PLEASE NOTE--J. Smith is a friend of JH, and not an actual partner in writing these articals. Please, all e-mail traffic concerning the articals should be directed towards him, not J.
by Jon Hodges
Greetings and hello. I'm Jon, though you can call me JH, or Miss Jackson if ya nastee!! *Ahem*, well, I am pleased as grape punch to bring the first in a series of thoughts and commentaries on Halloween, Horror movies, etc. I am tremendously honored that J Smith, owner of this site, would allow me to express my opinions for you.
I should make the disclaimer now: This series of articles are merely the opinions of me myself and I, and do not necessarily reflect those of Chris "Rachel" Smith, nor are they necessarily the opinions of Halloween fans in general. This is MY corner of the universe, and all things here bow down to ME!!!!
(Thunder crumbles, lightning flashes, JH laughs maniacally)
*Ahem* I know that seems silly to have a disclaimer, but my views may very well strike some as being odd, maybe even old fashioned. I'm thirty, but sometimes I think like a sixty year old (Back in the good old days, we didn't have any fancy schmancy Eminem or Tom Green. When we wanted to piss off our parents, we watched Benny Hill, and listened to K.I.S.S., AC/DC and Cat Stevens! AND WE LOVED IT!)
*ahem* again. I tend to be a little too dramatic sometimes. I should point out that being old fashioned is not the same as being a prude. Prudes don't believe in having fun, and don't believe in allowing others to have fun. Being old fashioned just means that I don't get bored playing Twister while listening to Phil Collins (shocking, I know, but I'm willing to carry that curse).
Well, let's first jump into the most direct subject I want to talk about today. The Phenomena of the Halloween Franchise. Why do we like it so much? What makes Killer Michael Myers more appealing than Jason or Chucky? What do you have to do to become a Halloween fan? Is it better or worse than being a Trekkie? More stimulating that being a Star Wars Fanatic? More entertaining than The "Nightmare" series? How much merchandise do you need to meet qualifications and be OSHA approved? Hopefully, I can cover a wide range of questions/Philosophies/myths concerning John Carpenter's great triumph and subsequent sequals. Don't be suprised if I run off on a few dozen Tangents about my glory days in the eighties, or foam at the mouth when mentioning a few delinquent subjects (Like Tina, 102 Dalmations, and The TV Show Jackass, all of which are completely EVIL!!!)
To start off, let me proudly admit to being a well rounded, somewhat grounded Halloween fan, and a lover of cheesy horror/scifi in general. Like most, I have come to enjoy the thrills of the cinema magic, the good, bad and ugly of the big screen. I am an incredibly odd persona compared to most. Unique in my view of the world, with my very own runaway imagination. I suppose, a current description of me would be a cross between Patrick Stewart, Will Benson, A touch of Randy Meeks, The Chow Yun Fat Character from "Crouching Tiger" (minus ANY sense of coordination let alone flying), a touch of Steve Buscemi, and maybe a dash of Al Gore.
All of this will hopefully give a good first impression. Actually, in terms of M*A*S*H* characters, I'm more of a cross between BJ Hunnicutt and Winchester, with just a dash of Father Mulcahy. If you need a more updated JapAnime description, I guess I'm more like a Mr Fujisawa (minus the smoking, drinking, and love of Mountain climbing) or "Eternally lost boy" Ryoga of Ranma One-Half. But enough of that.
Ok, soooo.......Halloween. We love it. We enjoy a good horror movie (I'd quote Sheriff Brackett about being entitled, but everyone knows that line). John Carpenter's Halloween presents an interesting Universe fueled by sequals, with a good gathering of interesting characters. Each movie shows a new angle, tries something different, for better or worse. Each movie gives Michael Myers a little more depth (Most critics just call them one dimensional slashers. I feel that most crusty critics have absolutely no imagination, but I'll expand on that later). True, there have been many "slasher" films before. I highly recommend "Black Christmas", and even the old black and white Vincent Price film "The Bat" (Sort of like the Scream of its day with older people).
Most people don't like sequals, and I can imagine Carpenter bristling under the thought of "bastardizing" a project he enjoyed doing, but I really believe that sequals, when done right and done for the right KIND of movie, can be fantastic. Halloween II, for example, is an excellent sequal, while "Home Alone II" is not.
