Saturday, 29 October 2011

Audiodrome#1 - Session 9

Head over to Paracinema to read my review of Session 9's creepy soundtrack by Climax Golden Twins.

I'll be reviewing a film soundtrack every month for the new Audiodrome: Film In Music feature.  

And check out my interview with Rob Millis from Climax Golden Twins, also over at Paracinema.
While you're at it, why not treat yourself to the latest issue of Paracinema Magazine. It's really rather good!

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Issue 1 of Exquisite Terror

London-based writer, editor and now publisher Naila Scargill, has harboured a deep-rooted fascination with the horror genre since a young girl, and it has long been a source of frustration to her that our beloved subject is rarely taken seriously as the relevant art form that it is.

Having worked as deputy editor on the now defunct Gorezone Magazine, and with increasing frustration witnessed its downward trajectory into salacious, gutter-press titillation, Scargill needed to sate her appetite for an intelligent and thought-provoking horror magazine that actually focused on horror.

And thus, having emerged from that particular wreckage with dignity just about intact, she has created Exquisite Terror - a brand-spanking-new and independently produced periodical; the intention of which is to take a more academic, analytical approach to the genre of horror.
Issue 1 includes an in-depth essay on actor Donald Sutherland and his career in the 1970s; an interview with promising new Spanish director Guillem Morales (Julia’s Eyes); ‘How to survive vampirism, according to Bram Stoker and Stephen King’; ‘Analysis of the script behind a classic’; a little something penned by yours truly on the Saitama Serial Murders of Dog Lovers (the real life story that provided the inspiration for Cold Fish) and the obligatory much, much more…

Pick up a copy of Exquisite Terror here.

Halloween Horrors in Belfast

Following on from its well received premiere at the 3rd Yellow Fever Independent Film Festival in Belfast last month, and its award winning stint at this year’s Freak Show Film Festival in Orlando – where lead actor Robert Render picked up the award for Best Actor – George Clarke’s creepy spookfest The Last Light is set to chill the spines of audiences at Belfast’s Strand Cinema on Saturday 29th October…

The Last Light is the dark tale of a maintenance man called on to ensure an old derelict house – formerly a psychiatric hospital, no less - is securely boarded up after a reported break-in. On what is supposed to be his last day on the job, he experiences increasingly chilling occurrences. Initially believing that wayward kids are playing a prank on him, it soon becomes evident that something much more sinister is afoot…

The Last Light is a moody, atmospheric and old fashioned haunted house yarn – perfect viewing on All Hallow’s Eve… Read more about the film here.
Tickets are £10 and this includes wine and nibbly things, a red carpet walk and a screening of the film followed by a cast and crew Q&A. 

Tickets can be purchased here, or at the box office at The Strand.

Also screening in Belfast in the run up to Halloween is the second annual Halloween Horrorthon at the Waterfront Hall's Movie Bar on Friday 28th. Kicking off at 8.30pm, the marathon this year consists of a trek through some of the most imaginative, 'colourful', blood-spattered and low budget terror flicks of the 80s...
Frank Hennenlotter's deranged and oddly touching Basket Case, Don Coscarelli's creepy, trippy nightmare flick Phantasm, Stuart Gordon's darkly funny, exceedingly splashy take on Lovecraft's Herbert West misadventure Re-Animator, and the one and only The Evil Dead, which really needs no introduction

There are a limited amount of tickets remaining for the Horrorthon and these can be booked here. Alternatively, if you're based in or around Belfast, head over to Movie Bar organiser John Baxter's fine blog Knifed In Venice for the chance to win a couple of tickets for the horrorthon. Happy Halloween!

There are also a host of horror screenings at the Queen's Film Theatre. Apparitions: The Spectral Screen includes The Shining, The Blair Witch Project, The Innocents and Ringu, to name but a few.

Pass this Award onto five other people or you will DIE!

Aaron over at The Death Rattle was kind/drunk enough to present me with the iDig Your Blog Award. As such it is my duty to gratefully accept and spread on the accolades to a few other blogs I dig…

5 Blogs I dig…


Belfast-based musician/producer Martin Byrne has been composing, producing and recording a song every day this year. A daunting task indeed, but Martin’s commitment to the project is nothing short of inspiring. Each visit to his blog results in an album’s worth of listening material. Great stuff. Plus, his latest track, The Slasher, appears to be an homage to John Carpenter and synthy slasher goodness from the 80s...

It All Happens In The Dark

A lover of slasher flicks, damsels in distress and feisty final girls, Cody’s breezy reviews and reflections on horror films old and new boast an infectious sense of humour and an ever fresh perspective. Currently on hiatus, here’s hoping Cody rejoins us soon for the sequel!

