A supernatural feast fit to make any Halloween season movie marathon real freaky
Generally disregarded by the mainstream, John Carpenter's THEY LIVE ('88) is a prophetic piece of sci-fi cinema.
John Carpenter's dystopian classic is a vision of a prison state where American democracy and institutions have failed; where violence and chaos reign!
Halloween. 2007. Directed & Written by Rob Zombie; based on the original screenplay by John Carpenter & Debra Hill.
Starring Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, Tyler Mane, Daeg Faerch, Sheri Moon Zombie, William Forsythe, Richard Lynch, Udo Kier, Clint Howard, Danny Trejo, Lew Temple, Tom Towles, Bill Moseley, & Leslie Easterbrook. Dimension Films/Nightfall Productions/Spectacle Entertainment Group/Trancas International Films/The Weinstein Company.
Rated 18A. 109 minutes.
I never imagined, listening to White Zombie in the ’90s, that Rob Zombie would go on to be one of my favourite horror directors working. He always appeared imaginative, but I couldn’t have guessed his love of the horror genre ran so deep. He’s given the keys to the slasher horror castle here, reinterpreting the original screenplay for Halloween in 1978 from John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Instead of providing lackluster jump scares and unnecessary gore to overcompensate, Zombie crafts a new vision of Michael Myers. No more is Myers so much a force of evil, like some wandering, unkillable spirit. Now, he is a boy with a face, a child not just hidden behind a mask, who eventually grows into his skin and becomes the ugliest, most vicious serial killer in America (well, the fictional one anyways).
Switch the subtle techniques of Carpenter for a throwback aesthetic mixed with gritty realism, and you’ve got Zombie’s film in a nutshell. Although many want to try and pick one over the other, they’re different movies, different stories centered around the same characters. You can say what you want. But for me, Carpenter and Zombie both have their merits. No matter if the original is my favourite, and a perfect piece of horror cinema, Zombie brings savagery to the table, plus an interesting style of directing. This makes it more than worth the watch.
Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) is a young boy with a fairly awful life day to day. Although his mother Deborah (Sheri Moon Zombie) loves him, her sleazy boyfriend Ronnie White (William Forsythe) treats him like shit, all the while sizing up Debbie’s daughter Judith (Hanna Hall). At school, Michael gets pushed around and harassed, specifically about his mother being a stripper at a local club. But at home, alone, Michael dissects animals, getting blood all over his hands. Then once a kid at school finally pushes him over the edge, Michael beats him to death in the woods. The transition begins.
On Halloween night, Michael kills Ronnie, then Judith and her boyfriend. This shocks the town of Haddonfield. The law puts Michael in an institution, where Dr. Samuel Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) picks his brain to try and determine why evil lies in such a young mind. There’s also orderly Ismael Cruz (Danny Trejo) who talks to the boy often, trying to relate with him.
Only after 17 years go by, an older Michael gets a visit from a new, less friendly orderly by the name of Noel Kluggs (Lew Temple). He and his equally disgusting hillbilly cousin take advantage of having keys to the place. They rape a female patient after bringing her into Michael’s room, when Noel underestimates the now 27-year-old man. Michael kills the men and then begins on a path of destruction carrying him back towards Haddonfield, where his reign of terror is about to begin. As if it already hadn’t.
Love the metafictional quote from Dr. Loomis’ book. Like a post-modern version of Carpenter and Hill’s classic, early slasher. The whole character of Loomis is much different from that of Donald Pleasence’s version, and of course that’s mostly the way it’s written. In the original film(s), Loomis is an underrated psychiatrist whose knowledge of evil, and particularly that of Michael, is unparalleled. Here, McDowell’s Loomis is a good man initially. Then he morphs into a fame-seeking, fame-whoring doctor who made his fame and fortune off the dead corpses of a bunch of people in Haddonfield. He’s treated as such, too. So apart from the other liberties Zombie takes, or should I say aside from the expanded history Zombie creates, there’s this totally new role for Loomis, which I love. Pleasence is a classic, though, Loomis is a completely new beast under McDowell and I dig him, as well.
I don’t agree with the stance of people saying oh well we don’t want to see Michael Myers as a child, that’s the scary part. But wait a minute? Doesn’t the original Halloween, which I adore, start with that POV from the perspective of a young Michael? We already see that. Far as I’m concerned Zombie doesn’t really leap too far in reimagining Carpenter here. He takes what we’ve already seen, then elaborates largely. So yeah, maybe you don’t want to see the childhood of Michael completely played out, but the seeds were there in the original. So honestly, if Carpenter really wanted to keep his Myers as the almost supernatural, mythical Shape, then there’s no need to even show us the beginning of the child Michael; may as well jump right in. Not a criticism against him – I love that film, and it’s perfect. Period. That’s a criticism against those trying to rationalize their need for a theory on why Zombie shouldn’t have done it this way. For me, the best thing Zombie does here is humanize Michael. Because for all those people saying something is scarier about an unstoppable force of almost supernatural strength, I believe there’s nothing scarier than human evil, it never stops either. And personally, imagining Michael as a human killer, a kid who grew like weed out of hatred, is far more terrifying.
Carpenter wins overall, obviously. The techniques he used directing, some of those shots they achieved, plus the writing from him and Hill; everything in that movie is perfect. While Zombie’s film is not perfect, it wins on horror. There’s a more brutal aspect to this Halloween that hooks me in. It’ll never beat the quality of Carpenter’s original, but Zombie does a fine job crafting a gritty, raw remake. One of the better remakes that’s come out of the big Hollywood machine. Probably because Zombie isn’t exactly a Hollywood director, he just has the popularity to draw the Weinsteins and such. Regardless, this is miles better than the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street remakes, and that glossed over Texas Chainsaw Michael Bay-produced affair.
