Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998)

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When you’re 7 films deep in a series, and know the bad guy is only dying if they stop making money, your mind has a tendency to wander. Just what was Michael doing for the last 20 years? Did he a have a job? That mask looks remarkably fresh considering every Halloween mask I ever bought fell to pieces after a day. Did he buy a stock of blue overalls?

Despite it being only 3 years since the last instalment, it feels like a heck of a lot more. “Scream” and “Scream 2” had been released in the meantime, and despite H20 pretty much ignoring their skewering of horror film rules – yes, someone dies after saying “I’ll be right back”, and the teenagers who have sex are goners – it feels a couple of decades more modern than “The Curse Of Michael Myers”. Also, the teen film was big business again, so this movie has a virtual A-list cast, including Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe in her first role, Michelle Williams and Josh Hartnett.

“Halloween H20” also follows the tradition of horror franchises which ignore previous movies in the series. In this universe, Halloween 4, 5 and 6 never happened, and Laurie Strode never had a daughter. She faked her own death in order to get away from Michael, then rather implausibly managed to get a job as the headmistress of an exclusive private school in California, having a son in the process who by 1998 is Josh Hartnett. Did they not do a background check? Michael, after…I don’t know, being a roadie for a metal band for 20 years?…decides that his sister is alive and pops back to Illinois to murder Dr. Loomis’ nurse on the off chance she has some information about Laurie. Joseph Gordon Levitt, as a local skateboard kid, doesn’t even make it as far as the opening credits.

Let’s get all the sad Pleasence information out of the way. He died in 1995, so his sole involvement in this is as a photograph and a map, showing all the different places he went looking for Michael – they do reuse one of his speeches from the first movie, but for reasons unknown get another actor to speak the lines. Given the last time we saw Michael in this universe was when the two of them got blown up at the end of part 2, and the camera lingered over his burning corpse while the credits played, both he and Loomis recovered remarkably well.

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So, private school, most of the students and faculty are off on a camping trip, leaving four sexy teens, Curtis, her boyfriend Adam Arkin the guidance counsellor, and LL Cool J the security guard. He’s my favourite character, with his quirk being he’s a wannabe erotic fiction writer, spending most of his onscreen time reading his stories out to his wife. Ten years later and he could have been the next EL James! Michael makes his way from Illinois to California remarkably quickly (he’d need to drive the speed limit the entire way and never stop if he wanted to make it in under two days), uses some stealth-ninja powers to get into the school, and we’re on for some carnage.

This is by a comfortable distance the best of the series since the first one (although I do love how bonkers part 4 is). The cast is great, it’s had plenty of money spent on it and Jamie Lee Curtis is still the ultimate Final Girl, even if she’s no longer a girl. The fact it’s slickly made does tend to hide some of the problems it has, though. Michael doesn’t kill anyone between the opening credits and almost an hour into the movie, and that section – while not terrible – is a heck of a lot of setup for not a lot of payoff (the bodycount is at Halloween 1 levels). It feels like they were almost going to go a different way before bringing Michael back again, and I’d lay money on Adam Arkin being the killer in an early draft of the script, because Curtis mistakes him for Michael three times in the course of the movie – once I’ll buy as a red herring, but three times and you’re in different territory.

There’s plenty of that “people being dumb to ensure Michael has someone to kill” stuff going on, but that’s par for the course for slasher movies. It would have been nice to have someone ponder why he’s effectively indestructible, but the film just ignores all that stuff and expects you to know who everyone is and what they can do. Not a terrible idea, I suppose. The music is generic thriller-music, all soaring strings, and the only showing for the classic Halloween theme is as the credits roll – if you’re going to do a Halloween, have some decent music please.

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It shows its post-Scream creation by being thick with references to other horror films – before the opening credits, there are little nods to “Friday The 13th” and “Hellraiser”; producer Kevin Williamson had a hand in “Scream”; and director Steve Miner is a horror stalwart, getting his start on the original “Last House On The Left” and directing a few of the Friday 13th sequels. Janet Leigh, as the school secretary, drives the exact same make and model of car, with the same number plate, she was driving in “Psycho”.

All in all, it’s well done and fun to watch. Not perfect, but you’ll have a good time with it.

Rating: thumbs up

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Grave Halloween (2013)

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We take a break from our coverage of the “Halloween” series to return briefly to our first love, the SyFy Channel original movie. Well, “original” is pushing it a bit. Link this film has to the “halloween” in its title – zero.

Maiko is a student at an international university in Japan. She’s been living in California with her adoptive family since she was 4, but is the daughter of a Japanese woman (father never mentioned) who committed suicide at some unspecified point in the past. She gets a box containing some of her mum’s things in the post and decides to go to the forest where her mother, and so many others, have committed suicide, to find her body and perform a ritual to send her spirit to the other side. Accompanying her are some of her friends, who are filming a documentary about her for their class.

