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.

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First ‘Halloween’ Trailer Has Been Released, and it Looks Awesome!

Halloween 2018 teaser poster

I have not been as excited for a movie trailer as I have been for this one. Sure, there were the ones for various “Star Wars” movies, particularly “The Force Awakens,” which got me all excited, but this one feels especially thrilling. It is a direct sequel to one of the scariest horror movies ever made, and it dares to retcon a franchise which has seen a large deal of retconning throughout a number of sequels. Plus, with the director of “Pineapple Express,” “Joe” and “All the Real Girls” at the helm, I cannot help but anticipate something more than just another dumb horror sequel. I am of course talking about David Gordon Green’s upcoming “Halloween,” and after a week filled with teasers, the first full trailer was released, and damn it looks awesome!

Unlike “Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later” which was a direct sequel to 1981’s “Halloween II,” this “Halloween” serves as a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s original 1978 film. The trailer indicates that, instead of disappearing even after being shot six times by Dr. Loomis, Michael Myers was in fact captured and has been imprisoned in an asylum ever since. Gone is the implication of Laurie Strode actually being Michael’s sister, and this is made perfectly clear by Allyson, Laurie’s granddaughter, who is played by Andi Matichak. There’s no battle this time between brother and sister, but instead between a survivor who has no choice but to believe in the boogeyman, and a man who, as Dr. Loomis once said, isn’t even remotely human.

Right from the trailer’s first frame, I already love the look of this “Halloween” as the visuals are stark and ominous. I was taken aback at the production values on display here as horror movies in general are made on very low budgets to where the filmmakers are forced to cut more corners than they would ever want to. But here it looks like everyone at Blumhouse Productions and the filmmakers have crafted a true horror film where the shadows prove to be as ominous as ever, and we all remember how easily Michael can disappear into them.

In several interviews, the filmmakers behind this “Halloween” have said this film will ignore the continuity of the sequels, but that it will allude to them in one way or another. The scene in which the two reporters, both whom we see attempting to interview Michael, are stuck a deserted gas station and are stalked by him quickly reminded me of similar scene from “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.” When Michael approaches the female reporter while she is in a bathroom stall, it brought to my mind of when Ken Foree tried to explain why he wasn’t finished dropping the kids in the pool in Rob Zombie’s “Halloween.” It will be interesting to see what other allusions Green and company have in store with us in a few months.

After the first poster for the movie was released, many complained about how Michael Myers’ mask looked way too similar to the one used in Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” and “Halloween II.” Seeing it in the trailer here, it doesn’t look the least bit similar, and it instead looks very much like the one Nick Castle donned all those years ago. Many of the “Halloween” sequels had Michael wearing a different mask in each one, and it made me miss the original as it had an infinitely creepy look none of the others could match. But seeing Michael put on this particular mask once again had my excitement levels going through the roof.

And of course, it is so great to see Jamie Lee Curtis back in her star-making role as Laurie Strode. While Curtis portrayed Laurie as a barely functioning alcoholic in “Halloween H20,” she looks to play this character here as a survivor whose scars are more apparent on her psyche than on her body. As Laurie tells a police officer, played by Will Patton, how she always hopes Michael will escape again so she can have a chance to kill him, we see her shooting guns at various targets to where we can believe she has been practicing her aim for a very, very, very long time. Curtis is always a fantastic presence in any movie she stars in, and to see her make Laurie Strode into a true badass here has me looking forward to this “Halloween” movie even more.

I also have to say how much I loved this trailer’s last image of a young boy asking his babysitter to shut his closet door. Boy does this bring back memories of when we were young and believed there was a monster hiding in our closets. As we get older, we stop believing in monsters as real life proves to be far more terrifying, but in this scene certain characters are shocked to see there is one inside this particular closet. Whether or not you believe in monsters, we are once again reminded of how the boogeyman is real and that evil never dies.

