It sounds odd that I had never seen True Lies until just a few months ago. I always had a little tinge of interest in it, but until recently, I just never capitalized upon it. I do think James Cameron has done some marvelous work over the years, and it’s nice to see that he did take the chance to do something more fun-filled after a lot of films of thematic heaviness. While I didn’t love True Lies, it does have its great strengths and unfortunate weaknesses wrapped up in a very entertaining spy thriller.
Special agent Harry Tasker (Arnold Schwarzenegger) is a top spy in the ultra-secret Omega Sector – although to his wife Helen (Jaime Lee Curtis), he’s just a boring computer salesman. When Harry’s two lives unexpectedly collide, both he and Helen find themselves in the clutches of international terrorists, fighting to save not only their marriage, but their lives.
In what I believe is a rare occurrence, I actually agree with Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert about this film, in most part. The opening and ending are great, exciting, engaging action excellence, but the middle section is drawn out and throws the film off the rails a little. This is in relation to the entire Bill Paxton segment where Harry Tasker learns that Helen has been seeing another man on the side who feeds her false stories of him being a secret agent. Paxton’s character turns out to be a sleazy used car salesman conning women with his tales of international espionage and intrigue, and Harry proceeds to use his resources to pull one over on the guy while attempting to inject some excitement into his marriage via subterfuge. This segment is not a bad idea, but the fact is that it is dragged out for over thirty minutes and runs through some overly long comedic bits. There is so much that could have been done to chop this down considerably and make it far more snappy and to the point.
I hate to keep being proven right about my reservations about James Cameron’s lax storytelling post-The Terminator, but the evidence keeps surfacing with every film of his I see. When he had a tight, restrictive budget forcing him to be innovative in a constrained run time, he put together a film of tight rhythm and energy. Once he was given larger and larger budgets, and was allowed to indulge himself on screen, he began to slow down the pace of his films with extended second acts that could have definitely been tightened up for a more punchy experience. The other problem with this divergence in focus is that the actual plot with our villains vanishes for the entire time the film is concerned with this marital infidelity plot. With such a thrilling action chase scene to build up the film’s villain, the movie wholly shifts focus away from that plot, and a lot like the T-1000 in Terminator 2, the actual villain is completely absent for most of the second act of the movie. He only reappears when the movie realizes it needs another action sequence. If Cameron could have found a way to keep both the action centric terrorist / secret agent and married life plots going by interweaving them, I believe that would have been great, but it’s ultimately much more compartmentalized until the third act arrives.
Regardless, Cameron is still able to direct some of the best action sequences to date. The opening escape sequence is explosive and smart with the right amount of wit and sly humor. Indeed, I was vastly impressed with the chase sequence that starts off with a public bathroom fight and shootout, and then, sees the film’s villain, Aziz, take off on a motorcycle and Harry pursues him on horseback. They gallop and zoom through Washington, D.C. streets, stores, a shopping mall, elevators, and a high rise balcony. Cameron pushes this sequence to the absolute most fun hilt, and it proves to be very original and imaginative. The climax of the film with the helicopter rescue from the out of control limousine, and then, the fighter jet explosive awesomeness really makes this one of the biggest Schwarzenegger action spectacles ever. These are some of the most incredible action sequences that either James Cameron or Arnold Schwarzenegger have ever been involved in, and they deserve to been seen by any serious action movie fan.
And Arnold Schwarzenegger really does seem to do some of his best, most dynamic work with James Cameron. The two clearly work so perfectly together based on a very trusted friendship and collaboration. This time out, Arnold gets to be more light hearted and fun. Harry Tasker is a clever character who thinks on his feet, and improvises some tight scenarios with suave charisma. By no doubt, there are some James Bond comparisons you could make, but that can be done with nearly any secret agent action movie. Harry’s a light-hearted, caring family man who is not nearly as adept at his home life as he is in espionage.
