31 Days to Scare ~ Halloween Kills

The Facts:

Synopsis: The nightmare isn’t over as unstoppable killer Michael Myers escapes from Laurie Strode’s trap to continue his ritual bloodbath. Injured and taken to the hospital, Laurie fights through the pain as she inspires residents of Haddonfield, Ill., to rise up against Myers.

Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Thomas Mann, Anthony Michael Hall, Kyle Richards, Nancy Stephens, Charles Cyphers, Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney, Robert Longstreet

Director: David Gordon Green

Rated: R

Running Length: 106 minutes

TMMM Score: (4/10)

Review:  The release of a new Halloween film in 2018 that reset the timeline for the rocky franchise was a refreshing inhale of breath for both cast, creatives, and audiences alike.  Trapped for years with characters that were connected by blood (more like lazy screenwriting) and a once-human killer that grew more supernaturally inhuman with each passing chapter, the series was in terminal status when director David Gordon Green (Our Brand is Crisis) and actor Danny McBride teamed up with Blumhouse Productions and convinced original star Jamie Lee Curtis to return to the role she created.  Also snagging John Carpenter to come along and give his blessing helped get the longtime fans on board as well.  The well-received and ambitiously thoughtful effort was a revitalized movie that didn’t completely reinvent the concept of the reboot, but it laid groundwork that continuations to an original story were possible, especially with the involvement of those that were there when it all began. 

Perhaps you can believe the story now that Green and McBride originally pitched their first round of Halloween as a two-parter but later thought it best to see how a standalone installment would work instead, but there was a sweet finality in the ending of the 2018 film that didn’t feel like a wide enough door was kept open for what has led to the far less impressive goop that is Halloween Kills.  The first of two movies shot back-to-back in 2019 and originally intended to be released in 2020, this middle chapter of trilogy of films from Green and McBride picks up almost precisely where the previous film left off, on a Halloween night 40 years after Michael Myers (Nick Castle in some scenes, James Jude Courtney in the more physical ones) went on a killing spree in Haddonfield, IL. 

With Michael apparently trapped in survivor Laurie Strode’s (Curtis, Knives Out) compound which she set on fire with the help of her daughter Karen (Judy Greer, Lady of the Manor) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak, Son), the three Strode women head to the hospital to tend to their wounds.  Never count out the Haddonfield Fire Department, though, who have raced to the scene and find Myers very much alive and blazing mad.  As Myers begins to slash his way through Haddonfield, reports of the murders that took place earlier in the evening have gotten back to Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall, Live by Night), Lindsay Wallace (Kyle Richards, The Watcher in the Woods), and Marian Chambers (Nancy Stephens, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later) who are holding their yearly survivor’s celebration at a local bar.  Like Laurie, they’ve chosen to deal with their own trauma of that night in their own way but unlike Laurie have found comfort in sharing that experience with others.  With news of Myers return, the three instinctively jump into action and rally a group of townspeople along with them.  Now it’s just a matter of finding Myers and stopping him again.  But where is he going and who might he be looking for?

That’s the tidiest description of messy plot slapped together by Green, McBride, and Scott Teems and I was a little taken aback by how much the three had abandoned the subtleties introduced in their first outing.  Whereas the reintroduction of the Laurie character felt like an interesting way to look at a lifetime of living with PTSD, survivor’s guilt, and paranoia, the people we meet in the sequel are enigmas with only names that sound vaguely familiar to us.  Sure, we know who Tommy Doyle is but other that that…who is he?  As played by Hall, he’s someone harboring a lot of shame over lack of action even though he was a child when he was attacked while Laurie was babysitting him.  Same goes for Lindsey, though Richards doesn’t crank up the angst meter as far as Hall does.  We don’t have the luxury of being reacquainted with these faces from the past before they’re called on to take center stage…and they definitely are because the stars of the last film are curiously absent for quite a lot of Halloween Kills.