As I’ve mentioned, there is a stern brutality to many of the kills in this remake. Part of why I still enjoyed some of the later Halloween sequels is due in large to the fact they started to up the pure strength of Michael. In one, he simply jams his thumb right through a victim’s forehead. After that, he became relentless in power. So even better that he’s a real humanized type killer here, coupled with the way he straight up just beats a few people to death. And I’m talking absolutely demolishing people. When he kills the orderly Noel, he repeatedly slams him against the concrete wall until blood starts to fly. It is a savage death. Then he drowns Danny Trejo’s character Ismael, which goes to show how brutal he is – no longer does Michael even care for people who show him any compassion. His heart is dead: “I was good to you, Mikey,” sputters Ismale while trying not to drown. Then a television gets dropped on the guy’s head. So if you didn’t already know this is a remorseless killer, he does not discriminate. Doesn’t matter who or what is in his way, not anymore. Since his mother died, the last of his humanity left, too. Lots of great kills after this, which Zombie captures in perfectly nasty fashion.
Some of my other favourite moments – the fight with Big Joe Grizzly (legendary Ken Foree) that is just pure unadulterated hypermasculinity, though oh-so-horror-good, and once more showcases that sickly strength in Myers; when Michael makes his way into the neighbourhood and goes mad on the young people it gets bloody and unruly; and when Michael goes to see the Strodes awhile before that, things are pretty rough, as well as creepy, and sad.
On top of everything there’s Scout Taylor-Compton in the old Jamie Curtis role. She does a solid job, as she’s cute and personable and she plays a nice good-girl, at the same time she’s got attitude and can be funny. Also, proper at showing fear. Danielle Harris is great, too, even if she doesn’t have a massive role; nice to see her back after the performances she gave as a child in a couple of the original movies. Then there’s a bunch of cameos, such as Ken Foree, Zombie alumni Bill Moseley, Sid Haig, Leslie Easterbrook, Sheri Moon Zombie (though hers is more than a cameo really), William Forsythe, Micky Dolenz of Monkees fame. Brad Dourif is awesome as the sheriff in all his scenes, too. Love seeing him anywhere, solid character actor.
All in all, I’m giving Zombie’s remake a 4&1/2-star rating. I don’t care, man. Dig it so hard. Lots of brutal violence in slasher tradition. Good, old school style filmmaking that both technique-wise and design-wise throws back to the 1970’s. But it’s the reinvention of Michael Myers and his story that draws me in consistently. I can always watch this, right alongside the original. And while I love Carpenter’s Halloween most, this one is a solid modern remake that gives us blood, thrills, and even some sly laughs.
John Carpenter’s The Fog. 1980. Directed by John Carpenter. Written by Carpenter & Debra Hill.
Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, John Houseman, Hal Holbrook, Charles Cyphers, George ‘Buck’ Flower, and Jim Haynie. AVCO Embassy Pictures/EDI/Debra Hill Productions. Rated R. 89 minutes.
An impressive aspect about John Carpenter, other than stuff I’ve already talked about in reviews, is that his filmography as director has covered such ground in terms of genre. While a lot of it is horror-centric, within horror he crosses over into science fiction, the thriller, and even ghosts/the supernatural. He can cross any genres and make them work well with his slow and steady pacing, his suspenseful style. The ghost story style plot works for Carpenter, as he has a way of creeping up on you, every frame draped in the lurking presence of danger.
The Fog is a super interesting story of ghosts looking for revenge and a town with deep, dark secrets. Carpenter and frequent partner-collaborator Debra Hill came up with a nice screenplay, which he in turn crafted with style into one hell of a creepy horror movie.
In Antonio Bay, California, a one hundred year celebration is about to happen. Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh) is busy preparing the town for its big shindig, while Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) is playing his part well enough, except his church is obviously in financial ruins; all the money flowing into big parades and such for the centennial. Then there’s Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) who keeps herself and her son afloat, barely, by owning/operating the lighthouse radio station. At the same time, Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) rolls into town with a hitchhiking young woman named Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis).
But things start to go wrong, or at least they begin to get strange. A boat full of men doesn’t come in like they usually do, which prompts Nick to go looking for a friend who’d been on it. Once they track down the boat everything gets weirder, and not a soul is found aboard.
On land, Father Malone happens to find a diary lodged in the wall of his office at the church – it paints a gruesome picture of the residents in Antonio Bay during 1880 who did terrible, unspeakable things all under the guise of keeping their citizens safe from sickness. What has begun to happen in the little town turns out to be the revenge of those beyond the grave… those who will rise up from the water, in the fog, to come for every last descendant of the ones who took their lives.
Said it before, I’ll say it over and over: Carpenter’s scores are undeniably infectious. The swell of the electronic sound he often lays under a scene, how the swell then builds and builds, it’s so effective. I think that’s a big reason why I’ve always been so in love with 1980s horror – not only was I born in the ’80s, the music of those films was always so interesting, so brooding; not every last one of them, but so many, even the shit ones some times. But Carpenter infuses each of his films with such an intriguing sound in that way. It helps his style so much, the way he works off of suspense and tension. The music really lends itself to that. Particularly I love it here because the way the fog creeps in during many scenes almost matches the sound of the score. There’s more to simply throwing a bunch of special makeup effects and a fog machine into the shot – Carpenter actually crafts an atmosphere of genuine tension, his ghostly apparitions sneak into the frame and into our heads, they slowly take over the small seaside town. At the same time the terror slowly works its way up your spine and seeps into your brain. I’m not one to get JUMP UP AND SCREAM SCARED. But I love a good slow burning, deeply tense horror movie. Carpenter almost exclusively does this type of work.
