61 Days of Halloween- Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

Paul Rudd in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (Universal)

OK, so what is the deal with part 6 in a super-long horror franchise? Previously, I was surprised by how out of the blue good Friday the 13th: Part 6 managed to be. Well, here it strikes again.

The first thing that needs to be established is that part of what makes this work is the fact that rather than revealing a previously unknown branch of the Myers or Strode family tree here we go back. This film involves Tommy Doyle many years later. Tommy had long ago been discarded from the series and had come to be a non-entity. To bring him back as a character who has become obsessed with studying Michael Myers and what makes him tick is so ingenious you wonder that it didn’t happen before.

After all it was Tommy’s prodding who introduced the concept of the boogeyman into the films in the first place. Another good thing is that it does finally resolve the Jamie Lloyd storyline, which is commendable because they could’ve thrown that away. Granted it was a little quick and brazen considering how huge an obstacle she was but it at least it was dealt with.

Part of what makes this film interesting is that it goes beyond the fact that Michael is just looking for a blood relation and examines the question why Halloween? It searches for and finds answers previously intimated in Part II with the allusion to the ritual of Samhain.

Not only that but it makes bigger societal commentaries with a shock jock character and also with the misguided and scarily cabalistic worship that Michael has inspired in some.

Right off the bat the first two kills in this film are gruesomely fantastic and likely to garner an audible reaction and it sets the tone for the rest of the film.  

It follows thru on so many things in the past that were left dangling and executes its own plot so well it’s hard not to like this installment in the series. Part of how the shock jock fits into the film is that he is bringing Halloween back to Haddonfield after it has been banned. It also through some tongue-in-cheek humor lampoons where the series could but does not go and makes it very entertaining.

While this is the first film in a while to try and expound on the psychology of Michael Myers it does carry through another valuable constant and that is Dr. Loomis. His being retired at this point and being drawn back in while a standard tactic when combined with these factors works to great effect.

It was also a fitting swansong for Donald Pleasence in the series that the film was dedicated to his memory and the last hint of him we have is through voice over and not a visual. Granted this is a decision likely forced upon the production it ended up being fortuitous and as classy a farewell as one could expect from a slasher franchise.

While this film takes the story more into the outside world than any other had it doesn’t feel in any way disingenuous but rather a natural evolution of the story. Nothing is rehashed and it is probably the most startlingly original installment to the series barring the progenitor.

This one is definitely worth viewing and giving a chance. Do not judge it by where it falls chronologically.

8/10

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61 Days of Halloween- Halloween II (1981)

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Halloween II (1981)

Halloween II (Univeral Pictures)

What is interesting to note about the second Halloween film is that much like the Friday the 13th series it rewinds and replays the end of the previous film. This film does so to great affect because it doesn’t go back too far or splice it up it only backtracks the necessary amount to be able to continue the story in exact chronological order. So in the world of this film it is still October 31, 1978 and the film does a tremendous job in creating a very believable continuity in all aspects.

Much like the first film, and many horror films, there is an homage on a TV and you see clips from Night of the Living Dead.

Part of what makes this film interesting is that it starts with the media not yet having released that it is Michael Myers. So his legend is not yet re-popularized, which does mean you need to make a leap of faith when you see that someone is walking about dressed like him. The first seems to indicate the jumpsuit is acquired from a trucker. This potential hole aside the scene is still tremendously effective because later you do see the medical examination of the charred corpse and also because it ends up being Bennett Tramer, Lori’s crush who is merely mentioned in the first film.

This is also the first real taste you get of the vilification of Dr. Loomis. The police show a lot of, if not infallible, patience in the first film. Here Myers affects them personally and they lash out at Loomis.

The flow of news that’s being disseminated is very well handled from news stand ups to snippets overheard from a boom box. It reflects the widening of Myers’s scope. While this widening is well handled it’s part of what makes this film not quite the first. While it is very chilling throughout there was a certain sense of claustrophobia that was created by focusing on two babysitting assignments on either side of a street in the first film that is better and absent here.

The cinematography in this film is perhaps even better than the first. An advantage of the changed scope is that Dean Cundey is given a wider variety of canvases upon which to paint.

