Wednesday, October 31, 2012

October Review

For your consideration:

1.  Halloween (1978): A
2.  Psycho (1960): A
3.  Night of the Living Dead (1968): A-
4.  Seven (1995): A-
5.  The Woman in Black (2012): A-
6.  Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998): A-
7.  Halloween (2007): A-
8.  The Phantom of the Opera (1925): A-
9.  Halloween IV (1988): B+
10.  Halloween V (1989): B+
11.  Hellraiser (1987): B+
12.  Halloween II (1981): B+
13.  Insidious (2011): B
14.  Halloween: Resurrection (2002): B
15.  Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995): B
16.  Silent Hill (2006): B
17.  Nosferatu (1922): B-
18.  Halloween III (1982): C+
19.  House on Haunted Hill (1959): C
20.  Absentia (2011): C
21.  Creep (2004): C

Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Rick Rosenthal
Studio:  Dimension Films, Nightfall Productions
Starring:  Busta Rhymes, Bianca Kajlich, Ryan Merriman, Sean Patrick Thomas, Thomas Ian Nicholas; ft. Jamie Lee Curtis, Tyra Banks
Tagline:  Evil Finds its Way Home
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  slasher, psychopath, serial killer, masked murderer
Scare score:  B+
Rating:  B


Plot overview:  In the final installment of the original Halloween series, Michael (Brad Loree) finishes his business with sister Laurie (Curtis) but returns home to where a live internet broadcast of Danger-Tainment is taking place on Halloween night.  The program, run by Freddie (Rhymes) and Nora (Banks), has set up cameras all over the house as well as point-of-view cameras to be worn by each of the six randomly chosen participants: college students Donna (Daisy McCrackin), Bill (Nicholas), Jen (Katee Sackhoff), Jim (Luke Kirby), Rudy (Thomas), and Sara (Kajlich).  With the help of Sara's chat room pen pal Myles "Deckard" (Merriman), the reality show cast begins to realize that the real Michael Meyers is in the house, killing off everybody one by one.  While still being broadcast live, the reality show becomes a real fight for survival.

There's a little bit of everything in this movie, from The Breakfast Club to House on Haunted Hill meets Halloween meets 21st century technology, which means this film is practically for everyone, right?  Wrong.  Horror fans should enjoy the comic nature of the movie, as well as some of the exciting kills.  Halloween fans might not be as accepting of this film, although they might respect the return to the Meyers househould, 'where it all began,' as they say.  In general, though, this is a nice gateway for fans of typical teen slashers (with a very early-2000s feel) into the far greater realm of Halloween.

It's a treat to see Jamie Lee Curtis in the first 15 minutes of the film, even though she doesn't seem her usual self.  I guess that 24 years of your psychopathic older brother chasing you and killing off your family and friends will do that.  Given her situation, from a legal standpoint I really don't think Laurie would have ended up in a sanitarium for accidentally killing the wrong person, but whatever it makes for a swift goodbye to Laurie and Miss Curtis, who wanted to be done with the Halloween movies for good.

With Laurie out of the picture, however, Michael returns to his M.O. of the second movie, instead of the first and H20 - that is, killing anybody he comes across instead of those who directly prevent him from getting to Laurie.  Although I guess it's acceptable that he isn't too happy with a bunch of young intruders in his home.  Speaking of which, I'm really happy that the Meyers house in this film looks remotely like the one in the original film - unlike the ghastly changes we saw in movies IV, V, and VI - although agreeably they don't pertain to the same sequel universe as H20 and this one.

The characters are all shallow, but they are still entertaining.  We have a few oversexed college students (surprise, surprise) who present us with such a contrast to Sara that we know from her first few seconds that she'll be the final girl.  I really liked Busta Rhymes as Freddie (never thought I'd write that), who was both tough and tender, depending on whether or not he was watching martial arts films or imitating them.  In many ways he was reminiscent of LL Cool J's character Ronny in the previous movie, which might be saying a lot as far as the writers go.  As several of the students studied psychology, I enjoyed the various references and parallels throughout the film to ideas such as Jung's 'shadow' - or should we say Shape?

Speaking of the Shape, I liked Michael in this movie.  His actions were rigid, but he was swift, which is how I think he should be.  Some actors portrayed him as too human in action and movement, but I think it this film he's about right.  The mask honestly isn't even that bad, except that we can clearly see the black make up around Michael's eyes (Michael, you shouldn't have) because the eye holes are too big.  Otherwise he is a good height and size, and the mask never looks wide or stupid.  However, after 7 films these people still haven't learned what camera height to use when showing us Michael's point of view - uh, no, pretty sure his eye level isn't only a foot above the doorknobs at the sanitarium.  This movie had Michael bring back the classic head cock, which makes the killer both childish and animalistic at the same time, as well as the big kitchen knife, and the ever-popular skull-crush-under-his-bare-hands move.

*SPOILER ALERT*

I was worried at first when the 6 internet reality show members kept finding strange evidence and artifacts around the house, such as the highchair with chains or the harness in the basement cellar.  It seemed like the filmmakers were trying too hard to show that Michael had an abusive childhood or that he was just as dangerous as a baby as he was when he was 6 - neither of which should necessarily be true.  Luckily we find out that these are all props planted by Freddie, Nora, and crew to frighten the 'contestants' more.

Loved the hip technology in this movie, really made me feel connected as a modern audience member, especially Sara's PalmPilot contraption.  So I'm just kidding, but it does add a lot of suspense that Myles/ Deckard can help Sara in certain rooms of the house and that a live audience is watching the terror take place (a la Untraceable).  As this time period really was the beginning of the cell phone, etc revolution among children and teenagers, it reminds us that most plots of previous horror films could never happen anymore when 911, friends and family, maps, and the internet are constantly on hand.

Similarly, the technology in this movie makes a comment on exploitation as the 'contestants' are constantly reminded that this one night in the Meyers house could be their big break for internet or acting stardom.  Several male characters in the film use this ploy to try and seduce or harass the female characters into performing scandalous or sexual acts.  Chauvinism in horror?  Shocking.

I generally liked the cinematography of this movie which is as dark as ever, literally.  The contrasts in this film help spook us out since Michael is usually so hard to spot, and by the time we see his white mask coming out of some darkness it is too late.  The many 'camera' shots are so Blair Witch it's hard to handle without getting nauseated.  The major use of flashlights in this movie is fun, and countless times we find a character in a dark room quickly passing over Michael's face with their light.

At the end of the day, although this film might feel distanced from its tremendous beginnings, I like that it brings things full circle.  Laurie and Michael get their closure, and as the tagline very aptly states, 'evil  finds its way home.'  The very first film started here, and following that point (even in the Jamie Lloyd series of sequels) Michael was always out of his house.  Now at long last the action is back in the birthplace of the evil that has been haunting Halloweens since 1963/ 1978.  Much could be said about the home and the womb, birth and death here... but I'm not going to say it.

Final critique:  What we have here is a modern slasher that happens to be continuing action first started in 1978.  While this movie isn't your most standard Halloween film, it does make many homages to the originals and to Halloween H20.  I do recommend this film to anybody looking for a fun and still frightening/ suspenseful slasher film that is very typical of its time period.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Steve Miner
Studio:  Dimension Films
Starring:  Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Hartnett
Tagline:  20 Years Ago, HE Changed the Face of Halloween.  Tonight, He's Back!
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  slasher, stalker, psychopath, serial killer, masked murderer
Scare score:  B
Rating:  A-


Plot overview:  20 years after the events of the original film, we learn that Laurie Strode (Curtis) has faked her own death and is now living under the alias of Keri Tate, headmistress at a small private high school in Northern California.  Following the traumatic events of her younger years, she is a functioning alcoholic who lives in constant paranoia that she and her son John (Hartnett) still live in danger.  Her fears soon materialize when her brother Michael Meyers (Chris Durand) returns on Halloween night.

Okay, so the Halloween franchise gets a little tricky with this sequel, because it reneges all of the happenings of Halloween IV, Halloween V, and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Meyers.  In forgetting all about darling Jamie and the Curse of Thorn, this movie reintroduces former heroine Jamie Lee Curtis in the role of Laurie Strode, claiming that she faked her own death in order to escape from Michael.  We also get to take a break from the bleak landscape of Illinois as we move to the scenic and remote countryside of California (maybe the creative team at last realized it wasn't worth faking autumn in its West Coast filming locations).

I'm so happy to have Jamie Lee Curtis back.  She does a wonderful job in this movie, especially because she finally realizes that she has to face the monster (a parallel is made between Victor and his monster as one class studies Mary Shelley's Frankenstein).  She has become fairly dynamic and believable, or as believable as one might think somebody dealing with her situation might be: drinking too much, trying and failing at numerous therapies, living in fear.  Laurie is no longer the innocent and weak young girl, but instead Keri is fed up and in control, as we see her go to extremes to stop Michael this time around.

