Sunday, October 14, 2012

[Series 31] HALLOWEEN

HALLOWEEN (1978)


SYNOPSIS: In 1963, young Michael Myers comes home on Halloween to find his sister slutting around with a boy.  He gets a knife and stabs her to death.  Fifteen years later, he breaks out of the state mental hospital, finds a William Shatner mask spraypainted white, and returns to the town of Haddonfield to continue his killing career.  His psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis, is convinced that he's an evil force and trails him to Haddonfield, but will Loomis act in time to save babysitter Laurie Strode and her friends?

WHAT WORKED:
HALLOWEEN's considered one of the holy grails of horror and there are lots of things that go right in this first entry.  I was actually lukewarm about the film way back when, because I only had a pan-and-scan VHS copy.  Seeing it in widescreen, as it was intended, turned me around.  Director John Carpenter displays such skill here at composing within the frame and shooting it in interesting ways!  If you've ever been to Illinois (where this is set, if not filmed), you'll remember that the flat straight roads are mostly boring, not menacing, so it's a credit to Carpenter that he manages to rachet up the tension in this tree-laden small town.  


Michael Myers, in this film, is a fascinating character. We don't know much about him, other than what's explained by his psychiatrist (Donald Pleasance in the role that would be his most famous).  Myers shows up in the corners of the screen or viewed from windows for much of the film, and the distance established makes him an even creepier, more alien presence.  The heavies in these movies tended to turn into basically killer robots (shoot them and they get up) with resentment issues ("they set him on fire at the Christmas play, but then he came back!").  In this foundational film, though, Myers is organic—he breathes, he makes Leatherface-type gurgling sounds, he eats (dogs)—but definitely not human.  It's never explained why he is what he is and even his doctor treats him with a mixture of dread and contempt.  He gets dubbed "the boogeyman" by film's end and is listed as "The Shape" in the credits, both of which seem entirely fitting for the character at this stage.  HALLOWEEN is a horror film with a capital H because it's centered around Lovecraft's fear of the unknown.


Carpenter's score is legendary.  Even though we're hearing only a few different pieces here, pressed into service repeatedly, it adds so much atmosphere and suspense to the film!  It somehow feels even worse when the music disappears for a scene, like now something bad is really going to happen!



The script is pretty fantastic.  I like the little things, the symmetries—both Myers and Loomis squatting in the bushes outside houses (for different reasons), Myers carrying a dead lady in his arms, then Bob carrying Lynda (P.J. Soles) in exactly the same way.  Critics have criticized the film for causing misogyny and celebrating Puritanical anti-sex hysteria, but I think that's off the mark.  HALLOWEEN thematically seems like an analysis of family and absentee parents at times—Myers's sister gets to sex it up and Myers then gets to kill his sister because their parents aren't home, Laurie and Annie are stuck babysitting because the parents are presumably out Halloween-partying.  Although they're both surrogate moms, Annie is the bad mom who dumps her charge off at another house, then goes out boyfriend-seeking, while Laurie is the good mom who puts herself in harm's way to defend the children.

WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
To be honest, there aren't really a lot of active flaws here, but I would say that the unremarkable dialogue could be considered an issue.  Carpenter's dialogue for Loomis is fine, but Debra Hill's babysitters don't really get any memorable lines.  That might have been intentional, given the way the movie moves and builds, but it's hard not to see it as a drawback when buttressed against something like CHAIN SAW MASSACRE, where every character was important.  On the plus side, this has a cast of reliable actors, so even the scenes that might have been throwaway talky ones are interesting on a purely "acting" level.


Literally volumes have been written about HALLOWEEN and I'm sure you've all seen it and realize how great it is.  


RATING: 9

HALLOWEEN II (1981)


SYNOPSIS: Immediately after the events of HALLOWEEN, Laurie Strode is taken to Haddonfield's hospital while Dr. Loomis goes in search of the missing Michael Myers.  Michael kills some people with impunity while the town is falling into a multiple-murder riot-panic, then tracks Laurie to the hospital.  More killing ensues before our main characters have a brief and bloody reunion.

