Alex Pettyfer's directorial debut is a moody, subdued story about masculinity, family dysfunction, and small town repression.
When a Stranger Calls. 1979. Directed by Fred Walton. Screenplay by Steve Feke & Fred Walton.
Starring Carol Kane, Rutanya Alda, Carmen Argenziano, Kirsten Larkin, William Boyett, Charles Durning, Ron O’Neal, Rachel Roberts, Tony Beckley, Colleen Dewhurst, and Michael Champion. Columbia Pictures Corporation/Melvin Simon Productions. Rated R. 97 minutes.
There are many slasher horrors out there – this is not particularly a slasher, but certainly feels like one with the relentless Curt Duncan stalking women in the night, played to eerie perfection by Tony Beckley. So while When a Stranger Calls doesn’t have the big body count, or a bunch of knife murders (et cetera), it does have the familiar feel of a slasher horror movie.
What this Fred Walton-directed dramatic horror has going for it is a keen psychological edge. From the direction, the acting by both Beckley and Carol Kane as the archetypal urban legend babysitter forever immortalized on film, the entire movie is dripping with creepiness, as well as having a few things to say about the views of our society (at least at the time – folding into the 1980s). Regardless if you’re a horror fan or not, this is one classic piece of cinema. To use a tired cliche – it did for babysitting what Jaws did for the ocean. Anyone who’s ever taken care of kids growing up, like myself and lots of other people I know, the fear of being in someone else’s home, alone, with who knows what – or who – just outside the door, it’s all extremely real in When a Stranger Calls. Almost too close for comfort.
Jill Johnson (Carol Kane) heads over to the house of Dr. and Mrs. Mandrakis (Carmen Argenziano/Rutanya Alda). She’s babysitting for the night while they head over for dinner, maybe even a movie afterwards. A little while after Jill starts the night, a mysterious man starts to call her. He continually asks: “Have you checked the children?” Phoning the police, they prove unable to do much for the time being. Soon, Jill finds the man on the phone getting more nasty, violent. When an officer advises her the calls are coming from inside the house, Jill manages to make it outside where Dt. John Clifford (Charles Durning) is already waiting. However, it’s all too late. The children are already dead, at the hands of a madman, a merchant seaman originally from Britain named Curt Duncan (Tony Beckley).
Seven years pass, Jill moves on with her life – she’s married, two little kids of her very own. Except now Duncan has escaped from the asylum where he’d been confined. With Clifford on his trail, Duncan wanders the streets. Will he kill again? Question is, really: when was the last time Jill checked her children?
Tony Beckley isn’t the only one acting circles around the usual horror performances here. Both Carol Kane and Charles Durning are fascinating in their own right. But, I can never help boasting about the titular stranger – Curt Duncan.
Beckley is someone I’ve seen in a few other things, not much. Although out of the little I watched, good as the others were, his performance here has got to be the crowning achievement of his career. He takes a role many have played in other movies, from drama to horror. Instead of playing a typical psychopath, there’s something sad and pathetic about this Duncan. Even while you know what he’s done, the horrible things he did to those children, a tiny part of us can see the lonely, child-like thing inside him. I hate Curt Duncan. Yet still I can’t shake parts of him, there’s an essence in him I cannot deny is sympathetic, under all his monstrosity. What it is, I don’t know. Why it affects me, I absolutely understand: Tony Beckley. His mannerisms, his voice at times weird and creepy, others it’s shaky, even the way he walks – all of this has made the character of Duncan into one of the best villains of the 1970s. And I say that considering all genres, not only horror. He is one of those unnerving characters I’ll never be able to shake off.
Right from the first time Beckley utters his iconic, terrifying line, there’s an immediate sense of this film’s excellent score. It has power, quickly the tone of the film is solidified with a dark descent of notes, accompanied by a zoom in close on Kane’s babysitter character. The music is most certainly a big part of the suspense and tension. Like any proper horror, the score is just about iconic as anything else. Composer Dana Kaproff – other credits include 1982’s Death Valley and Samuel Fuller’s The Big Red One – has a fantastic ear. The music sort of simmers underneath, then at a few choices moments flares up; loud, brash. It’s an intricate score, moving from quiet to heavy and back again all in such a perfect rhythm with the plot’s movement.
Together with the film’s music, Donald Peterman’s cinematography makes this a gorgeous to look at classic of the late ’70s. Peterman has done a few movies I love, such as Splash, Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, Planes Trains & Automobiles, Point Break, Mr. Saturday Night and Get Shorty. He has a nice visual style. Here in When A Stranger Calls, the movie has that classic look – that beautiful grain of film sorely missed in a good many pictures these days. But it isn’t just that. The whole opening sequence with babysitter Jill, the tight frames and the zoom in, all the dark shadows; the scenes with Curt Duncan where he spends his time both in the shadows and also lurching around like a shadow himself, the rich and deep look of the nighttime exterior shots. Every last inch of this movie is spectacular to look at. Recently I bought a double feature Blu ray with this and Happy Birthday to Me on it; they each look pristine. To watch this on Blu ray, such nice definition, it’s a true treat. Peterman’s work shows so well.