Of all the callbacks, I doubt anyone wanted to be thinking of Curtis being stuck in a hospital bed for much of 1981’s Halloween II but that’s where she’s confined to for lots of Halloween Kills.  When she does amble about, she’s not at full Laurie strength so whatever vengeance Curtis came back with in Halloween is a bit hollow here.  That’s at least better than what poor Greer gets, though.  Relegated to the role of “he’s coming for her!” paranoid protector, Greer is adrift and robbed of the modicum of found strength afforded to her at the end of the last movie.  The only Strode that continues to show potential is Matichak and while Allyson has a number of insanely unwise choices, she roars to life just as the movie is on life support in the final act.

As for the main attraction?  Well, what can I say?  I mean, Michael Myers has returned to his gruesome killing methods that reached a Grand Guignol peak in the two Rob Zombie barf-y films.  Murder is here for the sake of murder, and I have to wonder what kind of pleasure is to be derived from a filmmaker including a scene where a mortally wounded victim watches helplessly as their dying (or even already deceased) significant other is slowly stabbed by a multitude of knives by Myers.  Why?  The two characters have no bearing on the plot, the scene comes right after an insanely bloody murder scene, and it’s followed by more murder.  Myers kills a huge number of people in vicious, heinous (pointless) ways and even as an ardent fan of horror movies I wanted to tap out…this was no fun, no fun at all. (Side note, the amount of couples that die at the hands of Myers in this one is almost laughable…I guess the screenwriters didn’t want to leave anyone partner-less and in mourning.)

I’m not entirely sure why Green, McBride, and Teems decided to go in this direction.  The first film focused on Laurie and examined her trauma – this was interesting material to explore in a mainstream horror movie and a franchise not known for its sensitivity to such matters.  In Halloween Kills, they’ve shifted from Laure’s grief to a larger view of how the town has suffered.  This is another nook with great potential, but it’s wasted on appalling displays of grunting vigilante justice and toxic mob mentality as the ruling authority.  In that way, the movie becomes more obnoxious than disappointing.

I mentioned this script is very bad, right? At times, I wondered if the actors were just improvising dialogue because the number of times the phrase “Evil Dies Tonight!” is used is mind-boggling.  Eventually turning into a greeting of sorts from one character to another, I started silently saying under my breath “…next year.” knowing the true finale of the night he came back home wasn’t going to finish up until October 2022 with Halloween Ends.  After a head-shakingly crazy finale, I can’t even imagine how Green and company are going to keep this one going until the break of dawn.  Hasn’t Haddonfield suffered enough? After Halloween Kills, haven’t we?

31 Days to Scare ~ Halloween (2018)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Laurie Strode comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers, the masked figure who has haunted her since she narrowly escaped his killing spree on Halloween night four decades ago.

Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Haluk Bilginer, Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney, Virginia Gardner, Miles Robbins, Toby Huss, Rhian Rees, Jefferson Hall, Dylan Arnold, Drew Scheid

Director: David Gordon Green

Rated: R

Running Length: 106 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: Not only has masked killer Michael Myers lasted longer than a curious cat living next to a busy train track but he’s been revived just as often. Over the past 40 years the Halloween hellraiser from Haddonfield has been a brother to our heroine (Halloween II), an unwelcome uncle (Halloween 4 and Halloween 5), been used as a deadly tool by a cult (Halloween 6), and even missed out completely on one movie (Halloween III). He’s been resurrected (Halloween 8) and rebooted (Rob Zombie’s bizarre remakes) but the one thing that hasn’t truly happened to the Halloween franchise is the chance to revisit with any kind of integrity the characters that made such an impact on audiences four decades ago.

It’s not often a character gets to come back in two different timelines but Jamie Lee Curtis (Prom Night) has the unique distinction of rewriting her own character’s history for a second time. Though Curtis famously returned to the franchise in Halloween: Twenty Years Later (H20 for short…and giggles) the overall impact wasn’t what she hoped and the cleverness fully depleted in the follow-up to that movie. Now, at the urging of none other than Jake Gyllenhaal, Curtis has teamed up with director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) and comedian Danny McBride (This Is the End) for a new film which ignores every sequel to John Carpenter’s landmark 1978 film and serves as a fine horror film as well as a glimpse into the lasting effects of trauma.  With Carpenter’s blessing and also his updated score, the three unlikely collaborators set out to continue Laurie’s story with a few unexpected turns along the way.