WHAT WORKED:
When you are the sequel to one of the greatest-ever horror films, you are born to lose, but HALLOWEEN II has its advantages.  I liked the whole first half of the film, especially its depiction of post-HALLOWEEN chaos with the townspeople attacking the empty Myers house and Dr. Loomis and the police all paranoid and gun-crazy.  The reachbacks to the original were well-placed, especially the reveal of Annie's murder to her dad and his resultant griefy lashouts at Loomis.  Plus, they still can't contact Laurie's parents!  Parents of the year!


Part II is pretty consistent with the better aspects of the first film, at least in some respects.  We get the same first-person creepiness and stalking, big panoramic streetviews (at least in 50% of this), and slow building tension.  I liked the use of lighting and shadows quite a lot, too.  There's a lot of consistency to the Loomis character, who's even more unhinged in this, as he realizes that not even six shots will be enough to put down The Shape.  I actually prefer Jamie Lee Curtis's Laurie in Part II—I liked her budding post-coma relationship with hospital worker Jimmy and even her terror in the stalking scenes.



One introduction of a plot element is just thrown out there, naturally, as it should be, although it would lead inexorably to HALLOWEEN 6.  I'm talking about SAMHAIN, which is also mispronounced, which makes me love it even more!  It's mysterious, like CROATOAN on a tree, man.


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
Despite the closet scenes of the first film, HALLOWEEN is really an outside thing.  The holiday as well as the films.  So it's kind of a drag that the latter half of HALLOWEEN II goes down inside assorted rooms and hospital corridors.  Granted, they're dark and spooky and all, but they can't match the power of the exteriors.  Actually, the first part of this stomps all over the second half, like II loses its power the farther it gets from the original.  By the film's end, it's basically just an extended chase scene, the same that you've seen many other times.


Too much Michael Myers! This film works best when he's barely viewed or stalking outside a window. But, all too often, we get lingering shots of him and well-lit Sears Portrait Studio poses. The physical distance that the first film established has been removed and a lot of his mystique has been thrown out with it. He seems less like an alien presence here and more like a Freddy Kruger type spokesmonster or marketing hook.  I'm also displeased with his grunts and mutterings being replaced by total silence, even in the scenes lifted from the first film!  WTF.  The violence ante is upped here, too, and it sometimes doesn't work, like when Myers stabs a nurse until her shoes fall off.  A little more slow build and less gore galore would've been preferable, I think.


Before I started researching for this, I had never heard of the Halloween II Murders.  The 80s were certainly a golden time for blaming your moronic behavior on art and popular culture.  In certain circumstances...I can't imagine a black murderer getting off because "Run-DMC told me to do it" or whatever...

Anyway, a good horror film, but predictably nowhere near the towering heights of its predecessor.  And it would get worse!


RATING: 6

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982)


SYNOPSIS: HALLOWEEN II was originally scheduled to end the Michael Myers plotline and this second sequel kicks off what would have been an entirely new sets of Halloween-themed flicks.  A man is pursued and almost-killed by gentlemen in suits with superhuman strength.  He escapes and is treated by hard-drinking doctor Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) before finally getting murdered.  Dr. Challis is met by the salesman's daughter and their investigation leads them to the town of Santa Mira (that town from INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, lol).  This is the very Irish home of Silver Shamrock, world's leading producer of Halloween masks.  Could they have malign designs for the Halloween holiday?  This is a horror film.

WHAT WORKED:
The series tried to turn away from Michael Myers here and I appreciate that they made a really strong effort to establish a new identity.  Although there is some linkage with the previous entries (the hospital scenes, creepy figures stalking the edges of the film frame), a lot of HALLOWEEN III is actually at odds with prior content.  Whereas II exulted in red lighting, this one leans heavily on blue.  I & II used a mask to project terror, III uses masks to direct it inward at the wearer.  Even in plot structure, this one's way different—both storylines feel like weird scare tales, but the Myers stuff is a pretty simple (if strange) affair, while III is ridiculous in terms of scope.  This is both a curse and a blessing for the film.


Tom Atkins gives his usual energetic performance as Dr. Challis.  I dug the character, especially when he WASN'T fighting evil mask corporates.  His damaged relationship with his ex-wife and their kids (it's implied that alcohol played a part) and his sparking/sputtering relationship with forensics lady Teddy are good viewing.  


