Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the latest Scream and Shout column. If you're new 'round these parts, Scream and Shout takes a detailed look at the Blu-Ray releases of Shout Factory and its horror arm Scream Factory.
This is going to be an unusual entry to the column. I just couldn't pass up the chance to dive through Scream Factory's massive Halloween Box Set and wanted to get started before Halloween has come and gone.
I'm not the first to marathon these films and I sure as hell won't be the last, but I figured someone out there might want to hear some of my rambling thoughts on this cornerstone horror franchise. This series more than just about any other modern horror franchise is unfocused, contradictory and fractured almost beyond repair... yet there's something to it that keeps us coming back.
I'll be breaking the series down in a little bit of a different way. It won't be chronological, but instead focused on the lead characters. With that, let's talk a little bit about...
THE LAURIE STRODE FILMS:
Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode is one of the most famous “final girl”s in horror history, yet she's not as central to the franchise as you might remember.
Laurie was the first of her kind. She basically established the pure heroine in survival slasher films. When I say “pure” I don't mean Goody Twoshoes boring. Laurie smokes pot and talks about going out with boys. No, Laurie is just good-hearted. Her friends aren't bad people, but Laurie is definitely smarter and kinder than anyone else in the movie.
There were earlier films that played with the template that Halloween made famous, but it's unquestionable that it was John Carpenter's eye and way with characters that established the slasher as we know it today. Laurie Strode is a massive part of that.
Let's look back a little at Bob Clark's fantastic Black Christmas, which many genre fans hold up as the real first slasher. I've made the case myself, actually, because Clark very successfully established many slasher tropes with that film like the suburban setting and using the killer's POV. No matter how much you want to be a horror hipster and fight for the less-seen, but equally awesome movie there's no doubt whatsoever that it was Carpenter's film that changed the course of genre history.
You can point to many factors for this, not the least of which is that the movie was a massive financial hit that hundreds of low budget filmmakers tried to replicate, but the two key things that Carpenter (and Debra Hill, of course) did differently was give us an iconic villain and an iconic final girl.
That's not to put down Olivia Hussey at all. Objectively speaking, her Jess is actually a more complex and interesting character than Laurie Strode, but Carpenter hit on something with the simplicity of Laurie. There's no complicated backstory (in the first film at least), no deeper social political commentary to her character or anything like that. Laurie is as she appears to be and finds herself up against one of the best personifications of the boogeyman ever put to screen.
Michael Myers might just be a dude in a mask, but the simple choice to give him a white, expressionless face set off this series in a way I'm sure Carpenter, Hill, Wallace and the rest of the gang never expected. If I had to guess, I'd bet their initial reaction to The Shape's final form, at least at first, was “Hey, that's creepy. That'll work.” They ended up with a villain that could represent more than just a single madman, but everything any viewer could project onto him.
Much has been written about this aspect of Michael Myers, so I won't dwell on it much more, especially since I'm gonna circle back around to it when we get to the Rob Zombie films, but you can't deny how that core costume decision locked everything else into place and set the stage for a massive franchise.
Donald Pleasence's impact on the film shouldn't be underestimated either. He is very much the Obi-Wan Kenobi of this film, the elder, respected actor who brings a certain level of legitimacy to this genre picture simply by virtue of being in it. Pleasence's Dr. Loomis is never better in the franchise than he is in this first movie. There's a playful side to him here that I miss in the later films. When he freaks out the trick 'r treaters with the whispered “Lonny, get your ass away from there” from the bushes? And then his self-satisfied grin afterwards? Priceless.
Of course in the sequels Loomis knows he's dealing with something of a supernatural being, so it makes sense he's a bit more dour, but still I think he's at his best in this first movie.
The movie is simple, elegant, precise and expertly crafted by a filmmaker who is clearly hitting his stride on a technical level. There's a reason it's a classic and a film that will likely be studied by future generations.
Halloween 2 definitely feels like an afterthought, a surprised “holy shit, we need to make another one of these!” reaction to the original's runaway success. Still, I don't hate this movie and it's especially fun to watch back to back with the first because it's one of those rare sequels that starts the second the original film left off. The Phantasms are really good about that as well, by the way.