As the 40th anniversary of The Babysitter Murders in Haddonfield draws near, there is renewed interest in the silent killer Michael Myers and Laurie Strode, the girl that got away. A pair of podcasters (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) have come to Smith’s Grove Hospital to try to get Michael Myers to speak to them. His watchful doctor (Haluk Bilginer, Rosewater) has taken over for the late Dr. Loomis as Michael’s caretaker and doesn’t bat an eye when one of the interviewers hauls out that famous white mask and tries to use it to elict a reaction out of the aged murderer.  How the UK podcaster managed to get the mask out of the courthouse (sure, he says it was given to him but still) and not even in a plastic bag to preserve it is a detail no one seems to bat an eye at. Failing to get anything out of him, the two track down Strode (Curtis) in her protected compound on the outskirts of town.

Living in the woods like a survivalist with no apparent war to fight, Strode is damaged goods after two failed marriages and having her daughter taken away at a young age. Living with the trauma of what she endured has left her broken and bruised, unable to move on from a singular event in her life that still feels unresolved. Estranged from her daughter (Judy Greer, Jurassic World) but attempting to form a bond with her granddaughter (Andi Matichak), Strode is doing the best she can while self-medicating with booze and staying alert in case Myers breaks out and returns to finish the job. Of course, that’s what happens when the bus transporting Myers to a maximum security prison crashes and he escapes. Making a beeline to his hometown and leaving numerous bodies in his wake, Myers slices and dices his way through the town on October 31 while tracking down his main target. Unlucky for him, then, that Laurie has been preparing for this moment for 40 years and is not only ready for his return but willing to stick her neck out to be the one to take him down.

It isn’t a perfect film, there’s far too many extraneous characters that are introduced only to die without much care and there are narrative gaps and implausible leaps that feel outside of the grounded reality the filmmakers are going for. There’s one rather huge twist about ¾ of the way through that is so misguided I thought it was going to derail the entire film – thankfully (mercifully) the film gets back on track fairly quickly. It’s never explained how Myers was captured after the first film or why Strode didn’t just move overseas if she was that traumatized. Also…I still can’t get fathom why this was called simply Halloween and not given its own distinctive title. While it is a direct continuation to the original, it’s not a remake and should have had something to set it apart.  Also, I hate to be the one to break it to you but if you’ve seen the trailers for the film much of the surprises and scares have been spoiled for you.  It’s disappointing to see just how much of the movie has been shown already, way too many of the moments that could have held high suspense have been cheapened or outright ruined by advertisements that held nothing back.

Quibbles aside, Green and McBride (with fellow screenwriter Jeff Fradley) have crafted a supremely satisfying film, pleasing the fans of the original while injecting enough humor, scares, and gore for audiences of today who aren’t content with the slow burn terror Carpenter created in his original masterpiece. Nothing could ever match that and their Halloween doesn’t truly try to outdo its big brother, it just wants to get on the same playing field and it gets the job done. Curtis is wonderful in the role, unlike the character she returned to in H20, I very much believed this Laurie Strode is the same one we first met 40 years ago and she seems to be having a ball giving her most famous role a proper ending. I liked that the majority of the movie focused on the relationship between three generations of Strode women — Greer fits in nicely as Strode’s daughter harboring resentment at the seeming loss of her childhood and I quite liked Matichak who felt like a Laurie for a new generation. There’s already sequel talk and as much as I’d love to see what Green and McBride would cook up next (they originally wanted to film this movie and its sequel back to back) I almost hope they leave well enough alone and let these characters rest in peace.

31 Days to Scare ~ The Thing (1982) {Trailer}

Synopsis: A twelve-man research team stationed in Antarctica finds an alien being that has fallen from the sky and has been buried for over 100,000 years.

Release Date: June 25th, 1982

Thoughts: It’s often nice not only to look back at classic films but also to check out their previews. Dig too far back (say to the ‘50s or ‘60s) and you’re likely to get the whole movie spoiled for you but there was a nice pocket of time in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s when the art of crafting a slick teaser was at its peak.  1979’s Alien will remain my all time favorite teaser but this one for 1982’s The Thing is high up on my list as well.  A remake of The Thing from Another World that was actually improved upon by director John Carpenter, the arctic-set The Thing was surprisingly released in early summer.  It’s holds up exceedingly well all these years later and is considered one of my old stand-bys if I want to pop in a scary sure-thing.  Along with its snazzy Drew Struzan poster (check out the Struzan doc Drew: The Man Behind the Poster for the story of how it came to be), the promotional machine for The Thing was firing on all cylinders.

