[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 31 – Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)

Director: Steve Miner

Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin, Michelle Williams, Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodi Lynn O’Keefe, John Hartnett, L.L. Cool J, Joseph Gordon Levitt, Janet Leigh

Screenplay: Robert Zappia, Matt Greenberg

86 mins. Rated R for terror violence/gore and language.

 

I grew up on Halloween. To this day, it’s still my favorite horror film of all time. There’s a lot of emotional connection for me, as Halloween is also one of my mother’s favorite scary movies and we would jump in and watch it every time we’d come across it on TV. It was a staple in our home year round, but most specifically during October. We also were fans of the rest of the sequels as well, but there was something special about the 1998 film Halloween H20. We were finally going to see a return to the franchise for Jamie Lee Curtis (True Lies, Knives Out) as Laurie Strode, something that we didn’t expect to see every again after the character was unceremoniously killed offscreen between Halloween 2 and Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. All of a sudden, there was an excited fervor for me and my mother as we patiently awaited the new film. I think she deemed me too young to see it in the theater, but we caught it as soon as we could on home video, with our excitement at a fever pitch. The only question at that point would be whether or not the film would be worth the wait.

It’s been 20 years since Laurie Strode (Curtis) faced off against her brother Michael Myers on that fateful Halloween night. In that time, Strode has tried to move on with her life. She’s gone into hiding, adopted a new name and job (Keri Tate, the headmistress of Hillcrest Academy, a private boarding school), and aims to raise her son John (Josh Hartnett, Lucky Number Slevin, TV’s Die Hart) to be ready for the dangers of the world. John sees it a different way. He sees an overbearing mother living in the past unable to cope with the real world. John wants a normal life, and when he sees an opportunity to celebrate Halloween for the first time with his friends, he takes it. What neither Laurie nor John know is that Michael is still out there, and he’s finally found his sister. This Halloween night, he and Laurie are headed for a reunion and a confrontation that will test Strode to her very core.

There was and still is a lot of confusion surrounding the Halloween franchise, starting with the return of Laurie Strode in this film. Within the story of the franchise to this point, Laurie Strode died in a car crash sometime before the The Return of Michael Myers in 1988, and that story surrounded her daughter Jamie Lloyd. When we meet Laurie Strode in this film, there’s no mention of that daughter and we are instead introduced a son. Apparently, the reaction to The Curse of Michael Myers (the sixth film) and the introduction of a supernatural cult as a backstory for Michael Myers didn’t go over so well, and the idea of doing a straight sequel was trashed in favor of ignoring it altogether and refocusing on Laurie’s return to the franchise. An early draft of this film gave a secondary plot to Sarah (Jodi Lynn O’Keefe, She’s All That, TV’s Hit the Floor) who is fascinated by Michael Myers and Laurie Strode, digging into the history, learning of Jamie Lloyd and the previous events of the franchise, unaware that her school headmistress is Strode. This idea was deemed too convoluted and, I feel, also painted Laurie in a bad light considering the events that take place surrounding her daughter in the previous three films. We ended up with a film that neither retcons the previous entries nor references them outright, serving as a direct sequel to Halloween II. This would happen again to a larger degree with Halloween 2018.

H20 was definitely influenced by Scream and Dimension wanted to play off the success of a new franchise with Michael Myers, going so far as to throw out John Ottman’s score for the film and use chunks of Marco Beltrami’s Scream and Scream 2 score in H20. The result does lose a little bit of the tone that the Halloween franchise had cultivated to that point, but the direction from Steve Miner (Warlock, Private Valentine: Blonde & Dangerous), who at that point had already helmed two installments of the Friday the 13th franchise, and the story shepherding by Kevin Williamson help to bring Halloween into the modern realm of horror. The film feels fresh, biting, and dark without losing any steam, and the tight run time (the shortest of any Halloween film in the franchise) keeps the adrenaline pumping while covering a lot of ground. H20 also contains one of the most shocking finales of the franchise.

I also want to make a point of applauding Jamie Lee Curtis on her performance. Curtis created this character back in 1978, made it her own, and yet, she feels right at home slipping back into the role of Laurie. You can say that the character is essentially just Jamie because of how early in her career she first played the teenage babysitter, and you wouldn’t be wrong in that way. I see a lot of Sylvester Stallone in Rocky Balboa as well. Jamie Lee Curtis and Laurie Strode are synonymous with each other in the same way that Harrison Ford is with both Han Solo and Indiana Jones. Still, there’s something really feral about the way Curtis plays Strode here, a woman who has been living in fear up to this point who elects not to take it anymore. She’s decides to stop running, stop hiding, and face her enemy on her own terms. It’s an excellent performance.

