Posts Tagged ‘donald pleasence’

Today’s the day I balance the karmic scales with director Rick Rosenthal. If you’ll recall, yesterday I was pretty harshly critical of his Halloween : Resurrection, and why not? It deserves all the scorn I can possibly heap on it and then some. But today we’ll take a look at his first stab (sorry, I couldn’t resist) at chronicling the exploits of  “slasher God ” Michael Myers, 1981’s Halloween II.

Basically, this flick succeeds not just because it picks up exactly where the first one left off, and not because series creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill wrote the script and wisely chose to set almost the entire thing in a hospital (always a great location for a horror flick), but because Rosenthal chooses to do things more or less exactly as Carpenter  would do them (hmmm — WWJCD? Does that sound like a bumper sticker horror fans would go for?) from his perch in the director’s chair. Whether we’re talking strictly visually, or extending things out to consider other aspects like overall tone and pacing, this feels like a seamless extension of the first film, and following a proven winner by aping it more or less exactly is frankly a darn smart move. Memorable (enough) characters like Lance Guest’s Jimmy and Leo Rossi’s Bud help matters as well, as does Donald Pleasence’s increasingly unhinged take on Dr. Loomis and Jamie Lee Curtis’ somewhat-toughened-up iteration of Laurie Strode, but all in all this feels more like an extension of the first film rather than a proper sequel per se, and while that might cause it to lose some points with those who, for whatever reason, demand some “originality” (whatever that even means anymore) in their entertainment, for those of us who just want to have a damn good time watching the slasher genre firing on all cylinders, well — we can’t ask for much more than this.

All that being said, the fine folks at Shout! Factory’s new(ish) Scream! Factory sub-label have given us a heck of a lot more with their new Blu-Ray and two-disc DVD release of this film. The remastered anamorphic widescreen transfer of the film and 5.1 sound mix are flat-out stellar, and the menu of extras included is well and truly mind-boggling. Check it out : there are two versions of the film included, the standard theatrical release and the TV version which includes quite a bit of material not in the theatrical cut (and leaves a lot out, needless to say); each version has a full-length commentary track (Rosenthal and Rossi do the theatrical cut while actor/stunt coordinator Dick Warlock handles the honors on the TV version); there’s a 30-plus-minute “making-of” documentary feature; there’s a feature revisiting the filming location as they are today; there’s a nice selection of deleted scenes playable with or without Rosenthal’s commentary ; we get a never-before-seen alternate ending (again with or without optional Rosenthal commentary); and there’s a hefty selection of promotional material including numerous TV spots, theatrical trailers, radio spots, and an extensive poster and stills gallery.

Whew! Talk about getting your money’s worth, they’ve absolutely pulled out all the stops on this one. So what are you waiting for? If you’re a fan of this series at all, then this should immediately skyrocket to the top of your “must-buy” list — if you haven’t done the wise thing and purchased it already, that is.

Fast-forward one year to 1989 and we find ourselves staring headlong at Halloween 5 : The Revenge Of Michael Myers, a flick as uninspiring as its title is uninspired.

I’ll give director Dominique Othenin-Girard and his screenwriters credit for trying to expand the whole Myers mythos into new directions here, but the whole thing’s just so flipping absurd that no amount of suspension of disbelief can carry you through it with a straight face.

First off, we’ve got the prospect of Michael (this time portrayed by one Donald L. Shanks, as if it matters all that much) surviving a hail of gunfire followed by a plunge down a mineshaft. Okay, only a little rougher than some of his previous “deaths,” I suppose, but add to that the fact that when he comes back one year later on Halloween night (of course) to take another crack at killing his niece Jamie (again played by Danielle Harris, who’s really asked to carry a lot of this film since her friends start buying the far rather quickly, and truth be told she does a very admirable job) we find that she has developed full-blown psychic powers that clue her into where and when her murderous uncle is going to strike next! Not that it saves her friends or his other victims, of course, ‘cuz where would the fun be in that?

