Five films. One writer. Oh dear.
If we can still call this the ‘Halloween period’ then that would be much obliged considering this feature is over a week late from the actual day. But enough with flimsy excuses, we have a series to binge!
This is the inaugural edition in which I will attempt to watch a series of flicks in an entire sitting whilst taking notes of my thoughts over the course of the day with occasional breaks for lunch and such things. This will be a collection of reviews with a score given out of five to summarise my experience.
Prelude – The Halloween series is one of the staples of the horror genre with the first film widely credited as the grand-daddy of the ‘slasher’ movie. My experience with the franchise prior to this is shamefully limited as I have only seen the original and Halloween H2O (and both only once, years ago) so these are largely first takes with very little pre-existing knowledge going in. This particular sitting will be the first five films as, conveniently, these are the ones available on Netflix.
But enough of that, on with the binge! (Oh, there will be spoilers ahead for each of the films so this is your warning!)
09:00AM – Halloween (1978)
Writer/Director John Carpenter’s original is touted as a classic and regularly makes notable ‘Best of’ lists and it’s easy to see why even watching it now. The sinister opening credits image of the backlit pumpkin drawing closer to the sound of Carpenter’s foreboding piano score is genuinely unsettling. Following that, the first scene curiously takes place from the first-person as we embody someone lurking around a house which eventually leads to stabbing a young woman to death. The perspective shifts when the parents return home to reveal the killer is their young child (Michael Myers) holding a bloody kitchen knife. Quite the start!
Years later, the adult Myers escapes from the mental asylum he has been held in since and goes on a killing spree on Halloween, with a focus on young babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) who happened to be near his old house when he revisits (and that’s seemingly all he needs for a motive).
Sustained tension is one of the film’s strengths and Carpenter and fellow writer Debra Hill carve out a story which uncomfortably shifts from first to third-person as the stalking Myers watches Strode as she attends school and shops with her friends. He is the epitome of the ‘boogieman’ and is even referred to in the script as ‘the shape’; the emotionless William Shatner mask and dark overalls have since become signature traits as well as his slow-paced walk.
Carpenter effectively uses tracking shots of Laurie from a distance giving the impression she is always being watched, the cinematography is fantastic as the typical suburban streets appear threatening and empty while the recurring theme song is brilliantly used to keep the fear meter rising. The supporting cast are likewise great with Donald Pleasance being a highlight as Myers’ psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis, who is the only one who knows how deadly the killer is but his attempts to warn people are vastly ignored.
Of course, there are moments the plot seems to rely on tropes (or possibly originated them?) such as the typical ‘teens taking drugs or being promiscuous leads to death’ and there are some points that will baffle when characters make daft decisions as a means to kindly heighten the tension for us.
Despite that nitpick, it’s a classic and as much as the effects and fashions have aged, the sustained atmosphere and simple story of a brutal emotionless killer is still a success with its almost-supernatural villain in Myers being one of cinema’s greatest creations.
10:45 AM – Halloween II (1981)
The first sequel picks up right where the original’s cliffhanger ending left off with a multiple gunshot-wounded Myers having somehow escaped and injured Laurie Strode taken to the local hospital. This becomes the main setting of the film as Myers inexplicably recovers and tracks her down but not before taking time to sadistically murder the unfortunate medical staff on the night shift.
Carpenter and Hill returned only as writers for this as Carpenter didn’t want to repeat himself and felt he had nothing new to add as a director. Incoming debut director Rick Rosenthal was hired to emulate the original stylistically and atmospherically is very successful. However, due to some creative differences with producers the amount of gore and kills is heightened which actually lessens the impact – the old adage ‘less is more’ being definitely evident.
The two main leads from the original return (Pleasance and Curtis) with the former doing the heavy lifting although the reveal that Myers and Strode are actually related is grown-worthy. Curtis meanwhile spends the majority of the film lying in bed, her character having the odd flashback to mix things up.
The cinematography is still pretty stellar as the creepy hospital lends itself well to a horror setting and Carpenter’s synthesised score, although not quite as effective as the innovative piano style of the original, still works wonders to amplify the dread.
