Synopsis: A high school student’s love for a 15-year-old girl is thwarted by circumstance and accident.
Stars: Brooke Shields, Martin Hewitt, Shirley Knight, Don Murray, Richard Kiley, Beatrice Straight, Tom Cruise, James Spader, Ian Ziering
Director: Franco Zeffirelli
Running Length: 116 minutes
TMMM Score: (1/10)
Review: I wanted to turn off Endless Love about eight times…I know it was eight times because the feeling to flee reached its tipping point at regular fifteen minute intervals. At a mind-numbing two hours, this drama from 1981 directed by Franco Zeffirelli was critically reviled but a head-scratcher of a box office hit.
Adapted (loosely) from Scott Spencer’s 1979 novel, this honest-to-god turkey is now best remembered for the Oscar nominated title song and its presence in movie trivia as the screen debut of Tom Cruise. Cruise appears on screen for all of three minutes as a teenage arsonist in the kind of short shorts that are only excused because early 80’s fashion really didn’t know any better. Still, the jean cutoffs worn by Cruise are the least offensive thing in this tawdry tale of young love.
The film opens with a teenage love affair between a 15 year old (Brooke Shields) and a 17 year old (Martin Hewitt) in full swing. The son of a typical suburban couple (Richard Kiley and Beatrice Straight), he’s considered part of Sheilds’ family too (headed by Don Murray and Shirley Knight)…by all accounts there seems to be peace in the world. Then Hewitt and Shields decide to go all the way one night by a crackling fireplace and Knight catches them…but instead of breaking them apart she gazes lasciviously at their naked intertwined figures in the kind of way that you just know things are going to change.
Though Zeffirelli tries to give the passion between Hewitt and Shields the same kind of heat he infused into his 1968 take on Romeo and Juliet, he’s stymied by neither star having the charisma or chemistry to ignite any sort of spark. Shields is lovely, no question, but her acting leaves much to be desired whereas Hewitt navigates some appalling dialogue and plot developments while being tasked with showing the most flesh (his tiny buns get nearly as much screen time as Knight’s various flowing mumus). When the two kiss, it’s akin to a child pushing Barbie and Ken’s faces together…just a smushing of lips and not much else.
For some reason not fully explained, when sex is introduced it suddenly makes Hewitt persona non grata in the life of his girlfriend and their relationship hits the skids. The rest of the film follows Hewitt as he tries to get her back over several years, with a few ridiculously timed tangents explored along the way.
Most embarrassing about this film is the way that well respected (and in some cases Oscar winning!) actors like Knight, Murray, Kiley, and Straight slum it up in such a seedy exercise. All four say the lines and go through the motions but Straight especially looks sickened to be participating here.
The production design is evocative of gauzy 80’s Summer’s Eve commercials, creating pretty pictures with zero depth to them. It’s a laborious affair to get through and a blast from the past you’ll wish you can blast into space. I saw this after I saw the remake…and trust me when I say that this movie makes the so-so remake look like The Bridge on the River Kwai in comparison.
Synopsis: Police chief Brody must protect the citizens of Amity after a second monstrous shark begins terrorizing the waters.
Stars: Roy Scheider, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton
Director: Jeannot Szwarc
Running Length: 116 minutes
TMMM Score: (7.5/10)
Review: Even though it swims in the shadow of what is arguably one of the most memorable films in history and having been released at a time when sequels weren’t all that popular, this follow-up to Steven Spielberg’s landmark 1975 scare fest still gets a lot of things right. I get the feeling that over the years any dissatisfaction with Jaws 2 by movie-goers was probably unavoidable considering the perfection of the original.
A troubled production that went way over-budget (as did Jaws), Jaws 2 picks up a few years after that marauding great white shark all but ruined the summer beach season on Amity Island. Right about the time that the town is done picking up the pieces, wouldn’t you know it…. another shark rears its dorsal fin and picks off more than a few New Englanders before setting its sights on a regatta of teens out for a sailing spree.
The original Jaws seems timeless to me, I can watch it now and still feel like it could have taken place yesterday. Part of that was Spielberg’s light touch with island life and a pleasant “away from it all” feeling when you were on Amity. Jaws 2 tends to show its age…starting with its opening moments at a celebration for the ribbon-cutting at a brand new Holiday Inn on the island. The late 70’s clothing, hair, and other cultural touchstones make an appearance here which aids in the film feeling very much a product of its time.
