Posts Tagged ‘john carpenter’

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.

I don’t think the Halloween season would feel complete if I didn’t include a couple reviews of films from John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s seminal slasher series featuring the one and only Michael Myers as part of my annual “Halloween Horrors” roundup, and while I’m pretty close to having written about all of them over the last few years, I’ve still got a few to go, and we might as well start with the one that causes me the most pain as both a viewer and fan, just to get it out of the way if nothing else.

I’m referring, of course, to director Rick Rosenthal’s 2002 release Halloween : Resurrection, my personal least- favorite installment in the entire series (yes, I even like The Curse Of Michael Myers better), the flick that had the less-than-stellar idea of relaunching cinema’s most venerable slasher franchise as an I Know What You Did Last Summer – style teen horror, even though that largely lamentable subgenre was already pretty well running out of gas by that point.

Featuring Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks (who, let’s face it, we were all hoping would lose her shirt at some pint in this flick — no such luck) as the head honchos and hosts of a “reality website” called DangerTainment (dumbest name ever) who get the hare-brained idea of putting together a group of randy teenagers to spend the night in the abandoned Myers house and broadcast whatever happens live on the internet, a plot conceit which also allows Rosenthal to attempt to spice up the proceedings with a few visual  nods to the then-nascent “handheld horror” craze, the whole thing is a sad amalgamation of incongruous elements that frequently don’t even work out so well on their own, much less slap-dashed together in “throw enough shit at the wall and hope something will stick”- fashion like this. Add in an unceremonious and undignified final exit for Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode character and the end result is a movie that isn’t just plain bad, but is frankly flat-out insulting to both longtime fans and more casual viewers alike.

It’s no huge surprise that this was the final nail in the coffin for Halloween until Rob Zombie came along and performed his from-scratch relaunch — even though it did in fact turn a tidy enough little profit at the box office, it was so obvious that anyone and everyone who had been involved with the series for a fair amount of time (Rosenthal had previously directed the perfectly serviceable Halloween II) was out of ideas with what to do with it that mothballing it for a good few years was the only option the Weinsteins, who by this point had obtained the rights to it under the auspices of their Dimension Films label, had left. The whole thing feels like nothing so much as an injured, limping, shot prizefighter running out the clock on what would prove, mercifully, to be his final turn in the ring. Michael Myers certainly deserved a better finale than this.

"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.

"They Live" Movie Poster

"They Live" Movie Poster

Okay, I suppose it’s not at all surprising to find a John Carpenter film on our little “Halloween countdown” list, but the fact that it’s not—well, you know—I suppose that may qualify as a bit, just a bit, of a surprise. And yes, the cinematic adventures of Michael M. are indeed great fun to watch at this—or any—time of year, especially the original. But one thing we hate to be here at TFG is too damn obvious. And truth be told, “Halloween” isn’t my favorite Carpenter film. Nor is “The Thing.”

That distinction belongs to 1988’s “They Live.”

Now, wait just a minute before heading over to my house with pitchforks, burning torches, a noose or two, and cries of “blasphemy!” on your lips.

I freely acknowledge that “Halloween,” The Thing,” “Escape from New York” and “Big Trouble in Little China” are all better movies than “They Live.” All I’m saying is that I enjoy this more than any of them.

Why, you might reasonably ask? I mean, after all, this thing stars “Rowdy” Roddy Piper, for Christ’s sake!

Okay, that’s a charge I can’t duck. But in his defense, Piper is pretty good as Nada (how’s that for the most unsubtle character name in movie history?) and in truth it’s the cool concepts that carry this film more than its “stars” or special effects anyway.

On paper the basic idea (adapted pseudonomously by Carpenter under the pen name “Frank Armitage” from  Ray Nelson’s short story “Eight O’Clock in the Morning”) isn’t too terribly different from something you’d find in an old “Twilight Zone” episode — an alien race has secrety taken over the world by disguising themselves as ordinary human beings and maneuvering themselves into the top positions of power in finance, politics, and the media. Along the way they’ve allowed certain select “elite” humans into their globe-spanning secret cabal by promising them a share of the money and power at their disposal, but most of us are just livestock to them, cattle to be worked for all we’re worth before our inevitable slaughter. We are, quite literally, being farmed.

