Gualala Video – The Last Store of Its Kind

Photo courtesy of The Press Democrat.

Blockbuster Video never opened a store in the small town of Gualala, California. Hollywood Video never did either, and Redbox never bothered to put any kiosks up at either of the two supermarkets there. Now a lot of this may have to do with Gualala having a population of around 2,000, and it is never quick to let many corporate giants like Wal-Mart into town as they love their mom-and-pop shops. But seriously, the real reason none of them set up shop here was because of Gualala Video which is, quite frankly, my favorite video store on the face of the earth. This store had over 27,000 titles to choose from on DVD, Blu-ray and VHS, and looking at the many selections made me happy I still own a VCR after all these years. If they didn’t have what you were looking for, then it was never made into a movie or television show in the first place.

Photo by Wayne Moore
Photo by Wayne Moore

But sadly, Gualala Video is now closed. Despite having survived the streaming wars and Blockbuster Video, it fell victim to the COVID-19 pandemic which seems never ending. While David Bradbrook, who has owned the store since 2003, did what he could to keep business going like offering curbside rentals, the rent and the overhead became too much for anyone to deal with. One big fan of the store did create a GoFundMe page in an effort to raise $5,000 to help David out, and while they have since raised over $3,100, it was not enough to prevent the inevitable.

Photo by The Ultimate Rabbit

Now the store closed some time ago, but I was in Gualala recently for the Thanksgiving holiday and it marks the first time I have seen it completely empty. There are some remnants like the store’s name on one of the doors and some stickers no one was able to completely remove. But to look inside this store and see everything gone really haunted me. Seriously, it had everything and anything you were looking for and then some. What is David planning to do with all these titles? Hopefully he has enough room for them at home.

Like another long-lost video store, Rocket Video in Los Angeles, California, Gualala Video had its movies arranged in categories such as by actor, director, and genres like science-fiction. My dad really loved the foreign section which contains films like “A Prophet,” and it had just about every Lars Von Trier movie you would ever want to bring a box of Kleenex to.

Here are some other categories movies were listed under (thanks to John Beck for the following photos):

Sometimes I didn’t even go in there to rent anything; I just went inside to look around and see what was available. Other times, I went in there to see what they didn’t have so I could ask David why this was the case. Like I said they had everything. David has said a lot of people did the same thing to where he wishes he had charged admission just to enter. Hey, Blockbuster would have done the same if it could, especially after their late fee charges were done away with.

If it wasn’t for Gualala Video, I am convinced I would not have seen certain movies for many more years. One of John Carpenter’s earliest works was his 1976 action thriller “Assault on Precinct 13” which he made before “Halloween,” and I could not find it anywhere. Not even another video chain which has long since been put out of business, Take One Video, had a single copy of it which stunned me. Gualala Video, however, did have a copy, and I did not hesitate in renting it right away. If not for this, I would have had to wait for the DVD release which would not happen for at least another five more years. Oh, by the way, “Precinct 13” was awesome and still holds up.

Then there was when my brother and I rented “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.” Neither of us had ever watched it before, and the manager looked at the VHS box and said:

“Man! We’ve made over $1,000 dollars off of this one video!”

“We’ve never actually seen it,” my brother said.

A blond teenage girl standing next to us was quick to reply:

“YOU’VE NEVER SEEN IT??!! WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN???!!!!”

Having now watched “Willy Wonka,” I can clearly see why this particular VHS tape was so popular as there are few family movies quite like this one, and I still wonder how it managed to get away with a G rating despite the scary boat tunnel scene which featured an image of a chicken getting its head cut off.

The last time I was there, I rented not one but two films: “John Wick Chapter Two” and “Everybody Wants Some.” Now these were two flicks I should have watched when they arrived at my local multiplex, but work at the time prevented me from doing so. But seeing them on the shelf in Gualala made me realize I had put off seeing them long enough. “John Wick Chapter Two” showed how Keanu Reeves can handle knives and guns better than any other actor in Hollywood, and “Everybody Wants Some,” Richard Linklater’s spiritual sequel to “Dazed and Confused,” made me wish I experienced my high school and college years in the same way he did.

And now Gualala Video is gone forever, and I cannot help but feel sad. It was one of the last of its kind, and there are probably none of them left (not in the East Bay anyway). Independent stores like these are wonderfully unique to where we don’t know what we will do without them. Personally, I can live without Blockbuster Video as its extinction was not a loss. While they had many copies of the newest releases, finding older films was ridiculously difficult. As for its dedication to providing a family friendly environment devoid of any movies rated NC-17, this did not stop them from putting exploitation flicks like “Stripped to Kill” on a shelf right near the children’s section.

