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  • Writer's pictureGarrett Brodey

Tommy Lee Wallace: An Underrated Filmmaker

Tommy Lee Wallace is one of my favorite filmmakers. In my opinion, he’s one of the most underrated filmmakers of all time. I went through his filmography last year, around this time, and it was quite the experience. After going through his films he quickly became one of my all time favorite filmmakers.

Wallace got started in the film industry working with the man himself, John Carpenter. Wallace worked on the horror classic Halloween (1978) as the production designer and a co-editor. He was also the one who made the iconic Michael Myers mask by redesigning a Captain Kirk mask. I once read that he played the shape in the film whenever part of the set needed to be damaged. He was an integral part of making that film work so well.

In 1981, Halloween II (1981) was in pre-production and John Carpenter didn’t want to direct the sequel. Instead, he and Debra Hill signed on as producers and Carpenter wrote the script. Wallace was the first choice to direct the sequel and he agreed to do it. However, when he read Carpenter’s script, he left the project. Wallace has stated he didn’t like the direction of the story and couldn’t put himself behind the project he wasn’t 100% behind. He claimed that if he got to write and direct Halloween II, he would’ve gone with what Scream 2 (1997) did, with Laurie, years later, in college and the shape coming after her. I prefer that idea than what we actually got.

When the sequel was released in theaters, it was a big success. The studio instantly greenlit a third film. Carpenter and Hill were tired of the Myers storyline and stated they would only come back for a third film if they turned the series into an anthology series. The studio agreed and that’s how Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) was born. Wallace was asked to helm the project and he accepted. Wallace loved the idea of an anthology series because the ideas are endless and the amount of money they make could last until the end of time. I too love the anthology idea. I’m so curious to know what else they would’ve made because that team was very creative. Instead, we got an endless stream of bland Michael Myers sequels that follow a similar plot line. I do like that series and I enjoy five of the entries, which are the original, 2, 3, 4, and 6.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) is my favorite horror film of all time. I will go into why in the near future. I will be devoting an entire piece on that film so for now I won’t say too much besides that. This is Tommy Lee Wallace’s directorial debut and he started off with a bang. It’s an ambitious, bat shit insane film, and it’s beautifully made. Wallace was John Carpenter’s protégé. Carpenter has a certain style and Wallace took the best lessons from him. His style perfectly fits this film. The way he shoots a scene showcases his passion. I love what he shows and doesn’t show. His angles and framing are top notch. My favorite shot is in the second act when Conal Cochran shows Challis his lair. The way the shot pans over and we see a wide shot of this huge laboratory. It’s excellent. This film is my favorite directorial debut.

Now I’d like to go over his filmography and my overall thoughts on it.

After Halloween III, Wallace directed some episodes of TV shows such as The Twilight Zone (1985-1986) and Max Headroom (1987). His next film was Aloha Summer in 1988. Aloha Summer is a great “hangout movie”. That means it’s a movie that mostly involves a bunch of characters hanging out and interacting. Their dynamic is larger than the plot. I love the summer vibe and the setting is beautiful. It was shot in Hawaii and I bet it was a fun shoot. A solid film overall.

Fright Night Part 2 came out in 1988 and is a sequel to the 80s hit Fright Night. I saw the original Fright Night and enjoyed it. Part 2 is my favorite of the two. I thought Wallace made the film his own and added so much energy to it. I like what they did with the story. It’s an underrated gem and it deserves more recognition.

Wallace directed more TV episodes from shows like Tour of Duty (1989), CBS Summer Playhouse (1989), A Peaceable Kingdom (1989), and Baywatch (1989).

In 1990, Wallace was offered to write and direct the TV mini series IT. For the restrictions he had I think the final product is great. It’s got some fantastic creepy moments and a phenomenal performance from Tim Curry as Pennywise. Sure the ending is not that great but from everything the film went through it’s understandable. This is one of Wallace’s best known films and it does deserve to be called a classic.

And the Sea Will Tell is a 1991 TV movie. It’s a long film but a good one. I thought it was interesting and the way the story was told kept my interest the whole way through. My main issue was that I didn’t like the protagonist. I felt she was unredeemable. Though the film was worth hunting down and buying.

The Comrades of Summer (1992) is a TV movie and I thought this was fine. I liked the performances but I wasn’t that invested in the story. It could be because I’m not the biggest fan of the sports genre. It’s not terrible, just okay.

The Presence is a 1992 TV movie that was meant to be a pilot to a show. It didn’t become a show but we still got the film. I really liked this one. I thought it was creepy and suspenseful. Wallace does a fantastic job directing horror films. I’d recommend this underrated gem.

Witness to the Execution (1994) is my second favorite Tommy Lee Wallace film. It’s got a fantastic story and Wallace does a brilliant job telling it. The performances are great, it’s well shot, and it’s solid in every department. I couldn’t recommend this one enough.

Green Dolphin Beat (1994) is his next film but I’m disappointed to say I didn’t watch this one. I looked everywhere for it and I mean everywhere. Wallace’s films aren’t easy to find. I was fortunate to find the other ones but this one is nowhere. I’m hoping I can find it and watch it sometime.

Born Free: A New Adventure (1996). I wasn’t a fan of this one. It’s a kids movie. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, I just wasn’t a fan. After this film Wallace directed some episodes for the show Flipper (1995-1996).

Once You Meet A Stranger is a TV movie remake of Alfred Hitchcock's "Strangers on a Train" (1951). The story is the same but the genders of the lead characters change from male to female. Look, I know that sounds like a bad idea but this film isn’t bad. I found myself enjoying it.

Street Chariots (1997) is my least favorite Wallace film. It’s not awful, I just don’t like NASCAR and this film is all that.

The Spree (1998) is a solid romantic thriller. I liked the lead performances and the twists and turns of the story. It’s not bad.

Final Justice (1998) is one of my favorite Wallace films. It’s suspenseful and well made. Wallace’s skills really show in this one. The lead performances are fantastic, especially from Michael McKean. I really like this one and it’s another underrated gem.

Vampires: Los Muertos is the last film Wallace directed, as of right now. It’s a 2002 sequel to John Carpenter’s Vampires (1998). This was the first film I watched when going through Wallace’s filmography. I like this one, more than the original in fact. I think Wallace nails the tone better. I liked the story and the characters. Solid film.

Below is my ranking of his filmography:

  1. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (10/10)

  2. Witness to the Execution (9/10)

  3. Final Justice (8/10)

  4. Fright Night Part 2 (8/10)

  5. And the Sea Will Tell (8/10)

  6. The Presence (7/10)

  7. IT (7/10)

  8. Aloha Summer (6/10)

  9. Vampires: Los Muertos (6/10)

  10. The Spree (6/10)

  11. Once You Meet A Stranger (6/10)

  12. The Comrades of Summer (5/10)

  13. Born Free: A New Adventure (4/10)

  14. Street Chariots (4/10)

Tommy Lee Wallace is an underrated filmmaker. Going through his films brought me more appreciation to TV movies. Even though he’s not as famous as he deserves to be, he is one of my favorite filmmakers. I’m hopeful that I’d be able to meet him one day.

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