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One Good Scare: A ‘Halloween’ Retrospective Part III

 

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)

Much like with the post-mortem following Season of the Witch, Moustapha Akkad and the creative forces felt that, in the aftermath of Curse, it was time to return the franchise to its basics. In fact, the desire to provide the series with a relatively cleaner slate was so strong that the decision was made to nullify chapters 4, 5, and 6, rendering them non-canonical. Screenwriters Robert Zappa and Matt Greenberg were hired to pen a story that would follow up on Laurie Strode’s story after Halloween II. Although he isn’t officially credited, Kevin Williamson, who had already made a name for himself via Scream, did a few touch ups as well.

Jamie Lee Curtis was more than game to return, and hoped John Carpenter would as well. The latter even agreed to helm the picture, but his requested salary of $10 million was deemed preposterous by Akkad. Carpenter’s reasoning was that he was due revenue from the original film. Akkad didn’t buy it, which eventually led to Steve Miner’s hiring. Minor was no stranger to the slasher genre, having previously directed the second and third instalments of one of Halloween’s great competitors in the 1980s, Friday the 13th. Minor and Curtis had already worked together on 1992’s Forever Young, which helped the director land the H20 job.

Set 20 years after the events of the first two films, Laurie Strode (Curtis) is living in California as a teacher at a secluded, private high school. She goes by the name of Keri Tate, after having faked her death several years ago (which one might assume is a subtle allusion to her ‘death’ mentioned in Return). She is still haunted by Michael Myers, even dreams of him at night, a toll that not only affects her, but her teenage son John (Josh Hartnett), student where Laurie teaches literature. Even her lover, Will (Adam Arkin), is having a hard time getting through to her, although he isn’t privy to her true past. With October 31st looming, Laurie is on edge, and unfortunately for her, said fear proves founded. Michael Myers (Chris Durand) has shown up again, stalking nurse Chambers (Nancy Stephens from the first two films) in Illinois, and through killing her discovers of Laurie’s whereabouts. It’s time for a family reunion.

7 films in and it is the third time the franchise makes a deliberate attempt to adhere to the spirit of the original film. Halloween II, Return of Michael Myers, and now H20. Watching H20 is a relief for multiple reasons. For starters, it’s a fine, fine movie in its own right, delivering satisfying thrills, a few choice kills, a terrific atmosphere, all of which is guided under the surprisingly confident and stylish direction of Steve Minor. No offence, but directing Friday the 13th films is no indicator of having a great sense of style, yet Minor proves he has chops as a storyteller with H20. The film sports a classy, old school flavour, from the setting, to the score, and even the camera work and lighting. For the first time in a while in this franchise, the movie looks really nice. Cinematographer Daryn Okada does his best Dean Cundey impersonation with the play of light and darkness and, to be honest, he does a darn swell job of it too. A small supporting role from Janet Leigh as Jamie’s secretary, as well as a brief shot of the same car her character in Psycho drove, also help lend the film somewhat of an old timey feel. Rather than come across as antiquated, H20 is cool.

Just as importantly as the film’s overall technical qualities, H20 is the best sequel to the original film. It finally feels as though the filmmakers have delivered a proper continuation of the Laurie Strode-Michael Myers storyline. Laurie is not the same character she was 20 years ago. As a mother, she is particularly protective of her son, much to the latter’s frustration. She tries to put on a strong face, and in many ways she is strong, having rebuilt her entire life after such a harrowing experience. Nevertheless, unforgettable memories of two decades ago still cause her to bristle. Jamie Lee Curtis does more than pay her most famous role lip service; she’s legitimately great in H20. Save a few exceptions, most of the cast is doing great work too. Adam Arkin is admirable as Laurie’s boyfriend, Hartnett, while quite young, is decent as her son, as is Michelle Williams as his girlfriend. Even LL Cool Jay, playing the school security guard at the entrance gate, who one might assume would give an iffy performance, is genuinely charming and funny. Small wonder his acting career blossomed after this movie.

About the only element that one could safely criticize is the handling of the score, which was originally composed by veteran John Ottman. His rendition of the series theme is excellent, but the powers that be at Dimension were left wanting by the overall score, which resulted in a bit of music from the Scream films appearing during post-production work, as well as contemporary Marco Beltrami adding some of his own efforts. Ultimately, it sounds good and works within the film, but one feels for Ottman.

In the end, H20 makes a bold move. Rather than offer an open-ended finale as with so many Halloween films before it. Laurie, having turned the tables on Michael and takes him as her captive, drives off into the night, crashes the ambulance she commandeered and, in one powerful swing with an axe, decapitates Michael Myers. Cue the original Halloween theme.

Michael Myers is dead.

Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

Wrong. Michael Myers lives!

With H20’s considerable success at the box office and strong reception by the fanbase, Moustapha Akkad and his cohorts knew they couldn’t end the series just yet. Believe it or not, Dimension actually suggested going the Season of the Witch route by developing a non-Michael Myers story, but Akkad refused, once again insisting that the next instalment involve everyone’s favourite serial killer, but how? That was the challenge screenwriters Larry Brand and Sean Wood had to contend with, along with director Rick Rosenthal, who returned to the property after helming Halloween II over two decades ago.

Suffice to say, however talented the trio may be, their efforts did not bear fruit.

Resurrection begins with Laurie Strode (Curtis, contractually obligated to appear in a sequel) in a mental institute, seemingly a shell of her former self. As it is revealed, the reason for her precarious state has less to do with what viewers witnessed at the end of H20 but rather one of the most flabbergasting retcon attempts ever; two nurses walk the hall towards Laurie’s cell, talking about how in fact Michael Myers, when the police and ambulances arrived at the private school to collect the corpses, assaulted one of the officers, swapping uniforms and planting his famous mask on the unfortunate policemen. As such, it was a dutiful, innocent father of 3 whose head Laurie severed at the conclusion of the previous instalment.

Good god.

Michael shows up at the institute and in one of the least inspired death scenes for a protagonist ever, finally rids himself of Laurie Strode. This is about 15 minutes into Resurrection and, given that this is a feature length picture and not a short, the screenwriters and director proceed with a half hazard plot involving two internet channel sensations (Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks) hosting a live feed of university students (among them Sean Patrick Harris, Katee Sackhoff, Thomas Ian Nicholas, and Bianca Kajlich) who spend Halloween night in the abandoned Myers residence to look for ‘clues’ that will enlighten online viewers on Myers’ past. Guess who comes home for dinner.

On its own, Halloween: Resurrection is as mediocre as films get, especially within the horror genre. The characters are predominantly bland even though a few are played by actors who possess a modicum of charisma, the entire plot has a terribly forced overtone of the filmmakers wanting to be edgy and current, the film has a uninspired look, and a pointless, mind numbing subplot featuring a high school student that has started an online relationship with one of the Myers house dwellers who helps her escape the villain’s clutches via text messaging circa 2002 technology. Very little of particular interest occurs in Resurrection after Laurie’s demise. For the first time, it feels as though the franchise is simply going through the motions. Say what one will of the lack of direction of Revenge or the dumfounding complexity of Curse, at least those films were trying something. What’s more, every cut to the live stream dates the film horribly. Rubber monster costumes from the 1950s retain a certain charm and display some craftsmanship; terrible video quality of 2002 internet streaming is just terrible video quality of 2002 internet streaming.

Compounding the issue are the first 15 minutes, and the repercussions of its problems are felt across the entire film. For one, it offers a silly, shameful end to Laurie Strode’s story. The manner in which Michael kills her suggests spending so much time at the institute has made Laurie a dullard. Why she would fall for a ludicrous trick like the one Michael plays is beyond anyone, especially given he just spent 5 minutes killing people all over the place and then chase her down. Secondly, with Laurie Strode out of the picture, the Michael Myers mythology loses most of its punch. So he returns to his old home. What about it? Why does he go back there? What’s his purpose for killing more people? Everyone he slaughtered in the previous films, whether in the H20 or the 4, 5, 6 timeline, was for the purpose of getting to someone in his family. At this point, they’re all dead, so why does he care about a bunch of pretentious students spending a couple hours in his house? Little, if any of Resurrection makes sense. It’s at times like these that Dr. Loomis’ madcap, spastic ramblings might have added some sense to the proceedings.

There’s an issue when the highlight of a Halloween film is Busta Rhymes staring Michael in the face and yelling “Trick or treat, mother f*cka!” before roundhouse kicking him in the head. Oh, it’s definitely funny, and Rhymes delivers some of the rare good lines in the film, but it shouldn’t be the thing people remember from it.

Michael is defeated and left for dead once again, only to open his eyes whilst laying on a slab at the morgue before the film cuts to credits. The road to the finish line feels terribly strenuous however. What could Akkad and Dimension possibly come up with next?

 

 

Real life victim

Before plans were in motion to go forward with a new Halloween film, the franchise and everyone involved suffered a tragic loss. In November of 2005, in the city of Amman, Jordan, there was a trio of coordinated terrorist attacks involving explosives in hotels. Among the victims was Moustapha Akkad. The director-producer had been with the series from the very start, having been encouraged by John Carpenter’s terrific early films and agreeing to hire him for the 1978 classic. Through thick and thin, through the good times and the bad, Akkad was the backbone and driving force that kept the series alive. Directors, writers, and actors came and went, but Akkad remained, always working to keep the Michael Myers storyline alive and well. Varying degrees of quality aside, few were as passionate about the franchise than the elder Akkad. His son, Malek, would handle producing duties henceforth.


