Posts Tagged ‘halloween’

"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.

"Header" Movie Poster

"Header" Movie Poster

What’s a header?

I’m not going to tell you. Because you don’t want to know. Really. You don’t. But you do want to see this film. If you want to know what a header is. And maybe even if you don’t. And whether you do or don’t, you won’t really like the answer. Or maybe you will. If you’re sick. I mean really sick.

Confused yet? Good. Me too.

But truth be told, first-time director Archibald Flancranstin (with a name like that, it’s got to be real)’s 2006 shot-on-high-def video indie horror  “Header,” based on the story “Redneck Greek Tragedy” by cult horror author Edward Lee later adapted into comics form by Verotik, isn’t a very confusing film at all. It’s pretty straightforward. It’s also almost incomparably OTT, at times pretty amateurish, indisputably gross, and at times it’ll make you laugh in spite of yourself. Right after it makes you puke.

In other words, it’s a perfect addition to our little unofficial “countdown” of good movies to watch in the days leading up to Halloween that you stand a pretty good chance of never even having heard of, much less seen. But bring a strong stomach, because goddamn are you going to need it.

Let’s just say that the movie won’t keep you guessing about what a header is for very long. It’s the ultimate form (in this flick at least, hopefully not in reality) of hillbilly revenge, and you have to wonder if author Lee is right in the head (okay, pun intended) for even thinking of it. But I digress.

The action here takes place somewhere below tobacco road, where ATF agent-on-the-take Stewart Cummings (Jake Suffian) is struggling to move up the federal law enforcement ladder and getting nowhere and so has resorted to a not-lucrative-enough side business of running dope and hooch for local moonshiners so that he can afford the expensive medication needed by his girlfriend, Kathy (Melody Garren), who suffers from some undisclosed illness that prevents her from working or even, apparently, getting out of the house.

Somewhere in the nearby vicinity, meanwhile, small-time white trash car thief Travis Clyde Tuckton (Elliot V. Kotek) has just gotten out of prison and given that his mammy and pappy dies while he was in stir he’s got nowhere to go but to the home of his legless grandpappy, Jake Martin (Dick Mullaney), an old-time shoe- and boot-maker who lives in a crummy lean-to and dreams of the days when he could walk around and give out headers to his heart’s content.Being that he can’t, though, he’s about to pass on this disgusting little secret family tradition to his fresh-out-of-the-joint grandson and get his jollies by watching. And that’s all I’m saying about that.

The divergent paths of these characters are about to collide in ways that give the original story’s handle of “Redneck Greek Tragedy” the “most obvious title of the year” award, and will, as I mentioned before, leave you sickened and chuckling in equal turns, if not both at once on more than one occasion.

Like just about any of the movies we tackle on this blog, “Header” is not without its problems. The acting is uniformly amateurish, with some truly unbelievable quasi-southern accents, but at the same time that can be kind of charming, too, if you don’t mind watching actors you’ve never heard of ham it up (and look for both author Lee and another cult horror literary icon, Jack Ketchum, in brief cameos). And Mullaney is great fun as the twisted old grandpa. In addition, some of the gore effects are pretty cheap, although on the whole they’re not bad considering this whole thing only cost a couple hundred grand. A lot of the pseudo-“edgy” high-def video editing is more annoyingly jarring than it is stylish. And there’s nothing particularly unusual or inventive in Flancranstin’s choice of shots and camera angles.

Still, those are pretty small gripes for a film that sets out to do one thing above all else, that being shock and repulse the hell out of you and make you feel pretty damn guilty for laughing at some of the seriously horrific shit on display, and certainly succeeds in that regard hands-down.

If you like all your horror films to frighten you, then you can safely give “Header” a pass. But if, in lieu of scares, you’ll settle for jaw-dropping “what the fuck did I just see?”-ness, then you’ll no doubt find “Header” to be a pretty engrossing little flick. The story’s pretty solid and it’s pretty damn ballsy to think anyone even committed this thing to celluloi—errr, excuse me, video. And even if you don’t like it, you will remember it. That’s a cinch-lock guarantee. Those memories won’t necessarily be pleasant, but they will be unshakable, and there’s something to be said for that in and of itself.

