Utter madness breaks out at Camp Redwood
A little more comedy this time around in the first sequel to SLEEPAWAY CAMP. And a lot more Angela!
Netflix’s Black Mirror
Season 3, Episode 4: “San Junipero”
Directed by Owen Harris
Written by Charlie Brooker
* For a review of Episode 3, “Shut Up and Dance” – click hereclick here
* For a review of Episode 5, “Men Against Fire” – click here
In the 1980s, or somewhere reminiscent of it, Yorkie (Mackenzie Davis) wanders a city. She stops in front of a bunch of TVs playing Max Headroom. Everywhere around her people seem to be having fun. She follow some people into a big club. She doesn’t exactly look like she belongs, though pushes on through the crowd as the rock to old tunes, some play arcade games – and that’s exactly where Yorkie ends up, playing Bubble Bobble. A fellow nerd talks her up, but she replies she needs to get her “bearings” for the place. What does that mean: a simple social term, or a more broad meaning? I bet the latter.
This is only proved more when a woman named Kelly (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) uses Yorkie to help her out with a lurking dude. He talks about last week, et cetera, and it seems like this place it’s… temporary. Or something similar. Anyways, Yorkie and Kelly go have a bit of fun, a few drinks, in the background The Bangles ring loud through the club speakers. The ladies chat and get to know one another. Kelly admires Yorkie’s “authentic” look and that other people are only imitating what they think they should look like, not how they want. When the ladies step on the dance floor things feel strange, almost robotic and choreographed. This drives Yorkie outside. She’s like a foreigner in a distant land, unaware of the customs, the culture. Everything is nearly dream-like.
Yorkie has a semi-romantic encounter with Kelly, then rushes off into the night. We skip to one week later, as Yorkie dresses, listening to mixtapes of ’80s music and posing in the mirror. She goes back to the trusty ole stuff she wore last time. At the club already Kelly finds herself accosted by the creeper Wes (Gavin Stenhouse) again, as people start flooding in to dance and drink and party all over again. She rejects Wes, having previously had a night of sexy fun together. He isn’t happy. Too bad, dude!
Later on Yorkie shows up. She’s clearly attracted to and interested in Kelly. Plenty of quality music with INXS rocking. But Yorkie, she keeps on staring until she and Kelly meet eyes, over and over, across the room. In the bathroom they meet, which they follow with a nighttime drive. The city where they are – San Junipero – isn’t one we know as real. What kind of destination is it, really? For now, we see Yorkie and Kelly come together beautifully in each other’s arms. It’s actually the first time for Yorkie, in any way, with anyone. Strange, seeing as how she has a fiancee. The two women lay in bed, they talk, bond. Kelly talks of her bisexuality, stemming from conversation concerning her onetime husband. She also mentions just “passing through” San Junipero, only there for having a good time.
Is the city of San Junipero a place that exists solely for people to live out the fantasies they can’t in real life? Well, it’s very Cinderella-ish in that at 12 AM, things seem to stop. Or, they end. Until one week later, all over.
Back at the club after a week, Yorkie doesn’t find Kelly anywhere. The bartender suggests checking the Quagmire. It’s a nasty sort of punk-like club on the outskirts of town, like the refuge of people literally on the fringe in every way. Poor little Yorkie looks crazily out of place walking in, looking for her friend. There’s music, strange cages, BDSM, fights in a caged ring, hands groping in the dark. Yorkie runs into Wes, dressed much differently than last we saw him. And he doesn’t know where Kelly is either.
Finally, the revelation: Wes says he saw her in a “different time” like “2002” or the ’80s, the ’90s. Whoa.
This time, one week later is the ’80s, then the ’90s. Yorkie starts searching all the places they went together, looking for where the girl of her dreams went. She goes to 2002 specifically. Each time, the world changes accordingly, as we see different places and times and how things have changed, how they haven’t in some respects. Then Yorkie runs into Kelly, who isn’t so thrilled to see her. She only wanted to have fun. Yorkie wants something lasting, not a fling. It hurts her to understand this about Kelly: “Maybe you should feel bad, or at least feel something,” Yorkie tells her. Perfectly, after she leaves Kelly punches a mirror – not hurting her hand, or the mirror which goes back to normal almost immediately. Is there something further we don’t know about this woman?
Everything gets scary when Kelly sees Yorkie sitting on the roof’s ledge of the club outside. We find out that 80% of the “full–timers” in San Junipero are dead. Say whaaat, girl? Ah well. At least Yorkie gets laid again.
But she’s getting married in a week. And Kelly, she’s probably only got months to live. So, is San Junipero the afterlife? Sort of, like a digital age invention to help people ease into the concept of death.
When 12 AM hits, San Junipero is no more. An older version of Kelly goes to a facility where she visits an older, incapacitated Yorkie lying in a bed, hooked to a breathing tube and machinery. We discover Yorkie is “passing over” soon. All turns out that she came out to her parents at 21, then after a fight with them crashed a car, rendering her paralysed.
Kelly wants to go back in for a minute, to confront Yorkie about her passing. And then she decides to ask Yorkie to marry her instead. A truly gorgeous and tender moment between the two women. Tear worthy, indeed. Whereas so many Black Mirror episodes are often totally grim, which I dig, it’s actually nice to see something hopeful. Even if Yorkie is passing over into death, there’s still a beauty to it with how Kelly insisted on going back, to give her a real, genuine marriage with someone she loved. Heartbreaking and loving all at once.
After death, young Yorkie sits on the beach. She lets the tide wash up on her feet and rubs her toes, her fingers in the sand. Out in the real world, older Kelly heads back home to the facility where she stays. But not long goes by before Kelly’s out on the beach with her wife, the two of them together awhile. However, at 12 AM things are over for another week. Yorkie is lonely in San Junipero without her other half. Things break down when she belittles Kelly’s former marriage to her dead husband Richard. Suddenly, things aren’t so lovely or romantic. San Junipero isn’t as idyllic when put in context with Kelly and her loss. “You wanna spend forever somewhere where nothing matters?” she asks Yorkie.
This is a question about heaven, the afterlife: if death isn’t the end, then what the hell is death, actually? If there’s no end, there’s no meaning. If this is just one life before another, especially a fake one, then what are the stakes?
