BRWC is 2: Halloween, Every Film

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My fourth and final BRWC 2nd Anniversary Post, and it’s a big one! Every Halloween Film, parts 1-10 Dissected. (I’ll get to the Friday The 13th and Nightmare On Elm Street series eventually too.)

The 1960’s and 70’s began a revolution of film that would change cinema forever, in many good and bad ways. This change particularly happened in the world of Horror. Beginning with Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho in 1960, the boundaries of Horror films began to expand and differ from past efforts. Previously Horror films were almost entirely castle bound or set within the world of the supernatural in some way. All vampires, werewolves and monsters, unreal things that could scare on screen but not come after you in real life.

With Psycho, you got a good looking, if odd, “boy next door” type, that could also viciously murder you. Psycho was inspired by the true case of Ed Gein and fairly grounded in reality, and it scared the living hell out of everyone. In Psycho’s wake came a spate of cheap knock offs, most notably, William Castle’s Strait-Jacket. Then in 1963 came Mario Bava’s Blood and Black Lace, which took the “vicious murders in real life” theme and brought it to life in full technicolor, birthing the Italian “Giallo” Genre in the process. This Genre being something of what would later become the “Slasher” Genre mixed with the traditional “Whodunit?”

The same year came Herschel Gordon Lewis’ Blood Feast, this film being very much the first “Splatter” film, emphasizing violence and gore over plot. Shortly after Blood Feast came Herschel Gordon Lewis’ other splatter epics Two Thousand Maniacs! and Color Me Blood Red, each of which were eaten up by the drive in crowd, and proved to others that bloody, realistic horror was the way to go.

In the late Sixties came a series of classier, but still realistic and violent films that also thrilled audiences and polarized critics and moralists. There was Dario Argento’s Directorial debut The Bird with Crystal Plumage10 Rillington Place (based on Brit serial killer John Christie), and Mario Bava’s ultra violent spectacle Bay of Blood. In particular Bay of Blood is considered the true father of the modern slasher film, and it brings us closer to where we need to be.

Between 1973 and 1976 the new era of Horror reached it’s apex with the release of genre classics The Exorcist, Black Christmas (the first Holiday Slasher), The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Jaws, Deep Red, Carrie and The Omen. Then came the film that both began and ended a period, Halloween. This film would go on to become a landmark genre film, the most successful independent film of all time for nearly twenty years and the death nail of the new era of horror.

Halloween (1978)-
Directed By John Carpenter
Starring Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis

Yep, this is the one that started it all. The best slasher film their is. The one that if not created, certainly included and solidified the “rules” of the genre. And the progenitor of the “Slasher Wave of the 80’s” that all but killed Horror until it was face lifted in the mid-nineties by Scream.

How can one little film do all that you might ask? Well, third time director John Carpenter took $320,000, one name star and a bunch of no-bodies and cranked out a critically acclaimed masterpiece of suspense that grossed hundreds and thousands times more than it’s production costs. That’s how.

The plot is simple, On Halloween Night a babysitter and her friends are terrorized by a silent, masked man (escaped mental patient Michael Myers); It’s execution where John Carpenter and company got it right.

Carpenter and frequent collaborator, Cinematographer Dean Cundey, drench the film and it’s “average suburban” setting in dark atmosphere and shadowy menace. In flowing point of view shots we are taken behind the eyes of the killer as he stalks and kills. And then through lighting, pacing and iconic score an intense mood of overwhelming dread is crafted on top of the atmosphere.

Helpful in making the film work, is the cast. Mostly consisting of unknowns, including lead Jamie Lee Curtis (at the time), the young stars and starlets give the film an even deeper sense of reality. Plus almost all of the characters are made instantly likable. They seem like people you know and could be friends with. The one name star in the cast, Donald Pleasence, is equally good (if entertainingly over the top) as the half crazed Doctor Loomis in pursuit of Myers.

In a nutshell the film’s greatest strengths are it’s simplicity, it’s minimalist style and it’s believability. Halloween’s great strength’s are also what led to the downfall of the new age of horror…

Halloween II (1981)-
Directed By Rick Rosenthal
Starring Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis

Immediately after the intense success of Halloween, studios went into over drive trying to create the next slasher juggernaut. The first was When A Stranger Calls, in 1979. A solid and stylish Halloween clone, that has since become a genre classic due mostly to it’s intense opening and closing segments. The next was Friday the 13th in 1980 (which I will dive into later.) Then quickly came Prom Night, Terror Train and Friday the 13th Part II (among others.) Not to be outdone, the owners of Halloween decided to jump on the sequel bandwagon before the presumed well ran dry…

Thus came Halloween II “More of the night HE came home!”

