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Halloween II (1981)

Halloween IIThere has been one conspicuous omission from my reviews of the Halloween franchise, and it is this first sequel.  The reason for this is, one, I have never really written a full review of it before, and secondly, I’ve never really cared for it at all.  This stems from the fact that it has very little to offer me as either a fan of John Carpenter’s original or as a big slasher movie fan.  Simply said, so much of it just doesn’t appeal to me.  From the reworked score to the bland hospital environment to the clear shift from atmospheric horror to a reliance on gore, this isn’t the Halloween sequel that I want to see.  Even the ones that are technically worse films, they have an entertainment value that I can indulge in on some level.  There are many reasons why this film doesn’t even give me that much.

Picking up exactly where the first film left off, it seems the inhuman Michael Myers is still very much alive and out for more revenge as he stalks the deserted halls of the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital for Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). As he gets closer to his main target, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) discovers the chilling mystery behind the crazed psychopath’s actions

It might sound somewhat unfair, but the vast majority of my gripes with this film are in comparison to John Carpenter’s original.  However, with the fact that this film picks up exactly where the first left off, it demands that comparison because it is trying to convince us that this is a seamless continuation of that movie.  The problem is that it doesn’t feel seamless in many aspects, and they are largely on the technical side.  Still, there are issues with the quality of the script, and just the effectiveness of Halloween II as a horror movie that I wish to address.

To be straight up honest, I do not like the score for this movie at all.  Yes, they are the same themes with John Carpenter and Alan Howarth doing the score, but the overly saturated synthesizer sound has never been to my liking.  It doesn’t sound like a horror movie score to me.  It sounds silly and over bloated.  The first film’s score felt far more subtle and artistically applied.  To me, the score for Halloween II just evokes no sense of tension, suspense, or chilling atmosphere for me.  There are many instances where a strategic use of score could have been utilized to craft great suspense and nerve-racking tension, but instead, it’s dead silent.  This score relies more heavily on the musical stingers, and feels poorly implemented overall.  Carpenter’s scores usually craft a brilliant soundscape for a unique auditory experience, but there seems to be a significant lack of score in the moments where it should flourish.

Now, this is a very well shot movie, done so again by acclaimed director of photography Dean Cundey.  It has some very good lighting schemes in certain scenes, and the continued use of the Pana-glide camera work is excellent.  Director Rick Rosenthal does make an effort to emulate John Carpenter’s visual style, but I have always felt that the color palette of Halloween II was never quite right when compared to the first film.  The hospital interiors feature a terribly bland color scheme, as most hospitals do, and because of this, it doesn’t have any of the visual pop of the first movie.  There are no daytime scenes to soak in that late autumn feeling as this is all set at night, and really, it feels like it could be any night of the year.  The film also lacks the atmospheric blue tones that Cundey used in the original as well as several other films he’s shot.  Also, when I look at this film in certain instances, the lighting just doesn’t look quite right.  The feeling, the mood, the balance of light and dark, at times, doesn’t feel consistent with the first film.  This is especially evident when new footage is spliced into the revisited footage from the ending of Halloween.  It’s not even knowing that it is new footage married with old footage.  Back to the Future, Part II did this sort of thing seamlessly, and was also shot by Dean Cundey.  These issues, I think, also stem from the fact that the first movie was a late 1970’s independently produced film while this is an early 1980’s studio produced sequel.  It is inevitably going to have a slightly different visual feel due to extra money, studio mandates, a shift in filmmaking aesthetics, and a change of directors.

Even then, Rick Rosenthal’s film was tampered with by the studio and Carpenter as they felt it was too tame in comparison to other recent slasher films.  While I can see the clear evidence of that since there is a definite lack of suspense, although much of that is, again, due to the absence of a score in key scenes, this is a sequel that didn’t stay true to its predecessor.  Yes, of course, this is a slasher film that is going to follow many of the tropes of the genre which were originated in Halloween.  However, this sequel feels like it’s trying to fit in with the Friday The 13th style slasher film craze instead of staying true to the Halloween style slasher.  The genre exploded after the success of Friday The 13th, and it became very indulgent in gore and sexuality.  It essentially became exploitative in that regard, and this film embraced that mentality whereas Halloween was a film built entirely on suspense and atmosphere.  There is some suspense here, but it is especially sparse.  Instead of holding to what made Halloween successful and effective in the first place, Halloween II tries to conform to what was popular at the time, and thus, feels second rate to me.  Rick Rosenthal tries to match Carpenter’s style in many regards, but then, Carpenter comes in and tries to veer it away from what he originally did.  It’s certainly not a film that is one director’s vision, and even then, Rosenthal isn’t given much to work with to make this as good as the first movie.  I really didn’t get the feeling that there was enough creative effort put into this film to make it succeed in the creative vein.

One of the bigger problems here is that Halloween II feels scattered.  The first film had a distinct plot progression as elements gradually converged with one another in a tight, cohesive way.  This sequel is extremely loose in that regard.  Laurie is essentially a stationary target throughout the movie, spending a good chunk of it asleep or screaming, but Michael Myers roams about the hospital killing everyone else while Loomis is out scouring the streets for Michael.  No longer is Loomis in sync with his prey anticipating his psychology and instinctual impulses.  He’s tagging along with the police instead of driving the narrative forward.  Even the majority of his dialogue feels retreaded from the first movie as he re-explains the history of himself and Michael, and his talk about evil incarnate.  It entirely feels like it is only there in case someone watching this movie never saw the first one.  Even Donald Pleasance seems a tad monotonous delivering this reworked dialogue.  While his performance is still of a high quality, there’s just nothing new for him to do here.  The film also hardly feels like it’s building any momentum.  John Carpenter reportedly had a very difficult time coming up with a story for this film while writing the script, and it really does show.  Dr. Loomis and Laurie Strode have next to nothing to do here except uncover newly conceived secrets about Michael and Laurie’s past, which amounts to nothing.  There’s no mounting tension heading into the third act, and Laurie’s chase scene earlier on is very mild and slow paced.  This film doesn’t offer a sense of escalating threat until the last few minutes before Loomis engulfs himself and Michael in an inferno.  The pacing is very monotonous because the story is very loose and lacks directional momentum.

The supporting characters here are mostly a lot of interchangeable hospital staff going about their mundane duties getting killed, and an audience likely couldn’t care less about any one of them.  They feel like standard, hollow slasher film fodder, but without even the crutch of a stereotype to make them funny or entertaining.  Carpenter’s original was smartly and greatly cast filling out very lively characters, but here, there are just so many throwaway characters with very little personality that very little care was needed to put together a memorable supporting cast.  Even Sheriff Brackett vanishes from the film after learning of his daughter’s death, and so, we get new police officers who have really nothing fresh or pertinent to contribute to the story.

And it really is a shame that Jamie Lee Curtis got hooked into doing this film.  It is an utter waste of her talents.  She spends the majority of the film either laying in a hospital bed, running away from Michael Myers, or hiding in a parked car.  This is a sequel that brings people back to simply do nothing new or challenging.  To me, it’s another sign that there was a lack of creative drive behind this.  Every character feels either generic or wasted.  Also, since Jamie Lee Curtis had since adopted a shorter hairstyle, she had to be fitted with this blatantly obvious bad wig.  This just further adds to the nagging inconsistencies between the two films.

Now, I know there are people who are fans of Dick Warlock’s Shape, but I have never liked his lethargic, robotic movements at all.  If this movie is supposed to pick up at the exact moment the first left off, there should have been a demand for consistency.  Nick Castle’s Shape moved with a relentless fluidity.  He felt like a shark hunting his prey with a fierce single-minded focus.  Warlock is so horribly stiff that I see no ferocity or cunning intellect here.  Before, Michael’s actions had a clearly evident intelligence and deliberateness behind them.  He stalked his prey with patience and purpose.  He observed them before striking.  Here, he just shows up and starts killing like a mindless machine, and to me, that’s just not interesting or intriguing at all.  Warlock is a great stuntman, but as Michael Myers, he does nothing good for me.

