In Defense of Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween’ Movies

The two “Halloween” movies written and directed by Rob Zombie were eviscerated not just by critics but by the fans as well. Some critics, like James Berardinelli of Reel Views, said they did not even feel like “Halloween” movies. Fans were vocal in how characters like Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis were unforgivably degraded compared to how they were portrayed in John Carpenter’s original. Others simply said Zombie’s take on Michael Myers just wasn’t that scary.

Well, I say phooey to all this nonsense! Zombie’s “Halloween” movies may not be as scary as the one which started off this never-ending franchise, but for me this was pretty much a given. There is no way you could recapture what Carpenter thrilled us with years ago. Zombie was aware of how Michael Myers, like other horror icons such as Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees, had pretty much worn out their usefulness. His respect for Carpenter’s slasher opus was strong, and after making a true grindhouse classic with “The Devil’s Rejects,” I knew he would take this story and these characters and make them his own.

What makes Zombie’s “Halloween” stand out from what came before it is how he treats the backstory of Michael Myers. Granted, this threatens to take away from what made him so scary in the first place. Carpenter’s original was an unrelentingly visceral experience mainly because we were not sure what to make of “The Shape” as he became less than human throughout. But here we get a strong idea of how young Michael went bad as he dealt with an uncaring sister, a busy mother, and an abusive lout of a stepfather. Seeing all he had to deal with made it understandable, if not forgivable, as to why he went psycho in the first place.

Now whereas Zombie’s “Halloween” was about Michael, his “Halloween II” was all about Laurie Strode, Dr. Loomis and of how the horrific events they went through forever destroyed them. It is here we come to realize what Zombie has accomplished with these movies: They are character studies instead of the average slasher movie we have come to expect. This is made even clearer on the “Halloween II” director’s cut which is available on DVD and Blu-ray as it proves to be infinitely superior to the theatrical version.

Fans hated how Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis were so different from how they were portrayed in Carpenter’s original film, but they forgot how Zombie’s films were a meant to be a reimagining of the franchise and not business as usual. Strode’s extreme emotional reactions might make her unlikable, but they soon become understandable as no one involved in what she went through can ever walk away from it unscathed. Both Scout-Taylor Compton and Malcolm McDowell deserve credit for not being constrained by what Jaime Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence created before them. In Zombie’s incarnation, these two actors inhabit their characters more than they play them.

In a time of remakes which are as endless as they are unnecessary, you have to give Zombie points for taking this long-running franchise in a different direction. It may not have been what diehard fans wanted or expected, but whereas most remakes repeat the formulas of movies they originated from with negative success, there is something to be said for a filmmaker who willfully goes against expectations. Seriously, this says a lot in a time when originality in cinema is largely frowned upon.

‘Halloween III: Season of the Witch’ Shout Factory Blu-ray Review

Halloween III blu ray cover

It took several decades, but “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” did eventually get the special edition release it has long deserved. To date, it is the only movie in the “Halloween” franchise which does not feature Michael Myers, and it was lambasted by both critics and fans for the same reason upon its release in 1982. Over the years, however, this sequel has been re-evaluated by many and has since gained a strong cult following. This makes the special edition release of “Halloween III” all the more joyous as it comes with a plethora of extras which tell you everything you need to know about this movie’s making.

This special edition release of “Halloween III” came to us from the good folks at Shout Factory who are released it simultaneously with their equally special edition of “Halloween II.” To say this is the best digital edition ever of this particular film would be a severe understatement as “Halloween III” has never gotten much respect in any of its previous DVD incarnations. It is no surprise to say this movie has never looked and sounded this good since it first came out, and the colors look so vivid in this high definition release.

There are two audio commentaries on this disc, and the first one is with director Tommy Lee Wallace who is interviewed by “Icons of Fright’s” Rob G and “Horror Hound’s” Sean Clark. Wallace made it clear that his intention was not to make a slasher movie like the first two “Halloween” movies, but instead a “pod” movie in the vein of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” He also talked about how the assassins dressed in suits represented his fear of the corporate world, and the movie proved to be something of a commentary on American consumerism (a theme which was expanded on in “They Live“).

The other commentary track is with actor Tom Atkins who plays Dr. Dan Challis, and he is interviewed by Michael Felsher. This proves to be the most entertaining of the two tracks and this is even though Atkins goes off topic a number of times. The actor reflects on working with Frank Sinatra on “The Detective,” meeting with John Carpenter and Shane Black, and he also talks extensively about William Peter Blatty’s movie “The Ninth Configuration” which apparently was a disaster. Whether he is talking about “Halloween III” or not, Atkins sounds like he’s having a blast and is endlessly entertaining throughout.

The behind the scenes documentary “Stand Alone: The Making of ‘Halloween III: Season of the Witch” does a great job of looking at the movie’s creation, its initial failure when it opened, and of how it has gained a second life on video and DVD. Carpenter and the late Debra Hill made it clear they were steering clear of the mask-wearing psychopath from the previous films with this entry as they wanted to turn the franchise into a series of anthology films which dealt with the holiday of Halloween. Universal Pictures, however, did not do nearly enough to prepare audiences for this shift in direction.

Executive Producer Irwin Yablans makes it no secret in the documentary of how he thought it was a huge mistake to make a “Halloween” movie without Michael Myers in it, and his only satisfaction from this sequel came in the form of a nice paycheck. Others like Atkins, Stacey Nelkin who played Ellie and stunt coordinator Dick Warlock state they always thought the movie was good despite its initial reception.