"Header" DVD Cover From Synapse Films

"Header" DVD Cover From Synapse Films

After languishing in indie non-distribution hell for a few years during which time it got the occasional screening at a handful of horrorand genre film festivals where it usually met with highly-qualified and sometimes even grudging praise, “Header” generated enough of a buzz in the horror underground to warrant being picked up by the always-reliable Synapse Films for DVD distribution. It’s a fairly solid little package that’s generally up to pretty high technical standards (although some of the dialogue is rather tough to pick up on in places since the “southern” accents have the effect of garbling what’s said and burying them behind the music and sound effects in the 5.1 mix doesn’t really help matters much) and  includes a thoroughly comprehensive series of behind-the-scenes interviews with most of the principal cast and crew. A commentary would have been nice, I suppose, but the interview segments cover more or less any “making-of”-type information you’d want to know.  All in all not an exhaustive selection of extras, then, but plenty good enough.

So that’s “Header.” Scary? No. But horrific?  Oh yes. Most definitely.

DVD Cover for Code Red's New Release of "The Strangeness"

DVD Cover for Code Red's New Release of "The Strangeness"

Ah, October. The air turns a little crisper, the leaves begin to fall, and your humble host runs runs out of autumnal cliches really quickly. So why not just cut to the case? (Whoops, guess I hadn’t quite run out of cliches after all.) With Halloween fast approaching, this is the time of year when people who don’t even normally give a damn about horror movies suddenly take an interest in finding some good ones, so in order to facilitate a happy horror-viewing experience for what readers I do actually have, I thought I’d spend my posts for the month of October on a kind of “countdown” of interesting horror flicks you may not have seen. I don’t in any way claim these to be the ten best horror flicks of all time, nor am I even purporting to list these in any particular order, I just thought I’d focus on ten good movies that you, dear reader, may not have ever seen and I think would be worth your time.

Let’s start the ball rolling (damn, another cliche) with a little-seen gem lensed in 1980 (though it didn’t see release until 1985, and even then it went straight to video) by three friends from USC film school on a budget of right around $25,000 that has just seen its first (and altogether excellent, it must be said) proper issuing on DVD from the always-awesome Code Red label (yes, they do appear to have a pulse!) a couple of weeks ago.

First off, let’s state the obvious : this movie is cheap—dirt cheap—and that certainly shows in places throughout, whether it’s the altogether unprofessional acting (watch one of the principal characters, purportedly from Britain, employ/unemploy a come-and-go accent, for instance), the occasionally muddled and confused camerawork, or the dime store- Ray Harryhausen (but damn cool nevertheless) stop-motion monster that’s stalking and terrorizing our hapless heroes, it’s patently transparent at numerous times that just about no money was spent on this thing.

Those financial limitations, however, forced our intrepid young trio to get creative if they wanted to make anything like an effective little horror movie, and in that regard, “The Strangeness” is something of a triumph. A qualified triumph, to be sure, but a triumph nevertheless—of necessity-driven accidental brilliance, creative gusto, decision making-on-the-fly, and sheer bloodymindedness. Our trio of USC recent-grads and almost-grads (director/producer/screenwriter/ editor/incidental music composer David Michael Hillman, producer/screenwriter/incidental music composer/actor/sound recording engineer/visual effects designer/opening “teaser” scene director Chris Huntley and producer/actor/sound recording engineer/visual effects designer Mark Sawicki, respectively) were determined to get this thing done and to come out with a finished product that neither they nor audience would feel compelled to turn their eyes away from in sheer embarrassment or disbelief (well, at least not too often).

The result is a truly admirable little (absolutely) independent creature feature that is by turns involving, gripping, impressive (especially considering its extreme limitations), atmospheric, and inescapably authentic. Chances are that even though the film’s basic premise of horrific-creature-living-in-a-mineshaft-picks off-trapped-and-terrified-ordinary-people-one-by-one has been done before and (numerous times) since, you’ve never seen anything quite like “The Strangeness.”

Our intrepid mine explorers

Our intrepid mine explorers

The set-up, as you have probably surmised by ow, is simple enough : a group of explorers go into a disused mine in order to see if there’s enough gold left to make reopening the underground facility a profitable venture for a local mining concern. There are some creepy legends about the place, though—it closed not because it had been played out but because the workers refused to continue going down there. A previous expedition that went with a similar eye to getting the mine running again disappeared. And then there are the old Indian legends about some kind of monster in the caves. For those reasons, our little crew is composed not only of prospective miners but of a mercenary/privateer-type and a writer on local California mining history and his wife (okay, I know it’s ridiculous that the last two would be allowed into a potentially dangerous situation like this, but if you can’t suspend your disbelief about scenarios like that, you’re just not gonna make it through this movie).  Things start pretty slowly, I’ll be the first to admit, and the film take a good 40 minutes to really get rolling, but this initial period of doldrums, resultant though it may be from inexperienced screenwriting, actually gives us a chance to do something we can’t always do in horror movies, which is to clearly differentiate each character and their (admittedly completely two-dimensional) motivations. It’s not terribly exciting, but  it works, even if purely by accident, and there is some some wonderful and truly professional northern California coastal location scenery throughout that wouldn’t look at all out of place in any film with ten, 100, or even 1,000 times the budget of this one.