Another big part of this film are the landscapes Carpenter includes. The cinematography from Dean Cundey, a Carpenter-collaborator on the regular, is fascinating. So beautiful, at the same time it sets up this incredibly desolate feeling. Much like his work in The Thing. Here, the way he captures so many of the wide open spaces, the ocean, the hills, it’s really disturbing in a gorgeous visual sense. There’s always a feeling of isolation in Carpenter’s work, whether it’s Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, or The Fog. Cundey is able to provide big lush visual feasts in which the suspense/tension of Carpenter comes out perfectly.
There are plenty films which use radio deejays as plot devices, such as Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Don McKellar’s Last Night. What I enjoy about Adrienne Barbeau in this film, as lighthouse personality Stevie Wayne, is that she’s not used as a plot device. Rather, Stevie is just a solid character who we come to know intimately through her soft and silky voice going out over the waves in the dark of night. Then once her plight begins, things feel more tense.
And this comes back to the fact I feel Carpenter and Hill are good writers. They’re not trying to do anything crazy here, nothing metaphorical or anything (though you can absolutely take away stuff like that if you want/look into it enough). But really they craft a nice story with good characters. They’re able to get you to care for these people and pity them for being caught in the crossfire caused by their ancestors; while hating what the people of Antonio Bay did back in the latter half of the 19th century, these genuine, nice characters don’t deserve to die for that – do they?
Stevie Wayne is not the only good character. I love them all. Hal Holbrook’s Father Malone is solid, right to the end. Aside from him there’s the always charismatic Tom Atkins, who I was recently enjoying in the underrated (and misunderstood) Halloween III: Season of the Witch. And last but not least, not at all, the wonderful Jamie Lee Curtis in another early horror movie performance; she is funny, sweet and has great presence in this film whenever she’s onscreen. The chemistry between Atkins and Curtis’ characters is phenomenal and adds a little something extra to their subplot, as they try to survive their time in Antonio Bay.
So many creepy moments and scenes. One of my favourites is when Nick (Atkins) is telling Elizabeth (Curtis) a story, then first a locker tips over scaring her before an actual body, its eyes gouged out, falls against her back; what an awesome two-punch technique! Love that one. Usually I’m not one for jump scares, but I love them when done right. Carpenter utilizes them appropriately a lot of the time, much as he started doing back in Halloween. He knows how to do them with an interesting touch instead of heavy handed, making it a cheap scare tactic.
But the best spots in The Fog are those that slowly catch you. Like when the fog overtakes everything in Antonio Bay, and one by one people start to get sucked in and killed by the ghosts of the lepers. I love how you know what’s coming, yet Carpenter draws you in and makes things incredibly suspenseful.
A top pick for favourite moment has to go to when Stevie (Barbeau) ends up climbing, climbing the lighthouse trying to outlast the fog coming for her. I’m afraid of heights (even though I once worked as an electrician in Alberta at ridiculous heights; never again), so this part really grates my nerves. In the best filmic sense. Also helps that this scene comes nearing the finale, obviously. There’s a great intensity watching Stevie try her damnedest to survive. A real trooper.
Another top pick – Elizabeth encounters a reanimated man. I won’t say anything further. Wildly creepy scene.
Another 5 star ’80s classic from John Carpenter. He and Debra Hill did so well with this story. It’s a gothic, macabre piece of writing. Pile onto that the excellent cast, the score, all those awesome shots and effects – it’s a real masterpiece of ghostly horror. I can’t recommend this one enough. Always a huge fan of Carpenter, I consistently come back to this one because it’s spooky, it has great writing, and I’m always entertained. You’ve got to add this to any Carpenter marathon, as well as any proper Halloween/October movie list. It has a ton of great qualities, especially for a creepy night with the television on and the lights off.
John Carpenter’s The Thing. 1982. Directed by John Carpenter. Screenplay by Bill Lancaster, from a story by John W. Campbell Jr.
Starring Kurt Russell, Wilford Brimley, Keith David, Richard Masur, T.K. Carter, David Clennon, Richard Dysart, Charles Hallahan, Peter Maloney, and Donald Moffat. Universal Pictures/Turman-Foster Company. Rated R. 109 minutes.
It’s hard to choose a favourite filmmaker. For me, and for many, there are tons of great directors out there. Especially when you consider the different genres. I often have a hard time saying I like one director – who happens to stick with a certain genre – over another, simply because I feel particular directors are best within certain genres. Still there are a handful of them I’d place at the top of my personal list.
One such filmmaker is John Carpenter.
Not only does Carpenter direct, he is a master of his craft. Something I’ve always admired about his style is that he likes to do his own scores, which is a big part of his overall aesthetic (funny enough – this movie isn’t scored by him: it’s the prolific Ennio Morricone, so fucking awesome regardless!). He pretty much has what I’d call an auteur style. Nobody does horror-thriller as good as him.
The Thing brings all of the best aspects of Carpenter together, alongside the solid performances of the likes of Kurt Russell and Keith David, as well as Morricone’s wonderfully suspenseful and effective score. This is not just one of the best horror movies from the 1980s, it’s one of the best horror movies. Ever. What starts out like a tense thriller evolves into a horrifically existential science fiction film, all based on John W. Campbell Jr’s short story “Who Goes There?” (also the basis of this 1951 film). I can never get enough of the dreadful, isolated horror Carpenter brings out in this movie. There’s a reason people always talk about this one. And a damn good reason Carpenter is a master of horror.