Now, I think it can be argued that the most successful horror franchises are: Halloween, Friday 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street. Though you COULD say they are all the same, all slashers, etc. They are actually unique in their own way. While Jason Vorhees is more or less an imitation Myers, Jason's universe is set up for different circumstances. First of all, each Friday 13th movie is almost a stand alone movie, barely connected, and Jason wasn't even the main killer in all of them. You not only have undead Jason, you have Mrs Vorhees, ambulence driver, etc. Just about the only thing each film has in common is that they take place at Camp Crystal Lake. Some of them have the reoccuring character Tommy Jarvis, but otherwise you just have a new batch of teen fodder for each film. Jason IS one of America's more recognized fictional characters. The many TV/movie references to "Crazed killer in a hockey mask" are a testament to his notoriety.
Nightmare On Elm Street is also unique in its own way. Each film has the same killer who attacks from dream land and is based in Springwood. Unlike F13, the movies are MOSTLY connected with ongoing characters and familiar storylines (NOES 2 and 6 being the exceptions. New Nightmare could almost be a standalone movie). The killer, Freddy, is another recognizable figure, and his goal is to kill Elm street kids. A good series with flawed logic in sequals 4-6, it also has Heather Langenkamp playing Nancy Thompson in three of the films (She did sort of "become" Nancy in New Nightmare).
I could go on for hours about the pros and cons of the first two series, but for now, this article will focus on the Halloween series and my opinions about Halloween. Halloween has its own unique universe, its own boogeyman, and perhaps a more stable consistency in its sequals (Of course the consistency is extremely debatable. I consider it more consistant than the other two series) Really, though, to compare these three horror franchises would be like trying to compare Star Wars, Star Trek, and Babylon 5. All are Sci-fi franchises, very similiar yet vastly different and all that jazz. You can't call one better than the others, cuz they all have devoted fans, and all have their good and bad points. So it is with Jason, Freddy, and Michael. All three are enjoyable despite some flaws.
I saw my first Halloween movie in 1988, and that's what started me on the path to being a fan. I didn't start becoming an actual fan until Halloween six came out in 95. I remember I was in New York, visiting a friend. I had seen the Preview for H6 and wanted to check it out. My friend wanted to see "Showgirls" (That in itself is a moviegoing experience that I can digress about for another time). I didn't see H6 until almost three years later, but it made me realize that I hadn't really WATCHED any of the other Halloween films, and that I had a lot of catching up to do. It had reminded me of how much I enjoyed H4, which was an excellent film. Ya know, I love talking about the H4 experience, so I'm going to talk about it again. The theatre was packed with teens. Now, I went to see Friday 13th part 8 that year, and it too was packed with teens, but there was a stark difference in audience attitudes when I compared films. F13 8 was a theatre filled with rowdy, goofy kids who acted like they were in the studios of the Jerry Springer show. It was a circus. They wanted blood, and Jason gave it to them in many creative ways (The weedwacker was an audience favorite).
Halloween 4 had a completely different effect. People were actually WATCHING it right up to the blood splattered shocking finale. It was a movie that grabbed them, and I think that is one of the fundamental differences that seperates Michael and Jason into two arenas. F13 movies are the circus of dead goofy teens and a hockey masked maniac. Halloween is, IMHO, treated more like Shakespeare in its storylines, atmosphere, developement etc. Ok, you're probably guffawing at my exaggerated analogy. Halloween is a far cry from Macbeth, but what I mean to say is that it is a horror series fans take seriously. F13 is escapism, popcorn fun and just plain stupid in some cases, and I haven't met too many people who'd give a rats ass if Jason used a machete or a kazoo to kill his victims. Halloween is an epic struggle between Michael's cold evil and the innocence of those unfortunate enough to be related to him. Fans cherish the basic elements of the series, the basic elements that make Michael a killer. People who mess with that end up getting stoned (Joe Chapelle has been a target of fans for YEARS) John Carpenter created something that was more than just another horror movie. His film set up a sort of template for many other franchises/horror films. It was a good freaky movie from the 70s, with unique camera angles, styles, successful building of suspense, etc. It created the virginal heroine, Laurie Strode, played by original Scream Queen Jamie Lee Curtis. Later sequals created the more tragic heroine Jamie loyd, played by Danielle Harris.
