Things are getting stranger around Iron Hills
Man Behind the Sun. 1988. Directed by T.F. Mou. Screenplayby Mei Liu, Wen Yuan Mou, & Dun Jing Teng.
Cast: Jianxin Chen, Hsu Gou, Linjie Hao, Haizhe Jin, Tie Long Jin, Yuanrong Jin, Bolin Li, Pengyu Liu, Xuhui Lui, Zhaohua Mei, Zhe Quan ,Jiefu Tian, Gang Wang, Runsheng Wang, Shennin Wang, Jiang Wen, Dai Yao Wu, Guowen Zhang, Yongdong Zhao, & Rongming Zheng. Sil-Metropole Organisation.
Rated R. 95 minutes.
In a quest to try and watch any/all disturbing films out there, good or bad, I’ve heard about Man Behind the Sun (the correct translation, though titled most places as Men Behind the Sun) for many years. At an early age, I saw a clip on a website – possibly eBaum’s, or something similar – though, I never was able to find a copy. Living on an island at the far East Coast of Canada, the horror especially didn’t always find its way to the video stores; many movies as I did get to see, the real cult stuff was that for which I had to wait. So in lieu of actually being able to see this one I dove into the actual history behind Unit 731 – during World War II this particular unit lead by Major General Shiro Ishii committed heinous war crimes testing tactical biological warfare (resulting in small outbreaks of plague and cholera), which includes attacks via airplane on localized areas, later escalating to injecting plague directly into live subjects, among many other atrocious experiments such as infecting Allied POWs with glanders (a disease that primarily affects horses, donkeys, mules), dissecting POWs and other citizens, they even subjected women to rape and forced pregnancies, among too many other hideous things to list.
So straight away, you know Man Behind the Sun is not to be trifled with, neither should you assume it’s not as bad as people say. It is, absolutely. Now I can still sit and watch it, managing to get through. Regardless, this is one of the most horrifying films I’ve ever seen in my life. It is brutish, ugly. You’ll think twice about going on. There’s no shame in not making it all the way. However, I have to say that there’s an almost important merit to this piece of cinema. While I do not condone the use of real corpses (both human and animal; the film’s most controversial ‘cat scene’ is actually a practical effect, albeit an impressive one that involves a real cat covered in honey being licked by rats), director T.F. Mou argues that we must try confronting the past, no matter how disgusting, no matter how bad it feels or looks. There’s an exploitative aspect to the entire film, no doubt. Foolish to say otherwise. Although I can’t discount the merit which lies beneath.
If you do venture ahead to watch, please know – only the hardcore horror hounds are likely to handle what they’ll see. That’s no joke. If you’ve got the stomach, hang for a ride.
There’s not a whole lot I have to say about the acting. It isn’t much good, at all. Though there are moments. On the whole this film is all about the hypnotically shocking gamut of realistic horror through which it grinds the viewer.
One scene that’s just downright unsettling is the drinking glass. You’ll know what I’m talking about. I won’t spoil it for those who’ve not yet seen the film. Rest assured, as someone who considers himself a hardened horror movie watcher, this even felt nasty to me. Specifically because the actor doing the drinking from said glass plays the moment so well. A creepy, brief scene. There’s not much good acting from here on in, aside from the young boys watching on under command of the General, as well as some of the victims in the experiments.
Later, the scariest element to so much of the horrific imagery we see is the fact these high-ranking men are training a bunch of young boys, they’re having the fact engrained in them that certain people they deem lower are considered not even people, as fodder for experimentation. Despite the graphic, visceral images, the disturbing part is this brainwashing, and if it’s at all possible this actually makes the nasty bits even nastier.
Maybe the most disturbing to me is the frozen arms of the woman, her reaction. It’s of note that those arms are actual corpse arms. Yes, you got that right. Real, dead, human arms. Only person willing to hold them was the director’s own niece. So they really froze them, she held them. It’s insanity. You always hear people rag on Ruggero Deodato for his filming of the natives killing animals, nobody’s over here worried about the dead bodies Mou used for his horror flick. Good lord. There’s one scene Mou claims is actual autopsy footage of a young boy. Not sure if this is true. If so, I’d hope there was some form of consent in order to use that. But then again, I highly doubt it. Turns out that the autopsy is real: the parents signed over consent to let the autopsy be filmed, and Mou dressed the doctors performing up like they were from the WWII era. There are huge questions about morality concerning whether Mou ought to have made the film this way. Apparently the special effects industry in China at that time did not exist, essentially. So partly he had to resort to what was available, which meant using connections of his with local police to inform him of cadavers matching the descriptions he required. Part of me then wonders if this was necessary. At the same time, was that maybe his aim? In confronting actual atrocities committed in the past, does something sickening like real corpse parts in a film about said atrocities somehow make the realism better? Certainly makes it real. Just not sure if it makes anything better. In the end, I’m conflicted.
