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Saturday, October 29, 2011

Franchise of Fear: The Halloween Series Part 3


"I've never liked horror films. Yeah, I know I did lots of them, but back then, they were nothing more than a job to me. I mean, making those films was a good experience for me, but bottom line, I don't like fear. Never have, never will."--Jamie Lee Curtis on horror, Fangoria #177

After the success of the nauseatingly "hip" SCREAM (1996) and the lobotomized I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER (1997), it was decided to weave some of that New Wave flair into the HALLOWEEN franchise in an effort to revitalize the series and return it to its former glory. Carpenter's iconic personification of evil incarnate had become the clown prince of horror for the previous ten years and it was time to make him scary again. John Carpenter was originally on board to direct an all new HALLOWEEN movie that promised to return to the style of the original. Carpenter's interest in returning to the series he started delighted the likewise returning Jamie Lee Curtis. Sadly, Carpenter wanted an outlandish sum of money to direct and considering his track record at the time, his asking price was brazen to say the least. Also on board was Nancy Stephens (who happens to be married to HALLOWEEN 2 and RESURRECTION helmer, Rick Rosenthal) returning as Nurse Marion and also a brief intro to the tune of The Chordette's vintage favorite, 'Mr. Sandman', a song that was famously inserted into the opening and end credits of HALLOWEEN 2 (1981). Thankfully to the fans of the series, Myers had returned to "turn on his magic gleam" and put people to sleep permanently.

Fangoria #177

Steve Miner, director of FRIDAY THE 13TH 2 (1981) and 3 (1982) came on board and succeeded in erasing the blotches that were HALLOWEEN's 5 and 6 and the decent, honorably intentioned HALLOWEEN 4. Picking up where HALLOWEEN 2 (1981) left off, Laurie Strode is an alcoholic living in fear that her maniacal brother will one day find her and complete his lifelong ambition. After killing Nurse Marion (the returning character from both HALLOWEEN 1 and 2 and played by the original actress, Nancy Stephens), and making off with a file on Strode, Myers tracks her down in California living under a different name after having faked her death. Typical slasher tropes ensue, but Miner manages to instill many of the same ones that were famously seen in Carpenter's original and the first sequel and they work nicely. The fact that Curtis is back on board helps tremendously. Jamie Lee's mother, Janet Leigh, has a cameo here and is part of an ingenious in-joke involving Janet and the car she was buried in from PSYCHO (1960).

Loomis is missed, of course, and it was originally proposed to bring the character back, but the makers found another way of incorporating a cameo by Pleasence to at least satisfy the fan base without a total recast of the Loomis persona. Also, a side story involving a cop on the trail of The Shape (to have been played by Charles Dutton) was discarded to focus more attention on the Strode angle. Chris Durand played the role of The Shape and does okay, even though in some scenes, he seems far too short, almost child-like. Yet there are several scenes where he's an effective approximation of Nick Castle's mannerisms from the very first film. Several masks were used and were reportedly modifications of the fabled Shatner mask. Unfortunately, whether from the lighting, or camera angles, differences from one mask to another are noticeable from time to time. The confrontation between Myers and Strode is a satisfying square off and in the final shot, definitely brings a finality to the series. But when the box office receipts began pouring in, it wasn't long before Moustapha Akkad was looking for a way to bring his cash cow back for another round.

"I suppose we do run the risk of pissing our fans off. But we justify making more HALLOWEEN's by believing that there is still more fun to be had with them..."--Malek Akkad, co-producer

Fangoria #215: above, insert and Busta, Tyra and Rick Rosenthal insert below

Essentially the same movie all over again, HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION (2002) was yet another reunion of sorts. Jamie Lee Curtis returned as did Rick Rosenthal, the director who guided her through a dimly lit hospital in HALLOWEEN 2 (1981). Contractually obligated for a 30 second cameo, Curtis liked the script so much she insisted her part get expanded to such a degree, that it officially brings closure to her character arc. Considering that Myers was able to come back after a clean shave of his head during the closing moments of H20 (1998), the idea of a dead Laurie Strode being "resurrected" isn't beyond the realm of possibility even if it foregoes plausibility. Her opening sequence is one of the best in this much maligned movie and fan hatred towards this entry is perplexing in light of just how ridiculous the series had gotten during the late 1980s.