The rest of the cast does quite nicely here as well. I really like Adam Arkin (A Serious Man, TV’s Chicago Hope) as Will Brennan, Laurie’s love interest. Hartnett holds his own here as well in an early role, playing nicely off of Curtis. We also get early work from Michelle Williams (Blue Valentine, TV’s Fosse/Verdon) and a nice cameo appearance from Curtis’s mother, Janet Leigh (Psycho, The Manchurian Candidate). Hell, even L.L. Cool J (Deep Blue Sea, TV’s NCIS: Los Angeles) isn’t terrible as Ronny, the school’s security guard with a dream of being a writer.

Yeah, that’s great and everything, but is the film scary? Is it entertaining? Is it fun? I would say absolutely. Not to appear like I’m trying to be macho, I’m not usually scared much in movies anymore, but I find this installment of the Halloween franchise to be thrilling, exciting, unnerving (I specifically remember being terrified as child by something in the first ten minutes of the movie), and entertaining. That’s all this movie is aiming for, and I feel it succeeds.

I wish movies would stop ignoring their mythology. I hate seeing retcons and requels and all that, but when it is done well, I can certainly appreciate it. I don’t like that Halloween H20 decided to ignore several sequels, but hands down the film is entertaining, aided by the triumphant return of Jamie Lee Curtis to the role she made famous 20 years earlier, and directed finely by Steve Miner, who just doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a filmmaker (though he did make Soul Man, so maybe that’s on him). H20 was, simply put, the best film in the franchise since the original, and though I’m not sure it still is, I can commend it on being a thoroughly enjoyable little horror movie. This one is still worth your time.

Happy Halloween, everyone.

 

4/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

  • For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.
  • For my review of Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II, click here.
  • For my review of Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, click here.
  • For my review of Dwight H. Little’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, click here.
  • For my review of Dominique Othenin-Girard’s Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, click here.
  • For my review of Joe Chappelle’s Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, click here.
  • For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.
  • For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.
  • For my review of Steve Miner’s House, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VII: The New Blood] Day 2 – Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare (1991)

Director: Rachel Talalay

Cast: Robert Englund, Lisa Zane, Shon Greenblatt, Lezlie Deane, Yaphet Kotto

Screenplay: Michael De Luca

89 mins. Rated R for horror violence, and for language and drug content.

 

If you have ever seen Never Sleep Again: The Elm Street Legacy, a lengthy documentary on the making of the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, or its sister Crystal Lake Memories (the making of the Friday the 13th franchise), you will know how much work has gone into each of these films, even though the criticism by many of the uninitiated is that they are all the same. They believe that each installment is the exact same as the previous ones, a story repeated over and over until the box office receipts are too small to be worth the risk of doing it all again. In this assumption, they would be wrong. The sixth Nightmare on Elm Street film went through several drafts from several screenwriters, each trying to nail down a unique new direction to take the film. Today, let’s talk about the finished product and try to wrap our heads around how it all failed so spectacularly.

Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare opens ten years in the future, presumably in the year 1999 or 2001. In the years since Freddy Krueger (Robert Englund, Nightworld: Door of Hell, The Midnight Man) began his otherworldly murder spree, he has claimed almost all of the children of Springwood, and the town itself has become a ghost, a shell of its former self. Now, he sets his sights on a young man with no memory of who he is. This John Doe (Shon Greenblatt, Newsies, Luster), as he is lovingly referred to, finds himself at a shelter for troubled teens and, with the help of Dr. Maggie Burroughs (Lisa Zane, The Nurse, Game Day), he follows a trail of clues leading back to Springwood, Fred Krueger, and a revelation that neither is prepared for.

Of the many varied attempts to nail down the story for a sixth film, director Peter Jackson had a take where kids were purposely drugging themselves in order to enter the dreamworld and beat up a weakened and aged Freddy Krueger, and there was also an idea to bring back Jacob Johnson (Alice’s son from the previous film) as a teenager, so it both shocked and disappointed me that we got a “finale” that feels so uninspired, cheap, and forgettable. There are flashes of a genius take on Freddy Krueger here, but they are lost under the weight of all the meaningless goofiness. The tone here suggests the director, Rachel Talalay (Tank Girl, On the Farm), believed that Freddy Krueger was at his best when he is comical, silly, almost chummy with the audience. The failure here (this failure is similar to what happened with Chucky as well) is misunderstanding that Freddy’s wit should be used only to lull the audience into a sense of fun before ratcheting up the horror elements again. A well-placed piece of dialogue can convince the viewers that it’s okay, we’re having a good time, and it calms the audience after a big scare before introducing another one. Here, the horror is almost used to remind the audience that it’s okay, we’re still watching a scary movie, even if you aren’t scared.