Jamie Lee Curtis is really fun and solid as Harry’s wife. We get to see her go from this simple, wholesome, innocent woman to a more empowered, assertive character. Yeah, Helen has to liberate herself with a sexy striptease, but it’s really just done in good fun in the film’s context. Helen is attracted to Bill Paxton’s character because he tells her exciting stories of peril and danger, and so, Harry chooses to give her an adventure of her own. Curtis really embraces the role in all its facets giving us a sweet character that is able to rise to the task of danger and peril.
Now, it does seem to take the right director to craft Tom Arnold’s humor down the correct path. Surely, many have found him annoying or obnoxious elsewhere, but he really hits all the comedy beats just right. He never pushes it over the edge, and doesn’t come off like a buffoon, which would have been extremely easy to fall into. Him and Schwarzenegger have very good chemistry playing off of one another lightly and naturally.
On the far more serious side, Art Malik has a great threatening look of intensity to him that perfectly aids him as the film’s villain, Salim Abu Aziz. He’s an excellent fit for this ruthless, violent radical terrorist who consistently proves to be a major adversary to contend with. He truly added the serious counterweight the film required to the light hearted tone it employs throughout. His partner in crime is Tia Carrere’s Juno Skinner, a slight femme fatale that catches Harry’s attention early on. Surely, Carrere has never been a great actress, but she does quite good work under Cameron’s direction being charming and alluring when necessary as well as cutthroat and vile when the facades are dropped.
In some smaller roles, you’ve got Charlton Heston in a solid, brief appearance as the head of Omega Sector baring a nasty scar and eye patch. This sort of shows that True Lies is not taking itself too seriously. It’s allowing a little satire and jokiness to seep into the flavor of the picture. Also, Eliza Dushku appears in an early role as Dana Tasker, Harry and Helen’s daughter, and she does a great job showcasing a lot of tough attitude and dimension she would come to be known for. Everyone in this cast really does a fine, respectable job with Cameron’s material. It’s both a fact of good casting and solid directing.
This was James Cameron’s follow-up to Terminator 2 after he took a few years off, and in that time, visual effects continued to evolve a little. Largely, the digital effects work is very subtle not requiring anything so innovative as a liquid metal cyborg assassin. Yet, it’s interesting to see that today, you’d like see those Harrier fighter jets done mostly as CGI in most shots, but here, we get the real thing on film and it looks exponentially superior to any digital effect. The green screen shots are about as good as they get, and Cameron uses as many practical elements to give the action set pieces a very realistic weight. This is just how digital effects should be used – to aid and enhance the practicals in addition to achieving what little practicals cannot achieve. The use of practical effects adds more realistic weight to everything that I immensely appreciate.
True Lies is a very entertaining film with a fun mixture of concepts that is much lighter than your typical James Cameron fare. I think every idea he had here is solid and when it clicks, it excels beyond expectations. That is essentially the action-centric plot aspects, and while the humor is greatly well done, it dragged down the middle of the film. I honestly feel that humor works best when it’s snappy, sharp, and punctuated correctly. The comedy segments of True Lies are drawn out too long, and diverge the film away from its more exciting aspects. I believe the script could have been tightened up in that second act by shortening some of these sequences, and resulting in a sharper and more to the point second act. I do like the idea of showing the light-hearted suburban home life of this international secret agent, and the fun marital twists and turns that Harry and Helen take. However, I feel the film eventually forgets to meld its ideas together for a long period, and diverges away from the action film aspects for too long. Just when the secret agent plot was getting interesting and truly exciting, it ditches it for a good half an hour.
Regardless, I would still recommend True Lies. As I said, the action sequences are spectacular on every level showcasing the best of what Arnold can do, and demonstrating that James Cameron is one of the best directors of action out there. His dynamic visual style is wonderfully realized by Russell Carpenter’s exceptional cinematography. He didn’t work with Cameron on any other picture, but that would be hard to tell because the film has all of Cameron’s visual signatures. The blue, moody tones and great camera work with excellent close-up shots and push-ins all punctuate what you expect from James Cameron, and Carpenter truly hits it all dead on the mark. There is plenty of entertainment value to gain from True Lies, but even despite the R rating, it’s fairly light on graphic violence. So, in a way it appears more tame than previous Cameron or Schwarzenegger action films, but for the lighter tone used here, it seems more appropriate. As I said, I feel the film could benefit greatly from a tightening up of its humor, or at least, allow the secret agent action plot and the family life comedy to interweave in that second act. As it stands, the film veers off track for a good thirty minutes in the middle, and doesn’t get back on track until the terrorists burst back into the film in a rather unexplained fashion. It’s all good stuff from start to finish, but I just feel it would have worked better in a tighter package.