Looking at it now, there's arguably some quasi interesting things about the production. This being the seventh sequel, it's a given that any script is predestined to reach an absolutely ridiculous level of absurdity. Still, there's some intriguing ideas here that makes this sequel tolerable and the "best" of the series post H20 (1998). The use of the internet and the concept of Myers killing this new breed of annoying youngster via a "reality show" is in keeping with current popular trends. "Reality Shows"--as fake as they are--have become the new Millennium's version of pro wrestling; and just as many people believe them to be real as used to believe that everything on wrestling was 100% real. The fascinating thing about this films reality angle is that it ultimately proves fatally realistic, more so than the participants or those financing the venture had anticipated.

The idiocy of HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION comes from the fact that the well has pretty much run dry in terms of what to do with this character. You could always send Myers into space, but Jason and Pinhead have already been to that Final Frontier. So how do you bring a decapitated serial killer back for another sequel? Myers had his HEAD CHOPPED OFF for crying out loud! His means of coming "back to life" so to speak was that he crushes the larynx of a paramedic and places the mask atop his noggin. If this were to be taken at face value, it doesn't explain just why in the hell the paramedic--now the "The Shape"--attacks Laurie Strode in the ambulance and didn't just remove the damn mask to avoid losing his head over nothing. Also, in RESURRECTION, why does Laurie "need to be sure" and remove Michael's mask once she has him helpless? If he had pulled the ole' switcheroo on her again, why would yet another faux Michael be trying to kill her? The film coasts on some cool ideas and some good 'boo' moments, but seriously fumbles all over itself with characters making questionable decisions that make AMERICA'S DUMBEST CRIMINALS look like Nobel Prize winners by comparison.

If being consumed by a desperate script and woefully stupefying dialog weren't enough, the film reaches all new heights of ludicrousness with a half baked, yet mercifully brief kung fu battle between Myers and rapper Busta Rhymes. Originally, Rhymes had less screen time and was to lose a limb at some point during the movie. Astonishingly enough, despite the film receiving scathing remarks from fans regarding the finale, test screenings demanded more of Rhymes and that his character survive. Reshoots were commissioned which resulted in the overly silly conclusion with Rhymes Bust-ing out one liners that haven't worked since Roy Schieder told Bruce the Shark to "say cheese" before blowing him sky high in JAWS (1975). Brad Loree donned the iconic mask this time out and does a fine, if undistinguished interpretation. The mask is really good, though, and highly reminiscent of the one seen in the first two movies.

"When it came to me, my thought was that I would never see a HALLOWEEN 9, let alone make one...I started to envision this whole different movie, and I felt like there was a way to keep what I loved about HALLOWEEN, yet make it totally, totally distinct."--Rob Zombie, Fangoria 266

RESURRECTION was profitable, but it had become glaringly apparent that if any more sequels were going to be made, something drastic was in order. With dollars and no common cents dancing in their heads, the producers decided to continue the series, but instead of carrying on where the eighth film left off, the remake route would be taken. Hard rocker Rob Zombie, having helmed the atrocious HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES (2002) and its marginally better sequel THE DEVIL'S REJECTS (2003) was given the opportunity to remake one of the most beloved horror classics of all time, or as he more "aptly" put it, HALLOWEEN found HIM. The news of the Z man remaking one of the treasures among the holy grail of horror caused overwhelming controversy and a good degree of curiosity.