Though the producers of the film couldn’t get Spielberg and original star Richard Dreyfuss back, Roy Scheider was pretty much obligated to appear and rumor has it that he didn’t enjoy his time on the set. That sour attitude doesn’t translate to his performance though, and his Chief Brody is again the quiet everyman sort of hero once again ignored by the town when he starts to piece together that another shark is visiting Amity. It’s nice to see Lorraine Gary back as his wife, this time getting a beefed up role that keeps her present in the action, not just waiting at home for her husband to return. The rest of the cast is filled with a group of pleasant younger actors that do what they can with their hastily sketched out archetype characters.
It’s well documented that the mechanical shark on the original film wasn’t very cooperative, forcing Spielberg to suggest the shark more than he showed it. The shark on this film is ready for his close-up fairly early on and an inventive placement of the camera on top of the shark gives you a nice fish eye view of his hunt.
While it can’t even get in the stratosphere of the first film, this is a worthy sequel that gives the audience what they came to see without feeling like a cheap cash-in on the success of the previous film.
Synopsis: When a gigantic great white shark begins to menace the small island community of Amity, a police chief, a marine scientist and grizzled fisherman set out to stop it.
Stars: Roy Scheider, Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss, Lorraine Gary, Murray Hamilton, Susan Backlinie
Director: Steven Spielberg
Running Length: 124 minutes
TMMM Score: (11/10)
As someone who is in the business (okay, hobby) of reviewing movies and being known as a fan of the silver screen, I’m often asked what my favorite film is. Though at times I may wish I could be someone that would say Modern Times, Animal Crackers, Casablanca, The Graduate, The Godfather Part II, or Grease 2 (kidding…or am I?) I always ALWAYS have a one word answer: Jaws.
You see, for me the most honest experience at a movie is when I am totally swept into and away with the thrill of it all and thrills is something Jaws has in spades. It’s too smart of a film to be kept inside the monster movie genre and too gung-ho about getting a rise out of its audience to be relegated to mere classic cinema status and put on the shelf with other well-made movies that aren’t nearly as re-watchable.
In 2013 Jaws turns 38 and though I’ve lost count over the years I’d bet my viewings of the film number in the triple digits. It’s one of the very few films where I can’t remember the first time I saw it…and that’s saying something because I’m known to have a fairly good memory for when (and where) I’ve seen most moves in my life (go ahead, quiz me!). All I remember is one day Jaws came into my life on a VHS copy and my changed for the better. After that sharks were the #1 obsession of mine and though I wasn’t one of the viewers too scared to go back in the water after (living in a landlocked state will do that to you) I’ll admit to dog paddling a little easier knowing I could see the bottom of whatever body of water I was taking a dip in.
Another special memory of Jaws is that shortly after my parents met they saw it at a sold out theater in Iowa. My mom remembers that they had to sit in the front row and she’s had a hard time seeing the film over the years because it scared her so bad. If I could travel back in time I’m not ashamed to admit that attending a screening of Jaws when it was first released in theaters would be one of my top five choices.
Luckily, the popularity of the film has guaranteed that some theater will have it on the big screen once or twice a year and I find it hard to resist buying a ticket any time I see one pop up. I love sitting through the film packed in a crowded theater and hearing the screams, laughs, and shrieks that Steven Spielberg’s landmark film can still elicit all these years later.
Having seen every documentary and read all the material on the famously shaky making of Jaws in the summer of 1974, there’s not a lot about the film and its production that I don’t know. A greater appreciation for the final product develops every time I hear about the pain of filming at sea and the frustration with a mechanical shark that rarely worked. Still, without these roadblocks I’m not entirely positive that the film would have wound up as fantastically entertaining as it did.
Adapted from Peter Benchley’s runaway bestseller by the author and Carl Gottlieb, Universal Studios knew they had the makings of a huge money maker…if only they could assemble the right team to make the film. Enter young director Spielberg (Lincoln, Jurassic Park), fresh from directing The Sugarland Express which was lauded by critics but ignored by audiences. Decidedly green but possessing a crackerjack eye for film technique, Spielberg wasn’t even sure of himself but faced a trial by fire as he and his crew attempted a daring shoot on location in Martha’s Vineyard under the watchful eye of its residents.