So, over twenty years later Rick Rosenthal would return to the Halloween franchise for this entry. I honestly have never liked Halloween: H20 for a multitude of reasons, and I don’t wish to sit through it again to review it. Thus, I was so immensely glad that this film promptly retconned the ending of that movie, and allowed for Michael Myers to live again and not die like a punk. I know there are those who disagree with that feeling, but so be it. While I do find this sequel enjoyable to a degree, it does have valid issues to critique about it.
For the first broadcast of the new reality website Dangertainment, a group of college students are hired to explore the ruins of the house of infamous murderer Michael Myers. Six cash-strapped friends decide to explore the home, but what they don’t know is that Michael is on his way home back to Haddonfield after a fateful confrontation with his sister Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Now, being broadcast across the internet, these unsuspecting victims will fall prey to Myers’ methodical blade.
If this movie was made ten years later, it probably would have been a found footage horror movie. Very little would have to change to accommodate that approach, but thankfully, that’s not the case here. I can understand why this story idea was used. This is the eighth movie in this franchise, including Season of the Witch, and a studio is going to feel like they need a fresh gimmick to drive in audiences. Paramount felt the same thing when they made Jason Takes Manhattan. The problem is that these ideas are usually not all that favorable with audiences. I love slasher movies, but I do like someone doing something fresh with the formula every so often. Frankly, I think Halloween: Resurrection executes this idea as well as it can be. In fact, it has some strangely honest commentary on reality television. Dangertainment mocks up the entire Myers house with false clues about Michael’s upbringing because they know actual reality is boring. No one would watch a bunch of people wandering through an empty house. The head of the company, Freddie Harris, has to dress it up and create an illusion and sell it as reality so to make it entertaining. I like that the Freddie character does come around to denouncing that illusion and the using of Michael Myers as a sound bite to drive viewership up. It shows an effort on the part of the filmmakers to make something of the premise, which is indeed dated. Halloween: Resurrection might be far from the pinnacle of this franchise, but it’s far more consistent than the rushed mess of The Revenge of Michael Myers.
If you watched the trailer for this you might believe that Jamie Lee Curtis had a larger role in it than she really does. Her story is confined to the opening sequence at a psychiatric hospital where she has her final confrontation with Michael. A quick summation at the film’s start states that Michael Myers had switched outfits with a paramedic before the last film’s climax, and it was that poor soul with a crushed larynx that Laurie decapitated. What ensues in this opening sequence with Laurie and Michael puts the storyline to rest. I’m sure there are fans who did not like this at all, possibly as much as I hated the ending of H20, but taken on its own merits, it is a well done sequence that is to the point. Laurie doesn’t go out in a blaze of glory, but really, you shouldn’t set your expectations that high for this movie. It’s just not that ambitious.
I do really like the look of this sequel. It makes great use of atmospheric lighting. It has the polish of a major studio feature, but Rosenthal and his cinematographer just know how give it that shadowy, moody quality. True to the John Carpenter roots, there’s some very solid use of blues and fine steadicam work. The video camera footage of the internet broadcast is about what you’d expect in the pre-high definition digital era. We get more and more of it as the film progresses, and you could take it or leave it depending on your disposition towards it. It has some effectiveness in certain sparse moments for us to see things from the characters’ point of views, which is evocative of the found footage genre like The Blair Witch Project had already shown, but there’s nothing special to witness here in that regard.
The biggest highlight of this movie is that I absolutely LOVE the score by Danny Lux. I honestly believe it is the best score of the sequels. Lux adds a heavier punctuation to the familiar themes, and overall, he crafts a more haunting, partially gothic aura to the film. It’s a score that really soars far above the quality of the film it is attached to. Regardless of what you think of this movie, you should definitely give this score a standalone listen. It is immensely effective. Danny Lux does an amazing job with it.