It's almost funny how many big names are in this movie; I love that in horror.  Rounding out the supporting cast we have the oversexed and annoying Adam Hann-Byrd playing the role of Charlie, John's best friend; we also have the resilient and brave Molly (Michelle Williams), John's girlfriend.  All cinema fans are treated to a cameo by Janet Leigh (notably of Psycho) - also notably Jamie Lee Curtis' mom - playing the school secretary; we can get a small chuckle when she has a line telling Curtis that she can't help but feel matronly.  In the very beginning of the film, we get to enjoy a fun appearance by a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt as he portrays a tough boy who helps look into the break in at his neighbor's house.  Some comic relief is added to the plot through the school security guard Ronny, portrayed by LL Cool J.  Yes, I just mentioned LL Cool J in The Horror Blog, I know.  Lastly we have Josh Hartnett in his debut film.  Hartnett does a really convincing job as Curtis' angsty and fed up teenage son who is looking for space and wanting to live a normal life.  Later in the film we see the desperate side of the young man as he escapes, injured, from his uncle.  There is some pretty good acting going on here.

Halloween fans are also treated to a cameo of Nancy Stephens as she continues her role from the first two films of Nurse Marion Chambers, friend and ex-caretaking of the late Dr. Loomis.  This is a major plot connecter as well, because by using the same character (and actress), it makes sense how some of Laurie Strode's classified files might have been passed along - even if new fans (or old ones) didn't realize she was the same person.

Aside from being another film about Curtis, this movie also heavily revolves around a group of four teenagers at the Hillcrest Academy.  This makes the film much more familiar to horror movie goers at the time who were all-too-used to teen slashers.  I like this core-four, if you well, headed by Hartnett.  They provide for a more or less likable and relatable group of characters (for younger viewers), as well as some enjoyable action during chase and kill scenes.

*SPOILER ALERT*

Michael is also more creative and dynamic in this film.  He's back after 20 years to find his sister, and it seems as though nothing will stop him.  We see a more gentle side earlier on in the film when he leaves a mother and daughter unharmed, only robbing their car.  On the other hand, he finds a way to kill to innocent and unrelated neighborhood boys.  While he stays largely true to his kitchen knife in this movie, we are also treated to some more creative deaths or injuries.  Michael's mask is decent in this movie, but I still find a problem with the large size of the eye holes.  Otherwise, while his movement isn't the same as the first film, I do enjoy this interpretation.

Even more terrific than the murders in this movie is the suspense.  We are treated to some really spectacular suspense scenes that should leave all viewers with a decent personality on the edges of their seats.  Two that stand out are when Charlie drops the bottle opener into a garbage disposal in a sink - and of course he reaches in after it, unaware that Michael is behind him.  Later, as John and Molly are running from Michael, they get trapped in between a locked front door and a closed exterior gate.  As they squeeze against the door, they are mere inches out of Michael's arm span and wielded knife.  It's thrilling.

Final critique:  So far in the marathon, I would put Halloween H20 in my top 3 or 4 films from the series, just because it is fun and refreshing after we've been dealing with more forced or absent plots since the original film.  This movie is like a clean slate, and while it unfortunately erases the plot of Jamie's existence is films IV, V, and VI, I'm happy to happy Jamie Lee Curtis back.  Though the marathon progresses, many people choose to view H20 as the final film in the true Halloween series, should you choose to wish Laurie finally defeats Michael.  All in all, it is an interesting movie that is both easy to watch and fun to get scared by.  It isn't too scary, but the deaths and especially chase scenes are pretty excellent.  Recommended to anybody, but those who scare too easily might find themselves uncomfortable as always.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

Welcome to the '90s.

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Joe Chappelle
Studio:  Miramax Films
Starring:  Donald Pleasence, Paul Rudd, Marianne Hagan
Tagline:  Haddonfield is Ready to Celebrate Halloween... So is Michael Meyers!; Everyone Knows His Name.  Now, Everyone Will Know the Truth
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  slasher, stalker, psychopath, serial killer, masked murderer
Scare score:  B+
Rating:  B


Plot overview:  Six years after the events of Halloween V, we are shown that Jamie (J.C. Brandy) was kidnapped on the night of Michael Meyers' (George P. Wilbur) escape from the Haddonfield Police Station, and that she has been impregnated while in the captivity of a strange cult.  Shortly after having the baby, which the cult seems to need for a ritual, Jamie and her newborn son escape from the cult's hideout.  Making it as far as Haddonfield, Jamie is murdered by Michael, but the baby is nowhere to be found.  Meanwhile, Haddonfield is celebrating Halloween for the first time since 1989, believing that they are finally free from the curse of the past.  However, the Strode family (cousins of Laurie's adoptive family from the first two films) has moved into the old Meyers house, and estranged daughter Kara's (Hagan) son Danny (Devin Gardner) has been having strange nightmares about a man in black killing his family.  In search of Jamie's baby, Michael returns to Haddonfield, wreaking havoc on his home's invaders in the meantime.  Once the troubled neighbor Tommy Doyle (Rudd) finds Jamie's baby, he realizes he must save Kara and Danny from the curse of Michael Meyers as the notorious killer's ancient and evil motives are revealed.

Out of the entire series, this sixth installment is the one I am least familiar with.  It is also the one movie that tries piecing together the plots of the previous four movies involving Michael Meyers (*remember, Halloween III = random*), both taking previous plot points and adding some new ones that are a bit forced.  Let's begin.

The acting is only so so throughout, but I do think that at long last Donald Pleasence shines as the now-retired Dr. Loomis, who has returned to Haddonfield to help fight off Michael yet again.  Unlike in the previous films, he no longer acts crazed, and instead he is calm and knowledgable.  In fact, Pleasence played him as a rather jovial old man this time around, in some ways making jokes about his role in previous movies.  I believe this was Pleasence's last performance as he died shortly after filming.  The movie is dedicated to him.

I love that Paul Rudd stars in a horror film early in his career.  He plays the approximately 25 year old Tommy Doyle - name sound familiar?  Ding ding ding: Tommy Doyle is the 8-year-old that Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) babysits in the original Halloween.  17 years after the first film's events, Tommy has clearly been affected mentally by what happened to him on Halloween night.  He now dedicates his time to keeping a close eye on the Meyers' house and trying to figure out what is the driving force behind Michael's murderous ways.  Rudd seems very young in the role, both frightening at first and just odd later on.  While his character is supposed to be challenged and paranoid, this distances Tommy from the audience.  Overall, Rudd is okay in this role, but I think he found his calling in more modern comedies.

Our leading lady here is Kara Strode: cousin of Laurie Strode by adoption, estranged daughter of the ill-tempered, heavy drinker John (Bradford English) and mild mannered, timid Debra (Kim Darby), mother of the troubled Danny, and newest resident of the old Meyers house.  The entire Strode family except for John is unaware of the house's history as well as its most famous ex-resident, Michael.  Marianne Hagan does an okay job as Kara, who spends most of her time angry at her parents, concerned about her son, or distressed about the serial killer chasing her family.  This doesn't permit much room for personal growth or development, leaving Kara as a pretty shallow (though caring and enduring) character.  Still, she does have her moments of great bravery while facing Michael - but also great stupidity, and I don't understand how someone could survive the jump from a third story as she does.

In the very beginning of the film, we are made to follow around Jamie Lloyd who is supposed to be 15-years-old, but very much looks 20 (at least), as J.C. Brandy was at the time.  I think Miss Brandy plays an infuriatingly irritating Jamie, who we loved so much as a child.  I found myself already uncomfortable with the plot after the first few scenes, partially due to this actress.  Her screams from going into labor surrounded by the cult are unnerving, and I really didn't like that she was - uh - impregnated in captivity.  The first thing we ask ourselves is whether or not the child is Michael's, which then presents us with a difficult and incestuous plot - which I will never be a fan of.  All in all, with the role Jamie is given in this film, I can't blame Danielle Harris for not wanting to return.

Compared to all of the other films so far, which were shot in and around California and Utah, this film does the worse job of hiding that it is not actually Illinois at Halloween.  In an early scene when Kara arrives at college, there is clearly a mountain visible in the background of the shot.  'Illinois' and 'mountain' have no business appearing in the same sentence unless other words involved are "There are no" and "in."  Really terrible job filming and editing if you're going to allow things like that to slip by.  Can't say I'm surprised by the lack of an attempt at foliage, dead trees, and fallen leaves, even though it's supposed to be October 31st in the Midwest.  Can't say I'm crazy about yet another change to the Meyers' house either.

Michael is creepy in this film, but he seems almost like a robot.  His mask is pretty awful: the whole thing is too wide, giving him the aspect of a monkey at times; the eyes are really large, and the painted on eyebrows don't help his cause.  Also, I understand they wanted to introduce plot to bring the whole series together, but this leaves some things very forced, such as in the beginning when they find the symbol Thorn burnt into the hay and Loomis automatically knows it's "Michael's mark" - uh, since when?  Okay, okay, plot, I get it.