Originally planned to feature its star (that’d be the shark) much more, when technical difficulties kept the shark in the repair shop, Spielberg filmed as much of the movie as he could that didn’t feature the man-eating fish. Working with an unconventional troupe of actors, Spielberg was forced to get creative when time and budget called for something shark-related to finally be shot. Merely suggesting the presence of the shark for the first half of the film was a high-wire risky move and I’m not sure anyone involved with the movie was sure how it would all turn out.
Luckily for the studio, Spielberg, the crew, and the audience it all came together in a film that went down in history as creating the summer blockbuster. A monster hit when released in the summer of 1975, people waited in line for hours to see the shark do his thing and returned for second and third viewings, propelling the movie into the top box office champ of the year and, for a while, of all time. In fact, in 1975 Jaws made nearly double what the next highest film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, made and it was the first movie to make more than 200 million dollars in the US box office.
All the hoopla about making the film and its success aside, let’s not forget that Jaws is one of the most perfectly constructed movies ever put on celluloid. Opening with a bang meant to jolt the audience into rapt attention; the film slowly builds and builds with each new attack more violent and unsettling. Spielberg keeps the tension high as a huge (but not comically proportioned) great white shark descends upon the small New England island town of Amity in the peak of summer. The new police chief Martin Brody (Roy Scheider in a performance that honestly gets better and more satisfying with each viewing) wants to do something about it but a mayor and town council that has their eyes on tourist dollars ignores the problem until it’s too late. Then it’s up to Brody, marine biologist Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss, just a few years before he’d win an Oscar for The Goodbye Girl) and salty man of the sea Quint (Robert Shaw who by some cruel miracle wasn’t even nominated for an Oscar) to set sail in search of the shark…who begins to hunt them as well.
While the film could have gone off the rails on any number of occasions, it’s thanks to the three lead performances, Spielberg’s sharp direction, and Verna Field’s Oscar-winning editing that the true beauty of Jaws is revealed. In between passages of breathless energy and suspense, time is taken to let the characters drive the story so we get to know who these people are. That’s why when they find themselves in peril the terror feels even more real because they aren’t just faceless victims ready to be chomped down on…we’ve warmed to them and their squaring off with a very real foe becomes all that more powerful.
Though I’ve seen the film numerous times I still find myself having a real reaction to certain sequences in the film. The opening attack on an unknowing swimmer is still unsettling to this day and that Spielberg can stage something so violent without showing a drop of blood and gore is noble. (How this only managed to garner a PG rating is fairly incredible…) I love the interaction Schieder has with Lorriane Gary as his headstrong wife. Even though she was married to the head of Universal Studios and some cried foul, Gary is a commanding presence and makes a believable counterpart to Scheider. Who can forget Shaw’s infamous monologue about the true-life tale sinking of the U.S.S. Indianapolis and all of the men taken by a swarm of hungry sharks? Then there’s the 25 foot shark and his wickedly scary appearances throughout the film; timed so perfectly that you don’t just jump in your chair…you leap out of it.
Of course, you can’t mention Jaws without saving some space for John Williams and his Oscar-winning score that is very nearly a character unto itself. Some have said that watching Jaws without the score takes away much of the suspense and I can’t say I totally disagree. Though the shark isn’t seen fully until late in the film, it’s the ominous simple note combination from Williams that tells you danger is near. It’s one of the select film soundtracks that could be heard in its entirety where one can see the movie happening in their head as they listen.
I’m always a bit stunned when someone says they haven’t seen Jaws. Then I’m excited because that means when I finally force them to see it they will get to experience filmmaking at its absolute finest. The movie has everything going for it – it’s a scary, funny, well-made, well-acted, carefully stitched together piece of cinema that has kept its dignity over the years though many lesser talents have tried to re-capture some of the magic. Followed by three sequels and inspiring endless rip-offs the movie is still a high water mark for blockbuster entertainment.
Happy 38th Birthday Jaws…you still have a lot of bite left in you!
Review: In retrospect, I can’t even begin to fathom how I made it through my childhood without seeing this classic film from the true heyday of the Universal Studios and their monster films. It’s a little like The Avengers with an ‘all hands on deck’ approach from the studio that were responsible for most of, if not all, the indelible monster movies from the 1930’s-1950’s.
