It’s time once more to revisit another Horror Icon that passed on, often I’m asked why celebrating their date of death, because face it’s when the accolades and legacy quite well remember, no one can honestly make the claim or when someone is born, for what they have yet to accomplish. Yes congratulations, we were born, or ah yes celebrated another birthday – whoopee! Their death while is sad, it also allows for a time to recall their life’s work how it all impacted their choices and career a celebration if you might decide on that reference. Whether it is film, books, music, etc., they in some manner contribute to the horror genre, and therefore earned their place as an Icon, by following a simple criteria, been passed on for 10-years and did at least 7 noteworthy contributions to our beloved horror genre.
Therefore this past February, with many becoming added to the Remembrance of the Dead, we look back to Donald Henry Pleasence’s passing, his life began on October 5, 1919 and ended on February 2, 1995, his early years put him squarely in World War II, and like many others it put a pause on his acting career. As previously stated, I firmly believe one’s experiences whether their upbringing or major conflict in life have a profound motivation for them. I always honor those who fight and fought for their nations, so that I can enjoy freedom to do these articles, and if you read the Jan/Feb Editor’s Greetings you’ll definitely understand. In 1939, Donald choose to be a conscientious objector, until the autumn of 1940 when the Luftwaffe (then German air arms) attacked and bombed London, he then volunteered for the Royal Air Force (RAF), simply when they harmed his fellow citizens, friends, country the stander-by position becomes non-existent and the one for revenge becomes thoroughly obvious. He was a wireless-operator and flew nearly 60-missions, before being shot down and captured as a POW (prisoner of war) at Stalag Luft I, where somehow under the harsh treatment he creates plays for entertainment for his fellow prisoners.
After the war, Donald returned to the stage and would often dot his career with performances on Broadway, especially as Shakespearean villains, in an effort to always stay busy and hone his craft, in fact he was nominated four times for the Tony Award for a leading actor in 1962, 1965, 1969, and 1972. In 1952, though he started the transition over to films, first pair of tv-movies and his role in The Beachcomber he, kept working and striving forward with both major and minor characters in tv-series, tv-movies, and features. By the early 60s, he found himself in two horror movies the first Circus of Horrors directed by Sidney Hayers playing Vanet the owner of the circus and The Flesh and the Fiends as the murderer William Hare, which also starred Peter Cushing. Also, in this decade portrayed RAF Lieutenant Colin Bkythe in the incredible film The Great Escape (1963) that starred Steve McQueen and then villainous character Ernst Starvro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice (1967) a James Bond movie.
The 1970s proved to become his launching for numerous roles from George Lucas’ THX 1138 to a crafty villain on a Disney production entitled Escape To Witch Mountain in 1975, to the portrayed of Himmler in The Eagle Has Landed (1976). In 1979, Donald had his greatest honor fulfilled to work his most admired actor Sir Laurence Olivier, who he previously shared on-stage performance with in 1950s with the production of Dracula (1979); then in that same year, in the phenomenal war-film All Quiet on the Western Front, concerning a foot-solider in World War I.
While he played in many roles, and never turned down a job offered to him, his biggest and likely longest lasting impact of the horror genre came from his opportunity to portray the character of Dr. Loomis (which is actually a subtle reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s film Psycho and character Sam Loomis). As everyone in horror knows John Carpenter didn’t offer the role to him first, rather Christopher Lee who turned it down, later stating his biggest mistake, but that hand of fate made him earn widespread if not worldwide fame as Michael Myers’ psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis in Halloween (1978). A role that he once stated was a tad confusing for him, not understanding his importance in a slasher flick, but to the job nonetheless because he needed the job to pay alimony, his daughter liked the Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) music and his trusted worth-ethic. This one role lead to him to receive a nomination for the Saturn Award for Best Actor and playing the character for another four movies. Those films if you didn’t know were Halloween II (1981), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995); though he passed away before the post-production finished and lead to a dismal thoroughly displeasing film, but the end credits honored him. However, in 1998 he receives another dedication in the credits for the flick Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and in Halloween (2018) comedian Colin Mahan lent his talents to recreate Loomis’ voice for that film. Carpenter in 1981, called on Loomis to portray the President of United States in Escape from New York (1981) and wanted him for the role of Blair in The Thing (1982) but schedule conflicts prevented that from happening; however in 1987 these two maestros reunited for the film Prince of Darkness as actor and director. It is true Pleasence and Carpenter worked on Better Late Than Never, however as actor and John as a screenwriter, this film was a comedy and drama, everything in their careers surrounded Halloween franchise in some other manner.
Thanks to Halloween’s success and the other films he did during the 1970s his career took an upswing as portraying villains became a fined-tuned craft, as he develop a well-defined sinister tone likely attributed to his elocution lessons as child, aided by his build and looks he could easily embodied the keen awareness of evil in any character. However, he was not always the foe on the screen; he opposes Dracula (1979) and took opposition against Christopher Lee in Raw Meat (1972) some of the finest epic exchanges on of these actors on screen, for others to studying over and over.
By the end of his lengthy and impressive career he was awarded with the Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for his service to the acting profession by Queen Elizabeth II in 1994. Therefore, this man who brought sinister performances to the screen, had indeed brought the horror genre to the forefront perhaps indirectly but nonetheless it found some representation and hence his inclusion to The Horror Times’ Horror Icon fame.
Selected Horror Filmography
Actor – Feature Film:
Fatal Frames (1996)
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Paganini Horror (1989)
Buried Alive (1989)
The House of Usher (1989)
American risciò (1989)
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Vampire in Venice (1988)
Phantom of Death (1988)
Prince of Darkness (1987)
To Kill a Stranger (1984)
Frankenstein’s Great Aunt Tillie (1984)
The Devonsville Terror (1983)
Alone in the Dark (1982)
Escape from New York (1981)
Halloween II (1981)
The Monster Club (1981)
Night Creature (1978)
The Uncanny (1977)
The Devil’s Men (1976)
Sharon’s Baby (1975)
The Freakmaker (1974)
From Beyond the Grave (1974)
House of the Damned (1974)
Tales That Witness Madness (1973)
Raw Meat (1972)
Creature of Comfort (1968)
Eye of the Devil (1967)
Dr. Crippen (1963)
No Place Like Homicide! (1961)
The Flesh and the Fiends (1960)
The Hands of Orlac (1960)
Actor – Self:
Terror in the Aisles (1984)
TV Episode – Actor:
The Ray Bradbury Theatre (1985–1992) Episode: Punishment Without Crime (1988)
The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (1978– ) Episode: Ploughing Day, Planting Day, Agnes Fair, Choosing the Young Lord, the Day of Seasoning (1978)
The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (1978– ) Episode: Tithing Day, Sheaving Tide, Husking Bee, Corn Play, Kindling Night, Harvest Home (1978)
The Man Outside (1972– ) Episode: A Glass of Snake Wine (1972)
The Outer Limits (1963–1965) Episode: The Man with the Power (1963)
The Twilight Zone (1959–1964) Episode: The Changing of the Guard (1962)
TV Episode – Writer:
The Unforeseen (1958–1960) Episode: Vengeance (1959)
TV Movie – Actor/ Soundtrack:
Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1973 TV Movie)
Tribute to Donald Pleasence: