Welcome to Psycho Drive-In’s 31 Days of Schlocktober celebration! This year we’ve decided to present the ABCs of Horror, with entries every day this month providing Director information, Best-of lists, Genre overviews, and Reviews of films and franchises, all in alphabetical order! Today brings us H is for Halloween! A few days ago I proclaimed that John Carpenter’s Halloween was my favourite film ever and it would be absurd if we didn’t discuss that venerable series today. Well, I say “venerable” but there are eighty-seven films in the Halloween series to date, and to be honest most of them are rubbish. One of them — can you guess which? — is excellent and there are a handful of interesting entries; it’s those notable films I will be discussing today. Everyone’s Entitled to One Good Scare John Carpenter’s original was not the first slasher movie but it did more to define the genre than any other — with the possible exception of the first Friday the 13th — except that almost every successive film failed to understand and capture what made Halloween so definitive, rehashing the surface elements again and again. Carpenter’s film is a masterpiece of tension, all long, lingering wide shots and slow, voyeuristic Panaglide walkthroughs set to eerie electronic music, and with a measured build-up in which the violence — the asylum breakout and the unfortunate mechanic aside — doesn’t begin until quite late in proceedings. Carpenter’s objective was to take horror out of its traditional home in Gothic castles or remote wildernesses and introduce it to the safe predictability of suburbia and he more than achieves that goal. Millions of words have been written over the years about Halloween and its accomplishments, by people much more versed in the appropriate technical jargon than I, so I will instead tell you my favourite thing about my favourite film. Early on there is a scene in which Laurie — Jamie Lee Curtis is excellent in this film — sits in what looks like an English lesson at school and begins daydreaming as her teacher talks about fate being like a force of nature, like a mountain, or fire or water. It is at that point that Laurie first glimpses Michael Myers and the implication — to me at least — is clear. We don’t know why Michael kills and we don’t know why he sometimes chooses not to kill; the sequels would add all sorts of guff about secret druidic societies and long-lost family members with psychic abilities but in the first film the killer’s motives are mysterious. We are introduced to Sam Loomis, a doctor who can’t even refer to Michael in human terms and refers to him as “it”, “evil”, “not a man”, and “inhumanly patient”; this is a significant conversion, a man of science driven to superstition by his contact with Myers, and it is sold by a mesmerising and deranged performance by the wonderful Donald Pleasance. We know that Michael is a dangerous killer but even so Loomis’ warnings at first come across as the ramblings of an insane man; perhaps he was made that way by Michael but even so he can’t be correct, can he? Then in the final moments of the film the killer is shot multiple times and falls from a balcony but vanishes into thin air, and it seems that perhaps Loomis isn’t nuts after all, or if he is, he is also right about Myers. It is at this point that Laurie — also established as rational and intelligent — gives in to superstition herself and reverses her prior decree that she there is no such thing as the boogieman. Even Lester the Unfortunate Alsatian recognises Michael as something aberrant, reacting to him as animals do to supernatural presences — and Terminators — in classic horror tales. In the end Michael disappears but there’s no sense of victory or even understanding, only an uncertain respite, as if a storm has passed. Whatever he is he can’t be comprehended by humans, let alone defeated; a bleak message that is typical of John Carpenter and that’s what I love most about Halloween. I Do Love a Good Joke and This Is the Best Ever The plan was that the Halloween series was going to be a long-form anthology, with each film telling a different Halloween-themed story: ”Debra Hill and I were forced into making the two Halloween sequels for financial and business reasons. There was going to be a tremendous lawsuit if we didn’t, and our business manager said, ‘If you don’t do this, you’re stupid.’ So we did it, and the idea was to give young directors a chance to make their first film and maybe want different stories. Well, we found out that the audience didn’t want different stories. Halloween II was similar to the first one but Halloween III was not. What they wanted was just the same old thing over and over again.” – John Carpenter, in Clive Barker’s A-Z of Horror, BBC Books, 1997. Halloween III: Season of the Witch is often called the weak point in the series; it deviates from the Michael Myers continuity and fans of the series consider it to be a poor film in its own right, but I suspect that the latter criticism is more than a little influenced by the former as the majority of the Myers-centric sequels are also poor, some are much worse than III, and at least it is trying to tell a different sort of story. The original script came from Quatermass scribe Nigel Kneale — a key influence on John Carpenter — and was rewritten by Carpenter and director Tommy Lee Wallace but some of Kneale’s humour remains in the final product, as does his recurrent interest in the meeting of technology and the supernatural. The plot is bonkers; in order to restore the mystic significance of Halloween an Irish