Ever since learning David Gordon Green was working with Danny McBride on a new “Halloween” screenplay, I have been super excited about this project. Having Jamie Lee Curtis come back as Laurie Strode makes me even happier, and I have to applaud Jason Blum for managing to bring John Carpenter himself back to this franchise for the first time since “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” as securing Carpenter’s involvement could not have been easy. Carpenter serves as executive producer, and he will also be scoring the film along with his son, Cody Carpenter (YAY!). Furthermore, Carpenter made it clear how this addition to the “Halloween” franchise will bring Michael Myers back to his original roots as he always saw this character as not a real person, but instead as an almost supernatural force and the embodiment of evil. With all these talented people involved, I cannot help but have huge expectations for this upcoming horror film, and the trailer makes it seem like this endeavor will be worth the wait.

I also have to say I am glad this one isn’t titled “Michael vs Laurie” as it would have cheapened what we see here. Granted, this movie is to contain the final confrontation between these two, and I would hate to see it end when they both realize they have mothers named Martha.

“Halloween” is set to be released on October 19, 2018, a date which cannot come soon enough. Please check out the trailer below and be sure to subscribe to our YouTube channel if you haven’t already.

 

All-Time Favorite Trailers: ‘Austin Powers – The Spy Who Shagged Me’

It was December of 1998, and “Star Trek: Insurrection” just opened in movie theaters everywhere. At the time, I was a student at UC Irvine, and I had just wrapped up the last of my finals in the first quarter. To say that I was relieved was an understatement as I was minoring in English and made the mistake of taking three classes which left me with a boatload of reading and not nearly enough time to have a life outside of school. Once I was done, I didn’t even hesitate to celebrate, and I drove straight out to the Irvine Spectrum Center where “Star Trek: Insurrection” was playing.

But while the theater was filled with many people ready to boldly go with the crew of the starship Enterprise to where no one has gone before, the one thing foremost on our minds was if “Insurrection” would be preceded by the just released trailer for “Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” It had been almost 16 years since “Return of the Jedi” came out, and now that a new “Star Wars” movie was on the horizon, it felt to many like the second coming of Christ.

As the lights went down, I could feel everyone around me holding their breath in anticipation and praying that the first movie trailer shown would be for “The Phantom Menace.” Sure enough, once we got past “the following preview has been approved for ALL AUDIENCES by the Motion Picture Association of America” title card, we were thrust into outer space and shown what looked to be the wreckage of the last Death Star. As the camera zoomed in on the chair where Emperor Palpatine once sat, the audience got super excited and started to cheer as they were convinced the first look at the next “Star Wars” movie was about to be unveiled. Instead, the chair turned around to reveal Michael Myers as Dr. Evil who, while holding Mr. Bigglesworth, said, “You were expecting somebody else?”

It was a brilliant move on the part of Myers, director Jay Roach and New Line Cinema to promote “Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me” in this way as it played on what we know about “Star Wars” and exploited it to great effect. Once we realized what was actually being promoted, we all responded enthusiastically as Myers danced with abandon as the title character and sported those glasses and the inescapably large teeth he had. Yay baby indeed!

I also loved it when the trailer’s narrator said the following:

“If you see only one movie this summer, see ‘Star Wars.’”

You have to admire New Line Cinema for admitting this as even they had to admit there was no way this long-awaited sequel was going to beat “The Phantom Menace” at the box office. Instead, they presented it as an underdog to where it was kindly asking audiences to give it a look after they watched the latest “Star Wars” movie for a second time. Hollywood and the studios which inhabit it are always out to promise audiences how this movie is a must-see, and yet here this particular studio, which has since been absorbed by Warner Brothers, admitted this one was not going to use the force the same way Lucasfilm was going to, and it worked to the advantage of this “Austin Powers” adventure.

This is one of those movie trailers, let alone teaser trailers, which has stayed with me after so many years. I still remember the great feeling and humorous effect it had on me and the rest of the audience. As a result, it has long since earned its place on my list of the greatest movie trailers ever made.

We did eventually get to see the first “Phantom Menace” trailer before “Star Trek: Insurrection” began, but while the audience gave it a thunderous response, there was no forgetting the mark Mr. Powers left on us beforehand.