When she’s ready to go, Kelly heads to San Junipero after all. She and Yorkie drive off into the sunset together. Out in the real world, it’s all a bunch of machines with flash drive-like systems running different scenarios, as there are a ton of San Juniperos with different names, each one a place all of its own. Ah, the future of death and the afterlife! Behold its splendour.
Charlie Brooker is an impressive writer. His imagination never ceases to amaze me and for someone who isn’t huge on science fiction – though I do love to READ sci-fi more than watch – he sucks me into each new world he chooses to bring to life. This was another solid episode, one of the few with hints of hope at the edges. A solid rumination on the meaning of life, death, as well as how we deal with passing over to whatever comes after.
The Mind’s Eye. 2016. Directed & Written by Joe Begos.
Starring Graham Skipper, Lauren Ashley Carter, John Speredakos, Larry Fessenden, Noah Segan, Matt Mercer, Michael A. LoCicero, Jeremy Gardner, Patrick M. Walsh, Brian Morvant, Josh Ethier, Susan T. Travers, & Chuck Doherty. Channel 83 Films/Site B.
Not Rated. 87 minutes.
Not sure how everybody else felt about it, but I loved the debut feature Almost Human from Joe Begos – it was on one of my favourite lists after being released in Canada finally. He proved to have a knack and a love for old school filmmaking, as well as the science fiction and horror pictures of a few decades ago. In that first film, Begos channelled a Fire in the Sky vibe into his own brand of retro horror with a fresh, exciting story. The Mind’s Eye bears its obvious Cronenbergian influence particularly right on its sleeve. Yet there’s so much more to it.
I knew just from the trailer that Begos was hugely influenced by Scanners. Not that he copies Cronenberg. Not at all. There’s a more personal, emotional plot that serves as foundation for The Mind’s Eye, as opposed to Scanners. Begos is focusing less on a metaphorical psychokinesis, much more on the action and horror elements. The pacing does most of that job, keeping us edgy the entire time. Again, after his fantastic debut, Begos proves that you can go over-the-top and still keep things satisfying. His science fiction-horror cocktail is better than the mere label of a throwback film, or any of the buzzword headlines you may read. It’s not perfect. However, it is everything the awful Scanners sequels could have been. Perhaps when Begos first saw it, this story began to brew in his mind, bit by bit. Until years later he’d fleshed out this entirely new tale of psychokinetic power and those who seek to control it. With Graham Skipper (also the star of Begos’ previous effort) and the ever wonderful Lauren Ashley Carter as the two main characters with psychokinetic powers, on the run from a doctor gone mad, the story sells itself through interesting performances and a load of practical, bloody goodness.
In his previous movie, Begos didn’t really have much action outside of some gunshots and frantic behaviour – not a bad thing. Mostly, it was straight up horror and sci-fi crossed together. Here we get to see him go for a different type of atmosphere. On one hand, Almost Human was great; it required different storytelling, a slow build of terror after the initial scene involving some alien craziness. On the other hand, The Mind’s Eye plunges into an action-oriented plot. As I mentioned, the pacing keeps everything pretty wild. We move along fast, as the main plot kicks in real quick. Essentially this is a road movie crossed with the sci-fi and horror elements in heaps. Or rather you could see it as a chase movie: a series of confrontational events stretching out over this insanely tense cat-and-mouse game between Zack and Rachel (Graham Skipper & Lauren Ashley Carter) and the doctor who tried to use them as guinea pigs, Dr. Michael Slovak (John Speredakos). Of course there are sections of the story where we slow down, get a bit of character development. The awesome motherfucker that is Larry Fessenden plays Zack’s father, Mike Connors, so there are more than just the main characters to find interest in. These brief reprieves in the chaotic pace of the action are just long enough to make us feel settled. Before Begos rattles us down the drain again and into the rabbit hole. A great place to be with a filmmaker who so admires the age of practical effects, as opposed to one totally dominated by CGI and jump scares.
THE EXPLODED HEAD! THE FUCKING EXPLODED HEAD!
Can we talk about it?
I mean, that sequence came not at all as a surprise. And behold, a savage, perfectly executed practical effect. Better still, I love the moment before that when Rachel is holding the guy up in the air – with her mind – and then POP! Just properly accomplished all around. You combine wild practical effects, good doses of bloody mess, a truly enjoyable score from Steve Moore (The Guest, Cub), you’ve got yourself a stew, baby!
I have to say that while I loved Skipper in the other Begos film, he wasn’t always as strong as he could have been, or needed to be either. Still, I loved his performance because you can see the genuine effort in some actors. In the role of Zack you can literally see the maturity of his acting coming into being. That’s not a bullshit line to throw out there; it’s a genuine observation. For instance, the scene where he and Rachel sit together and he tells her about his mother, his performance reaches the perfect pitch. He is so believably real it makes the character grow all the more quickly, in the best sort of way. If you weren’t rooted in his story emotionally yet, this scene should cement that.
Oh, and Carter? She’s phenomenal, as usual. Most recently, her turn as a damaged woman on the verge of a breakdown in Mickey Keating’s Darling blew me away. But back to Jug Face, The Woman, even her one episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, she is fairly consistent in her quality as an actor. Each character carries their own vulnerability yet are vastly different. As Rachel Meadows, she is another damaged character and this time with more than enough power to take whatever revenge she deems necessary. I like that Carter keeps what seems to be her inherent sweetness while simultaneously being capable of being a strong, determined woman – Rachel’s only in distress as much as Zack, so in a sense they both enable one another in certain ways. This also lets them each be a fully developed character, rather than simply a half of one whole. Carter’s charisma as a bit of a bad ass gets to come out here, which is lots of fun to watch.
A 4-star action romp across science fiction-horror territory. Begos may not have won everyone over with his first feature – he had me sold – but I just can’t believe that The Mind’s Eye won’t impress. It is exciting and fun above all else. The story isn’t overly innovative. Instead, Begos makes it feel fresh, intriguing. Because he takes the Scanners influence, all that love of the ’80s and early ’90s filmmaking, then moulds it into a tightly knit ball of tension and weirdness, in great ways. I’m not sold on the whole cast, although Skipper and Carter are so excellent. What I dig most is how the heart of the film beats loud and proud. Begos never pulls any punches, giving us exactly what we expect in such a way that isn’t boring or expected in the slightest. If you can’t have fun as a horror (or sci-fi or both) fan, then I’m not sure what to tell you. It never needed to be perfect. Part of the appeal of the ’80s and the early ’90s felt like things didn’t have to be totally polished, pristine like porcelain. Personally, I dig my movies with a bit of girt, in every sense. I’d like to think Begos understands that. At least that’s how he makes it feel. The Mind’s Eye gives its all with a ton of adrenaline and blood-soaked spirit.