As I’ve said, there are elements to Freddy’s Dead that could have really worked in a better movie. One of those elements is the mythology building. Other horror franchises have taken a stab at building in supernatural mythology late in the franchise with films like Jason Goes to Hell or Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, but for Freddy’s Dead, being so heavily laced with supernatural elements from the get-go really helps it here. In the case of Michael Myers and Jason Voorhees, those franchises started out rather simple, with stories of serial killers that, however unlikely, “could have happened.” With the original Nightmare on Elm Street, we knew that Freddy was a monster, a demon, or something unholy from the very beginning, so the way that Springwood has been turned into a ghost town with people slowly going mad after the loss of all the children could really work. I’m also referring to the Dream Demons, a concept that seems to have some value to it in establishing Freddy’s supernatural powers without downright spoiling the mystery. Even the backstory of Freddy’s childhood, all things that could have worked in the proper context.

So what does work in the film? Well, as I said above, the origin story is an element that could have been better, but I felt it was still executed nicely in the finished product. There’s something to seeing the evil of this “Son of a Hundred Maniacs” at play from a very early period, and the sequence featuring a cameo by Alice Cooper as a foster father to Freddy is deliciously wicked and disturbing. I enjoyed the idea that Fred, as an adult, tried to suppress his darker deeds and eventually tried to hide them behind a traditional suburban façade, and I also really like his later monologue in the film where he expresses no remorse and takes no responsibility for his deeds.

There’s a standout sequence in this film featuring Carlos, one of the teenagers from the shelter who ends up in Springwood with Maggie and the John Doe, that is exemplary and stands out among the wreckage of the movie. I won’t get into specifics but the use of sound and sleight-of-hand calls back to more traditional Nightmare, with Freddy playing a supernatural cat-and-mouse game with his prey.

Bringing a real conclusion to Freddy Krueger’s tale had to be a daunting task for production, but sadly, the screenplay and plotting from Michael De Luca (In the Mouth of Madness) was seeming buried under a collection of poor ingredients. Most of the cameos in the film (besides Cooper’s) do not work. The inclusion of Roseanne and Tom Arnold as grieving parents doesn’t work as comedic or sad in a scene that should have been tragic (grieving parents going mad over their pain), and Johnny Depp appears in a dream, perhaps as himself or the still-suffering Glen from the original film, and being wasted as much as the original Ghostbusters actors who appeared in the reboot. The entire video-game/power-glove/Breckin Meyer-fights-his-father sequence is laughably Looney Tunes and out of place (this was his first role, and I can’t blame him for taking it).  The 3D finale almost seems like high-art compared to the previous hour, but again, it’s a gimmick that took precedence over the conclusion to one of the most iconic franchises in horror history.

I’m not mad that Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare is easily the weakest entry in the franchise by a mile. I’m just disappointed, and maybe that hurts more than anything else, really. Here we have an example of filmmakers and crew doing what they think is best but ultimately creating a film that doesn’t honor what the fans want. I’m a big defender of the filmmaker making their vision and screw trying to make the fans happy, but I’m not entirely sure who the team behind Freddy’s Dead is trying to please, because it certainly wasn’t me. There are some elements that work at play here, but they are far and few between. It pains me to say it, but I’m guessing Freddy’s hell is probably just rewatching this finale.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For my review of Sean S. Cunningham’s Friday the 13th, click here.

For my review of Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part 2, click here.

For my review of Steve Miner’s Friday the 13th Part III, click here.

For my review of Joseph Zito’s Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, click here.

For my review of Jack Sholder’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge, click here.

For my review of Danny Steinmann’s Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning, click here.

For my review of Chuck Russell’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, click here.

For my review of Tom McLoughlin’s Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI, click here.

For my review of Renny Harlin’s A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, click here.

For my review of John Carl Buechler’s Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood, click here.

For my review of Stephen Hopkins’ A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, click here.

For my review of Rob Hedden’s Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, click here.