I must confess that this is the first Abbott and Costello movie I’ve ever seen. I know, I know…sacrilege…right? Still, I think I always thought of them as another version of The Three Stooges and once I grew out of that part of my childhood I didn’t see the need to revisit another comedy team. Boy, was totally off base because the greatness of the comedy stylings of Abbott and Costello are hard to measure by today’s standards. I would have been able to pick Lou Costello out of a line-up but couldn’t say the same for Bud Abbott…the long-suffering straight-man to Costello’s bumbling bafoon.
Their word play, physical comedy, and crack comic timing work wonders to elevate this film from its humble beginnings to the true classic that it is. It also helps that along with the dynamic duo you have Lugosi reprising his role of Dracula, Strange as Frankenstein’s Monster, and Chaney Jr. going another round as The Werewolf. Add sultry Aubert to the mix and you have a solid grouping of the best of the best.
The title of the film may not be totally accurate as the movie is just about Abbott and Costello meeting Dracula as it is about meeting The Wolfman…but at the time Frankenstein was the hot seller so above the title he went. It’s really a caper film with Dracula wanting to substitute Costello’s simple brain for the more aggressive one inside Frankenstein’s Monster. Along the way there are copious amounts of comedy, action, good special effects, and jaw-dropping set pieces.
This was in the day when movies were made on the back lot of their studios but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from the impressively detailed set designs, strong use of miniatures and special effects. More than once I blurted out, “Just LOOK at that! That’s a SET!” Director Barton was experienced with our two stars and would work with them on several other Abbott and Costello Meet __________ over the years – his technique seemed to be best when he just lets Costello do his thing and allowing Abbott to get more flustered.
Widely regarded as the best film from comedy duo Abbott and Costello, it’s not hard to see why. It’s a fast, funny, frantic film that has moved onto my list of annual films to watch around Halloween. You don’t need to wait until next year to track this one down…it’s available in a striking new BluRay presentation celebrating the 100th Anniversary of Universal Studios.
Synopsis: Four teenage friends spend the night in a carnival funhouse and are stalked by a deformed man in a Frankenstein mask.
Stars: Elizabeth Berridge, Shawn Carson, Cooper Huckabee, Largo Woodruff, Sylvia Miles, Kevin Conway
Director: Tobe Hooper
Running Length: 96 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: Here’s another film (like Dr. Giggles) that popped into my head randomly when I was contemplating the films to include in my 31 Days to Scare. It had been quite a few years since it had crossed my path but I felt it was a justified choice considering the theme and director. Turns out I need to stop listening to the voices in my head making film recommendations because I got saddled with another bad apple horror film.
Considering that this was helmed by the director of 1974’s classic The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this should have been light years better than this second hand film is. Hooper was just coming off of directing the successful television mini-series Salem’s Lot and would move on from this to one of my all time favorite films, Poltergeist so I can see how some film buffs would let this one slide. Not me. Hooper had a decent (but admittedly not great) script to work with and a minefield of scares to be drilled home in the titular funhouse…but everything goes to waste in a really lackluster packaging.
The problem starts right as the credits end when the film makes nods to two horror classics, Psycho and Halloween. There’s something to be said about a movie paying homage to what came before it…but this opening sequence is such an outright copycat job…and a shoddy one at that. That it ends in a shot of gratuitous nudity only makes one appreciate the restraint the previous filmmakers showed in their pictures.
It doesn’t get much better from there as we follow dead-behind-the-eyes Berridge (who would acquit herself nicely replacing Meg Tilly in Amadeus) as she travels to a local carnival with her gruff boyfriend (Huckabee) and expendable friends. They spend the dull first 2/3 of the film wandering around the carnival and its attractions – making it clear to us how seedy the carnival is and how really dumb the four of them are when they decide to hop off the funhouse ride and spend the night.
Somehow or other they get trapped in the funhouse and are hunted by a deformed man with no real motivation or care. It’s such a non-threatening situation in well-lit areas that you wonder why they don’t all just move to the nearest exit and high tail it out of there. I’ve been to a lot of these funhouses over the years and none are as gigantic or misleading as this one is. I get it that it’s a movie set and all but I couldn’t get my head around the fact that any person would be unable to escape.