This film never gets the credit it deserves. But it's one of the best post-2000 crime-thrillers out there, directed/written by the one and only James Gray.
Freeform’s Dead of Summer
Season 1, Episode 4: “Modern Love”
Directed by Tara Nicole Weyr
Written by Edward Kitsis & Adam Horowitz
* For a review of the previous episode, “Mix Tape” – click here
* For a review of the next episode, “How to Stave Alive in the Woods” – click here
After the terrifying events of the previous episode, we open on Chicago in 1978. A little girl named Andrea draws a picture of herself. As a boy. When her mother reinforces the gender obvious to her, Andrea replies: “I am a boy.” This is most certainly Drew Reeves (Zelda Williams) as a young girl. Before Andrea became Andrew. “You can‘t hide what you are,” her mother tells her. In Summer of ’89, Drew does his best to conceal the gender given to him at birth.
Jessie (Paulina Singer) acts like a bitch, as usual, questioning Drew why he doesn’t shower where everyone else does. But quickly that gives way to normal, everyday stuff. Alex (Ronen Rubinstein) acts like a dick, too. Cricket (Amber Coney) brings the mail around, Joel (Eli Goree) reels of movie references (Friday the 13th Part VI this time), and so on. Everyone is concerned about Amy (Elizabeth Lail) seeing as how she was hit by lightning. Just like Jason Voorhees. Then up shows Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell) to assure everyone the girl is fine.
At the diner, Deputy Garret Sykes (Alberto Frezza) tries his best to take care of the post-lightning strike Amy, bringing her chocolate shakes and trying to make sense of everything. She talks about seeing a face in the water, in the redness, that looks just like the stag’s skull on the map Sykes is carrying around obsessing over. He, of course, doesn’t reveal that he is much more interested in all the occult stuff floating around than he lets on. Probably just to try keeping Amy from freaking out.
Drew sees a creepy vision of a little girl holding a red balloon. He slips into the water, soaked to the bone. He gets a towel from Jessie, who knows Drew is Andrea. Though he has a secret on her, as well. But there’s a rivalry now. One that’s definitely going to get worse. There’s plenty other madness happening. Cricket starts to worry more about her supposed dreams of the masked people; she finds out from Joel that Camp Stillwater has a bit of history with those types of things, the fact Deb has one in her closet. Everybody’s got something darker plaguing them. Mostly, poor Drew finds himself flashing back to being forced to be a girl by his mother, not wanting to try on dresses and lamenting the boys allowed to be themselves. In a dressing room Andrea, still young, receives her first period. “This isn‘t supposed to happen to me, I‘m a boy,” she pleads with her terribly reluctant mother. In ’89, Drew can’t stop seeing the girl and the red balloon. Everywhere.
The whole crew is beginning to question their collective sanity. Amy talks a bit about the history of the land, though she gets shut up quickly. Until a kid runs out with Cricket’s boots from the lake. More to make Cricket wonder.
Flashbacks let us in on Drew going to therapy with his mother. She continually tells her “My name is Drew” and only wants her acceptance. “As long as you‘re in my house you will be Andrea,” her mother replies. A divide that may never, ever close, a wound that likely won’t ever heal.
Alex decides to use Joel’s camera to figure out more about Deb. They find the videos he takes of her. They also notice the box she seems to hold so tight. After Joel comes back he isn’t happy. However, when they let him on her suspicious behaviour he only becomes more divided from the group. As usual, a typical slasher-style trope has the group dividing. Meanwhile, Drew and Blair (Mark Indelicato) talk together. He gives Drew a tape of David Bowie, as well as talks about meeting a friend at camp who just immediately got him, his sexuality, his choices – Cricket. The Bowie tape helped him come out and gave him confidence. Now he tries to give that Drew, too. I love Blair. He’s an awesome dude. I hope that the devil worshipping cult doesn’t kill him.
Furthermore, Jessie is blackmailing Drew by taking video of him showering. Nasty.
We flashback once more to Andrea, forced into wearing the clothes she’s mean to, as designated by her gender. Alone in his room Drew wears the clothes in which he feels comfortable, then sneaks out of the house to live a little. Heading for a Sonic Youth show it seems.
Cricket and Alex are going to Deb’s cabin. They find the closet and the box, but speak of the devil, Deb comes back and interrupts things. Then Joel arrives, as the other two hide. He’s there to see the box, after which he and Deb leave. Damn. The mystery is thick.
Leaving camp, Drew finds Jessie coming to catch him. She reveals there was never any tape. Likewise, Drew says he was never going to tell anyone about Jessie and her court dates. They actually have a human conversation. About being scared, about “trusting the wrong people” and other things. Jessie does the right thing and tries talking Drew into coming back. A nice moment that makes Jessie a lot less shitty than she seems initially. The typically pretty, stuck up girl who acts like she hates everyone just to hide how she feels about herself.
The possibility of a demon being awakened is real. This is Deputy Sykes’ thought. Although he’s more concerned with tracking down the crazies making the attempts to do so. And we can’t forget there’s at least a bit of craziness in Deb. She brings Joel to the forest and takes a book from the box she keeps. You can tell there’s a sinister element lurking beneath the surface. For the time being they embrace in the night, out in their secret little place.
At the masquerade dance, Drew kisses Blair. They share a passionate moment, as Drew takes charge for once in his life. Then we get another flashback to Drew dealing with his mother. She’s willing to accept everything. “I saw you, Drew,” her mother agrees in an emotional moment of acceptance. So emotional it almost cripples Drew at the start. Wow. That absolutely killed me. Such a great moment to cut back and forth with the kiss at the masquerade. And so while they share their passion, as do Joel and Deb privately share themselves. Love is in the air. Or steamy sex, I don’t know.
Amy’s not getting any loving tonight. She and Sykes are both on their own in the forest respectively. He’s got the most trouble, as he sees Amy wander out to the lake where she holds the hand of a horrible monster from under the water. Now, she gets herself a bit of loving, too. Some presence came over her. She doesn’t even remember the past few moments. Eerie.