version of the Joker steals a Stonehenge menhir, chips shards from it, places the shards in masks that are sold throughout the United States, then broadcasts an advert that activates the masks, transforming the wearer’s head into a writhing mass of snakes and cockroaches. There are also killer androids. It’s a million miles away from Carpenter’s focused original but somehow the film manages to capture some of its suspense, in part because of a measured pace, an effective use of the Silver Shamrock advert as a countdown to the apocalypse, and an ominous soundtrack from Carpenter and Alan Howarth reminiscent of The Thing and — prescient given the human-like androids — The Terminator. There’s also an interesting Lovecraftian feel to the film as a naïve investigator follows a trail of clues and stumbles upon the rise of an ancient horror, in a structure similar to Carpenter’s later In the Mouth of Madness or Lovecraft’s own Shadow Over Innsmouth — the talkative town drunk seems to have wandered in from the latter — complete with the requisite nihilistic ending. That said, there’s also a weird Charlie and the Chocolate Factory feel, but I can’t tell if that’s deliberate playfulness from Kneale or me overthinking things. The film runs out of steam a bit in the last twenty minutes or so when the grand plan is revealed in all its weird Jon Pertwee era Doctor Who absurdity, and in general Halloween III is too confused to be a good film but it has moments of quality and interest that make it worth watching. It’s a shame that the original plan didn’t work out as I would have liked to have seen more diverse approaches to the Halloween theme like this one. Oh well. I’m Never Sensible If I Can Help It I won’t spend much time on Halloween V because it is terrible, one of those aforementioned superficial rehashes of the formula, but it does have one significant redeeming feature: an amazing ending. After the usual hour or so of chopping up teenagers Michael Myers is caught in a net, Donald Pleasance hits him with a stick for what seems like twenty minutes, then Myers is arrested. This would be a bit of an anticlimax if it were the true end of the film but then everything goes a bit Terminator — again — as a mysterious geezer in a hat — seen earlier getting off a bus — turns up with a machine gun, shoots all the police, then breaks Michael out of jail. Then the credits roll. Television programmes have endings like that all the time but films aren’t supposed to, so it is an unexpected development to say the least. That’s enough to make it a memorable moment in a by-the-numbers slasher film, but there’s something else going on, something that was perhaps unintended but is interesting nonetheless. The killer in a slasher film tends to be the active force and the plot is about how other characters react to that force and attempt — failing more often than not — to resist it, but at the end of Halloween V we have a new and different active force coming from outside the traditional slasher set up and effecting a significant change. That isn’t supposed to happen. It’s a fascinating moment — and it is only a moment — and one bursting with potential, and so of course they did nothing of interest with it in the next film. Oh well. He’s Dead. Michael Myers Is Dead Scream changed everything. For a while after 1996 every slasher movie was ironic and self-referential and while the teenagers still got chopped up they were hip and trendy as they were sliced into hip little bits. It is no surprise that the first post-Scream entry in the Halloween franchise ticks all those boxes — Scream 2 is even shown on a TV screen at one point — but rather more of a surprise is that the modernising not only almost works but that there also seems to be a genuine attempt to give the series an ending. To be honest, the teenagers are somewhat superfluous in Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later — but perhaps not as superfluous as all the junk in that title — because it’s more the story of Laurie Strode coming to terms — or not — with surviving Myers’ attacks in the original film and its first sequel. Jamie Lee Curtis reprises the role and delivers a strong performance as a woman who has lived in fear of a violent death for two decades but who chooses one day to put aside that fear and face her fate. The foreshadowing of that choice is a little heavy-handed as we revisit the classroom scene from the first film — this time with Laurie as the teacher — and her upcoming journey is set out in detailed and laboured metaphors; on the plus side it does suggest that the writers understood the original film, putting them a step ahead of those responsible for the sequels. When that choice comes it is a wonderful moment as Laurie locks herself in with Michael, grabs an axe, and starts shouting his name as the Halloween theme swells, a familiar piece of music now given a whole new context as the — sorry about this — the hunted becomes the hunter. It all culminates in as definitive an ending as one can get as Laurie puts the aforementioned axe to good use and resolves the Michael Myers plot once and for all. Except that H20 was a huge success so they made another one and undid any good work the film did. Oh well. Michael Loves Animals! I have never seen Rob Zombie’s remake of Halloween. I love the original — I may have mentioned that it is my favourite film — so I’ve been reluctant to watch the remake for many reasons; because it may be so bad that it could sully the original, because even acknowledging it may be seen as approval for unnecessary