As for the deaths in the film, they are certainly creative and varied - much more comparable to modern thrillers than to the original Halloween films which were simple slashes.  There is a bit more gore here, which I heard they had to cut down, as well as a very inventive use on the part of Michael who is stepping up his murder game prior to Y2K.  The suspense of the kills themselves, and then later on the innocent family members/ friends (usually the next victim themselves) finding the bodies adds a lot of fun to the movie.

I have a problem in this movie with how Danny just ignores Kara all the time.  Jamie was the same way with Rachel in previous films, and I understand in horror we often rely on the 'idiot plot' of everyone acting like idiots, but come on, Danny.  If your mom says stay put, that doesn't mean that in the next shot we should see you walking into the Meyers' house alone - PS how did you get there so fast?

OH YEAH, huge problem with some continuity in this movie.  How is Michael omnipresent?  One second he's in his house, and the next he's already killing someone else at the local college, when mere minutes have elapsed for other characters.  When Kara's brother Tim (Keith Bogart) and girlfriend Beth (Mariah O'Brien) are expecting a radio DJ to show up at his house, they somehow find the time to light about a hundred candles and make love (premarital... you know what comes next)- I just don't get when they had this time.  Furthermore in this scene, as the power is out I don't get how there is clearly an electric (fluorescent) light working in the bathroom.  In many ways, the movie isn't as cleanly edited as the others.

*SPOILER ALERT*

So I guess at the end of the day, my main concern comes with Michael now leaving his mark, as we learn what drove him crazy as a child: the need to kill his whole family to purify the rest of his 'clan.'  What is interesting about this additional plot - that everything would be fine and Michael would stop his murders once his family is gone - is that it puts Michael in a better light; we realize that he is cursed, not  evil by choice, and that there is a simple way for the pain to go away.  More bad guys are added in which I thought complicated the plot nicely as they try to harvest this evil and control Michael - bad idea.

Final critique:  This film is more complicated than it seems.  There was a big idea here that had probably been brewing for years beforehand, and the final question remains: is this the curse of Michael Myers, or the revenge of Tommy Doyle?  Just kidding.  The question that really remains is: does this film deliver?  In the gory, creative, funny kill department, audiences are such to find what they are hoping for.  Those coming from the major Halloween fan base may not approve as much.  One thing that's certain is that the big plot is forced upon the events of this one movie, and they tend to encroach on what already happened - and shouldn't be changed - from previous films.  Recommended for anyone interested in a '90s slasher film that happens to have Michael Meyers in it.  If you scare easily, leave the lights on and bring a pair of earmuffs to be safe during the suspenseful scenes, which are plentiful.


Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween V (1989)

"The Revenge of Michael Myers"

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Dominique Othenin-Girard
Studio:  Magnum Pictures, Inc.
Starring:  Danielle Harris, Donald Pleasence
Tagline:  Michael Lives, and This Time They're Ready!
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  slasher, stalker, psychopath, serial killer, masked murderer
Scare score:  B+
Rating:  B+


Plot overview:  Recapping the final events of Halloween IV, this movie starts off immediately after Michael is thought to have been killed after being shot multiple times and injured by a dynamite explosion.  We see him narrowly escape and end up heavily wounded in a recluse's abode where he spends the following year.  On Halloween Eve, however, Michael (Don Shanks) awakens and begins another killing spree as he tracks down his now-mute niece Jamie Lloyd (Harris).

This film is pretty much Part Two of the previous installment, as they encompass the saga of Jamie and her psychopathic uncle.  While it isn't the greatest film on its own, I do enjoy it; remember, we have to look at is as a part of the whole.

Danielle Harris still does an awesome job in this movie, even though her character is mute for the first half.  The creative team has made an interested plot development in that Jamie is now connected to Michael in certain psychic ways - both sensing when he is nearby and when he is about to kill.  I'm happy Jamie herself hasn't turned evil though, because having her as Michael's little minion of sorts would (a) destroy the plot they've been setting us up for and (b) be pretty stupid, watching a little girl running around killing (without a purpose).  Every chase scene involving Miss Harris is extremely suspenseful and pretty well done.

Really quickly I have to mention how much I love the character Billy (Jeffrey Landman), Jamie's [boy?]friend from the Haddonfield Children's Clinic.  The kid does a decent though dramatic job at acting, and I can't help but enjoy whatever it is he does to make Billy stand out as a child with special needs.  At the end of the day he is a good friend and a brave little boy, two things which are great to have around when your life has become a horror movie.

I love Wendy Kaplan in the role of Tina, both Rachel (Ellie Cornell)'s friend and Jamie's subsequent protector.  Tina is such a likable and memorable horror movie character who adds not only personality to the movie but drama as well - she is a protagonist we absolutely find ourselves supporting and rooting for when survival becomes a struggle.  In many ways she is a personification of the rebellion, fashion, and carefree nature of the teenage girl in the '80s, and because of that she reminds me of Lynda from the original Halloween, who was a similar personification of a careless teenager in the '70s.

I warned you four movies ago, but Dr. Loomis (portrayed by Pleasence) is just awful in this movie.  His character is almost completely off his rocker at this point, making him crazed, annoying, and just frightening especially in any interactions he has with Jamie.

Michael has changed in this movie, making him even more distant as a character and persona than he was in any previous film.  I'm happy with Don Shanks' brute size and body type because it makes Michael naturally intimidating.  Body language is alright, and while I don't think it's quite right or as good as the first movie, I think we sense more rage and sometimes desperation.  The mask seems different once again, and I don't like how the hair looks puffy and dumb or how the mask is wide and loose around Shanks' neck.  On the other hand, it seems somehow more blank, paler, and void of expression.  I'm always shocked when the mask comes off in this installment as well.  Certain events such as these lead to an obvious humanization of the killer, which is complicated as far as horror movies go because especially with the Halloween series I have read that there have been problems with viewers identifying more with Michael than with the protagonists.  Something interesting to think about.

Aside from his appearance, the creative team has changed Michael's character here.  Instead of solely focusing on the pursuit and murder of his relative, Michael goes out of his way to kill off other characters who at times are completely uninvolved with Jamie's plight.  Not only are there a handful of unnecessary deaths, but all of the murders in this movie are more gruesome and gory - which is always fun, but clearly done to satisfy the '80s audiences who were suffering from a slasher overload at this point.  Still, you have to admire the extra-bloody murders done not only with hands and knives, but with sharp garden tools, a pitchfork, a scythe (my favorite), and even a good old hanging.  Many of these extra murders of teenagers are done almost in support of my cardinal rules regarding naughty and misbehaving teenagers.

I was frustrated with the dramatic change of the Myers' house.  Like you couldn't find a home near the filming location that was remotely similar?  I understand they wanted a larger house for filming purposes, and that they settled on a big and typically spooky Victorian, but this certainly hurts the series' continuity.  Aside from the house scenes, I really enjoy the barn and field settings at Tower Farm, which truly helps us feel like we are in Illinois/ the Midwest in late October, even if things look pretty green...

What was with the dopey duo of comic relief cops?  It was so unlike any previous Halloween film, and while I thought they were funny I thought their little bozo-the-clown-like background music was completely unnecessary, cheapening the final product of the film.  I've read that this was in homage to Wes Craven, so I'll have to investigate first hand in a later review.  The '80s were a confusing time.

*SPOILER ALERT*

The plot here is pretty straightforward, and even similar to repetitive at this point in the series.  We're starting to rely more and more on the 'idiot plot' for the film's action to make sense: why didn't they check for Myers' body after the explosion?  Why don't they move Jamie as far away from Haddonfield as possible, even if only on Halloween, just to be safe?  Where in the world are the parents?  If characters have heard that Michael can't simply be killed like a normal human, why do they remain close to his body after he goes down?  Why won't Jamie stay in the car when the cop tells her to after they hear a large explosion?  Such is the life of a horror movie.  One thing this film does provide (but leave unanswered) is WHO is that mysterious man in black, and why do he and Michael have the same unexplained tattoo on their wrists?  Now we'll have to stay tuned for the next film to find out (although this would take quite some time for audiences between 1989 and 1995).

While I enjoy this movie, I think it's safe to say that the Halloween franchise was getting drawn out - though not quite desperate - after more than a decade of films.  Halloween V, to any viewer not familiar with the series, would seem like any typical '80s slasher only without a reason behind the plot's events.  Luckily this movie has its prequels and sequels to help support it.

