Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The Shape of Things to Come: Looking Back on the “Halloween” Series While Hoping “Halloween 3D” Doesn’t Suck

Nothing screams Halloween like the sweaty dog days of summer. I’m pretty sure I’ve made it abundantly clear that the original 1978 film “Halloween” is one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s certainly my favorite horror film of all time. There’s not much to say about it that hasn’t already been said before as most die hard horror movie fans know every little minute detail about the film and how it was made including knowing that the disturbingly freaky mask is just in fact a William Shatner Captain Kirk mask painted white (and some tweaks to the hair and eye holes) and that the end credits of the film mistakenly refer to the adult Michael Myers as being “Age 23” when in fact he is actually 21. A mistake that is repeated in the “Halloween II” end credits, I might add.

While “Halloween” has always and will always be my favorite horror film, I sort of have a sordid relationship with the series as a whole. Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy all the films for what they’re worth, but like no other horror franchise (besides arguably Friday the 13th) has a series of films just become worse and worse with each passing entry. I think that mostly has to do with the fact that the original film is so strong – so strong in fact that it’s actually a well regarded film in its own right, horror film or not, and even ‘dead teenager movie’ hater Roger Ebert gave it four stars and compared it to “Psycho.” It was once the highest grossing independent film of all time. Those sequels had a lot to live up to. No one will make the same argument for the original “Friday the 13th” which was just a downright awful movie and an intentional cash grab and “Halloween” rip-off. Director Sean S. Cunningham said that himself. Having said all that there are some genuinely good “Halloween” sequels and some downright painfully bad ones. The bad ones make us horror nerds look bad.

Let’s start with one of the best “Halloween” sequels and that would be “Halloween II.” The film was made three years after the original and yet it takes place literally right where the first film left off: Michael Myers has escaped, yet again, after being shot six times by Dr. Sam Loomis. Laurie Strode (a wig-topped Jamie Lee Curtis, who returns but mostly gets to play her scenes half asleep in a hospital bed) is taken to what is probably the worst run hospital in the United States: Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. The hospital literally staffs about six people all of whom don’t really do much except for watching TV and canoodling in the therapy pool. And where are all the patients? We get one kid who cuts his tongue open - probably on one of those infamous candy-hidden razor blades – and a bunch of babies in the maternity ward. But where are the mothers? Where are the freaking patients in this hospital?? Oh wait, I forgot that it costs money to pay extras. So meanwhile Michael Myers steals an old lady’s knife, kills a random woman who we’ve met for 4 seconds and makes his way to the hospital, no not because he’s been shot six times, but to find Laurie. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) is as crazy and wild-eyed as ever and him and the police don’t even think for a second about the possibility that Myers might actually follow Laurie even though that’s who he was just after. Once at the hospital he proceeds to decimate the staff in increasingly gruesome ways – needles into eyeballs, hammers into heads, scalding off a nurse’s face- basically all of the ways he DIDN’T just kill everyone merely hours before. Stylistically part 1 and 2 are very similar. Part 2 does feel like it could make one larger movie, as if it were Lord of the Rings, and thankfully they get the look of the white mask pretty much correct. The music score is now extremely 80s sounding as it was composed on a synthesizer organ instead of a piano. Let it be said that John Carpenter didn’t direct this time but opted to just produce and write (with his partner Debra Hill) and the only real original thing he came up with was making Laurie Strode Michael Myers’ younger sister (a plot point he admited thinking of while he was high). It sort of works, but unfortunately it’s a plot device that totally threw the whole series into the crapper. Loomis and Myers blow up in a fiery explosion. Remember that.

