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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.


Vampires (1998)

I have seen many favorite directors of mine fall into a decline over a period of time.  They used to be great, but time has done something to change their ability to output work that rivals their best.  John Carpenter is one of those directors.  The 1980s were his glory years.  In the 1990s, his work started getting spotty with some hard misses such as Village of the Damned, but for me, this 1998 action horror film is still on the better side of his filmography.  It does have some problems, but the stellar performance by James Woods elevates this to a far higher level than it would’ve had otherwise.

Jack Crow (James Woods) is a professional and Vatican-funded vampire slayer.  He and his team of slayers have just cleared out a nest of vampires in the New Mexico desert, but, disappointingly, the master vampire was not there.  That night, the team is partying at the Sun God Motel, rejoicing in their victory when the master, Jan Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith), arrives to slaughter them after seducing and biting Katrina (Sheryl Lee), a hooker hired for the party.  Crow is surprised when Valek happens to know his name, but he soon retreats with fellow slayer Montoya (Daniel Baldwin) and Katrina.  They soon have the young and timid priest Father Adam Guiteau (Tim Guinee) forced upon them by Cardinal Alba (Maximilian Schell) as a replacement for their slain Father Giovanni (Gregory Sierra).  Thus, this new team heads out to find Valek with the help of Katrina’s psychic link with him, and stop him from completing a ritual which will allow vampires to walk in daylight.

This was based on the novel VAMPIRE$ by John Steakley, and while I have never read it, I’ve been told that the book has a far superior story.  Steakley himself said that the film contains much of his dialogue, but none of his plot.  Reading just the quick summation of the novel, there are heavy deviations following the motel massacre.  So, anyone familiar with the book should not expect more than a basic adaptation of it in the film, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t some very worthwhile content in John Carpenter’s Vampires.

As I said, this entire movie belongs to James Woods.  Without someone of his caliber inhabiting this hard edged, charismatic character, this film would inevitably falter.  He truly commands the screen with power and authority.  Jack Crow is a rugged man with an intense physical presence that takes nothing from no one.  He knows nothing of subtlety.  You feel his electric energy pulsate off the screen.  The back story of Crow is very painful and traumatic, but he’s not a sympathetic hero.  He doesn’t have the time or mentality of sympathy.  He’s the flipside of another Carpenter bad ass – “Snake” Plissken.  Where Plissken was pretty soft-spoken and forced to trust in unsavory people in bad situations, Crow is a hard ass that doesn’t much give a damn about the odds.  He’s got a vendetta to settle with Valek now, and there is nothing that will stop him until he gets some blood spilled.  Still, he’s keen and focused.  Crow doesn’t get blinded by rage or vengeance.  He’s a hunter, and that’s the instinct he follows the most.  James Woods has great scenes with everyone in the film as his charisma energizes every scene.  Crow really shows no fear even in the face of apparent death.  The guy’s got attitude to spare, and I couldn’t think of anyone but James Woods tackling this character.  He’s got such an energy, intensity, and authority that allows him to easily carry the entire film.  The late film critic Gene Siskel believed that Woods deserved an Oscar nomination for his performance here, and I could stand behind that statement as well.  Carpenter’s worked with some great actors before, but Woods is just another breed of animal altogether.

Another strong performer is Thomas Ian Griffith as Valek.  Griffith’s career has been mostly relegated to mediocre B grade action movies, but here, he shows that he can envelop himself in a very imposing and alluring character.  He gives us a savage, confident, creepy, and sadistic style.  Valek does have a rage, but it is controlled.  He knows what he wants, and goes about it with lustful passion.  He really holds his own against Woods, and makes Valek a very powerful and memorable villain.  Valek follows in that more romanticized style of vampire, but has more than enough gruesome ferocity to balance that out to maintain himself as a serious threat.

Daniel Baldwin plays Montoya with a lot of different tones.  He’s a bit cynical and vulgar at first, switches over into a real mean streak, but also shows us some hurt at the end.  It’s very solid performance by him.  Sheryl Lee is not only very talented, but she is sizzling hot!  We see some very nice bare skin, but nothing frontal.  She has some very intense stuff to tackle here, and does so superbly.  Tim Guinee plays the timid and inexperienced Father Adam with an endearing quality.  You feel sorry for the guy when Jack Crow is smacking him around and literally ripping on him.  There are answers that Jack needs, and he has to physically force Father Adam’s reluctant cooperation.  And of course, Maximilian Schell brings his fine Shakespearian acting talents to grace this film with a wonderful performance.  He brings a nice sense of culture wrapped in a little bit of shadiness.