Anyway, the whole setup’s absurd, Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis feels like he’s being shoehorned into the script just because, hell, he’s gotta be there ,right?, and Othenin-Girard proves himself to be a director who doesn’t exactly excel at the basics of mood and tension, both of which are absolute musts in any slasher film.

While the “Divimax” DVD release from Anchor Bay of Halloween 5 is every bit as nicely-put-together as the one they did for the previous installment (see our last review for semi-full DVD specifications), it’s really a matter of trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. The movie itself just doesn’t warrant all that special a treatment, sad as it makes this Halloween series junkie to utter those very-nearly-blasphemous words.

Look, I won’t kid you folks out there in blog-reader-land — when Halloween 5 : The Revenge Of Michael Myers plays on AMC this week, I’m sure I’ll watch it at least once (well, okay, probably only once) but that just proves what a sucker for any Michael Myers flick I am. Assuming that you don’t share this affliction and are, instead, a viewer of taste and discernment who values their free time and spends it wisely, there’s really nothing I can honestly come up with to recommend this film to you. the tried-and-true phrase “for completists only” is absolutely as spot-on a description of this flick as one can find, so if you are one, then hell, tune in, of course (I will be, so you don’t have to feel like too much of a hopeless sucker), but if you’re not, then yeah, it certainly won’t be too hard at all for you to find something better to do with your time.

It wouldn’t be a proper Halloween horror movie round-up around these parts if he didn’t review at least one film from the venerable slasher series named after this, our favorite holiday, so today here at TFG we’re going to take a (relatively quick, since you pretty much know the drill with these flicks) look at not one, but two Michael Myers flicks that are both available on DVD from Anchor Bay in special “Divimax” editions that are really good and loaded with extras like multiple commentary tracks with cast and crew, very well-done making-of featurettes, trailers, outtakes, and fantastic widescreen digital transfers that look like a million bucks and are accompanied by terrific 5.1 sound mixes. If shelling out four or five bucks is too rich for your blood, though — and in this economy who could blame you? — both are also playing intermittently from now through October 31st on AMC. So without any further ado, let’s set the wayback machine to 1988 and first examine  director Dwight H. Little’s Halloween 4 : The Return Of Michael Myers.

Set ten years after Mike’s intial rampage, part 4 finds our favorite masked slasher being transferred from one mental institution to another, but not before he overhears a careless conversation about his sister, Laurie Strode, having a daughter who ‘s being raised by another family back in the old Myers stomping grounds of Haddonfield, Illinois. Sensing this is too good an opportunity for mayhem to pass up, Michael predictably makes his escape while being transferred and sets out for home, where his niece, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris, who would go on to play a significant role both in this series and in Rob Zombie’s Halloween films, where she played Laurie’s best friend, Annie) finds herself tormented by strange dreams about a silent masked killer who she somehow feels inexplicably connected to — can the venerable Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence, of course — in full scenery-chewing mode, I might add) stop his most infamous patient before he snaps off the last branch of his family tree for good?

All in all, the best thing about the fourth installment in this series is that Michael (played by George P. Wilbur in this one, if you must know) is back and doing what he does best. I’m not one of those people who has nothing good to say about Halloween III : Season Of The Witch — in fact I think it’s a solidly fun and interesting little horror movie — but by 1988 it was time for that blank-featured mask to make its return. Of course, by this point Michael’s pretty much a superhuman force of evil who can’t be killed no matter what, and Pleasence’s Loomis has flipped out to the point where his single-minded obsession to kill Myers has made him almost as dangerous as the serial-slasher himself, but by and large this pretty much follows the original John Carpenter formula to the letter. There’s really nothing new here and after a more-than-five-year absence from the screen maybe some actual innovation in this series could have been hoped for, but hell, it was just so good to see this series get itself back on the traditional slasher track (a track the first Halloween film more or less created, it should be pointed out) that the lack of anything particularly new or interesting didn’t really bug me or any of the other Myers-starved fans out there at the time.