One major thing I’ve always found interesting about When a Stranger Calls is the aspect of Clifford investigating Duncan and then deciding to kill the man. It’s a timeless theme, the idea of the lawman having to/wanting to cross sides in order to defeat a criminal. There is no doubt this theme is resonant today, in such an age where boy the criminals and the cops are out of control at times (not all the police; definitely some, though). Moreover, isn’t this something we as citizens can relate to? I mean, much as I like to think the death penalty is pointless, much as I try to say stick the murderers and rapists in a cage and let them rot until death… a part of me would probably, in the moment, feel like blowing their heads off if I were in the position of some police officers. A part of me, right now, thinking about someone hurting/killing a loved one would easily kill that person. So, while I look at Clifford’s decisions to try and go after Duncan with the purpose of killing him, and I say to myself – Oh, he’s a dirty cop… – there’s a side of me wanting to say: go for it. There’s only a certain amount of justice in particular situations at a given moment in time. Some times there’s no justice at all. I can say killing another person is wrong, under any circumstance. But I can also admit there are circumstances under which I would kill another person – one of those very few situations being if a man killed my children, or if I was Clifford and confronted with the sickness and depravity of a man like Duncan. Either way, there’s a strong message at play in When a Stranger Calls and it speaks volumes about how the criminally insane are viewed. A big part of the message is that there are times when everyone can find themselves outside the law. There are times being outside the law can prove necessary, too.
A flawless 5 star classic from 1979. This is one of those horror movies-slash-dramatic thrillers I find most affecting, out of any of the movies I’ve seen. There’s something nasty about Tony Beckley, though, he plays the role of Curt Duncan so effortlessly, like watching a true crazy person before our eyes. Add to his performance Charles Durning and Carol Kane, a couple nice additional smaller ones to boot. Plus, the look and sounds and feel of each frame are downright masterful. Once again, When a Stranger Calls doesn’t have the blood or the slasher body count. On the contrary, it’s the character study of a man with deep psychological wounds, his obsessions, and the people caught up in the whirlwind of his psychosis from the victims to the bystanders to the ones chasing him down. It’s a mad, mad world, and this is one damn mad ride. Always on the top ten of my favourite horror films, especially the ones from the ’70s and ’80s. The Blu ray release I picked up has no special features, but I’m still satisfied simply because of how amazing it looks and how darkly majestic the score sounds in high definition.
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. 1998. Directed by Steve Miner. Screenplay by Matt Greenberg & Robert Zappia.
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin, Michelle Williams, Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Janet Leigh, Josh Hartnett, LL Cool J, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Branden Williams, and Nancy Stephens.
Dimension Films/Nightfall Productions/Trancas International Films.
Rated 14A. 86 minutes.
I’m not saying this is a spectacular entry in the Halloween franchise. Nor am I saying this is a wonderful slasher horror movie. That being said, I find Halloween H20 a decent enough sequel. Especially taking into consideration the last couple of the series entries are fairly haggard, specifically the one previous to this – The Curse of Michael Myers.
To see Jamie Lee Curtis come back after 18 years is pretty special. While the movie isn’t anything overly dramatic, there’s enough for Curtis to do. Even further, a young Josh Hartnett and Michelle Williams, plus a sassy LL Cool J make things fun. Even while I do like a couple of the sequels, I enjoy how this one retroactively takes on Michael’s story from after the first two movies. Add to that a return to more simplistic serial killer Michael Myers and this is easily a better sequel than the last. With the series’ iconic mass murderer back to terrorize his long lost sister, H20 doesn’t quite make it above mediocre. However, it has heart in the right place – a cold, bloody slasher heart.
20 years after the events of Halloween/Halloween II, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is now the dean of a private school in Northern California. Her name is now Keri Tate. Better yet, she has a son named John (Josh Hartnett), a boyfriend named Will (Adam Arkin), and she does a great job running Hillcrest Academy.
Unbeknownst to Keri/Laurie, her brother Michael Myers (Chris Durand) has survived. He tracked down a colleague of Loomis, Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), killed her, and found a file on Laurie.
With Michael headed towards her, no clue, eventually Laurie must confront her buried past. Not only that, her son and anyone else in Michael’s path must also come to deal with the past Keri a.k.a Laurie Strode has tried so desperately to leave behind.
