On September 23rd, there was a release of the entire Halloween series in one lavish Blu-Ray box set. This was something fans of the series dared only dream of. Over the span of 36 years, the series has moved between five different studios, making the prospect of a complete boxed set next to impossible. Leave it to the folks at Scream Factory (sort of a Criterion Collection for horror films) to partner with Anchor Bay (who have owned the home video rights to parts 1, 4, and 5 for ages now) and bring together the boxed set fans only dared dream of. So, I now shall dig in, reviewing each film in the set for your pleasure. Yes, even Resurrection and the Rob Zombie remakes. I will take the hits for you, faithful readers.
"You know, it's Halloween. I guess everyone's entitled to one good scare."
The original Halloween is a bit of an unlikely success story. It was made for a shoestring budget with largely unknown actors. But yet, through skillful storytelling and dynamite casting, it struck a nerve with audiences and earning the reputation as one of the scariest films ever made.
The film is a masterwork in suspense with a simple plot that focuses on three teenage girls, Laurie (played by Jamie Lee Curtis), Annie (played by Nancy Loomis) and Lynda (played by PJ Soles), who are stalked on Halloween night by escaped mental patient Michael Myers, who spends the entire film wearing an unnerving pale mask. Michael was locked up for killing his sister on Halloween night and now all these years later it looks he intends to pick up where he left off. In hot pursuit is Michael's doctor, Sam Loomis (played by Donald Pleasence), who acts as the film's Van Helsing of sorts, warning anyone that will listen of how dangerous Michael is.
What makes this film work for me is a couple things. First, the performances are fantastic, especially from Jamie Lee Curtis in a star making performance and also from Donald Pleasence in what would become his signature role (he would reprise it four more times after this). Curtis finds the perfect balance between vulnerable and tough. She believably shows Laurie's fear, but is also able to be resourceful enough to fight back. It's a great performance and audiences were on the edge of their seats wanting her to get out of it alive. Pleasence gives the role of Loomis a sense of presence and authority as he tries to hunt down his escaped patient. In addition to this, we have great direction by John Carpenter with fantastic cinematography to match from Dean Cundey. They used every penny they had extremely well, employing a widescreen frame and steadicam shots that succeed in adding to the tension of the film.
The film also is largely responsible for the popularization of the Slasher film, spawning legions of imitators, most notably the Friday the 13th series and to a lesser extent the Nightmare on Elm Street series. It's legacy even extended to the original Scream, with clips from the film featured heavily in the third act of that film. It remains one of the best horror movies of it's kind and is always a favorite to watch this time of year.
This film picks up exactly where the first film left off, with Doctor Loomis still chasing Michael Myers throughout Haddonfield. Meanwhile, Laurie Strode is carted off to the local hospital and Michael is not far behind.
By the time Halloween II rolled around in 1981, there had already been a wave of slasher films, each more violent than the last and with a higher body count to match. Naturally, this film follows suit as Michael works his way through the darkest, emptiest hospital ever on Halloween night as he continues to stalk Laurie Strode, killing anyone and everyone that gets in his way. Unfortunately, Laurie is sedated for much of the film in her hospital room. The bulk of the film is standard stalk and slash as Michael picks off staff member after staff member, usually with inventive methods using hospital equipment such as scalpels, syringe needles, etc.
Meanwhile, Loomis is running around town trying to find Michael. It's not until he finds out Laurie is Michael's sister that they head for the hospital. It's only at this point, when Laurie wakes up to a largely deserted hotel and encounters Michael that the film picks up steam. He chases Laurie through the hospital until she crosses paths with Loomis, who just arrived. The two wind up cornered in an operating room. Loomis and Laurie flood the room with gas and Loomis distracts Michael so Laurie can escape. She barely gets away before Loomis detonates the gas, exploding the room into a rather impressive fireball.
Originally, Halloween II was supposed to be the final outing for Michael Myers and realistically he should be very, very dead. We last see him walking out of the fire, fully engulfed in flames, before he finally stumbles and falls down. Of course, it wouldn't last, but the original intention did lead to one of the most interesting entries in the series.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch
"Please stop it, there's no more time. There are millions of lives at stake. you have to take it off...Please stop it! Stop it! STOP IT!"