Final critique:  We're not done with the marathon yet, and there is still more terror waiting to plague Haddonfield.  This movie has its fair share of suspense and bloody murders, but all in all it's a fun Halloween classic that really puts us in the mood for the holiday.  With a pretty simple plot, acting that isn't horrible, and some fulfilling murders, I'd recommend this movie for anyone that isn't a huge scaredy-cat or queasy at the sight of blood.  The remaining Halloween movies of the '90s and 2000s add some modern twists and even refreshing humor to their standard horror plots, so when you kick back to watch Halloween V, soak it in as the last true and pure installment from Halloween's younger years.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Halloween IV (1988)

"The Return of Michael Myers"

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Dwight H. Little
Studio:  Trancas International Films
Starring:  Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, Donald Pleasence
Tagline:  Horror has Returned to Haddonfield
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  slasher, stalker, psychopath, serial killer, masked murderer
Scare score:  B+
Rating:  B+


Plot overview:  Ten years after the events of the first film, we learn that Michael Myers did, in fact, survive the events of Halloween II.  Upon learning that his sister Laurie - who has since died in a car accident - had a daughter, Michael's evil is reawakened and he breaks free while being transferred to another hospital.  Meanwhile, it is Halloween in Haddonfield, Illinois, and the young Jamie Lloyd (Harris) is simultaneously dealing with her parents' death as well as nightmarish images of a man in a mask.  When she and her "sister" through adoption, Rachel Carruthers (Cornell), go out for a simple night of trick or treating, they soon loon that Jamie's uncle really is the boogeyman, and that he has come back to kill.

Out of all the Halloween movies, I think I have seen Halloween IV or Halloween V the most.  That being said, there is something special about them for me, and I really enjoy watching and re-watching them.

First of all, how can't you love Danielle Harris?  She does a tremendous job as a child actress in such a crucial and demanding role.  Her screams never get annoying, and even her crying is believable.  From simple lines such as "Double scoops?" to more serious lines like "Please come alive!  Don't be dead.  You can't be dead!  Come alive...!"  How great is the script writing there?  The success of the movie is crucial on Miss Harris, and she delivers more than we could hope for an average child actor to do.

Also doing a great job is Ellie Cornell as Jamie's adoptive sister Rachel.  She is a strong leading female who keeps her head and is able to protect Jamie even in times of panic.  Finally after the feminist critiques on the first several films I hope we have some approval here while following the plight of two fantastic leading ladies, who are both young.  Even Donald Pleasence doesn't have as big of a role in this movie as he had in the first two.  I can never forget the final scene of this film when he [annoyingly] shouts "No!" at least 9 times.  I guess we've been expecting this since the first movie when he starts to go downhill in the sane house.  Which is funny, since he's the only character who seems to know what he's talking about when it comes to Michael.

Speaking of which, I like Michael (George P. Wilbur) in this film even though he seems somewhat more distant and shallow.  The mask seems to have changed a bit, and in this installment it looks even paler and plainer, making the killer more detached and absent from humanity and more intent on his evil deeds.  He is more bloodthirsty in this movie, no doubt do to the increasing popularity of basic slashers throughout the '80s, leading him to kill various people along his way from the mental hospital to Haddonfield.  I don't think we even seen any deaths by knife in this movie!  Instead, we enjoy death by sheer force of hand (particularly gruesome), crowbar-ish tool, rifle (though not via shooting, which would be too simple for a force such as Michael Myers), and more.  Unlike the first two films where Michael only killed whoever stood in his way, now he seems to be killing whoever crosses his path.  What is more, Michael himself is now older and more physically damaged; we constantly see his horribly burnt skin, making him seem more like a monster.

The original Halloween theme music has undergone an '80s update in this synthesizer-full sequel, but in many ways I think that makes it even more urgent and frightening.  While the original piano piece is haunting and beautiful, the quicker tempo and sharper electronic notes in Halloween IV make it scary and annoying, therefore stressing us out whenever it plays (due to sound and not only the sights of Michael pursuing his next victim).

By this point in the series I've noticed the strange recurring theme of absent parents.  With horror movies we have the basic 'idiot plot,' where the events of the movie depend on every character acting like an idiot ("What was that noise?  Let me go check the scary basement," etc), but in the Halloween series the characters' parents always seem to be missing when things take a terrible turn in the homestead, which should be a place of peace and safety.  In the original Halloween, like where were the Doyle's and the Wallace's that they were out late enough for the children to be asleep but not for partying/ trick or treating hours to be over yet?  Likewise, in this movie, Rachel (and now Jamie)'s parents are out all night when Michael attacks.  Furthermore, Sheriff Meeker (Beau Starr) just leaves his house when Michael arrives, thereby leaving all the people inside to become victims.  Lastly and most generally, we are told that Laurie Strode (now Laurie Lloyd) and her husband are dead, leaving them obviously absent.  What critique might the filmmakers be making?

On the note of absent parents, how terrible is the scene where Jamie is teased at school?  It's actually one of my favorites, as the mean children switch from "Jamie's uncles the Boogeyman!" to "Jamies an orphan!  Orphan!"  It's so awful it makes me laugh.  A penguin has never looked so mean.  Miss Harris does a wonderful job running out of school upset in slow-motion, acting like a little adult more than a child.

Another thing I like about this plot is the reaction of the citizens of Haddonfield.  Mob mentality is pretty much always an awful thing, especially when it is at the hands of gun-wielding old men who have been drinking.  It's almost realistic that innocent people are killed in this film as pandemonium spreads.  Let's hear it for Illinois and the Second Amendment.

Fun fact:  The character Jamie is named after Jamie Lee Curtis!

Final critique:  I really do like this film.  10 years after the original is an appropriate time for Michael to come back, and I like that his lineage has been extended to an adorable little girl.  Since it has been 7 years since the release of the last film centering around Michael, the horror world had been subjected to plenty wait and Halloween IV greets them with a great delivery.  Michael is back, and it seems that, once again, no one can stop him.  I recommend this movie to anybody looking for a good movie to watch around Halloween; it isn't too scary or too gory, but it has its suspenseful and frightening moments making it sure to please.

Halloween III (1982)

"Season of the Witch"

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Tommy Lee Wallace
Studio:  Dino De Laurentiis Company, Universal Pictures
Starring:  Tom Atkins, Dan O'Herlihy, Stacey Nelkin
Tagline:  The Night No One Comes Home
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  horror, thriller, mystery, mad man, evil scientist
Scare score:  B+
Rating:  C+


Plot overview:  At the beginning of the film, we see a distressed Harry Grimbridge (Al Berry) running away from a mysterious car and a group of men in suits.  When he later arrives in a hospital, he is brutally murdered by one of these suited men while still clutching a Silver Shamrock mask; his killer later commits suicide in the parking lot.  Extremely suspicious about the night's events, both Dr. Dan Challis (Atkins) and Ellie Grimbridge (Nelkin), daughter of the recently deceased man, follow a trail of clues back to the Silver Shamrock factory.  As happenings around town become more dangerous and suspicious, Challis and Ellie realize they've stumbled upon a massive plot that could kill millions on Halloween night.

Okay, okay, so Halloween III: Season of the Witch is like the awkward and challenged sibling that no one likes talking about.  Still, I'm dedicated to the series and to my marathon, so it had to be done.  While this is the only Halloween film that doesn't revolve around Michael Myers, and therefore the only one to stray from the general slasher/ stalker plot, it's still related in certain motifs.  First of all we have the basic concept of the mask: how the wearer hides him or herself from the world, or in this case what hides itself inside.  Secondly and perhaps even more basic than the mask we have Halloween and Samhain as the day in which all the horrible action takes place or is planning on happening - this series really is focused on Irish mythology and curses, huh?  Next, late in the film we are treated to some of the original music from the first two films, although we do not hear the main theme.  Lastly, astute viewers will have enjoyed the brief allusion to Halloween as it appears on TV, therefore fictionalizing all of the first two films' events and setting this movie in a different and maybe more real (or not) universe.  While this film, then, is certainly different, that doesn't mean it's automatically worse.  It does that on its own accord.

The plot has a few holes, but if we accept it's ridiculousness we can enjoy a silly '80s horror film.  From the beginning we are shown on the news that a pillar has been stolen from Stonehenge: could this possibly relate to the plot later on?  Otherwise we have an unexplained murder/ suicide tracing back to a suspicious toy factory and factory town filled with security cameras and odd men in suits.  And I know I can't be the first person to realize this: but when we realize the diabolical plan seems to be taking plan nation-wide at a certain time.. we just have to remember America is a bigger country than that.  Lastly, in most horror movies the killer's motive isn't necessarily always clear - and in fact sometimes it is terror for the sake of terror or for fun - but in this movie, I'm like, 'Yo dude, what's your next step should this whole plan work out?'  Even if it goes smoothly, it would only be a matter of time til everyone finds you and stops you from doing anything else.