Other special features include an episode of “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” which has host Sean Clark touring the original shooting locations of “Halloween III” with Wallace, and it proves to be a lot of fun watching these two go down memory lane to see what these locations look like today. There’s also the movie’s teaser trailer, theatrical trailer, TV and radio spots, and there’s even a commercial for its debut on network television. The latter is proof of how the producers of this special edition left no stone unturned.

For years, “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” has been treated as if it were the bastard stepchild of the “Halloween” movie franchise, but with the passing of time it has been reassessed as a clever horror movie which stands on its own merits. The Shout Factory Blu-ray release was done with a lot of love and care, and this especially shows in the brilliant artwork on the cover illustrated by Nathan Thomas Milliner. After all these years it is worth revisiting this sequel, and that is even if it you have to endure the “Silver Shamrock” commercial jingle just one more time.

‘Halloween II’ Shout Factory Blu-ray Review

Halloween II Shout Factory blu ray cover

Universal Pictures first released 1981’s “Halloween II” on Blu-ray, and it was a release many horror fans had long awaited. But a year later, Shout Factory gave us another edition of this sequel, and it contained a lot of extras which were sorely missing from the Universal release: audio commentaries, a documentary on its making, deleted scenes, an alternate ending, trailers and TV spots among other goodies. This release also includes what the previous Universal Blu-ray controversially, and unforgivably, left out of the opening credits: “Moustapha Akkad Presents.”

Great care has been taken in this release’s packaging as it contains an excellent cover created by artist Nathan Thomas Milliner. This illustration has Michael Myers walking with that scalpel of his and crying tears of blood, Donald Pleasance holding out his hand which has Myers’ blood on it, and Jamie Lee Curtis looking as fierce as she did in the first “Halloween” movie. Looking at this cover should everyone an idea of just how big a cult following this sequel has more than 30 years after its theatrical release.

When comparing the look and sound of Shout Factory’s release to Universal’s, it’s hard to see much, if any, of a difference between them. Both versions make this sequel look better than it has in ages even though there is a bit of grain in certain scenes. But what this version does have which the Universal release lacked are two DTS-HD Master Audio tracks which include a 5.1 remix and a stereo mix.

This edition also contains two audio commentaries, and the first one is with “Halloween II’s” director Rick Rosenthal who is joined by actor Leo Rossi who played the chauvinistic ambulance driver Budd Scarlotti. Now this is an audio commentary fans have been dying to hear for the longest time, and Rosenthal provides a number of interesting tidbits throughout. Rossi himself is a delight as he talks about how Rosenthal went to bat for him when the late Debra Hill did not even want him in the movie. Hill was instead looking for Midwestern actors as the movie took place in Illinois, but Rosenthal managed to wear her down and get Rossi cast even though he looks and sounds like a New York native.

The other audio commentary is with stunt coordinator Dick Warlock who also played Michael Myers. Of the two commentary tracks, this one proved to be the most entertaining. There are a number of spots in the Rosenthal/Rossi where they both went silent and seemed unsure of what to say, but Warlock is full of details on how he went about playing Michael Myers and of how he handled some of the more dangerous stunts in the sequel.

We do also get a documentary entitled “The Nightmare Isn’t Over: The Making of ‘Halloween II'” which features interviews with Rosenthal, Warlock, Lance Guest, Rossi, Nancy Stephens and many others who were in front of or behind the camera. Like Rosenthal’s commentary, this is another special feature fans have been waiting for endlessly, and it does not disappoint. Some of the best anecdotes come from Rossi who explains how and why he changed the lyrics to “Amazing Grace” when he sang it, and Warlock makes clear why metal zippers do not belong on insulated clothing when you have been set on fire.

There is an additional DVD disc which contains the TV version of “Halloween II” on it, and this is the same version which has been shown on the A&E network. It features additional scenes not found in the theatrical cut as well as an alternate ending which shows one character to still be very much alive.

Other special features include an episode of “Horror’s Hallowed Grounds” which has host Sean Clark revisiting the original shooting locations of “Halloween II.” It’s surprising to see some of them still intact 30 years later. There’s also the theatrical trailer, television and radio spots, and deleted scenes with commentary from Rosenthal.

For those of you who still own the Universal Blu-ray release of “Halloween II,” you may not want to get rid of it just yet. The documentary “Terror in the Aisles” did not transfer over to the Shout Factory release, and it is unlikely you will see it available in its own release in the near future.

When Universal Pictures released its Blu-ray of “Halloween II,” it looked like we would never get a better version of it and had to be happy with what we got. Shout Factory, however, has given us a 2-disc set which has just about every special feature fans of this sequel could ever want, and it will certainly keep them busy for hours.

While it was ill-received upon its release in 1981 and considered a pale imitation of the original, “Halloween II” has long since gained a cult following as there are actually many things about it worth admiring. The look and feel of this sequel mirrors the original, and this was something the sequels which followed it could only dream of capturing.

Soundtrack Review: ‘Assault on Precinct 13/Dark Star’

Assault on Precinct 13 Dark Star soundtrack cover

Of all the soundtracks to John Carpenter’s movies, the ones for “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star” remain the hardest to find. “Dark Star’s” soundtrack has been out of print for years and is basically comprised of dialogue and music from the movie. As for “Assault on Precinct 13,” its soundtrack was available only as a bootleg until 2003 when a French company named Record Makers gave it its first commercial release. But now BSX Records has released “Assault on Precinct 13/Dark Star,” a soundtrack which contains the music from both movies and has been newly recorded by Alan Howarth, and the results are truly fantastic.

“Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star” were Carpenter’s first movies which he directed and did film music for, and they were extremely low budget affairs which forced him to make the best use of whatever he had available. The soundtracks for each ended up inaugurating what is known as “the Carpenter sound” which was expanded on in later films such as “Halloween II” and “Prince of Darkness.” The theme to “Assault on Precinct 13” is one of Carpenter’s most memorable, and it was inspired in part by Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song.” His music for “Dark Star” helped to illustrate the movie’s more thoughtful elements as well as its most comically absurd.

Other artists have re-recorded Carpenter’s music over the years with varying degrees of success, but BSX Records really lucked out here in getting Howarth to recreate these two soundtracks. A highly regarded sound designer and pioneering electronic musician, Howarth worked with Carpenter on the scores to many of his movies all the way up to 1988’s “They Live.” With “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star,” Howarth doesn’t try to update either soundtrack, but instead aims to remain faithful to Carpenter’s original versions and how they sounded back in the 1970’s. The only real difference is while both soundtracks were originally recorded in mono, Howarth gets the opportunity to record them in stereo which allows for a more powerful presentation.

“Assault on Precinct 13” ends up sounding better than ever here, and the main theme will give your stereo speakers a really strong workout. Track 16 is my favorite on the disc as Howarth takes the movie’s theme and adds orchestral elements on top of the electronic ones. It’s the closest he comes to updating any of Carpenter’s soundtracks, but the theme still stays very close to its original sound.

As for “Dark Star,” Howarth sounds like he’s having a blast recreating all those primitive computerized sounds which dominated the score for the 1974 movie. He even recreates “Doolittle’s Solo” which had the character of the same name performing on a makeshift instrument made up of bottles and tin cans, and he adds in those crazy sounds which emanate from that beach ball of an alien. In addition, composer Dominik Hauser arranges and performs a new version of the song “Benson, Arizona.”

This CD also comes with a highly informative booklet entitled “Assault on a Dark Star: The Musical Pulse of Early John Carpenter” written by Randall D. Larson, a film music columnist and author of the book “Musical Fantastique: 100 Years of Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror Film Music.” Larson goes into excellent detail over the challenges Carpenter faced in making both “Assault on Precinct 13” and “Dark Star,” and of how he went about created the music for each. Larson also talks in depth with Howarth on how he went about re-recording the scores for this release and the types of equipment he had to work with.

When it comes to re-creating a well-known soundtrack, composers and musicians usually find themselves at a loss. Whether they do a good job or not, they end up giving us something which makes us pine for the original version. The great thing about BSX Records’ “Assault on Precinct 13/Dark Star” release is how Alan Howarth makes both film scores sound as they were always meant to sound. Listening to them is like traveling back in time to the 1970’s when these two movies came out, and it makes for one of the best soundtrack re-recordings I have heard in a long time.

Click here to purchase a CD copy of the soundtracks.

Click here to purchase the digital copy of the soundtracks.

 

The Pablove Runners Return to Griffith Park

Pablove 2019 Week Three 1

The air has cleared up to a certain extent, in Southern California anyway, so we Pablove runners were reunited on a misty Saturday morning for our latest run. Full marathoners were tasked with running six miles while those running a half-marathon only had to pound the pavement for three. After a week which saw Californians all over battling out of control fires which laid waste to far too many homes, doing any kind of exercise was a great way to deal with the anxiety brought on by catastrophes of all kinds which have become far too common in the United States of America.

It’s only marathon training which cab get me up out of bed so ridiculously early on a Saturday morning. Usually it takes me forever to haul my ass out of bed, but I woke up a good half hour before my six o’clock alarm was set to go off. I had a cookies and cream Promax bar which tasted a little weird when compared to the usual chocolate chip cookie dough bar I buy from the supermarket. I covered the important parts of my body with petroleum jelly as I had run out of anti-chafe cream, and I sprayed more Neutrogena sunblock over my body than I needed to as the sun was obscured by fog among other things.

beatles-white-album

As I drove to Griffith Park, I played the new 40th anniversary edition of The Beatles’ “White Album” which features a new sound mix by Giles Martin, son of the late George Martin. Playing this new mix on my car stereo is aural perfection as Giles makes it sound like I am right in the middle of the studio with John, Paul, George and Ringo as they play their hearts out from one song to the next. I put on the second disc which features one of my all-time favorite Beatles songs, “Birthday.” I first heard this song when it was performed by The Rock-a-Fire-Explosion Band back at Showbiz Pizza Place in Marietta, Georgia years ago, and it took a long time for me to realize it was originally a Beatles song.

In retrospect, I should have played the first disc of the “White Album” as songs like “Back in the U.S.S.R.” and “Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da” would have pumped me up a bit more. Actually, I should have played John Carpenter’s score to “The Fog.” Every time I see fog or heavy mist surrounding the towns I happen to be in, the main theme from that movie immediately starts playing in my head.

Coach Joaquin’s main message to us this morning was to remain consistent in our training. Each week, we need to run a number of miles to increase our endurance for the big day. It gets to where two maintenance runs of 30 to 45 minutes each may not be enough, and Joaquin encouraged us to keep in shape and workout in any way we can. One of my fellow runners admitted she was unable to get any maintenance runs in this past week as she was tremendously busy with work. That’s the problem, life keeps getting in the way of everything we want and need to do.

Pablove 2019 Week Three 2

This run was confined to Griffith Park, and I decided to run at a 2:2 pace as I had the previous Saturday. My goal was to keep my fellow runners in my sights, and I actually managed to do this for a time. The start of this run had us running up the backside of Griffith Park, and this hill is one which constantly knocks the wind out of even the most experienced of runners. Coach Joaquin encouraged us to shuffle up the hill as running up it would be counterproductive among other things. As I attempted to ascend this hill, I kept thinking of the song “Harlem Shuffle” which was used to great effect in Edgar Wright’s movie “Baby Driver,” and it kept me from over exerting myself.