There are some great moments in this screenplay. For instance, I love how during one of the classes they’re talking about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, which almost directly parallels Laurie’s own feelings about her and Michael, as if he’s almost an entity she created now, giving him power over her. Or, it can sort of foreshadow the deadly events to follow in the wake of Myers and his serial killer tendencies. Either way, it’s a perfect scene, great dialogue including both Curtis & Williams. As well, it brings us back to the original film where a similar employment of literature is used. Such a stellar use of this technique, which brings us full circle with John Carpenter’s original. Also nowadays many other horror movies have done the same thing, emulating the first Halloween. So it’s fun to see that here in this 1998 revival. Too bad the studio couldn’t cough up the money for Carpenter; between his would-be duties here and all the money they rightfully should’ve paid him for the first movie of the series, $10-million was probably a decent price tag.
The writing in this one isn’t nearly as dreadful as the last couple. Particularly when you look at the young people, Hartnett and Williams specifically, there’s good dialogue. Nothing groundbreaking, just not weak like so many slasher films saturating the market. Surprisingly enough, there’s no onscreen sex to be seen, nothing like that. So you don’t really fall into many of the sub-genre tropes often used in these movies. Even LL Cool J’s minor character as the security guard I found enjoyable; he’s idiosyncratic, he writes and reads his writing to his wife over the phone while on-shift, and he is fairly bad ass. Too many of the Halloween series characters are one-dimensional, that’s including some of the major/lead characters. However, despite its shortcomings Halloween H20 has a few characters whose identities are fleshed out enough through the screenplay that I find the movie totally competent on that end. I’m not a huge fan of everywhere the plot weaves, certainly not nearing and including the end, but the one solid aspect of the writing is definitely the script’s characters.
Skate to the face of Joseph Gordon-Levitt! This is only one of the good kill scenes in the film. That one comes fairly quick, too. While there is a nice shot of the skate itself, it isn’t exactly overly gruesome. Does the trick, though. There are a few brutal slasher moments, from the skate in the face, to a hanging dead body, to lots of good stabbing on Michael’s part. It isn’t the bloodiest of all the sequels. Still, we get to see some real proper killing for Michael and his insatiable bloodlust. Again his strength is on display – has anyone noticed if Myers lifts a person up in every one of the movies? He does Laurie’s new boyfriend in pretty rough, a hard stab in the guts then lifts him up in the air a foot or more to make a point. Always with the tough guy routine, Michael. I love it, all the same; his nasty style is part of why I love him as a slasher villain, he’s a tough, messed up dude who’s power is all human yet totally evil.
With a decent little welcome back to the slasher sub-genre of horror, Jamie Lee Curtis leads one of the better sequels since the first couple Halloween films. Even though I’m not a fan of the ending, I can still say this is a 3.5 out of 5 star horror. There’s some good performance, from Curtis to LL to Hartnett. Plus, we find Michael Myers away from the supernatural murkiness that started to make things terrible in the past couple sequels. Back again is the psychopath, the serial killer Michael, which is the one we know and fear/love. So don’t expect this to be one of the best, however, I wouldn’t be afraid of it either. Don’t expect this to fall in line with the last couple entries of the series, there are better things here; even if it isn’t amazing, H20 tries to please. If things were tweaked a bit more, maybe even add a couple more nasty scenes for emphasis on Michael’s return to a more real killer, it’s possible this one could’ve added itself into a sort of trilogy with the first two movies. Either way, I think it’s good enough to warrant being watched and enjoyed – who doesn’t like slasher kills and Jamie Lee?
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers a.k.a Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers. Directed by Joe Chappelle. Screenplay by Daniel Farrands.
Starring Donald Pleasence, Paul Rudd, Marianne Hagan, Mitchell Ryan, Kim Darby, Bradford English, Keith Bogart, Mariah O’Brien, Leo Geter, J.C. Brandy, Devin Gardner, Susan Swift, and George P. Wilbur. Halloween VI Productions/Miramax/Nightfall/Trancas International Films. Rated R. 87 minutes.
Michael Myers (George P. Wilbur) and his niece Jamie were apparently swept away by a stranger from the Haddonfield Police Department. After six years, a teenage Jamie (J.C. Brandy) is pregnant. Her baby is born on Devil’s Night, the one previous to Halloween. There’s a sort of Druid style cult who takes the child. But a little later, a midwife helps Jamie and her baby get away. Though, Michael is still killing, never stopping.
Jamie gets away and tries to call into a Haddonfield radio station. The DJ ignores her as a ‘crazy’ instead of listening. At the same time, Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence), Dr. Terence Wynn (Mitch Ryan), as well as a grown up Tommy Doyle (Paul Rudd) hear her over the airwaves. She warns of Michael’s return.
Will the sleepy town of Haddonfield survive another 12 rounds with Muhammad Al-Michael?