Unflinching Eye

A visit to Aylmer’s blog always results in discovering something I wasn’t previously aware of. With his finger on the pulse of transgressive, left-of-centre horror, every new post is an exciting, enlightening and usually beautifully written read.

Celluloid Highway

Shaun Anderson’s blog is a veritable trove of movies less-seen discussed and reviewed in an honest and frank manner. Shaun is usually pretty forthright in his writing – he calls a spade a spade. And that he does so in such an articulate, often acerbic manner results in damn good readin’.

Fascination With Fear

A fellow Argentophile, Christine Hadden’s blog charts her obsession with all things horror. Reflective, funny and scarily relatable, Fascination With Fear is easy to get lost in with its myriad reviews, ruminations on the genre and everyday anecdotes from the life of a hardcore horror fan.

Should any of these fine bloggers chose to accept their award, apparently there are rules...

1. Gratefully accept this award.
2. Link to the person you received it from.
3. Post 3 interesting facts about yourself.
4. Pass this award around to at least 5 blogs you dig.
5. Notify them.
6. If you don’t, you’ll die in seven days after receiving a series of ominous phone calls actually made from inside your own house… (I may have made this one up).


Three interesting facts about myself:
1. I was once an extra in a film. I'm blown up in an explosion during the opening credits.
2. I once referred to Suspiria as 'a giallo' in an essay at university. For shame!
3. I watched Jaws 4: The Revenge last night.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Wine of the Month: Survivor’s Syrah

“Wine is bottled poetry” - Robert Louis Stevenson.

Okay, so while all of this month has been dedicated to watching the Halloween films, my intentions to try some pumpkin wine for October’s featured bottle were put on hold when I heard there was a new addition to the Crystal Lake Wine series… Plus, the suburban sprawl of Haddonfield made me long for the greenery of Crystal Lake.

Survivor’s Syrah is a smooth and inviting red with hints of toasted coconut followed by notes of poached Anjou pear, strawberry jam and dried blueberries. The perfect weapon in a bottle for those trying midweek times.

To promote the latest addition to the Crystal Lake Wine range, filmmaker, avid Friday the 13th fanatic and fine wine connoisseur Curtis Pew has filmed Back To The Lake II, an eight-minute short and the second instalment of the Back To The Lake commercial series. It stars Adrienne King, Dallas Bobbitt and Nicholas Matthew Walker.

Check it out here.

Crystal Lake Wine is produced and bottled by one of the oldest wineries in Southern Oregon, Valley View Winery. Located near the historic town of Jacksonville, in the Rogue Valley of Southern Oregon, Valley View was originally established by pioneer Peter Britt in the 1850’s. The winery ended with Britt’s death in 1906 but the name was restored in 1972 by the Wisnovsky family, whose vineyard and winery is located just outside Jacksonville in Applegate Valley. The Applegate and Rogue Valleys offer a large variety of soil types and microclimates that allow a great diversity of grape varieties to be grown. Because the Applegate Valley is considerably sunnier, warmer and drier than elsewhere in western Oregon, Valley View concentrates on Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Viognier, Syrah and Tempranillo at their estate vineyard.

Adrienne King – Alice Hardy from Friday the 13th Parts I and II - was invited to join the Valley View family in February 2010 by 80s horror film fans Mike and Mark Wisnovsky, whose parents restored Valley View Vineyard over 40 years ago. Together they conceived the idea of Crystal Lake Wines. The rest, as they say, is history.

Laurie Strode favours the lingering honey finish of Crystal Lake Chardonnay…

Halloween II (2009)

Dir. Rob Zombie

A year later, and a traumatised Laurie still struggles to come to terms with the bloodbath that resulted when her psychotic brother Michael Myers escaped from an asylum and came to find her, killing everyone who got in his way. Her worst fears are soon realised when Myers, who has been in hiding ever since, returns on Halloween night to finish what he started a year ago…

I first wrote about Rob Zombie’s follow-up to his remake of Halloween when it came out in 2009. You can read that review here.

After burning out while making Halloween, Zombie was initially hesitant to helm the sequel. After thinking about it though, and recognising the chance to continue with the story, he decided to film the follow up, imbuing it with the same squalid, dingy and bleak tone as its predecessor. My thoughts on the film haven’t really changed. I still think it is an immensely flawed, but beautifully filmed work. Zombie’s grungy aesthetics litter every shot and he creates a dank, foreboding atmosphere through his gritty production design. Halloween II is pierced with striking images and moodily lit moments that seem to transmit from some nightmarish, ransacked dystopia. Here are but a few of those eerily alluring images that showcase Zombie's unflinching and singular vision as a filmmaker…

Halloween (2007)

Dir. Rob Zombie

After massacring his family on Halloween, disturbed 10 year old Michael Myers is committed to a mental institution. 17 years later, he violently escapes and heads back home to Haddonfield to find his baby sister Laurie, brutally murdering anyone who crosses his path.