This store was a film buff’s dream. You could discover those out-of-print videos and discs which were so hard to find, and no film had to be edited down to an R rating just to qualify as a rental. It is places like Gualala Video which made me remember how much I love movies, how wondrous they can be, of all the ones I still need to catch up on. Now, I can only hope and pray they are available to stream, and not everything is available to stream.

Nick Nolte once said there will always be change and there will always be resistance to change. While change is inevitable, there has got to be a way to preserve certain independent stores like this one. If Barnes & Noble’s annual 50% off Criterion Collection discs sale proves anything, it is that we are far from done with physical media.

And with that, I leave you all with a comment Stacy G. left on the store’s Yelp page:

“If I could burn down my local Blockbuster and replace it with Gualala Video, it would be a dream come true.”

Granted, Blockbuster Video is long gone but, all the same, amen!

Photo by The Ultimate Rabbit

‘Halloween Kills’ is Brutal in More Ways Than One

It’s been a long time coming, but “Halloween Kills” has finally arrived in theaters everywhere. Personally, I think it is the result of Michael Myers keeping his mask on. Heck, he has been keeping it on for the most part since 1978. In this franchise, it is said that evil never dies and you can’t kill the boogeyman. Maybe this is because he is not an anti-vaxxer and has gotten his shots (whether it was Moderna or Johnson & Johnson, I have no idea). Besides, his victims this time around aren’t wearing masks. Doesn’t this tell you something?

Okay, let’s get something out of the way here, is “Halloween Kills” as effective as David Gordon Green’s previous “Halloween” from 2018? Not quite, and it does at times seem more concerned with upping the blood and gore this time around to where no one dies an easy death. Still, this follow-up has some very suspenseful moments as we know Michael, or The Shape as he is often called, is just around the corner. The question is, which corner?

Picking up at the moment where the previous installment ended, three generations of Strode women are being driven away from the fiery inferno which has engulfed Laurie’s home, but the fire department in Haddonfield is more reliable than they could have expected as they race over to her address even as she yells out, “let it burn!” And as the trailer shows us, Michael is quite handy with tools and hardware as he easily lays waste to trained professionals.

With 2018’s “Halloween,” Green retconned the franchise to excellent effect. In “Halloween Kills,” Green and screenwriters Scott Teems and Danny McBride retcon it even further as we see Michael getting captured by the police, and we learn of Deputy Frank Hawkins’ first run in with Michael when he was a fresh newbie on the police force. More importantly, it allows Will Patton to appear in yet another “Halloween” film as his seriously wounded character manages to survive. We also get to understand why Frank now has a renewed interest in killing Michael.

One of the things I really enjoyed about “Halloween Kills” is its attention to the characters. This is not your average slasher film filled with people you cannot wait to see get bludgeoned to death, and you never hear the audience breaking into a chant of “kill the bitch” as I witnessed at a screening of “Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood” years ago. They are all flesh and blood, some simply minding their own business while others still vividly remember what happened to their beloved hometown 40 years ago. Heck, even Lonnie Elam (Robert Longstreet) and Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) get along here as Lonnie’s days of bullying Tommy have long since been put behind them. Deaths here are not ones to be celebrated, but are instead meant to be tragic.

Another fascinating thing is how this sequel touches on current events without ever exploiting them. When word gets out that Michael is back in Haddonfield doing his slicing and dicing act, Tommy is quick to get everyone he can together so they can form a mob to take down the Shape once and for all. The police encourage him and others not to go down this path, but considering how well they did the last time Michael came to town, and they refused to be swayed.

Granted, this franchise has dealt with angry mobs before, particularly in “Halloween 4,” but the mob in that one was incredibly tiny compared to one presented in “Halloween Kills.” Just about everyone in Haddonfield is seen shouting out “evil dies tonight” endlessly to where even its former sheriff, Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers, back for the first time since 1981’s “Halloween II”), wants to see justice done for his slain daughter. Of course, we all know angry mobs can lead to needless violence and death, and this makes the events which unfold here all the more tragic.