Part of everyone’s problem with Halloween VI (that’s what I’ll call it if I reference the title from here on in) is the mythology behind Michael Myers. In the first film, while John Carpenter did instill The Shape with a certain amount of inherent, universal evil, there’s still a completely human aspect to Michael. Regardless how many times he survives death, no matter how impossible it has seemed up until now, Myers is a human. He is a damaged psychopath, driven by his own evil mind. Yet in this movie, as well as beginning in the last one, there’s a supernatural type aspect to his character starting to emerge. I don’t dig it. Honestly, if it were simply a cult worshiping Michael – like a sick serial killer fan club – I would’ve been way more into that. As I said, starting in Halloween V this supernatural stuff comes into play. Not a big fan, at all really. Because part of what I enjoy, or find scary I suppose, about Michael as a slasher villain is that he’s still compelling as a man; just a guy. Nothing against Freddy, or Jason, both of whom I enjoy a good deal. There’s simply a more terrifying aspect to a down to earth killer. Yes, again, there are some unreal aspects to Michael at times. Still, though, I always found him more effective as a true to life serial killing maniac.
On top of all that, there are a few points of the plot I don’t understand whatsoever – why would members of the Strode family ever live in the Myers house? I mean, isn’t that a sensible question to ask? Sure, the brother couldn’t sell, so the husband of this family took it. It still doesn’t make any sense to me why any member of the Strode family would move into that house. Unrealistic to imagine nobody before Loomis ever bothered to go mention it to someone in the family. It’s not a huge plot hole or anything. Just a nonsense bit of the screenplay, one of many, I find fairly ridiculous.
Something I do enjoy at least are the kill scenes. Even fairly simple ones, like when Debra Strode (Kim Darby) gets chopped. That’s actually one of the less gruesome kills of the series. Probably because of how it’s cut, the blood hitting those pristine white sheets on the line right after Michael takes a big golf swing with some sort of bladed weapon – the whole thing is effective, and dare I say fun. Good splash of blood to get things going back on the Myers home turf.
When John Strode (Bradford English) gets it, I’m always amazed at how nasty it gets – one second, Michael’s lifting the big dude up after stabbing him. Then onto the electrical panel he goes, before John’s head explodes into bits. I mean, are you kidding me? Takes anything wild that ever happened before in the Halloween series and surpasses it by a few notches. Not that it’s good, not at all. But wild, certainly. And it’s not cheesy, to my mind. It’s a well-done head explosion. Just in the context of Michael and his kills, crazy as they’ve been in the previous films, this one is a god damn doozy; out of control.
Overall, there’s just a lot of primeval brutality from Michael. Even in the way he stabs people. Then there’s the douchebag guy hosting that big event, his corpse gets put up in a tree with lights around it. Fairly grim, macabre stuff. I dig those things in a slasher horror movie. But aside from the slasher elements in the screenplay, the kills, there’s not a whole lot to admire about the writing in this one. The screenwriter, Daniel Farrands, did a great job with the adaptation of Jack Ketchum’s devastating novel (based on a true case) The Girl Next Door. I can’t say his writing abilities were on point in 1995 with this one, not in the slightest. There’s a ton of typical slasher trope-style material, to the point of nausea. If it weren’t for Joe Chappelle’s decent enough direction so many of the decent horror bits would never have come off as well as they manage to, so really Farrands’ script doesn’t do anyone justice. Now I know there were some major problems throughout development and filming, but still there’s nothing here suggesting his work was destined for greatness either way. Just the whole thing really stinks. Except, as I said, for a few truly good slasher scenes and deaths. Otherwise the whole movie would be completely useless.
So in this movie Paul Rudd is completely ridiculous. Honestly, he’s someone I’ve enjoyed as of late (haven’t seen his Marvel turn; not into superhero movies the past year or two). But back in this ’95 flick, he did some over-the-top nonsense. Not even in his mannerisms, I just feel like there’s a creepy factor to him; an unintended one. Yes, he’s meant to seem like a loner, all that. There’s something about the character of Tommy Doyle that ought to come across as loner-ish, definitely, but in the sense he’s lonely, not a creepy weirdo. And Rudd really does make him feel like a creeper, to me. It’s a weird performance.
Luckily, there’s Donald Pleasence. Even among all the shit, he still manages to do a fine job with the character of Dr. Loomis. In fact, this is probably his best performance as Loomis since Halloween II. Truly, I believe that. In the last couple of entries, I found Pleasence good. Though, there was a bit of hammy stuff starting to come out of him, which is great when called for. What I love about Loomis is his determined nature, his stubborn headed-ness in the face of Michael’s eternal evil. Back comes this aspect of him, a more subtle and restrained performance from Pleasence. It’s a treat to see in a fairly dreary movie, we actually don’t get as much as we should. Part of the entire overlapping problem of this film – it moves further and further away from most of the things which make the series, and Michael in particular, so damn great.