When I reached the one-mile sign, I could not help but feel astonished. I had only run just one? It felt like I just ran two, and now I had to turn around and run several more. Regardless, I watched my speed as I ran downhill. If I were on a bike, I would revel in my ability to decrease the altitude I was at, but as a runner I have long since known that increasing my velocity would also increase the odds of me injuring myself. Yes, there is a brain in this very large head of mine.

IMG_20181117_073202400.jpg

As the Pablove runners began heading in the other direction, the two in front of me decided to cut their run short, and once again I was all by myself. I managed to keep up with the 2:2 pace for the most part, determined not to keep my coaches waiting too long for me to return. As I approached the turn around point, I met up with the other Pablove runners who kept encouraging me to keep it up, and I was convinced I would switch directions in no time.

Now this is an especially tricky situation in regards to running, the thought it will soon be over. When this happens, time suddenly becomes much slower to where you wonder if someone moved the turn around sign or if your friends will prank you by moving the finish line away as you rapidly approach it. A certain panic runs over me as I begin to think I have run too far, and situations like these have me almost flagellating myself. Stupid, stupid, stupid!

Fortunately, I did run into Coach Joaquin at one point who ran with me to the turn around point which was marked by an old Team to End AIDS sign. We ran together for a bit, and then he went on ahead to pick up any signs left over. Once again, I was the last runner to finish, but hopefully I can speed things up before the big day in March.

IMG_20181117_072723219_HDR

Why do I keep coming back to train for this marathon? Well, I guess there’s always the chance of improving my performance, the need to lose this spare tire I keep carrying around on my stomach, and when those endorphins kick in, I feel a lot better about myself than I usually do. Still, life gets in the way and there’s only so much exercise I can get in during the week. This time, I need to exercise more regularly. I have long missed the days when I was a svelte individual. Here’s hoping I can experience them again very soon.

WRITER’S NOTE: I m running this marathon in support of The Pablove Foundation which continues to fight for a cure to pediatric cancer. I am determined to raise $1,500, and any support you can give me will be greatly appreciated. Please click here to make a donation (tax-deductible of course).

 

Los Angeles Marathon Number 9, Number 9, Number 9, Number 9…

Pablove 2019 Week One 1

“Number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9…”

-from “Revolution 9” by The Beatles

This is what should have been playing on my alarm clock this morning.

It’s that time of year again. Another Halloween has come and gone, and you know what that means. The weather in Southern California finally begins to get colder and summer has finally overstayed its welcome. Granted, as I write this, it’s now mid-afternoon and a balmy 80 degrees outside, but I still prefer to wear jeans instead of shorts regardles. And yes, daylight savings time is about to end, but while I look forward to the extra hour of sleep, seeing the evenings look like midnight when it is only 5 or 6 pm has never sat well with me. I’m sick of the day feeling over before it actually is over.

But most importantly, it is now time to start training again for the Los Angeles Marathon. Just when I thought the time had come to take a break, the pull of running 26.2 miles through the streets of an ethnically diverse city where complete strangers cheer you on remains very strong even as my knees doth protest. Once again, I will wake up at an ungodly hour on Saturday mornings to run through Griffith Park, Burbank and other parts of North Hollywood for the next several weeks to increase my endurance for a run many of my friends have convinced themselves they could never do. If I had a nickel for every time someone I knew told me, “I can’t even run a mile,” I’d own a Volkswagen Passat… Wait a minute, I do own a Volkswagen Passat…

And once again, I will be raising money for The Pablove Foundation which continues its mission to find a cure for pediatric cancer.

As usual, I waited until the last second to sign up. To be honest, today is the first day I have been running since the 2018 LA Marathon, and seven or eight months ago. I meant to start training several weeks beforehand, but I got waylaid by the common cold which made it harder than usual for me to get out of bed, and it is usually very hard to haul my ass out of bed on a regular basis. It proved to be especially frustrating because I never get sick, ever. Seriously, ask anybody. Damn post nasal drip!

Anyway, I jumped out of bed, got all my running gear together, spread an obscene amount of anti-chafe cream all over my body, put on lots of sunscreen (Neutrogena sunscreen is the best), consumed a Promax chocolate cookie dough protein bar, drank the last of the grape flavored generic Pedialyte beverage I left in the fridge, and I opened up a can of Celsius to give me a boost of energy. From there, I exited my apartment building with an enthusiasm I usually lack on a daily basis and jumped into my car and drove out to Griffith Park to start another year of marathon training, and the second in support of The Pablove Foundation which continues its brave fight against pediatric cancer.

While I made my way into Burbank, I listened to the soundtrack for the new “Halloween” movie composed by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies. Now listening to the film score to a movie about a psychotic killer coming back to a small town to kill unsuspecting residents while going off to start training for a marathon may seem a little strange, but hey, whatever works…

It was a relatively cold morning in Griffith Park when I arrived, and Coach Kerry was already on the scene addressing the troops. Like last year, the turnout of runners proved to be small yet intimate, and it was great to see familiar faces like Esther and Glendale who were all smiles. I also got to say hi to Jasmine who I ran the 2018 LA Marathon with and who managed to complete it despite suffering from the flu. In a Facebook post, I told everyone I was coming back, but that my first run would probably be terrible as I haven’t been running much recently. Jasmine replied, “I’m with you Ben, I’m going to be slower than tectonic plate shifts.” Of course, out here in California, tectonic plate shifts could be even slower than they already are.