In November 2005, Halloween producer/peddler Moustapha Akkad and his daughter, Rima Akkad Monla, were killed at a wedding party when Al-Qaeda bombed the Grand Hyatt in Amman, Jordan. As the champion of the series since its inception, his death was a blow for the future of the franchise. This, coupled with Dimension Film execs realising (maybe) the error of their ways with Halloween Resurrection, looked set to see the end of the Halloween films. However, following a trend of remaking old horror films from the Seventies and Eighties such as The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Black Christmas, Dawn of the Dead, The Hills Have Eyes, The Amityville Horror and When A Stranger Calls, producers recognised that Halloween was still a marketable name and decided to reboot/re-imagine/remake/reconceptualise John Carpenter’s landmark slasher. Greedy execs. Tut.

As the director of the new version of Halloween, Rob Zombie attempts to explore and deconstruct the man behind the mask – relentless killer Michael Myers. By delving into Myers’ troubled childhood and his darkly dysfunctional family, Zombie attempts to address the issues that made Myers the merciless killing machine he grew up to be and show how someone could possibly commit such atrocious acts of devastating brutality. In his career as a filmmaker thus far, Zombie has always proved adept at presenting dark, twisted characters and offering brief glimpses into what makes them tick. He demonstrates a sort of understanding with those who exist outside of polite society, ostracised from normality and ensconced in freakishly carnivalesque lifestyles. Serial killers, outsiders and freaks are his joie de vivre and often form the most interesting aspects of his work. Presenting the ruthless redneck killers featured in House of 1000 Corpses as the protagonists in its follow up, The Devil’s Rejects, was a daring move, and few directors could have pulled off such a feat.

It came as no surprise then when he announced his intention to remake Halloween and explore the childhood of its antagonist Michael Myers. Villains have always been the more fleshed out characters in Zombie’s films – he shows more of an interest in them than his bland, thinly drawn ‘heroes.’ This aspect of probing Myers’ fractured mindset and background is the basis of his remake and perhaps it’s most original and compelling segment before it eventually descends into extreme violence and tensionless bloodletting.

A relentlessly grungy and grimy aesthetic depicting the Myers’ residence and lifestyle informs the film. Interiors are cluttered with all manner of soiled bric-a-brac and later on when the film unspools as an extended chase scene, this clutter and structural disintegration works to create a sweaty claustrophobia, enhancing the stiflingly grim tone and driving home the sadistic violence. The film is constructed around a lengthy ‘prologue’ in which Myers’ childhood, the murder of his family and his subsequent incarceration and counselling with Dr Loomis is played out. When Michael escapes and Zombie returns the story to the familiarly cosy suburban landscape of Haddonfield and begins segueing Carpenter’s original story of a killer stalking teenagers into the mix, the second act feels very rushed. There is no build up to anything. This entire part of the film feels like a hyper-condensed version of Carpenter’s. The film’s strengths are actually when Zombie veers off from the familiar formula and does his own thing; puts his own stamp on the story. While it is interesting to see him recreate some of the iconic scenes from the original such as Linda’s murder, it feels a little flat. Other scenes in this section of the film though, such as the murder of Laurie’s foster parents, are so intense, barbaric and effective because Zombie has the confidence to infuse his own vision into the story. Subtlety suffers though, and many of these scenes aren’t particularly suspenseful – but they do create a wallop of an impact. At times the camera seems to sense Myers’ rage and frenziedly shakes as it stares at his chokingly realised bloodbath. The third act, while no less violent, is essentially a taut chase scene and Zombie aptly conveys his ability to create tension when he needs to.

Myers is presented as a sensitive, shy child with severe self-esteem issues. His mother works as a stripper to support her family, his sister is the town slut and his tyrannical step-father abuses the family, physically and emotionally. In his presentation of Myers’ dysfunctional family, Zombie seems to be saying that though many people have been dealt a shit deal in life – it is only a few whose inability to deal with it and see beyond it that become inherently corrupted. That’s not to say that Halloween is an insightful and nuanced deconstruction of human psychology. It isn’t – far from it in fact, as sometimes it feels a little one-dimensional, even caricaturish – but it’s all carried off with such besmirched aplomb, Zombie makes it work. It’s pop psychology by numbers, but in the context of a Rob Zombie film, it further showcases the director’s willingness to explore sleazy, disturbed characters and the sordid surroundings they wallow in.