In all, I can give this movie a 2 star rating and not feel bad about it. Those stars are entirely earned through blood and Donald Pleasence. If you’ve frequented this site before, or look up at the top of my page’s screen, you’ll figure out I’m a fan of the Halloween series. There are a few real awesome slasher movies out of the lot, plus Halloween III: Season of the Witch with its own incredibly weird/neat vibe. Then we get a couple mediocre efforts, capped off with a few abysmal entries; this being one in the latter category. Even the music in this one isn’t up to par with any of the mediocre Halloween movies. If you’re a completist, watch this one. If not don’t bother – the next sequel undoes all the nonsense conjured up in this one concerning the Thorn cult, or whatever. You won’t regret seeing it, though, you won’t regret not seeing it either. Your choice. A rainy day might be best for this one.
No Telling. 1991. Directed by Larry Fessenden. Screenplay by Larry Fessenden & Beck Underwood.
Starring Miriam Healy-Louie, Stephen Ramsey, David Van Tieghem, Richard Topol, Ashley Arcement, Robert Brady, Susan Doukas, Ward Burlingham, J.J. Clark, Stanley Taub, Francois Lampietti, and John Van Couvering.
Glass Eye Pix.
Not Rated. 93 minutes.
Larry Fessenden has long been a filmmaker in which I’ve had intense interest. There’s a quality about all his films, no matter how far apart thematically or plot-wise they may be, I’m consistently drawn in by and after every watch, regardless which movie, I usually find his stories on my mind for days.
The first time I saw a Fessenden film was about a decade ago – more like 11 years ago, to be exact. I saw his flick Wendigo on a whim. It was being screened by some group in St. Catharine’s, Ontario where I went to school at the time. There’s a mysterious and eerie air to that movie I couldn’t compare to anything else, at least nothing I’d seen at that point. Not only that, I was going to film school and his filmmaking struck me as such a beautiful, natural process. After seeing more of his work, eventually getting the chance to see Habit, Fessenden became a beacon of light in the indie world. Because his movies, while low budget compared to Hollywood, didn’t feel low budget. He makes use of interesting locations, as well as talented actors to make all the horrific and sometimes completely terrifying aspects of his writing come across.
No Telling is perhaps some of his best work, honestly. Though it isn’t a comment on his skills – he’s always improving, like any true artist. But I find most interesting here the weight and execution of what he’s getting across in this film. Plus, there’s a lovably indie quality to this film which gives it a subtle, special quality. Certainly Fessenden doesn’t appeal to everyone as it is. At the same time, if any of his movies might divide people it is this one – paced with a wonderfully slow burn, there are some intensely gruesome moments in terms of animals; something a portion of people appear to have trouble with. Either way, be prepared: it’s a great non-conventional horror movie.
Geoffrey and Lillian Gaines (Stephen Ramsey/Miriam Healy-Louie) move into a a house during the summer, out in the countryside. Geoffrey is a scientist. He does top-secret work in his barn where a lab is setup. His artist wife Lillian becomes friendly with an activist named Alex Vine (David Van Tieghem), which becomes more frequent as time goes on.
Soon enough, though, Lillian begins to wonder what it is exactly her husband does out in the laboratory. Some days she barely sees him at all. Others, he’s there yet not really, or he sweats uncontrollably, nervous and awkward around any other people. Once Lillian manages to get into the secretive lab, she sees pictures of dissected animals, she finds one of the old traps, and their relationship begins to crumble.
In the same vein as Mary Shelley and her mad Dr. Frankenstein, Fessenden’s No Telling pits man against nature, man against man, and even woman again man.
The basic look of this film is actually incredible. Funny enough, the cinematographer David Shaw actually did nothing after this movie, which is a shame. Though, he did operate Steadicam on a film in’95. It’s crazy because one of the first things I enjoyed about No Telling was the look. The Blu ray comes courtesy of the Larry Fessenden Collection, only recently released; also comes with Habit, Wendigo, and the Last Winter, as well as a ton of extras including short films, music videos and lots of commentary. Really this Blu ray collection is a fucking treasure.
No Telling‘s audio and picture are both unbelievably perfect. The exterior shots are something to behold, then there are great contrasted shots of shadowy goodness inside the barn-laboratory and even at times in the house itself. Again, I’m so amazed Shaw didn’t go on to do more work as cinematographer. Between him and Fessenden there is a wealth of beautifully composed shots, interesting camerawork (angles particularly) and an all around nice style.
Obviously, when you look at this film’s alternate title The Frankenstein Complex, you can easily see – even without doing so – there are roots of this story growing out of Mary Shelley’s original novel Frankenstein. Lots of interesting things happening in this movie, courtesy of the tight screenplay from Fessenden and Beck Underwood. Naturally, this comes out from the young doctor and his experiments. However, the movie takes it further into the idea of man playing god using animals as his subject. You can clearly see how Fessenden feels about animal experimentation; at the same time, he makes a good point for the side of the scientist, as well. As I mentioned earlier, there are a couple particularly savage shots where Geoffrey (Ramsey) is in his barn-lab doing work that might get touchy for anyone sensitive seeing animals in horror movies. But this only serves to create a weird character in Geoffrey, the heinous doctor working out in the isolated farmlands on who knows what sort of mental medical experiments.