Hooper does throw in a few inventive touches along the way. Tapping Conway to play multiple roles within the circus is a clever move in that it confuses the audience in a good way as we strain to remember why one carny running the freak show looks like the guy manning the dancing girls show. There’s an incestual feel to this casting that lends itself well to the yuck-o factor of the carnival in general. Miles (She-Devil) shows up for an extended cameo as a grumpy psychic that plays a part in setting the events of the latter part of the picture in motion.
Heaving and wheezing all the way through its finale, The Funhouse spits the audience out in careless fashion – happy to have had our business but not providing any parting gifts for our time. Hooper famously turned down Steven Spielberg’s offer to direct E.T. in favor of this and while in the long run that was a good choice for cinematic history, it’s amazing that he felt more of a pull to do this garbage film instead. Save your tokens, tickets, and dollar bills and pass up The Funhouse in favor of something more rewarding.
Synopsis: The psychopathic son of a mass-murdering doctor, escapes from his mental institution to seek revenge on the town where his father was caught
Stars: Larry Drake, Holly Marie Combs, Cliff De Young, Glenn Quinn, Michelle Johnson
Director: Manny Coto
Running Length: 95 minutes
TMMM Score: (2/10)
Review: For my 31 Days to Scare, I woke up one day with the urge to track this film down. I can’t say why the movie came to me out of the blue or what moved it to the top of my list after it did but needless to say I would up later that day renting Dr. Giggles and giving it a whirl.
It wouldn’t be right to say that the years haven’t been kind to this 1992 horror film because the film was never that good to begin with. This is probably the third or fourth time I’ve seen it and I’m certain that it will be my last viewing. A pathetic attempt to blend horror and comedy, Dr. Giggles is all concept and no real execution…unless you count the death of several film careers because of it.
A Nightmare on Elm Street started off as a dark horror film that with each passing sequel turned its central monster, Freddy Krueger, into a comedy act. As the series changed its tune/tone, the jokester bits of Krueger became something that audiences expected when they entered the theater. Krueger had a nice little send off for his victims…usually a terrible pun on his method of sending them to their maker.
Dr. Giggles tries that same technique resulting in some hideous one-liners related to medical jargon that didn’t even work when it was originally released. Carrying around his medical bag that houses a Mary Poppins-esque treasure trove of oversized medical devices that reminded me of a Fisher Price toy box, Dr. Giggles (awkwardly shaped television actor Drake who was much more effective in Dark Night of the Scarecrow and Darkman) makes too many house calls over the course of the film and the result is a yucky mess of a film.
It doesn’t help that our leading lady is a snoozer. Combs was not destined to become anything more than a television star and it shows here in a performance that’s laughably awful. You shouldn’t root for the villain in the film but you may find yourself hoping Giggles gets to her stat. The late Quinn (best known as Becky’s husband Mark on Roseanne) is decent as her semi-concerned boyfriend but any real character development is thrown out the window in favor of ghoulish kills that are more zany that gory.
It’s a shame that it’s all so poor because at the heart of Dr. Giggles is a creepy little plot that could have worked better by removing the comedy, recasting the leads, and giving greater weight to the fear we all have of facing a needle. I usually am an advocate for people going to the doctor when they need care but this is one check-up I should have skipped.
Synopsis: Beca, a freshman at Barden University, is cajoled into joining The Bellas, her school’s all-girls singing group. Injecting some much needed energy into their repertoire, The Bellas take on their male rivals in a campus competition.
Stars: Anna Kendrick, Brittany Snow, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Skylar Astin, Adam DeVine, Elizabeth Banks
Review: The poster for Pitch Perfect suggests that the film will be a mixture of Bridesmaids and Glee. And who said there was no truth in advertising? Plenty of films have been released (Bachelorette) or are in production (The Hangover: Part III) that are all about men and women behaving very badly for the sake of comedy. Pitch Perfect dials down the crude factor (kinda) and shaves a few years off of the main characters to give us a college set musical comedy that provides a respectable amount of laughs sandwiched between some mighty dreadful drama.
Opening strongly with a jaw-dropping display of…well…I won’t spoil it for you. Let’s just say that you’ll never listen to “The Sign”, Ace of Base’s ear-worm of a popular tune, the same way again. It’s a side-splitting moment and the film is smart enough to go right into a credits sequence as we recover from our laughter in the bold beginning. It’s this kind of editorial decision that I greatly respected in retrospect looking at the film, it’s edited around the laughs so we don’t miss pivotal pieces of information that may be relayed during a laugh break.