Of course, it is the Strode women who take center stage in this latest confrontation with the Shape. Surprisingly, Laurie Strode is largely left on the sidelines this time around as she recovers from a knife wound to the stomach. Still, this gives Jamie Lee Curtis a chance to shine in scenes opposite Patton as both talk about what could have been. Judy Greer proves to be more badass than ever as Karen, Laurie’s daughter who struggles to move past the death of her husband to keep her daughter safe. But as “Halloween Kills” reaches its bloody conclusion, even she realizes how evil must die.

Andi Matichak also returns as Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson, who has since come to see that the boogeyman is real. Matichak makes Allyson into a tough character, but the actress is never hesitant to show the fear on her face as she gets closer and closer to Michael. As Allyson enters his childhood home armed with a shotgun, even Matichak knows it would be foolish for this character not to be the least bit scared.

There are some actors who are new to the franchise here, and they are very welcome additions. I figured Robert Longstreet would make Lonnie into an adult who still loves to bully kids like Tommy, but he instead makes this character into a wounded adult who looks out for his son and will never forget “the night he came home.” It is also great to see Anthony Michael Hall, long since removed from his Brat Pack days, here as Tommy Doyle. With Tommy’s introductory monologue, Hall puts the audience under a spell as he reminds us of Haddonfield’s tragedy while paying respect to the lives lost and how we should “never forget.” Hall is really good here. I also got a kick out of Scott MacArthur and Michael McDonald who play an eclectic couple that own the old Myers’ house. Furthermore, they know what happened there and have no buyer’s remorse (or will they?).

And yes, John Carpenter, along with son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies, have provided “Halloween Kills” with a terrific film score. The themes are familiar ones, but they are given a mournful sound as we are reminded of ghosts which have yet to be laid to rest. There are also some nice propulsive themes as well to keep the adrenaline going. Those who are a fan of Carpenter’s music will not be disappointed.

In some ways, “Halloween Kills” is at a disadvantage as it is the middle chapter in a trilogy, and we still have “Halloween Ends” to look forward to. Whether or not evil can die, I think it’s safe to say it can take one hell of a beating and keep on ticking. I mean, it has to knowing a third chapter is one the way. Regardless, this sequel gave me much to admire about it as it deals with how the bullied often become the bully, how the past can haunt us to no end, that small suburban towns are more often know for tragedies than anything else, and that some people have no business holding a gun.

Just keep in mind one thing: While this looks like a John Carpenter “Halloween” movie, it is a David Gordon Green “Halloween” movie. It is important to note this as many horror fans may be expecting a certain kind of film here, and you really should remember who is behind the camera on this one as it may not be the one you think.

It will be interesting to see Laurie Strode have one last showdown with Michael Myers, and I believe David Gordon Green has long since been prepared to save the best for last. Michael is not just pure evil; he is like the Energizer bunny, except with a bloody knife instead of a drum. He just keeps stabbing and stabbing and stabbing…

* * * out of * * * *

Final Trailer For ‘Halloween Kills’ Promises a Big Reunion

While the previous trailer for “Halloween Kills” showed how brutal the latest installment of this long running horror franchise is going to be, the final trailer proves it will be one hell of a reunion as well as several familiar faces return in an effort to lay waste to Michael Myers. Evil never dies, but it never stops the residents of Haddonfield from trying to kill it.

Kyle Richards returns as Lindsey Wallace, one of the kids Laurie Strode babysat in the original, and seeing her yell at a couple of young trick-or-treaters to rush home shows she has not fully recovered from the events of 40 years ago. We also see Nancy Stephens back in her fourth go-around as Marion Chambers, former assistant to the late Dr. Sam Loomis, and she is smart enough to bring a gun to a knife fight. But like Loomis in “Halloween II,” Marion appears to lack that extra bullet, and it looks as though she will have as much luck in this “Halloween” timeline as she did in the other.

Tommy Doyle, the other young lad Laurie saved in “Halloween,” is back as well, this time played by Anthony Michael Hall. Tommy as a youngster was convinced of how no one can kill the boogeyman, but seeing Hall wielding a metal baseball bat indicates he will give it his best shot.

Heck, even the kid who bullied Tommy as a kid, Lonnie Elam, makes a return to the franchise, and he is played as an adult by Robert Longstreet. This trailer also hints at Lonnie’s own encounter with Michael Myers, which he somehow survived, and even he is determined to take out “The Shape” anyway he can, even if it means going to Michael’s childhood home.