 

Want another teaser for The Thing?  Here’s an even earlier one!

31 Days to Scare ~ Eyes of Laura Mars

eyes_of_laura_mars

The Facts:

Synopsis: A famous fashion photographer develops a disturbing ability to see through the eyes of a killer.

Stars: Faye Dunaway, Tommy Lee Jones, Brad Dourif, Rene Auberjonois, Raul Julia

Director: Irvin Kershner

Rated: R

Running Length: 104 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Where to Watch: DVD

Review: Deep down inside, somewhere where most of my guilty pleasure movies are filed away, I know that Eyes of Laura Mars isn’t good. It’s a hollow thriller that misses the mark on many levels and doesn’t achieve what it sets out to do. Moreover, it has one of the dumbest endings of all times…so bad that I wonder if it wouldn’t have been better if projectionists had just turned off the movie and sent everyone home five minutes before the film concludes. At least you’d leave with a bit of a zing and without your eyes tired from rolling in exasperation.

Yes, Eyes of Laura Mars is a kitschy late ‘70s thriller attempting to have some class. Yet here it is, featured early on in 31 Days to Scare. Why? It’s just so…entertaining. Whether you’re actively engaged in it or far removed, it’s never dull and not the museum piece it could have become. And it has Faye Dunaway (fresh off her Oscar win for Network) turning up her crazy knob long before her famously camp performance in Mommie Dearest.

Laura Mars is a famous fashion photographer known for glamorizing violence to sell product. Her images have galvanized the population and have attracted the ire of one demented psycho. Conveniently, when the killings begin Laura discovers a psychic link between herself and the murder, allowing her to see what the killer sees. When her closest friends and colleagues start getting their eyes plucked out and with a brutal manic gaining on her, she teams up with a cop (Tommy Lee Jones, Hope Springs) to unmask the fiend.

Originally intended as a vehicle for Barbra Streisand (her then-boyfriend produced the film and Streisand contributes an impressive song for the opening and closing credits), Dunaway is actually quite good here even when she’s ferociously overacting. Known for her frustrating method ways, if Dunaway knew the film was shaky she doesn’t show it but instead sinks her fangs in even further. Jones is surprisingly upbeat and even blasts out a few smiles. Brad Dourif (Color of Night), Rene Auberjonois, & Raul Julia (credited as R.J.!) are the various men in Laura’s life who wear their red herring T-shirts with gusto.

Rumor has it George Lucas was so impressed with a rough cut of this film he hired director Irvin Kershner to direct The Empire Strikes Back. Kershner and cinematographer Victor Kemper (National Lampoon’s Vacation) do give the film an elegant, classy sheen but there are enough close-ups of Dunaway’s eyes bugged out and wild to be featured in some sort of mascara ad. Though many of the costumes by Theoni V. Aldredge are stuck in the ‘70s, Dunaway is beautifully decked out in tartan plaids and regal attire but pity the models stuck in dreadful fad clothing, forever on celluloid wearing fancy togas.

Even though there are some interesting sequences, like Dunaway being chased through an abandoned building while seeing through the killer’s eyes as they gain on her, there’s a restraint that starts to sink the film. Low on blood and feeling watered down from a more violent version, someone (the studio, the director, etc) decided to play it safe instead of going for the jugular. The script (from a 10-page treatment by genre legend John Carpenter, Halloween) feels like a dozen people wrote it. There’s zero interest in finding why Laura and the killer have a connection and no real detective work in trying to figure out whodunnit until the third act when half the cast has been sliced and diced.

Watching it again recently (as I do every few years), I was surprised I only just realized the movie is an attempt to Americanize the Italian Giallo film. With its heightened sense of reality, its focus on celebrity and excess, and its embracing of glam-violence Eyes of Laura Mars is a noble but ultimately hopeless attempt to capitalize on the popular films successfully imported from Italy. Had someone like horror maestro Dario Argento or Lucio Fulci taken a crack at this, it may have wound up being a film with more lasting impact and imagery.