I can appreciate some bad slasher movies because many of them at least show that they are trying.  Their end result might not be creatively successful, but the filmmakers put forth a visible effort to make a somewhat effective horror film.  For me, Halloween II doesn’t even give me that much.  I find it to be a very dull, bland, and boring slasher movie.  It has none of the atmospheric tension or magic that John Carpenter harnessed for the first movie, and the story is very lazy even for a slasher film.  I think Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is the vastly superior sequel in every aspect.  Also, released the same year, I passionately believe that Friday The 13th, Part 2 is one of the best slasher films ever made.  I don’t hate Halloween II.  It just doesn’t do enough either way to motivate a passionate response from me.  Any other films in this franchise I don’t end up reviewing are simply because I don’t wish to subject myself to them again or even for the first time.


Dracula (1979)

Dracula.  The name is legendary in the world of horror.  There have been countless portrayals of the infamous Count throughout the decades.  In the late 1970s, a stage play was produced with a unique take on the original novel focusing more on a seductive Dracula than the gory, fearsome one.  In both the stage production and this film adaptation, the iconic role was portrayed by the excellent Frank Langella.  Directed by John Badham, this is a very interesting presentation of this story that I feel is very successful, even if the horror factor does not rival its brethren.

When a ship is wrecked off Whitby, the only survivor, Count Dracula (Frank Langella), is discovered lying on the beach by the sickly young Mina (Jan Francis), who is visiting her dear friend Lucy Seward (Kate Nelligan).  Lucy, her fiancé Johnathan Harker (Trevor Eve), and her father Dr. Seward (Donald Pleasance), who runs the local asylum, try to make the Count feel welcome to England.  The Count quickly takes the life of Mina, and proceeds to romance Lucy, with the intention of making her his greatest bride.  Soon after the death of Mina, the Sewards call her father, Dr. Van Helsing (Laurence Olivier) to come to their home.  As Lucy falls deeper under the spell of the Count, Dr. Van Helsing almost immediately comes to understand that his daughter fell prey to a vampire and discovers the culprit to be none other than the Count himself.  Dr. Van Helsing, Dr. Seward, and Johnathan Harker work together to foil the Count’s plans to take Lucy away to his native Transylvania.

I feel this really is more of a performance-driven film as the plot doesn’t captivate very much.  It’s quite standard for a adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel.  Thankfully, the cast is especially exceptional.  Frank Langella is undoubtedly the most seductive and sensual Count Dracula ever committed to film.  With every glance of his eyes, every graceful movement, every soothing, hypnotic word he speaks, it fully enraptures an audience into the Count’s spell.  Langella has been told by many fans how their wives were so greatly turned on by his performance, and the husband’s benefitted nicely from it.  The wardrobe was meticulously assembled to give him the right flowing and iconic quality, and Langella envelopes that ideal beautifully.  He has such a striking presence from his first entrance to the end.  He truly commands a scene bringing a shadowy majesty to all he does.  The performance is captivating reflecting the centuries old wisdom and power Dracula has gained, making him a dangerous and fearsome evil to combat.  The character himself is depicted as a more lonely individual who feels a sadness being isolated from the world.  Words spoken with great zeal by Bela Lugosi about the creatures of the night are turned around with a sorrowful tone by Langella.  It makes Dracula a more sympathetic figure who yearns for an eternal love to end his pain of loneliness.  He doesn’t wish to damn Lucy, he wants to be with her for all time, to love her in the darkness.

Sir Laurence Olivier is also a sympathetic figure as Abraham Van Helsing.  He inhabits the intellect of the Professor well, but since the story makes it that Mina is his daughter, there is an added depth of emotion here.  As anyone should expect from this magnificent actor, Olivier brings great theatricality and soulful breadth to this portrayal.  Despite his grief for Mina, Van Helsing has a solid strength and conviction which makes him a formidable adversary for the Count.  Olivier puts on a peculiar accent as Van Helsing which is further unique since all other actors in the role have just used their native English accent.  It’s just one more thing that helps him make this role his own.

Lucy Seward is wonderfully portrayed by Kate Nelligan.  She has an elegant, soft beauty about her that is perfect.  She brings forth a great depth of love and pain just in her eyes alone.  How Lucy is mesmerized and caught up in Dracula’s power is realized with a dynamic expression of soul and heartache.  You can feel the connection between Lucy and Dracula so deeply throughout the film, and is never anything but powerful and beautiful.

The rest of the cast is remarkably solid.  Donald Pleasance is great as Dr. Jack Seward smartly keeping up with Olivier, and never faltering in anything he does.  Trevor Eve is quite distinct as Jonathan Harker, but spends most of the film in contempt of Dracula to really breakout into showing his love for Lucy.  There are a few moments where he has the opportunity, but they don’t last long enough to be fleshed out.  While all other roles are rather small, the actors in those roles maintain the level of quality and commitment as the leads.

Now, there are moments of fearsome horror, but it’s more suspenseful than frightening.  There’s enough dramatic conflict and ghastly encounters to maintain this in the realm of horror.  When Van Helsing enters the underground cave, and is confronted by his now undead daughter, the make-up upon her is very ghoulish.  While its not played for startling scares, the suspense and emotion of the scene is strong.  It’s clear that John Badham wanted to make an elegant horror film instead of a shocking one, and I can respect that.  The atmosphere created around Dracula in certain scenes make him both enrapturing and chilling.  Ultimately, this is tragic vampire love story that has sophistication and grace in addition to its fair share of creepy imagery.  I think the ambiguous ending is rightly appropriate to the mysterious qualities of the Count.

The visual effects are very impressive, and handled by the legendary Albert Whitlock.  He’s done amazing work on numerous productions over his sixty year career, and this is no exception.  Dracula’s transformations into bats and wolves are done very artistically using some beautiful techniques which add to the elegance of the film.  It’s rarely anything noticeably elaborate, but these effects are no less impressive because of that.

The masterful John Williams did the score for Dracula, and it is grandiose and sweeping.  The main theme is both haunting and romantic, a perfect encapsulation for this story.  As always, Williams did a marvelous job creating something unique and operatic for a film that deserved a rich musical experience.

The film is brilliantly shot by veteran cinematographer Gilbert Taylor.  In his more than fifty year career, he most notably shot Dr. Strangelove, Frenzy, The Omen, and Star Wars.  Dracula is simply a gorgeous film through and through with mystifying atmosphere, alluring lighting, and artistic and competent compositions.  It masterfully showcases the amazing production designs in great breadth and detail.  Said production designs are exquisite with elaborate, theatrical scope to them, especially in Carfax Abbey.  While some are divided on the expressionistic love scene with the red laser light and all, it really didn’t elicit a generally strong emotion from me either way.  I surely advocate that it is outside of the style of the film, but one could make the case for Dracula and Lucy’s sexual encounter needing to be a heightened sensual experience.  Of course, there are other ways to do that which don’t date the film in the late 1970s.  The filmmakers actually borrowed the laser lights from the rock band The Who on a day off from their concert tour.  That aside, there’s really not a single technical that fails to impress in this film.  It truly is gorgeous.

However, I have to take issue with director John Badham’s alterations to the color timing of the film.  He originally wanted to make this as a black & white film, but Universal Pictures vetoed that idea.  Thus, when the film was given the widescreen laserdisc treatment in 1991, Badham de-saturated much of the color from the film leaving it with a flat color palette.  This mostly affects the darker or exterior scenes giving the picture a rather bleek, muggy look.  Knowing that he had done this, I did boost the color setting on my television to partially compensate, but much was still left to be desired.  It’s simply the fact that a film needs to be shot and lit as a black & white film for it to work in that sort of presentation.  Dracula was not shot in that way.  Regardless of this fact, the 2004 DVD does look quite good with good picture quality, if it is a tad dim, but I can see the potentially vibrant film that this once was.