At an American base in the Antarctic, a chopper chases a dog across the snowy mountains equipped with a man holding a high-powered rifle. When the American crew – including R.J. MacReady (Kurt Russell), Dr. Blair (Wilford Brimley), Childs (Keith David) +more – come out they discover two crazed Norwegians. One tries to throw a grenade but blows up their chopper. The other, aiming for the dog, shoots George Bennings (Peter Maloney), so one of the crew shoot him dead.
At first it seems as if the men simply went insane up in the wilderness. However, after the dog transforms into a hideously deformed creature, MacReady and the crew start to deal with a situation beyond their control. Some sort of virus seems to be spreading, but no one is able to tell who it’s infecting – moving from person to person, The Thing inhabits anyone’s skin it wishes.
Will any of them survive? And if they do, is it really them?
Carpenter really sets up his atmosphere well, in every film. Almost none better than The Thing, as he starts out first with a long cinematic stare into space. From there we move to the Antarctic wilderness, vast landscapes of nearly nothing except for the white snow stretching on for miles and miles. It’s an appropriate way to give us that immediate sense of isolation. Once the exterior isolation is setup, Carpenter moves inside to where all the human elements of the story come into play. Then, furthermore, we start to get their sense of isolation – from the moment you see Mac drinking, playing around on the computer and then dumping a couple shots of J.B. into it, there’s an obvious idea of how sick this guy is with his lodgings up north. It only gets better from there, but I’ve always thought the film’s opening sequence really made the isolation sink it quickly, yet easily.
Not only the isolated feeling, either. With the Norwegians chasing the dog, the chopper exploding after a fumbled grenade toss, adrenaline is flowing hard. The tension is instantaneous and you’re already champing at the bit for what’s coming next. The music, the cinematography, the actors – all pistons are pumping. Carpenter is good for this usually. Again, though, I’m inclined to say one of his best instances is here in The Thing. Carpenter’s sense of atmosphere and tone is so important to what makes him great, as well as unique in the horror genre.
While most Carpenter movies have stellar effects, The Thing boasts such an innovative and terrifying creature. It’s truly epic (a word that is overused improperly; I used it in seriousness). Honestly, after the dog becomes that hulking, massive monster, the first time I witnessed it I was awestruck for a minute or two. I still am, really. Such good effects, plus it’s unexpected. Even as I watch it again now, for the who-knows-how-many-times, there is an aspect to that scene I always find reels me in. Plus, afterwards there’s the scene with Dr. Blair (Brimley) dissecting The Thing; even the look on Brimley’s face, his disgust, it makes you almost smell the nasty reek of this alien creature’s insides. Downright incredible, these special effects. From start to finish this movie has such carefully crafted practical effects, you can’t help but admire the work put in.
The entire film isn’t built on effects, nor is it solely leaning on horrific elements to make its mark. Only other stuff Bill Lancaster wrote was Bad News Bears-related. With The Thing, adapted from Campbell’s short story “Who Goes There?” (great read by the way – check it out), Lancaster did some solid work. The screenplay is tight, it’s mysterious and has a ton of suspense, which the master Carpenter draws out perfectly with his style. There are genuinely creepy aspects I find unsettling. Such as when the crew starts watching the grainy videos, then they make their way out to the crater where the ship is sunk down, I find that entire portion so impressive! Morricone’s score is beyond perfectly fitting, it has that classic horror movie feel to it and at the same time there’s stuff you could call very archetypal Morricone (a.k.a dig it). So I’m actually amazed Lancaster did so well with this script, considering he’s never done anything else science fiction or horror. Hats off. Put into the hands of Carpenter this story soars to a new level of terror.
There a few performances in The Thing which help it greatly. Kurt Russell, obviously, is one of the reasons this movie kicks ass. They could’ve put a lot of actors in this role and it would’ve been all right. But with Russell there’s that little extra charisma, he’s tough and yet there isn’t some kind of superhero-ness about him. He gets afraid like anyone else in the same situation. Russell and Carpenter work well together, this may be the pinnacle; I dig Escape from New York and Big Trouble in Little China, but there’s something so perfect about this movie I can’t help single it out as their best collaboration. Then on top of Russell’s skill, Keith David does a nice job – he also did They Live 6 years later with Carpenter, wish he’d been in more of his films. And as much as Brimley gets shit for the “diabeetus” kick, he is spot on here; that scene when he flips and everyone tries to bear down on him, I always thought it was a great moment and shows how well Brimley can play a good character when he wants. Plus his fit lends to some more of the isolated, desolate feeling happening from there on in. All around excellent cast.
The Thing is a 5 star film. Without any shadow of a doubt. There’s so much happening. Above anything else, there’s a supremely existential terror flowing throughout almost every scene. Once The Thing takes hold, nobody knows who is who, who to trust, and it moves from one person to the next, some times even to animals. So there’s this incredibly dreadful horror at play. Then you throw in John Carpenter’s tense style, Ennio Morricone and his suspense-filled score, a well written screenplay with good actors to play it all out. What a mix!
If you’ve never seen this, my god, get out and watch it soon. Not only that, read the original short story by Campbell, as well as see the 1951 adaptation The Thing from Another World, which was a huge influence on Carpenter overall but especially for this film (obviously). I can never forget this movie, and it’s one I’ll put in any time I need a real creep.
Halloween II. 1981. Directed by Rick Rosenthal. Screenplay by John Carpenter & Debra Hill.
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasence, Charles Cyphers, Jeffrey Kramer, Lance Guest, Pamela Susan Shoop, Hunter von Leer, Dick Warlock, Leo Rossi, Gloria Gifford, and Tawny Moyer. Dino De Laurentiis Company.