The performances are all suitably rough edged, exaggerated even. As the young Michael Myers, Daeg Faerch brings a strangely sympathetic touch to the fledgling killer. As his put-upon mother, Sherri Moon Zombie actually delivers a very decent performance, highlighting Deborah Myers’ down-beaten resignation and acceptance of her red-neck life. Malcolm McDowell is an interesting Dr Loomis, though he isn’t given much to do except spout Donald Pleasence-isms about Myers’ inhumanity and devilish black eyes, and to say Tyler Mane’s adult incarnation of Myers is an imposing, formidable sight is an obvious understatement. Gone are Carpenter’s subtle placements of the killer at the edge of the screen, and in evidence are Zombie’s presentations of Myers as a barraging, relentlessly brutal bulldozer.

While Zombie’s Halloween has its flaws, it still manages to exemplify the directorial showmanship of Zombie and mark him as an interesting filmmaker with unique vision. His Halloween might not do as much justice to Carpenter’s original as many would have hoped, but as a Rob Zombie film, it follows on perfectly from the likes of The Devil’s Rejects, in the director’s ongoing obsession with submergence in the sick, seedy underbelly of American society.

Halloween: Resurrection

Dir. Rick Rosenthal

Four years after mistakenly killing a man she thought to be her brother (really, Dimension Films? Desperation?), long-suffering Laurie Strode is eventually hunted down by her not really dead actual brother, crazier-than-bat-shit Michael Myers, and murderlised. Making his way back home to Haddonfield, Myers discovers the crew of an online reality show has taken over his house to broadcast a Halloween special featuring a group of dumb-fuck teenagers who must spend the night in the house of ill-repute. Naturally he goes on yet another killing spree. And its all caught on camera and broadcast online for other dumb-fuck teenagers to watch.

Yes, it really is as shite as it sounds.

Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later did not warrant a sequel. It was intended not only as a twentieth anniversary celebration of John Carpenter's classic chiller, but as a way to draw the series to a close, with its original heroine finally confronting her demons and emerging victorious. With the return of Jamie Lee Curtis to the role of Laurie Strode and the story’s back to basics approach, everything was in place for a bravura denouement. Its show-stopping final moments feature Laurie deciding to stop running and actively face up to her deranged brother, putting an end to his life and his hold over her with one blow of an axe. Had the Halloween franchise ended here (as it should have in this writer’s humble opinion) it would have been a great finale and went out on such a high. A sense of cathartic resolution was reached that made sense not only in terms of the story it featured, but also the direction the series had been heading. However, as the film had been so successful, both critically and commercially, Dimension Films began to ponder how they could recreate the success. Four years later, with a budget of $15 million and a measly explanation for why Myers isn’t really dead, Halloween Resurrection went into production and any hope of seeing the series put to rest in a respectful, distinguished way was quashed quicker than you could scream “Look out behind you!”

From the start, Resurrection just feels like a cheat. The undignified treatment of Laurie (though to be fair to Curtis, she probably just wanted out - and who could blame her) and the explanation of how Myers is still alive, spat out in a clumsy expositionary way no less, is cringe-worthy, indicative of the embarrassing mess of a film to follow and pretty much undoes all the good H20 did in reigning the series in and providing it with a decent sense of closure.

The premise, while possibly interesting in other films, just doesn’t have any context within the Halloween series. Mockumentaries had become a popular format for horror films after the success of The Blair Witch Project. Halloween really doesn’t seem a likely series to adapt this approach, but this again highlights how little thought has gone into this instalment and just showcases how desperate the studio was to move with the times and capitalise on what was popular. To hell with whether or not it fits the series’ spirit. The producers saw something that was popular and pounced on it. The idea of dumb teenagers watching a reality TV show in which other dumb teenagers are trapped in a house, their every move and subsequent violent death recorded for entertainment purposes a la Big Brother had been attempted in horror before, and to much more creepy effect, as in the likes of My Little Eye, Man Bites Dog and The Last Broadcast. Fuck, even Kolobos has more redeeming qualities than Resurrection. Yes I went there. Because it’s TRUE. While some postmodern, reflexive fun could have been had and some interesting points about horror audiences considered, Halloween Resurrection doesn’t even bother trying. The only time it comes remotely close to self-examination is the moment when the crowd at the party watching the show online cheer when one of the characters is dispatched as they think it’s a hoax. They’re suitably enthused and when they realise what’s going on and begin rooting for Sara, they scream senselessly at the screen with instructions for her to get out or runaway – like horror fans are sometimes prone to do when watching a dumb slasher flick.We've all been there. Haven't we? Don't lie.