The film rides a nice wave of good will for the majority of its slightly too long running time by introducing characters that are recognizable and relatable. There are a lot of people to give screen time to so the film can’t really be faulted for trying to give everyone their due. Yes, pretty much everyone in the film represents a stereotype of one kind or another but isn’t that the case with most film and real-life situations involving a group of people?
It helps that the actors in the film have talent to back themselves up with. All of the actors really sing (at least I’m pretty sure it was all them) and to do so live and a capella is impressive. Kendrick, Astin, and Snow come off the best in the singing department with nice support from Wilson, Camp, and Ester Dean. The musical numbers and sing-offs are staged well by Broadway director Moore (Avenue Q) and it’s nice to see that with his first feature he shows dexterity with the cinematography and keeps things moving along at a nice clip.
It’s when the actors aren’t singing that problems creep into Pitch Perfect. Some of the more dramatic moments seemed like they were spliced in from a late ’90s television movie on various topics of divorce, sexual orientation, and depression. Every scene that Kendrick shares with her father (the usually dependable John Benjamin Hickey) falls victim to an overdramatic, false tone. The movie also ends without tying up a few key loose ends that started to bug me the more I thought about them. Issues involving roommates and school jobs are introduced to move the film forward but are not resolved in any satisfying way. There are so many plot holes that it now resembles a brick of swiss cheese in my mind.
Thankfully, the singing parts dominate and we are treated to tight harmonies and hyper-surreal displays of prowess as the movie plays (or sings?) out in front of us. As the leaders of the Bellas, Camp and Snow have a nice yin-yang dichotomy going on. It would have been easy for the actresses to switch roles to play more on their strengths, but having each actress play against type turns out to be a gamble that works. The star of the show, Kendrick, has a nice voice but is so unlikable and grumpy most of the time that when the inevitable softening of her hard heart happens, it seems to be because that’s what the script says rather than what the character feels. To her credit, Kendrick sticks with the role to the bitter end.
Australian comedienne Wilson has had a nice ascent in the last few years with memorable turns in Bridesmaids, What To Expect When You’re Expecting, and Bachelorette on her resume. I still think she’s due for a true starring role in a movie but until that happens these sly supporting roles should be profitable for her. Astin and other supporting characters have a nice look…even if most looked like their college years were long behind them. Banks (who also was executive producer) and John Michael Higgins laugh all the way to the bank in commentator roles they probably filmed in an afternoon. Worst of the bunch is icky Jack Black-alike Adam DeVine who I wanted to see drawn and quartered before the film was over. I didn’t even want to mention him in my review because he was so bad…but I wanted to use the term Jack Black-alike so…done and done.
Hitting most of the right notes, Pitch Perfect is one of those movies that would have been a box office smash in the early ’90s when these types of comedies really sold. There has been a bit of a saturation of teen films in recent years…and it’s unfortunate that higher quality films like this one might suffer because of a been-there-done-that feel. If you can’t catch this one in the theater, it would make a nice rental when it debuts for home viewing.
Synopsis: A large Halloween mask-making company has plans to kill millions of American children with something sinister hidden in Halloween masks.
Stars: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (5.5/10)
Review: When Halloween II was released to theater in 1981, its box office success and the rising popularity of sequels meant that another installment was surely on the way. In an interesting move, Universal Pictures decided to go in another direction for the sequel and not have any connection to the previous films. This turned out to be a huge blunder and it’s the main reason1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch has been constantly dogged in the twenty years since it was originally produced.
Look, Halloween III is no classic…you aren’t going to get an argument out of me on that one. Take away the Halloween part of the title, though, and just call it Season of the Witch and then you may find yourself slightly enjoying this mediocre horror that at least has its head in the right place.
The director of the original Halloween, John Carpenter, had originally envisioned these films as anthology-style in nature so each new entry would tell a different story (sort of like what TV’s American Horror Story is doing now). The problem with that notion was that by making Halloween II a continuation of the first movie, audiences were thrown for a loop when Halloween III showed up and there was no Michael Myers chasing down nubile teens. Ever since, Halloween III has gained a reputation of being the one film of the series that has nothing to do with any of the other installments.
