Jamie Lee Curtis

Halloween (2018, David Gordon Green)

Halloween never met a MacGuffin it didn’t embrace. Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, and director Gordon’s script strings together MacGuffins to make the plot. And if it’s not a MacGuffin, it’s something they’re not going to do anything with. With a handful of exceptions, Halloween is usually at least reasonably acted. Sure, everyone lives in a 2018 where smartphones aren’t omnipresent but the screenwriters probably couldn’t figure out how to update the set pieces they lift from previous Halloween sequels for new technology.

Real quick, just because I probably don’t want to dwell on it–Halloween (2018) recreates some of the previous sequels’ thriller or slasher set pieces. It amps up the violence considerably–the film’s nowhere near as violent after it starts homaging the original Halloween as when it’s trudging through its first act mire. These set piece recreations tend to be extraordinarily violent, like Green is trying to set his Halloween–a sequel only to first film–apart from all the sequels. It’s bloodier. It’s meaner. It’s maybe louder. When Green isn’t luxuriating in the physical graphic violence, he uses the sound for off-screen graphic violence. It’s left up to the imagination.

Only not the result, because he always shows the result.

It seems weird, because for a while Halloween seems to at least be pretending it’s serious. But when Jamie Lee Curtis calls Donald Pleasence-stand in Haluk Bilginer “The New Loomis” (Pleasence’s character from previous films, including the original), it’s like Halloween feels comfortable dropping the pretense.

Back to the MacGuffin-filled opening–wait, there’s a third MacGuffin there too–anyway, Halloween opens with Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees as these obnoxious British podcaster producers doing a “Serial” on Michael Myers and the first Halloween. They go see Michael (presumably Nick Castle when he’s got the mask off, but never shown clearly–maybe Green and editor Timothy Alverson’s greatest–and most effective–feat). They bring him into the movie. They go see Jamie Lee Curtis. They mention Judy Greer.

Greer is Curtis’s daughter, who lives in town (the same town from the other Halloween movies because even though both Curtis and Greer suffer from severe mental anxiety and depression, they never want to leave the town). She’s got bland “dad” husband Toby Huss and smart and capable daughter Andi Matichak. Matichak and Curtis ostensibly have a character development arc, but much of it either happens off-screen or when digetic sound is brought over it for effect. The screenwriters avoid the heck out of character for Curtis. With Castle–i.e. what’s happened to the slasher since the slasher movie ended forty years ago–it’s easy. He’s been tied to a stone, silent for forty years. No development whatsoever. Easy.

Curtis, Greer, and Matichak? Not so easy. Greer’s second-billed but barely relevant. She just gets to think her mom is crazy and tell her to get help. Over and over again. Huss should be there to support Greer and he gets more material than her. And, until she’s following in grandma’s final girl footsteps, Matichak gets less than her friends. There’s best girlfriend Virginia Gardner (who’s actually really good), Gardner’s boyfriend Miles Robbins, then Matichak’s boyfriend Dylan Arnold and his bro Drew Scheid.

Matichek gets less to do, outside being hunted by a quinquagenarian masked spree killer, than any of them. The other characters don’t get more development, but at least Gardner and Robbins get stuff to do. Gardner especially. She’s babysitting adorably foul-mouthed near tween Jibrail Nantambu. Another big change in Halloween as it goes on–somewhere in the second act it decides it’s going to do some comedy. The first act doesn’t have any except Hall being a dip and Huss being such a dad.

The frustrating thing about Halloween–not while watching it but while considering it–is how many weird, senseless plotting choices the screenwriters make, apparently for no reason. The film has spared down visuals. Green avoids establishing shots. Possibly because he’s shooting Charleston, South Carolina for mid-sized town Illinois. But probably not. When they’re most important, he’s avoiding them because he’s doing his whole Halloween (2018) is meaner and bloodier and realer.

That tone doesn’t fit with podcasters Hall and Rees. Either they’re jokes, in which case Halloween (2018) is a joke, or they’re serious. But the film kind of wants to take Rees seriously and not Hall. Only Hall’s the noisier one.

With the exception of Curtis, Halloween’s female characters tend to be silent sidekicks to their far less capable male partners. Patton and Curtis know each other–from the first Halloween night–but… it’s not like they get character development. Halloween (2018) doesn’t do character development, because it’s going to deliver an amazing finish. Jamie Lee Curtis vs. Michael Myers, forty years later.

It’s the point of the movie. Curtis has spent forty years arming and training herself to take out Michael Myers. And now she’s going to get to do it.