The POV camera stuff feels like an afterthought – it doesn’t add anything to proceedings at all, when what it should do is thrust us into suspenseful build ups and bloody mayhem. Characters just wander around in the dark and gloomy house with no objective, while the intercutting of their static-charged camcorder POV footage is supposed to make us feel like we’re there with them. It doesn’t. It feels tacked on instead of integral to the storytelling. That they are such utterly redundant characters – some of which are so boring and pointless (yes Tara Banks I’m looking at you, coz frankly, just constantly shakin’ yo thang ain’t no actin’, bitch), Rosenthal can’t even be bothered filming their deaths. Not that this would enhance the film in any way – the violence is so generic and clichéd it has little effect. Much like he did when directing Halloween II, Rosenthal neglects to realise that it is the anticipation of violence that’s scary – not violence itself. The scene in which Freddie (Busta Rhymes) is dressed as Myers creeping through the house while actually being followed by the real Myers could have been quite creepy. Instead the moment is wasted on a dumb attempt at a humorous payoff. Freddie essentially sasses Myers thinking he’s someone else and the killer just slinks off. Perhaps feeling as embarrassed as the audience.

I was wrong about Halloween 5 being the absolute nadir of the Halloween series. When Busta Rhymes uses kung-fu to defend himself against Myers and exclaims “Trick or treat, muthafucka!” I just knew that this marked the absolute nadir of the series. What can I say, I’m that intuitive. Resurrection’s attempts at humour are severely misjudged, the performances are non-descript, and people spout juvenile, MTV-styled dialogue like “You want some of this? Huh? You want to try and fucking kill me? Huh? You like sushi, muthafucka?”, “Cameras are so... phallic” and “Looking a little crispy over there, Mikey. Like some chicken-fried muthafucka.” *groans*

Dumb, crass and representative of everything that that is bad about sequels – Halloween Resurrection is nothing but an obvious and shallow attempt by producers to cash in on the success of H20. It is utterly devoid of artistic merit and solely designed as a cold, hard cash-cow.

Avoid, avoid, avoid.

Monday, 17 October 2011

Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later

Dir. Steve Miner

With a new name and life in California, Laurie Strode still can’t escape the ghosts of her past and is haunted by the memories of her bloody ordeal 20 years ago, when her deranged brother Michael Myers tried to kill her. Working as the prim headmistress of an exclusive boarding school, she spends her days ostracising her son John, and her nights swigging booze and tranquilizers in an effort to forget her traumatic past. Since she faked her own death and went into hiding to escape her maniacal brother, she lives in constant fear of him ever finding her.

It’s now Halloween 1998, and the waiting is finally over…

With the twentieth anniversary of John Carpenter’s classic slasher movie approaching, and Michael Myers AWOL amidst a dirge of increasingly poorly executed and cumbersome sequels involving druids, curses and constellations (oh my!), it was left to actress Jamie Lee Curtis to pitch the idea of an anniversary film to both Dimension Films and the director who launched her career, John Carpenter. With the success of Scream, which had explicitly referenced Halloween, the bar had been raised for horror films – particularly slasher films – and the time was right to reunite slasher cinema’s ultimate scream queen with one of its most enduring bogeymen for one final showdown. Initially intrigued by the prospect, Carpenter eventually washed his hands of getting involved with a franchise long out of his creative control. Producer Moustapha Akkad also balked at Carpenter’s asking price, so it was left to Dimension to source a new writer and director for the film. Enter Kevin Williamson, the man who singlehandedly redefined horror for a cine-literate generation. Acting as an executive producer, Scream scribe Williamson drafted a treatment eventually written by Matt Greenberg (The Prophecy II) and Robert Zappia in which Laurie Strode, now living with a new name (Kerri Tate) and life, must confront her traumatic past once more when her psychotic brother Michael Myers finally tracks her down.

To its credit, Halloween H20 essentially ignores all the sequels after Halloween II, which frees it up from the increasingly supernatural and ludicrous direction the series had been heading in since Part 5. It was mentioned in Part 4 that Laurie Strode had been killed in a car accident resulting in her daughter Jamie being adopted by the Carruthers. In H20 it is revealed that she faked her own death and went into hiding. No mention is made of Jamie – though in the initial draft of the screenplay, one of Laurie’s students working on a project about serial killers, details Michael Myers’ killing spree and several key points from the sequels, including Jamie’s death, thereby acknowledging the character and her role in the Halloween canon. This was eventually dropped in rewrites though in a move that while daring (and ensuring H20’s close association with the story told in the original film and its sequel), arguably a tad infuriating (I sat through Parts 4, 5 and 6 when I could have just skipped ‘em!?).