Lets have a run down of the films. Note that, if you compare these critiques with the ones I gave at this site a while back, there will likely be some differences, since I have grown a little older and wiser in my movie watching experiences.
Some may agree or disagree with my initial analysis, some may think I'm going overboard. This is simply my observations of the good bad and ugly, and my observations of what may have made us Halloween fans in the first place. By the way, you DO NOT need merchandise to be a fan. Having seen the movies is enough, so don't get all bent out of shape when your local hobby store runs out of Michael Myers dolls.
One more thing to mention: There is this whole debate fans have about Michael's mask. Everyone agrees that the mask in H1 is the best, and they spend time comparing masks of subsequent sequals. I don't ever join such debates, because, frankly, I don't give a damn. I don't think much about the masks used, but I WILL agree that the mask in the early previews for H20 looked very cheap. Other than that, I will not be reviewing masks cuz I just don't think it's a priority.
Halloween 1: The first, and the one to follow as a good example of what makes a horror film. All too often, horror movies go for the jugular, trying to win box office gold with a body count rather than mindnumbing suspense. H1 had only a few victims, but a lot of suprises. You never knew when the killer would strike, and the shocking ending sent shivers down our spines. It wasn't necessarily a set up for a sequal, and I don't think one was expected at the time (Carpenter had to have his arm twisted to do sequals). This film also introduces an unusual hero to us, Dr. Loomis. Played by the talented but woefully underestimated Donald Pleasance, Loomis is a fascinating look into obsession, a doomed hero whose quest to end the rage can never see fruition. The sad fact, though, is that so many horror films fall short of this one. Time and cynicism have eroded expectations of a good slasher, and the Scream trilogy has probably done some short term damage to our ability to be scared without thinking of tongue-in-cheek thoughts. Horror movies now rely heavily on several basic, bogus laws:
1) Killer is ridiculously unstoppable. Laurie Strode was accutely aware of this in H2O.
2) The movie sets up the sequal a mile away, in the hopes of a franchise. Laurie took steps to prevent this in H2O as well. Got to give her credit for trying.
3) Killer now HAS to tell several bad jokes. As corny as most F13 movies may be, at least Jason takes his work a little more seriously than most. The closest Michael ever came to making any statement was crying in H5, and that was more than enough to piss off diehard fans.
4) Movie sets up basic characters (jock, nerd, cheerleader, goodgirl, average hero guy) with basic scenarios designed to eccelerate massacres. This is fine for F13, but unsuitable for serious horror. If you've seen "The Clown at Midnight", you know how unforgiveable this kind of cliche can be.
5) Oh, there has to be a sort of token sex scene between two goofy teens. They are usually the prettiest, vainest little dinks in the cast. They don't even care where they do it. They don't care about the fact that someone could walk in on them at ANY moment. Nevermind that the rest of the living are in the next room and can hear every grunt and moan. If a horny couple suddenly ends up alone, they suddenly get bored quick and looked at each other with those expressions that scream "DO ME NOW!!". Granted, it doesn't happen in every horror film, but the really low budget films almost demand it as a cheap thrill. Once again, if you've seen "Clown at Midnight", ya know what I mean. I shouldn't dog that film so much, but it serves as an appropriate example.