Original director/writer John Carpenter wanted little to do with the project, as he wished to move onto more ambitious things. But he and his producing/writing partner of the time Debra Hill were coaxed back to do the script at least. Directing duties were handed over to newcomer Rick Rosenthal. Who, attempted to replicate the look of the original film at least, by working closely with original cinematographer Dean Cundey. Carpenter also came back with his iconic score. (Carpenter was also brought back in after production to punch up the death scenes with some added gore, when the fairly restrained film was deemed too tame to compete with Friday the 13th and it’s like.)

While the film is almost entirely an extended stalk and slash sequence, set within the confines of a Hospital (world’s most darkly lit hospital at that) I find the movie quite enjoyable, especially when viewed back to back with the original. As one extended film the one two punch of Halloween and Halloween 2 is an excellent experience in horror.

On it’s own though, Halloween II isn’t that great. The film looks lovely, it’s well acted again and the death scenes are good. But it’s as shallow as a saucer plot wise and there just isn’t that spark found present in the original. It’s a fairly classy production, but it feels like what it is, a cash in.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch-
Directed By Tommy Lee Wallace
Starring Tom Atkins and Dan O’Herlihy

Halloween II made a lot of money, but it was savaged by critics, so the creative team behind the Halloween series decided to go in a different direction with Part 3. (Can you imagine a time period when producers actually CARED about making a classy, original horror film? Jesus.)

It was John Carpenter, Debra Hill and Tommy Lee Wallace’s (production designer of the first two films) intent to make a new Halloween film each year, based on different myths and characters. If Season of the Witch succeeded… of course. Naturally, Season of the Witch (very much NOT a typical slasher film) failed miserably with audiences and critics.

Was it deserved though? In my opinion, no.

The film is a conspiracy thriller set around the discovery of Halloween Masks that, when activated by a cutesy television commercial, shoot laser beams into your skull and turn your head into a mass of nasty icky stuff.

That aspect alone is enough to hold a fist high in support of it’s originality (and send most people running from it.)

Overall, I think the film is a stylish, low budget exercise. The plot is intriguing and suspenseful (if a tad silly.) And it features some genuinely good performances and special effects. It’s not AMAZING though and despite my liking the second one more, Part III is arguably a better film than it’s predecessor by a large margin. It’s purposefully dark and nihilistic ending ranks as a high point in the Halloween series for me and one that could never be made today. (I think perhaps Season of the Witch would have fared better had it not had the Halloween pedigree attached to it.)

Never the less, no one else liked it (and still very few do) so the Halloween series faded into the background for 6 years, seemingly as dead as Michael Myers.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)-
Directed By Dwight H. Little
Starring Donald Pleasence and Danielle Harris

By 1988 the slasher film had pretty much been killed by the Friday the 13th series and all it’s knock offs (Elm Street had something to do with it too, but they are a different kind of film altogether) so it seemed unlikely that a Halloween Part 4 would do well or be any good. Turns out it did and it was.

Halloween 4 is generally considered a return to form for the series and is considered by most to be the best latter period sequel, or at the very least worthy to be in the same class as Part 1 and 2. And, I tend to agree with the general consensus of Halloween 4’s quality.

The film is essentially a remake of the original plot wise. A group of kids are stalked by a silent, seemingly unstoppable, masked man (Michael Myers), who just escaped from a Hospital and is being pursued himself by his unhinged doctor.

However, unlike part II, who didn’t really match the spirit of the original in terms of characters and writing, Halloween 4 gave us likable characters again and a fairly tight, suspenseful story. Stylistically the film is very similar to the first two, if not having quite as much visual flourish. Alan Howarth takes over score duties amiably and returns Carpenter’s iconic theme. The extended near finale/mid section of the film, set inside the Sheriff’s house is a grand tour-de-force of low budget suspense, and a great surprise for a film made during the dying days of the slasher genre.

The Return of Michael Myers is a great film on it’s own merits too and a worthy addition to the Halloween series. It did moderately well with critics of the time and audiences made it a moderate hit.

Impressed, the producers of the series decided to rush another entry out onto screens for an October 1989 release.

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)-
Directed By Dominique Othenin-Girard
Starring Donald Pleasence and Danielle Harris

Halloween 4 ended on a dark and ambiguous note, echoing the beginning of the original film, suggesting that Michael’s niece Jamie, would be the killer in the next film (should one be made.)