Regardless of this, there is still an excellent motion picture to be had here.  Again, granted, there’s not much in the way of true horror that will affect a modern audience, but if you’re looking for a romantic vampire film done right, you would be hard pressed to find one better than this.  It is interesting to note that, as a stipulation, Frank Langella did not don any fangs at any point during the movie, and specifically did not want blood on his face.  He wanted to maintain a certain level of integrity, and avoid the clichés that other Draculas had indulged in.  I think it generally works for a film of this style and tone.  It helps maintain a level of humanity in Count Dracula which enhances the heart and soul of his tragic character.  This iteration of Dracula might not be for everyone, but I truly like the change of approach here.  I can watch a gory Dracula film at anytime in a dozen or more different versions, but this gave me something different with the talent and artistic quality to make it very successful.


Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers – The Producer’s Cut (1995)

This has become a very well known version of Halloween 6 to fans over the years, most deeming it superior to the theatrical cut.  It has never been officially released by Dimension Films, and can only be found in bootleg form on both VHS and DVD.  Today, you can actually find the full cut freely on YouTube. Among other things, the altered ending is also due to the passing of Donald Pleasance following principal photography, but that was hardly the catalyst for the extent of these changes.  As explained in the review of the theatrical version of this film, Halloween 6 was turned into a mess of a film in post-production following poor test screening reactions and severe creative differences between director Joe Chapelle and the film’s producers.  Thus, this version of the film was dubbed “The Producers’ Cut.”  Suffice it to say, there are distinct and dramatic differences between this version and the theatrical cut.

The setup and premise for the film remains basically the same as the official theatrical release, but this cut follows a slightly different chain of events.  There are alternate death scenes with some happening later in the film, allowing characters to survive longer than in the theatrical version.  One of those is that Jamie Lloyd is not killed by Michael, but rather, dies in the hospital later on by the hands of the Man in Black.  This adds back scenes of Loomis and Wynn in the hospital that better explain how Tommy runs into Dr. Loomis there.  Overall, the film gives more time to developing the relationship between Doctors Wynn and Loomis.  Right from the start there is an extended introduction scene, and as the story goes along a different chain of events, there are more scenes of them together which build them into a stronger, more prominent part of the plot.  More foreboding seeds are planted towards the rune of Thorn as well.

Music cues are also different in mostly eliminating the false scares throughout the film, and you will find no trace of wailing rock guitars anywhere.  The score is more in the traditional Halloween style with a focus on atmosphere and tension.  A definite difference from the start is Donald Pleasance doing the opening narration instead of Paul Rudd’s Tommy Doyle.  We also get a flashback to a never used, never seen ending to Halloween 5 where Jamie, portrayed by Danielle Harris, is abducted by the Man in Black.  Of course, where this version of this film departs from the theatrical version is more in the final act.  I won’t go spoiling much, but everything after Tommy and Loomis are knocked unconscious is almost completely different.  The film follows through on the occult aspects it establishes instead of the nonsensical genetic cloning swerve the theatrical outing offers.  Several scenes throughout the final twenty minutes were re-shot with a heavily revised script, leading to the more ‘by-the-numbers’ ending we eventually got.  The Producer’s Cut ending is less action-oriented, and more plot centric using the idea of the runes to cancel out Michael’s own power to allow for a potential escape for some.

I believe this version is a definite improvement over the theatrical cut.  The film follows its own logic throughout whereas the theatrical cut veers off track, essentially disregarding the development of the story at the start of the final act.  The Producer’s Cut retains a consistency and continuity within its own story, and with its predecessors.  While it requires the story to delve further into bizarre territory, it seems more satisfactory.  More importantly, it is all rather well explained through the course of the overall film.  This is mainly done by Tommy, but in the final act, Terrence Wynn goes further in depth about the motives behind it all.  The film doesn’t envelop itself in clichés or formulaic horror film scenarios building up to or during the film’s conclusion.  It presents a climax and ending which respects the development of the story, serves the tone and themes appropriately.  It also leaves a much clearer opening for a sequel with a definite storyline to follow down.  Unfortunately, this storyline and its continuity were shelved and ignored by the makers of the subsequent sequels.  While I would’ve liked to see such a proper continuation, I don’t believe it would’ve been successful.  Any non-fans would be turned off and lost with such a continuation.  This is merely by the fact of long-stretching mythology and continuity that newcomers would be unaware of.  Of course, this would allow for even lower box office numbers.  I’m sure the death of Donald Pleasance wouldn’t leave much confidence in the franchise’s future along this path, either.

I don’t see a real point in reviewing the acting since the quality of the performances don’t change from one cut to the other.  Rarely, if at all, does an alternate take appear, and it’s more a fact of extended and additional scenes appearing throughout.  Although, aspects of the editing should be addressed.  Whereas the theatrical version is far gorier than previous Halloween films, this cut removes a good deal of the gratuitous bloodshed.  This helps to put it back on track with the other Michael Myers outings, and much like with Alan Howarth’s score, keeps the horror focused more on atmosphere and suspense than on shock gore value.  I believe both cuts of the film were done by the same editor, Randolph K. Bricker, and so, the quality of the editing is quite consistent between both versions.  Of course, without a doubt, the story flows much better in this version.  This is probably because there’s more story here to work with between various characters.  Even the timeline alteration of Jamie’s death offers up a well-timed plot turn, and a slightly tighter pace about one-third of the way into the film.  It also keeps the idea of the Man in Black alive where he’s barely present in the theatrical cut.  Also, bare in mind, the Producer’s Cut was put together first.  So, the theatrical version’s gratuitous gore was all added in later, but still, several small character moments were excised in the theatrical version.  In regards to the Strode family turmoil, while they are nice touches, I don’t think either cut is exceptionally better or worse because of their presence or absence.  Still, it helps to give an extra touch of depth to one or two characters.

I can honestly say that I do find more enjoyment in watching this version of the film, but watching a multi-generational bootleg copy, no matter what lengths skilled fans go to improve the experience, is not something I would do often.  I really feel that if Dimension Films had any intention of releasing the Producer’s Cut officially on a properly mastered DVD or Blu-Ray release, they likely would have done it already.  Still, it is an investment in time and money, and there’s no guarantee that they still have all the necessary elements to present the complete film.  Sometimes, audio tracks or film elements are lost.  Beyond that, who knows what condition the master print is in.  I’m not saying these are absolute certainties, but there are numerous factors to take into consideration.  Of course, if they don’t show the initiative, we’ll never know.  Regardless, if you ever have the opportunity to view this version of the film, I believe it is worth your while if the more occult aspects of the story intrigue you.  Like I said, it’s readily available on YouTube, for the time being, so it costs you nothing to give it a look.


Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

The early-to-mid 1990s were generally not a good era for horror films.  The slasher craze of the 80s was dead, and the few surviving franchises were really limping along, creatively and/or commercially.  Now in the hands of Dimension Films, who had already begun tarnishing the Hellraiser franchise, Moustapha Akkad pushed forward with a sixth installment in the Halloween series.  It would explore the origins of Michael Myers, and follow-up on the events in The Revenge of Michael Myers.  It had good beginnings, but what could’ve been a very solid and satisfying film for certain fans, turned into a real mess with an obscured potential.  It just goes to show that certain franchises shouldn’t be given to certain studios.

