The Night(s) He Came Home
So, Anchor Bay’s Scream Factory imprint just released a box set containing all the Halloween movies on Blu-Ray. The set has special features galore, including the producer’s cut of Halloween 6, which I have heard about for years, and a lot of new supplemental material for most of the films. Not sure what is new on the Rob Zombie versions but all of the older releases have at least some original stuff along with vault material included. Scream Factory has been an awesome imprint thus far and this set seems to be of the highest quality possible.
Long story short-if you love the Halloween films and have the scratch to spare, then GET THIS SET! Picking it up was a no-brainer for me. Halloween has long been my favorite horror movie, and the subsequent sequels, even when they have been bad, are more appealing to me than most horror franchises (Texas Chain Saw being the only other exception). Having the whole set for the first time ever also brought an idea to mind; spend the month of October watching the series from start to finish and write about them. This means ten movies in all, spread out over five weeks. Instead of just doing two per week I am going to do them based on how they connect together story-wise, and for the most part they are not going to be full-on reviews but more of answering how I feel about these movies now. It’s been years since I’ve watched a couple of them (Halloween 4 and Halloween 5), there’s one that I’ve never watched (Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2), and one I wish I could erase from the collective memory (Halloween Res-Erection). What will any of this Halloween watching amount to? Who the hell knows, but hopefully it will be fun at least, and it starts out on a high note.
John Carpenter’s Halloween
Although there had been slasher movies previous to this one, of which The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Psycho are probably the most famous, John Carpenter’s Halloween pretty much set up the formula that is still followed to this day. Think of it as the Goldfinger of slasher movies if you will. Lunatic on the prowl, teenagers in peril, virgin lives while everybody else dies, etc. Although Scream was an ironic take on the genre as a whole, it could have just as easily been solely based on this movie.
I have seen Halloween upwards of thirty times. I’ve probably only seen Goodfellas and Wayne’s World more often. To say that I love this movie is an understatement. It’s not only my favorite horror movie but it’s in my top five favorites movies of all time so I’m not going to bother slathering praise on it. Just know, there is no better horror movie that has ever been made as far as I’m concerned.
Halloween is really the beginning of John Carpenter’s hit streak as well. This would continue through the better part of a decade, finally losing steam towards the start of the 1990’s. I would wager to say that there is no genre director from this time period that could touch Carpenter in sheer quality and conciseness of direction. Go back and watch Halloween, The Thing, Escape From New York, The Fog, and even Assault on Precinct 13 (which predates Halloween) and you will witness a master at work. Carpenter has never gotten quite the respect he deserves from the mainstream, due partly to his later critical and commercial failures, but it’s about time for a reevaluation of his work.
Watching Halloween almost forty years after it was made, it’s easy to forget just how novel the movie was when it came out. It was an independent movie that became a blockbuster. It was a horror movie that was critically acclaimed. It was also the last of a dying breed; the horror movie that relied more on suspense than gore. There is not a very big body count in Halloween, and even less blood. It is a movie that builds suspense using the score and atmosphere and making the most of a shoestring budget. I can dig gore as much as the next guy but when you can scare the pants off somebody just using a pair of coveralls, a bleached out Captain Kirk mask, and a minimalist keyboard score, you’re A-Okay with me. That means you John Carpenter. I’m talking to you!
And then there’s Halloween II.
I’m going to be real honest here, even though I claimed for years to really like Halloween II, I am unsure that I had ever watched it front to back before just a few days ago. Now don’t get me wrong-I have watched the whole movie a couple of times but it seems like those times were in pieces and not in one sitting. The reason I am bringing this up is due to this fact; Halloween II kind of sucks. Not in a Jason Goes to Hell kind of way (read my review of it HERE), but in a “this should have been a lot better” kind of way.
Now don’t get me wrong; Halloween II is still decent when compared to most horror sequels, but as a movie that picks up directly after the events of the first film, it falls flat. Instead of suspense you get gore, instead of atmosphere you get darkness, instead of a minimalist score you get the same score with more instruments added. Halloween II is a lot of more that doesn’t add up to much of anything.
Like the first movie, this one is written by John Carpenter (who refused to direct) and Debra Hill. Unfortunately between the two movies they apparently forgot what made the first one good. According to Tommy Lee Wallace on the disc’s special features, Carpenter purposely went in a more gore and shock based direction with the script for Halloween II, due to that being the prevailing horror motif at the time. Allow me to (surely not) be the first to say that in this case, more most certainly equals less. Halloween II has less scares, less atmosphere, and less personality than the first movie. There are portions of the first Halloween that still creep me out after all these years. This one, on the other hand, has scares that are instantly forgettable.
Oh yeah! I almost forgot that this one introduces the whole Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is Michael Myers sister storyline. This plot point comes back several times over the series and seems to be the only thing that Rob Zombie’s (boring and useless) remake truly cares about from the original movies. Leave it up to Rob Zombie to forget about suspense and atmosphere in favor of hackneyed soap opera plot points. He truly is an auteur.
All in all, if you are a fan of Halloween, then Halloween II is worth checking out. It’s certainly not the worst in the series (don’t worry…we’ll get there) and it does have at least one crazy memorable scene. Here’s a hint; it involves an ambulance and a Michael Myers look-alike. The directing by Rick Rosenthal is fine. Donald Pleasance is still great at chewing up scenery as Dr. Loomis, even if he doesn’t have as many classic lines in this one (“THE EVIL IS GONE!”), and Jamie Lee Curtis is as good as ever as Laurie Strode, even though she spends about half the movie in an almost catatonic daze.
Next week I’ll be tackling the much maligned Halloween III: Season of the Witch. This one REALLY divides fans of the series so I am going to devote the whole column to it. A bit of a spoiler for the haters in the crowd-I’m a pretty big fan of Season of the Witch, so get your Silver Shamrock masks out and get ready!
Until next time…