The whole film is very heavy in theme. We watch this doctor and his wife sort of spiral into a descent towards a place where life is dark and dangerous. To compliment such darkness, again it’s the camerawork and the style of Fessenden which make it all compelling. One specific shot I can’t stop thinking of comes after Geoffrey puts a few small metal traps out to catch animals around the property – as Lillian is upstairs, the snap of a trap comes in the distance and then a red filter takes over the visuals, slowly cutting and cutting, editing towards shots of a fox (or something similar) baring its teeth, no doubt caught in the trap’s jaws. Very, very effective and such a neat moment. I was caught off-guard, in such a perfect sense. Made my eyes widen and excited me with all its horror. This is only one of the awesome sequences out of this fascinating film.
This is one of my favourite Larry Fessenden films. I’ve seen them all now, especially since getting this collection it’s been easy. 4.5 out of 5 stars, none less. No Telling has a ton of spooky horror, but it isn’t conventional like jumpy stuff. Nor is there a lot of the typical sort of reliance on genre tropes. What Fessenden does here is a create a unique and intensely modern story using Mary Shelley as a very basic framework. Too many seem to pass this off as a mere retelling of Frankenstein. It is so much more. Just take a chance and watch this excellent little indie horror. It will compel and disturb you and surprise you even.
Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers. 1989. Directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard. Screenplay by Shem Bitterman/Dominique Othenin-Girard/Michael Jacobs.
Starring Donald Pleasence, Danielle Harris, Ellie Cornell, Beau Starr, Jeffrey Landman, Tamara Glynn, Donald L. Shanks, Jonathan Chapin, Matthew Walker, Wendy Foxworth, Betty Carvalho, Troy Evans and Frankie Como. Magnum Pictures Inc./The Return of Myers/Trancas International Films. Rated R. 96 minutes.
The Halloween series gets worse after the 4th installment, even lots of people might say that was a bust. Me, I enjoyed it. Starting with this film, Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers, the brutal psychopath reality of Myers himself began to be diluted. Though I love the connection between Michael and his niece Jamie, the writers tried to go too far into the supernatural aspect of Myers – he always had a sort of inhuman, or superhuman quality about him, but it was best left a mystery like in the original; he was pure evil.
With this sequel, the series starts on a long descent into obscurity. Though, I did love the remake and partly enjoyed its sequel from Rob Zombie, even if many hated it and loathe him for even touching Halloween. But as far as the original series itself goes, after this one it gets pretty bad, embarrassing almost. This movie doesn’t have full coherence at its side. That being said, I do love the suspense and tension still present in Michael’s character, his lurking and his casual sneak behind the scenes unnoticed. And it’s always nice to see Dr. Loomis, no matter how cranky a bastard he may be after all these years hunting evil.
One year following the events of Halloween IV, Michael Myers (Donald L. Shanks) has survived the shootings of the previous year’s Halloween night. Little Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) has gone mute after attacking her own stepmother. She’s confined to a children’s hospital, treated for her psychological trauma. It becomes apparent to Dr. Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence) that Jamie is exhibiting a type of connection, a mental link with her uncle Michael. As the psychotic slasher kills his way back to try and finally kill his niece, Loomis and the other Haddonfield residents try to band together in order to safeguard the lives of those who matter most from walking evil.
But as he’s so often proved before, nothing seems a match for Michael Myers. He is the living, breathing, walking presence of death. He will have what he wants.
Michael Myers is a feral, savage beast. He coldly kills the man who looked after him once collapsing after coming out of the river. Not that I expected any less, but still – cold blooded. Starting with the previous film, Halloween IV, Michael already started to exhibit pretty harsh, violent strength. From the beginning with Carpenter he was always an unnaturally strong slasher, but in the last movie the savagery of his kills began amping up. There was already the thumb through a guy’s forehead. Here, it isn’t only the intensity of the kills themselves, there’s an even worse sense of Michael’s vicious nature coming out. He’s becoming a worse evil than ever imagined, if that’s entirely possible. So, one of the positive things I can say about this sequel is the fact Michael sort of changes, at least in a slight sense, as a horror movie slasher. Okay – it’s not huge literary character development. Could be worse, though.
Then there are some excellent little sequences full of fear. For instance, when Jamie (Harris) is running through the hospital, thinking uncle Michael is right on her tail and trying to kill her, there’s a good deal of suspense and the heart gets pumping. Of course she’s only imagining it, and the big jump comes as you almost expect Michael to be there. Instead it’s a maintenance man, a nurse behind him, each looking for Jamie. I thought that was a solid scene, subverted expectations.
