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January 3, 2011

Midnight Top Five - The "What If Christopher Lee Starred in Halloween?" Edition

Y'all know I love Halloween by now, even if I've never reviewed it here.  To be fair, asking me to review Halloween would be like asking Russell Brand to review Katy Perry (+1 pop culture cred for me knowing who that is!).  It'd be wrapped up in two words: "Ummmm...Duh."

You also know my feelings about Christopher Lee. (If not: I'm for him.) And you just might know that Christopher Lee, star of 266 different films/TV shows, states that his greatest regret as an actor is turning down the role of Dr. Samuel Loomis in...Halloween.  Full circle, I know.

So, while I could wonder about what Halloween would have been like with Peter Cushing as Loomis (he was offered the role too) or with Anne Lockhart in Jamie Lee Curtis' role or with Dennis Quaid playing the boyfriend of his then real-life girlfriend P.J. Soles' Lynda....I'm gonna use this Midnight Top Five to ponder what might have happened if Christopher Lee had starred in the ultimate slasher film.


(All speculations below are mine and totally mine, and are based on other unfounded things I've seen once or twice on the internet.)
If Christopher Lee stars in Halloween - What happens to Christopher Lee?

By all accounts, it doesn't seem like this is a huge loss for Lee.  He had five other roles in 1978, most notably Return from Witch Mountain, Circle of Iron, and a TV remake of How the West Was Won.  (SHAMELESS PLUG: That was also the year in which Christopher Lee hosted Saturday Night Live.)  But if there was a time in the man's busy career that was a little short on iconic roles, it was the late '70s through early '80s.  It's quite possible that an appearance in Halloween would have bridged the gap between his late success in the Lord of the Rings/Fake Star Wars trilogies and Tim Burton films.  Alas, he's left with high points of the '80s like Howling II and The Return of Captain Invincible.
If Christopher Lee stars in Halloween - What happens to Donald Pleasence?

While I've seen plenty of films in which he starred (nearly as busy as Lee, Pleasence appeared in 216 roles), it is totally impossible for me to see Donald Pleasence and not IMMEDIATELY think Dr. Samuel Loomis.  Aside from Halloween, what other films come to The Mike's mind first when he thinks of Pleasence? They're either a) directed by John Carpenter, or b) Halloween sequels.

Let's say that Lee stars in Halloween, and thus Pleasence never works with Carpenter or Michael Myers...what's his legacy to genre fans?  Is he remembered as a Bond villain in You Only Live Twice?  In supporting roles in films like THX1138, John Badham's Dracula, or Dario Argento's Phenomena?  Do we have to go all the way back to Fantastic Voyage?  I just don't know...and it bothers me.
If Christopher Lee stars in Halloween - What happens to the Halloween series?

More assumptions are needed this time around.  Let's assume that the change at the top doesn't affect the film's reception, and the slasher craze begins as it did in reality.  Let's assume that the producers decide to go the route they did with Halloween sequels.  Does Christopher Lee star in them, too?

It's been told that Lee got pretty distraught by the time he had played Hammer's Dracula the sixth and final time, and I've always assumed that there were some resentments from Lee in regard to being part of a series - and to being part of the horror genre.  Pleasence played Loomis five times over 18 years, would Lee (whose Drac series stretched across 16 years) have wanted to do the same thing?  Or, would the Halloween series have lost its lead by the time they wanted to make the 4th or 5th film?  Nobody knows what kind of commitment Lee would have had to the series, but his rumored distaste for the Dracula series' trajectory leads me to think he might not have wanted another franchise.

(Personally, I don't think we'd lose much if there hadn't been 11 Halloween films, but that's a different story for a different day...)
If Christopher Lee Starred in Halloween - What happens to John Carpenter?

OK, this is more crazy speculation.  I already warned you, just roll with it.

One of the trivia facts I've heard about Halloween is that John Carpenter was extremely intimidated on set by Donald Pleasence.  The story, as I like to believe it, says that Pleasence was by far the oldest person on set - as well as a favorite actor of Carpenter's - and thus the generational gap gave the director some pause.  However, Pleasence turned out pretty chill, and the two worked together well.