H III is a lot more arch than its predecessors and some of the cleverness is pretty entertaining, like when the prior film's "monster movie on TV" trope is repeated, only with the original HALLOWEEN.  


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
Sometimes, the characters and the plotting get a little grating. In the case of salesman family The Kupfers, it gets A LOT grating.  They're basically brought in as comic relief, then victims, but just ugh, man.  It's a trial to sit through their scenes.  It's like Marx Brothers outtakes were yanked off a cutting room floor and shoehorned into a horror movie.  Likewise with the mega-Irish hotel/gas station owner.  

The makeup and deaths are hit or miss.  The mask stuff is GREAT and icky and I, with my newfound love of subtlety in horror, actually craved the unseen final scene of mayhem.  But occasionally it looks really rubbery and unconvincing, like the death in the Irish-as-fuck hotel.


THE SILVER SHAMROCK SONG.  It "works" in that the movie uses music to attack you (another turnabout from old HALLOWEENs) and it definitely sticks in your head like a trepanning instrument, but it's kind of overused.  


Best critical review of this: Vincent Canby's New York Times piece—the film "manages the not easy feat of being anti-children, anti-capitalism, anti-television and anti-Irish all at the same time."  I like HALLOWEEN III, although I think it's getting a bit overrated by people who are understandably saddened that the whole no-Myers HALLOWEEN thing didn't work out.  It's a good horror film, much like II, but it's definitely not flawless.


RATING: 6

HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988)


SYNOPSIS: Things can't die while they're still marketable, so both Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis survived their immolations in II.  Myers is comatose until Halloween, then gets up and kills and heads out to Haddonfield to kill his way to Laurie Strode's daughter Jamie (Danielle Harris).  Loomis intervenes and Jamie's foster sister sort of does as well.  

WHAT WORKED:
Some of the scenes have SBIG entertainment value.  I'm especially thinking of how nasty the other kids are to Jamie (taunting her about being an orphan ORPHAN ORPHAN!) and the cheerleaders who mockingly refuse to pick up a hitchhiking Loomis.   If H4 had spent more time on showing how everyone is an asshole, it would have been a better film.  Similarly, though most of the kill scenes are pretty pedestrian, there are a couple that are so over-the-top that they go past horror and into hilarity, like when Myers hurls some hardhat onto an electrical rig.


The final twenty minutes or so are pretty ripping in terms of action and suspense, from the roof scene to the truck ride out of town.  It's just really a shame that it takes seventy minutes for the movie to give us scenes that are inspired and engaging.


I think that ladies in long T-shirts only are super-sexy, way better than any lingerie, so I rly appreciated the scenes with yummy Kathleen Kinmont.


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
There aren't a lot of things to point out that are blatant fuckups, primarily because this movie doesn't really aspire to do anything too great.  Even the way it's shot (lacking those panoramic, sweeping shots) suggests that you lower your expectations.  Look-wise and plot-wise, it's pretty indistinguishable from every other slasher film that anyone has ever seen.  You could sub practically any heavy for Myers and it would be the same movie.  The mystique and atmosphere are mostly lost to the past.  

I like Danielle Harris now, but she hadn't gotten over being a child in this film and child actors are almost always annoying.  The blase script doesn't do her or the other cast members any favors.  The one big exception is Donald Pleasance and seeing him at this point is bittersweet for me, since he was locked into playing Loomis by then and his long, distinguished filmography was overshadowed by it.   But he does a great job at playing unhinged here!


There's not much to say about this one.  It would be a 5 if it weren't so crashingly dull for most of its running time, but boredom is a factor in my grading.  Hope that 5 is at least a 5!


RATING: 4

HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1989)


SYNOPSIS: LOL, man, this series is starting to really reach to first kill Michael Myers, then resurrect him.  So, remember how in H4, he was shot with GI Joe guns into a hole?  It's okay if you don't, they show most of it here.  It turns out that the hole/grave led to a tunnel that then led to a drainpipe over a river.  He rests for a year, then it's back to death business as usual.  People have been pretty tolerant of Jamie's stabbing episode in the meantime and she's housed at the children's hospital, now basically a mute overseen/bullied by Dr. Loomis.  What you'd expect happens.