Halloween (2007)

It was announced in 2006 that enfant terrible of horror cinema Rob Zombie would helm the next franchise instalment. It was in fact the studio co-chief, Bob Weinstein (no, the other Weinstein) that approached Zombie about the possibility of putting his stamp on the series. What’s more, rather than continuing the Michael Myers mythology, it was deemed the right time to go back and reinvent the character and the famous ‘night he came home.’ Before any official announcement was made however, Zombie saw fit to consult with his friend John Carpenter. With the latter’s blessing and insistence that Zombie make his idiosyncratic version of the Myers-Strode tale, production went under way.

Those expecting a simple remake of the 1978 original were given quite the surprise with the 2007 reimagining. The events of Halloween night eventually transpire, but only in the film’s second half. The better part of this Halloween’s first hour concentrates on little 10-year old Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch), his trials and tribulations at home and at school. His mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) lives with the equivalent of trailer park trash (William Forsythe) that hates him, as does his older sister (Hanna R. Hall). At school, bullying is a big issue, and his latest scuffle with an elementary school brute has the superintendent invite psychologist Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) to study the boy. With mom away at work at the local strip club on the night of October 31st, Michael kills his older sister and stepfather, leaving only his baby sister alive. Dr. Loomis does his best to understand Michael during visits at a special prison, but his efforts are in vain as Michael grows distant. Then, 15 years later, Myers (Tyler Mane) escapes imprisonment, returns to Haddonfield and begins a murderous rampage while looking for young Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), who may be the baby sister seen earlier in the film.

There are no two ways about it. Sometimes one must come clean, avoid beating around the bush, and dispense with the pleasantries. Rob Zombie’s Halloween is a terrible film. Even considering the buffoonery that plagues entries like Revenge, Curse and Resurrection, Halloween circa 2007 is a drab, mean-spirited, poorly written and devised endeavour. It’s quite something to describe this film in particular as mean spirited considering the premise of the entire franchise is predicated on masked loon going on a killing spree to ultimately stab his sister and/or niece/nephew to death, but here we are nevertheless.

The problem partly stems from Zombie’s propensity to write characters that are constantly behaving like worst variety of uncultivated slobs. There is a way to accomplish that that can make a filthy character interesting even though they won’t earn the audience’s full sympathy, but Zombie constantly opts to go the whole nine yards with how foul-mouthed and morally decrepit his subjects can be. The early scenes at the Myers home and at school are borderline unwatchable. Characters do nothing except spew the most venomous insults at one another, robbing the viewer of the opportunity to latch onto to anything. Part of the power of the original film was the shock of witnessing such a graphic murder so early through the killer’s eyes, only to discover that it was little Michael Myers. Zombie goes to great lengths to show that everyone around Michael, save his mother, is a despicable miscreant. Frankly, the viewer wants to see them suffer horrible deaths, which is exactly what happens as Michael gives in to the darkness that resides within him hinted early on. The worst part is that, during the sequence featuring Loomis’ visits to the prison, it becomes clear that Michael is insane anyways, so what was the point of having him grow up surrounded by the scum of the earth?

Oh, and it goes on and on. Everything about the Myers mythology is explained. Why he wears a mask, why he goes silent, etc. It makes one think about how often film reviews of mysteries or horror films tend to argue the same idea: the final third is often the most disappointing because the explanation as to why everything is happening or the revelation of what the monster resembles rarely lives up to what our imaginations conjured up. Going back to the ’78 original once more, so much of that film’s mystique is the mystery of Michael Myers. The more Loomis tries to make sense of things, calling Myers pure evil and such, the creepier the character is because it doesn’t really explain anything. The 2007 effort offers unnecessary and poorly told backstory in abundance.

The second half is a mundane retread of the original film. The new Laurie Strode, played by Scout Taylor-Compton, is less annoying than most of the other characters, but she isn’t as attractive, personality-wise, as what Jamie Lee Curtis was able to create with the role. Her friends are disposable bodies, which is a real shame because one of them is played by Danielle Harris. Yes, the Jamie Lloyd from Halloween 4 and 5 Danielle Harris. A good actress, provided she’s given an interesting role, which she isn’t at all here. For that matter, two other actors one feels sorry for are Malcolm McDowell and Brad Dourif, the latter who plays the town sheriff. Again, fine actors that know how to put in strong performances. If only the rest of the film was as competent as they are.