Pablove 2019 Week One 2

Coaching us this season is Joaquin, a Team to End AIDS veteran who may speak softly, but he is dedicated to get us across the finish line next March and feeling happy about it. After doing a few warm up exercises, us Pablove runners started off and headed towards the Gene Autry Museum. Those running a half marathon only had to run two miles, but us full marathoners ran four instead. Maybe I should be doing just the half at this point in my life, but I am always overly ambitious when it comes to running.

Pablove 2019 Week One 3

Truth be told, I did much better than I thought I would. I started off at an easy pace and kept myself at 3:1 (running three minutes, and then walking for one minute). I managed to keep my fellow Pablove runners in my sights for the most part, and it gave me the illusion I was better prepared than I expected.

I got to the turn around point, and yes, that darn Bonnie Tyler song started playing in my head. I managed to shut its depressing melody down in my mind as I made my way back to the starting point. As I made my way back, I started to get a bit winded to where my walking breaks could not come soon enough. Still, despite my weight making me slower than usual, I still hauled my ass all the way over to the finish line. Even better, many of my fellow Pablove runners were still around to cheer my return. Last season, they were all gone by the time I made it back, and the only ones left were the coaches who must have been wondering if I would ever show up.

I came into this run thinking it is just four miles, and this time it really was just four miles. Short runs can be deceiving for a marathon veteran as what seems like a piece of cake can be anything but. Now the first run is done, and I have to make a commitment to train even harder than ever before. It’s not just going to come down to two 30 to 45-minute maintenance runs a week. It also has to include cardio exercises each day whether its at the local gym or working out with my Nintendo Wii Fit or Wii Sports boxing. Hey, don’t laugh at the latter. I know a guy who lost 60 pounds working out to Wii Sports boxing on a regular basis.

So, here’s to another season of marathon training come rain or come shine, and here’s to me taking on the LA Marathon for the ninth year in a row. Lou Bega has “Mambo No. 5,” and I have marathon number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9, number 9…

Once again, I will be running this marathon in support of The Pablove Foundation and am aiming to raise $1,500 for the organization. Please click here to learn how you can make a tax-deductible donation.

The following song I dedicate to my fellow Pablove runners as it contains a message they will hopefully understand.

Photos courtesy of Kerry Quakenbush.

‘Someone’s Watching Me!’ – The Lost John Carpenter Movie

 

Someones Watching Me Blu ray cover

Someone’s Watching Me!” is often referred to as the lost John Carpenter movie due to its unavailability on video and DVD for many years. It finally got released on DVD in 2007 (Shout Factory later released it on Blu-ray), but while there are some Carpenter movies I still need to catch up on, this may be the only one I haven’t heard of previously. I ended up buying it from a video store which was closing down as I am a huge fan of the director’s work, and I have no excuse for being this far behind on the films he has made.

The movie stars Lauren Hutton as Leigh Michaels, a television director who has just moved to Los Angeles and has set herself up in a luxurious apartment in a high-rise building. But as soon as she starts unpacking her things, a stranger begins stalking her with his telescope and calls to leave threatening messages with that deep, ominous voice stalkers usually speak in. Things continue to get worse from there until she finally decides to take matters into her hands.

Carpenter wrote “Someone’s Watching Me!” back when he was primarily making a living writing screenplays. At that point he had only directed “Dark Star” and “Assault on Precinct 13,” and this movie was completed a few days before he began work on “Halloween.” You can see a lot of “Halloween” in this one as Carpenter gets some great shots of what’s going on behind a character, and the point of view shots really increase the tension as he puts you into Hutton’s shoes to where you feel as menaced as she is. It also shows how brilliant he was in not only creating suspense and tension, but in maintaining them all the way to the end.

This script also shows one of Carpenter’s strengths as a writer as he creates strong female characters which would inhabit all his movies. Hutton is very good as Michaels and I thought she made the character very believable in a way which wasn’t showy. As her anxiety gets increasingly worse, she stands her ground and refuses to move out of her apartment. Michaels is not about to be intimidated by this peeping tom, and you root for her to turn the tables on this guy at any given opportunity.

“Someone’s Watching Me!” also stars Adrienne Barbeau who would later become Carpenter’s wife for a time (this was the first project they worked on together) and starred in “The Fog.” She plays Michaels’ co-worker, Sophie, who is tough as nails and not easily intimidated by anyone around her. Barbeau gives Hutton great support throughout, and it’s great fun watching her steal one scene after another.

The movie also stars David Birney as Paul Winkless, the man Michaels ends up flirting with and falling for. It’s almost surprising Michaels would fall for anyone as she proudly asserts herself as an independent woman right from the start. Birney matches Hutton’s strength and wit throughout, and Carpenter’s direction successfully casts doubt on him as well as everyone else surrounding Michaels throughout.

Charles Cyphers, a member of Carpenter’s repertory company of actors, appears here as police detective Gary Hunt. It threatens to be a thankless part as the character seems brought in just to express disbelief in the protagonist’s fears, but watching Cyphers here makes you see why Carpenter loves working with him. Cyphers gives us a character who might be a cliché, but he imbues him with a worldliness which makes his actions and beliefs understandable. Some actors would just consider this a paycheck role they could just walk through, but Cyphers proves to be the kind of actor who doesn’t fall into such inexcusable laziness.

Carpenter gets to pull off a lot of shots which have long since cemented him a master of horror and suspense. He utilizes different camera moves like shooting handheld or panning back and forth to reveal something just around the corner. The fact this made for TV movie holds up today says a lot about his talent.