So, what is opening up in October looks to be a horror film where everyone is still deeply traumatized from the horrible events which took place four decades ago, and now history has repeated itself to where no one in Haddonfield will allow this murderous rampage to continue. While Laurie looked to be the only one traumatized amongst the characters in the previous “Halloween,” this follow-up is filled with dozens of people whose lives have been forever shattered. Of course, there is another sequel coming after this one (“Halloween Ends”), so it will be interesting to see how this one will conclude as Michael’s reign of terror is still far from over.

Seeing all the characters in town chant “evil dies tonight” makes “Halloween Kills” especially chilling as an angry mob, even with the best of intentions, can make some seriously awful mistakes. We have seen this in previous sequels like “Halloween IV,” but on a much smaller scale. This installment has a budget which allows for the appearance of far more characters than its predecessors could ever hope to have.

Watching this final trailer several times over makes me wonder about a few things. Is Will Patton actually returning as Deputy Frank Hawkins even after what happened to him in the last film? Will we see how Michael Myers was captured by the Haddonfield police all those years ago? If you look really closely, Sam Loomis does make an appearance, but will he look and sound like Donald Pleasance?

But another thing I wondered about more than anything else was this: will Laurie Strode (played by the great Jamie Lee Curtis) die in “Halloween Kills?” While Laurie is featured throughout much of this trailer, the climax appears to be dominated by her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) and her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) as they attempt to not only kill Michael, but unmask him for all the world to see. We don’t see Laurie in any of those scenes, so I am worried this film maybe it for her. If she is to be killed off, let’s hope she gets a better fate than the one she received in “Halloween Resurrection.”

And of course, we have been promised an unmasked Michael Myers before. We got a glimpse of his face in John Carpenter’s original film, and we were promised an up close and personal look of him in “Halloween 5,” but the latter turned out to be a cruel tease. Besides, with one more “Halloween” coming in 2022, is this really the time to see Michael unmasked? Well, anything is possible.

“Halloween Kills” will finally arrive in theaters everywhere on October 15th, and will also debut on the Peacock streaming service on the same day. If I were you, however, I would see it on the silver screen with an audience, be it a big or a small one. And if you do see it in a theater, wear a mask. Hey, it works for Michael.

‘Halloween Kills’ Trailer Promises a Brutal Follow-Up

Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is one of the many films we had to wait an extra year for. But with the pandemic reaching its tail end (or so we have been told), we can look forward to “Halloween Kills,” the sequel to David Gordon Green’s highly successful “Halloween” reboot, arriving in theaters this October of 2021. John Carpenter, who returns as Executive, has told us the following about it:

“It’s brilliant. It’s the ultimate slasher. I mean, there’s nothing more than this one. Wow! Man.”

After watching the first trailer for “Halloween Kills” which was unleashed this past week, I believe Carpenter is a man of his word as what unfolds here is truly brutal. As I watched this preview, I wondered if this was a red band trailer or one which was approved for all audiences by the infamous MPAA.

When we last left this franchise, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) had left Michael Myers to burn to death in her house. But as she escaped alongside her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) in the back of a truck, they watched in horror as fire trucks rushed their way over to Laurie’s residence which had since turned into a burning inferno. But as one firefighter reaches out to another who has fallen through the floor, we know the hand he takes in his is indeed Michael’s.

Watching as Michael stepped out of the house while it was still engulfed in flames, and holding a rather sharp firefighter tool in his hands, I was quickly reminded of what Steve Rogers said to a bunch of mercenaries while stuck in an elevator with them in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier:”

“Before we get started, does anyone want to get out?”

Seeing Michael lay waste to these firefighters with their own tools, one of them a power saw, it is clear this will be an exceptionally bloody follow-up as we see the “essence of evil,” as Laurie describes him, lay waste to helpless victims with an assortment of tools, one of them a broken fluorescent light tube.

 “Halloween Kills” looks to start mere seconds after the previous film ended, and it looks like the mob is out in full force as the town of Haddonfield is out for vengeance in the wake of so many murders. It feels like blood will be flowing endlessly this time around as we watch Anthony Michael Hall as Tommy Doyle, the young boy who took way too long to open the door for Laurie in the original “Halloween,” walking around town with a baseball bat. Not just any bat mind you, but one made out of metal. That’s right folks, Tommy is out to hit some balls!

There are several unforgettable images to be found here. Among them is the visual of three kids wearing those Silver Shamrock masks from “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” whose bodies lay lifeless and bloodied in a playground. Of course, part of me wonders if they got lucky. I mean, Michael got to them before they had any opportunity to “watch the magic pumpkin” on television. If they just missed Michael, their heads would have crumbled and turned to mush, releasing all sorts of pesky bugs and poisonous snakes. Haddonfield may have a solid police department, but how are they with animal control?