Respect must be given to the legitimate practical effects in this movie. Forget the rats and all that controversial stuff. The practical special effects accomplished here are terribly impressive. They’re even able to surprise and disgust someone like myself. For instance, as I wrote this the scene where the guy’s intestine pops out made my eyes go wide. I didn’t get sick or anything, but I mean, it gave me pause. That doesn’t happen often. All I could do was stare a moment, horrified at the scene. They put him in a sort of audio chamber, jam on the high frequency until the guy can’t do anything but lay in pain on the ground, and then BAM – intestine, right out his asshole. I know that sounds cheesy, and rightfully atrocious. It is the latter. Unfortunately, it’s too well executed for me to say it has a cheese factor. The effect is ghastly.
Don’t believe it stops there. So much of runtime is spent in an endurance test as the audience. Rarely do we get time to break from the hideousness and settle our stomachs. Only now and then.
It’s hard for me to give this 3 out of 5 stars by saying the film is good. In terms of technical aspects, some of what Mou did as director works in the name of realism. In other ways, Man Behind the Sun is purely an exploitation flick, a torrid bit of hardcore genre filmmaking. Again, I’m completely conflicted when all is said and done. One side of me thinks what Mou did, in terms of using real corpses and animal parts, is downright despicable. The opposite side insists there’s value in Mou’s confrontation of a dark period in Japanese (and Chinese) history. Somewhere in the middle of the road lies an understanding.
If you want to test your ironclad stomach, do so at your own peril. Like I said, this didn’t make me sick. It did actually make me question, for the first time in 4,200 films: why am I watching this? Could be awhile before I figure out the answer to that one.
Talk Radio. 1988. Directed by Oliver Stone. Screenplay by Stone & Eric Bogosian; based on the play by Bogosian & Tad Savinar, which is based on the book Talked to Death: The Life & Murder of Alan Berg by Stephen Singular.
Starring Eric Bogosian, Ellen Greene, Leslie Hope, John C. McGinley, Alec Baldwin, John Pankow, Michael Wincott, Linda Atkinson, Robert Trebor, Zach Grenier, Tony Frank, Harlan Jordan, Anna Levine & Allan Corduner. Cineplex-Odeon Films/Ten-Four Productions.
Rated 14A. 110 minutes.
Disclaimer: parts of this review will spoil the finale, which is obviously huge. So I urge you to check the movie out, then come back. If not there’s an intense moment near the end that’ll be totally ruined for you.
Oliver Stone is a filmmaker whose catalogue of work can easily divide people. Then there are hardcore supposed Stone fans that don’t like his movies that aren’t like Natural Born Killers or JFK. They don’t want him unless he’s on full-throttle Stone style, whatever that is. Because for me, he is a versatile director and storyteller. He is always slightly political, if not completely politically minded. But there are many facets to his in your face style of filmmaking. First and foremost, Stone is continually concerned about the truth. His films are a way of examining the truth, and sometimes various truths, about life, politics, history, and everything else in between.
Talk Radio is perhaps one of his most poignant films, for many reasons. Despite what he says about his own work. First, the screenplay was written by Stone and also star Eric Bogosian, based on the stage play Bogosian wrote with Tad Savinar. In turn, that play is further based on Stephen Singular’s biography about radio host Alan Berg. So there’s a very interesting aspect to Stone’s film that captures part of the stage play, in the sense we stick close to lead character Barry Champlain, and many of the extended scenes are relegated to the radio station’s main room. With Stone’s talent, and a blockbuster performance from Bogosian in a role that he already knew but was able to flesh out onscreen, Talk Radio becomes a highly personal, emotional journey that’s also a part of a larger conversation about freedom of speech and difference of opinion.
Oh, and Barry Champlain (Eric Bogosian) is the reason I like to use the word ‘meatball’ in reference to idiots. Frequently.
At his basest level, Barry is searching for passion. Even if it’s the wrong kind, he’s seeking those who feel strongly. When his ex-wife comes back into the picture he realizes she’s likely the only person who actually cares about him. However, she has moved on. But the audience hasn’t, not just the people who like listening to his show, also the ones who hate him. The audience cannot move on, not like his ex-wife. Even his ex-wife is drawn to him, despite remarrying, and though she knows he’s toxic there’s something that keeps her coming back. And the audience is the same. Because at the bottom of it all a guy like Champlain is needed. He inflames both the right and left, and anybody, everybody in between. He constantly and consistently challenges the status quo as an equally opportunity offender; he doesn’t care if you’re black, white, another Jew such as himself, or whoever.