John Carpenter has always been a big fan of the westerns, and that is never more apparent than in this film.  Vampires has distinct elements of those great old Spaghetti westerns.  Jack Crow truly feels like an old style gunslinger or bounty hunter.  A man hardened by life who doesn’t live by laws.  He takes what he wants when he needs it.  He’s a man who doesn’t require comforts in life.  He’s on a mission, and nothing’s going to stop him.  The southwestern American landscape is used to strikingly stunning degrees, and provides a unique backdrop for a vampire film.  The cinematography from Gary B. Kibbe really brings an amazing beauty to this classic old west style environment.  Kibbe also lensed Prince of Darkness and In The Mouth of Madness which both also had fantastic and dramatic cinematography.  Carpenter and Kibbe have worked on other pictures as well, and they seem to really mesh nicely as a team.

This western motif is further enhanced by John Carpenter’s amazing score.  The main theme has a heavy blues emphasis.  It sounds like a modern electric guitar version of an Ennio Morricone / Sergio Leone film score.  However, the more general score is very haunting and foreboding.  It creates a great atmosphere for the horror elements of the film while the theme more pops up to enhance the presence of Jack Crow.  It’s an incredible piece of work all around with a very chilling and intense orchestration.  I’ve been a proud owner of the soundtrack CD since the film’s release.

Vampires is also a great film for gore fans.  KNB EFX Group delivers again with some elaborate, blood soaked gruesomeness.   They got better with every film they worked on, and their work here is amazing.  Bodies ripped in half, throats slashes wide open, blood everywhere, and creepy vampire makeup really brought this film a major shock splatter factor.  Where John Carpenter has mainly been a suspense driven horror director, this film plunges headlong into a large vat of blood.  It flows and splatters everywhere making Valek even more of a violent, powerful threat to show he can produce this much carnage alone.

One of the detractors to this film back in 1998 was with the marketing.  The trailer actually spoils what is meant to be a startling revelation in the film.  I have refrained from spoiling that here for the sake of those who don’t already know it.  However, as I said, there are a few problems with the movie.  The plotting of the movie is pretty good, but it seems like there are some plot threads that are trimmed out.  As if there is some connective tissue that could have strengthened a few plot twists and character motivations in the third act.  That’s mainly where the problems arise is in the final act.  The climax has many good elements to it, but when it comes down to the final confrontation between Jack Crow and Valek, it couldn’t end more anti-climactically.  It does fit the attitude and personality of Jack Crow to end it how he does, but the dramatic pay-off of the story suffers for it.  Valek has viciously slaughtered Crow’s entire team and worse.  He’s a massive threat with a integral, important back story.  The dramatic storytelling really demands a fight fueled by fiery vengeance.  Something that truly has them ripping at each other with brute force, but we are not given that.  This ending does have a John Carpenter style and sensibility to it, but lacks the big punchy quality he usually gives us.

At the time of its theatrical release, this was the start of horror films getting gory again.  The genre had gotten mainly watered down throughout the 90s, and coupled with Blade, this was bringing back the violent and bad ass vampires to theatres.  John Carpenter’s Vampires delivers a lot of action, brutality, plenty of gore, and a nice dash of appropriate cynical humor.  There’s also some suspense mixed in at times to keep the nerves tingling a little.  So, on a pure horror front, the film essentially succeeds, and it has been one that I’ve enjoyed over the years.  I just think that the script could’ve used some stronger through lines with a few characters and certain aspects of the plot to give more purpose and build up to some of the reveals during the third act.  Ultimately, the film is mainly concerned with Jack Crow.  While that is the film’s true strength with James Woods’ incredible performance, there was enough room to flesh out other aspects of the story to make it feel more satisfying on a storytelling level.  There are those that put John Carpenter’s Vampires in the bad category of his career, and while I can see there was room for definite enhancement, this is far from being a bad movie.  Carpenter did produce a good film here which does have much going for it.  As it is, this is a hell of a fun ride that I find quite entertaining and thrilling.  It is absolutely worth your time to watch this intense, haunting, and grisly horror movie.  It’s also probably the closest we’ll ever get to having John Carpenter direct a western, and he couldn’t have gotten a better old west style anti-hero than James Woods.