Also, Michael is once again unmasked in the franchise, this time by Karen who dares him to get his altered William Shatner “Star Trek” mask back. But we have been down this road before as Michael, as an adult, has had some opportunities to show us the face behind the mask, and it resulted in being nothing more than a tease (particularly in “Halloween 5”). Will the filmmakers here tease us yet again?

And yes, Jamie Lee Curtis is back in action, looking every bit as lethal as Michael does. Even after getting stabbed in the belly, you believe her fully when she tells her daughter that evil will die tonight. Regardless of how this film turns out, you can always count on Curtis giving a top-notch performance as she never disappoints.

“Halloween Kills” arrives at a theater near you on October 15, 2021. I look forward as I do to its soundtrack which will again be composed by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies. I am so excited to where I am reminding myself to keep my expectations in check. It is too easy to be disappointed in a film and for all the wrong reasons, and I want this one to live up to the hype.

Check out the trailer below:

John Carpenter’s ‘The Ward’ – His First Film in a Decade, and Maybe His Last

Master John Carpenter described “The Ward,” his first feature length movie in ten years, best through a video message at the Toronto International Film Festival:

“’The Ward’ is an old school horror movie made by an old school director.”

It’s good to know this going in as Carpenter is not trying to reinvent the wheel or outdo all other horror releases out now. The plot of “The Ward” is as old fashioned as they come, and it allows Mr. Carpenter to exercise the skills he has perfected for many years. It’s not on a par with “The Thing” or “Halloween,” but in the end I didn’t care. For me it was an absorbing movie which kept me entertained throughout its running time, and it was far more entertaining than those summer blockbusters duds “Green Lantern” or “Bad Teacher.”

“The Ward” stars Amber Heard as Kristen, a young woman whom we first see her indulging in a little pyromania, and not the kind Def Leppard made an album about. The police pick Kristen up after she burns down an abandoned farmhouse, and she gets sent straight to the ward of the movie’s title. Her fellow patients are not necessarily the “Girl, Interrupted” type, and Angelina Jolie is nowhere to be found. The intentions of Dr. Stringer (Jared Harris) appear ambiguous at best, and dealing with the chief orderly and Nurse Lundt, both who are deadly serious, is no picnic.

Actually, let me segue here for a moment; Nurse Lundt’s name seems to rhyme with a certain derogatory word. Which one you say? Well… You can just figure that out on your own. I wonder if this was intentional on the part of screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen, or perhaps it is just the name of someone they knew from way back. Well, whatever the case, Lundt certainly gives Nurse Ratched a run for her money in the seriously mean category, but her voice is not as lovely as Louise Fletcher’s was.

Now this being a psychiatric ward, it is mandatory that a ghost is roaming the halls. Kristen first sees it while taking a shower and, of course, everyone says she’s a nut which is redundant considering she’s staying in a mental institution. Then again, the patients may know more about what’s going on than they initially admit. I hate to think they’ve spent all their time there without seeing at least one ghost, you know? Anyway, patients start to disappear one by one, and Kristen aims to find out what happened to them on top of escaping the ward before it claims her as its next victim.

Now whatever you think of Carpenter’s directorial skills these days, his efforts in generating suspense are still strong. Carpenter is smart to not reveal all the important plot details right away, and he holds you within his grasp throughout as he leaves you guessing or imagining what’s really going on. Even if you see the ending coming from a mile away, the journey to it was an entertaining one for me.

I was skimming through another review of “The Ward” online which said Heard was as believable a mental patient as Charlize Theron was a mine worker in “North Country.” Now what is that supposed to mean? That she’s too good looking to be in a psychiatric ward? Give me a break! Heard does good work here portraying a strong-willed protagonist you want to root for. She’s engaging and believable, and while others may see her as being miscast, I did not. By the way, I thought Theron was great in “North Country” and I utterly accepted her as a mine worker. And in case that one reviewer didn’t notice, both actresses were in “North Country” and played different versions of the same character.