WHAT WORKED:
Despite what the French director says in the Special Features, this is far less HALLOWEEN 5 than HALLOWEEN 4 PART TWO.  Way more of an iteration, repetition, and (sometimes) expansion of the last sequel, H5 continues with the characters, the tone, all that.  It's weird that it mimics HALLOWEEN II's relationship with the original—the flashback to the previous film's end, the final girl (Jamie) pursued and totally victimized in the sequel, picking up right where H4 ended.  It's got the same look, same action, even the same fake-Michael Myers prank that shows you why teens deserve to die.  It even has a cute chick in just a long shirt again, which is why all this is under "What Worked".


Donald Pleasance turns up the Loomis-mania to 11.  In the previous sequel, he was just twitchy and unbalanced; here, he's full-on shrieking and thrashing little sick girls around their sickbeds.  Hopefully, Pleasance just figured, "Well, I'm in HALLOWEEN 5, so fuck it," because otherwise it might be sad.


The editing here is a little more crisp and the camerawork more interesting than the turgid HALLOWEEN 4.  It makes this admittedly generic material a little easier to swallow, although I was still literally dying by the 60-minute mark.  

WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
It's boring again, at least for some of the time.  This is a formula film, despite the not-at-all explained introduction of a guy in black with a runic tattoo.  Plot is nonexistent.  There's no reason for characters to exist except as victims-to-be, there's no reason why Myers kills certain people, there's no reason why he has to kill them in a different way every time (does he have commitment issues?).

Missed opportunities.  Specifically the part near the beginning in which Myers is nursed by some hermit in a shack by the river!  I would have loved to see FRANKENSTEIN-style bonding moments!  It's not like the Michael Myers brand hasn't been tarnished irrevocably already, why not go totally silly and at least have some fun?  Unfortunately for me, the film chooses the wrong moments to sink into inanity.  Specifically, the two comic-relief cops scored with corny corn "Hee Haw" music.  Blech.

I'm really hoping that 6 at least takes some chances because the same old thing is getting very dull.  This is better than 4 (note: I am the only one who has this opinion), but it's still not a good film.

RATING: 4

HALLOWEEN 6: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995)


SYNOPSIS: The guy in black who dynamited Michael Myers out of jail in the last installment also abducted him, as well as his niece Jamie.  6 years later, Jamie escapes a pagan ritual along with her baby and, by calling a call-in show, enlists the concern of Dr. Loomis.  Remember Tommy Doyle, that kid Laurie Strode was babysitting in HALLOWEEN?  He's in this, living across the street from the Myers house, which is now occupied by Strode relatives, including college girl Kara Strode and her young son Danny.  Both Michael Myers and the man in black menace people, including talking in scary low-pitched voices to Danny and pushing him to KILL.  All is pretty much revealed thanks to a weird guy's internet research, as Michael is determined to be the victim of Thorn, an ancient Druid curse of evil.  Or something.

WHAT WORKED:
I saw 6 when it originally appeared on VHS, when I was 18 or so and also likely drunk.  So I don't really remember much about it, other than people told me it was really bad and that I didn't think it was that much more horrible than the prior sequels.  Anyway, this time I want to give every movie a fighting chance to win Series 31 gold, so I watched the unofficial "Producer's Cut", which is supposedly more coherent than the theatrical version.  Okay, I can accept that the P-Cut is theoretically """better""" than Hs 4-5.  At least this one attempts to do something different with the material, even if it's not always entirely successful.  Explaining away things in horror movies is always a dangerous game, but at least the Thorn subplot opens the door for future movies to expand and experiment with different things.  Plus I love that this has that golden-days fascination with computers as magical devices that can explain everything!  And the explanations work!  Tommy basically consults Wikipedia and manages to figure out everything about Michael Myers and Druid astronomy curses.  Good job!

This has some fun nods to the original film, like when Tommy Doyle frightens a kid and causes him to drop a pumpkin (LOL for real).  Plus a bickering couple are named John and Debra!  H6 puts effort into being fan-friendly, which (for a sequel this far into the game) is appreciated.