Most Stalker/slasher films have become too predictable, and it takes either a good actor or filmakers with nothing to lose to make such a movie memorable. Sometimes, a wacky script makes the blah sequal better than a traditional slasher. ANYONE who has seen "Leprechaun 4" knows this, and can applaud the brilliance of its sheer stupidity. I enjoy a dumb, cliche filled slasher once in a while, and I do like some cliches when done right, but it can be disappointing when you can see the film's entirety within the first fifteen minutes (A cliched movie like, say, Mission To Mars, is one where I can appreciate the well placed cliche, but the kind seen in most Van Damme action flicks are so forced and contrived they're nauseating, but I digress again....). Cynicism takes its toll as well. Audience members who've grown up on Scream and horror in-jokes, violence in schools and on TV just aren't going to jump at something like this unless it has a truckload of Springer sensation. I'm going off on a tangent, but I think it's important to point that out. Sometimes a good horror film doesn't work because the audience is Waaaay too jaded to actually appreciate it. Getting back to the point, H1 is a respected film, with most of the original cliches and rules that we now take for granted. Even jaded audiences will respect it because of its original thinking (Now some of you will try saying it's a rippoff of Black Christmas, which is fine, but it IS one of the original, classic, traditional horror films so oft imitated). The first movie is 85% likely the reason why there are Halloween fans. The directing style, the boogey man concept, The mask, the Heroine, the suspense, etc. These are the elements that make it a good movie. There are fans of subsequent sequals, but the strength of these sequals lies in the first film.
I should point out here that this film helps to cement Jamie Lee Curtis as the biggest Scream Queen of all time (Wether she likes it or not). I debate this based on volume of horror genre movies she has done. True, you could attempt to compete with Neve Campbell, who is an extremely close second place, or attempt in vain to nominate Jennifer Love Hewitt, or back the "Ralph Nader" equivelant of Sarah Michelle Gellar, but JLC takes the crown because she has simply done more in the genre. Halloween, Prom Night, Terror Train, Halloween II, Halloween H20, Virus (Yes, even the very awful Virus), plus voice overs in other Capenter Thrillers gives her status above the rest. Neve comes close, having done Scream 1, 2, 3, The Dark, The Canterville Ghost, and The Craft. Heather Langenkamp is another close contender often overlooked, having done NOES 1, 3, New Nightmare, and Shocker. Curtis made Laurie Strode into one of the classic heroines, a character to be admired like Indiana Jones., and another reason why we enjoy the Halloween films.
Halloween II: A well respected sequal, which is also a disappointingly rare phenomenon nowadays. Sequals try so hard to outdo the original, or attempt to do bigger things........or just try to milk an idea until it's dead. Aliens was a good sequal. Terminator II was fantastic. Predator II was also excellent, a perfect example of creativity and the potential for continuing a good franchise. Bad sequals, like Ghostbusters II, Sister Act II, Highlander II, The entire Howling series, etc are what we must deal with in order to find that shining jewel Halloween two continues the tradition of Boogey man terror as Michael chases Laurie Strode in a hospital on the same night of the first film. Excellent death scenes, a romance, a terrifying chase, and a fiery explosive ending make this an excellent sequal. It excels more in terror as opposed to the suspense of the first movie, and it works well. The only thing I truly DIDN'T like about this film was seeing a kid with bloody gums near the beginning (Last thing I want to see while *I'm* eating Halloween candy!) Laurie doesn't get to do much in the film, Much to the disappointment of Queen Curtis, except look all doped up. The big stars in this are Loomis and Michael. Michael is a thrill during the chases, and Pleasance solidifies that obsessive conviction of his character in this one, going so far as to martyr himself to stop evil. A controversial element was added by making Michael and Laurie siblings (To keep JLC in the sequal). I have no qualms with this, though I'm sure they could have easily included her without making her sister to the boogeyman. It all works. There are also the TV scenes, which add extra flavor to the movie. The suggested romance also works. Lance Guest was terrific as the lovestruck nice guy.