However, the law of diminishing returns seems to be the hidden subtitle of this film with the main bulk of the time spent watching unknown character actors being bumped off in increasingly gruesome ways. The ’promiscuity’ trope returns with a vengeance as Myers finds a moment in his spree to punish a young couple using a makeshift boiler room hot tub pre-coitus; the killer even demonstrates a sadistic sense of humour when he pretends to be the male lover to the unwitting woman, before planting her face in scalding water.
Additionally, my limit on watching characters ‘doing silly things which could lead to their death’ is definitely starting to hit boiling point as I can hear myself muttering out loud as they seem keen to aid Myers in his goal to murder them - on multiple occasions they ignore clear instructions that always ends fatally.
Overall, it is a fairly enjoyable piece of film-making which is heavily derivative of its predecessor and nowhere surpasses it. Nevertheless, the eerie hospital setting does provide some great tension and the Carpenter score helps a fair amount. Now, lunchtime!
01:00PM – Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
After having scoffed some rolls and sausage and washed down with some Orange Fanta, (other fizzy drinks are available) I’m ready to continue with the murder simulation binge.
The third in the franchise is quite the oddity, with the subtitle alone being evidence. Carpenter (now only a producer) at this point wanted the franchise to break out from its serial-killer origins and become an anthology series which would encompass all sorts of Halloween-esque elements such as ghouls, monsters and witches. It’s an interesting idea and something that seems to fit more with contemporary thinking with every film studio trying to ape the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (no points for guessing if this idea took off here, though).
With an entirely new cast and new setting, this even has the original movie appear as an advertisement within the film so this isn’t even in the same continuity as the predecessors.
So, the story has jettisoned the Myers stuff and now seems to be about groups of suited men that murder random people. As the plot unfolds we learn that a shady corporation are turning adults into robots (the suited men) and murdering children when they put their magically altered masks on. That’s certainly a change-up from the boogieman serial killer concept of the previous films, and mostly for the worse.
Making his directorial debut, Tommy Lee Wallace’s effort is ambitious but way off the mark. The plot is barmy, characters are one-note and some of the writing hasn’t aged well. Our lead hero is Doctor Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) and he is introduced drinking on the job, neglecting his kids and casually sexually harassing nurse colleagues. He then buddies up with a very young grieving woman (Stacey Nelkin) to investigate the mysterious murder of her father (because that’s what doctors do in this film) and quickly seduces her (of course).
Carpenter co-created the score for this film with Alan Howarth but it’s much more synthesised to further separate it from the originals and the catchy jingle used by the Halloween toy company as a hypnotising commercial is quite effective (still stuck in my head even as I write this).
So, it’s not a complete misfire. Aspects of the plot could have worked if written better and some scenes carry suspense like when the two leads are being constantly followed by the mysterious suited men. It also tried to be different and that alone can be admired especially when franchise fatigue can set in (for one, children aren’t safe in this which feels relatively novel). But, the made-for-television feel, silly plot and stilted dialogue all leave me feeling more than disappointed that they couldn’t make the anthology idea work.
02:50PM – Halloween 4 – The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
This is getting tough. It may be the long stretch of watching films together in a short space of time but my attention is wavering regularly and patience thinning with every moment of Myers being a Super Terminator.
Where Season of the Witch tried something new but failed in execution, this goes back to the well and is a derivative, unimaginative example of Hollywood sequelitis.
With Carpenter and Hill having sold their stake in the Halloween name the other long-time producer Moustapha Akkad plowed on as sole owner. Due to the critical backlash of the previous film he brought back Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis (Pleasance) but Curtis at this point wisely rejected the offer so apparently Strode was killed in a car crash off-screen.
The set-up involves a seemingly comatose Myers being escorted to another hospital in an ambulance and on hearing that Strode had a daughter (his niece, Jamie, now living with another family) he kills the medical staff and crashes the vehicle. And in keeping with his trademark look, conveniently finds a mechanic nearby to murder and steals his overalls – now he can hunt down his niece to kill her. For, reasons.