Following six years later, much has changed for our familiar characters.  Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) has retired after suffering a stroke during his last encounter with Michael Myers.  Almost everyone believes that Jamie Lloyd and Myers died that night.  Although, it is October 30th, 1995, and things are about to change further.  In actuality, Michael survived, and Jamie (J.C. Brandy) has been held captive by the Man in Black and his cohorts all this time.  Jamie has since been impregnated, and is now mother to a newborn baby boy.  In an escape attempt, Michael pursues her relentlessly.  Meanwhile, shock jock Barry Simms (Leo Geter) holds a radio broadcast about the return of Halloween to Haddonfield, and one of his callers is a panicked Jamie Lloyd, calling out for help.  Among those listening are Tommy Doyle (Paul Stephen Rudd) as well as old friends Dr. Loomis and Dr. Terrence Wynn (Mitch Ryan).  Of course, it is not long before Michael claims his niece’s life in quite a gory fashion.  While the child is lost to The Shape, Tommy soon tracks the baby boy down, and chooses to protect him.  Loomis & Wynn soon join the hunt for Myers, but ulterior motives loom in the shadows for some.  Meanwhile, relatives of Laurie Strode – including Kara (Marianne Hagan) and her young son Danny – now occupy the old Myers home, and are in danger of Michael’s boundless evil.  Tommy, quite obsessed with the truth about Michael Myers, believes he has discovered the origin of his evil, but how this version of the film progresses, it eventually becomes irrelevant.

It is rather easy to see how this entry in the series failed to be a serious success.  The main factor is that, after poor test screenings, Dimension Films ordered the third act to be re-shot and much of the film to be re-edited to be a much less intelligible story.  However, the original version survives in the bootleg market as “The Producer’s Cut.”  In this, the theatrical cut of the film, there’s much left to be desired regarding the plot.  What begins as a supposed occult plot surrounding Michael eventually takes a sharp swerve towards some form of genetic cloning, and all things occult are bafflingly washed away.  The film also goes for a lot of cheap, false scares which only degrade the quality of the film.  Re-casting or dispatching with the character of Jamie Lloyd didn’t win any fans over either.  However, Danielle Harris did not like the script, or what happened to Jamie in it.  So, she passed, forcing the role to be given to another actress who did a fine job, but the re-casting does affect the impact of what does happen to Jamie here.

What I do enjoy a great deal about this film is what many don’t like – the entire Thorn / occult plotline.  Many despise it, but it’s much the same as I like Jason Goes To Hell.  It offers up a better explanation than just “he’s evil.”  Evil alone doesn’t make you immortal and impervious to injury or pain.  There has to be a reason, and after a while, you need to add something more to the stalk and slash formula to keep it interesting.  Whether it succeeds or fails depends on how well the explanation is integrated into the established mythos.  For me, I think screenwriter Daniel Farrands did a very exceptional job tying all the little bits and pieces scattered throughout the films into a credible storyline.  While the entire Thorn mark on Michael in Halloween 5 was purely random, trying to give Moustapha Akkad some thread to continue with into the next sequel, I find it is quite a valid revelation.  Like it or not, John Carpenter did set this up, partially, years ago.  When filming additional scenes for the network television broadcast of the original Halloween, he introduced the plot twist that Laurie was Michael’s sister.  He also introduced the idea of Michael being linked to Samhain in his and Debra Hill’s script for Halloween II.  Despite which belief system you categorize it under, Samhain is directly linked with an array of paranormal and supernatural events and rituals.  All of which involving the relationship between the living and the dead.  Therefore, while none of this origin came from a singular stream of consciousness, it all eventually fit together with perfect logic.  If for nothing else, in my honest opinion, it’s a better and more creative origin for Michael Myers than what trash Rob Zombie tried to feed us.  I don’t believe in making evil incarnate a sympathetic figure.  You shouldn’t feel sorry for evil, but you should respect its power and legacy.  The one person who survives throughout these films is the one who respects and never underestimates the evil that is The Shape, namely Dr. Loomis.

The film has a solid setup giving us plenty of mysterious and haunting elements that create suspense.  Having the Man in Black haunting Danny Strode was handled nicely, and created a driving plot element which passionately involved Kara Strode.  She’s not being randomly stalked.  She is fighting for the safety of her son, and thus, naturally forms an allegiance with Tommy Doyle.  Bringing back a character from the original film, and developing him down this path is something I’ve always strongly enjoyed.  He could’ve been the Halloween franchise’s allegory to Tommy Jarvis from the Friday The 13th films – a young protagonist who has dedicated himself to understand the evil that once stalked him, and seeks to destroy it, once and for all.  Doyle is very smartly handled in this story giving the character enough weight to bring credibility to everything he says.  Just as how Dr. Loomis could come off as very preposterous if wrongly cast, the same goes for Tommy Doyle.  Where Loomis has always brought a dreadful urgency to the plot, Tommy brings a scary vibe of mystique as he explains the truth of Michael Myers.  The addition of Dr. Terrence Wynn mixes both of those into a heavy, frightening threat, regardless of which cut of the film you view.

While all the Strode family drama was quite unnecessary, it at least has some bearing on the story and the characters.  It creates enough emotional turmoil for Kara which makes her more vulnerable and emotionally open for an audience to connect with.  However, on the down side, I definitely get that John Strode is not meant to be likeable in the least, but he actually comes off as far too stereotypical, dumb, and tiresome.  He’s a dull thud of a character that I just wanted to be rid of, and if the film spent less time with him, I would have been perfectly all right with that.  That is really the only character which fell flat for me.  Actor Bradford English just didn’t seem like a very solid fit for this role, and does little with it for anyone to take him very seriously.  He comes off like a bull-headed buffoon.  Even the crass shock jock character of Barry Simms is vehemently unlikeable, but he’s supposed to be, and Leo Geter hit the role perfectly on the mark.

Now, what further drives this away from the tone of a Halloween film is the excessive gore.  The splatter level here is more akin to that of a Friday The 13th film.  The Halloween films have, generally, been more focused on atmospheric horror than shock gore.  I can only fault director Joe Chapelle for a good measure of this.  He was the one Dimension Films called on to re-shoot sequences for Hellraiser: Bloodline.  Thus, essentially butchering everything that film had left going for it after the Weinstein’s kicked Clive Barker and original director Kevin Yahger off the project.  He’s clearly not a filmmaker who strives to fight for his vision or establish his own identity.  He does what the studio wants him to do, even if it means butchering his own film or someone else’s.  Chapelle also perceived Donald Pleasance’s performance as “boring,” and cutout several of his scene from the film, further showing Joe Chapelle’s lack of sense for good talent.  Clearly, there was a good movie under all these re-shoots and re-edits that Chapelle deserves some credit for, but he really loses a lot of that credit and respect due to his track record with this film and others.

Fortunately, the acting rises far above anything that might be lacking in the director’s chair.  Donald Pleasance, as always, delivers what had always kept this film series so unique.  He provides a dramatic and emotional weight which brings an honest credibility to the film, despite what strange turns it might take.  Paul Rudd and Marianne Hagan bring equally real and solid performances.  Rudd fashioned a definite eerie quality for Tommy making it quite apparent that he’s had a weird time of it since Halloween, 1978.  I always find myself especially intrigued by his character, hoping that a subsequent film would follow him in more depth, but that really became a dashed hope.  Beyond just the change of direction in the franchise, Paul Rudd emphatically made it known he’d never work with these filmmakers again.  He signed onto what was supposed to be a high caliber suspense film, but the studio ultimately decided to take the low road.  That being said, aside from my previous comments, there’s hardly a weak link amongst the cast.  Mitch Ryan was a welcomed addition adding some extra strength and stability.  He does an immensely effective job in his plot twisting role as Terrence Wynn.

Lastly, George P. Wilbur returns as The Shape.  He previously took on the role for Halloween 4.  The performances are about the same, but he gets to do more walking here.  You see more of his movement, but it doesn’t have that natural fluidity that Nick Castle had in the first film.  It seems everyone who portrays Myers always tried to emulate the robotic and rigid performance of Dick Warlock.  I cannot explain this approach as I believe Castle’s more natural movement made Michael seem more eerily human, and in a way, more frightening and relentless.  He seemed to move with more purpose, more determination, and thus, showed he was more motivated.