Some of the kill scenes are actually all right and suspenseful.  I liked the death amidst clothes-filled clothesline and the final chase scene is certainly well-done as well.


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
Explaining things can be risky, like I said, and absolving Michael of responsibility or intent by pointing to a curse kind of damages his "brand".  The Michael of this film isn't as annoying as previous car-defacing and scythe-swinging incarnations, but there are still some things that irk, like when he apparently loads up a washer with bloody clothes just to surprise a guy (why?  style points?).  It gets a little worse for him later, when he becomes a patsy for an old weirdo, though.  

Donald Pleasance is in this, but was apparently in very poor health and died before it was even released.  It shows.  :(  It doesn't help that the movie sometimes appears to be deliberately mocking him, like when a colleague compliments him on how good he looks.  AND, going by reliable reports, Pleasance's screen time was slashed after 14-year-olds at a test screening complained about him!  I got that from Wikipedia, Tommy Doyle-style.  Pleasance deserved better, you guys.


Any series, by Part 6 or so, is going to get overbusy and weighted down with plotlines that have to be juggled.  H6: P-CUT feels extremely like the "Crisis on Infinite Earths" event from DC Comics, where things have gotten so out of hand with multiple overlapping/contradictory ideas that the entire thing had to be destroyed and started again from scratch.  Despite the ending in the P/CUT, this feels like The End and it would likely have been so anyway, given Pleasance's death.  Too bad that the reboots to come would be so saddening.

This is better than 4 or 5, nowhere near as good as 1-3.  I wish I'd incorporated fractions into the grading scale, but let's be kind and round up because this series will need the help:

RATING: 5

HALLOWEEN H20 (1998)


SYNOPSIS: Remember when HALLOWEENs 3-6 happened?  Well, don't.  H2O picks up 20 years after HALLOWEENs 1-2, with Laurie Strode headmistressing at a ritzy private California academy under the name Keri Tate.  She has a mild drinking problem and a teenage son named Joseph Gordon-Levitt.  Since it is the 20-year anniversary of when her brother tried to kill her, it's time to do it again and nothing LL Cool J and Alan Arkin do can stop it.

WHAT WORKED:
This is far more of a nineties horror film than 1995's HALLOWEEN 6.  It's pretty transparently borrowing from SCREAM, what with its allusions to PSYCHO, FRIDAY THE 13TH, and SCREAM itself.  Sometimes it works and isn't annoying!  Like most other HALLOWEENs, it also cannibalizes its own series self ("everyone's entitled to one good scare" was one of the original film's taglines, plus this ends with an ambulance ride).   Sometimes that isn't a good thing, but that's not a discussion for this section.


Steve Miner of FRIDAY THE 13TH renown directed this and, even if the material is nothing revelatory, at least this looks better than a HALLOWEEN movie has in a while.  I prefer the first half of the film (mostly outside, as compared to Michael Myers killing people in long hallways with expensive curtains whipped by winds blown through artisan-blown glass).  Lighting isn't as much as a priority as past entries, but Miner does some okay things with color and contrast here.

Michael Myers is portrayed far more in keeping with the original HALLOWEEN, at least in the first half.  He's viewed in flashes or from a distance, incorporating that atmosphere of mystery and menace that made the first film so effective.  Also, the body count is pretty low for most of the running time, which allows the viewer to build links to the characters, so it (theoretically) matters when they die.


WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
This is a nineties horror film.  So it goes without saying that it looks slick and commercial, which kind of ruins the HALLOWEEN atmosphere in a way that's different from sequels 4-6.  I guess the best word to praise and damn it would be "professional"—its cast is pro, everything looks pleasant, and the script does exactly what you'd expect it to do.  Despite the tragic tale of 6, H2O is seriously the entry that feels like the product of focus groups.  It even has a generic symphonic score instead of the organ-heavy soundtrack which most of the Hs have heretofore used.

It's lucky that Myers is mostly shot from afar because he looks pretty awful when seen at close range.  They altered the mask and the redesign is not a great success.  If memory serves, they made it even more sour-looking for the next film, but I'll bitch about that when we get there.