Without a doubt, the one that sticks out like a sore thumb in this series is Halloween III. The film retires the Michael Myers character and crafts a whole new story. The idea was the series would go on with a new story every year as an anthology type series, each with a Halloween theme. Unfortunately, the audiences did not take to a Halloween film without the Michael Myers character and they did not continue in that direction. The film had also gained a reputation of being a dud, although the film has gained a cult following with audiences that found the film and, perhaps to their surprise, found a decent little scary movie.
The film focuses on a doctor, Dan Challis (played by Tom Atkins), who is investigating the mysterious death of a patient who burst into the ER babbling about how they're going to kill him, not elaborating on who. Soon enough, the man is murdered and his assailant sets himself on fire in the hospital parking lot. He teams up with the man's daughter, Ellie (played by Stacey Nelkin) to look into what happened. This leads them to the strange town of Santa Mira, home of the Silver Shamrock Halloween Mask factory. Silver Shamrock masks have been flying off the shelves as the must have Halloween item for the season. What the two discover is far more sinister. The owner of the company Conel Cochran (played by Dan O'Herlihy) is planning to use some old Celtic magic (combined with modern technology) to kill millions of children on Halloween night when they all sit down to watch that night's horror movie. Everything is tied to a certain commercial that will air for Silver Shamrock masks under the guise of a giveaway so everyone will tune in. Dan and Ellie are in a race against time to warn the world of what's going to happen and prevent the deaths of millions of kids.
Halloween III has been unfairly maligned as a bad movie, simply because it diverted from the storyline of Part 1 and 2 to tell a fresh story. In fact, I think this is one of the better films in the series. It's certainly darker, with a villain dead set on killing millions of kids as a form of ritual sacrifice. The film also ends on an uncertain note, with Dan screaming into the phone, begging the T.V stations to take off the commercial as minutes and seconds tick away to the 9 p.m deadline. It certainly deserves a second look from fans of the series and a creepy and fun diversion from the saga of Michael Myers.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
After the disappointing reaction to Halloween III, the decision was made to resurrect Michael Myers and give the audiences what they wanted. To be fair, this was actually a decent outing all around, with some good suspense and decent plot. Since Jamie Lee Curtis had become a big time star at this point and was off making movies with the likes of Eddie Murphy, Dan Aykroyd or John Cleese, they would need to find a new target for Michael. They settled on a new character, Jamie Lloyd (played by Danielle Harris), the daughter of the now deceased Laurie Strode. To help bridge the gap, we also have Donald Pleasence back as Doctor Loomis, who is apparently similarly fireproof as Michael, with only a couple scars.
This film picks up ten years later, with little Jamie Lloyd living with her foster parents and foster sister Rachel (played by Ellie Cornell). It's once again Halloween night and Rachel begrudgingly takes Jamie out trick or treating since her folks are going to a Halloween Party. They have no idea that out there in the night, Michael is waiting for them. Meanwhile, Loomis is teaming up with the police to try and hunt him down lest the town experiences another bloodbath.
The real core of the film and why it was for the most part better than it had any right to be lies in the core relationship of Rachel and Jamie. Rachel more than rises to the challenge to try and keep Jamie safe at any cost and turns out to be a fairly formidable foe for Michael, holding her own with the legacy of Laurie. Danielle Harris likewise does well as the vulnerable and young Jamie, keeping the audience on the edge of their seats to make sure she makes it through the film. They make the movie for me and are a big part of why I enjoyed it so much.
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
Oh Halloween 5, why couldn't you have been more like Halloween 4? I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this one because it's clear the filmmakers didn't either. Donald Pleasence and Danielle Harris are back for this outing. Pleasence gives a performance that frankly screams, "I'm here for my paycheck." Harris does her best but the oddball script with Jamie suddenly having a psychic link to her uncle Michael is ridiculous at best. Ellie Cornell shows up briefly before getting killed off early by Michael in a twist that I suppose is meant to add suspense in a anyone can die now sort of way, but instead is more of a slap across the face to the fans of the previous film and the fans certainly took it that way.
The bulk of the film has Michael carving his way through a Halloween Party because it has no ambition beyond being just another slasher movie, I guess. Every stereotype is on deck and systematically sliced, diced or impaled. Yawn. The entire movie reeks of quick cash grab (it was released less than a year after the first film). It's not the worst of the bunch (that dubious honor belongs to Halloween: Resurrection), but it's far from the best. It would be six years until we got another outing, which is really saying something.