Halloween 2 has always reminded me Jaws 2. Both are lesser sequels to self-sustaining pictures that don't necessarily cry out for a continuation, both were made close enough to the first that the film stock, tone and atmosphere match and both were made by less talented directors than the first. Neither are bad movies, really, just a bit too much like the instant classic movie that came before so you're always reminded of the better version of what you're watching.
In the case of Halloween 2, they make a particularly head-scratching decision to keep Laurie as the main character yet have her knocked out in a hospital room recovering from the trauma of the events of the first film while the sequel happens outside.
And when Laurie does come back into the fold her character is one-note. She's only ever in survivor mode ala the last 25 minutes of Halloween, but for her entire screen time in Halloween 2. It's no wonder Jamie Lee wanted out of the franchise after that.
Loomis is on the first (of many) repeat cycles here, trying to convince the authorities that the killing spree isn't over. Loomis' descent into madness really starts here and it's an interesting idea for his character that is never really expanded upon. Here's an intellectual man who is presumably a top mind in his field who gave up trying to reach this demented child who murdered his sister who started believing this human being was pure evil and then he actually sees PROOF that this guy is more than human. Hell yes, he would crack!
But instead of exploring that they just kinda make him a whinier, more desperate version of the guy he played last time around.
You want to know what my favorite part about the movie is? Besides the film forever turning Mr. Sandman into a creepy-ass song, of course. There's a little throwaway moment at the very beginning, a little piece of flavor as we're introduced to the hospital setting where we see a mother walking her child into the emergency room, bloody rag at his mouth. She takes the rag away and we see a graphic effect of a razor blade stuck in this kid's mouth, a nod to the urban legend of evil people putting razors in apples or candy and handing them out on Halloween.
It's the most effective gore shot in the movie and it's just texture for a scene! And what do they do? They make this kid sit and wait in the emergency room! How fucked up is that?!?
I suppose now's a good time to talk about the decision to make Laurie Michael's sister. It works just as well continuity-wise as making Leia Luke's brother and only really serves to muddy up what was initially pretty clean cut.
One of the key things that makes Michael Myers scary is that he doesn't need a reason to kill or stalk somebody. The Shape works on his own internal logic and doesn't need to be trying to find his baby sister to give him motivation. What are we supposed to think he's doing? He wants to kill his other sister now that she's all grown up and has boobies? Or does he think his salvation lies in being with her?
Like I said, it's a complication to the narrative that just muddies the plot. I've never been a fan of the choice and its impact on the series.
To be fair to Carpenter and Hill (who wrote the sequel), they intended to end the Myers story here, having Loomis and Michael go up in a fiery inferno that should leave no doubt as to their fates. The laws of franchise filmmaking could never let that stand, of course. Killing off horror icons has always been trouble for genre filmmakers and this series in particular run up against that unbreakable law more than most franchises.
All in all, Halloween 2 is a perfectly serviceable sequel that feels a little bit like the steak that went through Seth Brundle's telepod is described. It's more imitation than the real deal, but it's still kinda steak.
Now we jump over Season of the Witch and the Jamie Lloyd films because that's exactly what Halloween: H20 did. “Jamie Lloyd? Never heard of her.” I actually wish more genre films would just drop bullshit continuity like this. We've all hoped some day Ripley, Hicks and Newt would awaken from their cryosleep and Ripley would talk about an awful dream she had involving a talking Alien/human hybrid.
Of all the films in this new box set, Halloween H20 was helped the most by this revisit. It helps that Jamie Lee's back (and invested), but I think the most important factor with this film is Steve Miner. He doesn't have a perfect filmography, but he's a real deal filmmaker and his artistry is on full display. He also chose to go back to the 2.35:1 aspect ratio that the Jamie Lloyd films abandoned for no fucking good reason.
Sitting through the Thorns Saga was rough and H20 felt a bit like a refresher course in why we liked this series in the first place. It's a mega-simple plot, but artistically done with full commitment from Curtis.
I honestly think that if the title wasn't so eye-rollingly goofy and if the Michael Myers mask didn't look so silly this movie would be held in much higher esteem by the horror community. As it is now H20 seems to get lumped in with the other shitty sequels and it's simply a better movie than almost every other sequel (excluding Part 4, but we'll get to that in a second).
The story ignores everything that happened after part 2, saying Laurie went into hiding after the events of the night He came home. Presumably Loomis died in the fire, but Michael's been out wandering around for 20 years. The film opens with Nancy Stephens, the nurse from Part 1 and 2 getting offed in the prologue in the traditional '90s Dimension Films way.