At the heart of the film is a fine performance from Jamie Lee Curtis as the long suffering Laurie Strode. Laurie was an admirable character and it was Curtis who bestowed her with such strength and relatability. While she is now a traumatised, paranoid, barely functioning alcoholic, Laurie still retains her resourcefulness and strength. By making her the focus of the story, Halloween H20 sidesteps the usual cliché of a slasher story revolving around teenagers. This is the story of a woman consumed by the darkness of her past, who has gone through hell in her youth and still bears the scars. That the protagonist is a nervous, booze-swilling, pill-popping, bordering-on-domineering mother is one of the film’s most refreshing aspects. We can understand her torment though, and it adds to the overall satisfaction of the story to see Laurie regain her strength as time goes on and finally make a crowd pleasing stand against her homicidal sibling. Curtis had championed H20 from the beginning and felt it was of the utmost importance that Laurie finally confronts Myers after years of hiding from him.When she does, it is worth the wait.

Okay so there are some teen characters here too (well, Laurie is the headmistress of a boarding school after all), but they’re fairly inoffensive as they go about their mundane routines – oblivious to the peril they’ll soon find themselves in. Much like Scream, the younger cast members are all harvested from hip TV shows, including Michelle Williams, Josh Hartnett and Joseph Gordon Levitt. Molly (Michelle Williams) would have been the 'final girl' in any other film as she is the only one to show any sort of gutsiness and resourcefulness, aside from Laurie, when looking danger in the face. The school’s counsellor (Adam Arkin) and security guard (LL Cool J) round off the minimal cast.

Director Steve Miner was no stranger to the horror genre having already helmed titles such as Friday the 13th Part II and III, House and Warlock. Miner adopts the same slow-burn approach Carpenter utilised so masterfully in Halloween. For lengthy periods of time, nothing happens onscreen, but the sense of impending doom is effectively realised. In taking the time to establish characters and create a suitably menacing atmosphere, he ensures H20 is an involving, taut and compelling film. Unlike the sequels, H20 takes its time getting to the bloody mayhem and Miner knows all too well that it’s the anticipation of violence, not violence itself, which is key to creating tension and chills. In terms of look, tone and atmosphere, H20 resembles Halloween more closely than any of the sequels that came before it. Miner also uses the original Panavision widescreen format that Carpenter deployed in his film which establishes a visual echo. While he relies a little too heavily on jump scares – usually false alarms at that - Miner also manages to create several stand-out sequences that rely on moody suspense and the crafty subversion of audience expectations – namely the opening scene in which Loomis’ nurse Marion (Nancy Stephens reprising her role from the first two films) does everything right (gets the hell out of there, calls the cops and seeks safety in numbers) and still winds up dead, a mother and her daughter’s creepy encounter at a rest stop in the middle of nowhere and an edge of the seat chase scene involving a dumb-waiter…

That the film is pretty self-referential comes as no surprise. It openly acknowledges a dept not only to the original Halloween, but also to Psycho and, as it came in its wake, Scream. It is worth noting that Carpenter’s original was also pretty playful on a reflexive level, and director Miner is as careful not to overdo the knowingness, thus never risking the suspense he so carefully constructs. A number of memorable moments and shots from Carpenter’s original are effectively recreated here without seeming overly parodical or in-your-face. Amongst the more obvious nods to Psycho include a wonderful cameo from the original slasher victim Janet Leigh – Curtis’s mother - as the school secretary Norma (complete with offering ‘maternal’ advice to Laurie, the car her character drove in Psycho and the faintest swelling of Bernard Herrmann’s famous score accompanying her departure) and the unhealthy relationship Laurie has with her son John, which stems from her over protectiveness of him.

By going back to basics with a minimal cast, limited locations, pared down script, loads of menace and tension, H20 has everything that made the original so memorable. That it also features Jamie Lee Curtis in a story really worth revisiting in the form of Laurie Strode’s victimisation, struggle with her past and determination to confront it once and for all, is the jewel in the crown.

Halloween H20 is an uncommon thing – a decent sequel that, while honouring the original film it follows on from, has a story of its own to tell, too.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers

Dir. Joe Chappelle

Six years after she and her psychotic uncle Michael Myers were abducted from the Haddonfield police station by the mysterious Man in Black, Jamie Lloyd and her newborn baby go on the run again with Myers’ in hot pursuit. Meanwhile, relatives of the family that adopted Laurie Strode have moved into the old Myers house and befriended Tommy Doyle, whose obsession with Myers’ leads to the discovery of a family curse that drives the killer to violently eradicate his bloodline – which is bad news for the Strodes. Teaming up with Dr. Loomis, they set out to stop Myers and the cult that protects him once and for all, yada, yada, yada.