Halloween II (2009)

halloween-ii-2009-poster

It’ll be interesting to see what people think of Rob Zombie’s “Halloween II.” With this sequel to his remake, he has not made your typical slasher flick even though it does contain some amazingly brutal and bloody moments. One crushing death plays like an homage to the fire extinguisher scene from Gaspar Noe’s “Irreversible.” I have also heard some complain because this sequel doesn’t even feel like a “Halloween” movie to them, but wasn’t that the whole point of this re-imagining? Do you really want the same old slasher formula we have long since gotten burned out on? Isn’t this why Zombie was brought on to do the remake? You know, to give this long running series a much-needed re-invigoration?

Zombie’s vision of Michael Myers may not be as scary as John Carpenter’s was, but I wasn’t expecting that to be the case. With Zombie’s take on the “Halloween” saga, what have here is more of a character study of how Michael became so infinitely evil, and this something we have seen much of in this never-ending franchise. “Halloween II” is definitely on a par with Zombie’s previous film, and everything comes around full circle to where there’s no doubt family is forever.

“Halloween II” starts moments after the previous film with Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) walking down the street all bloodied up after shooting Michael dead at close range. However, it turns out Laurie didn’t kill him. The bullet must have bounced off his skull knocking him unconscious or something else along those lines. This seems to be a reasonable excuse to bring Michael back, and it is step from previous “Halloween” movies which managed to come up with ridiculous excuses to bring Michael back for another round with horny teenagers.

As Laurie is wheeled into the hospital crying hysterically, the first of many times she does so, shades of Rick Rosenthal’s “Halloween II” emerge, but this cannot be mistaken as a remake of sequel. Meanwhile, the drivers of the coroner van carrying Michael’s body end up smashing into a cow leaving them severely injured. This allows Michael to escape to live and see another October because, in the end, what is Halloween without Michael Myers?

Meanwhile, we see Laurie getting patched up in surgery, and the extent of her injuries is unsettling. The detail given to the doctors working on her is horrific very realistic, just the way Zombie wants it to appear. You look at Laurie’s mangled body, and you think to yourself it’s a miracle she lived through this dark, dark night.

“Halloween II” then moves to a year later as Laurie, still deeply traumatized by that horrific evening, struggles to go on with her life. She has since been adopted by Sheriff Lee Brackett (Brad Dourif) and lives with him and his daughter, Annie (Danielle Harris). While the previous movie was told through Michael’s eyes, this one is seen through Laurie Strode’s perspective, and she is no longer the person she once was.

One of the big differences with this sequel is the way it was filmed. Whereas Zombie’s “Halloween” was filmed in 35mm, he instead filmed “Halloween II” is in 16mm which gives everything a much harsher edge. This worked very effectively for him on what is still his best movie, “The Devil’s Rejects,” and it makes the killings in “Halloween II” feel all the more brutal. Michael doesn’t just slash his victims; he pounds them to a bloody pulp.

Tyler Mane once against gives us the most lethal and threatening Michael Myers ever unleashed on the big screen. Being as tall and hulking as Mane is, it’s a wonder why anyone would be foolish to take him on. Here’s another interesting thing about Michael in this one, he has a beard. That’s right, for the first time ever we get to see this iconic character with facial hair. This is ironic because Michael has proven to be very useful with knives to where I am convinced he can give himself the closest shave without ever having to use any shaving cream. Then again, Michael has more on his mind than facial hair.

Taylor-Compton’s Laurie Strode is not the chaste and resourceful character Jamie Lee Curtis gave us in the original, but she digs deep into this role and takes Laurie to places no ordinary person would dare go. You think she is at bottom when the movie starts, but she’s not anywhere near it. Taylor-Compton makes you care about Laurie as she comes to the realization of who she really is, and you want her to escape the abyss she is drowning in. You want to help her.