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers
Everyone rags on Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers as being a terrible movie, but compared to some other entries, it's not that bad. It at least tried to do something new and add to the mythology of who Michael really is. It tried to incorporate some of the Celtic myths of Halloween and in a way really captures the season in a way none of the other movies have. Plus, it has Paul Rudd in it and that's never a bad thing in my book. Yes, you read that right, Paul Rudd was in a Halloween movie. Not only that, he plays the grown up Tommy Doyle (the kid Laurie babysat in the first film) and is more or less the hero of the film. He even at one point beats the shit out of Michael with a large lead pipe, so the movie has that going for it, which is nice.
The curious thing about this film is there are two rather dramatically different versions of the film. There's the theatrical version, which deals with a new family that is living in Michael Myers' old house and become a target of Michael because of it. The film explains Michael first got all stabby because he heard voices attributed to the curse of the Thorn and now the young boy living there, Danny is hearing them too. There's also a plot line with Jamie Lloyd resurfacing with an infant, having been kidnapped by a group calling themselves the Thorn Cult. They also kidnapped Michael and apparently Michael is the father (we never see anything to confirm this, thankfully). She escapes the cult and is on the run with her infant with Michael in hot pursuit. She heads back to Michael's old home town of Haddonfield in hopes of finding Doctor Loomis (played once again by Donald Pleasence in his last film role). Michael catches up to her before she can, but she has stashed the baby away before he could and is found by Tommy Doyle. From here, things get really weird with the storylines converging as the Cult members target both little Danny and his mom Kara and Tommy and the baby. Conveniently, they live across the street from one another as Tommy wanted to keep an eye on the Myers house in case Michael decided to come home.
The Curse of Michael Myers had a legendary troubled production that produced two very different versions of the film. There is the theatrical edition, which toned down the Cult and celtic aspects and focused more directly on the movie. There is also the "Producers Cut" which circulated at conventions and on the internet in it's unfinished form. Neither film is perfect, The Producers Cut presents a more interesting story line for the film, but the Theatrical version has a more satisfying ending, but both are one of the more curious entries in the series.
Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later
"It's Halloween, I guess everyone's entitled to one good scare."
"I've had my share."
I remember fondly when Halloween H20 was in production and hearing about Jamie Lee Curtis coming back to the series. I was a huge fan of the series and clearly knew what a big deal this was as she had sworn off doing horror films after Halloween II. She had stated that she wanted to do H20 as a thank you to the fans of the series and her horror films in general. After the original film, Halloween H20 may be my favorite of the entire series. Never before had a film series like this caught up with a heroine after so many years to see what their life is like. The film also acts nicely as a closing chapter to Halloween and Halloween II.
The film catches up with Laurie Strode, now going by the name Keri Tate, as the headmistress of a private school where she lives with her son John (played by Josh Hartnett). She faked her death and went into hiding across the country in California. She has built a nice life for her and her son, she has a good job and a nice boyfriend, Will (played by Adam Arkin). But she still lives in fear that one Halloween her brother will show up on her doorstep to try and kill her again. Of course, this being a Halloween movie we know that will happen all too soon and it does as Michael indeed shows up and unleashes another wave of terror as he tries to get to not only Laurie but her son as well.
What really makes this film memorable for me though is the last fifteen minutes or so. Laurie has gotten her son and his girlfriend Molly (played by Michelle Williams) out of the school and then stops. She tells them to take her car and go and after they do, she locks the gates, grabs a fire ax, deciding to stop running and face him once and for all. What follows is a one on one fight throughout the school as Laurie uses anything and everything she can get her hands on to try and put Michael down for good. In the end, she winds up chopping his head off with the aforementioned fire ax in a very cathartic moment. For awhile, I thought this was it for the Halloween series, but alas, no there had to be more. But from this high point it was all downhill from here.
To properly illustrate how I feel about this particular entry in the Halloween series, I need to refer to another film first, Misery. In that film, there is a scene where Annie Wilkes (played by Kathy Bates) discusses a moment from her childhood to the author she is holding hostage, Paul Sheldon (played by James Caan). She talks about loving to go see the old serials at her local theater until one time something happened that upset her. In the previous episode, they had shown the hero being stuck in a runaway car and then showed the car going off a cliff. She anxiously awaited the next episode the following week and when she went to go see it, she was shocked to find an extra scene inserted where the hero broke free and dove out of the car at the last minute before it went off the cliff. She explained the audience cheered at this moment, but instead she got up and started screaming about how this film cheated. Why do I bring this up, dear readers? Because I felt the exact same way when I saw Halloween Resurrection.