The less said about “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” the better. Carpenter said he’d only work on a part 3 if he could produce a story that had nothing to do with Michael Myers. Geez, poor Michael, what did he ever do to you Mr. Carpenter besides GIVE YOU A FREAKIN’ SUCCESSFUL FILM CAREER! So they decided to get the production designer/editor from the original film Tommy Lee Wallace to write and direct a Halloween-set story about a maniacal mad scientist guy who wants to kill children on Halloween night by selling them masks that make their heads explode with creepy crawly bugs. The movie does feature some interesting death scenes… a guy’s head gets ripped off and the aforementioned bugs are downright gross. Almost too gross. But there’s nothing really here to keep anyone that entertained for 98 minutes. The film features a bizarre cameo of the original Halloween movie playing on a TV screen that makes us wonder how a film called Halloween III could possibly be taking place in a world where the Halloween movies exist in the first place. Well I guess we know where Wes Craven got his “New Nightmare” idea from. This is thing is just awful and I usually refuse to acknowledge this flick as “Halloween” movie. If they had just released it as “Season of the Witch” it would probably get a smidge more respect.

For some reason, “Halloween III” was a miserable flop. Maybe the fact that is sucked had something to do with it? Moustapha Akkad (the “Godfather” of the Halloween movies) sensing something a bit off, decided to go back to the basics (Michael Myers stalking teenagers) and make another Halloween movie that people actually wanted to see. And thus “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” was born, which is hands down the best film with the “Jamie Lloyd” plotline. But that’s not saying much. This movie is pretty gosh darn awful too. And that mostly has to do with George P. Wilbur and his stupidly annoyingly horrendous performance as Michael Myers and those stupid shoulder pads didn’t help much either. I dare anyone, be it a 5 year old or an 85 year old, to watch “Halloween 4” and even attempt to be scared of Michael Myers in it. The mask is way off. Way, way off. At least the theatrical poster got it right. I think by having a story about Laurie Strode’s young daughter (played by Danielle Harris) being chased by a serial killer would automatically make the movie scary, but it doesn’t. (And for the record Jamie Lee Curtis was a big star by 1988 and had little interest in doing another Halloween film and thus her character was killed off about a year before Halloween 4 takes place) A bright spot in the film is definitely the Elizabeth Shue-like Ellie Cornell as Rachel Carruthers who actually gave the audience someone to identify with. She’s not the most outstanding Final Girl the horror genre has ever seen, but since most people were pissed that she was killed off in part 5, I guess that’s saying something. If you thought the last movie was unbelievable, how about this: it turns out Michael Myers survived that fiery blast at the end of part 2 and has in fact been in a coma for ten years. And since God doesn’t just save serial murderers from fiery explosions, he saved Dr. Loomis as well as evidenced by the scar on his face, ala the shark in “Jaws 2.” Now this time, it’s personal! (even though Loomis created the explosion anyways) There is some teenage love triangle stuff going on here, but the best was saved for last when after Myers is seemingly shot to death and buried in a mine shaft (sure), innocent little Jamie stabs her foster mother to death, which sends Loomis into an appropriately timed and comically hilarious panic. And thus was Michael’s “evil” passed down to his young niece? I guess we’ll have to wait for part 5 to see…

So here we are a year later and every Halloween fan is exited to see “Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers” because it will be about his young niece Jamie turning evil! Oh wait, it isn’t. It’s about her going all Helen Keller and being an annoying mute for half the movie. (Yeah I said half the movie, because at some point someone must of unpressed the mute button I guess and she starts talking again for no apparent reason). Oh and she’s psychically linked to her uncle now and goes into violent spasms whenever he kills someone. Oh and she befriends this other little boy while in the psycho ward. Oh and no one seems to care that this little girl stabbed her foster mother to death, even her own daughter Rachael, who we grew to like in part 4, but just seems airy and dumb here and gets killed off pretty quickly and without much real build up or suspense. Way to go director Dominque Othenin-Girard. Where’d they ever find this dude? He sucks! There’s no suspense here, no one we even care about (and they introduced every Halloween fan's nightmare: Tina), and as if those were two things horror movie fans even cared about in slasher movies, he just attempts to make the movie BORING. I think I’m at the point where I actually think part 6 is better simply because this one is such a freaking slog to sit through. This is the film that notoriously introduced the “thorn” storyline and had the mysterious “Man in Black” help Michael escape at the end of the film. Way to end the film on a cliffhanger and then wait six years before making the next one. It’s probably because this one bombed almost as bad as part III.