In a day and age where freedom of speech is often at war with people and their differing values, Barry isn’t dated. He is fresh and unique. He represents the right to say what you mean, as long as what you say has merit. This is clearly, easily represented in the way he screens his own calls. Whatever comes through the line, stupid or profound (most of which falls into the former category), Barry takes on. Sometimes he has things to say, other times he’ll just hang up. Because he has things to talk about, he has legitimate ideas that are built around fact and not solely on opinion. Barry draws a line in the sand which ultimately explains what free speech is all about. In that yes, you can say what you want, at least as far as libel and such goes. You can’t just say anything without consequence, and you can’t just say anything without something to back it up. A little fact, a piece of tangible evidence to back yourself up. Without that, what is there? Opinion. It’s fine to have one. Although opinion isn’t truth.
HUGE SPOILER AHEAD: in the end, Barry pays for his truthfulness, his facts and the way he jams them viciously down peoples throat, sparing no one on either side of an issue if they’re not coming with anything credible. He gets gunned down in the parking lot coming out of his show. This is when the free speech bumps up against extremism. The problem with anyone on any side getting to a point of extremism is that they do not consider the fact they’re silencing the same free speech they likely champion for their wild perspectives. Here, the neo-Nazi, white nationalists are the hypocritical faction, at once calling for free speech and at the same time threatening Barry with bodily harm over his outspoken views.
Eric Bogosian transforms a character from a stage play into one that works just as well onscreen. He’s powerful. There are plenty of times he gets to monologue, including one mammoth speech in particular that’s wildly intense. A few of the more powerful moments involve when Barry is confronted over the phone by men who are clearly white supremacists. There’s an air of confidence, an abundance of it almost all the time. Yet underneath, Bogosian shows that Barry is afraid. Not necessarily of them, but of himself and how far he’ll allow it all to go, to what place he’ll eventually get and if he can come back. The whole character is complex, representative of many things. While so much of Barry is about free speech, he’s also about belief and how much a person’s beliefs mean to them. Right to the end he is strong, though to a fault. I can’t think of anyone better to have played him in the film.
This is possibly my favourite Oliver Stone film, right up there next to Salvador. Using the amazing stage play with which Eric Bogosian was associated is a stroke of genius. Much as Oliver Stone claims it inhibited him, in his mind. To me, it worked perfectly. This is one of the less Stone-like films in his own catalogue. Not in any bad way, as I love his style. But Talk Radio is a more straight up take on the subject. No less impressive and powerful. Through a fantastic central performance from Bogosian we’re able to access the inner life of Barry Champlain while simultaneously exploring all those themes he encompasses. There aren’t as many movies out there about freedom of speech that are as good, nor are there any that come so near to the danger in which free speech finds itself today, sadly, in the 21st century. Watching this now it takes on a whole new life. We need more people like Barry. To keep pushing the envelope, though not for one side or the other. Just simply pushing.
Donnie Darko. 2001. Directed & Written by Richard Kelly.
Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Jena Malone, Mary McDonnell, Katharine Ross, Patrick Swayze, Noah Wyle, Holmes Osborne, James Duval, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Drew Barrymore, Seth Rogen, & Patience Cleveland. 20th Century Fox/Pandora Cinema/Flower Films/Adam Fields Productions.
Rated R. 113 minutes.
I was born in 1985. When Richard Kelly directed and wrote Donnie Darko, I was about 15 (late birthday always puts me near the end of the year and so I was usually younger than most in my grade). When I saw it, there was an immediate odd quality that drew me in. Like many, I imagined myself an outsider, outcast, whatever word you’d like to use. But Kelly’s film spoke to my weird soul.
Donnie Darko combines a story of teen angst with a science fiction-tinged thriller, all wrapped up in a personal family drama. There’s even a horror-ish element within the plot itself, as Frank the Bunny is not simply a sci-fi-esque prophet, he is highly unsettling to look at. Delightfully horror. Set in the late ’80s, the story is quirky, but never so much that it ultimately detracts from anything. In fact, the soundtrack and some of the haircuts, the fashion are what makes it clear this is a period piece, otherwise it isn’t forced on us.
But above all else, this movie is concerned with an interesting mix that falls somewhere between a more cynical John Hughes picture and a darkly comedic science fiction-thriller.
Often period pieces, no matter the time, can really jam those elements down a viewer’s throat. Kelly does a fine job weaving the late ’80s into his film. Without every pressuring us into a space where neon Spandex, headbands, gigantic hairdos take precedence, the movie gets across its 1988 setting. For instance, from the very beginning we keep hearing mentions of George Bush Sr., more importantly his opponent Michael Dukakis in the ’88 U.S. Presidential election, such as when Mr. Darko’s daughter insists she’s voting for the latter to his chagrin. These particular mentions are organic, they don’t feel jammed into the screenplay. Furthermore, the fact they’re so easily engrained in the fabric of the writing is not only a testament to Kelly’s abilities as a screenwriter, it’s also part of why the film, as a whole, feels fleshed out.