[31 Days of Horror Part VI: Jason Lives] Day 31 – Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

Director: Joe Chappelle

Cast: Donald Pleasence, Paul Rudd, Marianne Hagan, Mitchell Ryan

Screenplay: Daniel Farrands

87 mins. Rated R for strong horror violence, and some sexuality.

 

Well, it’s the end of October, and we find ourselves at the end of 31 Days of Horror. I’ve enjoyed it very much, and I hope you have as well. Like any October ending, we find ourselves at Halloween, and today we’ll be talking about The Curse of Michael Myers, the sixth and arguably most controversial in the series. Let’s get started.

It’s been six years since Jamie Lloyd, Michael Myers, and the Man in Black disappeared from Haddonfield, and Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence, The Great Escape, Fatal Frames) has very much retired, but his old friend from Smith’s Grove, Dr. Wynn (Mitchell Ryan, Gross Pointe Blank, TV’s Dharma & Greg), informs him that he has suggested Loomis as a replacement, and now the body of Jamie Lloyd has been found, and Tommy Doyle (Paul Rudd, Ant-Man, Between Two Ferns: The Movie), survivor of Michael’s killings from back in 1978, has discovered that Jamie had been pregnant and given birth, and MIchael’s after the baby, being the last-known family he has. Loomis, Tommy, and the baby must now contend with the dangerous Michael and the insidious Man in Black who both want the baby.

If you read that synopsis and you’re asking yourself, “Wait! Isn’t this supposed to be a Halloween movie?” then don’t worry. You are in the right place. Much like Jason Goes to Hell, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers was made to expand the mythology of Michael Myers by connecting all the previous films (minus Season of the Witch) and answer the questions that the previous film asked while forging a path for future sequels. Well, that’s a tall order, and it’s the most likely reason why this movie turned into such a bonkers disaster.

The screenplay, Frankensteined together but credited to just one writer, Daniel Farrands (The Amityville Murders, The Haunting of Sharon Tate), tried to give a good answer to the mysterious ending to Halloween 5, one that the writers of that film weren’t even sure of, and so the Cult of Thorn was established, a wacko group that protects Michael and helps him accomplish his task of murdering his family members. That’s probably the least-strange new element to the film. The mystery of the Man in Black is given here too, but you probably won’t care about the answer, and then there’s the whole maybe-possible-incest thing in the script that’s not just strange and gross but also really stupid, but hey, in the age of Game of Thrones, maybe this subplot works. Probably not.

Donald Pleasence does solid Loomis work again on his last film appearance as the character, and Paul Rudd’s debut performance is weird enough to fit the crazy plotline of this entry (though he’s still a bit much), but there isn’t much of what I’d call acting in the film. I can’t say I blame a lot of the actors, though, because they signed on for one movie and ended up making another, using a script that was referred to as incomprehensible.

There is a Producer’s Cut of the film that fixes some of the narrative problems but not all, compiled from footage that was shot and cut after a bad test screening, and it’s not a better version, just a different one. It also introduces more subplots that aren’t ever tied up. Safe to say that, no matter which version you see, it’s a mess of a film.

I cannot defend Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. As a child, it actually scared the hell out of me. It’s a more cruel version of Michael Myers, and for that, it affected me a lot as a kid, so I will say that part of me prefers this one to the fifth film, but they are both among the bottom of the barrel of the Halloween franchise. It’s sequels like this one that make that whole retcon thing that Halloween 2018 did make sense.

 

1.5/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

 

 

For more 31 Days of Horror, click here.

For my review of John Carpenter’s Halloween, click here.

For my review of Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II, click here.

For my review of Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, click here.

For my review of Dwight H. Little’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, click here.

For my review of Dominique Othenin-Girard’s Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, click here.

David Gordon Green is Done with Halloween After Next Two Sequels

The Halloween franchise has survived more potential deaths than most of its cast of characters, most recently being resurrected by David Gordon Green and writing partner Danny McBride for Halloween 2018 last year, but with the announcement last week of two more sequels with Green at the helm, the director spoke to Collider about finishing the story he began between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode.

The two sequels, Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends, are set to release in 2020 and 2021, and will be a continuation of his Halloween 2018 reboot, which ignored all previous sequels to the 1978 original film.

Green told Collider, “They’re never done telling the Frankenstein story, and at this point, Michael Myers is a classic movie monster. But our Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode/Michael Myers saga will be done. The fun of it is also seeing it end, and knowing that it can. If you just keep trying to elongate it and milk it for all of the money, then that’s boring.”