What propels the series in this edition is the twist it provides. It provides Michael both in the original and in this installment with motivation that goes beyond just simple revenge. It is also different as it provides a twist to the nature or identity of the victim as opposed to the villain.

There is more, however, which makes this a truly special film not only in horror but in the realm of sequels. This film also has an iconic moment, more a concept really, and that is finding the word “samhain” written in blood on an elementary school chalkboard.

What is perhaps best about the character of Lori Strode is that she always seems to very genuinely connect with the audience, which is not merely a function of her being played by Jamie Lee Curtis. It is also due in part to the fact that she very often reflects the audience’s thoughts: “He is the Boogeyman,” or in this film “Why won’t he die?” and because it’s Jamie Lee Curtis it sounds like a genuine question and not a punchline from an Austin Powers film.

Lori is also able to distract Michael long enough to get him offguard by showing she knows who he is. In what could’ve been a move that took it over the top Michael is shot in the head and blood runs out of his mask’s eye holes and represent the tears he cannot shed. It does work, however, because his action belies that seeming representation of emotion. However, he was stopped when he saw he was recognized.

This film also makes Loomis, despite all the failings he’s had whether they were his fault or not, its hero as he manages to stop Michael (or so it seems) even in the final confrontation there is a great image and moment to be had.

While it doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor it does do right by the story, concept and its characters.

8/10

61 Days of Halloween- Halloween (1978)

Most holidays worth their while encompass entire seasons, such as Christmas, for example. However, as you may have noticed there is a corporate push every year for us to think about the next holiday even sooner. While this has many negative side effects I figure I may as well embrace it.

Since Labor Day is really only good for college football and movie marathons cinematically it is as significant as Arbor Day, which means the next big day on the calendar is Halloween and we can start looking toward it starting now.

Daily I will be viewing films in the horror genre between now and then and sharing the wealth. Many, as is usually the case, will not be worth it so for every disappointment so I will try and suggest something worth while as well.

Halloween (1978)

At times it can be almost more difficult to write about a great movie than it can be to write a mediocre or terrible one. That, however, is not the case when it comes to John Carpenter’s Halloween.

So much in this film works to absolute perfection. It starts right off the bat with the theme. It is not only one of the best themes in the horror genre but in cinema and furthermore there are variations on it such that the entire score is fantastic.

The film starts, of course, with the brilliant prologue which shows Michael’s genesis. There is tremendous use of POV in this scene and also silently the character is being built. Many a horror villain are too chatty. What separates Myers and Voorhees is their silence which amplifies the fear factor. What sets Myers apart is that he never has anyone acting on his behalf he is always “evil incarnate” as Dr. Loomis calls him. Which helps make the prologue more shocking and why it lands high on this list (don’t follow the link if you haven’t seen the film).

The prologue ends in a near cinematic tableau as we are allowed to absorb the awe of what we just witnessed. The story recommences 15 years later. Loomis is introduced and immediately another brilliantly staged and crafted scene breaks out where you see Michael in his present state.

Following this is where Haddonfield and its characters are introduced. The first two sections are played in darkness but then Loomis chasing Michael, Loomis talking to authorities, Laurie Strode’s day and Michael’s following are played in daylight. Night falls for good in the 35th minute of the film and from thereon in horror film history is made.

It can not be overstated that what makes the most effective horror films nine times out of ten is building character and concept. Loomis both in trying to get people to understand what they’re dealing with reveals some of what his experience has been and how he’s become not so much jaded as aware.

What should not be overlooked is all the talk about the boogeyman. It may be too easy to slough this aside as childish nonsense, however, the film makes it perfectly clear by the end that it’s as good a description as you’re likely to get.

Part of what makes Michael Myers such an iconic figure is that he really does get under your skin. He watches you when you don’t realize it, when you think you caught him he vanishes and he comes out of nowhere with some of the best entrances you can ask for in cinema. It truly is spine-tingling stuff. Furthermore these entrances while accompanied by SFX and music don’t crank the volume up so loud that that’s what scares you. That’s what I call a false scare. In this film music and effects underscore what is scaring you which is Myers.