And that brings me to “Halloween The Curse of Michael Myers.” Aka Halloween 666 The Origin of Michael Myers. This film, written by a long time Halloween fan, is what happens when you let a FAN write a movie. Hey just because I love “Airplane!” doesn’t mean it earns me the right to write “Airplane! Part III: The Trilogy.” This writer, who I won’t even mention by name, almost single handedly ruined the Halloween series with this dreadful entry. This movie continued with the silly plot elements that were hinted at in the previous movie. We learn that Michael Myers had a curse placed on him which would make him kill off his entire bloodline. And the curse could only be lifted once that was accomplished and then it could be passed on to someone else. As Paul Rudd says in the film (yeah THAT Paul Rudd) when the “thorn” constellation appears, that’s when HE shows up. What a bunch of hogwash. That is why movies that attempt to explain why a killer is a killer just don’t work. This movie works simply on a “so bad it’s good” level. It’s constantly watchable and never really boring because every time you think it can’t get worse or make any less sense, it does! For instance, this film takes place six years after the previous film, so therefore young Jamie Lloyd would be about 14 years old and no one ever explains why she’s played by an actress who was 20 years old at the time. Is it just me or does she remind you of Kit from “A League of their Own?” So there is a new family living in Michael Myers’ house and young Tommy Doyle from the first film (Rudd) is watching over them because he knows that Myers is going to come back. And he does. The people living in the house are jerks and you cheer every single time one of them bites it. And if any movie was a showcase in horrendous and sloppy editing this is the film to watch. But I won’t blame just the editor on that, I’ll blame the studio (Dimension, part of Miramax, which was owned by Disney, how family friendly!) who decided to literally butcher the entire film before it was released. They ordered reshoots and script changes. The behind the scenes stuff is literally legendary on this one and the bootleg “Producer’s Cut VHS and DVD have been circulating and selling like hotcakes. Although now it’s on YouTube for every Halloween fan’s convenience. This was sadly Donald Pleasance’s last film as he died shortly after shooting ending and it’s probably for the best.

And just when you thought it was safe to go trick-or-treating, here comes another Halloween movie! With the success of “Scream” came the reboot to end all reboots. “Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later” is one of the best Halloween movies ever made and while it doesn’t match the original scare factor of the original it certainly makes a great companion piece to parts 1 and 2. Jamie Lee Curtis, who wanted nothing to do with parts 4, 5 and 6 actually suggested this project herself. The film takes place twenty years after the original film and finds Laurie Strode in hiding out in California as Keri Tate, the headmistress of a private school. A private school with teenagers ripe for being slaughtered. Her teenage son ( 90s heartthrob Josh Hartnett) who jus turned seventeen is a student at her school and she’s very protective of him. She’s divorced and an alcoholic. Basically what you’d expect if a guy in a mask killed all your friends and then tried to kill you too. She thinks that it’s possible that Michael Myers could still be out there looking for her since “they never found a body.” Mmmhmmm. I still don’t get how Michael Myers or Sam Loomis could have survived that blast but maybe it wasn’t as bad as I remember. Let me check…. Nope it’s pretty fiery. Myer’s appearance is never explained and that’s probably for the best, because any of the reasons why a serial killer comes back to life is always just hokey at best. He proceeds to murder nurse Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), who was in the first two films, to get files on Laurie’s whereabouts. I didn’t realize that when you go into hiding your file and exact whereabouts is just sitting in some nurse’s home office waiting to be stolen. Myers makes his way across the country, steals a car from some Courtney Cox look-a-like and makes it to the private school where he gets by security guard LL Cool J. (is he the first Black guy in a Halloween movie or what?) and proceeds to stalk Laurie Strode and kill off the few students who didn’t go on a class trip to Yosemite National Park. Finally after twenty years Laurie Strode comes face to face, literally, with her nemesis Michael Myers. It’s too bad they couldn’t get the mask quite right like all the other sequels. In fact there are so many different masks used in this movie it’s hard to keep track, one of them is even CGI! I love that Curtis’s real life mom Janet Leigh makes an appearance and even makes a shower reference and is still driving the same car she drove in “Psycho.” Halloween H20 ends with a splendid finale in which Laurie chops off Michael’s head, ending the franchise for good. Really the worst thing you can really say about this movie, as a Halloween fan, is that they decided to release it in August and not October. And fun fact, this was the first R-rated movie that I saw in the theater.