Rated R. 92 minutes.
★★★★★ (Blu ray release)
There are very few sequels which come out living up to the greatness of the original film. Especially when we consider horror movies, there are not too many franchises that end up pumping out sequels that match the first.
However, I’d argue that Halloween II is more than a worthy sequel compared to its predecessor. I don’t like this more than the first Halloween, but all the same I think it’s one of the most flawless slasher horrors out there, and definitely a favourite of mine out of the 1980s; an era that held so much great, as well as shlocky and awful, horror from start to finish.
While John Carpenter only returned to this film in the form of screenwriter, I still find that Rick Rosenthal attempted to keep up with a particular style laid out by Carpenter in the original. In that way, with a build of tension and suspense alongside the continuously solid acting from both Donald Pleasance and Scream Queen original Jamie Lee Curtis, my opinion is that Rosenthal made a worthy sequel that should stand next to the original and not be derided as some less than decent sequel trying to capitalize off the success of Carpenter’s first film. Though Carpenter expressed more than once he wasn’t too pleased about a sequel, I think that in 1978 with an ending such as the original Halloween had, there was no way they couldn’t make a continuation. Today, it’s easy to say “no more sequels” because everything is a sequel, a remake, a reboot, a rehash – but in 1981, I bet tons of people wanted more Michael Myers. Maybe going on for over half a dozen movies was not the perfect concept, however, I love this sequel and I think it has enough of all the good stuff to warrant it being an excellent horror movie on its own, even without riding the coattails of Carpenter completely. Luckily, the script works well and it doesn’t come off as a needless movie, and I’m happy that at least Carpenter put his mark on things, even if only slightly through the script with Debra Hill.
Beginning immediately after the events of 1978’s Halloween, we pick up as Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is brought to the hospital. Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is somehow still trying to convince the authorities of Michael Myers’ impending danger, while the masked serial killer continues on stalking through the darkened streets of Haddondfield, trick-or-treaters still running around in their own costumes. Police are out, looking for the murderer, but Loomis still can’t get through to everyone how Michael is essentially the physical embodiment of evil.
With a quiet and isolated setting in a cold, sterile hospital, Halloween II gives us a claustrophobic romp through terror, as Michael Myers wants to find Laurie Strode – for reasons we come to discover – and he will stop at nothing to find her. Moving through the dark halls of the hospital, Myers cuts and cracks his way through everyone and every single thing in his way, until it’s only him, Dr. Loomis, and Laurie Strode left.
Really dig how the story starts right after the original events. This makes the tension and suspense feel as if it’s still lingering. Even years and years later, starting from the night of Michael Myers’ return and heading right into the plot of this film, I think it was one of the smartest screenwriting choices they could’ve made. It’s as if we’ve never left the streets of Haddonfield, like Michael Myers has been continually stalking Laurie, Loomis, all of us, ever since we last watched the 1978 original. Every time I watch it, the opening scenes from Carpenter’s Halloween that work into the official first scenes of Halloween II really put me back into that terrifying seat where last I sat. A great effect.
A few wonderful Steadicam shots throughout the halls of the hospital. I think not only does Rosenthal stick with a structure of suspense, he also goes for a similar visual style to the first film, which helps again to keep us in that mood extending out of Carpenter’s Halloween. There’s just enough of the movie sticking close to the 1978 classic while still remaining a separate film that I sort of love Halloween and Halloween II as a pair. Though I love the original most, there’s something perfect about how these two horror movies come together. They’re different beasts, but cut from the same cloth. To me, Halloween II becomes a logical extension of the first instead of merely coming off as rushed piece of work to be forced into the market, hoping to spawn more movies. Maybe others see it that way. Me – I love this and think it’s a great addition to the first, making Halloween into a legitimate series. Some say Halloween III: Season of the Witch ought not be considered as a part of the series – it’s more of a stand alone picture – however, I think it works in wonderfully. A lot say the series falls off heavily after this one, but I find the 3rd, 4th, and 5th instalments a lot of fun. That’s just my opinion. Not as good as the first two, but these first two films made it possible for Michael Myers to become that never dying embodiment of evil. At least in Halloween II, we’re treated to an excellent slasher film that works as an impressive double feature with the first.
Apparently Carpenter went back, after believing Rosenthal’s version didn’t have enough blood, and re-shot some extra nasty parts to make it more visceral. Even though Rosenthal did not like it; he planned to go the same route as Carpenter did in the original, with little-to-no blood. So the story goes, Carpenter thought that with the newer slashers coming out and going for heavy gore, nasty kills, this sequel would fail to compete with the others and get washed away in a tide of new horror movies. I don’t think it detracts at all from the film, and even while Rosenthal didn’t approve I believe Carpenter did the right thing. There’s still a ton of suspense and genuine tension built up through the cinematography and how Rosenthal has that dark, fluid sort of movement with the camera going from one shot to the next. So in the end, I really don’t think Carpenter’s decision to add in a little more bloody stuff was a bad one. Stepped things up a notch while also not trying to imitate every last little detail of the original. Sets it apart slightly from the film it follows.
The kills add another dimension to this movie. I love Carpenter’s style in the first, but again, I think he’s totally justified in making this one a slight bit messier – on the blood side. Not that it’s outrageous, not at all. Though, there are a couple worthy moments of blood and terror, it isn’t anything over the top. It’s like that cherry on the top of all that succulent, delicious icing.