The Thing (1982)

Right behind Michael Mann, John Carpenter is my favorite filmmaker of all time.  The diverse range of films he has given the world are entirely unique and wildly entertaining.  In 1982, he ventured to pay homage to one of his favorite filmmakers, Howard Hawkes, by helming a re-adaptation of the John W. Campbell, Jr. short story “Who Goes There?”  Hawkes had done so previously in 1951 with The Thing From Another World.  What Carpenter gave us is what I consider the best film he’s ever made.  A grippingly effective science fiction horror film with an amazing atmosphere of slow building paranoia and sickening alien gore.  John Carpenter’s The Thing became a classic of the genre due not only to a solid ensemble cast, but an elite crew that make this such a fantastic film that continues to hold up thirty years later.

In the winter of 1982, a twelve-man research team at a remote Antarctic United States research station discover an alien life form that was buried in the snow and ice for over 100,000 years.  They soon realize that not only is it still alive after a deep freeze burial and a fiery defeat by a Norwegian camp, but that it has the ability to imitate any living thing to exact detail.  Before they know it, the alien organism has infiltrated their camp, posing as any number of these men.  Paranoia and distrust runs amuck in this isolated compound as no one knows who is human, and who is The Thing.

Time always seems to be the best judge of quality.  Upon its release, The Thing did poorly.  This was because 1982 was the summer of Steven Spielberg’s E.T.: the Extra-Terrestrial, and many dark science fiction films did badly in the shadow of that wondrous, fantastical film.  Blade Runner, which opened the same weekend as The Thing, also suffered at the box office because of this.  However, since then, The Thing and Blade Runner have become two of the most revered films of the genre garnering massive praise, and are recognized among the best works from directors John Carpenter and Ridley Scott, respectively.  They are both amazing films in different ways, but have both influenced the genre immensely.

Beyond anything, what stands out the most in this film are Rob Bottin’s amazing creature effects.  What he achieves puts him on the same level with the absolute best in the business.  Effects master Stan Winston also lent a helping hand in a sequence or two, but Bottin is the main man responsible for the richly disgusting slimy alien gore and mind blowing physical creations here.  The detail he put into his work to create such twisted and purely alien designs remain as impactful and effective today as they were in 1982.  That’s the work of a master, and it lead to him working on blockbusters such as RoboCop, Total Recall, Se7en, Mission: Impossible, and Fight Club.  It is a massive loss to the industry that he has been absent from it since 2002.  Bottin was a fascinating personality with a wild artistic mind that was ripe with brilliance.  This film is eternal testament to his talents.

Speaking of which, John Carpenter’s pure horror talents have never been more taut or focused than in this film.  It’s the perfect blending of paranoia, creepiness, gory horror, tension, and suspense.  Nobody does it like John Carpenter, and only from his expert direction could this film have become as timeless and consistently effective as it has become.  Also from him comes a perfectly selected cast fronted by Kurt Russell as R.J. MacReady – the cool and rational mind, the level-headed one of the bunch.  Also featured in this ensemble are Keith David, A. Wilford Brimley, Thomas Waites, Richard Dysart, Richard Masur, David Clennon, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, T.K. Carter, and Donald Moffat.  They all inhabit their characters so distinctly and vibrantly.  Each man has their own look, and aren’t easy to mistake one for another.  Their personalities and characteristics set them all apart very nicely, and all of the cast grasped onto the growing paranoia excellently.  A beardless Brimley brings forth a fantastic performance as well as Blair flips out partway through the movie tearing apart the communications center.  He plays crazy to immensely entertaining effect.  Later, he is truly unsettling leading into the film’s climax.  Keith David is constantly entertaining as the gung ho, take-no-crap from anyone Childs.  However, Russell clearly remains the most central protagonist of the film bringing stability to the chaos, and handling all the various dimensions of MacReady awesomely.