One especially good performance comes from Brad Dourif as he gets more screen time here. The sheriff he portrays here is not your typical clichéd stupid cop who makes all the wrong decision, but instead a caring adult and who is constantly looking out for Laurie and Annie. Dourif is great here in a way you would not usually expect an actor to be in a film like this, and he is one of the most underrated character actors working today.

That’s the great thing about Zombie’s “Halloween” movies; he is not out to give us the usual slasher flick. With these two films, he has taken the time to develop his characters to where they are not the usual pack of one-dimensional stereotypes the horror genre keeps relying on. While he still does employ the usual white trash characters who utter disgusting dialogue, it is clear he is moving beyond them now. This shows growth on his part which makes me look forward to his future work.

Zombie also conjures up some truly weird imagery throughout as we get a closer look into Michael’s deeply disturbed psyche. Sheri Moon Zombie returns as Michael’s mother, but this time she speaks to her murderous son from the grave and convinces him that if he kills Laurie, he can bring the whole family back together. Some may still criticize her acting abilities, but she is better than people tend to give her credit for.

Danielle Harris also returns as Annie Brackett, but Zombie doesn’t have her doing the same old things she did previously. Considering how Annie almost died, she is nowhere as foolish this time around (not completely anyway). Annie, along with her dad, is desperate to life Laurie out of her emotional abyss even as Laurie makes it incredible for them to even try to do so.

But of course, we cannot forget Malcolm McDowell who returns as Dr. Sam Loomis. This time around, the “Clockwork Orange” actor gives us a Sam Loomis who is a pure asshole getting high off the fame he obtains by exploiting his involvement with Michael and his family. Loomis is no longer the helpful psychiatrist he was before and is instead a profiteer off the misfortunes of others. His sudden change of heart towards the film’s climax may feel a little forced, but McDowell sells it to where we really feel his pain when he comes to accept the damage he has wrought on others.

The brilliant sound design in “Halloween II” also needs to be mentioned as well. Michael doesn’t just crash through windows and walls in this one. You feel him bashing his way through everything in his path, and it this movie a visceral thrill the other “Halloween” sequels could only dream of offering. Zombie is not out to give you a bunch of cheap scares, but is instead out to horrify you as much as possible as we suffer along with Laurie as Michael continues his endless pursuit of her.

Zombie also does a better job with suspense this time around, and it really boils in certain moments when our anticipation gets the best of us. We know Michael is going to strike, and we fear the bloody damage we know he will brutally inflict. I’m glad Zombie came back to do this sequel even though he originally wasn’t planning to. Having anyone else direct this follow up would have been a mistake.

John Carpenter’s “Halloween” was a one of a kind film which was never intended to start a horror franchise. Zombie is not trying to outdo Carpenter, but to merely make Michael Myers and all these characters his own. While “Halloween II” is not a masterpiece, he does stay true to his vision of this unstoppable monster and improves on his previous film quite a bit.

NOTE: The DVD and Blu-ray release of “Halloween II” contains the director’s cut of the movie. This version changes a few things and adds more scenes which focus on the characters more, and it’s even better than the theatrical version as it gives you an even clearer sense of what Zombie was trying to accomplish.

Theatrical Version: * * * out of * * * *

Director’s Cut: * * * ½ out of * * * *

Halloween (2007)

halloween-2007-poster

This one is a remake of one of the best horror films ever made. What could be the point of remaking it other than to make a quick buck? So many people have been milking this franchise dry for decades. Just when you thought Michael Myers was finished once and for all, he springs back with some utterly lame excuse for still being alive.

But what this “Halloween” remake has going for it is Rob Zombie who gave us “House of a 1000 Corpses” and the brilliant grindhouse flick “The Devil’s Rejects.” We all know just how much he loves John Carpenter’s original film, and we believed him when he said he would make this “Halloween” his own. If there was ever going to be a “Halloween” remake, who better to do it than Zombie?

This reimagining proved to be polarizing for “Halloween” fans in general. They either loved it, hated it or had a mixed reaction to it. One thing for sure, it is far more brutal than Carpenter’s film. Zombie does not try to hide from the ugliness of violence, and there is no campiness to be found here.