The writing is all around excellent. Donnie’s a solid character, as are his family. I’m always at a loss for how I’m meant to relate to characters when families onscreen feel like they’re the furthest away from a family they can possibly get. Sometimes you see these people together as supposed relations and they feel too much like a couple actors working through lines. The Darko family are fun. First, you’ve got the fact Jake and Maggie Gyllenhaal play the brother-sister combo that like poking fun at one another with hilariously foul insults. Their chemistry is, obviously, natural. Better still, Rose (Mary McDonnell) and Eddie (Holmes Osborne) Darko are wonderful in the roles of Donnie’s parents. They’re interesting, they feel like a married couple and likewise feel like parents. Even if Donnie is the main focus, the whole family makes the movie and its story all the better for their inclusion.
Aside from characters, the plot is wild, as much as it is intriguing. If you pick up the Director’s Cut there’s a treasure trove of Special Features that make everything even more enjoyable. Sure, you may not like the movie because it isn’t your cup of tea. But you’ve got to admire Kelly’s work, his writing, the time and research he put into the whole thing. On the DVD (this is one movie I’ve yet to pick up on Blu ray), there’s a feature on The Philosophy of Time Travel, the book within the film supposedly written by Roberta Sparrow. It almost serves as a nice footnote to the movie, helping people bridge the gaps between the bits and pieces which may not immediately make sense. Personally, I don’t particularly find Donnie Darko confusing, on the whole. That being said, I’ve watched this so many times in the last 15 years that quite possibly I get it simply because of the sheer number of views. Who knows. However, if you do find it confusing, even in the slightest, I suggest picking up the DVD if you’re willing, and enjoyed the film despite not fully understanding it. The features will help you grasp everything, in my opinion. Again, they also give you an idea of how much work Kelly put into this movie, from writing the screenplay to its visual execution.
What I love most is that this is a teen story, at its heart. But more than that we’ve got this great feeling of a distinction between people who are closer to the truth and those who are much further away. The teens, or some of them – particularly Donnie (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Gretchen (Jena Malone) – are obviously on the side of angst, the feeling that grown-ups don’t have it all figured out. This is usually the case in films, and in real life, too. Moreover, some of the adults in this movie are in on that. There’s Professor Monnitoff (Noah Wyle) whose indulgence of Donnie’s questions about time travel point to his better understanding of the world than the closed off, repressed adults here; also, young teacher Karen Pomeroy (Drew Barrymore) is a great example, as she introduces one of the film’s themes, DESTRUCTION AS CREATION, with the Graham Greene short story “The Destructors” that concerns that very same theme. The adults are not simply clueless; no, they are mostly apathetic, and that’s almost worse.
Best of all, the character of Jim Cunningham (Patrick Swayze) exemplifies the entire idea that many of the adults here are clueless, oblivious to everything significant about life – when we come to find out about Cunningham, through another act of destruction (creating a better path to truth), it’s easy to see how his preaching about fear is all a cover. Epitomized in Cunningham is the concept of the hidden truth, which Donnie comes to help uncover throughout the course of the plot. Often films that are going for the idea that teenagers are somehow more enlightened in their youth (not all; a small portion) tend to never really feel that way, rather they simply have all the angst and nothing else. Donnie Darko contains every last bit of that angst. Yet more than that with its science fiction leanings Kelly gives this story a legitimate feeling of that youthful wisdom lurking amongst the apathy of suburbia.
The central performance from Gyllenhaal is affecting, in many ways. He plays the teen angst so well, seeing him with his therapist in those scenes is often both engaging and also tense in its own right. Donnie comes off as an emotional young man. He represents so many teens in a perfect sense – part of him is dark, the other part calling out to the light. In addition, he feels real. He isn’t a caricature, but instead is a genuine depiction of a teenager, filled with confusing and rage and misguided emotion, and so much more. Gyllenhaal truly burst forth with this role. His performance is what keeps us so rooted in the eccentric story. If it weren’t for him, this film might not come off as memorable as it does.
Some movies I loved at 15 now don’t look so great. Donnie Darko is not one of those. Like cheese (if you’re into it), this is one experience which only gets better with age. Writing this in 2016, I expected maybe some elements might feel pretentious. They don’t, though. I’ve seen this movie so much, but haven’t watched it in about 7 years. So coming back to it, I wasn’t sure if Kelly’s film might have felt so amazingly effective simply because I was younger, I had those rosy eyes of a still 20-something man. Watching this again tonight, I realize it has nothing to do with me. This film is timeless. If I watch it again, in another 20 years, I expect to feel no different about it. Maybe with more decades behind me the themes, the plot, everything may make even more sense to me then.