When Drew takes a moment, not wanting to reveal himself quite yet to Blair, he finds a ton of red balloons piling up in the bathroom. This is also cut with a flashback to Drew finding out his mom isn’t so accepting after all. She’s left a picture of the daughter of long ago, Andrea, and her red balloon. With a note saying see you later. Mom can accept, but can’t accept. And this continues to torture Drew. He goes to Blair revealing he – Andrea – was the one to give him the tape years ago. Yet even Blair doesn’t quite accept it all. That’s a fucking heart breaker right there. By the fire Jessie consoles her new friend Drew and they find solace, if only for a moment.
This was a nice episode. Held back on the horror to provide us more with character development. There was a bit of psychological horror, as well. Reminiscent of Stephen King’s It. Next episode’s title is “How to Stay Alive in the Woods” and I’m looking forward to a dose of blood. We need it. Still, a great episode that worked wonders for me. The character of Drew is beyond fascinating. Zelda Williams does so well with the role. Give me more!
Don’t Go In The House. 1979. Directed by Joseph Ellison. Screenplay by Ellison, Ellen Hammill, & Joe Masefield.
Starring Dan Grimaldi, Charles Bonet, Bill Ricci, Robert Osth, Dennis M. Hunter, John Hedberg, Ruth Dardick, Johanna Brushay, Darcy Shean, Mary Ann Chinn, & Lois Verkruepse. Turbine Films Inc.
Rated R. 82 minutes.
Still banned in certain countries to this day, Don’t Go In The House was filmed in 1979 then released the following year to become one of the infamous Video Nasties. It ended up on the original list, though managed to avoid prosecution after certain cuts were made and the film saw a release in ’87. And while there’s a certain part of me which understands why some might find themselves horrified by this movie, it isn’t all shock and awe. Of course, for a movie about a man who burns women to death in his basement with a flame thrower it’s natural there are gruesome scenes. The entire concept and the plot is truly horrifying, a reason why this film has endured in the hearts of genre fans for years. Quentin Tarantino for one is a huge fan of the film having played it at his film festival several times, as well as mentioning the movie had an impact on him when he first saw it. Because for a slasher horror with a gimmick this doesn’t back down. It both delivers the goods any slasher demands, serving up lots of the sub-genre killing we’d expect, and also provides a decent enough view into the lead character, whose complex psychology brings about a series of destructive consequences that eventually lead to a violent catharsis. Underneath its meager
slashburn-and-kill premise, Don’t Go In The House looks at a man damaged by the psychopathy of his mother, and also encapsulates the end of a decade into the beginning of another with the ’70s fading in the rear-view while 1980 reared its head.
Working at an incinerator, Donny Kohler (Dan Grimaldi) witnesses a man almost burn to death in front of him. Freezing, unable to help, he’s ostracized by his boss. A co-worker named Bobby (Robert Osth) befriends him to try and make sure Donny doesn’t blame himself for anything. But while Bobby tries to be Donny’s buddy, the latter is busy out doing other things. Or well, he stays at home a lot. Because down in his basement Danny decided to build a special room. It’s lined with steel sheeting. In the middle hangs a chain. And at night Danny brings women home, chains them in his little room, then sets them on fire with a flamethrower.
See Danny has issues with his mother – the one sitting dead and dried up in his house, the one he still talks to casually, every day. The more women he takes home and burns to death, the crazier he gets. And going to the disco with Bobby just can’t seem to get him out of the habit.
For a time without the elaborate special effects of today, Ellison does a good job in ’79 making directorial choices so as to not have to focus on anything that might look less than stellar. Sure, it still looks like a film out of the late ’70s, in both good and bad ways. But the burnings especially are carried out with precision to make the scenes more effective, rather than having them come off as disingenuous, making things look terrible and campy, in the wrong sense.
There’s an interesting change in the film where we go from disco music to rock. This is ultimately the shift from the ’70s to the ’80s. Granted, there was plenty electronic music and other New Wave stuff to come from the 1980s, but what it means is the death of disco, a shift – even if only part of the way – back towards rock n’ roll again. A new era begins, the disco inferno burning out with Donny’s flamethrower. Finally, it is also the burning in effigy of his mother. Naturally those are what his victims stand in for, the memory of her, the things she did to him as a boy. Yet further than that the shift from disco music Donny played earlier to the rock n’ roll he falls asleep to, before having hallucinations of his mother and burned corpses, is another symbolic gesture of his departure from dear old mom. Similar to Norman Bates, this psycho has himself a mommy problem. Obvious enough, but the script and the direction together make this an impressive character study of a man driven to sick compulsions all due to the relationship he had with an abusive, domineering mother.
The film’s brutality is astounding. And yet there’s only truly graphic scene throughout the entirety, which is the first time Donny tries out his little fire room, a.k.a the oven, as I call it. We get what would come after this as the obligatory 1980s slasher horror nudity, but then comes the savagery when he burns the woman in his room alive. Even while it’s graphic, the editing and Ellison’s choices as director make the whole burning sequence disturbingly memorable without any gore. And like I mentioned the effects come off well because of this effort. Even though there’s plenty more to creep us out the movie’s violent horror elements hinge on this kill. Upon revisiting this one, a major reason why it left an impression on me is because for what’s technically a slasher sub-genre flick, Ellison’s movie drums up tons of terror with only one actual graphic murder. Usually these types of horrors are based on a body count. Instead of going with what would become a major trend in the ’80s, Ellison kicks off an important decade for the genre with one of the most atypical and enjoyable slasher movies out there.
For me, this is one of those movies that only gets better every time I see it. Almost every time I forget about how eerie the dream sequences are, then they hit me like a ton of bricks. Don’t Go In The House has more to it than meets the eye. It presents as another Don’t-titled generic horror that’s ready to offer up all the same trappings of most every film in the sub-genre. Director-writer Joseph Ellison went another way, studying the character of a fragile young man that turned into an adult killer while also ushering one decade out and saying hello to the next one.
This little flick has the goods and is all too often passed over as a lesser offering in horror. I say that is nonsense. Give this a chance, look at it closer. But mostly, let it wash over you, from the disco to the dark subject matter and the fire – oh, the fire! It’s all glorious.
Predator. 1987. Directed by John McTiernan. Screenplay by Jim Thomas & John Thomas.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, Kevin Peter Hall, Elpidia Carrillo, Bill Duke, Jesse Ventura, Sonny Landham, Richard Chaves, R.G. Armstrong, & Shane Black. Amercent Films/American Entertainment Partners L.P./Davis Entertainment.