Halloween III: Ok, now we get on shaky ground with a sequal that's NOT REALLY a sequal. Carpenter wanted Michael to die to prevent future sequals (Hence the fiery conclusion in II). I guess he wanted to try turning this franchise into something like "Creepshow" or "Twilight Zone". He should've just called it "John Carpenter's Season of the Witch". This film gets knocked down mercilessly just because it has no Michael Myers. You know what? As much as J Smith will shake her head at me for saying this, I didn't think this was such a bad movie. I mean, it's a cornball bad movie, but it's one you can enjoy. It's like Leprechaun 4 without the humor. It's got everything a bad movie should have: Robots, evil druids, magic merged with technology, A mystery, a moment of gratuitous sex, and a cute theme song, etc. If it had been more of a box office success, Michael would never have seen H4. H4 would probably have been yet another twisted Halloween variation. But H3 sinks, and Carpenter has the rug pulled out from under him by the producers, who take control of the whole "Halloween" franchise. Well, what more can I say? It's a bad movie with a semi-apocalyptic ending. A sequal to Season of the Witch has been rumored to be in the works, but I have no idea if that project will ever see the light of direct to video. It DID have a cast of quirky characters, though the hero was perhaps too flawed to ever be a male Laurie Strode. We, as fans, could root for Laurie. She was the innocent, non-party animal with a sense of responsibility with her babysitting job. Tom Atkin's bar hopping womanizer hero does not generate quite as much sympathy (I would certainly like to know WHAT it was that made the fat bastard so magical with the ladies!) He also went on to be the hero in Carpenter's "Prince of Darkness", a much better movie with a more interesting set of scares. Oh well, I liked H3 for it's unique, if somewhat goofy, premise. Comparing it to the other Halloween movies is like comparing pizza to a lavish Thanksgiving dinner. Both are good, but the Thanksgiving dinner can be more fulfilling on so many different levels. On second thought, my analogies with food probably indicate I'm just hungry. I'm gonna get something to eat....
Halloween 4: Ah, YES!! The sequal to end all sequals, IMHO. The Return of Michael Myers hails the return of.....well, Michael Myers. Released in 1988, during the heighth of my impressionable high school days (Ahhhh, the eighties, a time of big hair and thick make up, Duran Duran, Culture Club, reruns of the A-Team! Mmmmmm......gurglegurglegurgle....)
Well, by now, Queen JLC decided she had had enough of the horror genre, so she moved on, which meant a new target for Michael had to be found. Enter the daughter of Laurie Strode, Jamie Lloyd. I've read multiple reviews of H4 from a variety of sources, and it STILL boggles my mind a little at how most of them seem to slam H4 as an imitation, predictable, unscary, etc. The only thing critics could agree on was that the ending was well done (And WHAT an ending it was!) One critic actually said that Dwight Little, the director, has no concept of properly directing a Halloween movie. Of course, I do my best to ignore critics. Their standards are way too high, and they cannot appreciate the simple scary concept presented in H4. That's very presumptuous for me to say, but I can be an egotistical bastard once in a while. I think Dwight did as good of a job to recapture the essence of H1 as anyone could. There's more to this than just jaded H4 bashers. I think a lot of these negative reviews have to do with a very sympathetic lean towards John Carpenter, who urged people not to watch future Halloween sequals. I can understand that feeling. Halloween, Michael Myers, etc was HIS creation. He made the success of Halloween and it was taken away from him. I think I can greatly respect Carpenter's integrity, even when he does a silly movie, because he doesn't want to compromise the movie with sequals. Which would explain a bit of why Halloweens 4-6 tend to get rough treatment. Jamie Lee Curtis discouraged (or so I've read) the actors of H20 from watching these sequals when they were becoming familiar with it. Still, I think anyone who was involved in H4 can feel a sense of accomplishment. It was a good movie. Nuff said. My observation of the teen audience in the theatre can attest to the effectiveness of the film to scare us. I think another reason why I liked it was because of its eighties flavor (Those of us at the time who distanced ourselves from the disco era could cling to H4. Jamie Lloyd and virginal babysitter Rachel Corruthers were adequate replacements for the more seventies Laurie Strode). Oh yeah, that's another reason to enjoy it. Two words. Rachel Corruthers. Yum yum. *Ahem*, pardon me, just having fun. I wouldn't say I had a crush on her or anything. It's probably the same kind of admiration horror fans would give to Sidney Prescott or That David Boreaniz/weird vampire character or something. The same kind of yum yum admiration I'd give to Heather Langenkamp's Nancy Thompson. Rachel was a good heroine, in all semi-seriousness. She dealt with babysitting, a treacherous boyfriend, and a fight on the roof of the sheriff's house, PLUS a climactic fright/chase in a pick up truck. I doubt I could ever do as well. Babysitting my 2.5 year old nephew is exhausting after the first hour, The window to my attic is too small, I'm too careful a driver to end up crashing near a mineshaft, and as for my dating experiences......well, I'll save THOSE tales for another day. Let's just say that Rachel tribulations with Brady were a walk in the park. Frankly, if horndog Brady would've just waited for Jamie to finish trick or treating, he wouldn't have gotten into hot water.