Granted, this movie was made back in 1978 when voyeurism seemed like a rarity at best. These days everyone’s a voyeur as technology allow us to peak into those dark corners which we assumed were inaccessible. To discover someone is watching you from afar and that your privacy is a thing of the past is not a hard scenario to believe in this day and age. This ends up making a movie like “Someone’s Watching Me!” scarier than ever before. Even with the constraints of a made for television movie, Carpenter creates a thrilling tale which holds you in its tense grip and never lets you go.

* * * ½ out of * * * *

John Carpenter’s ‘The Fog’ Covers the Coastal Towns Again in a Beautiful 4K Restoration

 

The Fog 4K Restoration posterThe Fog” remains one of my favorite John Carpenter movies. Every time a fog bank appears in whatever town I happen to be in, I immediately put on his score to the film and start playing its theme song. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” “The Fog” is, for me, one of the most iconic Northern California horror movies ever made as it captures the beauty of coast near Bodega Bay and beyond while enthralling you with a number of terrifying images.

Rialto Pictures has now released a 4K restoration of “The Fog,” and seeing it again on the big screen proves to be a real treat. Granted, this Carpenter movie has been restored previously for the special edition MGM DVD and Shout Factory’s Blu-ray collector’s edition, and the results were truly astonishing. But just when I thought the image couldn’t be improved upon any further, along comes this restoration which looks truly pristine and clear to where the image, if you’ll excuse the expression, isn’t as foggy as it once was.

“The Fog” takes place in the coastal town of Antonio Bay which is about to celebrate the 100th anniversary of its formation, but we soon discover it was actually built on blood and theft. Father Malone (the great Hal Holbrook) discovers a diary hidden in the walls of his church written by his grandfather, and it tells of how he and five of the town’s founders deliberately plundered and sunk a clipper ship named the Elizabeth Dane. The owner of the ship was Blake, a wealthy man looking to establish a leper colony, but he and his crew ended up being murdered, and the gold found on their ship was used to build the town and its church.

Now Blake and his crew are back to get their revenge against the offspring of the town’s founders and retrieve their gold. Once you are surrounded by the fog to where Blake and his crew have you in their sights, it is too late to escape. There is a Klingon proverb which tells of how revenge is a dish best served cold, and it is served here very coldly to where we are quickly reminded of the movie’s tagline:

“It won’t hurt you. IT’LL KILL YOU.”

Watching “The Fog” for the umpteenth time, I am reminded of what a brilliant cinematographer Dean Cundey is as his lighting helps to make the movie’s central nemesis all the more mysterious and devilishly suffocating. The dark of the night is made to look especially chilling as things constantly leap out of it, and Blake and his crew are largely kept in the shadows as neither Cundey or Carpenter want to reveal too much of the monster to the audience.

This was Carpenter’s and the late Debra Hill’s first movie after “Halloween,” and I can understand why audiences felt a little let down by “The Fog” when it arrived in theaters. The anticipation for something usually ends up being more exciting than the finished product as our minds are filled with the possibilities of what we think will end up on the silver screen, but not everything comes out the way we want it to. It’s an unfair obstacle that filmmakers often have to deal with when following up such a successful motion picture, and sometimes we need to revisit certain movies like these years later to give them a much-needed reassessment.

More than 30 years have passed since Carpenter’s “The Fog” was released, and I like to think it has gotten better over time. In terms of atmospheric horror movies, I see it as one of the best. Those low-flying clouds are always a fascinating sight as well as a scary one. When the visibility is practically zero, you cannot help but feel trapped in the fog as it makes you believe the world has cut you off. Carpenter captures this feeling here as the fog proves to be thick and infinitely suffocating. There’s no escaping it or what is inside of it as those not smart enough to run away from it are almost deserving of the fate about to greet them.

Carpenter assembled a terrific cast of actors for “The Fog,” many of whom became regulars in his later movies. John Houseman gets things off to a chilling start as he recounts the story of the Elizabeth Dane in a way which feels vivid and probably helped the producers save money to where an actual recreation of the event he talks about proved completely unnecessary. Houseman was a brilliant actor who somehow managed to walk the line of doing work for either the love of the theatre or instead a nice paycheck, and I like to believe he did “The Fog” for the former. Still, I am often reminded of what the late Robin Williams said about the advice Houseman gave him while he was a student at Julliard:

“The theatre needs you. I’m going off to sell Volvos.”

Tom Atkins co-stars as town resident Nick Castle (lol) who is quick to pick up hitchhiker Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis) and later have sex with her before asking the question often heard in movies of the late 70’s and early 80’s, “What’s your name?” Atkins showed what a confident lady’s man he was here, and he later built on this confidence to terrific and hilarious effect in “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.”

“The Fog” also marked the film debut of Adrienne Barbeau, and the camera loves her here. As single mom and local radio disc jockey Stevie Wayne, Barbeau gives this Carpenter movie the strong female character it needs and deserves. Stevie is not a person to back down from danger and, like Laurie Strode, she is very observant of everything going on around her. When Barbeau’s voice is giving you more than enough of a reason to listen to jazz music on a regular basis, she keeps you on the edge of your seat as she fends off the bloodthirsty mariners hiding in the fog in ways her male counterparts fail to.

And, of course, I have to mention Carpenter’s score as I remain as big a fan of his music as I do of his movies. His main theme for “The Fog” is one of his most memorable as it has the same rapid pace of his “Halloween” theme. The musical stings pack a wallop in certain scenes where ghostly hands reach out of the fog to grab at unsuspecting victims who think this is the work of kids, and his other big theme in “The Fog” is “Reel 9” which brings the movie to its riveting climax in which the mariners close in on the townspeople who have no place to escape certain death.