The script written by Bill Lancaster is wonderfully constructed.  Sadly, Mr. Lancaster passed away in 1997 due to a cardiac arrest, and was not able to contribute his thoughts to Universal’s amazing Collector’s Edition DVD.  The Thing was the last piece of cinema Lancaster was directly involved with, and at least he could say that he bowed out of filmmaking on a seriously high note.  This happens to be a pure classic in the genre of science fiction & horror.  The dialogue is always great, never ever cheesy or cliché.  There are bits of humor, but nothing that works against the tone of the film or the scene.  Any director would be privileged to work with a script this well-conceived.

The cinematography is an absolute pleasure here, and that is forever to be expected from Academy Award winning director of photography Dean Cundey.  In the opening minutes of the film, we are given stunning shots of the immense arctic landscape that clearly establish how isolated our characters are.  The photography can even prove to be terribly creepy at times such as the storage room scene after MacReady breaks into the compound.  Kurt Russell looks ghostly with the brilliant blue lighting upon his snow covered self.  Cinematography in a Carpenter film has always been a strong point, and you cannot deny its strength here.  It helps evoke the proper emotions at the right times by capturing atmosphere in its compositions and lighting.  Another such element is Ennio Morricone’s score.  Right from the get go, it sets the tone for the entire film.  It grips you and never lets go.  This score is haunting, relentless, brooding, and terribly chilling.  This is such a powerful score, and despite that Carpenter did not compose it, it does have many elements of his own scores in it.  Morricone had scored many “spaghetti” westerns including The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly, and we would later score The Untouchables.  To this day, Morricone continues to score many films, mostly Italian ones.

What makes this film so effective is due to the psychological aspect of the story.  The paranoia slowly develops in the company of these men while trust diminishes.  These characters are nicely setup from the start establishing their relationships and personalities so vividly that later you see how seamlessly the alien has infiltrated their ranks.  No one acts any differently, and it is surprising how complete the disguise is.  Under a human guise, the Thing turns down the chance to take over as the leader of the group.  The life form is not looking to be obvious.  It has no ego, and is possibly doing this out of fear for its own survival.  It wants to hide, be subversive so that it can keep doing what it does without suspicion.  Using covert methods, it can slowly take over the entire camp until it is in total control.  However, when threatened, it is a brilliant idea that each part of it is an individual whole that will fight for its own survival.  This makes it just that much harder to definitively defeat as even one molecule’s survival can be disastrous, in time.  Mixed in with the diverse and dimensional performances, every aspect of paranoia and fear that this film deserved is greatly fleshed out and realized here.

When taking in all of this excellence, one can’t help but realize they are watching a classic piece of science fiction / horror cinema with John Carpenter’s The Thing.  From Carpenter’s expert direction, Bottin’s masterful effects work, the stellar production values, the power of Morricone’s score, the amazing cinematography, and certainly the stellar acting talents of this whole ensemble cast you will get a perfect film.  The atmosphere in this motion picture is something that many filmmakers fail to inject into their own films.  My interest in horror films has waned in past several years.  First, it was the torture porn trend, and now, I just don’t see much of anything out there with this level of atmosphere and craftsmanship.  John Carpenter’s masterpiece gets a perfect, solid rating from me – 10 out of 10.  I did see the 2011 prequel, and while it excelled in the horror and atmospheric areas, it didn’t have the memorable characters or amazing creature effects that set Carpenter’s film apart from the competition.  You surely can’t perfectly imitate a masterpiece.


In The Mouth of Madness (1995)

What if you were nothing but a fictional character?  What if you were simply a figment of an author’s imagination?  What if reality, as you know it, ceased to exist?  What if you were the creation of horror writer Sutter Cane?  This is the premise for John Carpenter’s 1995 classic, In The Mouth of Madness.

Sam Neill stars as John Trent, a freelance insurance fraud investigator.  Trent is the best in the business, and has just debunked an insurance claim for his friend and colleague, Robbie (Bernie Casey).  After his job is done, Robbie wants Trent to investigate an insurance claim that has to do with the disappearance of best-selling horror novelist, Sutter Cane (Jürgen Prochnow).  Though, their meeting is cut short by an axe wielding maniac with a very bizarre look in his eyes.  This maniac nearly kills Trent, and he soon learns that this was Cane’s agent during a meeting with Jackson Harglow (Charlton Heston), the head man of the publishing company for Cane’s books.  Harglow introduces Trent to Cane’s editor, Linda Styles (Julie Carmen), who says that Cane’s writing tends to have a strange impact on its readers.  With the masses clamoring for Cane’s next novel, Harglow is desperate to find Cane, and more importantly, the complete manuscript for the novel, In The Mouth of Madness.  Grounded in reality, Trent believes this is all some elaborate publicity stunt by Harglow, and even concocts his own theory of it all.  Ultimately, he discovers a map built out of the Cane’s own book artwork that leads to the supposed fictional town of Hobb’s End, New Hampshire.  John is sent off with Linda to decipher this mystery, but slowly, reality begins to come undone as Sutter Cane starts to take control.  And no matter how much Styles tries to sway Trent’s perspective of everything that’s going on around them, he stands strong in what he believes to be real.  However, will this unraveling of reality around John Trent drive him straight into the mouth of madness?