remakes, or because it may turn out to be quite good and I may end up liking it more than the original. This isn’t me trying to be clever and manipulating you for effect; as I type these words I have not seen the Halloween of 2007 but I can’t write a credible article about the series without having done so. To paraphrase Sir Bryan of Adams, what I am about to do, I do for you. Well then. I think I understand what Zombie is trying to do with the film. He’s trying to bring something new to an exhausted franchise and to do so he delves into Michael Myers’ past; where the original spends its first half building up suspense as Michael escapes from hospital and wanders around Haddonfield being creepy, Zombie’s film spends a considerable amount of time on building up to the original murders that put Myers in the psychiatric institution in the first place. There is a gap in the backstory there so I can see why Zombie decided to explore it but the thing is — as I hope I explained above — one of the things that makes the original film work so well is that there is a gap in our knowledge about why Michael is the way he is and does what he does; there’s a wonderful uncertainty there that keeps the viewer off balance and explaining too much dissipates that sense of the unknown. On the plus side, Zombie steers clear of any guff about secret cults of druids and the true meaning of Samhain but instead we get a parade of clichés about the working class, including a stripper-with-a-heart-of-gold mum, a deadbeat drunken stepfather, a slutty sister, and her druggie boyfriend; it’s a wonder that the Myers family doesn’t live in a trailer. The idea seems to be that Michael is a psychopath because his family is poor and non-traditional and I can’t tell if that’s lazy or offensive or both. This first section of the film is also undermined by what I assume to be unintentional moments of comedy. Everyone fudging swears all the fudging time. Fudge fudge fudgity fudge. A despondent Michael plots his bloody revenge on the world while “Love Hurts” swells in the background. It all reaches a climax when Mini Michael embarks on his first killing spree and dons the famous Shatner mask, which — designed as it is for an adult — makes him look like a murderous bobblehead. All that said, are a couple of moments that do work and evoke something of the original’s magic. In a single brief scene one of Laurie’s young charges is watching The Thing From Another World — I see what you did there, Rob — and Michael is standing right behind her, not moving in for the kill as may be expected, but instead also watching the film. It’s the kind of strange, inexplicable scene that made Carpenter’s film work so well and it’s a welcome surprise to see it pop up in Zombie’s version. Less good but interesting at least is that while the whole thing is spoiled for the viewer much earlier, Laurie herself never works out why Michael is after her, his attempts at an explanation foiled by his muteness and the fact that by that point he has murdered her parents and most of her closest friends and she’s not in the mood to chat; Zombie is trying to have his cake and eat it a little here, both explaining the mystery to us and keeping it from his characters, but it’s better than nothing. In a way I admire what Zombie has attempted with his version of Halloween; the second half may be almost a shot-for-shot remake at times but the first part of the film does attempt to explore uncharted territory; the problem is that the territory was uncharted for good reason and just as explaining a joke ruins it, showing the Secret Origin of Michael Myers means that there’s no room for the viewer to speculate and imagine for themselves. There is a sequel. In it Rob Zombie tries to be David Lynch and fails. Oh well. He’s gone! He’s gone from here! The evil is gone! I am not the typical Halloween fan. Most followers of the franchise seem to be more than happy with the awful identikit sequels and are annoyed that H20 threw out all the druids and psychic nieces and magic tattoos, and are even more vexed that III has nothing to do with Michael Myers at all; I cannot understand this position and would much rather have seen the series follow along the lines of the third instalment. Alas, it was not to be. All of which is to say that these are my picks of the most interesting — the remake aside, but I didn’t know what it was going to be like, sorry — films in the series and if you ask another fan you will get another, quite different list. That is fine because differing opinions are good, but I think everyone can agree that if someone suggests Halloween: Resurrection then run as fast as you can, because that person is a dangerous maniac, Shatner mask or not. See larger image Halloween: The Complete Collection (Limited Deluxe Edition) [Blu-ray] New From: $279.95 USD In Stock Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related 2 Responses ABCs of Horror 2016 Day 7: C is for Jamie Lee Curtis - Psycho Drive-In October 7, 2016 […] horror, got one of her big breaks in 1978 when she landed the role of Laurie Strode in the original Halloween (John Carpenter). As Laurie, the sister of the deranged killer, Michael Myers, Jamie Lee Curtis […] Log in to Reply Women in Horror: Jamie Lee Curtis - Psycho Drive-In February 11, 2017 […] horror, got one of her big breaks in 1978 when she landed the role of Laurie Strode in the original Halloween. As Laurie, the sister of the deranged killer, Michael Myers, Jamie Lee Curtis kicked ass in the […] Log in to Reply Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.