It’s hard to think of a third act in a horror film which has more memorable, shocking and iconic moments. There is Judith Myer’s tombstone, the double-scare corpses and the shadow lurking. Yet it doesn’t stop there. Right at the end there are four extraordinarily memorable moments which to not give too much away I will similarly label: He is the Boogeyman, The Unscored Moment (where the silence makes the visual even more frightening), Vanish and The Breathing Montage.

It’s about as well-crafted as a film, regardless of genre, can be. It spawned a slew of imitators and it attacks primal fears on so many levels. There’s not much like Halloween and even with the ups and downs of the franchise it is likely the best horror series ever.

10/10

Two for Tuesday #2

So for this Two for Tuesday I decided to switch things up because after all variety is the spice of life, or so they say. Rather than continuing the Oscar theme, and sparing my DVR, I decided to finally give a few DVDs I picked up over the summer a chance.

Both of them are horror films. One is called Boogeyman and the other is Shutter. As further proof that there’s not that much at all in a name the former is much better than the latter.

Boogeyman

Barry Watson in Boogeyman (Columbia Pictures)

On the surface you may think there’s nothing much to Boogeyman. It’s a tale we’ve all more or less heard, mostly through oral tradition. Some of us horror aficionados have even read Stephen King’s rather brilliant rendition of the legend.

This film does have some surprises in store, however. Not the least of which is the performance of Barry Watson. Now I was not all that familiar with Watson’s work other than his time on 7th Heaven. I came away from this film quite impressed with him indeed. It’s a quiet role that dominates the film and he handles it easily. He is convincingly scared without ever going over the top, much of his dialogue is in whispers but it never gets annoying and he’s the kind of everyman that can really transport you into a horror film.

It can be easy for a horror film to have a really effective teasing scene but it’s far more rare for that scene to have such a direct correlation to the rest of the film but it gets more surprising. The villain, the literal Boogeyman in this case, is hardly ever seen for 80-90% of the film playing into the doubt of his existence and actually amping up how scary this film can be. I mean literally absent not you don’t see its face I mean most of the time you see nothing which is an amazing feat.

Time and space are played with quite effectively, there is also what in another film would be a major twist moved up and not made the center of attention which is refreshing. While not original there is also a play on missing children in this film, which is always an effective angle for a horror film.

The cinematography both in terms of lighting and framing and how it shoots into the edit is brilliant. Kudos to Bobby Bukowski, a name I think I’d like to get better acquainted with.

With all this goodness mounting still there was a niggling doubt building. The question that kept bugging me was: “Why have I never heard of this movie?” I answered that question and much to my chagrin had my speculation confirmed.

Now some, Stephen King, included will cite the revelation of He Who Walks Behind the Rows as the downfall of Children of the Corn, while I can’t argue that the effects are great I still like them in a cheesy 80s kind of way and love the film. Here not so much. After so much that went right the effects totally drop the ball and actually made me giggle a few times which is tragic because there were genuine scares to be had before.

To think with just a halfway decent practical makeup job on the Boogeyman it could’ve been something special.

Shutter

Joshua Jackson and Megumi Okina in Shutter (20th Century Fox)

For everything that Boogeyman did right and then blew in the ending, Shutter pretty much did all those things wrong right off the bat and then compounded with a stupid ending. The giggle factor for me starts right at the beginning shortly after the inciting incident.

While Boogeyman is a quiet and mostly very intelligent film with commendable performances by the cast Shutter is louder, dumber and poorly acted through a lot of it.

Now I can say I’ve seen enough Asian horror to cast aspersions on an entire continent’s approach to a genre but I sure as hell have had enough of our pale imitations both via remake and rip-off. There always ends up being more unintentional comedy than an actual fear factor.

There is a delicate balance in horror films: too much build up or too much action, especially if its repetitive, is likely to bore an audience. This film falls into the latter category. For the longest time we see “spirit photos,” which is an oft-used trick in supernatural films then there is the girl herself and we just see her incessantly and it takes next to forever for her to actually do anything.

As more details unravel about her identity and motivation things just get progressively dumber and uninteresting instead of getting smarter and more engrossing, again the antithesis of the previous film.

I won’t spoil the ending but it’s the kind that if you liked the film you love it because of how it concludes. If you hated it before you’ll loathe it after its through.