They often say in the superhero genre that you’re only as good as your villain. And the same exact thing can apply to most of our beloved monsters. They are equally defined by how good their arch nemesis is. Moby Dick had his Captain Ahab. Dracula had Van Helsing. Even the short term heroes that only appeared in 2-3 movies like Nancy in A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or Tommy Jarvis in the FRIDAY THE 13TH series were so indelible to those particular villains, that you can’t imagine those movies without them. Personally, I think the best of them all has got to be Dr. Sam Loomis.
A man of medicine, he tried his best to reach a troubled little boy institutionalized for the brutal murder of his own sister. But along the way, he realizes that there is no reaching this boy. Sometimes, people do things for no reason at all other than they are simply… evil. After all his years of study and practice, he’s come face to face with pure evil personified in this patient. And when Michael Myers escapes, it’s up to him to stop him.
In the original HALLOWEEN, the great Donald Pleasence played Dr. Sam Loomis. (Named after Marion Crane’s boyfriend in Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 classic PSYCHO) It was a quick gig for the esteemed actor. A mere 5 days of work that he took when Christopher Lee turned it down and after he got a bit of encouragement from his daughter to work with John Carpenter because she really like ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. At the time, he couldn’t have possibly realized this little low budget indie film would introduce the world to the character he’d be most well known for to horror fans. He returned for several sequels, but my favorite is HALLOWEEN II.
After the events of the first HALLOWEEN, HALLOWEEN II literally picks up on the next frame and Loomis is panicked. He unloaded 6 rounds into Michael Myers and he simply just got up and walked away. After a long, futile search with Sheriff Hunt, they track down Myers at the hospital where he’s trying to finish off Laurie Strode, now revealed to be his long lost sister. In the final battle, Loomis is mortally wounded, but there’s this amazing moment of acceptance. He knows what he has to do. He must stop Michael, at whatever the cost. It’s probably one of my favorite endings to a horror movie ever. Blinded by bullet holes and bleeding profusely, Michael keeps swinging his little scalpel away as Loomis turns on all the gas in the operating room. If this is it, well then, he’s taking Michael with him. “It’s time, Michael.” And with the flick of his lighter, they are both obliterated in the explosion.
Well…. that is until HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS where both Loomis and Myers return with a few scratches and scars. Here’s the thing. I personally like to think of the entire HALLOWEEN story being just those first two pictures. All the ones that followed are just for fun. They get a bit over the top and ridiculous. And before you argue with me that they don’t, let me remind you that Michael’s first kill in HALLOWEEN 4 involves him ramming his thumb into someone’s forehead. But bless Donald Pleasence. He never looked down on the character he created with Sam Loomis. He happily came back every time they asked him and every time he gave it his all. He was once asked how many more of these HALLOWEEN movies would he do, and he joked by saying 67, and then he’d retire. Sadly he passed while post-production was in progress on HALLOWEEN 6: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS making it his last on-screen appearance as the franchise’s hero. And I quote screenwriter Dan Farrands, “without him, the series has never been the same.”
When Rob Zombie was casting his 2007 remake of HALLOWEEN, most of us were getting the scoop via his MySpace page. So when word got out that Malcolm McDowell would be taking over the role of Dr. Sam Loomis, it was met with much enthusiasm from HALLOWEEN fans. Also of note is that although friends with Pleasence, McDowell claimed in the press that he’d actually never seen Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN and hence was tackling the role with no previous knowledge of the franchise nor what had been done with the character previously. He’s one of my favorite aspects of Zombie’s first movie for sure. But this is a much different Loomis than we knew in the previous incarnation. I can’t put my finger on it. I guess there’s just an inherent quality to Donald Pleasence as a person and performer that immediately makes him both likable and “fatherly.” When he comes to Laurie’s aid in both HALLOEEEN and HALLOWEEN II, I can’t help but see him as that parental guardian. McDowell doesn’t exactly exute that. He always kind of seems like he’s got something up his sleeve. And sure enough, by the time we get to HALLOWEEN II, we’re well aware that he’s kind of a selfish, terrible person.
“That’s the old, Loomis!” He declares while pointing at an old publicity photo of him in the infamous trenchcoat. By the 2nd film, he has profited greatly from his book about Myers and is enjoying life as a celebrity. Well, except whenever Weird Al Yankovic steals a bit of the spotlight from him. It’s pretty hilarious and an interesting way to go with that character, especially in the world that Zombie creates. Plus, McDowell is just so good at being kind of sleazy and funny at the same time, that it’s irresistible not to find the humor in this Loomis 2.o. But… looking at them both side by side, I still love and prefer the Loomis that would do anything to stop Michael and protect whomever the heroine was that became his focal target.
For these reasons, above all, there’s no real contest here on who is my favorite Dr. Sam Loomis.
Donald Pleasence for the win. What do you guys think?