Jamie (Danielle Lloyd) is haunted by nightmares of a man she has never met who seems to want to kill her and her step sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell) has to reluctantly babysit her on Halloween whilst wishing she could meet with her new (pushy) boyfriend, Brady (Sasha Jenson). This sets up an eventual love-triangle when another girl shows interest in him but at this point my interest has weaned that I am decisively glad his skull is crushed by Myers like something out of a Mortal Kombat fatality.
Writer Alan B. McElroy and director Dwight H. Little seem to have created a film which appears giddy to have Michael Myers back and uses any chance to emphasise his presence with the familiar theme song playing anytime he appears (which is actually a fair bit) like the way James Bond’s classic theme would play whenever he does something ‘Bondian’. The film-makers completely forgot about the sustained tension of the original film, the moments of quiet, built-up atmosphere of dread which would lead to the bigger scares eventually. Even cinematically it looks cheap; the cinematography feels unimaginative and comparatively weaker than Carpenter’s first effort ten years earlier.
It’s not all awful, though. Pleasance, now facially scarred to explain his remarkable survival from his last outing, is typically great and definitely improves each scene in which he appears.
And then it ends. After a ridiculous car chase with a comically stereotypical redneck lynch mob and Myers getting pummelled by gunfire, we then have a call-back to the original with the first-person perspective re-used to reveal the innocent young child murdering her mother. It’s a head-turner certainly, but doesn’t save the film.
Overall, glad it’s over!
04:45 – Halloween 5 – The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Oh dear. This is dire stuff.
Even the names of these films are starting to irritate me. The lack of subtlety is almost admirable if it didn’t require sitting for an hour and a half watching it. And, here I will admit to not finishing this in one sitting, having reached my limit on stilted dialogue, poor plotting and truly awful character decisions very early on.
Beginning with the final moments of the previous film in which Myers is shot to pieces and tumbled down a mine shaft, the police officers then chuck dynamite down to finish him off (and in line with their established incompetency in this series, simply assume he dies). Of course, he inexplicably is able to crawl away from it and find a nearby river which allows him to escape. A hermit seems to find the comatose Myers and unwisely heals him over the span of a year, which eventually on waking, Myers thanks him with his trusty knife.
And this again begins his hunt for his little niece Jamie (returning Danielle Harris) and anyone who happens to be in her vicinity. Her story has been softened from the ending of the previous film as it seems the mother survived and Jamie is now mute and suffering trauma from the experience (she also now seems to have some telepathic connection to Myers). As ineffective as most elements of this film are, Harris’ performance is actually terrific and even outshines the returning Donald Pleasance (Dr. Loomis) who at this point is a caricatured version of his original character. However, one major returning character from the previous film (Cornell) is killed off early with barely any fanfare or moment for the characters to even acknowledge, which feels odd.
It seems that the main issue was that they were filming without a finished script. Directed by Dominique Othenin Gerard, it is filled with lazy story contrivances, unexplained sub-plots (there are shots of a ‘Man in Black’ that were part of a minor arc which was cut from the finished film), awful tonal shifts (comic relief cops with silly music heard amidst Myers stalking his prey) and some poorly directed action scenes leaving confusion due to the awkward quick cuts.
Myers even has a groan-worthy moment to show his human side which is inexcusable considering the scene prior he was trying to brutally stab his young niece to death, not to mention the horrific atrocities we have seen him perform over four films.
The steady decline of this series has finally hit the bottom rung (at least I sincerely hope this is the bottom) as the desperate and cheap tactics to get scares out of the audience have been done better elsewhere. This film could only really be enjoyed ironically perhaps as a drinking game whenever a character makes an ill-fated decision that is geared to assist Myers in relieving them of their internal organs.
Lazy, nonsensical and cheap, this is a pale imitation of the original film and is a prime example of a series entry which has no motive to exist other than to make money. Well, I’m sure the next entry Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers will fix that.
Well, that was an experience. I will hopefully return to the Halloween series to cover the next few films but for now I need to detox. In the meantime, I hope you enjoyed this and let me know your thoughts on the films in the comments!