Obviously, fearing a Part 3 type backlash, the producers relented on the interesting premise promised by the last film and delivered more of the same.

Essentially a rehashing of a rehashing, Halloween 5 is a competently made, if uninspiring entry into the series. The acting is still decent, with Pleasence’s over the top histrionics always being a pleasure to watch. The film looks nice, if a bit flat and the score by Alan Howarth is still suitably spooky. A major detraction from the film are two idiotic cops and the horrid score that accompanies them. But, overall, despite a creepy sequence in a kid’s hospital, several atmospheric scenes set in Michael’s home, and another dark, ambiguous ending, the film just seems tired and lazy.

And, due to the rushed, cheapo nature of the production, it’s easy to understand why. Revenge is good by slasher standards, but not exceptional like the last entry.

Halloween 666: The Origin of Michael Myers/Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)-
Directed By Joe Chappelle
Starring Donald Pleasence and Paul Rudd

Wanting to make good on the last film’s off kilter ending, the makers of Halloween 6 decided to be brave and go in a different direction again, by showing and examining just what made Michael Myers the killer he is.

What they came up with, a mysterious druid cult that has been making people like Michael Myers for “centuries” through the use of mystical rune stones and magic ceremonies was certainly far fetched (and not handled too greatly) but hey, at least it was different right?

The original cut of the film, the “Producer’s Cut” or Halloween 666: The Origin of Michael Myers ran nearly an hour and forty minutes and was quite different from what ended up in theaters. The film ran smoothly and detailed the activities of the “Thorn Cult” that controlled Michael Myers. It explained that Myers was made to sacrifice every member of his bloodline until no one was left, then the “Curse of Thorn” would be passed on to another. Stylistically the film was fairly subdued and visually in line with the previous installments. The death scenes were well shot, but more minimal in terms of gore. And the score, by Alan Howarth again, was mostly subtle and suspense oriented.

This version of the film was shown to test audiences… and they hated it. While it is definitely hard to catch this version of the film, I do prefer it to the theatrical cut. I feel if the Original Cut had a bit more judicious editor, someone to just tighten it up a tad AND had some better effects during the Druid ritual finale, it would have been quite good. Certainly equal with Part 4.

NOW, the Theatrical Cut is a different matter. I consider the “Music Video Cut” of Halloween 6 to be the birth of today’s style of horror film. Basically the original cut of the film was taken and run through a blender, excising most scenes with Donald Pleasence and explanations of the druid plot elements. Leaving what I’m sure was a disjointed and now 88 minute long film. But, to compound this even more, they went further and added flash cuts, more, somewhat out of place gore (that ended up getting edited itself by the MPAA anyways) and a weird hard rock score.

The most widely available cut of the film is still a decent slasher flick, but it feels messy and incoherent in many places. And it just doesn’t seem like a Halloween film.

Halloween H20 (1998)-
Directed By Steve Miner
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Josh Hartnett

Immediately after Halloween 6 came Scream and it’s various knock offs, ushering in firmly, the current era of horror we still reside in.

H20 was designed to be something of a reset button for the series. A conscious erasure of parts 3-6. In essence the makers of H20 wished for it to be considered the real Part 3. A novel idea at the time to be sure, but the film they made didn’t quite end up fitting the lofty ideas set for it.

Plot wise the film does act as a part 3 of sorts. Star of parts 1 and 2 Jamie Lee Curtis has been brought back into the fray and the story follows her life over the past 20 years and her current situation. Jamie Lee faked her death shortly after the events of part 2 and has been in hiding, in the remote hillsides of California since. She is now employed as a the Principal of a posh private school. And aside from a few nightmare’s involving her murderous brother, life in hiding with her son is good, strained, but good.

Of course we wouldn’t have a movie if Michael Myers had died at the end of part 2. He too has been in hiding all these years, biding his time and trying to find his long lost sister. Find her he does, then the film drops into it’s well worn territory of stalk and kill sequences.

H20 is a well made film. Jamie Lee is in top form, as always, and the rest of the cast does decently. It’s visual style looks very set in it’s time period though. It doesn’t seem like a Halloween film in it’s look, it’s too slick and brightly lit. Also, once the semi-originality of the basis of the plot has passed and we get to the general “running around in dark hallways” bit, the film loses it’s steam and interest.

It’s a decent entry, far better than part 6 and with more energy and depth than part 5. It’s a good, solid film, but not quite as good as it thinks it is.