Once inside the mineshaft (actually a few papier-mache rock walls inside director Hillman’s parents’ garage, but thanks to wisely-chosen camera angles and inventive and effective use of various lighting gels you’d quite literally never guess it, so well-constructed is the illusion-on-a-budget here) our adventurers are quickly trapped by a cave-in and while they search desperately for a way out they hear strange noises, come across evidence of those who have been this way before, and then start getting killed.

Okay, there are way too many obvious parallels here to draw to films like “The Boogens,” The Stuff,” “The Descent,”  “What Waits Below,”and even the newly-released “Pandorum,” (which is, for all intents and purposes, “The Descent” in a spaceship)—but “The Strangeness” was one of the first movies to realize the inherent dramatic tension that comes with setting a horror movie inside a mine or a cave, and in many respects it still outshines those later, more expensive offerings.

As for the monster itself, well—

"The Strangeness" attacks!

"The Strangeness" attacks!

Let’s just say it’s part penile, part vaginal, part Lovecraftian, and altogether Freudian. As co-producer/creature designer Huntley explains in an on-camera interview included in the DVD extras, he was living as a closeted gay man at the time and the idea of a giant dick-like appendage that grabs you and puts you inside an equally giant pussy that eats you up and swallows you whole is probably as obvious and public a statement about his confused sexual state at the time as he could make. In any case, it’s still nothing the filmmakers (nor the model-maker who actually built it, Ernest D. Farino, who went on to work for George Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic) have any reason to hang their heads about and it has a certain amateurish charm that both draws attention to its bargain-basement origins and somehow transcends them thorough its brazen gumption at the same time. They’re not showing off their ultra-cheap creature, but at the same time you don’t get a sense that they’re actively ashamed of it, either—this is what they could do with the cash they had and it’s nothing to brag much about but still a damn sight better than what anyone has any right to expect.

And to be honest, that’s not a bad summation of “The Strangeness” as a whole. It’s nothing close to revolutionary, but it doesn’t pretend to be, and it’s miles beyond anything you’d think they could come up with given the circumstances. It’s got a creepy atmosphere and a “can-do” spirit and somehow the two complement, rather than conflict, with each other.

Original VHS Cover for "The Strangeness"

Original VHS Cover for "The Strangeness"

Now for the particulars of the Code Red DVD : Folks, what we’ve got here is one incredible little package that suits the film perfectly. There are on-camera interviews with principal filmmakers Huntley, Sawicki, and Melanie Ann Phillips (David Michael Hillman as she’s now known after undergoing gender reassignment surgery some years ago—probably the reason people have had a tough time tracking her down for the occasional interview over the years) that are both fascinating and fun, there’s a selection of their USC  student short film work (some live action, some animated), all three get together for a feature-length commentary, and there’s a nice sampling of trailers for forthcoming Code Red releases, as well.

In addition to all that, the technical specs are great. The original mono audio track sounds as crisp and clean as possible with only occasional drops in the sound, and the picture, struck from one of the film’s only answer prints and presented for the first time ever in a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer,  looks as close to flat-out magnificent as this can. The colors are vibrant, the blacks are strong and well-defined, and compared to the earlier home video versions where the last 30 or so minutes of the film (which take place in almost complete darkness) were basically unwatchable because you couldn’t tell what the hell was happening, the difference is—well, like night and day (okay, last cliche of the review, I promise). If by some chance you have seen “The Strangeness” before, you will simply not believe that it could ever look this good. Sure, there are some occasional flecks and grainy spots, but it’s a 16mm print stuck in 1980—that’s inevitable.

So all in all, what Code Red gives us here is a flat-out technical miracle packaged together with the type of well-thought-out and highly personal extras for which they’ve quickly become known, all in service to a film that truly deserves this kind of TLC-heavy treatment.

Flawless “The Strangeness” is not. But remarkable it certainly is. And if you’re going to do a horror movie marathon sometime around Halloween, it’s a great choice, and is well-deserving of the new round of attention it’s hopefully going to get as a result of Code Red’s superb new DVD release. So why not take a trip down into the mine with “The Strangeness”—you’ll definitely find a gem. Not the prettiest, to be sure, and one that’s definitely rough around the edges, but a gem nevertheless.