Further on in the discussion, he discussed Halloween Ends as being his last contribution to the franchise, promising that the film will end in a satisfying finale.

Danny McBride recently spoke about their intent to do three films which tell a singular story following the original Halloween, so this is in line with what Green has stated.

For me, I happen to agree with this idea. I was never big on retconning the previous incarnations of Halloween in favor of a new timeline, but that’s the way it went, and I think if that’s the plan, make it a singular story that has an ending. The title Halloween Ends seems to confirm that, but what I will say is that if Green wants to ensure that his film is an ending, he had to do something none of the other Halloween films have ever been able to accomplish, which is a tall order going into these sequels.

What do you think? Is having a true ending the right way to go here, and do you think it can actually ever be a true ending without another sequel? Let me know/Drop a comment below!

 

-Kyle A. Goethe

Oculus (2013)

Oculus

Director: Mike Flanagan.

Cast: Karen Gillan, Brenton Thwaites, Rory Cochrane, Katee Sackhoff.

Screenplay: Mike Flanagan, Jeff Howard.

103 mins. Rated R for terror, violence, some disturbing images and brief language.

 

I was pretty excited to see Oculus recently. I truly enjoyed director Mike Flanagan’s previous work in Absentia (I saw the premiere at the Fargo Film Festival back in 2011), and I wanted to see where he take us next when he had a bigger budget and more room to play. Unfortunately, I spent most of Oculus arguing with myself over whether I was enjoying myself or not. Not ever a really good sign. It felt to me like a film that was trying to confuse its audience so they wouldn’t see all the ridiculous plot points for what they really were.

Oculus tells the story of Kaylie Russell (Karen Gillan, TV’s Doctor Who), who is trying to prove to her brother, Tim (Brenton Thwaites), that the reason their parents went insane several years ago was because of a haunted mirror. Initially, thoughts went through my head about the previous horror film Mirrors, a decent effort from director Alexandre Aja. Sadly, this film falls flat even after a pretty fantastic opening setup.

The film plays out in two timelines simultaneous, one with Kaylie and Tim as children, the other years later as adults. Playing them against each other proves pretty interesting, except at the end when the timelines devolve into a confusing, jumbled and ultimately, disappointingly predictable finale.

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Oculus does a great job setting the events of the film into motion. We are given a solid premise and even rules to govern the journey we are going on as Kaylie describes exactly how she plans on proving the mirror’s intentions of evil and how she planned on destroying it. Soon after, however, the film departs from these rules and chooses to never reference them again.

I also had a problem with the mirror’s motivations. Okay, I get it, that sounds silly, but in any horror film, you have to get what the killer or monster’s motivations are or what the hell does it matter? Michael Myers was trying to kill all his relatives. Jason Voorhees was the closest thing to birth control for Crystal Lake, hacking and slashing his way through teens as vengeance for his dead mother. Freddy Krueger was also all about revenge, and Chucky the killer doll just wanted out of his plastic body. Oculus’ mirror, however, plays tricks on people. Some of them are meant to maim or kill, but other times, it plays out like a violent joke. One such scene, where the mirror leads Kaylie to believe that she has bitten into a light bulb gets us to see that it was only an apple. Why would a mirror do that? Wouldn’t the opposite be much more terrifying and gruesome?

This’ll sound funny as well, but I didn’t feel like the mirror was a well-built character. It didn’t have enough presence in the film. For all we know, it could’ve been a haunted oven or house or pretty much anything. It didn’t really use its reflection to terrorize. There was nothing to tell us the mirror was really behind anything. Its backstory kind of disappointed as well. If this becomes a franchise, I would like to see it explored much more.

The performances were fine, especially from Gillan and Annalise Basso (Bedtime Stories) who play adult and young Kaylie, respectively. Katee Sackhoff (TV’s Battlestar Galactica, Riddick) and Rory Cochrane (Argo, Parkland) do respectable work as Russell parents Marie and Alan.

Oculus-Katee-Sackoff

I’ve heard a lot of reports that Oculus may be looking at becoming a franchise, and if so, it has some digging to do before it reaches a status worthy of yearly trips to the movie theater.  I see potential, and there were a few great moments about this film, but all in all, I drove home from the movie not angry, but disappointed, and in the end, isn’t that worse?

Have you seen Oculus? What did you think? Comment below.

 

2/5

-Kyle A. Goethe

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