The economy is in ruins with a small slaveholder (not that they call themselves that publicly, mind you) class ruling over the rest of us miserable serfs and hoarding all the planet’s natural resources for their profit while dumping toxins into the atmosphere to replicate the conditions of their homeworld,  leaving for the masses a few meager table scraps on the floor for us to fight over, and keeping us in line with subliminal messages being bombarded at us in our newspapers, books, magazines, movies, and of course, television shows (examples include “obey,” “consume,” “submit,” and perhaps most ominously of all, “marry and reproduce”).

Sound familiar? It should. Except for the fact that the rulers are alien, this is more or less exactly the world we’re living in. There’s nothing too terribly alien about the whole concept apart from the aliens themselves and, as always, subtlety isn’t Carpenter’s strong suit. He’s making his point here with a sledgehammer, and you know what? It works just fine.

There’s one small kink in our Andromedan overlords’ plan, though—a small group of human resistance fighters have developed a special type of sunglasses that allow us to see these interlopes for what they are, as well as the hidden messages they’ve placed all around us and our guy Nada, a down-on-his-luck manual laborer, happens across a box full of these nifty contraptions after the cops raid a resistance meeting at a church near the shantytown where he’s “living” and don’t quite clean up all of the evidence. He puts on the shades and for the very first time (okay, here comes a cliche, sorry) his eyes are opened to the reality of the world around him.

Absurd? Absolutely. But then, is reality itself any less crazy? Think about it for a minute—in the real world we don’t need special sunglasses to tell who these folks are nor to decipher their not-so-secret messages. They operate in broad daylight and go about their business of reducing this planet to a toxic, high-tech plantation largely unmolested. One might be tempted to think, in fact,  that it would all be so much easier  if our rulers really were an evil race from another planet hellbent on our destruction and we could get everyone to rise up if we had some magic device that allowed us to see them as they really are. As it stands, we see them paraded before us every night in both “news” and “entertainment” programming on television and instead of forming angry mobs and going after them, we continue to buy their products, listen to their lies (even those most of us don’t believe them) and vote for them when the time comes.

It's all around us

It's all around us

If all this sounds a bit David Icke, it should be noted that this is one of Icke’s favorite films and personally I think all he did was swap out reptiles for aliens and has made a career out of it ever since.

But, obvious as the message Carpenter is conveying here might be, who can argue with its resonance? Hell, unlike most 1980s horror and science fiction flicks, not only has this thing not become a dated relic, it’s even more relevant now than it was then, as the tentacles of the global (I apologize for using this term, but damn if it doesn’t apply) conspiracy tighten around us all the more.

But mind-numbingly urgent and relevant as the message itself might be, that doesn’t mean this flick isn’t all kinds of fun. In fact, it’s a straight-up blast. We’ve got B-movie genre semi-legends like Keith David and Meg Foster in good supporting roles. Piper himself, as I mentioned before, is entirely (and perhaps surprisingly) adequate. The pacing is tight , the everyman-as-hero archetype just about always works, the dialogue is economical and sharp, there are plenty of good laughs along the way, and rather than roll your eyes at how simple it seems to bring the whole thing down, on the contrary you’ll be wishing it were that simple.

In short, it’s precise and unambiguous social commentary disguised as a throwaway horror/sci-fi/action flick. You can dismiss the whole thing as lightweight, superbly-crafted,  absolutely unpretentious fun while absolutely agreeing with everything it has to say at the same time. It resonates and entertains in equal measure. You don’t have to decide whether or not it’s throwaway entertainment or spot-on allegory because it’s both. I don’t know about you, but in my book that makes it a work of genius, and I don’t use that term lightly. Largely unheralded genius, to be sure, since this is often an overlooked entry in Carpenter’s lengthy oeuvre, but genius nevertheless.

Says it all, really

Says it all, really

“They Live” is available as a bare-bones bargain DVD and is also playing all this month on FearNet. Check it out if you haven’t and see it again if you have!