One of my favourite kill scenes is the part where he scalds the nurse to death. It is vicious, but it also starts off so subtly. First, in the background as the nurse towels off, we see her male companion get offed by Michael, almost in a fuzzy view. Then he works his way out and up behind her, as Myers so often does. She’s lulled into a false sense of security, thinking it’s her man back again for a good time, but then he
Note: amazing to have included Samhain in what is most likely blood on a chalkboard in the school. Thought that was an expertly creepy touch. Not sure if it was Carpenter, Hill, or Rosenthal who came up with that one. Either way, it adds another level of creepiness to Michael Myers as a killer. Almost as if there’s something… supernatural at work. Though, there’s no effort to linger on that. And I think it’s why I love that moment – there’s no explanation, we’re left with only the weird word of Samhain: the beginning of the darker part of the year, a celebration at the end of harvest season. Is this meant in terms of Michael out harvesting his crops, cutting down victims? Or is it merely creepiness the child in Michael picked up along the way? Something he grafted onto his personality, the savage terror that sits behind his blank mask. Who knows. Regardless, it’s great.
The hospital setting really does it for me. One reason I enjoyed the modern slasher Fritt Vilt II is due to its reminiscence, but not carbon copying, of the setting and suspense from this movie; it really pulls off an excellent Halloween II vibe without stealing anything or trying to replicate it. A lot of that has to do with that setting of the hospital – it’s a place we’re meant to feel safe, a haven, somewhere the bad people and things aren’t supposed to be able to get us. However, Michael Myers always manages to go where he is not wanted, where others do not go. He will find a way in. And that’s what I find worming under my skin – the fact Myers is virtually unstoppable. Not even so much that you can’t kill the guy, but the idea there’s nowhere he cannot find you. He’s the ultimate apex predator.
Once inside the hospital, there comes all that claustrophobia, the stuffy feeling of not being able to get away. Not only that, Laurie Strode (Curtis) is also banged up, needing a little medical attention, so there’s a vulnerability to the hospital setting which ratchets up all that creepiness and makes the suspenseful moments inside the location all that more intense.
Like I’ve continually pointed out, I love this movie. Both as its own scary movie, with much more on-screen killing and blood/graphic horror than the original, as well as the perfect companion to John Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece of slasher horror Halloween. Certainly there’s enough of the DNA from the original film to make it work, I think Rick Rosenthal crafts his own thing here, making Michael Myers his own for 92 minutes.
And who can complain about getting more of Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis? Donald Pleasence continues to make Loomis one of the best horror movie heroes out there – part madman himself, the doctor is unstoppable almost like his evil counterpart in Myers. All the while, Jamie Lee Curtis proves she has the chops even more in this movie than the first. There’s another aspect to Laurie Strode here once bits of her past are revealed, as well as the fact she’s injured and medicated in the hospital. Great performances once more from these two fine, fine actors. They bring real legitimacy to these first two films and I think it’s another big part of the reason why I’ve enjoyed it so much over the years.
No matter what the case, Halloween II lives up to what I think it should be: a tense and unsettling, claustrophobic romp through slasher horror. Myers is ever frightful and dangerous, while the revelations Laurie Strode faces bring new life to the young girl we saw emerge from the terror of Michael’s killing spree at the end of the original film. A bit of good nasty stuff with the kill scenes and excellent cinematographic choices on the part of Rosenthal, as well as a couple pieces shot by Carpenter himself, and you’ve got a great hour and a half of slasher madness. And never forget the always eerie music of Halloween, another significant element to the liquid terror oozing out of nearly every single scene.
I always recommend this as one of the best sequels out there in the horror genre. I’ll continue to do so, even if people think that’s foolishness. This is a great slasher and stands up there alongside the best, including its predecessor.
The Blu ray is pretty damn solid all the way through from picture and sound quality to the additional features included in the release from Universal Pictures. There are deleted scenes, an alternate ending, as well as the documentary film Terror in the Aisles, which is hosted by the ever fabulous Donald Pleasance and Nancy Allen; it’s a big compilation of scenes and trailers from crime, drama, horror, and sci-fi films from the 1930s up to the 1980s. Excellent addition to the Blu ray. Also, the quality is beyond incredible! What a great transfer. The scenes are so crisp, you just feel all the atmosphere leaking out from each scene. Most definitely worth a purchase. A solid part of my horror movie collection.
John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN is as good today as in 1978. Well, Father Gore wasn't alive then, but he's sure it was scary then, too.
The Stranger. 2015. Directed and Written by Guillermo Amoedo. Starring Cristobal Tapia Montt, Ariel Levy, Luis Gnecco, and Nicolas Duran. Sobras International Pictures. Unrated. 93 minutes. Drama/Horror/Mystery.
Eli Roth, though some may say different, is a great talent. I enjoy his movies because they’re fun. I really enjoy him as a producer, as well. He manages to find people with interesting little concepts and help the directors/writers/et cetera bring them to life. One such film is the latest from writer-director Guillermo Amoedo, The Stranger, which is now available through VOD platforms.
The film has a fairly simply premise we’ve seen before – the titular character, the ever mysterious Stranger (Cristobal Tapia Montt) ends up in town looking for a woman. One night, a group of idiots confront him for no other reason than boredom. Peter (Nicolas Duran) watches these same idiots leave the man for dead, beaten, stabbed in the street. After the group leaves, Peter heads back and takes the Stranger home to his place. From there, the Stranger’s arrival in this small town creates a number of problems, all falling over one another, and everyone he comes in contact will be affected.
This isn’t a perfect film, nor can say I it’s perfect to me, but it’s a real great little independent horror. One of The Stranger‘s biggest strengths is that, while still remaining balls-out horror, it does not push too far too soon. Good horror can be like good food – way too much at once and it’s no good, boring even. There are good hardcore horrors, but the absolute greatest, in my opinion, are those which deal out equal doses of horror and of character, good dialogue, and a certain feel. For the most part, The Stranger has those.