"How many horror fans keep saying they were Donald Pleasence fans before HALLOWEEN? Like, did they ever even hear of Donald Pleasence before HALLOWEEN?"--Rob Zombie, Rue Morgue 70

Unlike the remakes of TEXAS CHAINSAW and DAWN OF THE DEAD, the do over of HALLOWEEN caused an extraordinary amount of backlash towards what the finished product was going to look like. This was especially alarming since Zombie favored trailer trash caricatures, carnival barkers, bizarre, excessive usage of expletives and infantile dialog exchanges. Zombie showed--whether intentional or not--a good deal of contempt for his audience even "going to war" with the fans as the film was being made. Apparently the producers were dissatisfied with the resultant mess as a massive amount of last minute reshoots were ordered which were painfully noticeable in the finished product. Despite making a ton of money, Zombie's rendition of Carpenter's classic turned out to be little more than a third chapter/prequel to his Firefly Clan double header. What made Michael Myers frightening was NOT KNOWING WHY HE WAS EVIL. It wasn't necessary to see (in RZ's universe, anyways) that he came from a redneck upbringing.

After eight sequels and now a disastrous remake, there was really nowhere else for this series to go but down the toilet. Zombie proceeded to flush the franchise down the porcelain bus with a sequel to his remake--the latter of which he once stated he would never do and the former he was adamantly against doing as well! In keeping with the bathroom analogy, if HALLOWEEN '07 were toilet paper I wouldn't wipe my ass with it. HALLOWEEN 2 (2009), despite being marginally better than the previous film, was like a cry of desperation to end it all. One could only hope Donald Pleasence would emerge from somewhere and shoot this movie "six times". Outside of some brooding cinematography, the sequel is almost a bigger mess than Zombie's first stab at the material. In interviews, Zombie took pot shots at the alleged lapses in logic present in Carpenter's film, yet his two movies are a veritable carnival sideshow of monumental missteps and nonsensical dialog that makes one wonder if they're not watching an old Italian horror movie badly dubbed into English.

"I guarantee you that in 20 years, they'll be remaking HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES...studios run out of stuff, they get scared and they want something recognizable."--Rob Zombie

The tone is suitably savage for the sequel, but the Z man's version of The Shape is a too tall bag man with ZZ Top facial hair who looks for all the world like he only wants to find the nearest cardboard box to crawl into but annoying characters and a weird white horse led by Sherri Moon Zombie won't let him. The thought of Michael showing both emotions and his face wildly contradicts what the character has represented from the very beginning. Similar shenanigans caused fan indifference towards the equally sewage soaked HALLOWEEN 5 (1989). For Zombie's sequel, Myers goes long stretches without the mask at all and even speaks during the conclusion! Also, Zombie seemingly took some of these controversial ideas (like the homeless Shape intended for HALLOWEEN 6) and utilized them for his own "script". After all the behind the scenes battles for HALLOWEEN '09 and the films disastrous showing at the box office, Zombie has seemingly moved on to turn other classic films into the modern day equivalent of something David F. Friedman might produce, but without any of the charming lack of class of those 60s and 70s excursions.

Personally, I feel that Zombie's maiden trick'er treater was most likely successful because so many fans and casual moviegoers were curious as to what the man would do with the property. I paid to see it mainly to see how different the theatrical version was from the painfully inept version that was "leaked" online. By the time the sequel rolled around, it was a safe bet it was more of the same only with even more creative uses of the 'F' word, dialog not worthy of a middle school play, redneckism, carnivalism, continuity, editing and logical missteps that make the film appear Michael Myers used his butcher knife on the negative. Towering Tyler Mane played Zombie's lumbering po' boy Michael Myers in a fashion not too far removed from Kane Hodder's revisionist Jason Voorhees. But Zombie's two seasonal slayathons are so similar to his other mass murderer mayhem'ers, this alternate take on the Michael Myers mythos is the "bastard child" (or children) of the long running series standing out far worse than the more wilder plotted entries. The mask used for both (when the character is actually wearing it) isn't so bad although the sight of a small boy wearing it when it's far too big for his head brings about chuckles instead of chills.