So, what if Lee had been the star?  He's taller, he's louder, and he was freakin' Dracula.  What if Carpenter cast him, was intimidated by him...and somehow, things didn't work right and Halloween failed to reach its current status?  What would have become of him after it?  Would The Fog have happened?  Would Escape from New York or The Thing have happened?  Would we have ever gotten to our current state where we long for one more great film from a man who created an unmatched string of genre hits from 1976-1988?  Only The Shadow knows....
Finally - If Christopher Lee starred in Halloween - WHAT HAPPENS TO HALLOWEEN?

And, the big question.  What would happen if the planets had realigned and Halloween was made starring Christopher Lee instead of Donald Pleasence?

My first thought when this question came to me was that I couldn't think of two actors who seemed to be on such opposite ends of the spectrum of horror goodness.  I've always looked at the role of Loomis, as played by Pleasence, as a proper, quiet, average guy who is pushed to extremes by his job.  I think of the "I met him fifteen years ago..." speech as his defining moment, and I LOVE how Pleasence delivers that speech in his own way.  I think of the moment of levity in which Loomis has to scare little Lonnie Elam away from the Myers house, and I think of Pleasence's sly smile from the moment when he realizes he had fun scaring children and well...I just don't know what it would look like coming from Christopher Lee.  Does that scene become a Dracula joke if Lee is involved, or could it play out the same way?

With Lee in the lead, there's no doubt that Loomis would become a more intimidating force.  Heck, Pleasence stood 5'6" short while Lee towers at 6'5".  What does Halloween look like if Dr. Loomis looms (unfortunate pun) over Michael Myers?  And that speech I mentioned - the speech which is the most important character moment for Loomis, in my eyes - how does that speech sound if it's coming at us in the deep tones of Sir Christopher Lee?
I...look, I love Christopher Lee.  I couldn't be writing the things I write, loving genre flicks like I do, without Christopher Lee.  But I just can't do it.  I just can't think of that speech, the one about "that boy's eyes", and hear it having the same poetic and haunting nature in Christopher Lee's voice.  Would the scene be more intimidating?  Yes.  Would I have been able to accept Lee in a bold hero role, like the one he played in The Devil Rides Out? Absolutely.  But would Halloween be the same film to me without Pleasence's broken tone in that scene?  I don't think it would have.

I can't say for sure if this casting, which was the filmmakers' original intention, would have affected the film in the world around me.  Perhaps we'd still be lauding it as the father of the modern slasher, and Lee's hero would have ushered in a slew of heroic, bold doctors in the slashers that followed.  But there's this feeling in my gut, a small dose of doubt, a morsel of fear...that tells me the film might not have become my favorite horror flick if it had featured my favorite horror star.  Maybe it's just the fact that I'm comfortable with Pleasence's Loomis and am afraid of change (that's true), but my heart tells me that Halloween needed Pleasence more than it needed Lee.
I've said it already, but it bears repeating: we'll never know what could have been.  But I gotta say, it's been fun to wonder.  What say you, Midnight Warriors?

(And don't just say that I'm crazy for putting this much thought into this.  I already know that.  And to be fair, I propose that we go back and cast Christopher Lee as Conal Cochran in Halloween III.)

4 comments:

Jinx said...

I love this! Love it, love it! Fairly certain I agree with you, well, absolutely certain really, but imagining what it might have been is going to keep me occupied for a good while.

The Mike said...

Thanks Jinx! I had sooo much fun writing this one, it really let me go full nerd. :)

Glad you enjoyed!

AE said...

Really really interesting question! I am also thrilled by the idea of combining Lee and Halloween. But I have to agree with you that it wouldn't work. Loomis needs to be sort of an average, accessible guy, and that's not a part Christopher Lee can really do.

But what if they invented a small role for him, just for a quick passing dose of awesome? What if he was Lynda's cheerleading coach or something? That I can imagine. Totally!

Jayskiallthewayski said...

Big Chris Lee fan, big Halloween '78 fan but this is just a case of the universe stepping in and making it better. There are many more examples (Michelle Pfeiffer in Silence of the Lambs to name but one) but this is a textbook example of "the guy that should have played the part payed it. :)