Donald Pleasence's return to the famous franchise proved to be his swan song.
ARTICLE BY MARC SHAPIRO
"I treat all film roles one way," said Donald Pleasence in 1989. "Very seriously."
It was a credo that Pleasence brought to every production he worked on. He gave 110 percent in classic chillers and fan favorites like the original Halloween (plus five sequels), The Flesh and the Fiends, Death Line (a.k.a. Raw Meat), From Beyond the Grave, Alone in the Dark, Creepers, and 1979's Dracula remake, as well as non-fright flicks such as You Only Live Twice (as Blofeld), The Great Escape, and Fantastic Voyage. He also gave his all in forgettable films that would have been improved even if he had merely phoned his part in. But Pleasence would not phone in a role. It was not his way.
Pleasence didn't start out with an eye on a career in horror and explained, on more than one occasion, that "I don't like horror films, but I do a lot of them because I'm asked to." One person who cast Pleasence in a genre title was a then relatively inexperienced director named John Carpenter, who met with the actor in 1977, Carpenter recalls some fear of his own as he sat down with his idol to convince him to star for scale in a low-budget horror film called Halloween.
"I was terrified," Carpenter told Fango last year. "He said, 'I have come to do this movie because my daughter in England said she liked your other film [Assault on Precinct 13].' He did not understand the character. He kept asking me why Loomis was doing all this. He really wanted to know this character inside and out."
It was a fateful collaboration that led to a fast friendship and also helped turn around a career which, while long established and successful, had pretty much been chiseled into stereotypical character parts. Carpenter would ring up Pleasence regularly, and cast him against type in Escape from New York and Prince of Darkness. And Pleasence appreciated the change in focus that highlighted his last decade and a half.
"My career was constantly tied to the insane person roles," he reflected near the end of his life. "I was typed in a lot of people's eyes as the one who constantly plays the crazy, mixed-up character. But, as my career has progressed, more and more I'm the good guy chasing after the crazy, mixed-up people. If the psycho killer role was the only one I was being offered, I don't know what I might do to myself."
Pleasence was born in Worksop, Nottinghamshire, England in 1919. After what the actor once described as "a schuffling, misspent youth," he enlisted in the Royal Air Force during World War II. Pleasence the aviator was shot down and spent a year in a German POW camp before returning to civilian life and the beginning of a long acting career in the mid-1940s.
Over the years, Pleasence became conspicuous for his workaholic ways, and had a good laugh at the notion that he and the late John Carradine were considered the busiest actors in film. "I work all the time, and it's by choice," he said. "I've got homes in Spain and France and I do tend to extravagant ways." But Carpenter relates that Pleasence, in his later years, "was feeling bad about having done so many lousy films. It really bothered him."
Still, Pleasence persisted, even as his health began to fail. He went from film to film (everything from Woody Allen's Shadows and Fog to the South Africa-lensed Harry Alan Towers-produced cheapies Buried Alive and House of Usher), his final genre assignment in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers bringing him, in a very real sense, full circle in the role of Dr. Sam Loomis. "I'm enjoying playing Loomis again," he said. "I'm also looking forward to going back to the stage when this film ends. I'm quite happy with the way my career is going. And I will most certainly be back for the next Halloween if they want me."
The curtain rang down on February 2, 1995, as Pleasence passed away at age 75. But the work will live on, as will his approach to his life and his art. "I'm a professional actor," he explained. "I get the part. I read the script. If I decide to do it, I learn the lines. I have no theory about acting. For me, there is no Method. I just do it."
Article from the October 1995 edition of FANGORIA (#147).