Alan Howarth, a frequent collaborator of John Carpenter’s, and the man responsible for the scores of Halloween 4 & 5 returned here.  He takes things in a different direction this time out.  This is a much heavier score with the synthesizers regularly slamming into the soundtrack with a more overbearing presence, at times.  The familiar themes of the series have a more atmospheric or polished synth sound, which I do enjoy.  It gives this film more self-identity that works, but there are undesirable elements of this score.  The music in the climax is overwhelming with shredding electric guitars in a very 80s pop-metal style.  It’s like a second rate Eddie Van Halen wannabe took over the scoring job on the film and did a terrible job at it.  This is not scary or suspenseful.  It’s just obnoxious   Now, this is something exclusive to this cut of the film.  It was another decision made by people less interested in creating a coherent and effective horror film, and more interested in just making whatever’s going to give them one extra dumb dollar – even if only makes the film worse.

Thankfully, the film is shot very well, in most part.  The cinematography has a serious approach with focus on dramatic weight and eerie atmosphere.  The lighting creates some uneasy moodiness.  The bleak visuals create a sense of foreboding and unease.  You get the feeling all the way through that this is a film that is taking itself seriously with intense, unrelenting horror, and a storyline that’s supposed to have dire consequences.  I really love how the film was shot.  It takes the blue tones of the first and fourth films, and adds an extra layer of depth and grit to enhance the more grim tone of this film.  I give much praise to cinematographer Billy Dickson on this production.

Generally, I feel this version of the film is less fascinating than its bootlegged counterpart.  Based on its own merits, the film boils down to a mindless slasher with a messed up plot progression which ultimately negates itself.  While it does have strong acting and solid production values, the studio heads botched it all up to cater to stupid fourteen year olds who wouldn’t end up being able to see the film in theatres anyway.  The whole film seems meant to build up towards answers and revelations regarding the origin of Michael’s evil.  Sadly, it’s all thrown out to introduce a new ending which makes no sense, and doesn’t bother to explain itself.  I’m not one who demands that all mysteries be solved, and all questions be answered thoroughly and definitively in a film, but things need to make some degree of coherent sense.  Simply said, the fact remains that this ending does not fit to this story.  It washes away all plot points and hints at answers the film establishes, and introduces brand new ones which come to no light.  It’s a cliché, shallow, and hollow conclusion to a film which laid the seeds for so much more.  Satisfaction, at least for me, does not come from this version of Halloween 6.


Halloween 5 :The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Another sequel, released approximately one year later.  Clearly, it was a rushed production, and the pitfalls of that are blatantly obvious throughout this film.  It’s not a pure failure, but the volume of problems and bad ideas are impossible to ignore.  Director and co-writer Dominique Othenin-Girard is probably responsible for many of them.  His résumé consists mostly of French films, but he was also responsible for the generally panned and dismissed Omen IV telemovie.  The films’ other two screenwriters, Michael Jacobs and Shem Bitterman, have nothing else of note on their filmographies.  If this film is any indication of their talent, it seems to make sense.

One year after the events of Halloween 4, things are not as expected.  Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) is merely locked up in a children’s psychiatric hospital, acting weird, but not homicidal in anyway.  Michael Myers, ultimately, is still alive, and has been laying dormant in the company of a derelict by the river.  With the coming of Halloween, he rises once again, and starts on his killing spree towards Jamie all over again.  This time, Jamie has a psychic link with Michael, able to see what he sees, and generally know where he is.  Of course, most everyone doesn’t believe her wild claims, believing she is indeed insane, and ultimately, allows for many more to die because of it.  Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance), as usual, is there to head up the endless fight against The Shape.  Meanwhile, a mysterious man in black makes his way into Haddonfield for unknown reasons as Michael maliciously slashes through the town.

I have to say, first off, that this film suffers mostly from an underdeveloped script due to the rushed production.  Where Alan McElroy put together a rather intelligent script for Halloween 4, the three screenwriters on this film did everything possible to make it stupid and stunted.  From the pair of lame, dumbass cops to the annoying character of Tina to most any other new characters, it’s a real chore to consider anyone likable here.  Aside from the returning cast of Harris, Pleasance, Cornell, and Starr, the acting is rather poor and irritating at times.  Don Shanks’ Shape doesn’t really stand out.  There’s not much for him to really work with, and the mask he’s saddled with is terrible.  Granted, it follows within the continuity that this film establishes, but the filmmakers weren’t forced to make it dirty and ugly.  Part of the symbolism of the mask is to reflect a blank, emotionless visage of the killer, and scuffing it up takes away that stark, striking visual.

The direction that Othenin-Girard takes the film is very visually gothic.  Everything appears grittier, dirtier, and more grim.  Although, the most horrendous and objectionable change is that of the Myers’ house – which bares zero resemblance to any other Myers’ house throughout the series, before or after.  Obviously, continuity wasn’t a real concern for Dominique.  I will give him credit where the film’s tension and suspense is concerned.  He handles it very well, and creates many scary sequences throughout various parts of the movie.  It’s simply the harsh and drastic departure of visual style and art direction that detract from its quality in the overall series.  The entire film has a far more cryptic than atmospheric style compared to the rest of the franchise.  This doesn’t tend to go over well with the fans, and considering the film’s other stated flaws, it’s stance within the franchise is quite expected.

Halloween 5 also planted the seeds for what became Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers with the mysterious Man in Black.  However, as another example of a rushed production and poor screenwriting, even the screenwriters themselves didn’t know who the hell he was supposed to be.  They just decided to throw in some ambiguous character with no idea of what to ultimately do with him.  That’s sloppy work to pawn off onto another screenwriter who would work on the next sequel.  I’m sure that’s something screenwriters of sequels hate – cleaning up the undeveloped or unresolved garbage left over by the last screenwriter.  At least the Friday The 13th and A Nightmare On Elm Street movies had the courtesy to kill their respective slashers off at the end of every movie allowing for a generally clean slate for the next movie.  In Halloween 5, the Man in Black was partly portrayed by Don Shanks at the thought that the character might be a blood relative of Michael’s, possibly a brother.  Obviously, any intentions these filmmakers might’ve had about the Man in Black’s identity were irrelevant by the time of the sixth film’s production.  During this production, tensions and conflicts were abound.  Pleasance and Akkad disagreed with each other, and they both disagreed with Othenin-Girard about the direction of the story, and the direction of the film.  Not many were happy with the outcome, and it resulted in a rather uneven and terribly unpolished film.

This is a film that tries to be taken deathly seriously, but there’s just so much bad crap smeared all over it that it’s hard to take it seriously.  While I would not speak ill of children with disabilities, they don’t make for good characters in horror films.  They simply add to the irritating bevy of new characters we are subjected to.  There are the aforementioned bumbling rejects from the Police Academy franchise who couldn’t be more out of place, and they are even given their own silly music theme to go along with their goofy antics.  Then, the entire psychic link between Jamie and Michael comes off like something from a Z-grade rip-off of The Dead Zone.  Maybe, and that’s a huge maybe, the idea could’ve worked in more talented hands, but the execution comes off as terrible.  The entire time Dr. Loomis is shouting at and shaking Jamie like a total madman trying to force her to tell him where Michael is, and that alone is just bad on so many levels.  Donald Pleasance does the best job he can with the written material, but there’s just too much incoherent madness for him to make much of it.