Nevertheless, right now I can’t stop loving it. Donnie Darko is a hugely interesting piece of work, Richard Kelly still doesn’t get enough credit and his later projects were only more misunderstood than this one. Just don’t discount this one as muddled, as a completely teen movie, or anything like that. This has so much worth inside. Let it wash over you. Some films, as this one is, are an experience rather than merely a bunch of moving images telling a story.
Season 1, Episode 7: “In the Pride of His Face”
Directed by Craig David Wallace
Written by Aaron Martin
The penultimate episode of Slasher‘s first season begins in the aftermath of Captain Iain Vaughn (Dean McDermott) being burned alive in a crematorium.
Sarah Bennett (Katie McGrath) is visiting with Tom Winston (Patrick Garrow). She wants to know the full truth, now that they’re being honest with one another.
Flashback to 1988, Halloween night. A young Tom, as The Executioner, murders the pregnant wife and her husband. Whereas the pilot took us up until the door shut, this episode gives us what happened behind the door. Laura’s mother reveals the baby belongs to her and Tom. This stops him in his tracks. Momentarily.
In the present, Tom claims it was to “save” her from their parentage. But he won’t give up anything further.Robin (Christopher Jacot) comforts Sarah, as best he can. Meanwhile, at home Dylan (Brandon Jay McLaren) is trying to make amends, for being a “bad husband” and not paying her enough attention while lavishing in the bit of praise given to him for his coverage of the killings in Waterbury. Could he still be a suspect? You never know. She wants to leave, she wants him to stop covering the story. He doesn’t necessarily say that’ll happen, only: “I don‘t wanna lose you.”
A creepy sub-genre moment sees Cam Henry (Steve Byers) sneak in behind behind Officer Sharma (Shawn Ahmed), as they find a room filled with The Executioner’s Seven Deadly Sins drawings. The whole scene is creepy. They find all sorts of things, diaries, lists. Even one that says Sarah and Tom are in the crosshairs for the sin of Pride.
More than ever now Dylan is appearing suspicious. The way he talks with Sarah makes him seem strange. So late in the game, could he be a definite suspect now? It’s easy to be suspicious, though. The red herring game is strong in writer Aaron Martin, following along excellently with the slasher sub-genre trope. Even further than that Sarah catches Dylan in a bit of a lie, making him that much more suspicious. He’s followed The Executioner story since before they met. He did it all for a lead that eventually brought about their marriage. He lied about it all. Sketchy.
Still, Dylan’s out in front of the cameras. All the while, Cam is keeping Sarah safe. And Tom Winston’s being transported elsewhere. That is until he launches an escape, choking out Officer Sharma and then looming over the paramedic. Terrifying.
Lisa Ann Follows (Enuka Okuma) is dangling a book deal in front of Dylan. Could he be guilty of Pride himself? Could this all be a deflection?
Well Winston shows up to take Sarah. Not for anything nefarious, obviously. He wants to protect her, afraid that Cam and the police can’t do the job properly. This is an excellently written series of events because we’re placed in a strange position, at once hating Tom for being a vicious murderer, and at the same time rooting for him because he’s, oddly enough, a caring father at the bottom of it all. The father in him comes out now that we know for sure, and it’s sickly a sweet situation in ways. Again, that’s the sort of paradox writer Martin puts us in; to hate and admire the original Executioner.
Sarah and Tom have a cute little chat about her past, her grandmother, camping, and so on. She again asks why Tom killed her mother and her husband. Then out of nowhere, Tom starts seizing. He manages to smash her phone, but urges her to run – The Executioner could trace the call, if he’s tricky tricky tricky. The police, they catch her phone. Cam and Dylan are both concerned. Even Father Alan Henry (Rob Stewart) offers to help.
Is it coincidence that right after the priest heads out to search The Executioner captures Tom and Sarah?
We find out after that Sarah is guilty of “playing God” when she attempted suicide. That’s why The Executioner has slated her for death. Tom begs for the life of his daughter. But the killer is not interested in that.
Back to 1988. A young Tom Winston preaches in a church. Laura’s mother Rachel shows up and joins the congregation. Tom’s actually talking about Alan Henry, the sins of Waterbury. Cut to him in bed with Rachel. He’s wracked with guilt, and he’s in love with her. The whole situation is tough, especially once things with the married couple devolve. We’re getting a better perspective on why Tom felt so betrayed by everything; he had no idea about being filmed. Such a heavy revelation. I’d not expected this whole angle particularly. The couple blackmailed Tom into leaving their burgeoning enterprise alone. This is what drove him to madness. To murder.
So this is the story of Tom Winston’s Pride.