My biggest complaint is the dialogue. Some of it is pretty good – I like a lot of the exchanges between the Stranger and Peter, especially nearing the end, for reasons you’ll understand once you see the film. The cop, played by Luis Gnecco, is my issue. I don’t know what’s worse, Gnecco or the written character. I think the dialogue was really stiff when it comes to the cop, and there were some cringeworthy moments between him and his son, played by Ariel Levy. Gnecco doles out some terribly stunted, flat, and downright boring delivery. To his defense, I really don’t think that character was written well, along with the other police officer who seemed highly one-dimensional.
Other than that, I was impressed with the acting. Particularly I thought Cristobal Tapia Montt was excellent in the role of the Stranger. He played very subtle, laid back, which gave the character a great vibe; instead of the whole ‘tough guy outsider’ he seemed more fragile, even when angry, and the brief outbursts from the regular subtlety he conveyed were still contained, they were like a scared and wounded snake. I think if the Stranger had been miscast there could have been major problems, the character needed the qualities Montt brought personally. Very expressive actor.
I like that there weren’t jump scares and all the typical bells and whistles modern horror movies often move towards. This one bucks the trend, or more like what’s become a habit. The atmosphere of dread builds towards intense scenes or shots, in turn this makes the fear more visceral than many modern horrors with shiny cinematography, jump scares, pretty looking actors, and CGI buckets of blood. I like that there weren’t jump scares and all the typical bells and whistles modern horror movies often move towards. This one bucks the trend, or more like what’s become a habit. The atmosphere of dread builds towards intense scenes or shots, in turn this makes the fear more visceral than many modern horrors with shiny cinematography, jump scares, pretty looking actors, and CGI buckets of blood.
The slow reveal of what’s really going on behind The Stranger‘s story is what propels this movie past a lot of recent efforts. Even once you’ve figured out what’s happening, who the Stranger is, the rest of the film doesn’t come off as played out or tired. From the beginning things get going. In the first fifteen minutes I was actually thinking to myself “this is a bit too vague”. However, by the time I thought that the mystery quickly wrapped me up. The more things are given out to us in terms of backstory, the more I found myself thrilled with the suspense, wondering when we’d find out exactly who or what the Stranger might be. There are some slowburns which really don’t end up being worth how slow the burn was, but Amoedo does a fantastic job creating a perfect atmosphere.
I can safely say The Stranger is a 3.5 out of 5 star film. There are things I would’ve loved to see changed; mainly my problems with the cops, particularly Luis Gnecco, and the dialogue. One thing I also keep coming back to is that I wonder why there was a need they felt to set the film in Canada? I’m a Canadian, and love to see fiction of any kind set in my country, but it just struck me odd after watching that there was any reason the filmmakers would have set it in Canada. Not that it’s a bad thing, just strange. Especially seeing as how they didn’t shoot it in Canada.
I highly recommend giving this movie a shot. The main character does a great job, as does the actor who plays Peter. The dialogue them both is spot on. There is plenty of horror, it’s just doled out sparingly, when it needs to be. So those of you horror hounds who need the blood, hang in there – blood will come. The make-up effects are so damn solid; later on, the character Caleb (Levy) has some injuries and they are incredibly nasty looking, stellar practical effects.
I don’t want to say exactly what “type” of movie this is – you’ll figure that out once the plot moves along. Let’s just say it’s one we’ve seen plenty of. Yet this doesn’t feel like it is jumping on the trend or anything, this is a genuinely fresh take. Amoedo isn’t exactly offering up completely new visions of this sub-genre in horror, but I do think he’s given us something at least not as predictable as others, and certainly not squeamish – late in the film there is one severely nasty little kill, emphasis on little, which harkens back to ballsy films like John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13 containing a kill along similar but different lines.
Snatch this up on VOD – I love seeing independent horror making waves lately. There seems to be a change of tide, people are recognizing, as those of us who love the genre have always known, that horror is not all just blood, guts, killers. There is more to it, and the indie horror scene in the past few years now has been really churning out the good product; not all, but plenty. So support this, hopefully you like it, and equal hope to seeing more fun, innovative ventures in the horror genre from interesting minds like Guillermo Amoedo.
Assault on Precinct 13. 1976. Directed & Written by John Carpenter. Starring Austin Stoker, Darwin Joston, Laurie Zimmer, Martin West, Tony Burton, Charlie Cyphers, and Nancy Kyes. Image Entertainment. Rated R. 91 minutes. Action/Crime/Thriller
★★★★ (DVD release)Assault on Precinct 13 is one of the best action thrillers of all-time. It’s probably my personal favourite if I had to pick one. John Carpenter crafts an incredibly tight story about a band of police and criminals forced to fend themselves off from a street gang who’ve taken a blood oath against the police; all the while, the rag tag gang of cops and robbers are trapped inside a near defunct precinct in an isolated area of Los Angeles. Everything is set off in the beginning after a police ambush a number of gang members, killing them, and prompts the remaining gang members to take a blood oath against the Los Angeles police force. It’s basically a siege-type film.
Carpenter has always been an open fan of the Western genre, as well as a lot of the old & great Hollywood epics because he grew up watching a lot of classic filmmakers’ films. More specifically, he’s also a huge fan of Howard Hawkes (director of such classics as the original Scarface, the William Faulkner-written The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, & more). In the audio commentary for this movie he actually talks about Hawkes in regards to the cigarette gags ongoing throughout Assault on Precinct 13; he attributes this as an homage to Hawkes who frequently did all sorts of cigarette-related gags. The reason I bring this up is because Carpenter really wrote this movie as more of a Western, but set it in the contemporary world of a ghetto-like area in Los Angeles during the 1970s. You’ve got the story of a new cop coming into town – his first day is looking like it’ll be a boring one & then suddenly he’s fighting for his life. There are a lot of little elements in Carpenter’s film which pay homage to his love for Westerns, as well as the (excellent) tropes of the genre.