The first half is the freshest part as it deals with Michael Myers as a child and looks closely at what made him such a monster. This is where Zombie’s “Halloween” could have been disastrous as things tend to be scarier in a horror movie when the motives of the killer are barely described or explained. But what Zombie does is force us to look at Michael as a human being instead of an indestructible force of nature, and this makes his version all the more compelling.

Michael could not have come from a more dysfunctional family if he tried. His mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) is a stripper at a local bar, his step dad (William Forsythe) is an abusive prick who has nothing nice to say about anything or anybody, and his sister Judith (Hanna Hall) would rather make out with her boyfriend than take her little brother trick or treating. On top of that, he is constantly bullied at school and has this little hobby of killing animals which is typically a serious warning sign of someone about to embark more homicidal adventures.

Zombie succeeds in making you feel for Michael even as we condemn him for the violence he inflicts on others. We fear him but also empathize with him because we see the pathetic hell he has been put through.

The adult Michael is portrayed by Tyler Mane, a huge individual whom you never ever doubt will leave some serious damage in his path. I thought it was genius of Zombie to cast such a tall actor in this role. When he was at a Fangoria convention, Zombie said it made more sense to cast a very tall actor in this role as opposed to a regular height kind of guy. Michael has to be a formidable force of evil, and Mane gives us the best version of this character since Nick Castle played him in the original.

After spending a lot of time on Michael’s back story, Zombie moves us through the “Halloween” we grew up on as we get introduced to Laurie Strode and her friends from school. Many of the scenes from the original are repeated here which brings this movie down some as they remind us of just how great Carpenter’s film was. Zombie moves through those scenes at such a rapid pace to where the characters never seem as fully realized as they could have been. Laurie Strode is played by Scout Taylor-Compton, and she is one hell of a screamer! She may not be on the same par with Jamie Lee Curtis, but she does make the role her own and is fun to watch.

Playing Laurie’s babysitting friends are Kristina Klebe as Lynda and Danielle Harris as Annie Brackett. Harris is a Michael Myers veteran herself, having played the daughter of Laurie Strode in “Halloween 4” and ‘Halloween 5.” It is important to note she was not cast in this movie as a result of her previous work in the franchise, but because Zombie said he was truly blown away by her audition. She does deserve a lot of credit for playing such a believable teenager even though she was 30 when the cameras started rolling.

Zombie casted many of his friends like Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, Leslie Easterbrook, and Ken Foree as well. There are also cameos from B-movie actors like Dee Wallace Stone, Sybil Danning and Clint Howard. One of the best performances in “Halloween” comes from Sheri Moon Zombie herself. As the mother of Michael Meyers, she shows a lot of range here we haven’t seen before as her character proves to be the only who truly cares about Michael and what he is going through.

Another awesome actor featured here is Danny Trejo whose character encourages the young Michael to live inside his head so he won’t feel so boxed in when inside his prison cell. The way Trejo spoke those words must have come from a real place as he once served time in prison. His performance and scenes with Michael are haunting, and I would have loved to have seen more of him in this movie.

Overall, I liked Zombie’s ever so brutal vision of Michael Myers. It does not quite equal what Carpenter gave us, but it is certainly much better than several of the sequels which were inflicted on us. Zombie has created a movie which truly shocks and unsettles the viewer. Whereas you cannot help but snicker at the usual clichés in every other slasher movie, this one throttles you back into your seat. At the very least, it is the best remake of a John Carpenter movie yet. After the dismal remakes of “Assault on Precinct 13” and especially “The Fog,” this one fares much better in comparison.

* * * out of * * * *

 

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

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WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS. DON’T SAY YOU WEREN’T WARNED!

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” is actually one of the best films in this long running franchise, and it did more than just drop a bunch of bloody good killings on us with little regard to everything else which makes a movie strong. There was actually some thoughtful work put into the screenplay, the acting is better than you might expect it to be, and it does have some very scary moments the other sequels seriously lack.