While this is meant to be a continuation of Halloween 4, it comes off more like a transitional film meant to segue from Halloween 4 into a different storyline altogether in the eventual Halloween 6.  It never feels like a self-contained movie since it hardly resolves anything from the previous movie, and has no resolution to any new plot elements it introduces.  I think more than its slasher juggernaut counterparts, the Halloween franchise has been the most mismanaged. There was too much cluttered continuity and mythology that almost every new screenwriter or filmmaker who came in tried to twisted around into a new direction, or simply disregard altogether on a whim.  While Jason & Freddy have had their continuity inconsistencies, you rarely ever had someone come into either franchise trying to drastically alter the nature of the characters.  The tone of the films might’ve changed, but what you knew of Krueger & Voorhees from the first film or two remained set in stone throughout the franchise.  Their origins were plainly known, and anything that was added to them later on felt natural and logical.  Not with Michael Myers.  Every new film has tried to find a new rationale for the existence of the character whether or not it jibed with what came before.  Moustapha Akkad never attempted to put the series on a set path of tone and story.  That is very strange considering how thick Halloween 4-6 are with an overarching storyline that’s supposed to make sense, but is really just a fortunate cut and paste job assembled by three different sets of screenwriters.  Halloween 5 raised a number of bizarre, ridiculous questions it never intended to answer, and while that’s surely not it’s worst attribute, it does degrade the artistic and creative potential of the film.

As I said, this is not a pure failure, but it’s a real mixed bag of problems.  While it is enjoyable if you dumb yourself down and not care much about continuity, it’s far away from being one of the better films of the series.  In contrast to Carpenter’s original, this is real schlock.  On its own, it’s still schlock, but potentially enjoyable to some varying degree.  Suffice it to say, this film could’ve stood from an extra year of development as well as a far more competent and talented director.  This was a terrible drop-off from a rather respectable and enjoyable Halloween 4.  It’s worth seeing, but not worth any good expectations.


Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Halloween 4 is probably the one sequel which most closely matches the original.  I would attribute this to a few factors.  The most significant, maybe, is that it was before each new film tried to introduce some new twist to the story.  Some new element to either explain The Shape, or just utilize a gimmick to sell the film as something supposedly worth seeing.  It stays closer to the spirit of John Carpenter’s original film, focusing on a simple stalk-and-slash idea coupled with relatable characters.

The film picks up ten years after the events of the first and second film.  Despite developments in later, contradictory sequels, Jamie Lee Curtis’ character of Laurie Strode died in a car accident, leaving behind a daughter – Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris).  She is taken in by another family, and raised alongside their older daughter Rachel Caruthers (Ellie Cornell).  Meanwhile, Michael Myers (George P. Wilbur) has been in a comatose state, and Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) remains persistent in his belief that Myers is indeed evil incarnate.  As Halloween approaches, The Shape stays dormant no longer, and Loomis must take chase of him before he claims new victims.  It is clear to the obsessed doctor that Jamie is to be his ultimate target, but it will be a Halloween night caked in blood before the horror is over.

After the fallout from the unsuccessful Halloween III, Moustapha Akkad wanted to bring back Michael Myers to revitalize the franchise.  After all, it was essentially his only meal ticket.  Akkad only produced five other (unsuccessful) films outside of this franchise in his 75 year life.  Thankfully, this was a solid sequel.  Nothing that tried to shake up the idea of the franchise, just inject new life into it, and be as faithful to the style and vibe of the original.  Dwight H. Little directs, and does a fine job at it.  It’s very difficult to rival Carpenter’s film, but Halloween 4 doesn’t try to be superior.  It only tries to be a respectful continuation, and it does succeed.  Little focuses more on atmosphere and suspense than gore.  While there is a decent amount of it, it’s not obscene.  It’s enough to give the film the needed deadly horror aspect, but stays away from being a splatter fest.  There’s a constant tension through the main meat of the film with little tinges here and there to keep the momentum going.  This allows the film to flow at a decent pace; not allowing it to grind to a halt anywhere, or get wound up too soon.  Dwight Little’s name has regularly appeared as a director on television series like Bones, Castle, Prison Break, and Dollhouse.  I’m always glad to see that his talent has taken him far with a steady career.

Alan Howarth’s score also helps to keep a strong connection with the first film.  The themes are slightly rearranged, but are more similar to those of the first film than the overly-synthesizer themes of Halloween II.  For me, that is a welcomed return to form.

The cast and acting of The Return of Michael Myers is indeed solid.  Everyone holds their own weight, and convey a realistic array of emotions.  The young Danielle Harris really stands out.  Where a lot of young actors tend to come off as annoying or phony, she showcases such wonderful innocence and vulnerability.  An audience can’t help but truly feel for her all the way through.  Danielle has gained a long, successful, and seasoned career birthed from this performance.  She’s helped along quite a bit by Ellie Cornell who is very likeable as the loving big sister, but also proves to have a lot of strength.  As Rachel, she doesn’t take anything lying down when she discovers her supposed boyfriend messing around with another girl.  As the film progresses, she’s put right into the thick of the harrowing danger with Jamie.  She maintains better courage under fire than Laurie did in the first two films, and certainly wins over the heart of the audience being Jamie’s sisterly protector.

Donald Pleasance, as always, is excellent.  He continued to bring a real credibility and dramatic weight to the series.  Some actors, if delivering a lot of the dialogue he had to, might come off as inauthentic or laughable.  With Pleasance, he had the talent to make you believe every word.  He gave it all the urgency and consequence of the grave.  The emotion in his eyes, the fear and the pain, transcend through the screen, and hit you deep within.  Where in the first film it was a weary doctor uncertain what Myers was entirely capable of, Loomis is now a man afraid of reliving the nightmare.  He has seen the carnage before, and is intensely adamant about preventing it this time.  With this in mind, Pleasance delivers a much less reserved Loomis.  He hasn’t time for reason or diplomatic talk.  Evil incarnate is loose in Haddonfield, and he needs people to take immediate action.

Beau Starr takes up the mantle of Sheriff of Haddonfield as Ben Meeker, and has a much more assertive and take charge personality than Leigh Brackett did.  Starr makes Sheriff Meeker a fine counterbalance to Loomis’ almost unhinged psychology.  He shows authority and urgency while remaining focused and calm.  And while I stand firm in that Nick Castle was the best Myers, George Wilbur does an admirable job, but he doesn’t get much chance to show his movement.  He tends to more just appear out of nowhere, figuratively, than stalk people over long distances.  However, he does seem less stiff than Dick Warlock’s interpretation (which I’m not very fond of as I prefer a more fluid Shape).  The rest of the cast, as I said, hold their own very well.  They create a solid and realistic community of characters that you don’t second guess their authenticity.  This is also due to Alan McElroy’s solid screenplay – writing intelligent characters with depth who don’t fall into the slasher film formula.  They make the choices that any one of us would in those situations.  When you would run away, they run away.  They don’t make stupid decisions or take foolish courses of action.  They may act, sometimes, out of desperation making not the best choices, but there is a realistic motive behind them.  Amazingly, McElroy wrote this script in eleven days, just before the writer’s strike of 1987 began.  Take it from me, a screenwriter myself, that’s not easy to do.

Again, I feel this is a very worthwhile sequel.  It does more to honor John Carpenter’s original film than any other sequel (or remake) in the franchise.  It retains a similar look and cinematography, despite the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and really stays true to Carpenter’s story and form of suspense.  It cannot rival that 1978 masterpiece, but Halloween 4 respectably holds its own.  While John might not agree considering his feelings on the franchise, from a fan’s point of view, I feel it is respectful.  After this, the films began to become either more bizarre, watered down, or just plain cheesy.  Overall, I believe this entry in the series is about as appropriate and proper as you could get.  I’ve never cared for Halloween II, feeling it suffered from seemingly lower production values, a badly reworked score, thinner characters, and less-than-inspiring direction.  So, with that mindset, Halloween 4 comes off as the better sequel, and the one I would’ve bettered expected to follow the 1978 film.  It’s not as intensely haunting or fascinating as John Carpenter’s Halloween, and quite as brilliantly shot (a 2.35:1 aspect ratio for this movie may have changed that sentiment more), but I believe it was more of a step in the right direction than anything before or after it.