Carpenter has described “The Fog” as being one of his least favorite movies as its initial cut proved to be very disappointing, and he had to reshoot and rescore much of it before its release. Whatever the case, it is a wonderfully atmospheric horror movie which stands among his finest works, and watching this 4K restoration of it reminds one of why certain movies play best on the silver screen.

It’s also fun to watch a movie made back in the pre-digital age when cell phones and GPS were not around to save our heroes. Instead, they had to deal with landlines, a desperate DJ and the limits of technology. After watching “The Fog” again in this day and age, I kept waiting for one of the characters to say the following:

“It’s just you, me, and my Thomas Guide.”

* * * * out of * * * *

David Gordon Green’s ‘Halloween’ is the Sequel We Have Been Waiting For

Halloween 2018 theatrical poster

Why do filmmakers constantly insist on doing a retcon of the “Halloween” franchise? Every once in a while, the continuity of the series is tossed to the wayside, usually for profit and greed, but perhaps deep down there are those out there who remain infinitely eager for another and more fulfilling showdown between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers. We thought we got it in 1981’s “Halloween II,” but even Michael couldn’t stay down after being burned beyond recognition. Then there was “Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later,” but that was really a “Scream” movie disguised as a “Halloween” movie, and what resulted did not feel particularly compelling.

But just when you thought it was time to lay this long-running franchise to rest, along comes the simply titled “Halloween” which wipes the slate clean to give us the true sequel fans of the series have been waiting 40 years for. Once again, Michael Myers breaks free and heads back to Haddonfield, Illinois for a bloody homecoming. But this time, Laurie Strode is ready and waiting, and she is not about to take any prisoners. As this “Halloween” unfolds, you will see what Sylvester Stallone meant when he said, while in pursuit of Wesley Snipes in “Demotion Man:”

“Send a maniac to catch a maniac.”

In this alternate timeline, Michael did not escape at the end of John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” but was instead captured and sent back to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium and has remained there for the last 40 years. His latest psychiatrist, Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), insists Michael can talk but chooses not to, but this doesn’t stop a pair of true-crime podcasters, Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees), from trying to make him say something, anything. But once Aaron pulls Michael’s old mask out of his bag, we know it won’t be long before they are reminded of what curiosity did to the cat.

This particular “Halloween” was directed by David Gordon Green and co-written by him, Jeff Fradley and actor Danny McBride, and the respect they have for Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic is on display throughout. They even bring back the serif font from the original’s credits as they are determined to make us accept this is a direct sequel to the one which started it all. I admired how the credits started off with a pumpkin which looks to have been stomped on one too many times and which reforms slowly but surely. It’s almost like a metaphor for this franchise as many continue to resurrect Michael, or “The Shape” as he is often referred to, with varying results.

Green is one of those filmmakers who can go from making independent films like “All the Real Girls” and “Joe” to more mainstream fare such as “Pineapple Express” and “Stronger” with relative ease. With his “Halloween,” he gives a slow-burn thriller which thankfully doesn’t peak too soon. Many horror movies give us their best moments far too early these days, so it’s nice to see Green not making this same mistake here as he gives us a deeply suspenseful thriller which builds up and up to its much-anticipated climax.

I also have to give Green and his collaborators credit for giving us characters we care about. It is impossible not to relate to them in one way or another as we remember having their same needs and desires when we were their age. Many of the “Friday the 13th” sequels kept giving us characters we couldn’t wait to see get killed off as we were made to hate them, but when the residents of Haddonfield are killed off, you cannot help but feel for them, and not just because they never got the chance to lose their virginity.

The real big news, however, about this “Halloween” is John Carpenter is back. It marks his return to the franchise he created for the first time since “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.” I imagine money was a big motivating factor, but I do believe Carpenter when he said how enthusiastic he was about Green and McBride’s pitch for this movie. In addition to acting as executive producer, Carpenter also scored the movie along with his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, and they give the brutal proceedings here an extra hard kick in the ass (click here to check out my review of the soundtrack).

But let’s face facts, the real star of this “Halloween” movie is Laurie Strode. Jamie Lee Curtis returns to her iconic role with a real vengeance, and she plays Laurie to the hilt in this installment. When Curtis first played Laurie, she was a kind, shy and innocent young woman. 40 years later, Laurie is a shell of her former self as her life has been severely undone by PTSD, alcoholism and agoraphobia. She has spent the past few decades training to be a survivalist as her life is now dedicated to removing Michael from the face of the earth, and it has all come at the expense of caring for her own family.

Curtis has always put in a great performance in each movie she appears in, be it a good or a bad one, but she really hits it out of the park here. She succeeds in turning Laurie Strode into a bad ass warrior who is never determined to suffer in the same way she did before, and at times she threatens to be more frightening than Michael herself. Just check out the scene when Laurie breaks into her daughter Karen’s (Judy Greer) house and reminds her bluntly of how unprepared she is for the oncoming slaughter.

Moreover, Curtis really makes us sympathize with Laurie Strode throughout. We know all what she has been through, and to see the effect it has on those closest to her is heartbreaking. We learn she has been divorced twice, and her daughter Karen wants little to do with her and constantly begs her to get help. Even when Laurie absent-mindedly takes a drink from a glass of wine like as it it were was an automatic impulse, we feel for her as no one can see Michael Myers as being the embodiment of pure evil the way she can.

Watching Curtis as Laurie here quickly reminded me of a line the late Natasha Richardson said in “Patty Hearst:”

“I finally realized what my crime was, I lived. Big mistake. Very messy.”

The cast overall does really good work, and they are made of very likable and dependable actors which include Judy Greer and Will Patton who make their characters seem very down to earth in a way you want them to be. One real standout here is Andi Matichak who plays Allyson, Laurie’s granddaughter and the only one capable of having a meaningful relationship with her. Matichak proves to be a very appealing presence here, and she makes Allyson into a strong and defiant young woman who is not about to suffer fools in the slightest.