The “Halloween” movies often defy the timeline of events they set up for themselves because logic doesn’t always apply to horror movies. Despite the huge explosion which ended “Halloween II,” Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis somehow managed to survive. It never seemed likely either of them would have come out of the burnt wreckage without turning into shish kabobs which were left on the barbecue for far too long, but this sequel shows you can’t keep a doctor or an evil monster down.

“Halloween 4” starts off with a couple of doctors assigned to transfer the seemingly comatose Michael back to Smith’s Grove where he should have stayed from the beginning. But of course, Michael wakes up and kills his naïve caretakers who think he is nothing more than just another prison transfer. These doctors also make the mistake of mentioning how Michael has one living relative left, his niece Jamie. Guess where she lives…

Going into a description of the plot is tiring, but you know what happens from there on out. “Halloween 4” is genuinely scary at points. The first appearance of Michael through the reflection of the mirror definitely had me standing up straight, and childhood terrors like the monster under the bed are exploited to strong effect. The movie does play around with the clichéd moments we often find in horror movies, but then it manages to pull the rug out from under you. You think you have a good idea of what is going to happen, but the filmmakers smartly play on your misplaced confidence to pull a fast one on you.

“Halloween 4” was directed by Dwight H. Little who later went on to direct one of Steven Seagal’s best movies, “Marked for Death.” Little deserves credit for not just doing everything according to formula. What he accomplishes here isn’t groundbreaking for the horror genre, but he pulls off something stronger than your average slasher flick. Instead of doing the usual opening with the pumpkin, he fills the screen with symbols of the October holiday which eventually leads us into the dead of winter. With that, he perfectly sets the mood and atmosphere for this particular sequel. He remains respectful of the original and does the right thing by keeping Michael hidden in the shadows like Carpenter did in the original. When that mask of his peeks out of the darkness, it becomes even more unnerving than watching him tilt his head.

The writer, Alan B. McElroy, managed to finish the script just mere hours before the 1980’s writer strike began. Listening to his audio commentary from the Anchor Bay release, McElroy makes it clear he came to this film as a fan of the original and was not about to throw the usual crapfest at us. He also gives us characters we actually come to care about and who don’t always do the stupid things we expect them to do in the average horror flick. You even find yourself caring about that hunk of a man Brady (Sasha Jenson) even after we find him cheating on his girlfriend with the movie’s obligatory big breasted lady (who also happens to be the sheriff’s daughter no less).

In retrospect, “Halloween 4” was one of the last slasher movies which featured actors who looked and felt down to earth. After this sequel, the genre was invaded by beautiful models with bodies very well taken care of or surgically enhanced. Whether or not they could act was another story, one which usually didn’t matter to the financiers.

This one is also not as bloody or gory as the other sequels came to be. Granted, there are a couple of nice bloody shots which illustrate how creative Michael is at killing people after coming out of a long coma. On top of sinking his thumb into a doctor’s skull, he also rips a big hole in a beer guzzling vigilante’s neck. Actually, this does bring up a weakness in the movie which involves a subplot with a bunch of middle aged guys who are regulars at a local bar. They almost seem tossed in as an afterthought, and their own hunt for Michael leads them to do the dumbest things.

Watching Danielle Harris here is a little weird as she has since grown up and gone on to play a completely different character in Rob Zombie’s “Halloween” movies. She plays Jamie, the daughter of Laurie Strode who was said to have been killed in a car accident along with her husband (Curtis would later return in “H2O”). You have to admire any young actor who does a horror movie at the age of 11 because it’s like we’re asking them to become emotionally scarred for life. On top of having a great set of lungs, Harris instantly wins our sympathy gives this movie one of its scariest images.

Ellie Cornell, who plays Rachel Carruthers, does Jamie Lee Curtis proud. We’re not talking an Oscar winning performance here, but she gives us the heroic female character we want to root for as she goes from being vulnerable to Sigourney (“Aliens”) Weaver tough.

