When a young filmmaker’s career is linked heavily to another filmmaker early in their career, it can sometimes be difficult to extricate themselves from the shadow of their partnership and make a recognizable name for themselves as separate creators. When the other filmmaker is John Carpenter, one of the most well-known directors in the horror genre, it makes the challenge all the more difficult. However, in the case of writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace, his brief but varied filmography sheds light on a directing career whose talent far exceeds the opportunities with which it was presented.
Wallace’s career began with a solid collaboration on the sci-fi/comedy “Dark Star,” directed by John Carpenter and written by Dan O’Bannon. The film, which was notoriously inexpensive, has some incredibly inventive sets and effects, some in large part due to Wallace’s ingenuity. He continued his relationship with Carpenter in “Assault on Precinct 13” as art director and sound effects editor, which led to his work as production designer and editor on “Halloween” (a film which Carpenter credits Wallace with helping immensely by creating the disturbing Michael Myers mask from an already existing Captain Kirk Halloween mask).
Though Wallace’s career would head in many different directions from here, including scripting films like “Amityville 2: The Possession” and the Drew Barrymore thriller “Far From Home,” he would always be linked to Carpenter in many capacities; he worked on “The Fog,” “Big Trouble In Little China,” and “Vampires: Los Muertos” with Carpenter in the ensuing years (and even appeared in the film “The Boy Who Could Fly” with Carpenter and director Nick Castle as the real-life band The Coupe de Villes, which they formed years earlier).
Though his work (excellent as it is in several capacities) is often linked with Carpenter and often dismissed as friends helping friends in the industry, Wallace has proven with a handful of directing jobs that he has a solid technical eye and excellent hand with character work in the horror arena.
The most reviled film of the entire “Halloween” franchise (and still the only film not to have Michael Myers appear in it), “Halloween 3: Season of the Witch” is a misunderstood film that, while still not a classic of the genre, is definitely a fun and surprisingly complex sci-fi/horror film in the vein of classic British hybrid horror of the 1950’s and 1960’s. With great performances from 1980’s icons like Dan O’Herlihy (the Old Man from the original “RoboCop”) and Tom Atkins (“Escape from New York” and “Night of the Creeps”) and a nihilistic but ambiguous ending, this is a film that deserves to be measured free of the Michael Myers canon, as the creators had intended it to be.
A difficult act to follow after writer writer/director Tom Holland, “Fright Night Part 2” had the unenviable task of making a sequel to a film that had entirely reinvented and reinvigorated the vampire film for the 1980’s (along with other new-wave vampire stories like “The Lost Boys” and “Near Dark”). Wallace, credited as director and writer, found a way to hold on to the original good guys and connect the new villains to the heavy from the first film. Though lacking in the compelling villains department (Jon Gries and Brian Thompson are great actors with relatively little to do), it is great to see Ragsdale and McDowall together again, and the effects are still great.
The only TV mini-series on the list, this film deserves special mention for being such an accomplished piece of television work at a time when television was still the younger step-brother of movies. With a script by TV writer Lawrence D. Cohen (which neatly divides the story into television acts by focusing on a single child’s experience in each act), director Wallace manages to create a film that is equal parts nostalgia and terror. Though many people remember it solely for the chilling performance of Tim Curry as the otherworldly clown Pennywise, there are moments of pure dread and disturbing images that are surprising for television of the early 90’s. Wallace crafts a touching and worthwhile mini-series, one which was the high-water mark for Stephen King on television for some time.