Wednesday, October 12, 2022

The Heart of Halloween

With Halloween Ends opening this week, Jamie Lee Curtis is set to take her final bow as Laurie Strode. After the wet fart of a death that Laurie suffered in 2002's Halloween: Resurrection, it's been gratifying to see her allowed to craft a more fitting goodbye to the most iconic Final Girl of them all. 

That said, it always slightly chafes me when Curtis is cited as being the heart of Halloween. No disrespect to Curtis but for me, the true heart of Halloween was Donald Pleasence. I love the character of Laurie, I appreciate how Curtis has embodied her over the years but Pleasence as Dr. Loomis was the true stamp of authenticity when it came to Halloween for years and years and the series has never been the same since he passed. 

From the start, Loomis was Michael's hype man. He's the guy who ran the marketing machine for Michael's arrival, coming into town and telling anyone who would listen that Evil was coming ("Death has come to your little town, Sheriff!"). On his own, Michael Myers is kind of whatever. By design he's a bit of a blank slate. It was Loomis describing Michael in the most dramatic terms, as having "the blackest eyes...the devil's eyes," referring to him as "it," as "purely and simply...evil," and setting expectations high for his capacity for violence that elevated Michael into something more than just a dime a dozen thug with a knife. 

There have been a lot of masked maniacs in horror, but Michael Myers is the only one that had Loomis blowing the wind in his sails. Even though in the new trilogy, Laurie kind of adopted the Loomis role when it came to Michael, it just wasn't the same. The Loomis thing didn't come naturally to her. It wasn't even the same when Rob Zombie cast Malcolm McDowell as Loomis, even though on the surface that seemed to be an ideal casting choice. Pleasence brought a brand of eccentricity to Loomis that was unique to him. No one else could impatiently snap at fools in the same satisfying way ("It's your funeral!"). 

Playing Loomis was obviously not challenging work for Pleasence but he always brought his full conviction to it. Over the course of the five Halloween's he was in, watching Pleasence blow up at the various clueless cops, bureaucrats and administrators who didn't comprehend what they were dealing with, no matter how much Loomis explained it to them, was an essential component of the Halloween experience. From one Halloween to another, the routine never changed for Loomis.

Thankfully, no one involved in the sequels ever felt obliged to give Loomis a backstory or tried to fill in the details of his life. You got the vibe that no one in Haddonfield ever bumped into this guy just doing his grocery shopping, you know? He wasn't anybody's neighbor. He was just this driven dude who would come around once a year, always wearing the same set of clothes, and picking up right where he left off. As obsessed with Michael as Laurie might be, she still managed to have a family at least, even if it was a dysfunctional one. You never got that sense with Loomis. You never got any hint of a personal life. It's almost like he just lived for Halloween night, every bit as dormant the rest of the year as Michael himself was.  

As cool as it is that Curtis has been able to close the book on Laurie Strode on her own terms, I just wish that Pleasence had been able to do the same. I look at all the fanfare lauded on Curtis and as deserved as it is, it's still a bummer to me that Pleasence never received the same kind of adulation during his lifetime for his contributions to the series. Especially as unlike Curtis, he never left it. Not to begrudge Curtis leaving Halloween behind to pursue superstardom but, character actor that he was, Pleasence kept plugging away as Loomis during those years when it wasn't so fashionable to be in Halloween sequels. Every time out, though, he gave it all he had and the only thing that stopped him from doing more was dying.   

Given Pleasence's precarious health when it came time to film The Curse of Michael Myers, more care should have been put into making sure that movie could serve as a fitting finale for Loomis, if it were to sadly come to that. It's galling that neither the theatrical release or the Producer's Cut of Curse were able to give the character a dignified exit. Whatever intentions the writer had when they wrote the script, once it was clear what condition Pleasence was in, some adjustments should have been made to make sure they weren't pinning a cliffhanger on a frail old man. I don't know if I'd call it a shitty move on the part of the people behind Curse to not take those kind of precautionary measures but it definitely wasn't smart. 

Everyone knows that post Halloween Ends, Michael Myers will be back to slash his way through Haddonfield at some point (I'd place my bets on the 50th anniversary year of 2028). I just hope whatever form Halloween takes in its next incarnation that they try to get a new Loomis in there that can at least come a little closer to being what Pleasence was. Some might say that Curtis will be hard to replace going forward and that they can't imagine Halloween without Laurie but I say Halloween fans already know the series carried on just fine for years without her. Pleasence was the one element that provided a sense of consistency throughout the original timeline and I still say that his absence continues to be felt more profoundly than Curtis' was or will be. So was Donald Pleasence really the heart of Halloween

Yes, as a matter of fact...he was. 

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