So the film is a “people wander round the woods” classic, but at least this one has an interesting look to it. The story of what happened to Maiko’s birth family is not so much gradually revealed as dropped on us ten minutes before the end, and her friends plus three douchebags who follow them there to play practical jokes on them provide the cannon fodder.

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The “making a documentary” line should trigger a warning – yes, this film stands in the tradition of “The Blair Witch Project”. But it’s sort of a half-assed version, as it’s not a found footage film and it just appears they wanted an easy and cheap exposition dump. Mix in the ghosts of “The Ring” and you’ve got yourself a movie.

It’s not so much that this film is rotten, but that I can’t figure it out. Maiko (who does not look Japanese at all) says at one point “I have to do the ceremony tonight or her soul will be trapped forever” – when did they tell us this? She received a box of her mum’s effects, but who from? They weren’t taken from her body, because that’s never been found. Although events later in the film indicate that it has. It’s repeated that you’re not supposed to take things from the dead, and someone gets punished for this – okay, so far so good. But then people who just happened to be near the asshole who took a dead person’s things are targeted for death, too. Isn’t a documentary about finding an actual dead body going to get them into legal difficulties? Why was the “guide” they found in the forest helping who he was helping? (no spoilers)

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The only people I liked in this film were the three douchebags, who looked like they were having fun with their limited time onscreen. Everyone else is either terrible (the Western actors) or confusingly used (the Japanese ones). Kaitlyn Leeb (Maiko) is as charisma-free a leading actress as I’ve seen in quite a while, sadly. The whole film is a mess of half-thought-out ideas and plot threads that seem to emerge from nowhere, or go nowhere, or both. A good looking film in need of better actors and writers.

Rating: thumbs down

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

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“Both of them nearly burned to death”.

I want you to keep that line in mind when you watch the ending of “Halloween 2”. The room that Michael Myers and Dr Loomis are in EXPLODES. Loomis never leaves, and the last we see of Michael is him staggering out of the room, on fire, then collapsing, and the end credits playing over a shot of his burning corpse.

But that’s not all. The first ten minutes of this film is when it – and the series – stops attempting the remotest link to reality and just becomes a consequence-free slash-fest. For no reason whatsoever, Michael Myers, still alive, is due to be transferred from the hospital basement he’s been left in for the last ten years, and of course the only time they can possibly do it is the rainy night of the 30th of October. Oh, and Dr Loomis is still his doctor, for even less reason – he’s already shot him twice. When Myers, travelling in the ambulance, sticks his thumb through the skull of one of the paramedics, all bets are off! I can sense you asking questions, but don’t. Relax and enjoy.

The film, amazingly, isn’t done piling on the “boy, we ought to have hired a better scriptwriter or director for this” fun. Jamie Lee Curtis had the good sense to not come back for part 4, so her character Laurie Strode apparently died at some point in the last ten years. Before she did, she had the time to get married and have a kid, called Jamie, who looks 10 years old or so by the time of this one (so it must have happened pretty quickly after the trauma of having her brother kill dozens of people trying to get to her). But we’re still not done! All Laurie’s family are dead, so the poor kid is put into foster care. The only town they could possibly find with a willing foster family? Haddonfield, the site of the mass murders committed by her Uncle!

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Michael luckily finds a mechanic to kill and steal some overalls from, so he can keep the same look he had in the first two films; also luckily, those white William Shatner masks are now big business thanks to his exploits a decade ago, so he grabs another one. Loomis, his only visible injury being a bit of a scar on his cheek, pursues Michael back to Haddonfield, and it’s on for another Halloween night of slaughter.

Even if you can accept all this, the film has a bit more for you! For some completely unknown reason, the two paramedics mention in Michael’s presence that he has a niece, and they know where she lives, which activates his family-killing superpowers. Also, would you know where the power station that supplied your town was? It’s not the sort of thing that gets advertised, but Michael finds it immediately and blows it up, which combined with long-distance phone lines being down, isolates Haddonfield from the rest of the world. What a mastermind Myers is!

Of course, we need some teenagers to be cannon fodder, and this film has Rachel, Jamie’s much older foster-sister. She does normal teenager stuff, but her treatment is so appallingly sexist that it’s like they’re going for some sort of “Anti-Feminism In Cinema” Award. During a car ride near the beginning, she and her friend (supposedly the same character that Laurie baby-sat in part 1, fact fans) are discussing boys, and they end with “don’t be too pushy, boys don’t like that”. At the end, Rachel’s almost-boyfriend has slept with another woman, and she tells Rachel that if she doesn’t understand what boys really want, he won’t be the last boyfriend she loses to a girl like her. Wow! The film gives zero indication that these statements are wrong, and it’s not like either of them really play into the plot at all, so it feels like someone with a very skewed perspective on relationships crowbarred these parts in.