Prince of Darkness (1987)

Prince of Darkness is certainly one of John Carpenter’s stranger and more underappreciated films.  It’s the second installment in what Carpenter calls his “apocalypse trilogy” (which includes 1982’s The Thing and 1995’s In The Mouth of Madness).  Simply put, this film is about the coming of the apocalypse, and the arrival of the Prince of Darkness – Satan himself.  This is one seriously eerie and creepy film, but it has the slowest pace of any Carpenter film I have seen.  I believe this film comes as an acquired taste.  It can take multiple viewings to really enjoy it fully, as it did for me.

A group of scientists, students, and priests – led by Father Loomis (Donald Pleasance) and Professor Howard Birack (Victor Wong) – have come to study a mysterious canister which has been sealed away in the basement of a Los Angeles church.  The eerie green liquid inside this canister proves to be supernatural as it defies gravity, leaking upwards to the ceiling, and soon, it’s discovered that it is self-organizing as part of a living intelligence.  This has made way for changes to occur in nature that herald the coming of something evil.  And those who come into contact with this liquid are transformed into mindless undead slaves of Satan himself.  Outside the church, the homeless and derelicts of Los Angeles become powerless against the influence of hell.  The few human beings inside the church are trapped – barricading themselves inside with threats all around them.  Theories are abound as to what is happening and philosophies about heaven, hell, and all of creation.  But whatever forces are at work, these few people must not only survive these servants of hell, but also prevent the coming of the Prince of Darkness from the other side.

If you choose to watch this film, I suggest you get things as dark and as quite as possible, put in the DVD, get that surround sound just right, and get ready to experience one of the most haunting, frightening films ever.  This is possibly the most taut and suspenseful Carpenter film of all-time.  The master of terror gives us a film that nobody should easily be able to forget.  The score from John Carpenter & Alan Howarth is absolutely mesmerizing and powerful.  Right from the beginning, it sucks you into a creepy and absolutely ominous world, and doesn’t let go until the end credits have finished.  It’s an absorbing, killer work of musicianship that compliments the film marvelously.

The effects here are great.  There’s nothing here as complex as in The Thing (which Rob Bottin really delivered something groundbreaking), but there’s plenty of scary makeup work and visuals to unsettle any audience.  There’s such apocalyptic biblical imagery here – including swarms of creepy crawly critters – that it will have you squirming and jumping from your seat.  John Carpenter wrote the screenplay under the pseudonym “Martin Quartermass,” and man, he does just such an amazing job eliciting such haunting emotions.  The film has such a suspenseful power that it could ONLY come from John Carpenter.

That pseudonym is only one of several that Carpenter has employed in his career.  He uses them because he feels uncomfortable with his name plastered all over the credits as if it’s an egotistical thing to take so much credit.  Me, I believe in everyone getting the credit they deserve for the hard work they do.  The fact of the matter is that I know who Martin Quartermass, John T. Chance, and Frank Armitage are, and it is still John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness.

The cast is full of Carpenter regulars such as Donald Pleaseance (Halloween, Escape From New York), Victor Wong & Dennis Dun (Big Trouble in Little China), and Peter Jason (They Live, In The Mouth of Madness).  Also, Jameson Parker from TV’s Simon & Simon is in a lead role as well.  It’s very much a Carpenter style cast in that he doesn’t cast big stars, but a lot of strong character actors that give the film a textured diversity.  I really enjoy all their talents, and they all put in fantastic efforts.  John Carpenter has always been great in the casting department (probably best displayed in The Thing).  We even get a cameo from shock-rocker Alice Cooper, and he contributes the title song from the album of the same name.  The song only appears in a small scene, and via a guy’s walkman radio.  In any case, it’s always nice to see Alice appear in a horror film via an acting role or as a musician.  He has no lines, but appears creepy enough as one of the derelict servants outside the church.  Overall, this cast gives a lot of life and character to this slow-paced film.

In a way, this is different from most Carpenter movies, mainly in pace.  He’s always made very smart pictures, and his horror has never been something you can entirely shut your brain off for.  And while Prince of Darkness is full of atmosphere that drives every horror element forward, it is much more an idea and philosophy driven screenplay.  There are very few action set pieces as the danger and horror are played through tense atmosphere and chilling visuals.  It’s a film that crawls in under your skin slowly, and requires you to stay mentally aware of what’s happening for it to have the proper effect.

There’s a good deal of discussion in the film about philosophies regarding dreams, death, hell, religion, and so forth.  This adds to the psychological aspect of the film since it revolves around such supernatural or paranormal phenomena birthed out of an ancient evil covered up by the church.  With the film having such a wide ensemble cast, they have plenty of room for differing opinions and beliefs, but don’t let this make you think the film gets bogged down by it.  Not at all.  As they uncover more truths, it enhances the fearful and foreboding atmosphere of the film.  There is a haunting evil taking form in their presence, and it is slowly consuming them either physically or psychologically.

In everyone’s dreams, they see a transmission from the future of a dark figure exiting the front of the church they are all holed up in.  They get only bits and pieces, but they all share it getting a little more each time they fall asleep.  It is another piece of the foreboding doom that lies ahead of them, and it is immensely effective.

Prince of Darkness definitely has similarities to an old style zombie film where a group of mismatched people have to fend for their lives against an undead army.  However, Carpenter just pushes it further with so much more substance and unsettling visuals.  This really is a nightmare come to life.  A constant theme in Carpenter’s Apocalypse Trilogy is some sort of force consuming humanity and deteriorating it into something entirely inhuman.  In The Thing, it’s an actual alien life form that perfectly duplicates any organism it infects which could eventually wipe out the human race.  With In The Mouth of Madness, reality is twisted and distorted to where people become psychotic and homicidal in the wake of ancient evil reclaiming our world.  In Prince of Darkness, it’s sort of a bridge between the concepts.  As an ancient evil slowly claws its way back into our world, it also consumes nature and humanity until they become entirely mindless, inhuman servants.  Coming from three different screenwriters on three different films, that is an entirely fascinating conceptual arc.

This film is undoubtedly one of John Carpenter’s finest works.  Some don’t take a good liking to it because of its slow, slow pace, and its focus more on suspense than physical intensity.  Whatever the case, I find it to be a masterwork worthy of inclusion to anyone’s DVD collection.  The cast is very good, fun at times, but solid always.  The score is pure gold, a powerful accomplishment for Carpenter and Alan Howarth.  As in any Carpenter film, the cinematography is stellar, and the direction is absolutely phenomenal!  If you genuinely want to get creeped out to the max one dark, lonely night – this is the one film to watch!  I won’t say that Prince of Darkness is a perfect film as the pace can be a detractor to its potential.  Part of good tension and suspense is momentum, and it’s not entirely consistent here.  However, it is a great flick, and I will give it a great 9 out of 10.  If nothing else, the ending will grab you like only a John Carpenter film can!


John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978)

You know, the term ‘classic film’ is thrown around a hell of a lot.  There’s a great deal of times where it is simply not justified.  People jumping the gun the second a film is released, and saying it’s one of the all time greats.  Let’s see how it endures after 10, 20, or even 30 years.  Directors also get this treatment.  For example, Rob Zombie.  The man, in my brutally honest opinion, has yet to make a decently watchable film, but so many people hail him as some messiah because he makes dirty, ugly films.  It takes more than simple visual style to make you a good, let alone great director.  So, if you ask me who my favorite genre director is, who I feel has had the best run of things with the most diverse body of work?  I would say John Carpenter. The Thing, Prince of Darkness, Big Trouble in Little China, They Live, In The Mouth of Madness, Vampires, Escape From New York…. all favorite films of mine.  He demonstrates a brilliance in everything he does – writing, directing, producing, and music composition.  When it comes to Halloween, there’s nothing quite like it.  Every other slasher film in the world goes straight for the gore.  After the years and decades have passed, filmmakers seem to have lost sight of what is truly scary in horror.  It’s not shock gore, cheap jump scares, or splatter films with ten thousand gallons of blood.  Taking the time to adequately build up an atmosphere of tension and suspense seems to become a dying art among the mainstream horror filmmakers.  I’m not going to turn this into a comparison to other films, I’m going to tell you exactly why this film has remained a justifiable and certified classic for over 30 years.