I think one of the things that really amazed people when this first came out was the level of brutality Carpenter chooses to show us. By now, anybody who is either a fan of his or a movie buff has seen/heard about the infamous “Ice Cream Truck Scene” – this contains one of the more shocking images in an American film during the ’70s, no doubt about it. I don’t want to go ahead and ruin for those who haven’t yet seen Assault on Precinct 13. Just know, it is a real doozy. Even now today, after all the horror and disturbing films I’ve seen over the years (4,000 films later & counting). This scene still gets me. There’s a chilling quality to it that grips you and doesn’t let go. It also really sets the tone for these brutal gang members. Yeah, sure – we know they’re hardcore. They’ve taken a blood oath to kill all the police in Los Angeles. But to do what they do in this scene is downright savage behaviour. It really sets them apart from most killers that turn up in action-thrillers. I mean, Hans Gruber was pretty god damn bad ass, but he never killed any little girls or anything.
In the best of Carpenter’s films there is a layer of tension underneath every inch of the plot. He moves the pacing of Assault on Precinct 13 along slowly, which helps build up the suspense and tension. He does this in a few of his best movies. With this one, he makes the important move of putting the time in the corner of the screen every so often in big bold white lettering – this might seem arbitrary, but it’s not. Carpenter uses this visible clock to enhance our feelings of suspense. We watch as the gang keeps moving across Los Angeles, further towards the precinct, and we watch as those in the precinct go about their night without any knowledge of what is headed towards them. The clock continues to move, and it keeps us on the edge, guessing.
Eventually, once things start to move into the action scenes, it really works well because Carpenter throws us from a tense atmosphere into thrilling, and often pretty violent, scenes where the gang is just running the gauntlet on this rundown, ready-to-close precinct. I think Carpenter is a master at pacing. Assault on Precinct 13 is a master class in tension. Excellent work.
There are a few really iconic shots in this film. I really love the way Carpenter shot most of his films, especially the earlier work. There’s a shot nearly halfway into the movie when a man whose daughter has been murdered by the gang flees some of the members and runs to the precinct. It all starts as he stands in an isolated telephone booth. There’s nothing but the booth and the darkness looming everywhere. Carpenter gives us a nice wide shot, but tightened in a bit on the man in the booth; from behind him in the darkness suddenly appear several members of the gang, literally as if out of nowhere. It’s one of those great classic, and creepy, shots Carpenter is known for – he does this sort of thing in a few other films like Halloween and The Fog, where they are also really effective. There are a bunch of great moments where Carpenter uses the shadows, as the gang encroaches further and further onto the precinct property. It sort of kick starts the adrenaline while maintaining a slow pace. Then gradually the action ramps up and becomes more exciting. Carpenter is really one of the greats when it comes to the overall composition of a film and how smoothly things transition from one point to another.
One of the best aspects of this film is the score itself. The main theme of the film is just absolutely amazing. An excellent special feature on this DVD release from Image Entertainment is the Isolated Score from Carpenter, who did the score himself using what I’d assume to be a synthesizer. It’s really bare bones stuff, but it works for this film. There isn’t anything fancy here in the sense of ‘flash’ – anything fancy here comes from very practical means at the hands of a practical and talented director such as Carpenter. The score is perfect because it doesn’t overpower the film; it works in conjunction with the images and the pacing. It’s a great underlying layer beneath everything else, and it’s also one of those scores that will absolutely have you walking away humming. After I watch this, I always go around for a day or two humming the main theme. It’s so damn catchy. A lot of the modern retro scores you hear using synthesizer have a lot to owe to Carpenter – he made it cool to do your own low key, electronic scores. Definitely inspired more than a few filmmakers out there.
John Carpenter is one of my favourite filmmakers, and Assault on Precinct 13 is absolutely one of his best films, though it’s hard to choose a definite favourite. This is a really great exercise in suspense and tension. It’s also one of the best examples in film of action done correctly – there’s no need for a massive budget or the biggest names in Hollywood or the wildest effects ever – Carpenter proves ideas and creative execution are the main components to a successful action thriller. While a lot of action is often filmed by flashy directors, Carpenter is a more subtle and interesting filmmaker who makes unique choices, and his number one focus is how to make things look good while still being thoroughly entertaining. He’s certainly one of the best in the business. I’ll repeat that as much as possible.
This DVD release is not perfect. However, the picture is really flawless, I must say – looking forward to picking this up on Blu ray soon, too. The sound is great. Carpenter’s score comes alive on some nice speakers; the Isolated Score option is a real treat, as well. I could listen to the score over and over. Gets me pumped up. A few of the effects look especially awesome on this release. Plus, we get a good audio commentary from Carpenter. Though, I wish there were a few more bits, I’m still satisfied overall.
I really suggest any fans of action-thrillers see this original – the remake isn’t horrible, but does not do this amazingly tight film justice. The DVD release is pretty good, but I bet the Blu ray is even better. Give this a chance, as opposed to the Michael Bay flashy action stuff (not to rag on him – there are plenty others less famous than he who perpetrate the crime of glossy imagery over character and plot). You’ll really be doing yourself a favour. Soak it up – everything here is pure cinematic gold, and real old school filmmaking at its finest.