The director and screenwriter of Halloween III was the editor on the original and would go on to direct the strong TV film adaptation of Stephen King’s IT. Wallace had a nice idea for this film that he couldn’t really see through to the end…at least that’s the feeling you get when you watch it now. The story involves a plot by a demented toymaker to use television and holiday consumerism to wipe out, well, everyone via a nasty trick with no treat. At the time, it was a nice meditation on the danger of excessive greed and consumption of popular culture. That theme does hold some weight in our current media-obsessed culture and I wonder if the film couldn’t be tweaked for a nice update.
Though it has some nice touches by featuring a few members of the original Halloween in bit parts, there’s a curious lack of dedication from most of the actors. It’s as if everyone was signed on to do the movie but could only work a few hours a day on it. Nothing seems really polished or professional, though viewing the film in HD now there is an appreciation for the production design and some of the more gruesome make-up effects that still hold up under closer scrutiny.
Even though it s a bumpy ride, there was something about Halloween III that I found oddly enjoyable. Maybe it was the old school nature of the approach Wallace and company took to tell their story. Or maybe it was the appreciation that the studio tried something radically different – and even if it failed at least they resisted the urge to do what everyone else was doing.
Michael Myers would be back for several more sequels under the Halloween moniker and this film would become a distant memory – but if you’ve never seen it I’d cautiously tell you to give it a try. It’s not up to snuff in sequel terms…but once you realize it’s not a sequel and get your head around the fact that it’s a totally different film you may get a kick out of the scary stuff on display.
Synopsis: In this erotic remake of the 1942 classic, a young woman’s sexual awakening brings horror when she discovers her urges transform her into a monstrous black leopard
Stars: Nastassja Kinski, Malcolm McDowell, John Heard, Annette O’Toole, Ruby Dee, Ed Begley Jr.
Director: Paul Schrader
Running Length: 118 minutes
TMMM Score: (6/10)
Review: The 1942 film Cat People was one of the more successful thrillers of the day that didn’t feature Dracula or Frankenstein. Its box office built and built…eventually running so long that it’s said many of the critics that originally hated it went back and loved it. The topic of sexuality was pretty taboo for the early 40’s which is at least one reason why the film was so intriguing to moviegoers. It was followed by a less successful sequel (The Curse of the Cat People) and then remade/re-envisioned as an overly psycho-sexual thriller of the mid eighties.
Director Schrader has been involved with some of the more memorable films out of Hollywood in the 70’s and early part of the 80’s. Acting as the screenwriter for Taxi Driver and Raging Bull, he also directed a landmark film showcasing steely 80’s obsession…American Gigolo. Two years later came his re-do of Val Lewton’s Cat People and it’s a curious film that is sometimes intriguing but often times exasperating.
In the 1940’s, some sexual references had to be toned down but in the era of films that showed anything you wanted to see the 1982 Cat People was drenched in flesh and blood and mined for all it was worth. The metaphor that one’s sex drive/desire was linked to animalistic behavior comes through loud and clear as siblings McDowell and Kinski transform into leopards whenever they get hot to trot.
No one plays a skeevy creep-o like McDowell (witness Caligula…or better yet…don’t) and he’s smarm-factor is on level 14 as he leers at his sister but stops short of licking his lips anytime she walks into the room. When the long estranged siblings are reunited in New Orleans, McDowell takes his sister into the house he shares with a voodoo-ish woman named Female (that’s Fhem-Ah-Lay just so we’re clear). Kinski finds herself drawn to the zoo and a well-meaning zookeeper (Heard) who just so happens to be called in when McDowell in leopard form attacks a prostitute.
As the co-workers of Heard’s zoologist, O’Toole and Begley Jr. can only watch on the sidelines and Heard is strangely drawn to the mysterious woman that feels a connection to the leopard that is now caged and under surveillance. O’ Toole’s character may have had something good to contribute but Schrader seems only interested in getting her clothes off and putting her in danger as she’s stalked by a beast while doing laps late at night.
In his first (and only) foray into the horror genre, Schrader does create a more adult feel to the typical slasher fare that was out at the time. It’s as if he wanted to give the adults that go to the movies something to blush at and yet not be ashamed to be seen going into. While it does have its fair share of flowing blood and a lushly seedy vision that only could be provided by the steamy streets of Louisiana, Cat People seems to turn its nose up at the very genre it’s trying to fit into. It’s too refined to be dopey teen horror but not interesting enough to be true art-house fare.
