Season of the Mask 3: Moustapha goes back to basics

Peek-a-Boo! I see YOU!Although it took five years before the next Halloween film was produced, one gets a sense executive producer Moustapha Akkad was very patiently working through negotiations during those years to buy back the film rights to his most successful property - the first film that became the most successful independent film at that time.

In letting producer Dino De Laurentiis and Universal take over the franchise, Akkad probably felt like a disappointed parent; seeing a fellow colleague (Dino) as well as the creators (kids John Carpenter and Debra Hill) bungle a formula that worked so well in the first and argubaly the second film. Seen in a different view, he may have felt it was also a matter of professional survival.

Akkad's first feature films as director were the epics Lion of the Desert (1980), and The Message (1976) - two big budget, star-studded desert epics that were designed to capture the spirit and showmanship of David Lean's Lawrence of Arabia, but with an Arabian twist.

Even though each film has its admirers (Message has evolved from a work of alleged blasphemy to a kind of spiritual historical classic for some), they failed to earn the large-and-fast dollars, and maintain an ongoing legacy. For all the grand production values that went into his desert diptych, it was a low-budget slasher/thriller that put Akkad on the map, and perhaps eased some of the (financial) pain lingering from his epics.

Akkad's own efforts to reclaim the franchise have been successful - the movies are still being churned out - but as the formula of a vengeful boy further morphs into an unstoppable, demonic force, one realizes it's impossible to capture the simplicity and narrative economy of the first.

Carpenter and Hill's original script has its share of teens doomed to die, but Hill's characterizations of the teen girls (mostly played by tall twentysomethings) are more believable than the more over-sexed equivalents in Halloween Part 4 (1988) and Part 5 (1989).

The decision to make the heroine of the new stream a 10 year old child was maybe kind of brilliant; who wouldn't cheer for a child being horrifically stalked by a monster? The small bits of character backstory were enough to make little Jamie (Danielle Harris) compelling, but transplant a grown adult into the same scenario, and the effect is more generic: that cliched adult/teen achetype, seen in countless slashers.

The resilience and limited potential of the Halloween formula perhaps means each film is more of a social and filmic time capsule of the genre. Parts 4 and 5, while considered slashers, are very eighties in their look, editorial style, and portrayal of teens. More overt of the era are the bad source tunes sung by mostly nonames in the soundtrack mix, which the producers had hoped would sell the film's album, or at least make it more pallatble to the youth market.

As filmmakers, Carpenter and Hill were more about maintaining a chilly atmosphere, whereas Akkad always had his eye on a more colourful presentation of subsequent films towards a youth audience. Part 1 may have been intended as a youth product, but it's maintained far more crossover appeal than much of the sequels (the exceptions perhaps being Halloween H20, with the return of Laurie Strode/Jamie Lee Curtis, and Rob Zombie's 2007 re-imagining).

So where does that leave the franchise? Since we're still moving through the series, in terms of Parts 4 and 5, it's headed towards increasing silliness. Just as Hellraiser 4 (aka Bloodline) gave us Pinhead-in-space, Halloween Part 5 was lightly peppered with Druidic mythology, setting up Part 6 as the strangest of the lot.

Ergo, uploaded are reviews of Part 4: The Return of Michael Myers, and Part 5 from Anchor Bay / Starz, to be followed by, yes, Part 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, and more. (Eventually we'll also cover Akkad's desert epics, too, which were given deluxe releases by the label not long ago.)



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