Before I get into the meat of this film, I have to express my enjoyment of the film’s music.  As is well known, John Carpenter composes the music for his own films, and has a strong track record of excellent scores and main title themes.  Carpenter teams with Jim Lang to produce a fantastic score, and a very bluesy, yet extremely catchy main title theme.  If you like Carpenter’s score for Vampires, this theme will be right up there with it!  I have been a proud owner of the film’s original soundtrack album for many years, and that opening title theme is a true highlight for me.  Carpenter really kicks off this film right with this opening credits sequence, and really sets a great tone for the whole film.

Now, this final installment in John Carpenter’s “Apocalypse Trilogy” (which also consists of The Thing and Prince of Darkness) features a fantastic cast!  In addition to Sam Neill (Jurassic Park, Event Horizon), Jürgen Prochnow (Beverly Hills Cop II), and Charlton Heston (Planet of the Apes), you’ve got the great character actors in David Warner and one of my personal favorites, John Glover.  Warner starred in the late 80’s horror classic, Waxwork, has had several parts in the Star Trek film & television franchises, and worked previously with Carpenter on the anthology TV movie Body Bags.  John Glover you may know from the 1999 Mel Gibson revenge actioneer Payback, as the Devil on the short-lived FOX series Brimstone, from Gremlins 2, or more recently, his role as Lionel Luthor on Smallville.  Carpenter character actor regular Peter Jason also has an appearance early on in the film, and he brings out one of his best performances opposite Sam Neill as an insurance scammer.  It’s just a stellar cast that I think only Carpenter could’ve culled together.  Every single actor puts in a great performance, and Julie Carmen (Fright Night, Part II) is no exception either.

Most prominently, Sam Neill puts in a superb performance, as he always does, and grounds Trent well into the bounds of reality.  Even when a normal person would’ve given into some form of dementia or hysteria, Trent continues to weed out the con, and Neill makes it truly convincing.  He inhabits the character beautifully.  He richly knows the character.  He knows his reasoning, and understands how the character’s mind works.  He’s so dead set on finding some level of a con in all that’s going on around him that to give into the illusion Cane is creating is not a possibility.  Of course, when Trent eventually does go past the brink of sanity, Neill sells it well, but not by playing it as a crazy, but as a fearful prophet of doom.  He knows the inevitable truth, can do what he wants to stop it, but knows that it’s all a futile effort – the world is going mad, the end is near.  Overall, it’s an amazing and deeply fleshed out performance fueled by a wonderfully written character.

That being said, I cannot overlook Michael De Luca’s fantastic script, and I give him monstrous praise for the imagination it took to conjure together such a well-woven story of surrealism..  He forges a very intelligent piece of horror storytelling with a smart structure and strong, memorable characters.  It’s an entirely compelling premise that is frightening to contemplate, and is the core reason why this is my favorite horror film of all time.  It’s not just the idea of reality as we know it degenerating into a horrific nightmare, but how it is masterfully woven together through Trent’s eyes that makes this such a brilliant piece of cinematic awesomeness.  Of course, bringing it to John Carpenter was simply inspired and perfect.

Some say John Carpenter had lost his style and talent by the 90’s, and there ARE examples of that – Village of the Damned, Memoirs of an Invisible Man, and eventually, Ghosts of Mars in 2000 – but this is not one of them.  He directs and shoots this film as well as Escape From New York, The Thing, Christine, or even Halloween.  Carpenter really entrenches you in the world of Sutter Cane, and presents Cane as the imposing, frighteningly powerful figure he’s been built up to be.  The cinematography by Gary B. Kibbe is fantastic here, and it fits well with Carpenter’s style.  It allows for dramatic tension, a foreboding atmosphere, and it nicely conveys the entire ‘unraveling of reality’ element that builds throughout the entire film.  This is one of John Carpenter’s best films ever, and it’s only a shame that it doesn’t get as greatly noticed or appreciated as it deserves to be.