It’s safe to say that you don’t need to see the original Cat People to take this one in as well. Both films are different enough in tone and narrative that they operate as separate movies that share the same title. Schrader’s blunt-nosed sexualized take on the material won’t be for everyone and it didn’t win me over on the whole, but there’s some decent work here from all involved that may keep this one out of your litter box.
Synopsis: Laurie Strode is rushed to the hospital, while Sheriff Brackett and Dr. Loomis hunt the streets for Michael Myers, who has found Laurie at the Haddonfield Hospital
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Lance Guest, Pamela Susan Shoop, Leo Rossi, Ana Alicia, Charles Cyphers
Director: Rick Rosenthal
Running Length: 92 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Note: If for some reason you haven’t seen Halloween before (get on that!) you are hereby warned that some spoilers from that film pop up here…
Review: When John Carpenter’s Halloween changed the face of horror films in 1978, it was not a cut and dry deal that a sequel would creep its way into production. At the time, sequels weren’t looked at with the most respect and very few films warranted them outright anyway. Keep in mind, this was right around the time that the teen horror flick was still finding its footing and the multiple sequels to Halloween, Friday the 13th, and A Nightmare on Elm Street hadn’t started to ramp up yet.
In 1981, the original Halloween was three years old and Friday the 13th was getting ready to release its first sequel. The studio brass at Universal Studios came-a-knockin’ at the door of Carpenter to see if he’d be interested in directing the sequel to his megahit. Carpenter was a hot commodity with The Fog and Escape From New York under his belt and was the obvious person to go to when a continuation was needed. Carpenter declined to sit in the director’s chair but instead contributed to the script and some last minute pick-up duties (i.e. they brought him in when there was a need for more blood and kills).
At the end of the original, escaped killer Michael Myers had fallen off a balcony after being shot several times by Dr. Loomis (Pleasance) only to disappear into the night. A master touch (for the time) by Carpenter, this would be looked at nowadays as a cheap ploy to leave the possibility of a sequel open. In the case of Halloween, it served for one last scare as Carpenter left you with the feeling that Myers could still be around any corner, ready to pounce.
Picking up precisely at the moment the first film ended, Halloween II follows sole survivor Laurie Stode (Curtis) to Haddonfield Hospital where the staff is picked off one by one by the masked killer who has come to finish his business. It’s not that far-fetched of a plot, actually, and its simplicity and efficiency is classic Carpenter. Along the way we learn a little more about the history of Myers and his connection to Laurie, and also gain a bit more insight into the obsession that Loomis has with his patient.
Taking the directing reins from Carpenter was Rosenthal (who would later come back to direct Halloween: Resurrection) and he maintains Carpenter’s minimalist approach while injecting some necessary life into characters and plot turns. Because the film is really a continuation of the first, it was pretty much required that part II look and sound like the original and I think all involved met that challenge.
As far as horror sequels go, Halloween II is one of the better ones because it sticks to (some would say copies) many of the techniques that made the original so noteworthy. Placing its characters in situations where they are at a disadvantage but not helpless contributes to the realistic tone. As the sequels would go on, logic would be pretty much heaved out the window but in the second outing of Myers there’s little that will ring false to the horror minded cinephile.
It was pivotal to have the two leads from the first film return. Pleasance was by all accounts a very eager-to-please actor and signed up for the film without much grumbling. It helped that there was some nice character development for him that I’m sure kept him interested and gave him something to work with. By this time, Curtis was the reigning Scream Queen, having starred in four horror films (The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train, and Road Games) in the three years since the original but she doesn’t have much to do but look dazed and confused for the first half of the film. It’s only when visiting hours bring a killer to her door that she has to fight for her life for the second time in one long Halloween night.
Some interesting kills and several clever uses of camera and lighting to create some ample scares helps to give Halloween II high marks on the thrill scale. It may be blasphemy, but I enjoy Halloween II maybe a little more than the original. There’s something about its pace and through line that has always provided good entertainment whenever I find myself re-watching it. It absolutely makes for a nice double feature if you are checking out the original for the first or fortieth time.