Another scene I liked is when Tina (Wendy Foxworth) goes out to the car, expecting her boyfriend Mikey (Jonathan Chapin), only unbeknownst to her it’s actually Mikey Myers in the mask she bought – it was super tense, I honestly didn’t know how the scene was going to go and I constantly feared for Tina’s life, every step of the way. Really effective few moments, even tied up with Jamie and her strange psychic connection with Michael, because there are moments cutting to and from Jamie/Tina which make it all the more nervous for the audience.
On top of that, I do like the Thorn Cult people prowling around. Adds something extra. While I’m not a fan of the supernatural-ish angle happening, their presence is definitely creepy. Seeing one of them walk out after Loomis heads downstairs in the old Myers house, another passes out onto the street in another shot between the Jamie/Tina ordeal – I find it dark and foreboding. I guess the positive aspect of this, what I’m trying to get at is, that if Myers and his story has to be continued with these sequels, it’s at least interesting the writers tried to conjure up a backstory with more depth than originally intended. Not saying it’s better than just the faceless slasher, the mysterious psychopath. But if it’s got to be kept going, at least make it interesting and a little fresh.
An important aspect of this movie is the fact Danielle Harris was a great actress at such a young age. Even with the silliness of the psychic link between her character and Michael, she did a wonderful job. The fact Jamie was mute for the first half of the film made for some interesting acting, which I enjoy to the fullest. She brings across the struggling, traumatized little girl in Jamie so well. I still find Harris to be a quality actress, even a good director now, even if the films she acts in aren’t always the best. At an early age, Harris was able to prove herself and add something interesting to Halloween V in a slightly bland sequel.
Aside from Harris’ performance and the handful of creepy scenes, there’s not a whole lot else going on. The kills are decent here and that gives the movie something else to rely on. Most of the acting holds up, but it’s really Harris and Donald Pleasence – of course – who hold up that end of the bargain. If the writers hadn’t leaned into the psychic connection it may have been better: the whole cult thing was cool, it just should’ve been turned into something different other than what it later became in further sequels; I always imagined it cool if a cult began to worship Michael instead of what started to happen after this movie. I love all the Jamie-Michael stuff, but it wasn’t best served being turned into a supernatural thriller style plot device.
I can’t rate this Halloween installment any lower than 3.5 out of 5 stars. It is nowhere near any of the best this series has to offer. Still, though, I think there are some good moments of suspense, lots of tense scenes. Instead of jump scares this film relies on a nice performance from Danielle Harris, the return of Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis, as well as a slow pace. If the story were better I could’ve definitely given this a half star (or more) extra. However, the plot in this movie begins to make the series get silly and bad as the sequels push on. Either way I don’t feel this movie deserves the hate it gets, nor is it a masterpiece. It’s just a fun sequel despite its flaws.
John Carpenter’s The Fog. 1980. Directed by John Carpenter. Written by Carpenter & Debra Hill.
Starring Adrienne Barbeau, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, John Houseman, Hal Holbrook, Charles Cyphers, George ‘Buck’ Flower, and Jim Haynie. AVCO Embassy Pictures/EDI/Debra Hill Productions. Rated R. 89 minutes.
An impressive aspect about John Carpenter, other than stuff I’ve already talked about in reviews, is that his filmography as director has covered such ground in terms of genre. While a lot of it is horror-centric, within horror he crosses over into science fiction, the thriller, and even ghosts/the supernatural. He can cross any genres and make them work well with his slow and steady pacing, his suspenseful style. The ghost story style plot works for Carpenter, as he has a way of creeping up on you, every frame draped in the lurking presence of danger.
The Fog is a super interesting story of ghosts looking for revenge and a town with deep, dark secrets. Carpenter and frequent partner-collaborator Debra Hill came up with a nice screenplay, which he in turn crafted with style into one hell of a creepy horror movie.
In Antonio Bay, California, a one hundred year celebration is about to happen. Kathy Williams (Janet Leigh) is busy preparing the town for its big shindig, while Father Malone (Hal Holbrook) is playing his part well enough, except his church is obviously in financial ruins; all the money flowing into big parades and such for the centennial. Then there’s Stevie Wayne (Adrienne Barbeau) who keeps herself and her son afloat, barely, by owning/operating the lighthouse radio station. At the same time, Nick Castle (Tom Atkins) rolls into town with a hitchhiking young woman named Elizabeth Solley (Jamie Lee Curtis).
But things start to go wrong, or at least they begin to get strange. A boat full of men doesn’t come in like they usually do, which prompts Nick to go looking for a friend who’d been on it. Once they track down the boat everything gets weirder, and not a soul is found aboard.
On land, Father Malone happens to find a diary lodged in the wall of his office at the church – it paints a gruesome picture of the residents in Antonio Bay during 1880 who did terrible, unspeakable things all under the guise of keeping their citizens safe from sickness. What has begun to happen in the little town turns out to be the revenge of those beyond the grave… those who will rise up from the water, in the fog, to come for every last descendant of the ones who took their lives.