And, of course, we have the only returning actor from the original “Halloween,” the late Donald Pleasence. Having miraculously survived the fiery explosion which should have killed him were a highly profitable box office possibility not taken into consideration, Dr. Loomis has become absolutely single minded in his pursuit to destroy Michael once and for all. Even if Pleasance was slumming by doing this movie, he still played this role to the hilt and gave this particular entry a legitimacy which eluded future installments. Heck, it probably would have been criminal to do a “Halloween” movie without Dr. Loomis at that point as he was an essential part of this franchise.

Actually, there is another “Halloween” veteran who returns to the fold here: Alan Howarth. Along with Carpenter he scored “Halloween II” and “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” and they also provided great scores for “Prince of Darkness” and “Big Trouble in Little China.” Howarth goes solo on this one, but even without Carpenter he composes a memorable and atmospheric score, and his opening theme to “Halloween 4” is one of the best pieces of music in the franchise.

Stunt performer George Wilbur plays Michael here, and he does good work as the heavy-breathing killer. While no one can touch what Nick Castle did in the original, it’s nice to see a Michael who more mobile than Dick Warlock’s was in “Halloween II.” Wilbur gives Michael a formidable look which strikes terror in us even when this murderous character is not onscreen. The thought of Michael Myers in this one is just as scary as seeing these characters come face to face with him, or it as Dr. Loomis describes him:

“You’re talking about him as if he were a man. That part of him died years ago.”

DANGER! DANGER! SPOLIERS AHEAD!!!

Now let’s talk about Halloween 4’s” ending. Michael has been shot dozens and dozens of times in a scene which reminded me of the scene from “Predator” when Schwarzenegger and company blasted a forest to waste with their massive weaponry. Everyone is back home and safe, but then a scream erupts from upstairs. Loomis runs up to find Jamie has stabbed her stepmother with a pair of scissors and is covered in blood, looking much like young Michael did after murdering his sister. Like Pleasance, you find yourself screaming “NOOOOOO!!!!!!” Harris holding those scissors ranks as one of the series’ most chilling moments. Indeed, the corruption of innocence is a terror that can be all too real onscreen as well as off it.

Now this could have led the franchise in an inspired direction, but the producers wussied out and instead found a way (they always do) to bring Michael back from the dead yet again. Perhaps the late Moustapha Akkad felt the fans would never accept any killer other than Michael himself. It’s a shame because this brilliant plot twist could have made the series even more frightening than ever before, but the demands of the box office always dictate just how much you cannot change a winning formula.

Regardless, “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” still proves to be a strong entry in the undying franchise, and this is especially the case when you watch the two sequels which followed it.

* * * out of * * * *

 

John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978)

halloween-1978-poster

What is there to say about “Halloween” which hasn’t already been said? It has been discussed ad nauseam, and even Carpenter must be sick of talking about it all the time. Granted, he did take the time to record a new commentary track with Jamie Lee Curtis for Anchor Bay’s 35th anniversary edition, but when the 25th anniversary edition came out it just had the same commentary track from the Criterion Collection laserdisc.

We all know the story, and this is in large part due to the countless imitators who rushed to create their own psychotic killer following “Halloween’s” astonishing success. At the time of its release, it was the most successful independent movie ever made. Made for about $300,000, it ended up grossing over $50 million. “Friday The 13th” would never have existed without “Halloween,” and that franchise is far more responsible for those clichés horror movies exploit to infinity.

What I love about “Halloween” is how down to earth it is. All of these characters come across as very relatable. The way the script is written and how the actors played their roles, they easily reminded us of people from our own lives we grew up with. The only character in the whole movie who is NOT down to earth is Michael Meyers as he is a killer who has no real motive for why he heads back home to kill. As the movie goes on, we eventually stop seeing him as a person and instead as a force of evil which cannot be easily stopped.

We have all lived in a town like Haddonfield, a small town where families can raise their children in peace, or so it would seem, and the problems they face there end up paling in comparison to those they were forced to endure in the city. The parents see small town life as a home away from reality, but for the children it is reality. It is all they know. So when multiple murders occur there, it threatens to define the town more than anything else. Was there anything interesting about Haddonfield before young Michael Meyers took a knife to his sister when he was only a boy?