Until they decided to make another movie 4 years later, which was stupidly called “Halloween: Resurrection.” It featured Michael Myers returning, after having survived his beheading by switching outfits with a paramedic whose throat he had ripped out. That’s almost as plausible as surviving a fiery explosion. Myers finds Laurie now in a mental institution where he manages to kill her off for good. And then has to kill off a bunch of young idiots filming a web reality show in his childhood home. And for the record this movie features three times as many Black people as the last movie. This movie is so dumb it makes the earlier sequels look good. I remember seeing this in the movie theater and actually jumping at parts but that’s probably because the movie was loud. At home it’s as dull as an unsharpened butcher’s knife. The idea that they would make a Halloween sequel to cash in on this “internet web cam” craze that wasn’t even really a craze is just dumb. Who the heck through it was a good idea to mix “Halloween” and “Big Brother?” Ugh, moving on.

And that’s where the Halloween franchise concluded, with one of the stupidest and pointless entries. That is until Rob Zombie came along and decided to remake the entire thing. He was a Halloween fan and decided it was time to go back and make Michael Myers scary again. His film would be part prequel (Michael Myer’s “origin” uh oh, this can’t be good) and part remake (introducing the Laurie Strode character and her slutty friends Annie and Linda, which I totally liked). Rob Zombie wasn’t the first person I would have chosen to restart this franchise. His movies are grungy and dirty and rednecky. And that doesn’t quite seem like “Halloween” to me. He turned the Myers family into a bunch of white trash morons who all deserved to die. Even little Jenny from “Forrest Gump” who played Michael Myer’s sister and victim Judith Myers. This time he kills his stepfather, his sister and her boyfriend. We now know that Laurie Strode is Michael’s sister and we sympathize with Michael Myers in a way we never did in the original film. Now we’re not scared of him, we’re identifying with him, which is a slasher movie no no. I liked some of the nods to the original film and you can’ tell they were trying to be faithful to a point. And then Zombie decided to go out on a limb and direct his own sequel “Halloween II” which I can’t even talk about. That movie was so dumb I can’t even stand it.

Which brings me to the point of all of this: After “Halloween II” was released it was announced that “Halloween 3” was being put into development, with a possibility of being released in 3D, with My Bloody Valentine 3D director Patrick Lussier at the helm. I have a few things to say about this. I’m glad that supposedly Rob Zombie won’t be involved, so I’m interested in what another filmmaker could bring to this series. And if it’s true that they are releasing it in 3D please for God’s sake make it fun, gimmicky 3D. I don’t want some crappy post-conversion. I want body parts and Michael Myers’ knife coming at my face. I have faith in Lussier, who shot his last couple films in actual 3D, so I’m not too worried. And if there’s one thing that I ask for, can you people PLEASE get his mask right? Why can’t they just go to William Shatner and make a mold of his face and make a freaking mask from it. Is it that hard? Sure I have a love-hate relationship with this wildly uneven horror series and they can make as many sequels as they want, but at least give us something better than “Season of the Witch.”

GRADES: Halloween: A+, Halloween II: A-, Halloween III: Season of the Witch: D-, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers: B-, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers: C-, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers: C, Halloween H20: A-, Halloween: Resurrection: D, Halloween: B-, Halloween II: F

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