Saturday, June 19, 2010

Nightmares on Halloween Night at Crystal Lake

One of the benefits of being stuck at home all day sick with little motivation to do anything is that one becomes truly grateful for old fashioned video stores. I still call it a video store even though the days of Blockbuster stocking VHS - or me having a VCR - are long gone, but that's besides the point. Yes, I have my local DVD delivery service, but they can't send me a whole bunch of movies all at once that allows me to watch them in quick succession - or, they do, but I can't afford that service.

I have used these past couple of days to fill in some of the gaps in my viewing history of several of the most iconic horror franchises of all time - Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Over the span of 72 hours I have watched Halloween II, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 2, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master and Jason Goes to Hell. All of which had been previously unseen by me (or, in the case of The Dream Master, so I thought, but it turns out I was wrong) and now only have a few to go before I have seen each and every entry of these most delicious horror franchises.

Jason Goes to Hell was the final film in the entire 12-film-long Friday the 13th series that I had yet to see and, I gotta say, it was a pathetic way to end that particular quest. The only redeemable feature was the moment capped below and the end credits. The former because, well, just look at it! Made from marble, I swear. And the latter because it meant it was finally all over.

That there is Michael Silver and he's in Jason Goes to Hell very briefly. So brief that when I say he's naked for majority of time he's on screen I am actually telling the truth. But seriously, there is just nothing in Jason Goes to Hell that is... well, good. Even the bridge to Freddy Vs Jason, which would only come to fruition ten years - and one Jason X - later, was a bit lame. It can rank perfectly well alongside Jason Takes Manhattan, Jason X and the 2009 remake as the worst of the series on a grade of D-

I sat down to watch A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master thinking I had never seen it before, but from the opening shot I got the twinge of feeling that I was wrong. It turns out that this is the Elm Street edition that I saw when I was a wee tyke who would sneak and watch the horror movies my brother would watch on VHS. As I watched I recalled vivid memories of the opening scene, the looping sequence, the cockroach and the "suck face" death scenes as well as this glorious waterbed sequence, which most definitely ranks in my top three all time favourite Nightmare death sequences.

Apart from these glorious death scenes (remember, cockroaches and suck face being the other immortal ones from The Dream Master) there is actually quite a bit to enjoy about this fourth trip to Elm Street. This installment was directed by Renny Harlin, who would go on to direct Die Hard 2, Cliffhanger, Deep Blue Sea and was responsible for two films that gave us some of the most infamous runaway production stories of all time - Cutthroat Island and Exorcist: The Beginning. That this rather innocuous 1988 horror movie manages to be better than all of them is both telling in regards to Harlin's career and the franchise's ability to be awesome.

I liked the recurring loop that Lisa Wilcox's "Alice" and Danny Hassel's "Dan" find themselves in as they try to save the girl who would become a permenant member of the roach motel. I cannot recall it being done in any other Nightmare film, but it's a neat trick and a far more interesting trick for Freddy to play than anything he did in this year's remake.

Speaking of Danny Hassel, isn't he a bit of a dreamboat? Or, as Brooke Theiss's "Debbie" calls him "one major league hunk".

Yes, he'll do.

Debbie, meanwhile, is a hoot of a character isn't she? She has nothing to do other than set up her own demise - she works out, hates bugs, watches Dynasty - and wear hilarious '80s fashions. Just take a look at her ensemble here. What looks to be a skirt made out of bike short fabric, a bra of some kind with no shirt (who does she think she is, Sue Ellen Mischke?) and then a leather jacket, lining her midriff with a studded waist. Plus the hair. Oh my looord, the hair!

Or how about this for some prime 1980s glory?

All in all I very much enjoyed this entry in the A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise and now only have A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child to see. Looking at the final scenes of this movie in Freddy's lair and it's so much more... I don't want to say enjoyable, but it's certainly more watchable and pleasing to the eye than the 2010 Elm Street remake. That Marcus Nispel remake was dirty, rusty, decrepit and depressing. I don't want to leave an Elm Street film feeling like I saw a comedy rather than a horror movie, but I'd certainly prefer that feeling to the feeling of deep sadness that the 2010 edition left me in. I would rank The Dream Master alongside Dream Warriors as a highlight of the non Wes Craven-directed Elm Street entries. B

Of the three big horror franchises - A Nightmare on Elm Street, Friday the 13th and Halloween - it is the latter that I have been the most negligent of. Before this week I had only seen John Carpenter's 1978 original as well as Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (co-starring Paul Rudd, it must be noted), Halloween H20 and Halloween: Resurrection. The last one there is, by far, one of the worst movies I saw from the last decade. I did not need to see the Halloween franchise's take on the reality TV genre, okay?!?

Halloween II is a direct follow on from Halloween, despite being made 3 years after it. Set on the same night as Michael Myer's return it is centred mainly in the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. Usually when I hear a movie is set in a hospital or, even worse, an asylum I tend to shudder at the thought of how overly art directed it is inevitably going to be, but Halloween II thankfully avoids that.

The design here was so simple and eerily quiet with its dark corners and it was as if the makers really knew their way around it and knew where they could hide victims, killers and all sorts or other nastiness. Compare it to Rob Zombie's own take with Halloween 2 and his hospital sequence is dirty and grotesque with leaking water pipes and ugly facilities. I'm impressed Zombie restrained himself and didn't include shots of toilets bubbling over with shit and patients vomiting everywhere, but more on that movie later.