Let us not forget some of the interesting characters who helped make this movie memorable. There's Reverend Sayer, doom prophet and eccentric gospel singer. There's Sheriff Meeker, no nonsense and quick to make decisions. Dr Hoffman offers a moment of antagonism with Loomis, whose eccentric theories have taken their toll on those around him. Even Deputy Logan had a few moments in the sun. Best of all is the cameo by the legendary Bucky, who martyred himself standing up to (or rather, getting thrown by) Michael. Bucky was one of a kind, and his death scene was pivotal to the movie. Electricuting him worked in Michael's favor by sending the whole town into a terror stricken blackout.
Let us also not forget some great moments in the film, like the multiple Michaels scaring the sheriff and Loomis until they are revealed to be pranksters.....all revealed but ONE! Then, there is the terror inside the sheriff's house, Loomis' revelation at the diner, etc. These are incredible moments that make this a thriller you can't ignore.
It would behoove me (Behoove, another word I like) to not make a special note about the contributions of Danielle Harris, another reason to enjoy H4. This film was her first big movie role, and She was the actress that helped make the franchise a success again. I don't mean to go overboard with my comments about Harris, Pleasance or Cornell or any of the other actors. I'm sure they feel some flattery when a fan praises them, but I'm also sure they are well grounded people with lives outside of all this "Halloween-mania". Likewise, I am a well grounded fan who, once in a while, lives outside the Halloween mania. I do this because I think they are often underappreciated (Just read most of the reviews for H4 and you'll have to agree with me when I say a lot of these Movie critics are all horrible little gnomes who humiliate themselves by going to singles bars and realize that they aint gettin none). The character of Jamie Lloyd was well played by Harris, and had some good depth to her struggles. She was struggling with vivid nightmares, the loss of her parents, and trying to not get in the way of her new older sister's social life. The terror she expresses in H4 is a chill we feel down our spines as we watch, and the shocking end to H4 leaves a cold lump of horror in our minds that almost equals the lump we felt at the end of H1. Loomis' screams still shake me to the core when I watch it.
But yet that is another reason to enjoy H4, for it is the return of Donald Pleasance. Loomis was as much a part of this series as Michael. H1 made him a smart hero, H2 showed how far he could and would go to stop Michael. H4 solidified his importance to the series, with all his eccentricities and manic behavior, his paranoia. He was part of an unusual dichotomous (I love that word!) relationship with Michael. Both were determined to accomplish an obsession. Michael NEEDED to kill Jamie, and Loomis NEEDED to stop Michael. What's interesting to note is how much this plays out like a cerebral Japanese drama. I've noticed in multiple Oriental films how the characters don't truly accomplish their goal. Karma keeps them on their unending quest. If you EVER get the chance, watch a Japanese classic called "Heaven And Earth". This is NOT the Tommy Lee Jones movie, but a purely historical piece about two Japanese warlords fighting for control of a province. The Aggressor, Kagetora, was determined to conquer the province ruled by the defender, Lord Takeda. They fought, tried to out think each other, both were determined to not give up. They came to respect each other though they were bitter enemies, and both sacrificed much in the struggle. Both sacrificed true love, friendships, etc to accomplish a goal that neither could truly achieve. In a weird way, the same could be said for Michael and Loomis. Both were willing to make extreme measures and sacrifices. Interesting to note that had either of them accomplished their goal, their purpose in life would end. This observation, while intriguing, merely fuels the need for sequals to keep the franchise alive. Michael is destined to miss his target time and time again, while Loomis must agonize in the knowledge that Michael does not die so easily. It has to be good strong evil to keep up the suspension of disbelief. After all, Michael was shot in H1, blown up in H2, Shot AND blown up at the end of H4, etc. Had H4 bombed at the box office, it would have been an adequate way to end the series on a high note. A shocking ending, with the evil spread to a new vessel (Namely, Jamie Lloyd) But, H4 did very well, and you know what happens when a horror movie does well..... YEP!! It's SEQUAL TIME!!!!!