Rated R. 107 minutes.
There are 1980s films. Then there are quintessential ’80s films. Such is the case with Predator. It boasts one of those awesome casts that makes things work incredibly well, mostly due to the fact Arnold Schwarzenegger, Carl Weathers, and Jesse Ventura are each enjoyable to see on camera; but they’re just the icing on the cake. The writing has got plenty of that ’80s charm with cheesy one-liners that would never survive outside the decade (“I ain‘t got time to bleed“). There’s a ton of kick ass action that spreads from science fiction to horror in the one breath. And it’s the sci-fi aspect that’s so damn fun.
Director John McTiernan has given audiences a good helping of action in the course of his career. He’s made Die Hard and Die Hard: With a Vengeance, as well as The Hunt for Red October, and also the criminally underrated adaptation of Michael Crichton’s The 13th Warrior. But above it all reigns this 1987 science fiction action-horror masterpiece. Playing on a collective fear of the unknown re: intelligent life out in space, McTiernan’s Predator puts a bunch of military men in the way of the titular intergalactic hunters, pitting the toughest of the tough against an entity far scarier, far more nasty than any of them.
Our first glimpse of the Predator’s thermal vision scanner is actually chilling. It has this starkly contrasted feeling, and the sounds, the thumping of the heartbeats, makes things even more unsettling. Best of all, the men don’t know they’re being watched. So the voyeurism of this Predator as he susses out the group and their possible weaknesses is a scary element. He watches, waits, stalks. They are his prey. Quickly, we’re introduced to the abilities of this space hunter and the advantages his technology give him.
And that leads into part of why I love Predator. If you’re the kind that likes reading deep into a film, even if it’s action, then let’s get going! See, to my mind, the idea of these Predators out there, coming from another planet and meeting head-on with these military men, the mercenary-types, it speaks to the uniquely American fear of being conquered. Being dominated. Being bent to the will of a power stronger than oneself. The idea that these super hunters could go up against our best, the military-trained men with every skill for battle imaginable, this shatters any notion of superiority.
Then again, it’s just a movie about an alien killing a bunch of dudes, right?
Setting this in the jungle was a stroke of genius. The locations look absolutely incredible. Much of the cinematography in general is pretty good, too. Donald McAlpine does a solid job capturing different aspects of the film – from the horror to the action to the more sci-fi elements. He takes us from the action oriented battles to the close-up, fearful conversations of the men as they hide in the bush from the Predator. The suspense is always present. The horror always just around the corner. Together with McAlpine is the talented composed Alan Silvestri, whose music can be heard in everything from Who Framed Roger Rabbit to Forrest Gump to The Avengers. His score really amps up the energy, the suspense, and breaks the tension in all the right places. The orchestral score flares up in wild moments of action. Its strings lay just beneath the conversations of the men as they try and figure out how to proceed against their unseen threat. Adding McAlpine’s cinematography with the downright fucking amazing score out of Silvestri, all the genre elements are aided with a thick atmosphere of dread and uncertainty.
On one hand, Arnold is not a good actor; at all. On the other, he is a great action star. Contradiction? Nah. He’s got the looks, the big hulking frame and muscles, there is a quiet intensity about him almost all the time. He’s got charisma, his charm is undeniable. Plus, he can do the action, he can perform some stunts and give authenticity to the term ‘action star’. So who better to lead Predator? In addition to Ahh-nold, we’re also given some Carl Weathers, whose performance is fairly enjoyable. Then Jesse The Body – he pops off a truly hilarious and unfortunately homophobic line early on, but makes up for it with typical ’80s nonsense dialogue that’s so perfect to keep things fun. The cast was never going to win any Oscars. Although, they work well as an ensemble, they’re all pretty ripped which lends itself to their being military men and hardcore mercenaries, so that’s the best McTiernan needed for the action and the thrills provided.
Excitement. Suspense. Greasy biceps. Blood. Brutal alien killers. Arnold covered in mud, kicking a little alien ass. Predator is a big 4-star action extravaganza. It has the right amount of everything to make this one of the best of the 1980s. The science fiction and horror aspects of the screenplay really helped this become a favourite amongst fans. Because action movies are meant to be Rated R. So why not give fans of the sci-fi and horror genres a dose of action they can enjoy? Turns out, everyone enjoyed it.
For all its flaws and missteps, Predator‘s appeal is undeniable, it is long lasting, and as long as there are action-science fiction hybrids, this will remain a proven classic.
The House of the Devil. 2009. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Jocelin Donahue, Tom Noonan, Mary Woronov, Greta Gerwig, AJ Bowen, Dee Wallace, Heather Robb, Darryl Nau, Brenda Cooney, Danielle Noe, Mary B. McCann, John Speredakos, Lena Dunham, and Graham Reznick. MPI Media Group/Constructovision/RingtheJing Entertainment/Glass Eye Pix. Rated R. 95 minutes.
Ti West is one of the modern horror directors I think you could say is an auteur in his own right. All of his films have a similar feel, maybe all aside from The Sacrament, as in they’re all done on film (again aside from the aforementioned last of his films to come out), they have the full, rich look of movies from the 1970s and 1980s. Not only that, West is great at drawing out the tension of a film to create atmosphere and to setup excellent uses of suspense.
The House of the Devil is no exception. I’d actually seen this before any of his other work before, and loved it so much I went back to see anything else he’d done I could get my hands on. The Roost is a highly underrated indie horror gem, even Trigger Man – an early attempt at shooting digitally – has its merits. Since then he’s done The Sacrament, of which I’m a big fan, and another fun little spooky flick called The Innkeepers. Loves titles starting with The!
With this movie, West throws back to the ’70s/’80s Golden Age of Horror, not deliberately making a period piece but still harkening directly back to that time by use of similar techniques, camerawork, music, and aesthetic filmmakers were in the habit of using. Essentially, The House of the Devil ends up as West’s scary love letter to movies he grew up, the vibe of filmmaking happening at the time which influenced him, as well as he gives us a slow burn horror rooted in the false Satanic Panic especially prevalent during the 1980s. If you don’t like a slower paced film, this won’t be for you at all. If you don’t mind letting a horror build, letting it grow on you, then give it a shot; you will not regret it.