With Tom Atkins in the lead role I sometimes felt like I was watching Lethal Weapon or even an episode of Magnum P.I. instead of a horror film.  He and his mustache are very '80s, but I guess I still enjoyed watching him try to solve the mystery and foil the villain.  His chemistry with Miss Nelkin, who I think I liked more, is enough to keep us rooting for them as they meddle too far into a plot involving toys and world domination (or something like that?).  I can't imagine that feminine critics like this film (not that they could be fans of too many horror movies) because we're (a) presented with a male protagonist who is a doctor with a drinking problem; (b) a helpless but strong-willed female protagonist searching for papa who ends up sleeping with the leading man after a few hours of spending time with him;

*SPOILER ALERT*

(c) said female doesn't make it out alive, and (d) sadistic masculine audiences are, at the finale of the film, presented with our male protagonist physically beating a robot version of the leading lady to death; (e) lastly, the main villain is a charming old man (representing patriarchal capitalism) whose main goal is to murder millions of children; not only is he worse than the conditional love of a father, he stands against everything maternal.

Still, Mr. Conal Cochran (O'Herlihy) presents us with a really great antagonist.  Again, his evil plot is a little too sci-fi for me, but he has done a lot for himself as far as creating an army of robots with superhuman strength and then harvesting the ancient and evil powers of Stonehenge goes.  I like his character though, not only because of his accent but because he really is just a polite old man on the outside, when in reality he has to be crazy and is clearly very controlling as we see the cameras all around the factory and town; he is almost omnipresent.  Also, the man is hellbent on murder just millions of kids: like how mean can you get?

It doesn't take a genius to see the film's obvious criticism on American consumerism and capitalism running society.  When Cochran reveals his whole plot, the biggest problem he has with the children is that society has perverted them by turning a glorious harvesting of crops and living sacrifices such as Samhain once was into a commercial holiday (run by the mask and candy companies), aka modern American Halloween.  The Silver Shamrock jingle - which may be the one thing you remember about this movie years after seeing it - is a perfect example of the monotony and sheer annoyance of modern advertisements.  There's a lot of 'modern' technology involved in this film, too, if you care to draw any warnings from that.

What this film lacks in sturdy plot or credibility it makes up for in gruesome murders.  Those robot guys are ruthless!  Unlike our friend Michael who loves his knives, in this movie we see death by electric screwdriver, bugs, snakes, crazy laser beams, and of course a few murders at the hands of the very strong robots.  I like when that one nurse jokes about how a normal person doesn't just gouge out someone's eyes and then crack their skull.  Oh, really?  I thought that was the normal procedure.  Anyway, this movie is hardly 'scary' - though filled with jumpy moments - but these deaths certainly helped its score in that department.

Final critique:  Okay, so this isn't the best film in the Halloween series.  A lot of fans were let down when this came out because they missed Mikey Myers - but hey, if they were trying to make an anthology I say go for it.  Luckily they realized what the fans wanted, and they also realized with Myers they really had a horror gold mine.  Most people could handle watching this movie because it isn't that scary.  Squeamish viewers should cover their ears or eyes during some of the murder scenes, which are creative, a little frightening, and pretty gross.  At the end of the day, you have to give this film some credit for its association with the Halloween franchise, for an attempt at a wild plot, and for some pretty foul deaths under a really evil antagonist.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Halloween II (1981)

The nightmare - and my marathon - continues.

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Rick Rosenthal, John Carpenter
Studio:  Dino De Laurentiis Company, Universal Pictures
Starring:  Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence
Tagline:  Just When You Thought it was Safe to Go Trick or Treating; The Boogieman is Back
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  slasher, stalker, psychopath, serial killer, masked murderer
Scare score:  B+
Rating:  B+


Plot overview:  Picking up precisely from where the first film left off, it is still Halloween night 1978, and Michael Myers (Dick Warlock) is still on the loose.  Laurie Strode (Curtis) is moved to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital for the injuries she has suffered while Dr. Loomis (Pleasence) and the police search the town for the killer.  As more clues are revealed as to why Michael has returned, Loomis realizes the killer is headed to the hospital to finish what he started.  Laurie, unaware of Michael's objective, must once again fight for her life.

Ah, a very '80s sequel to a wonderful first film.  While this movie doesn't stand up to the first, it's still a good watch and an important puzzle piece as we learn more about Michael Myers' psychosis.

What did I tell you in my last entry about Donald Pleasence?  Already in the first few minutes of this movie, Loomis is paranoid and annoying, and it seems more like he is yelling at people instead of helping them find and stop Michael.  Our Doctor even begins to lose it a bit, as he becomes more gun happy and reckless.  This character development will be important for him in later movies, as the foil between himself and Michael develops further.

Miss Curtis does a pretty good job in this film, once again playing the final girl, although this time she is given less to work with.  I'm still a fan of Laurie this time around, and without children to worry about protecting we see the young girl go into survival mode as she tries hiding in and escaping from the hospital.  Towards the end of the movie, in fact, Laurie must fire a gun to defend herself from Michael.  His resulting injuries cause him to bleed from the eyes of the mask, which clearly is symbolic of tears as the complicated relationship between Michael and Laurie (and later Jamie) is explored.  But just when we wanted to know more about Laurie and why Michael wants her as a victim, however, it's goodbye from the franchise for now, see you in 20 years.

I like Michael less in this film.  First off, the mask is already worse (understandably having undergone damage in the first movie).  It's dirtier, rougher, and doesn't have the same effect of giving Michael his pale, expressionless appearance.  It's also a bit wider throughout the movie, making our killer look almost comically pudgy in some scenes.  Secondly, actor Dick Warlock plays 'the Shape' with much firmer and more restricted body language, not that Michael should be dancing around, but in this movie he doesn't even use half his joints like a normal person.  In my opinion this makes him too stiff, more like Frankenstein's monster instead of something truly terrifying.  Furthermore, was it me or did it sem like in this movie Michael's footsteps match up with the beat of the music?  I really hate that because while I think his long stride is one of the scariest things about him, making his signature slow (but covering a lot of distance) steps almost a choreography to the music is cheesy.  Lastly, we already see the killer getting more creative with the deaths.  Surely this was done to satisfy the audience, and I mean I'm all for that (to an extent) because simple stabbings would get boring after a while.  Well this isn't Michael's first time at the rodeo, and he's graduated from a chef's knife to hammers, scalpels, syringes and other hospital supplies, and even tubs of boiling water.  Though I must say, the scene where the nurse is water-boarded in the scalding-hot pool just landed itself high on my list of best all time murders.  Needless to say, the victim of this brutal murder was breaking one of my cardinal rules, so imminent death was no surprise.

While we do get to see some of Haddonfield's public reacting outside the Myers' house in this movie, the majority of the film's action takes place inside of the dark rooms and long, twisting corridors of the hospital.  I like this change already from the dark, suburban houses and streets.  We as viewers feel more restricted, having already been made uneasy by the graphic (but everyday) use of syringes and needles early on in the film.  Ultimately we can't help but experience Laurie's plight, feeling as though we, too, are trapped in the hospital while a masked killer is in close pursuit.  But no worries if hospitals give you the creeps, it'll be back to the classic Midwest outdoors in later films.

The theme music in this installment was a little bit jazzed up and I didn't love it.  There was something strikingly '80s added this time around that perverted the simple terror of the main melody.  Still, as this franchise seems to do so well (so far), music and sound are placed very well throughout the film to build up a lot of suspense (there was much more in this film than in the previous one) and ultimately to scare us.  One of the scariest details in this movie might have been that darn orange buzzer/ light that was used to page the nurses in the hospital.  Like tell me you didn't jump both times that went off.

More on the soundtrack: as I mentioned in my review of the 2007 remake of the original Halloween, this is the movie that has the charming song "Mr. Sandman" play a couple times.  I love this song, and while its placement seems odd at first, if you listen to the lyrics in the context of the film they take on a much darker meaning in which we can picture Mr. Sandman as being a boogeyman character like Michael instead of some nightly wish-granter.  And if I might beat the dead horse, they further ask for a man with "a lonely heart," wavy hair, and a specifically designed pair of eyes - Michael's most distinguishable features are the empty, black eyes and the mask's unkempt, brown hair; of course it is up to us to assume that the killer has a lonely heart if he has a heart at all - which I think he does as certain scenes between him and Laurie (later Jamie) invoke pity.

*SPOILER ALERT*

As is natural in a sequel, Halloween II allows us to explore the characters with greater depth.  Laurie is exhausted, injured, and scared, and she finally asks the prize question "Why me?  I mean, why me?" which I thought she delivered very well.  In a dream she finds herself reflecting on her childhood and imagines seeing the young Michael locked up in the institution we saw him in during the first film.  As I mentioned earlier, Dr. Loomis is also becoming more exhausted and reckless, ultimately leading him to seemingly sacrifice himself in order to destroy Michael.  And, of course, we are given some plot behind Michael's madness in one simple Celtic word: Samhain [Sowin].  As Loomis explains, this is an ancient Celtic tradition taking place around October 31st marking the beginning of the dark part of the year, invoking themes of the dead, death in general, and evil.  Furthermore, and here's the real kicker, a classified file on Myers is opened by the governor revealing that Laurie Strode is adopted, and that in reality she is Michael Myers' younger sister.  Plot!  Don't things make perfect sense now?  And one other thing, you know what I can help but wonder:  what would happen if Laurie just gave up and Michael killed her?  Would he stop?  Would he drift back into a catatonic state?  Just a sad, dark thought as to what your responsibility is if you were to ever realize a killer is after you.