The only detractor I find in the entire film are the ‘unspeakable abominations’ that are unleashed from ‘the other side’ late in the film.  Not to say anything bad about the usually fantastic makeup and creature effects of KNB EFX Group, but it may have played a little better if we never actually saw these creatures.  Keep them hidden, and left in shadow.  I just think that unspeakable abominations are better left to the imagination of the audience.  They just don’t sell well with me here, but their sequence is a quiet brief and only in quick cuts.  So, it’s nothing to ruin the film for you.  This is far too exceptional and frightening of a film to have such a minor thing like that overshadow it.  There are intensely horrific images within this movie that will disturb you, make you cringe.  One of the main influences for much of the film were the works of H.P. Lovecraft.  I have read a good deal of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and the imagery and feel of this film truly conveys much of what Lovecraft expressed in his work.  Thank KNB EFX Group for creating such dead-on creations that really hold to that influence.  They proved their cutting edge talent here with amazing and unsettling make-up effects which bring the horror to intense life.

In The Mouth of Madness is, without a doubt, a Carpenter classic, and is as deserving of all the praise as his other classics.  He takes De Luca’s superb screenplay, and realizes it with the skill of a master craftsman.  Every nuance in this subtle, intricate horror story is brilliantly executed with a dead-on perfect cast.  Carpenter and De Luca weave a chilling story that is strong, setting up characters, a reality, a plot, and then, slowly deconstructing it piece by piece.  What remains in the end is madness, and a thought-provoking, but still entertaining horror movie.  There is only one other thing to say here, and that is, you need to go watch this movie!


Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

To say that the Halloween film franchise has been a very mixed bag with very debatable highs and lows would be putting it mildly.  Probably the blackest sheep of the family is Halloween III: Season of the Witch.  After burning Michael Myers alive in the second film, John Carpenter decided to take the franchise into an anthology format.  Each new entry would be generally unrelated to one another except for sharing a Halloween theme.  It failed, dismally.  Does that mean the film is particularly bad?  Well, that’s complicated.  The non-sequel was panned by critics and fans alike, and there is true reason to that.  In recent times, it has gained more respect apart from its franchise ties.  However, before I go further, let’s layout the plot first.

Dr. Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins) is a physician at a northern California hospital.  One October night, a man named Harry Cambridge is carted into the emergency room in hysterics.  Grasping a Silver Shamrock Halloween mask and screaming “They’re going to kill us all”.  Naturally, he seems to have lost his sanity, but when Harry is murdered in his hospital bed later that night by a mysterious man (Dick Warlock) who shortly thereafter enters into a car & blows himself sky high, Dr. Challis becomes very curious as to Harry’s claims.  His interest is furthered when Harry’s daughter, Ellie, tells Challis what drove her father into hysterics.  Harry Cambridge was investigating the origins of the Silver Shamrock masks, and to why no orders were being taken for the following year.  Daniel & Ellie trek to Santa Mira (the home of the Silver Shamrock Company) to find the answers they seek.  They are horrified when they discover that the company owner, Conal Cochrane (Dan O’Herlihy), has implanted microchips, partially made from mysterious Stonehenge rocks, into the masks, and when the Silver Shamrock commercial plays with its special jingle, it will kill countless numbers of children across the country in a horrific manner.  As the night goes on, time draws short, and Daniel Challis must attempt to thwart Cochrane’s evil, sinister, dreadful plan.  Through relentless android assassins (who all look like Dick Warlock), a treacherous factory, and more, Dr. Challis desperately races against time to stop this living nightmare from happening.

This film is good, but not great.  It has a tense and suspenseful story that plays out with some shocking visuals and lots of android gore (they ooze yellow fluid).  It’s sort of clever that the film still maintains the opening shot of the jack-o-lantern, but as a video graphic, thus, supporting the film’s technology motif.  The film starts off with a suspenseful and mysterious chase sequence which sets up an eerie tone for the film.  However, while there are several strong moments of horror and unsettling atmosphere, they feel very far between with little going on in the meantime to maintain a driving plot.