Lyndsy Fonseca is very good as Iris, the first girl to befriend Kristen. She appears to be the most emotionally balanced of the patients, and Fonseca makes her character’s awareness all the more convincing. Mamie Gummer gives a good performance as Emily, and she gives Emily a complexity she might otherwise not have had. Danielle Panabaker makes her character Sarah the epitome of Carly Simon’s classic tune “You’re So Vain,” and she’s a kick to watch. And Laura Leigh rounds out this strong group of actresses by making Zoey a convincingly traumatized person whose escape from reality consists of her acting like a little girl.

In terms of horror, Carpenter still makes effective use of cheap scares. While they have been used to death by dozens of filmmakers, he always makes them count. This is especially the case with “The Ward’s” final scene which truly took me by surprise. I should warn you though that the movie has one of those pull out the rug from under you kind of endings which I am really sick of. However, Carpenter doesn’t telegraph the ending to us like others typically do, so I’m willing to let it pass this time.

If there’s anything missing from “The Ward,” it’s Carpenter’s music which I am a big fan of, and his unique sounds were missed. Not that I want to knock Mark Kilian’s work here as he gives the film an appropriately atmospheric score which works very well, and it does have a bit of that Carpenter sound to it. Still, I yearn for a new score from Carpenter or even his son Cody who did amazing work on “Masters of Horror.”

Am I being too forgiving to “The Ward?” Perhaps. I’ve always been a big admirer of Carpenter’s work, and I even have good things to say about “Ghosts of Mars.” Many have expressed their big disappointment with “The Ward” as they want it to be on a par with “Halloween” and “The Thing.” Others found it not gory enough, but then again Carpenter’s strongest films don’t always rely on it like the “Saw” movies do. Personally, I don’t want to spend time comparing “The Ward” to his best movies because to do so would just be asking us to hate it before the opening credits even begin. You can only let an artist remain in the shadow of their past work for so long until you realize your spoiling the experience for yourself.

With “The Ward,” Carpenter was looking for a movie with a tight schedule and a limited location which didn’t require him to stay for a long time or get completely exhausted after shooting only half of it. With the limited resources he had, he made “The Ward” worth watching, and I got very involved in the plights of the characters. There’s nothing original on display here, and it may very well remind you of a gazillion other movies like it, but I’m glad the master finally directed a feature film again after so long. I just hope we don’t have to wait another ten years for Carpenter’s next film. And if there’s anyway Kurt Russell can star in it, you can sure bet I will be watching it on opening day!

* * * out of * * * *

John Carpenter on ‘The Ward’ and the State of Movies

WRITER’S NOTE: This article was originally written in 2011.

In July, America will finally get to see John Carpenter’s first feature length film in 10 years, “The Ward.” After the critical and commercial disappointment that was “Ghosts of Mars,” Carpenter seemed determined to retire from filmmaking as he felt it was no longer fun for him. But after working on a couple of “Masters of Horror” episodes, he seemed rejuvenated and ready to take on another film of his choosing. While appearing at the Egyptian Theatre in Hollywood for a 25th anniversary screening of “Big Trouble in Little China,” Carpenter talked about the upcoming movie, and what he thinks about the state of movies today.

The famed director described “The Ward” as an “old school horror film” and a “psychological thriller.” It stars Amber Heard as Kristen, a young woman who is institutionalized in a psychiatric ward which turns out to be haunted by a ghost as mysterious as it is deadly. Carpenter said he was attracted to the project because it had a low budget which would give him creative control, limited locations, and a short schedule which he especially liked. With the schedule being short, Carpenter knew he could finish the film before any form of exhaustion did him in.

“The Ward” first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and has since opened in the United Kingdom. Word of mouth indicates the movie has received mixed reviews thus far, but his fans are thrilled he went back behind the camera once again. Carpenter feels that “The Ward,” in his own estimation, is “pretty good” and found some fanboys liked it while others felt it was not “gruesome enough.”

Audience members asked Carpenter’s opinion on the state of movies today which is swamped with endless remakes and a frightening lack of originality. He openly described most films which are out now as being “still bad,” said some were fair, and others were “really good.” In his view, the movie industry has not changed. The present cycle of movies will pass, he said, and he is looking to a “more positive future” and encouraged the audience to do the same.

John Carpenter said his career as a filmmaker has really been the result of luck, and he’s done many of the things he always wanted to do. While he still gets caught up in video games (he was a creative consultant on “F.E.A.R. 3”) or contemplates perhaps doing a music score for another director’s movie, it is great to see him behind the camera once again. And, if we’re lucky, he and Kurt Russell will get another chance to work together in the future, and that’s even if it’s not a sequel to “Big Trouble in Little China.”

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.