And the big finale… isn’t boring. It’s dumb. If it weren’t so visually flat, it might be worth some spoof value. Because Halloween (2018) plays like an unaware spoof of itself. Like the screenwriters had something else in mind and Green just sucked the laughs out of it. But Green’s one of the screenwriters.

Halloween (2018) takes itself way too seriously while seeming to know it shouldn’t be taken seriously at all.

Curtis is fine. She and Matichak have potential. She and Patton have potential. The movie explores neither. Matichak’s all right. She’s got very little. Patton’s fine but seems like he should be good. Greer–the movie avoids giving Greer character more than it does Curtis–Greer is hostilely wasted. Like she’s stunt-casted.

The teens–other than Gardner–are all thin, both part and performance; it doesn’t matter.

Gardner’s good. Nantambu’s funny. Not good, but funny.

Technically, nothing leaps out. Green’s direction is fine. It’s never terrible. The script’s weird, but not bad as far as dialogue. Usually. Except the podcasters. And the Donald Pleasence stand-in. Alverson’s editing is good. Simmonds’s photography is flat, visually and in terms of quality. The score–from John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter (yes relation), and Daniel A. Davies–sounds like a Halloween score. Nothing special.

Richard A. Wright’s production design is lacking.

Halloween (2018) is a curiosity. Even though it had the ingredients for something else. Something more. The film’s stunningly unambitious. It’s also passive aggressively hostile to those unfamiliar with the previous movies. While the podcasters fill in a bit, it’s more what’s been happening since the last movie, not what happened in the last movie.

And Curtis gets nothing. Nothing with any of it. Because the script can’t figure out how to make her a protagonist. It can’t figure out a lot of things.

The movie can’t figure out a lot of things. It’s really flimsy and kind of cynical–it’s like a one hundred minute exploration of why you shouldn’t try to make a “serious” movie sequel. To Halloween specifically, but also in general. Again, if it were a spoof–even a dark comedy one–there might be something here.

It’s not. And instead Halloween H40 just a lot of actors wasting their time and some remixed John Carpenter music.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by David Gordon Green; screenplay by Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, and Green, based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Michael Simmonds; edited by Timothy Alverson; music by John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel A. Davies; production designer, Richard A. Wright; produced by Malek Akkad, Jason Blum, and Bill Block; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie), Judy Greer (Karen), Andi Matichak (Allyson), Will Patton (Hawkins), Toby Huss (Ray), Haluk Bilginer (Sartain), Rhian Rees (Dana), Jefferson Hall (Aaron), Virginia Gardner (Vicky), Dylan Arnold (Cameron), Miles Robbins (Dave), Drew Scheid (Oscar), Jibrail Nantambu (Julian), and Nick Castle (Shape).


Halloween: Resurrection (2002, Rick Rosenthal)

Halloween: Resurrection is an exercise in desperation. The film throws reality TV in to ape the found footage zeitgeist without actually committing to the narrative conceit. It’s also chasing some kind of post-American Pie familiarity with the Internet and webcams, only without any actual understanding. It’s exceptionally incompetent.

The film opens with Jamie Lee Curtis, fulfilling a conctractual obligation, crapping all over her work in the previous films (not just the last one she did as a grown woman). The entire thing looks rushed, even though the terribly written sequence is one of the more thoughtful ones. Larry Brand and Sean Hood’s writing is terrible, but that opening sequence is about the only time they try to be respectable.

The rest of Resurrection is idiotic not just in the execution, but in the intention. Until about seventy minutes into the film–I went into the film thinking it was over ninety minutes; it’s actually ten minutes under the advertised length. Then the film becomes this strange, nearly successful mix, in spite of everything.

After twenty or so minutes of cutting between the webcams and third person, David Geddes’s photography gets so bad–it’s bad at the opening, with Geddes and Rosenthal apparently thinking harsh, strong blue lighting is scary–Resurrection almost transcends. It’s almost becomes this commentary on the idea of “reality” in a slasher movie.

But somehow everyone misses it and Resurrection ends terribly, without even bothering to give its disposable characters any arc. It’s exceptionally lazy.

Most of the acting is atrocious. Rosenthal can’t direct actors, but the acting is still bad. Sean Patrick Thomas is probably the worst. Thomas Ian Nicholas isn’t much better. Tyra Banks is awful. But Rosenthal hurts all of them; well, except maybe Thomas.

In the lead, Bianca Kajlich is strangely terrible when trying to perform her role, but fine when just having to be terrified. Similarly, while Busta Rhymes is bad, he should be better. The direction is just wrong. It’s almost like Rosenthal’s intentionally trying to sabotage anything inoffensive in the film.