Halloween: Resurrection (2002)-
Directed By Rick Rosenthal
Starring Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks

Although H20’s very satisfying conclusion made sure that this time, Michael Myers really was dead, the film also made a lot of money and garnered quite a few good reviews. This naturally meant another Halloween film was to be made, but how?

A major, and annoying plot contrivance.

With Myers “back from the dead” out of the way the film runs a tired gambit of cliche and boredom, while it kills off it’s annoying cast.

The plot revolves around a team of people, shooting an internet aired “Ghost Hunters” type program from inside Michael Myers house. Little do they know, Michael is alive and blah blah blah.

I’m normally not like this, but I hate Resurrection. It’s bad, it’s not fun, it’s crass and un-stylish and just generally dull. I’ve seen worse, but as far as the Halloween films go, it’s the nadir, so lets move on.

Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007)-
Directed By Rob Zombie
Starring Malcolm McDowell and Sheri Moon Zombie

Realizing they killed their cash cow with the last installment, the producers of the Halloween series, ever the pioneers, decided to remake the original.

I do not hate Rob Zombie’s Halloween as many people do. The first hour of the film is a great, trashy, John Waters like comedy. It’s inept, it’s inane and it’s delightful to watch, if you like rednecks screaming at each other and cursing a lot. In this first half of the film we learn that young Michael Myers had a horrible childhood with his stripper mom and asshole stepdad. This of course doesn’t make it scarier or more interesting when he becomes a mindless killing machine later, but, as I like to say, it’s different right?

The first hour of the film is definitely more Rob Zombie’s usual thing. There is no real need for suspense to be generated and it’s just silly, hick melodrama. When it gets to John Carpenter territory in the second act however, is when the train flies off the tracks and goes straight to mediocrity. The stalk/slash scenes so deftly handled in Parts 1, 2 and 4 are HARD to do well for anyone, but made doubly so when you dislike the people being killed. You don’t care about them, so why should them being viciously murdered bother or disturb you?

The latter half of the film is shot in a murky, faux-gritty manner, with ultra violent gore sequences that don’t fit with the usual Halloween aesthetic in any way. And it features even more dislikable characters/dialog than the first half of the film. The thick hard rocking score and badly over used “70’s period” songs just don’t work. And Zombie’s habit of shooting everything like the 90’s version of the 70’s that was popular for a few years, ten years ago, just doesn’t help matters. While not deplorable, unwatchable or repellent like the last entry, the film ends up just being dull.

Come for the silly first half, don’t stick around for the “serious” second.

Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (2009)-
Directed By Rob Zombie
Starring Malcolm McDowell and Sheri Moon Zombie

And back into the toilet we go…

Rob Zombie’s Halloween was a hit and generally liked by most, so naturally a sequel was in order. Originally Rob Zombie wasn’t going to return, but after being incensed by people mucking up his “vision” he decided to make his true, artistic statement, with Halloween 2.

The film begins with a decent, if uninspired, dream sequence/homage to the Hospital Bound original sequel. This extended opening gambit turns out to be the only decent part of the whole film, the rest is all garbage.

The worst part of the film, comes right after the opening, when Michael’s body is being transported by two VERY unqualified persons, in a van, to a morgue… somehwere… These people, who are drunk, filthy and cursing like parodies of Tourettes sufferers accidentally run into a very random cow in the middle of the road. Naturally, one guy is killed and the other, who sits paralyzed in his seat saying “Fuck” no less than 20 Million times in the span of two minutes, is murdered rather slowly by a revived Myers.

The rest of the film is a murky, nasty, F-Bomb laden world populated with hateful, unlikable people and stupidity. The plot, what little there is, rambles along at a deadly, languid pace, intermixing moments of abject idiocy with painful nastiness (and out of place celebrity cameos.) The violence is still hyper-gritty/realisitc and out of place for the series. The movie looks like it was shot through the bottom of a lake and the score/music is even more jarring than the last film. It’s no wonder it flopped and Zombie was fired.

To leave you with a bit of terror, in a close for this piece, Halloween III in 3-D is set for release in 2011… Will it be a new dimension of terror? Or a quite old dimension of suck? Who can say? The team making it Patrick Lussier and Todd Farmer did the exceptionally decent My Bloody Valentine 3-D remake definitely seem to understand the spirit of the slasher film better than Zombie, that’s all I can say for now.

Either way, as the old saying goes, everyone deserves one good scare, maybe the next film will have at least one… Unlike Parts 8-10.

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