A small detail I loved in this movie involves the body that looks suspiciously like Michael Myers that gets killed after the car crash/ explosion.  Any good horror fan should realize that the real killer wouldn't die that easily (or anticlimactically).  Furthermore, any good Halloween fan should pick up on the name drop later by two teenagers who are worried about their missing friend: Ben Tramer, who was 'very drunk and wearing that stupid mask.'  Loomis' stomach drops as he realizes an innocent teenager has been killed, but Horror Buff's face lights up.  Remember Ben Tramer?  While he wasn't actually in the first movie, his name pops up several times because he is the boy Laurie has a crush on and with whom she ultimately has potential plans to go to the school dance.  Like what bad luck.  You're just some innocent kid who Laurie Strode happens to like, but then her *unknown* brother comes back and starts killing everyone, and then you get pinned in between two exploding cars.  It doesn't get much worse than that, especially when you're a character whose face the audience never even sees.  And that, horror fans, is what happens when you drink underage.

Final critique:  This isn't the best movie in the Halloween franchise, and I think it's safe to say people are aware of that.  Still, that doesn't make it a bad movie, and I'd recommend it as practically a classic for this time of year.  The most important purpose this movie serves is to fill us in on why Michael Myers is set on killing Laurie Strode and also what might have driven 6 year old Michael to insanity 15 years ago.  More so than the first film, Halloween II feels like your typical '80s horror/ slasher with the quick shots of nudity and wide array of murders with whatever tools are on hand.  Compared to modern horror films, this movie isn't too 'scary,' but it certainly has it's jumpy moments and gruesome deaths.

Stay tuned as the Halloween marathon continues.

Halloween (1978)

Get ready for a marathon.

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  John Carpenter
Studio:  Compass International Pictures
Starring:  Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis
Tagline:  The Night He Came Home; Everyone Is Entitled to One Good Scare
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  slasher, stalker, psychopath, serial killer, masked murderer
Scare score:  B
Rating:  A


Plot overview:  In this original, first installment of the Halloween franchise, we see a 6 year old Michael Myers stab his sister Judith to death on Halloween night, 1963.  Following this act, he is institutionalized and put under the watch of Dr. Samuel Loomis (Pleasence), who believes he is far more dangerous than anyone else realizes.  15 years later on Halloween Eve, 1978, Michael escapes from his hospital.  Dr. Loomis is convinced that Michael is heading back to his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois to continue wreaking havoc.  Meanwhile in Haddonfield, the shy and innocent teenager Laurie Strode (Curtis) is preparing for an uneventful night of babysitting.  Little does she know that her uneventful night will soon turn into a struggle for her life once Michael - called "The Shape" - begins to stalk her and her friends.

I love Halloween, I love Halloween, and I love Halloween.  Whether we're talking about a holiday, a movie, or a franchise, I am a huge fan.  Having already rated this film's relatively successful remake, I decided to dedicate this final weekend before Halloween to a Halloween marathon.  Have you ever seen the word Halloween written so many times in one paragraph?  Tis the season.

First off, I like this movie more than the remake not only out of respect, but also because it is shorter and more simple.  Yes, yes, we know how important Psycho is for its progress in the slasher genre, but the original Halloween is the mother of the modern stalker/ slasher bit.  This is a movie I find myself constantly looking forward to watching, especially during this time of year, and also a movie I find myself enjoying every minute of while watching.  It's just such an easy and sweet example of what a horror film is and should be like, more or less.

Plot is straightforward with a small surprise that duller audience members may not have picked up on yet.  I imagine that in the '70s this movie could only have been more thrilling, though for modern audiences it might be reaching a point of distance (station wagons? pants that flare out?).  Still because the movie focuses on the plight of Laurie, the concern of Loomis, and the driven evil of Michael, we aren't distracted by unnecessary details.  Can't say the same for some of the other films in this franchise. What we know for sure is that Michael has come home, and for some relatively unknown reason he is out to get the innocent Laurie.

Onto acting.  I am a big fan of Jamie Lee Curtis, one of the first "Scream Queens" in American horror cinema following her successes in this franchise.  I've read that while filming this first installment, she thought she was going to lose her job because of poor acting, but on the contrary John Carpenter hailed her work.  While I think that Scout Taylor-Compton makes a modernized Laurie a lot more realistic in the remake, I can't help but like Curtis in this original.  Laurie is your average, shy, smart high school girl.  Imagine a smart quiet girl from your high school being thrown into a mess like this with some unstoppable serial killer - as far as I'm concerned Laurie stands out from other potential victims.  I love Laurie's group of friends, especially Lynda (P.J. Soles), and aside from comic relief they are important in that they present the contrast needed to make Laurie more likable.  Both Annie (Nancy Kyes) and especially Lynda are louder, cruder girls who are depicted as more popular with boys, using drugs, drinking, and having premarital sex (...and breaking my cardinal rules).  Laurie on the other hand is quiet, hardworking in school, dedicated to her babysitting jobs, and too shy to talk to the boy she has a crush on.

Once the horror starts, Curtis does a nice job balancing between freaking out in a quiet, withdrawn manner and giving us our fill of screams.  Perhaps it comes as no surprise that she was ultimately the right choice for this role as her mother is Janet Leigh of the timeless Psycho.  I'm a bit critical of how brave she is because I know that I, for one, would run as fast as I could out of any room where I had just impaled a masked killer with my knitting needle (or drawn out hanger, or other phallic items).  Still, her dedication to the "babies" (I love when she calls them that), AKA ~11 year olds Tommy Doyle (Brian Andrews) and Lindsay Wallace (Kyle Richards ... er, Kyle?), is admirable as she protects them at all costs from "the Boogeyman."

I like Donald Pleasence in this movie.  He grows a little more annoying in later films, but we'll get to that later in the marathon.  He's a good protagonist for us to follow as he helplessly tries to warn everyone else ("society") about the true danger of Michael.  Hopefully they'll listen now that three teenagers and a dog are dead.  Not to mention the countless dollars in broken windows, potted plants, and closet doors.

Isn't Michael (Tony Moran, Nick Castle, and Tommy Lee Wallace) great in this movie?  I always like coming back to this film in order to compare how much Michael grows during the franchise.  In this film, which chooses dim lighting and scary music over gore and blood, Michael's debut as a masked murderer is much more calm and, again, simple.  A good strangle followed by a classic, large kitchen knife (his weapon of choice) is the killing pattern from which he really doesn't stray, unlike in later films where murders start becoming overly creative.  Michael is simply animalistic in this film, doing what he needs to survive and carry out the murder of his intended victim Laurie.  He walks slowly, breaths heavily, and is stopped by nothing.  I especially like that we don't even really see him until over an hour into the film, at which point is still takes some time for us to see the mask.  Lastly, it always surprises me when we see his face in this movie when Laurie pulls it off during a struggle.  It's important that she is the character to do it, but otherwise it's almost like sacrilege, except that I guess Michael is the embodiment of evil and all.

The way in which this movie is filmed adds plenty of terror and suspense.  I really enjoy any scene where we are put behind Michael's mask and forced to see what he sees and he watches and waits.  Furthermore, the unsteady camera movement in chase scenes make us feel uneasy, as though we, too, are running away from certain death.  The film is wonderfully dark (just enough so that I can still see), making extreme gore unnecessary (how times have changed).  I have to admit that while watching the movie last night my power went out, and I couldn't say I was too happy about it.  Added effects, I guess.

Also, I have a confession to make.  I have probably seen this movie a million times.  While that is an overstatement, that is not my confession.  What I realized while watching the movie last night is that I had never seen the extended version before.  I was so used to seeing this film on TV that I found myself watching a handful of scenes I never knew existed, shame on me.  Now I can happily report I love the whole thing.

Fun facts:  The iconic mask was made by director John Carpenter from a Captain Kirk mask he modified only a little bit.  Honestly, Google "Captain Kirk"and you'll never look at him the same way again.
Kyle Richards, the young girl who plays Lindsay Wallace, is the aunt of Paris and Nicky Hilton.

