Wednesday, October 19, 2011


Some extremely random notes on the franchise:

-The first film is simply a masterpiece. John Carpenter had copped to the influence of Howard Hawks with Assault on Precinct 13, and it's interesting to think what Hawks would have made of this assignment. The thing is buoyed by its mythic antagonist, youthful sister-killer turned embodiment of ultimate evil Michael Myers, and as realistic and well-realized as the town of Haddonfield, Illinois feels, it is but a setting for a highly formalistic exercise in suspense. The movie is a well-calibrated tool with the purpose of keeping its audience on edge. More than thirty years on it remains absolutely fresh and involving, and impossible to skip by on television without being absorbed into it anew.

Credit to the two lead performances: Jamie Lee Curtis is a completely relatable heroine, filled with recognizable neuroses. Her reactions to the mounting terror around her are nothing but believable. Laurie's arc grows richer with each viewing: among other things, knowing what she goes through in the final reel gives significant weight to her assurance to her young charge that "I'm not going to let anything happen to you." Believe it.

Donald Pleasance is at the other end of the innocence spectrum, the sole voice of reason and experience that goes under-heeded until it's too late. Though Michael's an imposing and menacing presence throughout, it's the terrified intensity that Pleasance brings to Loomis that makes the threat real. And dig the little arc of Loomis' stakeout of the Myers place - scaring off the kids from behind the shrub, then seconds later getting a scare of his own from the sheriff's hand. Perfectly executed comic miniature.

Add to all of this the film's substantial musical accomplishment (with Carpenter himself providing the most recognizable and insistent horror movie theme this side of Jaws), plus the invaluable contribution of director of photography Dean Cundey (whose work on this immediately catapulted him into prominence) and you've got a pretty terrific little horror film. Given the quality of the film, plus the insane box office it reaped back (after such a minimal investment) during the first years of the franchise era of American filmmaking, it was inevitable that its forumlae would be copied. And that sequels would follow.

-Halloween 2? Not so good. Mired in an unnecessary deepening of the bond between Laurie and Michael, the film is too much a by-rote slasher. One can't help but be a bit disappointed that the movie abandons both the abstraction and the realism of its predecessor to follow the template of its imitators. There's a sense of fatigue, here - even Pleasance, whose pronouncements gave the first film real weight, is just firing them off over his shoulder, like he's trying to get to the pub at the end of the shoot. Perhaps in response to the growing popularity of the Friday the 13th films, a bunch of gore effects were added outside Carpenter's involvement - the film plays a bit better without them. As to the film's invocation of Samhain (and Pleasance's surprising mispronunciation of same), it pretty much captures the movie's overambition (in explaining too much) and half-assedness.

-Halloween 3: Season of The Witch was a GREAT fucking idea, trying to spin the title into a Michael Myers-less franchise of Halloween-related tales, guided by many members of the original creative team (particularly Dean Cundey, and Carpenter himself present as producer and composer). The story of a sinister plot to unleash a pack of Celtic demons upon the world through a toy company's mask promotion is, um, more than a little muddled, but Cundey's gorgeous photography and some spirited performances more than make up for any problems at the plot level. Special mention to Daniel O'Herlihy, who's on the record saying he didn't think much of the material but that he had fun making it anyway. It shows.

-Halloweens 4-6 were quickly ejected by many fans from continuity, but hold up as a watchable (if over-complicated) trilogy of low-rent horror films that nonetheless have their own pleasures.

For one thing, the credits sequence for Halloween 4 is one of my favorite cinematic depictions of autumn:

They're more entertaining than 2, on the whole, and are mainstays on cable television these days. I must admit that when one of them rolls onto television on my nights in, I wind up watching through. The triptych involving Michael's pursuit of a niece (while being pursued, in turn, by Sam Loomis) while a weird cult starts to manifest around him is undemanding but engrossing. Donald Pleasance takes it very seriously, which helps to no end. He clearly felt a bizarre kinship with the series, stating at one point that as long as Michael kept coming back, Sam Loomis would necessarily be there. Halloween 6 was among his final films, and is, sweetly, dedicated to his memory.