And they would have fixed the ending.

31 Days to Scare ~ Someone’s Watching Me!

The Facts:

Synopsis: A woman is being watched in her apartment by a stranger, who also calls and torments her. A cat-and-mouse game begins.

Stars: Lauren Hutton, David Birney, Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers

Director: John Carpenter

Rated: NR

Running Length: 97 minutes

TMMM Score: (6/10)

Review: So what’s the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the name John Carpenter?  Halloween, right?  Ok…maybe Escape from New York or his remake of The Thing depending on when you were growing up…but for most cinephiles John Carpenter and Halloween are synonymous terms.  Even though he had already made the respectable Dark Star and Assault on Precinct 13, Carpenter’s career took off like a rocket once his classic horror film was released in October 1978.  As the 80’s arrived Carpenter delivered a handful of memorable films before petering out in the latter part of the decade.  His latest efforts have been misfires but one needs only look to back at his origins to see the filmmaker at the top of his game.

Take Someone’s Watching Me!, a made-for-television thriller that Carpenter filmed before Halloween but was broadcast a month after Halloween was released.  In an interview on the DVD of Someone’s Watching Me!, Carpenter acknowledged that the filming of it greatly influenced how he approached Halloween and that’s not hard to see in the finished product.  Though the violence in Halloween makes Someone’s Watching Me! look like a kids film, Carpenter seems to have adapted his script to the small screen without making too many sacrifices.

Like Halloween, Someone’s Watching Me! is an economical film in that it doles out it’s suspense in small bites meant to keep the viewer hungry for more.  Considering the time and place it was made it’s a fairly advanced film in many respects which sadly have left it a tad dated when viewed now.  The concept of a female television director (Hutton) and a lesbian character (Barbeau) that wasn’t treated as a freak are old hat now but it took some balls from Carpenter and the studio to keep this material in without making a big deal about it.  Still, early on both women are sexually harassed in a fairly jaw-dropping display of late 70’s machismo that doesn’t seem that off the mark.

Obviously filmed on studio sets, the action of the picture takes place in a supposedly swanky Los Angeles high rise that New York transplant Hutton has taken up residence in.  Never mind that women in the high rise have a high suicide rate and are routinely stalked by a gravelly voiced prank phone caller.  Even though its only amenity seems to be a great view and hallways wide enough to get a camera crew through, there is something accurate about the depiction of single life in LA in 1978.  I believed that Hutton’s job afforded her the opportunity to pay the rent and enjoyed the period apartment stylings. 

When Hutton starts getting mysterious gifts and phone calls from an anonymous man the film starts to tighten its grip on us.  She starts to be romanced by a gentlemen (Birney who I can never look at the same way after reading how horrible he was to his ex Meredith Baxter) who encourages her to go to the police to get the calls to stop.  As in most women-in-peril films, no one listens to her and she eventually has to take matters into her own hand.  It’s not a terribly original concept but it’s in the execution of said concept that the film becomes memorable.

Carpenter likes to write for women and he’s crafted a great role for newcomer Hutton here.  Though she’d really make an impression in 1980’s American Gigolo, her efforts here are welcome because she carries it all off with ease.  She’s a serious woman that doesn’t take life so seriously…not quite bubbly she has a way of bounding into a room and easily becoming the center of attention.  It’s not hard to see, then, why she attracts a psycho to follow her every move.

There are a few well staged scares along the way and more than several nicely crafted suspense sequences that I’m sure played well when the film was broadcast.  Carpenter was originally commissioned to write the script for the big screen but when the final script came in it made more sense to film it for television.  That’s a wise move because it wouldn’t have worked half as well on the big screen without adding gore, nudity, or other selling points (for the time).

Looked at now, Someone’s Watching Me! is a tame film compared to horror movies receiving theatrical releases at the time.  It does make me miss the television movie which has seemingly gone the way of the dodo.  Seriously, remember how we’d get a movie-of-the-week every week with our favorite stars of the small screen?  With this film, Carpenter had a chance to test out some of the principles he put into practice for his most memorable work, gave a plum role to the talented Hutton, and met his future (and later, ex) wife Barbeau.  Not bad for a day’s work!