Final critique:  This is a must see horror film.  If you can only watch one horror film in your entire life (what a boring life that would be), make it this one.  Michael Myers is the ultimate evil, and in his debut here he is untouched by over the top killings and poorly created masks.  Jamie Lee Curtis presents us with a scream queen who is not only a lovely leading leading, but an admirable "final girl."  John Carpenter's hauntingly iconic theme and well-placed scares make a wonderful balance of suspense and shocking delivery, which in 1978 is untainted by modern splatter fests.  Lastly, in honor of next year's 35th anniversary since the film's release, Halloween has been rereleased into theaters starting TODAY. Go see it.  That is all.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

American Horror Story, S2, E2 - (2012)

"Tricks and Treats"

GENERAL INFO:
Creators:  Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk
Producers:  20th Century Fox Television
Channel:  FX
Starring:  Jessica Lange, James Cromwell, Evan Peters, Zachary Quinto; ft. Chlo√ę Sevigny, Joseph Fiennes
TV Rating:  MA SLV
Genre:  television, horror, drama, insane asylum, possession, exorcism
Scare score:  C
Rating:  B+


Plot overview:  In this week's installment, we are briefly taken back to the plight of horror honeymooners Teresa (Jenna Dewan) and Leo (Adam Levine) who are trapped and killed, respectively, by the real "Bloody Face."  Moving back to 1964, Lana Winters' (Sara Paulson) plight is worsened as she is administered electroshock therapy which begins to affect her memory.  More light is shed on the dark practices and habits of Dr. Arden (Cromwell) as he hires a prostitute to enjoy dinner with him and then perhaps even become victimized by his sadistic fantasies.  The main plot of this episode follows a young boy named Jed (Devon Graye) who has been brought to Briarcliff because of his strange and potentially harmful behavior.  Against the protests of Dr. Oliver Thresdon (Quinto), who has been recently sent by the court to work with Kit Walker (Peters), two priests are called in by Sister Jude (Lange) to perform an exorcism.

Now that we're an episode into the season, we are already beginning to learn more about each character, especially Sister Jude and Dr. Arden.  I am very happy to announce that I have concluded the show is probably taking place in rural Massachusetts, as both Lange and Peters' speech were more notably [attempts at] Boston accents.  Quick side note: it's beyond me why movie and TV producers keep forcing non-native actors to imitate Boston accents because in many ways it's tougher than a New York or a Southern accent.  Watch out for stickers of dialect because you'll run into some criticism there for small mistakes/ unnatural pronunciations.

I like that we see more of Bloody Face in this episode - he is creepy.  I don't like those bright eyes popping out from behind his, um, bloody face, which is a worse (read: more moist, bloody, fresh) version of what our old pal Leatherface made famous in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre.  Also, methinks we had some hints (or red herrings) thrown at us as to what his true identity might be.  Nothing is certain, but we do know that he seems to haunt Briarcliff across the decades, and that I'm not quite sure what the name of that tool/ murder weapon of choice is.

The growing relationships between Lana and Grace (Lizzie Brocher√©), Grace and Kit, and Lana and Kit are slowly giving us several protagonists to stand behind and root for as this season continues to progress.  Each one is clearly dealing with his or her personal demons, innocence, and guilt, but as we know from horror plots, guilty doesn't necessarily mean that someone is deserving of an awful fate.  I am very suspicious of Grace because we know nothing about her, but I'm sure that will change soon.  Who thinks Lana will start trusting Kit down the line?  Lots of action and adventure to come in this trio.

Lange is like a whole new character in this episode.  We are more aware of Sister Jude's difficult position not only at Briarcliff but inside of the Church as well.  While we are led to believe she is the smartest and most driven worker around, in many situations she becomes powerless because she is a woman in an institution led my men.  Possessed Jed fills us in on Jude's horrible and sinful past which makes her devotion to penance and the projection of this repentance unto her patients much more understandable.  Speaking of which, she really is a bully in this episode as she continues to bend her own morals and force the hands of others.

I loved Jed's character and malady.  The possession was so well depicted and performed, not only through acting but via special effects as well.  Of course any possession these days becomes reminiscent of The Exorcist, but I think this really held its own.  The speaking in tongues was odd and convincing, much as we assume and religious or occult 'speaking in tongues' to be.  His coarse and vulgar speech and gestures were fun and even a bit frightening.  This was an interesting plot for an episode, introducing both a new type of horror as well as a myriad of new questions about Briarcliff and where this season might be heading.  My only concern would be if we keep having distinct types of stereotypical horror (aliens, exorcisms) thrown at us each episode as a plot.  What's next, a witch and a werewolf?  Don't want this season to drift into anything over the top or completely unbelievable.  On the other hand, we can only assume that Jed's possession is the beginning of an ongoing antagonistic force for the season.

Quinto is already doing better things for me this season than he did last season.  Similarly to what the producers wanted to do with Lange and Peters, Quinto has seemingly made a 180 because he seems sympathetic, understanding, and generally good in this season, unlike his spiteful jerk of a self last time around.  We can only hope that he doesn't get too caught up in Briarcliff's evil antics.

Is it just me, or is anyone else getting more suspicious of Dr. Arden?  More of his private life and sadistic behaviors were explored in this episode.  I loved the contrast we see between his various interactions with Shelly (Sevigny), the call girl, Sister Jude and also with Sister Mary Eunice (Lily Rabe who we should certainly expect lots of plot from).  His fantasy with the call girl adds quite a bit of depth to his character regarding his opinion of Sister Jude.  All in all, his scenes were creepy and we're going to have to keep an eye on him from now own.

Final critique:  This week gave us less scares but more depth.  I am only getting more excited to learn about the variety of characters, their evil plots, and their hopeful plans.  Only critique I can really think of is that I want more scares next week (it's Halloween, people), and I want more stability in the plot.  Lastly, "Tricks and Treats" was a cute title for the episode, very appropriate for this time of year, but I find myself still trying to see how it really related to the plot.  Maybe it will make sense down the line; we can only hope there are some real tricks and treats in next week's episode.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Hellraiser (1987)

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  Clive Barker
Studio:  Cinemarque Entertainment BV, Film Futures, Rivdel Films
Starring:  Clare Higgins, Andrew Robinson, Ashley Laurence
Tagline:  He'll Tear Your Soul Apart.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  foreign film, horror, demons, parallel dimension, hell, cursed item
Scare score:  B
Rating:  B+


Plot overview:  Before the main events of the film begin, we see the hedonistic Frank Cotton (Sean Chapman) purchase a strange puzzle box in a seedy cafe in an Arabic country.  We then see him solve the puzzle box, called the Lament Configuration in the original novella, thereby opening a parallel dimension inhabited by the Cenobites who do not distinguish between pain and pleasure.  Frank is gruesomely killed.  Later on, Frank's brother Larry (Robinson) and wife Julia (Higgins) move into the former's deceased mother's house in England.  While bringing furniture into the house, Larry accidentally cuts his hand and bleeds on the ground where Frank was taken away, causing a pathway to form between earth and the realm of the Cenobites from which Frank escapes.  Reminded of her true and physical love for Frank, Julia agrees to do whatever it takes to help him become a full human again.  All three characters, as well as Larry's suspicious daughter Kirsty (Laurence), must survive Frank's violent return and also the wrath of the sadistic Cenobites.

I've always liked these movies.  I remember being a kid and walking around Blockbuster (remember when they actually had stores?), and instead of looking at the video game section I would always peek around the seemingly off-limits horror section.  On countless occasions did I find the face of Pinhead (the main Cenobite) staring back at me from the front of the VHS cases.  Still, I wouldn't come to know this movie franchise for some time, not until high school at least when I first saw this movie during AMC's (once) incredible homage to horror: Fearfest (how times have changed).  Anywho, great film.

The plot itself is fine - a pretty evil dude is back from "the dead" in some other dimension filled with torture and crazy S&M jazz, convinces/ threatens his ex-lover/ sister-in-law to kill innocent victims so that he can return to life.  Not to mention we have these horrible humanoid Cenobite creatures to worry about.  And to top it all off, the very pretty and very suspicious niece is trying to catch them at every corner.  I personally enjoy the idea behind the plot: the Cenobites are a pretty fantastic invention (way to go, Clive Barker) even though we don't know much about them in this movie.  What we do know is that they have a crazy makeup design and such an evil and violent nature about them.  Some small criticism: I think the 'female'-ish one (aptly named the Female) is really terrifying with the exposed larynx and all; Pinhead is not as scary as he could be but the grid of nails across the whole head is pretty weird and unnerving if you think about it; the Chatterer might be the worse one as I hate the widely exposed teeth due to the apparatus around his mouth, as well as the way he constantly, er, chatters said teeth; the last one we see in this film, Butterball, might just ruin it for all of them as he seems to belong more to Ghostbusters or even The Blues Brothers than a horror film, replacing what could be horror credibility with comical qualities.  Aside from these "core-four," however, the fifth monster Cenobite we encounter several times in the film is really foul and pretty scary, as well.  Way to go, creative staff.