Famous behind the scenes photo included inside the HALLOWEEN soundtrack CD jacket. Incidentally, Laurie gives Michael a goodbye kiss during her final moments near the beginning of HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION (2002).

Unfortunately, a third(?) film is threatened (or should it be the eleventh?) purported to be in 3D. As it stands, the HALLOWEEN franchise has had a single instance of artistic brilliance, one worthy sequel, a daring and different stand alone feature followed by a steady decline into mediocrity. HALLOWEEN is but one franchise wherein the producers only hear the sound of money going into the cash register as opposed to using those millions for an original work; or giving it to some charity like the 'Stop At 1' fund, an organization that seeks to stop excessive sequelitis and those movie producers who suffer from it.


Unknown said...

Great stuff as always. A very thorough breakdown of the franchise. It's also a great example of how something that was initially a great idea can be rendered limp by sequels and remakes. The original Halloween is still one of the few truly scary slasher films ever made. Rob Zombie's remake is like a really bad adaptation of a really bad horror comic.

venoms5 said...

Thanks a million, Scott. Your remarks mean a lot! I totally agree about the original being scary after all these years. It's one of the relatively few horror flicks that give me the creeps when I see it.

The Z man's faux HALLOWEEN movies are made all the more craptastic by all the veritable mudslinging towards the original and the fans that he did during their production. Whether he realized it or not, he was doing the very same thing so many "hip" directors of today do when they're attempting to recreate the magic of an original product by "going it one better". The Donald Pleasence comment was really out of line, in my opinion. Carpenter's original has endured for decades. I doubt Robbie's version will achieve the same level of notoriety and fame. I do see room for it in 'The big Book of Horror' as a footnote, though.

George Beremov [Nebular] said...

Hey, where did my comment go? :(

venoms5 said...

You posted in the wrong post, lol. You posted in the Assorted Bits & Pieces post about the collaborative supernatural post over at The Film Connoisseur. :D

George Beremov [Nebular] said...

Wow, that's a massive and very cool Halloween post. Great job!:)

I'm not the biggest Halloween fan, as I think the original movie is already too dated for today's standards, but it remains a classic nevertheless.

I didn't hate Rob Zombie's remakes. The first one was particularly entertaining.

P.S. Comment mistake fixed. ;)

Maynard Morrissey said...

Awesome, 3 of the best and most interesting posts I've ever seen on your blog. Fabulous work Brian!

Great reviews for H20 and Res.
H20 is IMO the most satisfying entries in the Halloween-franchise. It was great to have Curtis back, Michael looked just awesome and the whole movie was thrilling from beginning to end.

Resurrection was disappointing but at least somewhat ok. The opening scene was mindblowing, the whole internet concept was pretty fascinating and I also loved the climax. Sadly, the whole thing was pretty boring (due to a stupid script) and the acting sucked.

Rob's quasi-remake could have worked if it would have been a pure prequel, maybe with a simple title like "Michael" or so.
I did like the first half but I hated the 2nd.

The sequel... no comment. Rubbish from the first to the last minute.

venoms5 said...

Thanks, Harry. This was actually an idea for a new column I was going to do about a year ago that basically goes through a series and takes a look at how it changed from one film to the next. I figured it was time to push ahead with it and Halloween was as good a time as any and that series was perfect for the first one.

I would be really happy if Rob Zombie never made another movie again and just kept with his music. I am curious how he is going to handle the film he's currently working on, though.

Kaijinu said...

this is the smartest and most informative post I'd seen in years. Being a slasher fan, I have to say that you've done well on this franchise.

venoms5 said...

Wow, thanks so much, Kaijinu! It's much appreciated and I'm touched you enjoyed reading it all!

By the way, is all that artwork your own at your site? Quite well done! I take it you are a huge anime fan?

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