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 ~ The Watcher in the Woods

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The Facts:

Synopsis: An American family move into a British country house only to encounter malevolent spirits. The ghost of the owner’s daughter, long missing, torments the family’s young girl.

Stars: Bette Davis, Carroll Baker, Lynn-Holly Johnson, Kyle Richards, David McCallum

Director: John Hough

Rated: PG

Running Length: 84 minutes

TMMM Nostalgia Score: (8/10) TMMM Actual Score: (4/10)

Review: Every single one of us has that certain film or television show that we have this picture of in our mind from when we were younger.  It’s frozen in golden amber and locked inside a memory you want to keep right where it is for fear of anything spoiling those feelings you experienced while taking it in or the company you were with.  The trouble is, eventually, you’re going to come across those same films and TV shows as you grow older and that’s when the balloon pops and you have to face up to the harsh truths that what you thought was the bees knees as a kid was really a cow pie.

My greatest example of that is The Watcher in the Woods.  Released in 1980 by, of all studios, The Walt Disney Company, this supernatural PG-rated horror film was an odd project for Disney to take on.  Yes, they’d had a run of films leaning towards the older child (this was before the late ‘90s boom of animation and when live-action went silly again) but this was something different entirely.  Adapted from Florence Engel Randall’s strange but spooky 1976 novel A Watcher in the Woods and filmed across the pond in several picturesque location settings, it had a top line cast starting wtih Oscar winner Bette Davis along with Carroll Baker (Kindergarten Cop) and then-popular Lynn-Holly Johnson (For Your Eyes Only) who was skating high off of her success in Ice Castles.  Kyle Richards (Halloween) would play Johnson’s younger sister as part of a family that moved to beautiful English manor that came cheap…and they soon find out why.

I can’t tell you how much I remembered this movie being scary.  I mean, I really thought in my head this was what all horror films were like and since it played so often on the Disney Channel during October it became a staple in my house.  Over the years, I had clearly forgotten about it because when I went to watch it again a few years back I was stunned by how pedestrian, schlocky, and shoddy it all was.  It’s barely held together by toothpaste and paperclips and you can see why Disney allowed the movie to play for about two weeks in theaters before pulling it after negative reactions and recutting it to play more to their audience.  No matter, I’ve seen both versions and neither are any good whatsoever.  I know this may not win me any points with the legions of fans that worship The Watcher in the Woods but I’m calling it like it is.

What a disappointment, too, because everything is there to make something that doesn’t have to be super scary but at least could maintain some semblance of a mood for a period of time.  The supernatural element of the piece has potential, as does the mystery surrounding its origin.  Yet it’s almost impossible to watch because the actors keep getting in the way. The performances are so dreadful that they distract from the plot, not to mention poor Davis has to lurk around the joint and appear menacing though we clearly know she’s harmless in the overall arc of the plot.  Johnson, in particular, is just horrible and thankfully Richards matured into a less automaton-like actor.

A 2017 remake for television starring Angelica Huston didn’t fare much better and perhaps The Watcher in the Woods is just an entity that can’t be captured on film.  It’s certainly not represented well in this Disney production which would thankfully be one of their few attempts at this type of genre film.  If you’re up for a little heartbreak and haven’t seen this in a while, go ahead and give this one a re-watch.  Those that haven’t experienced this ghastly ghostly film should beware.  Try The Haunting of Bly Manor for a much more interesting UK-set ghost tale.