Strode), Kim Darby (Debra Strode), Bradford English (John Strode), Keith Bogart (Tim Strode), Mariah O’Brien (Beth), Leo Geter (Barry Simms) and J.C. Brandy (Jamie Lloyd Carruthers).


Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988, Dwight H. Little)

While still bad, Halloween 4 is better than I ever expected. It’s barely ninety minutes and forty or so minutes are of people in crisis, which passes the time fairly well.

It takes place in an interesting version of the original film’s town, where the moon (even when it isn’t full) is apparently so bright, it can light entire blocks and buildings. One of the plot points is the power being out, yet cinematographer Peter Lyons Collister always manages to locate a directional source.

Oh, wait, maybe Collister is just incompetent. That explanation makes more sense. Especially considering how almost every night shot is flooded with bright blue light.

The film’s a strange mix of character actors and ingenues, with the character actors the only reasonable actors. Donald Pleasence starts trashing his career legacy, but he’s not terrible. Beau Starr’s quite good.

As for the ingenues, they’re uniformly awful. Empirically speaking, director Little appears to have told Danielle Harris (the child in distress) to look like she’s holding in a fart. Her performance is terrible, though probably better than Ellie Cornell as her protector. Cornell lacks any affect whatsoever.

Little is an inept director, but not wholly incompetent. The real fault for Halloween 4 lies with writer Alan B. McElroy. McElroy can’t just not write dialogue, he can’t plot either. He also plagiarizes King Kong Lives‘s rednecks with shotguns subplot.

And then Little ruins McElroy’s one good scene.

It’s awful, but–again, shockingly–Halloween 4 could be much worse.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Dwight H. Little; screenplay by Alan B. McElroy, based on a story by Danny Lipsius, Larry Rattner, Benjamin Ruffner and McElroy and characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Peter Lyons Collister; edited by Curtiss Clayton; music by Alan Howarth; produced by Paul Freeman; released by Galaxy International Releasing.

Starring Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Ellie Cornell (Rachel Carruthers), Danielle Harris (Jamie Lloyd), George P. Wilbur (Michael Myers), Michael Pataki (Dr. Hoffman), Beau Starr (Sheriff Ben Meeker), Kathleen Kinmont (Kelly Meeker), Sasha Jenson (Brady) and Gene Ross (Earl).


Fantastic Voyage (1966, Richard Fleischer)

Among Fantastic Voyage‘s many problems, the two salient ones are the general lack of tension and the utter lack of wonderment. Fleischer is responsible for both, though maybe not so much the first. The story can’t really be tense because there’s very little at stake. The film’s principal characters–reduced in size to perform brain surgery from inside the brain–have a time limit of sixty minutes before they automatically enlarge.

And the guy with the brain injury isn’t a character, he’s just some scientist who picked the U.S. over the Reds. It’s not like anyone really cares about him.

As for the lack of wonderment, Fleischer is hampered with old special effects, but plenty of old movies have lots of wonderment. He clearly just doesn’t get it.

There are two or three effective sequences in Fantastic Voyage, which can’t make up for the lame script or Raquel Welch’s insufferable performance. She doesn’t even talk her first ten minutes in the film and she’s clearly terrible. Fleischer and the screenwriters do manage to contrive a way to get her into a wetsuit, of course. Oddly, it’s for one of those effective sequences–Fleischer’s excellent with three dimensions.

When the film opens with Stephen Boyd and Edmond O’Brien, the two actors are so strong together, it seems like Voyage will be all right. Sadly, it’s not.

Boyd’s good, O’Brien’s good, so is Arthur O’Connell. Arthur Kennedy has good moments, Donald Pleasence has less.

It’s a tedious film. Great opening titles though.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Fleischer; screenplay by Harry Kleiner, based on an adaptation by David Duncan and a story by Otto Klement and Jerome Bixby; director of photography, Ernest Laszlo; edited by William B. Murphy; music by Leonard Rosenman; produced by Saul David; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Stephen Boyd (Grant), Raquel Welch (Cora), Edmond O’Brien (General Carter), Donald Pleasence (Dr. Michaels), Arthur O’Connell (Col. Donald Reid), William Redfield (Capt. Bill Owens), Arthur Kennedy (Dr. Duval) and Jean Del Val (Jan Benes).


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