Divorced from its context, though, and viewed as, say, part of a day-long Halloween marathon, there’s nothing about this one that really stands out, either for good or for ill. It’s a by-the-numbers Myers massacre, which was good enough to make it seem really cool at the time, but just kind of relegates it to “solid enough, but honestly nothing all that special” status now. In short, I can’t find any compelling reason not  to like Halloween 4 : The Return Of Michael Myers, but there’s nothing going on here to make it stand out from the pack, either. It’s a perfectly serviceable, average installment in the Halloween franchise, which means it’s still better than most other slasher fare (though not all, by any means) and probably well worth your time to catch on AMC this week, if nothing else.

I almost included an “if there’s nothing else on” in that last sentence, but who are we kidding? It’s TV, of course there’s nothing else on.

Oh, and a last postscript before I forget — if you still don’t get some kind of little tingle up your spine when you first hear those piano keys tapping out the Halloween theme tune at the start of any of these films, you’re probably reading the wrong blog.

"Halloween : The Curse Of Michael Myers" Movie Poster

Since we examined the best entry in John Carpenter’s venerable  Halloween slasher franchise a few days back, it seems only fair to take a look at what’s widely considered to be the worst of the bunch — and if there’s one thing fans of the Micheal Myers flicks seem to agree on, it’s that the sixth entry in the canon,  1995’s Halloween : The Curse of Michael Myers (also known, unsurprisingly, as Halloween 6) represents the absolute nadir of the series. The rock-bottom, absolute pit.  Now, maybe I’m just on crack or something, but much as I really should hate any movie that features the debut “starring” turn of Paul Rudd (credited here as Paul Stephen Rudd), I have to say that I really just don’t think it’s earned its lousy rap.

Don’t get me wrong, on paper the “retconning,” as the saying goes, on display here is pretty off-putting — Michael (here played by George P. Wilbur, a name that sounds more like a real-life serial killer than an actor playing one), it turns out, is not some mindless, soulless killer — well, okay, he is, but he’s a mindless, soulless killer being controlled by a modern-day druid cult who’s going after his remaining family members (and anyone else in Haddonfield, Illinois who happens to be in the vicinity) for a very particular purpose (which I won’t give away simply because, contrary to most, I don’t think seeing this movie is a total waste of your time).

When our story gets underway, six years have passed since the last Halloween movie, and Micheal and his niece, Jamie, have disappeared. Jamie is in the process of giving birth to a child (strongly hinted, but never explicitly stated, to be Michael’s), Laurie Strode’s family have moved into the old Myers home (!), Tommy Doyle, the kid Laurie was babysitting in the first movie, Tommy Doyle (Rudd),  is all grown up and living in a crummy boarding house across the street from the Strodes,  and when Jamie escapes the clutches of the evil druid cult that are protecting and controlling Michael, she flees to Haddonfield with her baby and calls into a late-night radio talk show pleading for help from the one and only Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence, whose health was obviously failing when this film was made). The host assumes the call is some crank and wants to get back to the main subject of that evening’s program, the banning of the Halloween holiday in the town of Haddonfield, but a couple of the people listening — namely Tommy and Dr. Loomis himself — know better, and realize that a deadly series of events is about to converge on the sleepy midwestern hamlet once again —

Look, I don’t think that’s a half-bad setup. The “druid factor” is what pisses most hardcore fans off, but for whatever reason I think it works. The direction from Joe Chappelle is a bit MTV-ish in parts for my tastes (although it’s strictly minor-league in terms of this infraction compared to, say, the truly abominable Halloween : Resurrection), but on the whole he plays things pretty straightforward.

I’m not going to tell you that this flick is an underappreciated gem or something, but it’s more intricate and complex than the couple of entries in the series which preceded it, there are some intriguing possibilities introduced in the Myers backstory, there are a couple of solid jump-out-of-your-seat moments, and I appreciate the fact that it attempted to breathe some new life into a series that had, frankly, become a little stagnant at that point, even if not all of the decisions the filmmakers made actually, you know, work.