"Whiteout" Movie Poster

"Whiteout" Movie Poster

It seems the reviews for the new Kate Beckinsale action star-vehicle “Whiteout” have been uniformly pretty lousy, but for whatever it’s worth, your host here didn’t think this was a bad little suspense flick. Maybe it  was because I’d just walked out of the loathsome “Jennifer’s Body” after 30 minutes and anything less overwhelmed by its own supposed brilliance would have seemed good at that point.  Maybe it’s because I had no expectations apart from the fact I had just under two hours to kill and this looked like it would do the job. Maybe it’s because I in no way expected it to be anywhere near as good as Howard Hawks’ original “The Thing” or John Carpenter’s absolutely seminal quasi-remake of the same name,  movies to which this has unfairly been compared merely because of its locale (do we expect every movie set in Seattle to be as abominable as “Sleepless In—,” for instance? Of course not, so why expect this to be similar to either version of “The Thing” merely because it’s set in Antarctica?) Anyway, whatever the convergence of factors that lead to my ultimate conclusion upon exiting the theater, I must say this was a perfectly enjoyable time-waster.

Beckinsale, for her part, is a pretty natural bad-ass action flick chick, and guffaw all you want, I don’t think her “Underworld” stuff is half-bad. Karyn Kusama and Diablo Cody spent who knows how many hours and millions of dollars trying (and failing) to transform Megan Fox into the kind of tough-as-nails (albeit with an evil side) broad that Beckinsale portrays with regularity seemingly effortlessly.

Director Dominic Sena, who was previously responsible for the appalling “Gone in 60 Seconds” remake with Nic Cage and Angelina Jolie and the completely forgettable (except for that one scene, and guys you know which one I’m talking about) “Swordfish,” doesn’t boast a resume to inspire much confidence, but here he gets a damn solid performance from his leading lady, keeps the action moving along at a nice, tight little clip, and does a great job of evoking the barren isolation and unimaginable hazard of life on our southern pole.

The plot is straightforward and simple, as the good ones usually are—a Russian plane goes down over the Antarctic fifty or so years back, and then we fast-forward to the present day where US Marshal Carrie Stetko (Beckinsale), a veteran woman of the law, has volunteered for South Pole duty to escape some demons in her past, and ends up investigating a murder when a body that appears to have been dumped from a plane turns up way beyond the vicinity of any of the numerous research stations (a large , sophisticated and altogether impressive one of which she has her office in) that dot the landscape down there. She’s assisted in her investigation by the research center’s Doctor, John Fury (gotta love any movie that has a character with that name and is in no way trying to be ironic about it) ably portrayed by poor-man’s-Kris-Kristofferson Tom Skerritt, and along the way they pick up some assistance from UN investigator (I didn’t know they employed cops and I can’t say I care for the idea) Robert Pryce, portrayed in rather uninspired,  mail-it-in fashion by Gabriel Macht. Our intrepid little crew has to work quickly, though, because a nasty-ass storm windstorm that whips up flying snow so thick you can’t see an inch in front of your face (the “whiteout”s of the title) is on the way and the base is being evaced pronto. Our foursome (they’ve got a pilot with them, too, named Delfy and played in solid amusing-sidekick-with-a-heart-of-gold fashion by Columbus Short) isn’t leaving with the staff, but they’re going to be confined to the base’s interior so they need to gather any clues they can while the getting’s (relatively, this is the South Pole, after all) good.

As things unfold we are presented with a perfectly serviceable little mystery, some great outdoor action (the northern Quebec and Manitoba locations are really quite convincing ) and a not-totally-unsurprising-but-still-pleasant-enough-in-its-own-unobtrusive-way plot twist towards the end.  Hardly the stuff of a truly memorable thriller, but certainly better than most of what’s out there and a not-at-all-unwelcome change of pace from Hollywood’s super-megabuck purportedly “exciting” summer blockbuster fare and the navel-gazing, overly-impressed-with-its-own-entirely-nonexistent-cleverness-and/or-phony-“truthfulness” that’s come to dominate “indie” film in recent years.

“Whiteout”—based on a comic (excuse me, “graphic novel”) of the same name by Greg Rucka and Steve Lieber and published by Kevin Smith’s Oni Press — succeeds largely because it doesn’t have any delusions of grandeur about what it is and doesn’t aspire to do any more than it can. That may not be the most ringing endorsement you’ll ever come across, but it does mean it’s a fundamentally more honest piece of filmmaking than most anything else out there you could spend your time and money on.