If you aren’t familiar with the film’s plot, I’ll give you a lean and mean version.  Michael Myers, fifteen years ago, murdered his sister on Halloween night.  Afterwards, he was put into a psychiatric sanitarium, overseen by Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance), but on October 30th, 1978, he escapes back to his hometown of Haddonfield.  Come Halloween, he is stalking a group of teenage girls for reasons unknown.  Among these is Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), a sweet, caring, and decent girl.  Loomis himself is in pursuit, fearing for what might indeed happen with Michael loose.  After fifteen years of treating the young man, Loomis is convinced he is purely and simply evil.  Someone without conscience, compassion, humanity, or any grasp of good or bad, right or wrong.  In clinical terms, a sociopath.  Donning a pale white mask of blank expression, Michael proceeds to methodically kill people throughout Halloween night.  Can the evil be stopped before too long?

You talk about film direction?  This should be shown to every aspiring filmmaker.  Even if they are not interested in the horror genre, this film gets everything right.  Music, cinematography, staging, acting, tone, pacing, editing….the list goes on.  Certainly the most impressive and crucial technical element is Dean Cundey’s high caliber artistry as the film’s Director of Photography.  Before Halloween, I don’t think any film had been shot in this fashion.  The beautiful, genius composition is the main element which crafts the horror so effectively.  You could take a still from about every scene, and you’d have something special and effective.  The composition creates striking images that serve the tension and terror.  How Michael seems to materialize out of the darkness just before slashing Laurie around the 76 minute mark is beyond known words to describe that brilliance.  Don’t forget all the steadicam work.  Very impressive for a film of this scale, and it adds so much to the production values.  Even these days, the lower cost ones will cost you around two grand, and back in ’77, they were brand new technology.  How shots glide from one place to the next, in and out of rooms, panning ever so smoothly around the action – it is masterful.  Where now, everyone’s gotta shake the camera so much, it makes you puke, it is a breath of fresh air to see filmmakers shooting a film like this.  Slow reveals, shots pushing in, pulling out, and oh lord….the gorgeous lighting.  Lighting creates atmosphere.  Subtle fills and key light.  Patterns across the walls and ceilings.  It helps to direct the eye, and envelope you within a certain mood.  Dean Cundey is a masterful cinematographer, and continues to showcase his artistry to this day.  He would also work on Carpenter’s The Fog, Escape From New York, The Thing, & Big Trouble in Little China.

While most might not take conscious note of Cundey’s work, everyone knows the value of Carpenter’s score.  His themes have become legendary and iconic.  No other film in the entire franchise has a score this prominent or effective.  It drives so much of the film, creating a taut, nerve-racking strain of suspense.  There is one theme that I call the “Stalking Theme” because that’s when you hear it.  Michael begins to stalk Laurie through the Wallace house, across the street, and all throughout the Doyle home.  This is a relentless theme which accurately and powerfully reflects the intentions of The Shape.  I continue to firmly stand by my belief that Nick Castle was the absolute best Michael Myers.  While the direction and camera work make the Shape truly effective, making Myers appear to move like a ghost – appearing and disappearing in a heartbeat – I want to specifically address Castle’s performance.  Where later Michaels were more thoroughly rigid and mechanical in their movements, Castle brought a fluidity to The Shape.  He moves like a man, reacts like a man, but has a quality which is simply unsettling.  He’s creepy.  He feels like a realistic homicidal maniac, but with a clear, calculating intelligence allowing him to stalk and kill at the most opportunistic moment.  He’s not just running around like a nutcase, screaming and wildly slashing up people.  He’s conscious of his actions, and acts deliberately.  In addition, Castle injects a violent intensity to the role.  He is relentless, and continues to come back with increased violent ferocity.  It can tend to seem like he needs to kill Laurie, that he is compelled to make sure she dies.  Compare how he strangles Laurie at the end to any other time Michael chokes someone later in the franchise.  In those later instances, it’s very cold and empty.  Here, there’s an apparent rage that cannot be satiated.  Some twisted, unwavering obsession at work, it would seem.  Michael actively and endlessly pursues Laurie.  He is the living embodiment of death.  He is inevitable and unstoppable.  And yes, this specific mask adds so much that subsequent ones lack – it has very human features, but clearly, they are fabricated.  He appears to have human features, but what he appears to be is not what he really is.

Speaking of performances, you would be hard pressed to find a substandard one here.  Everyone fits their role just right, slipping into it like a finely crafted glove.  Jamie Lee’s acting really shows what she was at the time – fresh, young, and eager.  I would take her performance in this film over what she offered in Halloween H20.  She showed genuine vulnerability, compassion, and emotional innocence here.  The performances throughout this film just feel authentic, believable, and tangible.  No one feels out of place or over the top.  Everything is very grounded and honest.  Charles Cyphers holds his ground as Sheriff Leigh Brackett, offering up a very real perspective against Dr. Loomis’ “fancy talk” about pure evil.  You could see any small town Sheriff thinking and saying the same thing in reaction to such claims.  All of the ladies really bring energy and life to their roles.  The youthful enthusiasm, again, feels purely authentic.  Makes a lot of the “teenage” performances of today seem flat and cliché.

As I say in reviews for the sequels, Donald Pleasence is the glue that binds the film together, and provides it with a weight and urgency it needs.  His performance in this first film is more low key than his incensed sequel appearances.  You can see Loomis’ fear surfacing as he speaks about his escaped patient.  Michael frightens him down to his core, and it is his own fear which motivates him.  He knows the hollow, emotionless, indifferent monster that Myers is, and cannot bare the thought of what will happen now that he’s loose.  I believe, in the sequels, it drives him rather mad.  His obsession is enhanced by the volume of bloodshed spilled by Michael, and is why he becomes so deadset and crazed later on.  Pleasance demonstrates a real brilliance in this role.  The dread and fear in his voice gives every last one of his words credibility which is so crucial to building up Michael to being more than just a mentally ill murderer.  He is the boogeyman, a presence, an indomitable, elemental force that cannot be reasoned with or destroyed.  The final look that Loomis gives, which came from Donald’s own brilliance, conveys to the audience, “I knew this would happen.”  It does not shock him, only frighten him further.  What he has believed all these years has been proven true – you cannot kill pure evil.

It is refreshing to watch the original film after weeding through the sequels.  John Carpenter’s Halloween is like a revelation, and reminds me how none of the sequels measure up.  It was never simply one element that made this film so great – it was every element.  The cinematography is worthy of awards alongside the direction and music.  The acting is, mostly, understated and firmly based in reality.  Characters like Loomis and Brackett keeping cool heads instead of either going way off the deep end, or being complete buffoons.  This film is an undeniable and justifiable classic.  I can’t say it’s the most frightening film I’ve ever seen, that honor goes to The Exorcist (which I still can’t pull myself to watch again), but this film will keep you rattled and unnerved to significant degrees.  While, I’m sure, there are minor technical gaffes here and there, it’s nothing that you will pick up in a casual viewing.  No film is perfect in all aspects, absolutely, but what this is, is an excellent piece of cinema that should continue to endure for all time.  There is no reason not to give this a full ten out of ten rating.