To confess, Laurie Strode has never been my fave character.  There's just not a lot to her, really.  H2O tries to make her more interesting by making her a shouting mom with full liquor and pill cabinets, but it doesn't really work.  Her relationships with her son and guidance counselor paramour are kinda dull, so you're basically just waiting for Myers to show up and try to kill her.  Jamie Lee Curtis is a pro, but the material's lifeless.  Plus Laurie Strode misspells W.B. Yeats's name in her own literature class, so fuck her.  None of the characters are all that special, to be honest.  LL Cool J is here as an erotica-writing security guard, but the premise sounds better than the execution, as it comes off like a wacky next-door neighbor from a sitcom or something.


Not horrible, but nothing amazing.  It appears that we are back in the realm of very modest expectations after the ambitious failure of 6.  If you used "find and replace" to swap out Myers and Strode, this could be literally any slasher movie. 

RATING: 4

HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION (2002)


SYNOPSIS: If there were a fucking award for reaching across vast distances of logic to continue a series, HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION would win them all.  Okay, so Michael Myers got DECAPITATED in the last entry.  BUT it wasn't really him, just a guy who he first beat up and then traded clothes with!  And the other orderly who was there didn't mention it because his larynx was crushed!!  WTFUCK.  Myers finds Laurie Strode at this mental hospital and kills her, thus completing his life's work!  CONGRATS, BRAH!  But that is only 10% of this film!  The rest is about a webseries set in the Myers house, where Michael has apparently decided to retire and eat fennel-based foods.  The webseries cast includes students of HADDONFIELD UNIVERSITY, lolol.

WHAT WORKED:
I must have a thing for brutalized women, because I enjoyed the little sliver of Michael-Laurie interaction in this much more than anything in H2O.  It's only a teeny-tiny bit of the movie, but those asylum battle scenes are pretty choice.  Jamie Lee's Laurie is actually interesting, second-guessing herself because of the whole mistaken-murder thing.  And I love that she falls exactly like Michael in the previous entry, that Jesus Christ pose is really a classic death motif.


Just like H2O drew heavily from SCREAM, this one samples BLAIR WITCH by including tons and tons of non-pro camera shots (WEBCAMZ).  No one could deny that it's overused, but it's sometimes an okay gimmick.  

WHAT DIDN'T WORK:
Oh my land, this thing feels dated as hell.  That's the danger of including all kinds of cutting-edge nonsense in your horror film.  RESURRECTION is so impressed with technology that it makes itself fairly ridiculous (EMAIL! INTERNET! WEBCAMS! YAHOO CHAT!).  The whole notion that your job is to have a website is mostly laughable now, too, sadly.  I did enjoy the white-knight character literally talking about how knights used to interact with damsels, but a little prescience don't clear the slate, RESURRECTION.  Including celebs also seems like a bad mistake.  Here, look at this and tell me if it makes you think "HALLOWEEN":

Tyra Banks making a cappuccino from a cappuccino machine AND THIS ALSO STARS BUSTA RHYMES.  In! Top! Billing!

The characters completely suck.  This has NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET sequel disorder in that more than one character is completely defined by what they do (psychology slut and chef guy).  I want to see a movie about the implications of chef guy discovering that the fennel in the kitchen is fresh.  Michael Myers=huge fennel enthusiast!  The Busta Rhymes-Michael Myers fight is as bad as you've heard.  I shudder with nausea. 

INITIALLY, Myers is fine in this.  He's glimpsed in a shadowy, elusive way and that's great.  But the film eventually fails to resist and gives us way too much of him.  The mask redesign bugs me a lot.  It looks like the mask is so pissed to be in another sequel, mostly, but there are times when it looks like this:


I also don't get his motivation for killing people.  He's mad because they're trespassing and cutting into his fennel time, I guess.  Whatever, the movie doesn't care, why should we?

This is the end of the HALLOWEEN series.  A disastrous pair of Rob Zombie reboots would follow, further undercutting the value of the concept and character.  Really, HALLOWEEN as a series is kind of a tragedy, the tale of this scrappy independent film that succeeded on imagination, capability, and style, only to get bought and exploited by dim-witted suits.  

RATING: 3



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