I also love how “Halloween” was shot. Working with Director of Photography Dean Cundey, Carpenter creates truly unnerving visuals of a killer lurking in the shadows. One moment Michael appears in the frame, and in the next he is gone. Michael could be anywhere and there is no escape from him. How does one escape from evil anyway? One of Carpenter’s main themes with “Halloween” is how evil never dies. It is a force which is with us whether we like it or not, and it is always just around the corner…

One of my favorite shots is when little Tommy is fooling around with Lindsay as they watch Howard Hawks’ version of “The Thing.” But when Tommy turns around and looks out the window, he sees a man carrying a lifeless body from the garage to the front door. The bullies at school kept warning him about the boogeyman coming, and it is an unfortunate and infuriating coincidence that they are correct. It is one of the creepiest images from “Halloween,” and it is one which always stays with me. Don’t you wonder what your neighbors are up as you look at their houses across the street?

The other brilliant thing about “Halloween” is how it was edited in such a way where you cannot be sure when or where Michael will appear next. The best example of this is when Laurie Strode is running away from Michael. Carpenter puts us right in her shoes as she desperately tries to escape the madman who wears an altered William Shatner mask. The editing plays with your emotions beautifully. You want her to escape, but you soon feel as helpless as her as she yells at Tommy to wake the hell up.

The moment where Laurie is at the front door of Tommy’s house, screaming for him to let her in, is one of the scariest scenes I have ever seen in a movie. It intercuts with her banging on the door while the Shape approaches her, and Carpenter succeeds brilliantly in leaving us stuck in a place we are desperate to escape from. Like her, we are begging for Tommy to unlock the door to where we want to yell at the movie screen, TV set or whatever device you are watching this movie on.

And who could ever forget the music? Carpenter’s score for “Halloween” ranks among the greatest horror movie scores ever composed to where I would put it up alongside Bernard Herrmann’s score for “Psycho.” Carpenter’s musical work has been done mostly in a minimalist style, very much unlike the bombastic orchestral scores from every other Hollywood composer. After all these years, the main title for “Halloween” is a piece of music I never get sick of listening to. The music succeeds in heightening the ever growing tension which never lets up even after the movie is ovr.

The final shot is unnerving and utterly perfect in the way Carpenter shows how evil never dies. We see images we have become familiar with throughout the movie, and they now have the stain of evil on them. The point is point he could be anywhere at this point.

This is definitely one of my all-time favorite movies, and the recent 35th anniversary edition Blu-ray reminded me of how I never get tired of watching it. Jamie Lee Curtis is great here as Laurie Strode, the only one who is the least bit observant about what’s going on around her. Then you have P.J. Soles and Nancy Loomis as Laurie’s so-called friends who frolic around, completely unaware of the killer stalking them from a distance. And you have Donald Pleasance, and his Dr. Loomis is a character which pretty much came to define the latter half of the franchise.

Many say “Halloween” originated the undying cliché of how teenagers who have premarital sex and do drugs are the first ones to be killed off. In the Criterion commentary, both Carpenter and the late Debra Hill make it abundantly clear they were not trying to lay any sort of judgment on these characters. Religion was not intended to shoved down our throats by anyone involved with this movie. These characters don’t get murdered because they are sinners, but because they aren’t paying attention to what is going on around them. Laurie Strode, on the other hand, is always very suspicious of her surroundings.

John Carpenter’s “Halloween” will always remain the best of all the so-called slasher movies in my humble opinion. There is no way anyone can top what he did with the 1978 classic, and this is even though Rob Zombie’s take on Michael Meyers was better than people gave his “Halloween” movies credit for. It has reached such a high level of praise in the ever growing pantheon of cinema to where duplicating its power is extremely difficult to pull off. The fact it still has the power to unsettle generations of audiences is a testament to Carpenter’s brilliance as a director, and its amazing success led him to make many other great films which continue to stay with us long after the end credits have finished.

* * * * out of * * * *