I remember liking the movie when it came out, but haven't given much thought to it since, so I was a little surprised that Joseph Gordon-Levitt was one of the kids in the opening.
Turns out Michael found some files in Nurse Chambers' house that points him towards his sister's location and that kicks off this entry in the saga.
There's not a whole lot to this movie, but what is there is all damn good stuff. It's pretty much just about Laurie facing her fears. That's about it, but because Curtis is so invested in owning the role (and franchise) again it's more than enough. The movie gets Michael back to basics. No stupid Druid rune bullshit, just the personification of slowly creeping, unstoppable death in a William Shatner mask once again.
Curtis is so damn good in this movie, pro-active and every bit the modern take on the horror heroine you'd want her to be. This is a Laurie who learned from past mistakes and when she pulls up her sleeves and gets to work in the second half of the movie there's no damsel in distress shit going down. She's tired of running, tired of hiding and she's gonna finish this once and for all. This isn't the scared teen girl who stupidly drops the knife next to the presumably dead body of the masked killer. This is the woman who sees the presumably dead body of the masked killer loaded into an ambulance, grabs an ax and goes to make sure the job is done.
The side characters are pretty much filler. Even Josh Hartnett as Laurie's son doesn't really have much of an impact on the story. He's just there to take his mom's over-protective shit and then fades away when Laurie stands up.
What should be the big eye-roller in this movie is LL Cool J's casting, an obvious strong-arm suggestion from the Brothers Weinstein, but screenwriters Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg actually give him something to do. He's not just “rapper cameo as Security Guard” in the flick. They give him a great little bit of personality. He's an aspiring writer and it's a character tic that actually has an evolution as the movie progresses. It's a fine detail that probably isn't recognized as much as it should be.
John Ottman's score also deserves a huge round of applause. It's the biggest Carpenter's theme has ever been done and it's flat out epic.
The finale of the film marks the third time this series has tried to put a final period on Michael Myers and it really should be the last film in the pre-remake line. Thematically it's a fitting end. Everything comes full circle. Michael and Laurie face off and Laurie takes away his power over her in both a physical and mental sense. In any just world that'd be done and done, but of course we got another one...
What a fuck of a movie this is. When Busta Rhymes kung-fu fighting Michael Myers while throwing out one-liners (“Trick 'r treat, mothafucka!”) is one of the better things in your movie you know you're in trouble.
There's a lot wrong with this piece of shit, but the worst sin is what they do with Laurie. They do some 1940s serial bullshit to explain that Michael Myers somehow swapped places with a random paramedic at the last minute and Jamie Lee chopped off his head instead of the real Michael Myers. That's stupid, but not as stupid as what they do with Laurie, who is in a mental institution now (completely negating the whole point of her facing her fears in H20) and Michael comes for her.
Not only do they kill of Laurie they do it in the stupidest, throwaway way ever. She captures Michael in a boobie trap, but can't kill another innocent man so she tries to take off his mask, gets stabbed and hung off the side of a building for her trouble. Then they go a step further and have her kiss Michael on the mouth for some fucking reason and then utter “I'll see you in hell” before she lets go and ends the Laurie Strode storyline.
The rest of the movie is silly stupid bullshit about Michael returning to his childhood home (again) to make sure the guys filming a livestream reality show pay the price because... there has to be a movie after Laurie dies?
One thing of note about Resurrection is Katee Sackhoff is in the cast and completely miscast. We know her as a strong woman, but here she's cast the ditzy blonde. She's okay at it, but she could have been a great final girl, the person to take up the torch that Laurie dropped because Jamie Lee didn't want to do anymore Halloween movies. It might be unfair to look back knowing how strong Sackhoff became in her later roles, but I couldn't help thinking she was the biggest missed opportunity that could have helped save the giant misfire she was trapped in.
That covers the Laurie Strode Halloween films. I'll be back soon to discuss the Jamie Lloyd films (Halloweens 4-6), the Rob Zombie films (Halloween 1 & 2) and the black sheep of the Halloween family Halloween 3: Season of the Witch.
I hope everybody has a happy Halloween! If you're in the spirit, post links to pictures of your costumes in the talkback below. I'll start!
OVER THE LINE!
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