With Miramax having purchased the distribution rights to the Halloween franchise, it was their intention to give the flailing series something of a reboot and to release further instalments through its newly established genre arm, Dimension Films. Following in the wake of the leaden Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers - complete with its ambiguous open ending and hints of Druidic/Runic mythos, writer Daniel Farrands really had his work cut out trying to tie up loose ends, resolve inconsistencies within the plot and move the Myers saga into fresh territory. Origin stories had become popular in slasher films around this time, when all other concepts had pretty much been exhausted. Two years prior to Halloween 6, Friday the 13th’s unstoppable killing machine Jason Voorhees had his vaguely supernatural origins explored in Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday, and Wes Craven’s New Nightmare gave Freddy Krueger a post-modern make-over. Even the original slasher, Norman Bates, was given a prequel (Psycho 4: The Beginning) charting the instigation of his murderous psychological hang-ups.

Halloween 6 may not be the most successful sequel to Carpenter’s classic slasher, but like Halloween III before, it must be given credit for its ambition to move the series in a new direction. Opening with the revelation of Jamie and Michael’s fates after the ambiguity of Halloween 5’s ending; it proceeds to explore what it is that drives Myers’ bloody killing sprees. The answer? Druids. Well, sort of. You see it is revealed that Myers is effectively trying to wipe out his whole bloodline as he is inflicted with the curse of Thorn, a demon-spread ‘sickness’ in which an individual is forced to kill his entire family for the good of society at large. According to Celtic legend one child from each tribe was chosen to be inflicted with the curse of Thorn and to offer a blood sacrifice of its next of kin on Samhain. The sacrifice of one family meant sparing the lives of the entire tribe. A druidic cult (led by the Man in Black introduced in Part 5) has apparently been watching over Myers to ensure no one intervenes with his mission. It is also revealed that a specific alignment of stars in the shape of Thorn, which occurs only at Halloween, instigates Myers' murder sprees. We’ve come a long way from the simplicity of Carpenter’s original chiller which presented Myers’ as a pretty motiveless killer.

While arguably ridiculous, Farrands’ script and the answers it provides works to link up all the prior films and create some kind of continuity for the series. Granted, it isn’t immensely successful (Really, Farrands? Druids?), but when one recalls certain instances from the other films, it does form a vague consistency. For example, the scene in Halloween where the caretaker of the graveyard tells Loomis about a man who slaughtered his entire family at the same time Myers’ killed his sister, and the scene in Halloween II in which someone has scrawled the word ‘Samhain’ in blood on the wall of a school, it links things up within the mythology of the series. Sort of. The use of Halloween’s pagan/druidic origins in Part 6 also echoes similar themes and ideas from the third Halloween movie – and while it didn’t feature Myers – there are still irresistible thematic connections to the rest of the series highlighted by Farrands’ script. The revelation of the Man in Black’s identity also links back to an earlier film.

Reprising his role as Myers’ former psychiatrist is Donald Pleasence in what was to be his last ever role before his death. Looking painfully frail, Loomis is relegated to the sidelines as new characters are introduced to further the story along. The character of Jamie Lloyd is also sadly relegated to the sidelines. In fact she isn’t even portrayed by Danielle Harris (due to the actress’ resentment of the treatment of her character and issues over her salary, Harris declined to reprise the role). Jamie (portrayed in Part 6 by JC Brandy) was the heart of the prior instalments and had become popular with fans. She gave the series a relatable heroine to follow on from Laurie Strode. That she is given such a weak send off in this one seems like a smack in the face too. The rest of the cast consists of the usual knife fodder – in this case, relatives of Laurie’s adoptive family, the Strodes. There has always been an underlying notion of families having an inherent corruption and rottenness throughout the Halloween movies. Parents are often absent and siblings are murderous. In Halloween 6, the Strodes are a dysfunctional family with a tyrannical patriarch. The ‘final girl’ is downtrodden, single mother Kara (Marianne Hagan), a psychology student whose young son, Danny, has dark dreams and hears voices telling him to kill (it is hinted that he’s being groomed to replace Myers at a later date as the Thorn inflicted parricidist). At least Farrands has populated his script with believable characters as opposed to the usual sexed-up teens. In fact, while the Halloween movies (like all slashers) have featured their fair share of sexed-up teenaged knife fodder, the protagonists of the sequels to date have been a little girl and an elderly psychiatrist. The heroes in Halloween 6 are similarly offbeat - a young single mother and a nervous wreck, scarred by his encounter with Myers when he was a boy.