The Executioner plans to kill Sarah, but instead Tom gives himself up for her. “I love you, Sarah,” he says before going willing into the arms of the killer. He lays down upon the saw, broken on the wheel, and it tears him apart. What a bloody, violent death for Tom! Wow. Very impressed with the horror elements in this episode. Quite vicious.
“It is our duty, our burden, to take action against sin wherever we may find it.”
Sarah’s escaped the grip of The Executioner. Her life keeps getting stranger and stranger, more complex, and not in any sort of good way. Then a mannequin of The Executioner pops up int the middle of town, including a note for Sarah specifically. The plot only thickens.
At home, Father Henry is a little too chipper. Another red herring? Or perhaps his talk of the town being “cleansed” is more than just talk?
There are certainly secrets in the Henry household. In a closet, Cam has a box of mementos. He adds a new one – a piece of bloody shirt, one an awful lot like that which Tom wore. Is this really it? Is Cam truly The Executioner? WHOA! WHOA! WHOA! I had my suspicions, but still. This changes the game.Stay with me, fellow fans. I love this series. I don’t care what anyone else says, despite the flaws and all. Lots of fun. Next episode, the finale, is titled “Soon Your Own Eyes Will See” and we will get our answers.
Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers a.k.a Halloween 4. 1988. Directed by Dwight H. Little. Screenplay by Alan B. McElroy from a story by McElroy, Dhani Lipsius, Larry Rattner and Benjamin Ruffer.
Starring Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, George P. Wilbur, Michael Pataki, Beau Starr, Kathleen Kinmont, Sasha Jenson, Gene Ross, Carmen Filpi and Raymond O’Connor. Trancas International Films. Rated 14A. 88 minutes.
After the good yet unfortunately improperly marketed Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the powers that be brought the series back around to another Michael Myers-centric entry in this solid slasher franchise. While I see a bit of love out there for this one, Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers is often unfairly lumped in with so many poor horror sequels in the various big franchises. It isn’t the best one, though, it is a long ways from being bad or the worst in the series.
For me personally, I love Halloween IV and Halloween V as two well connected entries in this whole run. Yes, there are spots where you might find yourself rolling your eyes. But honestly, especially compared to some of the terrible films in Friday the 13th‘s series and Nightmare on Elm Street, this movie is lots of fun. Plus there are great, genuine scenes of terror and the ending will very likely have you totally amazed regardless of whether or not you liked the rest. Atop everything else, it’s the savagery of the slasher aspect which really impresses me about Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers.
Ten years after the events of Halloween, Michael Myers (George P. Wilbur) wakes out of his supposed invalid state. Killing his way back to Haddonfield, he searches out his niece Jamie (Danielle Harris); daughter of his sister Laurie Strode.
Under the care of a foster family, specifically her step-sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell), Jamie tries to lead a normal life. But when everyone around them starts dying her own life is in more and more danger. Naturally, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence) – with scars of his own having survived through Michael’s violence twice (burned in Halloween II) – rushes back to the town where it all began, fast as he can. The only trouble is Myers has been supposedly killed before, he’s been incarcerated, and every time he manages to come back; each time worse, more vicious than the last.
Can young Jamie and her step-sister Rachel survive his wrath? Is it possible Loomis can stop him? Is it even possible to stop him at all?
Dr. Loomis: “We’re not talking about any ordinary prisoner, Hoffman. We are talking about evil on two legs.”
There are plenty of supernatural implications in this third sequel, some blatant, others a touch more subtle. My favourite part in regards to the supernatural stuff has to do with an even more incredible strength in Michael Myers. Even in the first film, Carpenter showed how utterly brutish Michael was having him lift a teenage dude off the ground easily, pinning him to the wall, killing him. Then in the second Michael lifts another victim up with a single hand. Now in this fourth installment, there’s a strength we’ve not yet seen. Monstrously, Michael – while escaping early on – jams his thumb into the forehead of an EMT in the ambulance, puncturing the skin and bone; it’s impressively nasty and goes to show, so immediately, how strong Myers is or has become.
Dr. Loomis: “You’re talking about him as if he’s a human being. That part of him died years ago.”
The dynamic in this film concerning Laurie Strode’s daughter, Jamie, and Michael is pretty interesting stuff, which is a big part of why I’ve always found this movie lots of fun. What I enjoy is how their plot sort of goes to compound how deranged and relentlessly driven to murder Michael is as an evil entity. I mean, it’s not enough he tried to kill his sister, now he wants the niece to die. It’s as if Michael wants to try and wipe his entire family off the face of the earth, anyone sharing the same DNA. And so I feel like Halloween IV is a huge return to form for Myers, a further meaning for the title itself.