Amazingly, after all this, the film itself is rather good. If you take the first ten minutes as a “well, the producers want a film, here’s the least stupid way we can resurrect the killer and his only antagonist who’s prepared to come back” and the ending as “holy crap did we have to go that dark?”, then the film itself is a tight and decent enough thriller. If you ignore the rotten sexual politics, then Rachel is a smart and resourceful heroine who behaves in ways you don’t normally get from slasher ladies, and apart from a weird 20 minute lull (where the only two cops left in town lock themselves in a house and wait for Myers to show up) it keeps up the pace, and Pleasence is always good to watch.

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Myers gets his first kill which I’d call “playful” (well, my wife coined the phrase) where he pretends to be the cop sat in the dark who he just killed. It’s way out of place for the implacable force of evil which the film wishes it had the brains to portray him as, but it’s quite good fun. The kids at Jamie’s school are legitimately horrible like kids actually are in real life, but sadly Myers doesn’t kill any of them.

So, streets ahead of part 3, and more fun to watch than part 2. We’ve got some fun ahead of us, ISCFC readers. There’s a couple more films left in the “original” run, then there’s part 7 which retcons parts 4-6 out of existence and a part 8 with Busta Rhymes in it. YES! Then there’s fan films and two Rob Zombie reboot films…we’ll still be reviewing Halloween movies next October 31st.

Rating: thumbs up

PS. Perhaps an example of how lazy these sequels had gotten is the fetishisation of hiding Michael’s face. He’s got full-face bandages the only time we see him without his mask on, and a later film in the series made a point in its advertising of “Michael Myers unmasked!” This ignored the fact that in part 1 – the only really good one, the horror classic that everyone will remember long after the sequels are dust – you see his face, clearly. It’s just not important, until you become desperate to make a few more dollars any way you can.

Halloween 3: Season Of The Witch (1982)

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This is a strange film with a great story behind it. John Carpenter and Debra Hill, writer / producers were quite bored by the Halloween series by this point, and decided that rather than resurrect Michael Myers again, they’d turn the Halloween films into an anthology series. So, every year you’d get a different scary movie based around some Halloween myth or legend, and hopefully things would tick over nicely for many years. That this is the only one, and Halloween 4 was right back with good old indestructible MM, will tell you all you need to know about how successful their plan was. But the question we’re going to answer is – was the failure of Halloween 3 to do with it deviating from the slasher template, or to do with it being a terrible movie?

Before we even swing a bat for the first time, the title gives us two hefty mistakes. If you’re going to turn this into an anthology, don’t number it as if it’s a sequel to the last one; and if you’re going to call it “Season of the Witch”, PUT SOME DAMN WITCHES IN IT

You’ve almost certainly heard of the plot, if you’re reading this site. The Silver Shamrock Novelty company has made a bunch of masks, each of which imbued with a tiny fragment of Stonehenge. When a certain advert is played on TV, the masks activate then a bunch of worms and bugs devour the face of the person wearing the mask, then the person gets replaced with a robot, I think, as the villain also has a robot factory. One might ask “why does a toy manufacturer want to turn all the kids in the world into robots?” but you would not receive an answer from the film itself. How does a company which makes three rubbish looking masks have such an extraordinary market penetration? No, down that path is madness.

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There’s a bereaved woman, a local cop, and a town which seems under the thrall of the toy company, and they, in true “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” style, try to save the day. The sad thing is, I’d agree with the tone of the film. It’s got a strong anti-corporate message, which becomes more prescient with every passing year, when toys and worthless junk for the next big holiday appear on supermarket shelves earlier and earlier. But the good thing about being a progressive, a leftie, call it what you will, is that I don’t have to like things just because they agree with the way I see the world.

This film was originally written by Nigel Kneale, the British writer who gave us “Quatermass”, one of the all-time great speculative fiction series. Unfortunately, when the studio and director had finished with his script, what might have been a genuinely fascinating story was turned into a boring, stupid film with a ridiculous plot, some of the cheesiest scenes I can think of (the guided tour of the evil factory, for one) and one of those awful nihilistic endings that comes into fashion every now and again.

Is there anyone who thinks this is bad, or badly reviewed, because of the lack of Michael Myers? Get ready for my reviews of the later films in the series if you think that’s the case. This is a curious film, because it seems to have got something of a following in these internet-filled times. Every now and again, two or three people who love this film will find each other and create a loud piercing noise that drowns out all the sensible people who say “yes, this film is absolutely terrible”, and a passerby, like me for example the first time I watched this film, will think “perhaps it’s not that bad” and give it a try. Please do not be one of those people. Because it started drifting into “worst films of all time” lists in the 90s and 00s, some people just got desperate to the one who rediscovered it, I guess.

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It’s probably not the worst film ever made, but it’s really pretty terrible. It’s either sleazy (the cop’s relationship with the leading lady, for one), stupid or boring, or a combination of the three.

Rating: thumbs down