More on the Cenobites.  Is it me, or is Pinhead weirdly charming?  When the group of "demons or angels" arrive, you know bad things are about to happen, but you aren't exactly scared.  While we can think that these Cenobites are evil, they aren't so terrible except for the fact that once you've meddled with the Lament Configuration you're theirs, and they know no difference between right and wrong, pleasure and pain.  They are the ultimate sick and violent sexual fantasy, I suppose.  Still, there is something about Pinhead that just isn't quite off-putting.  Can't say the same for Butterball (can you tell I hate him/ it?)

Other makeup throughout the film, along with murder scenes, is pretty darn gory.  When Frank first escapes from the realm of the Cenobites and takes his sweet time rising through the floor and putting the insides of his body back together I was honestly grossed out - not a fan of goo and blood and slimy organs I guess.  I'm not even sure if Frank's condition gets better or worse as he grows stronger.  Other special effects (aside from these gory scenes) are pretty cheesy because we were still in 1987 at this point and fake jolts of colored electricity from a puzzle box couldn't be done any better - these days it leads to a somewhat anticlimactic vanquishing of the antagonists.

More on that: this film is very, very '80s.  We're talking big hair, big accessories, and cute girls wearing mom jeans with tucked in white T-shirts.  Just none of this is okay.  Luckily Horror Buff has read that a remake is in the works, so there's no need for me to say I really would enjoy one.  Of course other franchises suffer from the curse of the '80s as well (A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th), but we have seen these franchises modernized.  This doesn't necessarily take away from the film, but I would say that it might make it difficult for modern and younger audiences to appreciate it as they might automatically judge it as outdated.

I like this film and its characters because of the strange manner in which they are presented to us.  We get that Frank is selfish, hedonistic, and mean.  Still, who doesn't think at the beginning of the film that Julia is going to be our main protagonist?  If anything, I thought Larry was going to turn out bad.  I didn't trust Kirsty, either.  Unlike most films in which the majority of characters - or at least the main protagonist - is clear from the beginning, in Hellraiser we are almost toyed with until we discover who will become the sinners and who will remain innocent.

*SPOILER ALERT*

The homeless man that seems almost to follow Kirsty throughout the film is extremely unnerving.  We don't understand his purpose, but as soon as we see his creepy face we think something bad is going to happen.  Still, with only a few minutes left in the film I found myself wondering why he wasn't explained to us.  Needless to say I was angry that the film could overlook such a thing.  Boy was I wrong.  Okay, so the film's ending is bizarre to say the least.  Didn't quite lose points in my book, but it was admittedly weird.  All in all, we have to remember what so many horror films long for: franchises.  Well that strange, boney, winged demon has certainly set us up for Hellraiser II!  Darn that puzzle box from hell.

Final critique:  This is a pretty creepy film based on a fulfilling plot born from twisted ideas.  It's almost a pleasant brand of horror: free from slashers, free from serial killers, and just filled with terrible and impassive demons whose terror is unspoken.  There is no right and wrong, no true good and bad, merely guilty or innocent parties who have fooled around with the puzzle box and opened the gateway between the Cenobites' hell and our reality.  I enjoy the subtle commentary that the Cenobites present regarding religion and social/ sexual behavior.  Those who scare easily or don't like (cheesy, '80s) gore will probably not take this film so well, but it really is a must-see at some point; even if it's not the greatest horror flick ever, it is of note.  After finishing the first, I'm just in the mood to move on to the next ones.


Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Seven (1995)

Also known as "Se7en" when trying to have some fun.

GENERAL INFO:
Director:  David Fincher
Studio:  New Line Cinema
Starring:  Morgan Freeman, Brad Pitt, Kevin Spacey, Gwyneth Paltrow
Tagline:  Seven Deadly Sins.  Seven Ways to Die.
MPAA Rating:  R
Genre:  crime, mystery, suspense, serial killer, religious
Scare score:  B-
Rating:  A-


Plot overview:  Recently reassigned Detective David Mills (Pitt) and unhappy wife Tracy (Paltrow) have just moved to a new city where David is hoping to make his big break as a serious detective.  He is partnered with the precise, calm, and exacting Detective William Somerset (Freeman) who has exactly seven days left of work before retiring.  The dividing differences between Mills and Somerset are immediately apparent as they deal with their first case of an obese man who has been forced to feed himself to death.  After this job Somerset asks for a transfer, but over the course of the week the two detectives find their developing murder cases are not only related but that they are puzzle pieces in an elaborate killing spree at the hands of the serial killer John Doe (Spacey).  Quickly realizing that each murder is committed in the form of one of the seven deadly sins, the detectives must work together to stop John Doe before he takes his final two victims.

No one can disagree that this film has an awesome plot and that it was very well executed in a darkly creative manner.  I've always liked Seven, and I find something new hidden in the details each time.

Taking something so basic and even old-fashioned as the seven deadly sins and actually making them deadly is ingenious.  The screenwriter(s) really must have been some (how to put this?) 'strong-willed' people to think of and write out the various murder scenes, which each in their own way is very violent although we always arrive after the crime is committed.  As in any typical police drama, we have the crime explained to us in hindsight, so afterwards we find ourselves imagining the scene, picturing the torture - and it's then when our own imaginations begin to drift into horribly dark territories do we begin to understand the true nature of horror and violence in this movie.

The filming is done exceptionally well and the cinematography adds a few levels of depth and dreariness to the work.  All the rain in the movie is just plain depressing.  We are constantly experiencing scenes that take place in small rooms and restricted places, often with poor or gloomy lighting (even in Mills' house), and after a certain point the viewer feels restricted and almost burdened, as if they were being pulled into the terror of the movie's crimes and even the ordinary drabness of the anonymous city.  It's easy to say that in every way this film is dark, reminiscent of the film-noir genre made famous by so many detective stories in the past.

While the plot itself is what really drives this movie forward (which murder is next?  how will it be done?), the acting is certainly a key element.  Before acting, though, comes characterization.  I never realized just how annoying Pitt's character is throughout the entire movie until I watched it for the umpteenth time just now.  His callowness, however, allows us to truly appreciate the stark contrast that exists between Mills and Somerset.  From the very beginning we are shown how precise, organized, and even punctual Somerset is in all matters of his daily routine: his clothes are ironed and laid out in the morning, his accessories are lined up neatly before leaving the house, he is calm and collected even while investigating the most terrible murders, and most importantly every word he speaks is thought out well in advance.  Mills on the other hand is young and overeager; his ties are all pre-tied and simply thrown on before leaving for a job, his shirts are eternally wrinkled, he serves wine in highball glasses, and most notably he is rash and pugnacious not only in words but in action.  Even the smallest details between the two detectives is taken into account in the scene where the men are shaving their chests before being wired: Mills leaves his hot water running while shaving whereas the faucet in front of Somerset is clearly off - we can only assume he neatly, and symbolically (and in an environmentally friendly manner), has a sink full of warm water ready instead of wasting it all.  Details, people, details.

Acting wise I love Morgan Freeman as I would in any work of his.  He conveys the maturity and pure experience that Somerset needs to have.  Pitt - doesn't he seem young? - does a good job as an overeager and annoying, boyish and pompous hothead (which get him into trouble on several accounts...)  I especially enjoy the final scene when Pitt is forced to switch from 'really angry' to 'really sad' while questioning in many tones "What's in the box?" - a line I quote whenever there is a box involved, yet no one seems to get my reference.  A special congratulations goes out to Kevin Spacey as the serial killer John Doe.  While we don't get to see a lot of him, his lines are delivered almost meticulously, in such a creepy matter with an air of femininity and instability that it becomes frightening.  You can't fight a pious evil such as his.

The murders.  While all of them are terribly creative and well executed - and gross - few things that I've seen in horror movies have bugged me more than 'lust'.  How terrible is that?  Finding the involved parties isn't even as bad as the interrogation scene that follows (that actor is great).  After we learn about a murder such as that, we unfortunately have to deal with thoughts regarding how dark society really can be, and how pervertedly insane some murderers are.  Furthermore, as this film isn't exactly scary, the murders do add the frights, thrills, and chills that we expect a decent horror movie to deliver.  'Sloth' is another one that gets me cringing every time.  Really well done.

Final critique:  Even though this movie is a little long, you don't really notice as the enticing plot and convincing acting move you right along up to the final climactic scene.  I will reiterate how creatively twisted the murders are, and how they have left their mark on anyone who has seen this film before.  Seven comes highly recommended for all viewers but with a warning for those who react poorly to graphic or just plain sick murder content - to make you more comfortable, I won't ruin anything but I will say that we never actually see a grisly murder, we merely experiencing the crime scene via our police protagonists.  Unlike most horrors this won't make you afraid to leave your house or leave you worried about what's under the bed, but it will cause you to think about the dark depths that humanity can sink to, and it might cause a few nightmares if you don't take the creative murders well.  Great plot, fun story line, awesome film all around.