Furthermore, there’s another good angle with Michael and Jamie. The poor little girl has to deal with the fact the Haddonfield boogeyman is her uncle. She’s having visions of a young Michael, the masked older Michael, and it’s terrifying to watch a young girl like her go through such an intensely awful ordeal. If it wasn’t all bad enough beforehand, Jamie’s whole existence is thrown into disorder once Uncle Michael starts slashing and killing his way further and further towards her. Being so young at the time it’s amazing how well Danielle Harris acted the part of Jamie, there’s truly no one else who could have done the job she did. So many child performers are either the same, or in the end rather dull. Harris has never been dull it seems. She had the charm of a little sweetheart and at the same time there’s a maturity about the character, something you wouldn’t normally expect from a tiny actor. Real great stuff and helps to add a bit of legitimacy to this sequel.
Dr. Loomis: “What are you hunting, Mr. Sayer?”
Jack: “Apocalypse. End of the world, Armageddon. It’s always got a face and a name. I’ve been huntin’ the bastard for 30 years, give or take. Come close a time or two – too damn close! You can’t kill damnation, mister. It don’t die like a man dies.”
There are lots of great little touches in Halloween IV. Like the fact Jamie ends up wearing the same Halloween costume as little Michael wore when he first killed, back at the beginning of the original film. Then there are so many similar style shots where Michael lurks at the periphery of the frame, there yet somehow not there, hiding behind the vision of everyone seemingly. Even more so than the first sequel to the original, this one has lots more slasher style horror. There are more violent scenes here than the first two films; it’s right on part with the third movie, even if that one is not a true-blooded Halloween film and more like a spin-off. So there are lots of ways in which Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers follows suit with the first two in this franchise, then there are elements which feel part of the story’s universe and still fresh to it, too.
I’m willing to give this sequel a 4 out of 5 star rating. It’s definitely not as good as Halloween or Halloween II, but it’s solid. There is great slasher horror here, as well as excellent suspense and tension in several scenes. Out of the series, I would probably rank my favourites in this order: I, II, IV/V, III, VI, & the others get worse. This one is up there tied for third place, I have to give the movie its due. Haven’t seen it yet? Check it out soon. You’ll have a bit of fun returning to the Michael Myers plot missing from the previous installment. The Blu ray is phenomenal, from the sound/score to the visuals all around. A classic for October and nearing Halloween season.
Beetlejuice. 1988. Directed by Tim Burton. Screenplay by Michael McDowell & Warren Skaaren.
Starring Alec Baldwin, Geena Davis, Michael Keaton, Catherine O’Hara, Jeffrey Jones, Winona Ryder, Annie McEnroe, Glenn Shadix, Patrice Martinez, Sylvia Sidney, Robert Goulet, Dick Cavett, and Susan Kellermann. The Geffen Company. PG. 92 minutes.
Tim Burton doesn’t always appeal to everyone. His style, as far as I’m concerned, makes him an auteur. Even in his less cartoony, gothic-styled films, there is always an ever present sense of Burton and his unflinching vision of the stories he tells. Most of his movies I do enjoy, though, some I’m not huge on. Either way I can’t help deny my major love for a few of his movies.
One such title is the 1988 fantasy, quasi-horror, full-on comedy Beetlejuice, which later toned down into the 1989-1991 cartoon series of the same name. This is one strange piece of work, at the same time it’s amazingly near perfect in other ways. With a refreshingly innovative take on the afterlife, hauntings, the “life” of ghosts on the other side and tons of fun Burton-like imagery and makeup effects, this is one hell of a fun film. Beetlejuice has a bit of everything: death, suicide, laughs, calypso music and dancing, and Micheal Keaton.
After a tragic car accident, Adam and Barbara Maitland (Alec Baldwin/Geena Davis) find themselves back at their house… only a little removed from reality. They find a book in their attic – The Handbook for the Recently Deceased – and then eventually discover a way into the waiting room of the afterlife, where a case worker named Juno (Sylvia Sidney) explains they’ve died and are contracted to remain in their old home for many, many years. Tasked with scaring out the new owners – Charles and Delia Deetz (Jeffrey Jones/Catherine O’Hara) along with their young daughter Lydia (Winona Ryder) – Adam and Barbara eventually come across an unethical ghost named Betelgeuse (Michael Keaton) who would much rather kill the new owners than just scare them out. And once Betelgeuse sets his sight on Lydia to be his wife, the newly deceased couple have to decide whether they’re ready to give up their home, or give up the life of an innocent young girl.
So much to enjoy about this slice of Burton work.
One of my favourite sequences of the film happens early on when Adam (Baldwin) and Barbara (Davis) try to scare the new owners, before they’re initiated into the world of being dead. First, Barbara hangs herself in the closet, then rips the skin off her skull when Otho (Shadix) and Delia Deetz (O’Hara) look inside, yet to no avail. Then, Barbara stands – knife in hand – with Adam’s bloody, decapitated head in the other, trying to look sinister. Nothing works! But the kicker is when Adam tries to run up and lock the attic door, with no head, and he’s banging into things, bumping every object nearby. Riot, love it. Awesome few scenes here, especially in terms of makeup effects and horror imagery; the skin off skull bit is nasty and cool.