Said it before, I’ll say it over and over: Carpenter’s scores are undeniably infectious. The swell of the electronic sound he often lays under a scene, how the swell then builds and builds, it’s so effective. I think that’s a big reason why I’ve always been so in love with 1980s horror – not only was I born in the ’80s, the music of those films was always so interesting, so brooding; not every last one of them, but so many, even the shit ones some times. But Carpenter infuses each of his films with such an intriguing sound in that way. It helps his style so much, the way he works off of suspense and tension. The music really lends itself to that. Particularly I love it here because the way the fog creeps in during many scenes almost matches the sound of the score. There’s more to simply throwing a bunch of special makeup effects and a fog machine into the shot – Carpenter actually crafts an atmosphere of genuine tension, his ghostly apparitions sneak into the frame and into our heads, they slowly take over the small seaside town. At the same time the terror slowly works its way up your spine and seeps into your brain. I’m not one to get JUMP UP AND SCREAM SCARED. But I love a good slow burning, deeply tense horror movie. Carpenter almost exclusively does this type of work.
Another big part of this film are the landscapes Carpenter includes. The cinematography from Dean Cundey, a Carpenter-collaborator on the regular, is fascinating. So beautiful, at the same time it sets up this incredibly desolate feeling. Much like his work in The Thing. Here, the way he captures so many of the wide open spaces, the ocean, the hills, it’s really disturbing in a gorgeous visual sense. There’s always a feeling of isolation in Carpenter’s work, whether it’s Assault on Precinct 13, Halloween, or The Fog. Cundey is able to provide big lush visual feasts in which the suspense/tension of Carpenter comes out perfectly.
There are plenty films which use radio deejays as plot devices, such as Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing and Don McKellar’s Last Night. What I enjoy about Adrienne Barbeau in this film, as lighthouse personality Stevie Wayne, is that she’s not used as a plot device. Rather, Stevie is just a solid character who we come to know intimately through her soft and silky voice going out over the waves in the dark of night. Then once her plight begins, things feel more tense.
And this comes back to the fact I feel Carpenter and Hill are good writers. They’re not trying to do anything crazy here, nothing metaphorical or anything (though you can absolutely take away stuff like that if you want/look into it enough). But really they craft a nice story with good characters. They’re able to get you to care for these people and pity them for being caught in the crossfire caused by their ancestors; while hating what the people of Antonio Bay did back in the latter half of the 19th century, these genuine, nice characters don’t deserve to die for that – do they?
Stevie Wayne is not the only good character. I love them all. Hal Holbrook’s Father Malone is solid, right to the end. Aside from him there’s the always charismatic Tom Atkins, who I was recently enjoying in the underrated (and misunderstood) Halloween III: Season of the Witch. And last but not least, not at all, the wonderful Jamie Lee Curtis in another early horror movie performance; she is funny, sweet and has great presence in this film whenever she’s onscreen. The chemistry between Atkins and Curtis’ characters is phenomenal and adds a little something extra to their subplot, as they try to survive their time in Antonio Bay.
So many creepy moments and scenes. One of my favourites is when Nick (Atkins) is telling Elizabeth (Curtis) a story, then first a locker tips over scaring her before an actual body, its eyes gouged out, falls against her back; what an awesome two-punch technique! Love that one. Usually I’m not one for jump scares, but I love them when done right. Carpenter utilizes them appropriately a lot of the time, much as he started doing back in Halloween. He knows how to do them with an interesting touch instead of heavy handed, making it a cheap scare tactic.
But the best spots in The Fog are those that slowly catch you. Like when the fog overtakes everything in Antonio Bay, and one by one people start to get sucked in and killed by the ghosts of the lepers. I love how you know what’s coming, yet Carpenter draws you in and makes things incredibly suspenseful.
A top pick for favourite moment has to go to when Stevie (Barbeau) ends up climbing, climbing the lighthouse trying to outlast the fog coming for her. I’m afraid of heights (even though I once worked as an electrician in Alberta at ridiculous heights; never again), so this part really grates my nerves. In the best filmic sense. Also helps that this scene comes nearing the finale, obviously. There’s a great intensity watching Stevie try her damnedest to survive. A real trooper.
Another top pick – Elizabeth encounters a reanimated man. I won’t say anything further. Wildly creepy scene.
Another 5 star ’80s classic from John Carpenter. He and Debra Hill did so well with this story. It’s a gothic, macabre piece of writing. Pile onto that the excellent cast, the score, all those awesome shots and effects – it’s a real masterpiece of ghostly horror. I can’t recommend this one enough. Always a huge fan of Carpenter, I consistently come back to this one because it’s spooky, it has great writing, and I’m always entertained. You’ve got to add this to any Carpenter marathon, as well as any proper Halloween/October movie list. It has a ton of great qualities, especially for a creepy night with the television on and the lights off.