The nervous wreck is Tommy Doyle, the young boy Laurie babysat in Halloween. Now a young man, Tommy (Paul Rudd) is essentially set up as the new Loomis, complete with an unhealthy (but useful) obsession with the Myers, the Strodes and Haddonfield’s bloody history. It is he who reveals Myers’ ‘affliction’ with the curse of Thorn and its druidic origins.

Stylishly directed by Chappelle and boasting some rapid-fire editing that has become common place in horror films now, this instalment is much darker in tone too; there is little humour, knowing or otherwise. At one stage however, a radio DJ speculating on the whereabouts of Myers makes a quip about him being in space (the location of several instalments of other rapidly expanding and ludicrous horror sequels such as Hellraiser, Friday the 13th and Leprechaun). The same DJ wants to broadcast his show from the Myers’ house – an idea that would later form the basis of Halloween: Resurrection. A party-goer in one scene is also dressed as Freddy Kreuger and Phantom of the Opera is glimpsed on a TV. Halloween 6 is also peppered with appearances from horror veterans such as Susan Swift (Ivy in Audrey Rose), Leo Geter (Silent Night, Deadly Night, The Stand and Near Dark), Kim Darby (Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark) and Mitchell Ryan (Dark Shadows). Interestingly, much like Jason Goes To Hell, the film does briefly explore what kind of effect a killer like Michael Myers has on the reputation of a community. Halloween has essentially been banned in Haddonfield since Myers and Jamie disappeared.

The bulk of the story follows Myers as he offs the Strodes and various other residents of Haddonfield in an attempt to get to Jamie’s baby as Tommy and Kara try to stop him – learning more about Thorn as they go along. There are a number of fairly tense scenes (the stalking of Kara’s nervous mother; an encounter with a motionless Myers lying at the bottom of the stairs) and the third act unravels as a tensely prolonged chase sequence which contrasts with the rest of the film as it takes place in brightly lit hospital corridors where Myers is seen in all his glory. One of the most disturbing scenes doesn’t even feature the demented killer. Dark domestic drama is mined to distressing effect when, sitting down to a family breakfast, Kara’s father shows his true colours and further develops the Halloween films’ dysfunctional family theme.

With its arguably laughable druid subplot, outlandish and nasty violence and gaping plot holes (see below), Halloween 6 is a rather uneven affair and at times glaringly misjudged (Foetuses in lab jars? Really?). The ending, once again, seems to have been designed solely to make way for yet more instalments. However it still possesses a few redeeming qualities – the main one, not to sound too contrary (or crazy!), is Farrands’ attempts to tie up the flagging series and inject something fresh back into it. Whether or not you agree with me depends on your willingness to accept where he tries to bring the story. Druids and all.

The Producer’s Cut.

Spoiler Alert…

Halloween 6 suffered from a highly problematic shoot. After preview screenings proved unsuccessful, reshoots were ordered by the studio and what had already been filmed was re-edited, completely excising various scenes and causing more than a wee bit of confusion. The final cut of Halloween 6 that was released into cinemas is very different from the original, intended cut of the film – bootleg copies of this version - "The Producer's Cut" - are widely available online, though to this day it has never been officially released. Scenes featuring key dialogue were removed and replaced with more moments of graphic violence and gore, effectively discarding most of the cohesion of Chappelle and Farrands’ initial vision. Sadly, Donald Pleasence also passed away and his last scenes were never reshot.

This results in dialogue sequences which allude to events never actually depicted because of re-edits. In the Producer's Cut, Jamie is not killed by Michael's attack in the barn; she is killed later on by the Man in Black after having a dream about how she was imprisoned in Smith's Grove and impregnated with Michael's child. There is also a flashback to Halloween 5 that shows Jamie and Michael kidnapped by the Man in Black. In the theatrical release, Myers is defeated by Tommy who tranquilizes him and beats him with a lead pipe. In the Producer's Cut, Tommy defeats Myers in an arcane ritual with rune stones, which, within the existing context of the film, works much better. Wynn then finds Myers paralyzed by Tommy's runic spell while Loomis ushers Tommy, Kara, and Danny to safety. When Loomis returns he removes Myers’ mask only to discover a mortally wounded Wynn, who grabs his wrist before dying and transfers his role as Myers’ caretaker to Loomis. Myers, now dressed in Wynn's Man in Black outfit, is seen walking away. In the theatrical version, Loomis rescues Tommy, Kara and Danny and goes back into the hospital to find Myers – who has butchered Wynn and the cult members during a never-explained surgical procedure. The last shot reveals his mask lying on the floor; his body nowhere to be seen. We hear Loomis scream off-screen – either because Myers’ has attacked him or because once again, the killer has eluded him. It is as infuriating as it sounds!