Trying to get out on her own, away from terrible roommate living, college student Samantha Hughes (Jocelin Donahue) ends up taking a mysterious job babysitting for Mr/Mrs. Ulman (Tom Noonan & Mary Woronov). Mysterious due to the fact the Ulmans don’t have a child. The job is, in reality, for Mrs. Ulman’s mother who lives with them. After some negotiating, Samantha gets a massive payday all for a single night. Her friend Megan (Greta Gerwig) tags along to make sure everything is fine, and though not entirely satisfied she leaves Samantha at the house, almost literally in the middle of nowhere with the Ulmans.
And once they leave, Samantha slowly begins to feel as if something isn’t quite right in the big old house. Not to mention a young man named Victor (AJ Bowen) blasts Megan’s face off just a little ways down the road.
Nobody ever told Samantha babysitting would could be so hard.
There are lots of things to admire about The House of the Devil. While big films often try to go for period looks – such as how Martin Scorsese for instance did the different portions of his Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator according to how films looked at various instances throughout the 20th century – it is’t often an independent movie, horror at that, will try and emulate the particular look of certain decades. West not only shot this on film, but 16mm film, which gives it a great look that was very popular in the 1980s. Other ways West achieves his retro feel is through the zooms, nowadays a technique you’ll mostly see done through use of a dolly shot. Even right at the beginning with the freeze frame on Samantha, music playing, movie title in big block letters; totally ’80s style, through and through. Down to the fact this was the only movie since A History of Violence in 2005 which got released on VHS in one of the clamshell style cases, this is a unique and fun indie horror. So there’s a quaint charm about West’s film I feel gets lost on a lot of people who don’t care about any of that. Should you care? Well, that’s totally subjective. Me, I think there’s a certain artistry involved with all the care that goes into making a movie into more than just a movie, but instead making it become an experience. The House of the Devil, for me, has always been a solid horror while also very much being a horrifying experience all around because of its style.
When Samantha puts her ear close to the door, asking if “everything’s all right in there”, the slow and brief reveal West gives us of the Satanic-like markings, the bloodied corpses on the floor is shocking. It’s not shocking like the scene is going to make you gasp, or lose your breath and hide away. This shot and the scene is shocking in that you’re not expecting such blatant nastiness right behind the door. Even how slow West shows us what’s in the room is incredible, as I was expecting something more along the lines of the ‘mother’ in the dark, looking sinister in the corner, or anything close to that. Instead, it’s a pretty ballsy visual, such that West announces at this moment things are definitely going to start getting savage. At some point, anyways. Afterwards there are more moments of horror later like this, and also some key shots of very dreamy imagery in certain scenes. Generally, West strikes a nice balance between these two methods.
When Samantha discovers the full extent of what’s happening in the house (think: drinking blood from a horned skull), the plot takes us into the depths of horror. Mixing subtle creepiness with plenty solid doses of nasty violence, the finale of the film plays out with pumping adrenaline in a sequence washed with blood. In particular, a few shots remind me of William Friedkin’s The Exorcist, almost homage-like cuts to a hooded demonic character much like how Friedkin made several subliminal cuts to the Pazuzu demon in his film.
Most of all, I found the atmosphere of the film combined with the characters pretty damn eerie. Such as the Ulman family themselves. First there’s Tom Noonan whose creepiness knows no bounds, never once calling back to his stint as The Tooth Fairy a.k.a Francis Dolarhyde in Michael Mann’s Manhunter, which is an unfair criticism of his acting I often see when he plays in horror movies; here, his character is all its own and he plays it quietly with great nuance. Then Mary Woronov does a spectacularly unsettling job with the character of Mrs. Ulman, even in the brief time she’s actually onscreen. Of course, Jocelin Donahue as Samantha is a perfect fit – she’s an ongoing yet at times quiet sort of person, but there’s a strength Donahue gives the character which is really great and adds something to the story. Throw in AJ Bowen and Greta Gerwig as interesting, smaller characters, and I’ve got to say West’s screenplay is a tight one with plenty of intrigue and none of the heavy, sagging exposition of other horror movies trying to spell every last thing out through dialogue.
This is a great film, 5 stars in my book. Ti West could’ve done a typical slasher with this, however, he opts to draw on his biggest influences from the ’70s/’80s and some of the real life yet fake claims of Satanic Ritual Abuse from decades ago, crafting a unique indie horror experience. Great and classic sensibilities show in the way West handles his directorial duties, as well as his writing. I can’t say anything else except for: watch it. Maybe you won’t dig it. But those who are into a slow burn, atmospheric type of horror, it’s full of that and it’s only a little over an hour.
Let me know what you think of the movie in the comments below, as long as you can be civil and have a proper talk!
Cooties. 2015. Directed by Jonathan Milott & Cary Murnion. Screenplay by Leigh Whannell & Ian Brennan.
Starring Elijah Wood, Rainn Wilson, Alison Pill, Jack McBrayer, Leigh Whannell, Nasim Pedrad, Ian Brennan, Jorge Garcia, Cooper Roth, Miles Elliot, Morgan Lily, Sunny May Allison, and Armani Jackson. Glacier Films/SpectreVision.
Rated R. 88 minutes.
Officially out now on iTunes, Cooties was announced a little over two years ago. I remember seeing the premise alone and thinking this would be, at the very least, a bit of a good laugh. Admittedly, I’m not actually huge on horror-comedies. Funny that I love comedy and I am way in love with horror, yet the combination of both isn’t something that immediately appeals to me.
That being said, there are definitely instances of horror-comedy I’ve loved. Like Shaun of the Dead, which is almost the pinnacle to me of the sub-genre. There’s also Dead Alive, Gremlins, pieces of An American Werewolf in London are definitely full of comedy, Return of the Living Dead, House (a favourite of mine), and many more.
Cooties isn’t perfect, but it’s one of the best horror-comedy films to come out in awhile. There are lots of good laughs, solidly executed horror, and a pretty excellent script. This movie never takes itself too seriously; not to a fault, but enough to make it feel genuine. Some good performances help the whole film succeed, even in its slower moments. Rainn Wilson, of whom I’m not a fan, actually is pretty awesome. Not just him: Elijah Wood is great, Alison Pill cracked me up almost constantly, Nasim Pedrad played such an amazingly satirical character and proves she’s a real good comedian, and even the other much smaller roles had me in stitches.
But it’s the horror I love – the sweet, sweet horror.
The opening sequence of the film is pretty spooky, as well as nasty. Like churn your stomach nasty. Tainted nuggets… need I say more?