-Speaking of which, there's also a strange cult surrounding the producer's cut of Halloween 6. I can't speak to the differences between the versions (though this post has been months in the writing, it was only ever intended to be a quick run-through), though I will say that, despite even this cut being a bit muddled (thanks to the film's insanely troubled creative history) there are a few noteworthy pleasures in 6 that make it more than worthwhile, including an engaging supporting turn as Tommy Doyle by Paul Rudd. Rudd brings a little humor and soul to the kind of resourceful, smart male we really rarely see in slasher films, and the film culminates in a THRILLING fight scene between Tommy and Michael. Directed by Joe Chappelle, before his tenure directing THE WIRE.

--The oddly titled Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, like many horror fans, completely ignored the continuity of Halloweens 4-6 and returned the focus to Laurie Strode, seen struggling as a single parent while working as a teacher at a scenic prep school. Save for the omnipresent theme music, John Carpenter's touch is absent from this film, which has a weird Scream-like pacing and look (the casting of various attractive TV-ready young things doesn't help - Laurie and her high school friends in the first film looked, acted, and FELT like late-70s teenagers). But the movie has some of Scream's verve and wit, as well, with Adam Arkin scoring considerable points as Laurie's lovelorn colleague (the TV edit cuts a hilarious piece of dialogue he has with his students, where he cheerfully matches their wrongness with playful sleaze of his own). The film juices the duality between Laurie and her supernaturally evil brother (a confrontation through a porthole clinches it), and Jamie Lee Curtis plays the final reel like it's fucking Medea or something, stalking her brother through the empty halls of her school, and indeed, her very consciousness.

--The rest of the franchise is sadly pretty crap - Halloween 2 director Rick Rosenthal was brought back to helm the profoundly ill-conceived Halloween: Resurrection, which begins with a well-paced but detestable prologue that dispatches Laurie Strode (and, by natural extension, Jamie Lee Curtis) from the series entirely. As if following the example of fans who have therefore decided to banish the film from memory, the rest of the film strives to be absolutely forgettable, with Michael stalking a group of kids filming their tour of his house as part of an internet reality show you know what just fuck this

--Rob Zombie's reboot of the series doesn't interest me a whole lot. His two films continue to call up the things that I admire about aspects of his style (his knack for capturing a very particular and very lively white trash patois and dialogue) while reminding me of all that I dislike about his style (like putting that particular and lively patois in the mouths of damn near all of his characters). And all that shit with the white horse in his second film was just fucking stupid.

And given that I've been handling this piecemeal for more than a year, I think it's time to just publish the fucker. Thanks for reading.


  1. A great survey of one of the pillars of slasherdom, a series that runs like a dirty thread through the blockbuster age of filmmaking. From the first movie, with believable characters (one, at least) and solid narrative, through the labored and the retconned, all the way to the surreally overly produced.

    What the @#$%! is going on with that white horse? Bwa ha ha ha! Is that a heroin reference, like the horse that appears briefly in Twin Peaks?

  2. I think you were the one who showed me Alex Cox's intro to the first movie:

  3. The Cox intro didn't come from me, though it's a nice (if somewhat unfair) piece of criticism.

    I may be giving Zombie too short shrift for his films - the problems they meet are problems that any remake would have. For example, I respect his willingness to change things around with Loomis' motivations - there's no point in a simple rehash. But NuLoomis' profit motive and hunger for fame don't sit well with his early compassion for Michael, and his throughline becomes hopelessly muddied.

  4. And the tab has been open in my browser forfreakingEVER waiting for my brain to settle down enough to concentrate on it, which finally happened tonight.

    As you know, horror films often become comfort films for me (The Alien series, the Ginger Snaps Trilogy, etc.), so you can imagine my surprise when I pulled Carpenter's Halloween off of my shelf while home alone several months ago only to be forced to turn it off less than halfway through 'cause I was getting entirely too creeped out.

    The way you ended the paragraph about Halloween: Resurrection confirms that I've made the correct decision in not spending any of my time on a viewing of it.

    As you're also aware, I'm more partial to Zombie's films than you tend to be. I like the first part of his reboot of Halloween, but once Michael reaches adulthood, my interest dips somewhat. (And don't even get me started on the vast differences between his escape from the hospital in the theatrical version and that of the director's cut. As soon as I find the theatrical release on dvd, I'm tossing the director's cut out the fucking window.) I really like some of the scenes in his Halloween 2, but the supernatural elements in the final scenes don't mesh well with the rest of the story for me, so it's not been added to my collection.