Now, I don’t think this is a bad cast. For the most part, they do come off as fairly standard slasher film fodder, but this cast does seem like they are putting forth an honest effort. Each one tries to make their character enthusiastic, charismatic, and somewhat entertaining. There’s no real standout, but everyone essentially delivers a performance of a consistent, equal level. I wouldn’t say this new cast features anything approaching greatness, but it’s good for the expectations you would likely have.
Bianca Kajlich does well in making Sara a relatable and sympathetic lead. There’s very little to the character, same with everyone, but there’s enough of a decent, vulnerable person in her performance for it to work. She has this internet based relationship with the high school freshman Myles. Through that, they’ve built a foundation of trust and friendship, and it plays fairly well into the movie near the climax. Ryan Merriman is endearing as Myles. He’s definitely the audience’s conduit into having sympathy for the victims. He and his friends are at a Halloween party watching the online stream of the Myers house expedition, and witness the horror as it progresses with little to be able to do about it. Despite Myles and Sara being strictly internet pals, Merriman does a fine job creating an emotional connection between both characters. It’s almost a shame that the film never allows them to actually see each other face-to-face.
The role of Freddie Harris is indeed filled by Busta Rhymes. Clearly, he didn’t need to be in this movie, but I will give him credit that he doesn’t slack off. He portrays a role that’s within his ability as a charismatic salesman, but also does a fine job with the more fearful, regretful moments later in the film. We surely could have done without the Kung Fu fight against Michael, but at least the filmmakers did enough to set it up earlier on. In the fiery climax, he’s certainly played up for the sake of his fans, and it does feel rather out of place. You might as well have Arnold Schwarzenegger charge in there for as much as its played like an action hero moment. It would be essentially the same effect.
The role of The Shape is filled by Brad Loree who I feel does a decent job. It’s definitely Dick Warlock inspired, but not quite so rigid. His performance is simply okay. It doesn’t standout, the same as the rest of the cast, but it works fine for the demands of this film. Also, while he is listed as 6’2”, I think the baggy coveralls make him appear smaller in stature than he likely really is. The mask for his Michael Myers could have done with a little less airbrushing detail, but really, no sequel has really gotten the mask to look right compared to the original film. I’m not sure why that’s been so difficult.
The most important question, though, is if this film is scary. Well, it has the potential to be depending on how weathered of a horror fan you are. Rick Rosenthal really does a lot to set a strong visual atmosphere conducive to scaring an audience. There are plenty of spooky moments of Michael Myers lurking in the shadows, only seen in glimpses. It certainly has moments that could scare certain people, but generally speaking, it’s not going to do much for the seasoned horror fan. Especially ten years on, with the far more intense films we’ve gotten in this genre, regardless of your preference, Halloween: Resurrection is fairly tame. Even John Carpenter’s original is not really an effective horror film anymore to me, but I respect it immensely on every artistic level. It is, after all, the movie review of mine that launched Forever Cinematic in the first place.
The Halloween franchise is kind of a mess. There are a lot of subjective ups and downs depending on what storylines you enjoy. For me, I really liked where things were potentially going with the sixth film, The Curse of Michael Myers, mainly in its Producer’s Cut form, but so much tanked that potential resulting in Halloween: H20. I hated that film for killing the continuity and storyline that I loved, and intending to dispatch Michael Myers in an unimaginative, bullheaded fashion. This sequel ultimately feels like a weak whimper trying to extend the bankability of the franchise just a little further without enough ambition or unique talent to elevate it. It just tries to be a fun slasher flick, and if you take it as that, it’s fine. I can sit down and burn ninety minutes with it on a whim, but it’s entirely forgettable and dismissible. Aside from the potentially divisive opening with Laurie’s death, it really plays it safe with an either fun or lame premise. Essentially, you can take this film or leave it. If it’s on cable, and you’ve just time to kill, it’s a decent watch. I would like to give it a better recommendation, but knowing that there are a some far stronger films in this franchise, I can’t give it any further credit than this.
There 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.
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.