After this opener, Cooties shifts into comedy/dark comedy mode for a little portion. Which works extremely well. From a screenplay by Ian Brennan and Leigh Whannell, the comedy is genuine. It’s not awkward comedy, as some might expect seeing Rainn Wilson, however, it isn’t at all. There are some hilarious moments, especially from Elijah Wood whose character has a boyish charm while carrying the weight of the adult world on his shoulders; a writer trying hard to be whats he wants, stuck teaching when he’d rather be writing a novel as he says he is.
Still, things get intense fairly quick once the horror rears its fierce head. What I love is that the movie is only an hour and a half, not even, so the plot kicks in and runs wild without enough preamble to numb you. For a horror-comedy, this is an efficient technique and certainly made me enjoy Cooties even more than I might normally enjoy other movies in the sub-genre.
Killer kid movies always freak me out. Something about the innocence of children combined with evil – and in this case an illness/virus – really just gets to me, in an awfully heavy way.
The kids in Cooties are creepy. Plain and simple. One of the first intense scenes is when Wade Johnson (Rainn Wilson) finds himself trapped on the basketball court, surrounded by a bunch of the kids; they’re hissing, snarling, growls and blood and pus come out of them.
Something I enjoy about the killer kid sub-genre is how it subverts how we feel about children. You don’t feel any fear from them. When you see a kid, as an adult, there’s nothing threatening about them. Even when it comes to really messed up kids who might talk a good tough game, worst comes to worst you can pick a kid up and throw them if necessary. However, when the evil aspect comes into play – in film – there’s something in that subversion, something about how the children suddenly become threatening, which unsettles me at the core. It’s the innocence coming back into play, in a very sinister sense.
Even more so, Cooties pits school teachers against the kids they’re meant to be teaching, caring for, moulding into responsible young adults. There’s something even more wrenching about seeing these educators forced to kill the ones they’ve protected so long, similar to zombie films where we see parents have to kill their children or children forced to kill their parents. Something about this whole idea eats away at me. And even though there’s plenty of comedy peppered in throughout, I think there’s an absolutely relentless sense of dread happening from start to finish which never ever lets go.
What I enjoy so much about this movie is the fact it balances so well the aspects of horror and comedy. This is the strength of any solid horror-comedy, if they can find a balance somehow that ultimately works equally on both fronts. What I found worked, for me, is that Cooties teeters back and forth between riotous moments and nasty horror. I mean, there’s a genuine dose of R-rated horror here a lot of other filmmakers would be too afraid to include in their own films.
When Johnson (Wilson) kills the first kid with a fire extinguisher, I knew it was coming but there’s still an effective scare in that moment. Particularly I love the makeup special effects, the blood spray all over Johnson and the wall behind him, speckled red dots everywhere. A true horror scene. Often times there’s a comedic aspect to kills in horror-comedy; this is not one of those kills. In the midst of the comedy comes a brutal, vicious scene. Not only that, the weight is evident on the character of Wade Johnson, as he sorts of loses his fun loving attitude afterwards and takes a bit of time alone.
The cinematography all around is pretty awesome. There’s a genuine atmosphere from start to finish, which sort of evolves from section to section. Lyle Vincent is the one responsible for the camerawork here – he also did 2012’s Devoured, a decent little indie horror with some teeth, and also the downright fantastic A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (you can see a marquee poster for this movie at around the 1 hour 17 minute mark, or a little after, as the survivors pass a theatre). So knowing those two pieces – liking the latter more than the former – it’s no surprise Vincent is able to give Cooties an interesting look and feel. At the start, even in the creepy/nauseating opening sequence, there’s this real bright, shiny type of aesthetic happening – this leads through a bit to when the darkness comes into play. Following the “turn” of the children, a more gritty yet still colourful scheme begins. The vividness of colour persists, only darker now, along with the shadowy halls of the school, lit here and there with neon Exit signs, and the dull, sickly makeup of the kids, bloody and diseased looking. Tons of great visual stuff happening in terms of how the cinematography is both bright and gritty.
Also, there’s a rocking score from Kreng (Pepijn Caudron) – lots of cool electronic stuff happening. Unlike many modern horror movies trying to evoke a retro 1980s style soundtrack, I found this goes for the electronic sound while not necessarily trying to riff off the ’80s particularly. It might have that type of vibe, but for me it’s not the typical modern horror score. Helps the different aspects of Cooties become more intense, along with Vincent’s cinematography, whether it be the action-horror scenes near the end or the plain creepy horror moments throughout. A great horror score, definitely a bit different than some of the other stuff as of late from the indie horror scene.
I have to mention one of my favourite scenes. It’s very close to the end, so without spoiling anything, the group of teachers trying to fend off all the infected/zombie children wander into a sort of McDonalds PlayPlace type of building. They find the PlayPlace itself, a massive jungle gym full of infected kids, frothing at the mouth, hissing and screaming, laughing like maniacs. The part I love is the lead-up, where first the group comes inside and the dark closes everything in, the flashlights give us enough to see bright party decorations, half eaten cake and nuggets; there’s this eerie quality to the scene I found incredible. Then when the lights go up, a neon multicoloured disco light ball turns, there’s this WHOA second where you can’t get over how wildly creepy the scene has become.
With a decent ending, that doesn’t try to wrap things up cleanly and to a precise point, I think Cooties overall gets a 4 out of 5 star rating. I loved the excellent mix of horror (good dose of blood/gore) and comedy. Plenty of good laughs, but horror wins out above anything else. There’s a lot of great intense kid-centric horror. This doesn’t shy away from showing any kids infected, bleeding, or straight up being killed. Though it isn’t malicious in the sense of useless violence. Mostly, as I said before, the subversion of the roles of the teachers in this film really makes things interesting, and horrific at various times for both the audience and the characters.
This is out now via iTunes, so get a copy! Maybe not everyone will love it like I did, but as someone not often drawn into horror-comedies, I’d at least suggest you give it a try.
The Roost. 2005. Directed & Written by Ti West.
Starring Tom Noonan, Karl Jacob, Vanessa Horneff, Sean Reid, Wil Horneff, Barbara Wilhide, Richard Little, John Speredakos, and Larry Fessenden. Glass Eye Pix.
Unrated. 80 minutes.