The previous film, Halloween H20, ended with the long awaited final confrontation between Laurie Strode and Michael Myers, culminating with Laurie chopping his head off with an ax. It was the perfect ending and I'm completely serious when I say they should have ended it right there. But no, the movie made money so there had to be a sequel. What to do now that their veritable killing machine was headless? Do an off-shoot with a different story like Halloween III? Move the action to Sleepy Hollow? Nope. We'll just pretend it wasn't really Michael at the end, that he switched places with a paramedic (crushing his vocal chords so he can't speak) and knocked him out so we can continue on our merry way. Of course, when you view the ending of Halloween H20 again with this information in mind, it makes no sense. None of the actions of whoever is in the costume is consistent with how someone would act if they woke up wearing a mask and in someone else's clothes. So, yeah, I call bullshit. You cheated, movie.
This movie is just painful too. From horrible miscasting after horrible miscasting (please someone explain to me who thought it was a good idea to cast Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks? Both of them are just awful in this). After a brief prologue where we catch up with Laurie Strode (played again by Jamie Lee Curtis in a performance that screams "contractual obligation") in a mental hospital, waiting for Michael to show up again. Of course, he does and she has a trap set for him. The whole thing goes south though, mainly due to bad writing and Laurie is the one who winds up dead. We're not even fifteen minutes in and this movie has already pissed me off.
The movie then slides into a completely different plot, with the crew of an internet site called "Dangertainment" (ugh, kill me now), have wired the old Myers house with a series of web cams and are going to have a crew of kids from the local college going through the house on Halloween night, overseen by a crew of two played by the aforementioned Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks. This group covers most of the usual horror movie stereotypes and are for the most part picked off in the same order, because of course the real Michael shows up.
The real problem with the film comes in at the scripting and casting stages. This movie has the blandest, most useless heroine this side of Bella Swan in the character of Sara (played by Bianca Kajlich), who does nothing and has to be saved at every turn by either a karate chopping Busta Rhymes (I'm serious, and it's awful) or her online buddy Myles (played by Ryan Merriman) who is watching from a local Halloween Party. We also have Kattee Sackhoff as her hyper sidekick, Jen and Sean Patrick Thomas, who plays her friend and is a culinary student. That is his lone characteristic and he plays it up to the nines.
Nothing in this film works because it was crafted to appeal to the lowest common denominator and as such it never rises above it. It turns into another gimmicky slasher picture with nothing real or memorable about it. It's painful, it's tacky and quite frankly I like to pretend it doesn't exist. They should have stopped at H20 and as far as I'm concerned, they did.
Rob Zombie's Halloween and Halloween II
Okay, I'm going to make this quick because I really hated these films. Maybe some day I'll give them another chance since they came in the boxed set but I just can't bring myself to watch them again. I know I said I would, dear readers and when I started writing this I thought I would but I just can't. I have seen both of them before and I can't bring myself to watch them again. But I will explain why I didn't like them.
Rob Zombie does not know how to make a scary movie. He knows how to make a sleazy, super violent, cruel and unpleasant movie and that is not the same thing. He also fails to understand why Michael Myers is scary. In his remake, he looks back at Michael as a child, giving him perhaps the most hateful white trash family ever. Therefore, the question is no longer why did Michael kill his family and more why didn't he do it sooner? The reason Michael was scary is because in the beginning of the first film, he's just a regular suburban kid from a regular suburban family who one Halloween night snaps and kills his sister for no discernible reason. Now, that's scary. He spends the bulk of the film trying to explore the psyche of Michael, diluting his power to scare even more, with a rushed remake of the original film on the back end, featuring characters we haven't gotten to know and therefore really don't care about. They are also largely unlikable and therefore don't care when they die in gruesome and brutal ways.
That's the other thing, these films are brutal with an insanely high body count. Rob Zombie throws as much blood and guts on the screen as possible to shock the audience since there is a decided lack of tension or mood throughout the film.
It makes me wish Rob Zombie would go back to being a musician and stop making movies, because I liked his music. His movies are just absolutely unpleasant trash and I hate his two Halloween films. Hate, hate, hate, hate, hate them.