While the score is very identifiable as a John Carpenter / Alan Howarth creation, I think its main shortcoming is a lack of an iconic theme.  The music is either a pulsating, rhythmic vibe or just eerie underscore to enhance the danger and creep factor.  When the original Halloween is playing late in the film on a television set, the music from that film more than overshadows the original music for this film.  Still, this is certainly far from being a bad score.  It’s perfectly creepy and ominous from two master composers, but knowing the other work they have done, it seems a little lacking in creativity.  The incessant repeat usage of the Silver Shamrock jingle surely becomes irritating very quickly, adding another negative mark against the film.

Director Tommy Lee Wallace doesn’t have the artist strength of John Carpenter, and while the cinematography of Dean Cundey goes a long way to boosting the visual quality of the film, there’s still a definite fall-off in suspenseful innovation.  Furthermore, several of the sets and props seem budget-starved. and the $2.5 million budget re-inforces that statement.  The lesser grade production values really damage the film’s potential for being taken seriously.  If the film had double that budget, perhaps such things would’ve looked better, but it wouldn’t have saved the film.  There are simply far more fundamental problems with Halloween III that could’ve been salvaged with the right person at the helm.  Thankfully, the special make-up effects are of an excellent gory quality.

Now, Tom Atkins puts in a strong, well-rounded performance here.  He shows the desperation of Challis well, and even more so, the intense fear at the film’s finale.  It’s a good performance as this womanizing doctor, but at times, you may feel as if he is is out-of-place.  Atkins is a big, tall guy, and having him play a less than physically capable man comes off as awkward on screen.  He easily does well with what he’s given, but there’s not much of a character on the page for him to appear unique or compelling.  Challis doesn’t have a particularly distinctive personality to really distinguish him strongly enough in the story.  This is pretty common with every character.

For instance, Dan O’Herlihy does a decent job as the insidious and sadistic Cochrane, but it’s not a great performance.  Granted, he’s convincingly evil, but barely more than that.  We are given a preview of Cochrane’s intended fate for the youth of the country, and it is truly shocking and horrifying.  Unfortunately, that alone doesn’t amplify the character of Cochrane.  I feel he needed to be more devilish, more demonic, more purely evil, but O’Herlihy’s performance does not reflect that.  His motives are horrific, but the man himself acts exceptionally casual.  He exudes very little emotion beyond a slight foreboding tone when he explains his motives and intention to Dr. Challis.  Cochrane shows no anger, no contempt, no vindictiveness.  Considering his motives, one would expect a more driven, more passionately evil character to come through on screen.  A casual evil can entirely work, but it needs more under the surface to make it truly disturbing.  One part of it is the script, but the other is the direction.  O’Herlihy might’ve been capable of more, but Wallace does nothing to motivate a stronger performance.  Basically, there’s no true depth to the performances.  You can look back at the wonderfully subtle work of Donald Pleasance in John Carpenter’s 1978 film to see what dramatic depth truly is, and how a great actor can inhabit a role well with the aid of a talented director.

I personally feel that this movie had potential, and if someone were to be bold enough to revamp it into a modern day production, I think it could meet that potential.  These days, one never knows what Hollywood will want to pillage next.  The premise of mixing mystical forces with a science fiction tinge sounds great to me, but it wouldn’t be an entirely new.  I simply believe that, with a proper budget in the hands of a talented director and an updated script, Season of the Witch could be an exponentially better film.  As it is, we’ve got a low budget B grade horror film with a fading stain of spite.

So, in the end, we are left with an intensely fearful cliffhanger as Challis screams at the television station over the phone to shut off the final commercial.  It’s a thrilling and suspenseful finale, and it should stick with you for sometime.  As I said at the start, we have a mixed bag.  The story worked, and the film had it’s frightening and thrilling moments.  However, the production faltered.  Tommy Lee Wallace isn’t a real visionary director, and the score was truly sub par for both Carpenter & Howarth (latter of which would do great scores for the next three Halloween films).  There are a couple of films I like just based on their potential despite the film not realizing that potential.  I believe this is one of them.  I can enjoy certain elements of it, but Halloween III: Season of the Witch just doesn’t captivate me all the way.  In the least, I suggest checking it out just so you can make your opinion of it instead of blindly buying into the scorn of decades past.


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.