The waiting room scene is another perfect bit. We see the various dead people sitting around until their name is called: one man is a hunter of sorts, his head shrunken to a prune; another merely charred remains of a man smoking a cigarette; a guy who choked to death, chicken bone still sticking through both sides of his neck; an attendant showing patients in whose body is hung on strings, flattened out from tire tracks; and a man hung by the neck, on the same track as the other attendant, passing files off to a secretary while he’s carted about the office building. What a great and also tragic sequence. This is also part of why I’m so in love with Beetlejuice; because of its unique charm in the face of death.
Lydia: “My whole life is a dark room; one… big… dark… room.”
What I dig most about Beetlejuice overall is its take on the afterlife. On one hand, you’ve got all the “regular” ghosts who are merely regular people moving onto another plane. On the other hand, there’s Beetlejuice himself. But it’s the little handbook, for the recently deceased, the waiting room, the giant sandworms, and so on, which intrigues me. Such a neatly cartoonish and macabre world for Burton to play around in. At the same time, I find the way it portrays ghosts pretty unique. So underneath all Beetlejuice’s gnarly exterior and vulgarity, beneath the story of a haunting, there’s a genuine attempt here to dissect what a true afterlife might be – instead of the idealized heaven or hell, Burton’s film taps into a more satirical approach to being dead and trying to move on. Plus, seeing things from the side of the deceased doesn’t hurt either. While we’re right alongside the Deetz family, even in the scarier moments after the Juice runs loose, much of our perspective comes from Adam and Barbara, as well as later a similar yet different perspective from the still-living Lydia. All in all, the way this movie presents death and the afterlife is both hilarious and fresh.
There’s plenty of creepy horror stuff going on, but the dark and sometimes raunchy comedy is very much happening here. For instance, even in the morbid scene where Lydia (Ryder) contemplates her suicide writing a note for her family to find later, there’s a downright funny, laugh out loud moment as she rearranges the words, choosing better ones to put in place to make the note sound more appealing. The whole character of Lydia is fun and funny at once. She’s simultaneously deep and gothic while also playfully satirizing the whole goth lifestyle.
When it comes to comedy, though, obviously Michael Keaton as Beetlejuice is the centrepiece of this entire thing. Clearly, right? Even more than you think. For those who don’t remember properly, Beetlejuice is a dirty dude, both physically and in his speech. In the original screenplay, the character was much darker and more violent; he wanted to rape Lydia, here it’s toned down slightly to a creepy crush. But the darkness all around, from his actions to his comedy, is still quite present. Keaton brings Beetlejuice to life from one moment to the next. He’s mostly hilarious, yet always with the chilling side directly under the surface, every now and then coming out into the open fully. Some of my favourite bits are when Beetlejuice is still stuck in the tiny model town, in its cemetery; Keaton did a nice bit of improvisation, if I’m not mistaken, which is awesome because he did a great job with the character.
Beetlejuice: “I’m the ghost with the most, babe.”
Even with the changes inflicted upon the original screenplay, the toning down, the film’s finale remains pretty dark. Regardless of the cartoon-ish, at times, quality Burton gives the story and its visuals, there are equal amounts of very macabre and eerie sequences. When Beetlejuice is called back into reality by Lydia the final time, in order to try and save Adam/Barbara, the movie turns into a dark carnival. This section starts out in a sort of lighthearted horror-comedy way. Then, slowly, it moves towards treacherous territory, as Beetlejuice attempts to take Lydia as his bride. I mean, it’s sketchy! Very creepy, unsettling stuff. Delia’s sculptures come alive to hold the witnesses in place for their impromptu ceremony, which are super weird and gothic through Burton’s eyes. Just cannot get enough of this effective finale. Also, the very last couple scenes are a whole ton of fun capping things off on a more lighthearted ghost story note.
Totally a 4.5 out of 5 star film for me. Always loved this and truly feel it’s an effectively dark comedy using shades of horror in the best way. Plus, it’s a satirical look at the traditional ghost, which makes the comedy work that much better. Combining the eccentric talent of Tim Burton with a couple of great performances, namely Michael Keaton as the titular ghost with the most, Beetlejuice elevates itself from just another comedy to something near legendary.
I’m beyond excited there’s going to, hopefully, be a sequel with Burton, Keaton, and Ryder all supposedly onboard for the ride! With that team, as well as the spirit of the original at heart, I bet a sequel could be almost as spectacular this time around as it was the first. Watch this for Halloween; great to put on any time, but even better around the fall season as the 31st approaches on the calendar.