Halloween : The Curse of Michael Myers is available on DVD from Dimension Films — it’s a bare-bones, extras-free release (apart from the inclusion of the theatrical trailer), but the widescreen anamorphic transfer looks just fine and the 2.0-channel stereo mix is perfectly acceptable as far as the audio goes, as well. It’s also available on demand on pretty much all cable systems this month (and probably next). It’s far from a classic, but just as far from the dreck it’s usually referenced as. If you haven’t seen it I’d recommend it (if you’re bored and/or curious), and if you have seen it and hated it, I think it might be worth your time to give it another look — you may just find it to be less irredeemably atrocious as you remember. There’s also apparently a producer’s (as opposed to director’s) cut floating around as a bootleg somewhere tht’s apparently quite a bit different — if anyone can turn me onto a source where I might be able to obtain it, I’d be most appreciative.

Original "Halloween" Movie Poster

Well, hey, why not?

Okay, I admit, reviewing John Carpenter’s 1978 slasher classic Halloween might be the most obvious thing in the world to do at this time of year, but maybe it was so obvious you didn’t see it coming. Whatever the case may be, my point here is not to either surprise or bore you with this selection for the 2010 Halloween 12-pack, but to convince you to watch this movie again if it’s been awhile. It shouldn’t prove too difficult a task, seeing as how it’s showing on half the cable channels in the universe these days, but if you want the full, unedited, un-bleeped-out version, it’s also available on demand on most cable systems this month, and of course it’s been released on DVD several times over (this reviewer humbly suggests that you go for the Anchor Bay “Divimax” 25th Anniversary 2-disc edition — the widescreen anamorphic transfer is superb, it features either a 2.0 stereo track or a terrific 5.1 surround mix for the audio, the commentary from Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, and co-producer/co-writer Debra Hill is downright enthralling, and the second disc contains the highly informative 87-minute original documentary Halloween : A Cut Above the Rest that’s probably the most thoroughgoing look at the genesis and production of this iconic horror staple ever made, and  an awesome selection of trailers, TV spots, radio spots, and promotional and advertising artwork, to boot).

In short, there’ simply no excuse for you not to watch this masterpiece in the month of October, so if you haven’t done so yet — why not?

I’m assuming no plot recap is even remotely necessary here, the story is elegant in its simplicity and has been copied by ever slasher franchise and one-off in the thirty-plus years since its arrival on the scene. This is the earliest, and purest, distillation of the slasher-flick formula you’re ever going to find, precisely because there was no formula prior to Halloween, and this ended up being the template that everybody else has followed because, well, it’s downright flawless.

It all started here, folks — the “final girl” (Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, in this case); the “Captain Ahab” figure (Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Samuel Loomis); the silent killer (Michael Myers, of course, portrayed in this first outing by Tony Moran); the teenage cast of victims; the indestructible madman who can’t be killed; the sexually active girls getting killed (usually pretty soon after taking their shirts, at least, off) while the innocent one who maintains (we assume) her virginity survives — everything you know and love (or got sick of) vis-a-vis the slasher genre started right here.

Oh, sure, Bob Clark’s superb Black Christmas beat it into theaters by a few years, but that didn’t really set the mold that would follow and remains more a slasher precursor than an actual prototype, in my view. It may have blazed the trail for  Halloween, but this is the movie that mapped out the territory in no uncertain terms.

And what’s even more impressive than how thoroughly this film masters the big picture, so to speak, is how it hits the ball out of the park on all the smaller counts, as well — whether we’re talking about the pitch-perfect-from-start-to-finish musical score authored by Carpenter himself (the theme tune is the best in movie history with the possible exception of Ennio Morricone’s The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly), or the chillingly basic titles sequence , or Dean Cundey’s amazingly evocative cinematography, Halloween gets all the details right.

This is the movie horror fans in the years prior to 1978 had been waiting their whole lives for, they just didn’t know it yet, and frankly we’re still waiting for anyone to come along and do it better. I wouldn’t hold my breath if I were you  — my bet is that it won’t be happening anytime soon. The original is still the best, as the old saying goes, and it always will be.