As “Halloween” builds up to its inevitable climax, Green keeps increasing the tension throughout. He smartly leaves Michael in the shadows, and you can’t help but wondering when he is going to jump out next. Green also leaves you wondering if we might actually see Michael’s face or even hear him speak. Does he? Wouldn’t you like to know?

This “Halloween” is not at all groundbreaking, but then again neither was Carpenter’s film. The 1978 “Halloween” owed a lot to the works of Alfred Hitchcock among others, but it also managed to give a freshness to the horror genre in the same way “Psycho” did years before. With any “Halloween” follow-up, we can only hope for it to be as good, if not better, than the original. There’s no way you can top what Carpenter pulled off 40 years ago as none of us saw Michael Myers coming. But with this “Halloween,” we get the true sequel the original never quite received, and it proves to be well worth the wait.

There is also something very cathartic about watching this one in the midst of the #MeToo movement. Essentially, we are watching a woman take revenge on a man who thoughtlessly ruined her life years before, and seeing her do battle with him makes this “Halloween” especially thrilling. Lord knows women have been forced to be silent for far too long, so seeing one get her revenge feels much, much overdue.

By the way, I think I’m going to start calling this one “Halloween: 40 is the New 20.” It seems appropriate, don’t you think?

* * * ½ out of * * * *

WRITER’S NOTE: A lot of people have been getting mad at Jamie Lee Curtis recently. We see her wielding many different weapons and firearms in this movie as Laurie Strode, but some have been quick to call her a hypocrite for doing so as her stance on gun control and the need for it has been well-documented. Why is she appearing in this movie armed to the hilt and yet complaining about gun violence in real life? Ladies and gentlemen, what Curtis is doing in this movie is called ACTING. SHE IS PLAYING A CHARACTER. Whatever happened to make believe anyway? Not all actors are out to put their political issues into each movie they do. Do yourself and everyone else a favor and stop blurring the line between fiction and non-fiction. That is all.

Soundtrack Review: ‘Halloween’ (2018)

Halloween 2018 soundtrack cover

As I write this, I have not yet seen David Gordon Green’s “Halloween,” the movie I am looking forward to the most this fall season. I was, however, lucky enough to get a copy of its soundtrack while at the “Halloween: 40 Years of Terror” convention this past weekend in Pasadena, California. I had preordered the soundtrack on iTunes, but anyone who knows me has no doubt of what a die-hard fan I am of Carpenter’s music as well as his movies, so of course I had to purchase a physical copy even if it meant spending more money.

This 2018 “Halloween” movie marks Carpenter’s return to this undying horror franchise since “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” and it is also the first film score he has composed since 2001’s “Ghost of Mars.” With this score, he joins forces with his son Cody Carpenter and godson Daniel Davies to not only build on the themes he made famous back in 1978, but to give us new ones as well. What results is a highly effective score which I have been listening to endlessly ever since I purchased it.

The “Halloween Theme” is a musical piece impossible for most to ever get sick of, but listening to it on this soundtrack reminds me of how no one can play it better than Carpenter. Along with Cody and Daniel, he makes this theme as potent as ever especially with its ticking sound in the background which spells out how evil will be arriving in Haddonfield before we know it.

“Laurie’s Theme” sounds much different this time around. Whereas her theme in the 1978 “Halloween” and 1981’s “Halloween II” highlighted Laurie’s innocence and lack of awareness of the horror she would be forced to endure, this version acknowledges how haunted she remains after Michael Myers almost killed her 40 years ago. As we should all know by now, Green’s “Halloween” serves as a direct sequel to Carpenter’s 1978 original, wiping the slate clean of all the other sequels and reboots. So, the Laurie Strode we see here as long since become hardened by her terrifying encounters with pure evil to where it appears she only lives for revenge.

Carpenter does bring back some of his old musical stings which are always welcome, but there are other stings which come at us more furiously than ever before. There is an unrelenting edge to tracks like “Michael Kills” or “The Shape Kills” which go far beyond the original “Halloween’s” simplistic musical design. Evil sounds even more furious than it did previously, and the driving rhythms of the music here promises us a thrilling good time at the movies.

John Carpenter once said he can play just about any keyboard but that he cannot read or write a note. Regardless, nothing has stopped his growth as a musician or a film composer. His son, Cody Carpenter, has since proven himself to be a very talented musician in his own right, and his additions to this score only heighten the tension in it. Daniel Davies sounds like he is having so much fun experimenting with guitar sounds, and they add a real edge to a score which proves to be anything but an exercise in nostalgia.

The soundtrack concludes with the track “Halloween Triumphant” which is an epic piece of film score as it combines John’s unforgettable “Halloween” theme with the musical additions of Cody and Daniel who help update his themes for a new generation. Listening to it brings a smile to my face as the three men have composed what feels like an ode to the enduring legacy this 1978 horror classic continues to have on filmgoers everywhere, and it sounds like a victory march in more ways than one.

When John Carpenter composed the original “Halloween” score in just three days, it is clear how he and his collaborators had more time to develop one more multi-layered for Michael Myers latest cinematic onslaught. This is not just a return to the musical themes John made famous years ago, but it is also an opportunity to expand on them as the filmmaker and composer is clearly not content to just give us the same old thing. Along with Cody and Daniel, he gives us a superb soundtrack which I find myself listening to endlessly as the music proves to be more complex than I expected it to be.

The 2018 “Halloween” soundtrack is a must buy, and I encourage you to buy it when it is released on October 19, 2018.