After a yawn-inducing climax, during which Loomis is seriously wounded, Laurie gets the better of Michael, shoots him point blank with a pistol, and scream hellishly into the night.

Halloween II (2009)

While the review for Halloween disappointed, it nevertheless earned a handsome bounty at the box office. Working off a modest budget of $15 million, the 2007 film tallied over $80 million in ticket sales. Malek Akkad, encouraged by such box office receipts, was keen on producing a sequel. When Zombie expressed fatigue after the efforts it took to get the first one of the ground, Akkad briefly flirted with the idea of hiring French directing duo Julien Maury and Alexandre Bustillo, who were coming off Inside. Akkad was unsatisfied with their take on where the story could go, and then relief came when Zombie finally agreed to work on the project as writer and director once again.

Halloween II plays a bit of trick or treat on the audience for the opening sequence. Laurie (Taylor-Compton), in total shock after apparently killing her evil pursuer, is found by sheriff (Dourif) and immediately brought to the hospital’s emergency wing. Believing her night of horrors to be over, Michael suddenly shows up (after killing even more despicable people) and wreaks havoc on the institution. Just when it looks as though Michael is about the give Laurie the axe, film cuts to the troubled girl waking up screaming from another Michael Myers nightmare. 2 years have elapsed since the eventful Halloween night, but Laurie still suffers severe psychological damage. Now living with her friend Annie (Harris), who survived the events too, and the latter’s father, sheriff Bracket (Dourif), Laurie’s life is spiralling out of control. Medication, visits to a psychiatrist, nothing is helping her cope with her nightmares. Michael (Tyler Mane), still alive, is also going through a bit of a psychological spell, as visions of the mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) as a ghostly white specter accompanied by a beautiful horse compel him to continue his murderous escapades until he reunites with his sister Laurie.

Thankfully, mercifully, Halloween II is a superior film to its predecessor. That being said, the first film is a hot mess, so doing any worse than that would have actually been impressive. It isn’t all roses, mind you. Many of the same problems that plagued the first film rear their ugly heads again, but one should expect that given the same writer-director is pulling the strings. The dialogue is unbearably foul to the point where the words ‘f*ck’ and ‘b*tch’ lose their desired effect. There is also the matter of ridiculously vile people showing up regularly, ultimately serving as no more than fodder for Michael Myers’ brutality.

Another head-scratching criticism is the development of Dr. Sam Loomis. In II, he has become a fame hungry, pompous book writer who has capitalized on surviving the experience of two years ago, making a fortune and becoming a celebrity in the process. While McDowell is undoubtedly doing what is asked of him, it’s just very hard to believe how the Loomis of the first film turned into the Loomis of the second film. They feel like radically different characters.

Despite that, Halloween II feels like it has some challenging ideas to explore. Having the sequel show the emotional and psychological toil on Laurie is an interesting decision. Again, the dialogue is often terrible, but Taylor-Compton gives it her all in trying to convey a brutally damaged young woman trying to come to terms with the horrors of two years ago…then trying to come to terms with the fact that she’s the monster’s baby sister. The Michael Myers angle is equally engaging and, to be honest, unexpected. Some may cry foul at the depiction of Michael’s bizarre psychological state in the sequel, but at the very least Rob Zombie is trying something different, and in his defense, from a visual standpoint at least, it works. The scenes of him hallucinating about his mother, and sometimes the younger version of himself, feature excellent costumes and set designs. For the first time since taking over the franchise, Zombie is showing signs that he can actually stitch together visually arresting cinema. There are certainly rough patches, but Halloween II is palatable, which is far more than can be said about the 2007 venture.

Ultimately, in a massive standoff between the Haddonfield police and Michael Myers, who has taken Laurie as his captive, the killer is finally gunned down, riddled with bullets. However, as suggested throughout the picture, the connection between Michael and Laurie is strong, and she is about to give in to the madness that plagues the Myers children…

 


The final cut

Halloween is a horror franchise for ages. No serious conversation about cinematic serial killers can overlook the mention of Michael Myers, or any evaluation of horror film protagonists that can omit Laurie Strode or Dr. Sam Loomis. Their place in cinema history is set in stone, and for good reason. Were they not as interesting as they are, the people would have stopped going to see these movies long ago. More to the point, we wouldn’t be looking ahead to another Halloween film. Writers David Gordon Green and Danny McBride are handling script duties, with Green also directing. In a recent announcement that has the fanbase buzzing, Jamie Lee Curtis is set to return as Laurie Strode. It would appear as though the film is to be a direct sequel to the 1978 film exclusively, thus explaining how Laurie could feature.

It seems as though there is no way to kill evil, but when evil is this much fun, one doesn’t mind revisiting the night HE came home.

Happy Halloween and Happy Halloween!

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