In my recent review of Ti West’s The Innkeepers, I mentioned being a huge fan of him generally. So just keep that in mind. Maybe I’m biased; I still try to be a little objective when considering how others might look at the same film I’m looking at.
I don’t think this is a perfect movie, but it’s honestly one of my favourite horror feature debuts from a filmmaker in the genre. There’s a criminally low rating for this movie on IMDB – though, I personally don’t care about the ratings on any sites, let alone that one. While I spend a fair amount of time on there trying to even out the scores as best I can with my own, what I believe to be decent, ratings, I still don’t give much heed to it overall; mostly it’s a good database. You’ll see a lot of West’s films, most of them, have an underrated presence on IMDB. Because those people are sleeping, man. This guy is one of the greatest in horror today. He moves out from simple concepts, usually incorporating very personal relationships or at least characters who are relatable to an audience, then the horror takes hold. Basically, any horror writer – whether screenwriter or novelist or short story writer, et cetera – would tell you that’s part of what scares them: taking things to a personal level, the bringing on the horror. Many other horror filmmakers, particularly of the indie variety, try to do this, it’s no big secret. I believe, however, Ti West is simply better than the herd at making those types of excellent horror films.
While there’s a ton of old school sensibility in him elsewhere, I think so much of his 1970s/1980s influence comes through with The Roost simply because of the way there’s a frame narrative with the old school horror show on cable access and it leads into the real film itself. Right from then on, it feels like you’re watching an old school horror movie. That gives the movie a different style, something not entirely common these days, and within that I find it all pretty damn charming. Y’know, in that creepy horror charm sort of sense.
Starting with a late night horror t.v program on a local cable station, the host (Tom Noonan) introduces us to The Roost, the latest film playing on Cable 13.
A group of friends are on their way to see some friends get married. While heading along the road, they end up stranded. At a lonely farm out in the middle of nowhere, cornfields and the whole nine yards, the lost group end up coming face to face with what lays in the darkness of the farm’s barn.
Inside the old structure there are terrifying creatures of the night. Now, they seem to be waking up, and as night falls they’re looking for something on which to feed.
Something I love is how Ti West does these awesome edits with both visuals and sound. First, we get a SCREAM which happens during a transition from the barn out to the car, where and older woman is waiting for her husband to come back; it’s on the radio, but the way West crosses over to that bit is excellent. For a split second I honestly was waiting for someone to come running, or something. Effective, brief moment. Secondly another comes when the old woman wanders into the dark of the barn, then this sound starts to come that you almost feel is coming out of the shadows, yet it cuts to one of the friends standing behind the now broken down car revving, brake lights shining red in his face, and the sound has actually been the car the whole time. These are little simple bits people often don’t think of, however, when they’re used appropriately to put the audience on a tense edge, waiting for something, anything to happen, it’s a killer move. West uses these in a way other horror filmmakers might use jump scares – instead of frightening us, it simply ratchets up the tension and creates an unsettling, edgy mood.
Being his first feature, I think West does a wonderful job creating atmosphere in The Roost. It’s something I find pervades all his films, even when he switched it up most recently in The Sacrament with found footage style. He’s great with setting up tension and executing suspenseful sequences in order to build up that atmosphere, setting an evident tone. Each of his movies have it, which is partly why I think he’s one of those important filmmakers in horror today; more than that, genre filmmaking in general.
Also, there’s a degree of playfulness at times I think is essential in certain horror movies. Creature features being one of them. I always love when a movie featuring killer-somethings (in this case BATS) has a good dose of dark humour. One little scene I love is when one of the guys sneaks up behind the girl, about to scare her, but he stops short as if disappointed she didn’t even turn around like she couldn’t hear him coming; then he lightly taps her, scaring her anyways. It made me cackle for a second. Good bit.
Moreover, the guy is a pretty good writer. In my opinion, anyways. As a fellow writer, I like the way he writes characters because I find them personable. I’ve seen a lot of people say his movies have all these “hipster” characters, this and that, but whatever man. I don’t see that at all. The way I perceive most of his characters is that they’re real people, genuine; not characters in that sense really, rather actual people. Not to sound cheesy. There are a lot of writers capable of doing this, he’s just one. It’s something I love in horror, though, as a believable character in a film is more likely to draw me into their emotions, the plot, and the overall story. Here in The Roost we get those inescapable dynamics of friendship, particularly it’s amplified with the upcoming wedding to which they’re all headed, and even further compounded by the fact the car breaks down and they find themselves stranded out in the middle of nowhere. Probably one thing I dig so much about the script and the writing, I think West sets up a great situation with which he can play around in with the characters before introducing the creatures and the HORROR and the BLOOD!
I personally dig the whole vampire bats turning people into zombie-like reanimated corpses. Some online seem to suggest it’s no good. Me, on the other hand, I thought it worked very well. Creepy stuff at times. One scene shows the old woman from early in the movie, now obviously bitten by the bats and taken over, just behind a character in the window. It’s a nice little moment where you dread what may be coming next.
This whole aspect also makes it more than a mere creature feature. The creatures are affecting the humans and then the whole friendship dynamic is tested, as they all try not to succumb to the murderous infectious bats flying all around the farm’s property.
Even better than that, Ti West treats us to a good helping portion of makeup effects. Lots of nice practical work here, as the effects fall in line with everything else old school-feeling about The Roost. Love the blood and gory stuff because it really does feel like an ’80s movie. The effects are good, they just bring me back to the older horror where most everything was practical and we didn’t have to suffer through movies made up of CGI blood and CGI green-screen’d stuff constantly. West does well with taking things back to a more simple time in several ways here, this being one of them.
Finally, I love the narrative framing device of the horror show. Tom Noonan is amazing, as always. Very unsettling and creepy. Simultaneously, he’s hilarious. I didn’t exactly like the end of this part either at the finale, however, the whole thing is good fun. Real nice way to showcase an indie horror adding in this cable access style show.
All in, I think this is definitely a 4 out of 5 star horror movie. While I don’t particularly care for the last shot, and not every actor was the greatest. there’s enough here in Ti West’s feature debut that I can say it’s a solid outing. The writing holds up, as well as the fact he relies on an atmosphere of tension and practical effects to sell the horror.
You can do A LOT worse when it comes to horror, certainly when it comes down to the creature feature sub-genre. This is a great modern creature horror movie. See it if you can; the DVD is pretty damn awesome. Love the look and feel of this film, and dig the horror it dishes out!
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.