Halloween II is obviously not as good as John Carpenter's original. Director Rick Rosenthal's visuals are flat and uninteresting for the most part and he has trouble setting up sequences that make sensible use of Michael Myer's slow walking nature. Nothing about Michael here seems threatening. If he'd just speed up a little bit then he would have caught Jamie Lee Curtis' "Laurie Strode" and be done with it. I did like this moment however when bitch just walks right on through a plate glass door with nary a care in the world.

I must admit though that I have a definite "thing" for curly haired love interests in 1980s horror flicks. There always seems to be one! I do enjoy a curly mop of hair like the one sported in Halloween II by Lance Guest. It's a weakness that I am incapable of curing. If I had been alive in 1981 I would have been lining up to see this movie because a) the first was so good and b) Lance Guest. He's adorable.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is, as I'm sure you all know, not even a direct sequel, but is in fact a separate Halloween related story. It had been the intention of John Carpenter and his co-writer/co-producer on the first films in the series to develop the Halloween brand into a sort of Outer Limits/Twilight Zone series where each year would bring about a new Halloween-related tale of horror. Directed by the production designer of the original Halloween, Tommy Lee Wallace, Halloween III: Season of the Witch is about a Halloween mask company that aims to bring an altogether different form of horror to families across the country.

I initially enjoyed Halloween III: Season of the Witch with it's opening 15 minutes proving to be suspenseful, intriguing and, at one point, quite shocking. Starting with that creepy shot of a man emerging out from the night time underpass and ending in the man in the suit dousing himself in petrol and setting himself on fire, it's quite an audacious opening. Unfortunately after that it becomes nothing more than an episode of Twisted Tales (but better than Two Twisted, naturally) with it's bland visuals and TV-sized payoff. It throws in a terribly lame sex scene for no reason, the repetitive music is frustrating and the opening credits are so bad they're funny. It's like Halloween for Commodore 64*. The villain, played by Dan O'Herlihy, is like a mix between Willy Wonka and Hannibal Lecter, but not scary.

In fact, my favourite moment of Halloween III are the moments when it goes all meta on the audience and includes the original Halloween on a TV. One moment where an ad for Halloween appears when lead actor Tom Atkins is in a bar, and at another time his character is watching a TV when the movie is playing.

That brings me to Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (although the DVD menu inexplicably labels it Halloween 4: The Revenge of Michael Myers, "Revenge" being the verb of Halloween 5, not 4), which I think is most definitely the holder of the flame in terms of the sequels. Only Halloween H20 would make a worthy opponent. Neither of them are as good as the original, but for a franchise that has served up some terrible entries - I'm looking at you numbers 6, 8 and, apparently, 5, which remains the only entry I have not seen - for a sequel to be this good is something worth championing.

What sets Halloween 4 apart from the other sequels is that it has a very cinematic look, reminiscent of Carpenter's original. Colours are deep and rich here, not flat and cheap like in Halloween II. Also, basically, it's not a load of rubbish like Halloween 6 or Resurrection. There is a very clear, thought-out story being told in The Return of Michael Myers and one that fits in perfectly with the entire Halloween mythology. It plays well with the images of suburbia, both interiors and exteriors, that helped make the original so good. There's more cinematic style in the below screencap than there was in the entirety of the decent, but un-memorable, Halloween II.

One just needs to watch the rooftop escape scene to know director Dwight Little is working with better stock than others of the franchise. His filmography remained quite average - Free Willy 2, Murder at 1600, Anacondas - but continues to this day making solid TV including episodes of Bones, 24 and Dollhouse. I have heard that Halloween 5 doesn't build upon the solid promise of this third sequel, which is a shame since it was very good.

I find it interesting - and this is purely in retrospect - that Rob Zombie's Halloween 2, which was not a remake of the 1981 film although it does feature a sequence in the Haddonfield Hospital - took on the idea of Michael's madness being genetic since this was an idea first raised in Halloween 4's final sequence. Curiously, neither incarnation of the franchise seems all that interested in taking this thread and giving it its own film.

Having said that, I don't think Rob Zombie's version of Halloween 2 has any desire to be anything other than a disgusting, repellent and altogether abhorrent piece of grimy garbage. While the final 15 minutes or so see Zombie manage to actually string together something coherent, that doesn't forgive for the other hour and a half I sat through. Watching people's faces get stomped on, watching women run around completely full frontal naked before getting smashed into a mirror, watching a girl get so brutally sliced up that the walls, floors and ceilings are coated in blood and yet we still have to watch her suffer through her final breaths and so on. The opening scene was bad enough with the foul-talking necrophiliac rapist not only being killed by Michael Myers, but having his head cut off in graphically detailed closeup. What a horrible movie.

I give Halloween II, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Rob Zombie's Halloween 2 grades of B-, C-, B+ and F respectively.

* I have since become aware that there exists an Atari game (hell, there's even a Texas Chain Saw Massacre game for Atari! - "Grab your joystick and become "Leatherface"") in which you play a babysitter who has to save as many children of a knife-wielding maniac as possible. If you get caught then your head flies off and blood spurts out. Has anybody played this?


Dame James said...

If you're curious about the Halloween video game, here's what it looks like:

Scott Mendelson said...

I think Halloween II, while rather draggy in the middle act, has more on its mind than we thought. Well worth reading -

Solo said...

You can be forgiven for not knowing, but that isn't actully a bra Debbie's weraing- it's a crop top. They hung around in England till the lates 90s.

More importantly- is all this making you feel better?

bcarter3 said...

Just noticed that Lance Guest's haircut in "Halloween II" could easily be the inspiration for Moss's haircut in "The IT Crowd"!