The only question Resurrection raises is how much Rosenthal hates Halloween?

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rick Rosenthal; screenplay by Larry Brand and Sean Hood, based on a story by Brand and characters created by Debra Hill and John Carpenter; director of photography, David Geddes; edited by Robert A. Ferretti; music by Danny Lux; production designer, Troy Hansen; produced by Michael Leahy and Paul Freeman; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Brad Loree (Michael Myers), Bianca Kajlich (Sara Moyer), Busta Rhymes (Freddie Harris), Sean Patrick Thomas (Rudy), Katee Sackhoff (Jen), Tyra Banks (Nora), Daisy McCrackin (Donna), Luke Kirby (Jim), Thomas Ian Nicholas (Bill), Billy Kay (Scott) and Ryan Merriman (Myles Barton).


Halloween II (1981, Rick Rosenthal)

Halloween II is not always a crappy sequel set in a closed setting without any sympathetic characters. It is a crappy sequel set in a closed setting without any sympathetic characters. But it wasn’t always.

Even though it gets off to a rocky start–the recap of the first movie is too abbreviated for unfamiliar viewers and superfluous for familiar ones, not to mention director Rosenthal clearly unable to reign in Donald Pleasence’s enthusiasm for histrionics–the first twenty-five minutes has potential.

There’s a lot to blame Rosenthal for with Halloween II. His inability to direct actors or even to compose shots of actors is a big one. He doesn’t have a sense for it; he additionally wastes Dean Cundey’s cinematography skills for the majority of the film, which is one of the film’s greater sins. But there are a handful of decent moments in Halloween II and even a couple good ones. And lots of bad ones with just too many problematic pieces, but not mishandled entirely.

But Rosenthal’s not entirely responsible. Writers and producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill, instead of embracing a bigger budget studio sequel to their indie horror sensation (hyperbolic enough?)–they try to undermine it at every step. That first half hour has potential because you can see Hill and Carpenter thinking about things, thinking about the implications of the first film. In the second two-thirds (at ninety minutes and change, the film almost perfectly splits into three sections), after creating a goofy subplot to give Jamie Lee Curtis something to do besides play unconscious, they stop. They’ve moved into their new story, that crappy one in the closed setting without sympathetic characters. Halloween II is shockingly inept at its characterization.

As such, it’s hard for the supporting cast to give good performances. Gloria Gifford is fantastic. Lance Guest isn’t. Hunter von Leer is simultaneously terrible, miscast and likable. Some of Leo Rossi’s performance is similar. And Pleasence is a complete ham. He’s got maybe one decent moment. Rosenthal just can’t direct him at all.

Carpenter and Alan Howarth’s score is too loud, too thoughtless. The same can be said for the editing.

It’s a bad film but has enough qualities to prove it shouldn’t have been.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rick Rosenthal; written and produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Skip Schoolnik; music by Carpenter and Alan Howarth; production designer, J. Michael Riva; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Leigh Brackett), Jeffrey Kramer (Graham), Lance Guest (Jimmy Lloyd), Pamela Susan Shoop (Karen Bailey), Hunter von Leer (Deputy Gary Hunt), Leo Rossi (Budd), Gloria Gifford (Mrs. Alves), Tawny Moyer (Nurse Jill Franco), Ana Alicia (Janet Marshall), Ford Rainey (Dr. Frederick Mixter), Cliff Emmich (Mr. Garrett) and Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers).


Veronica Mars (2014, Rob Thomas)

Rob Thomas loves the "Veronica Mars" television show fans. He must. He pretty much wastes the first act of the feature film (also titled Veronica Mars) thanking them for funding the film's production through Kickstarter. It's worse for star Kristen Bell than the film–both recover, but the film first–as the script's moving her around like a marionette. She doesn't get to do anything for way too long. Instead, she's an entirely passive, narrating protagonist.

Luckily, a lot of Thomas's fan service is amusing. So it allows Mars to coast–something Thomas's direction unfortunately can't do (he's mediocre until the second half)–and the acting is mostly strong. Even when the characters are just there to take up running time.

But coasting isn't enough; Thomas seems to know it because he brings erstwhile leading man (and don in distress) Jason Dohring. The script gives Dohring all the drama and all the layers it doesn't give Bell. Dohring excels. It's in his scenes where Bell starts getting better.

And then, all of a sudden, Mars sheds the dead leaves and starts growing organically. The film still calls back to elements from the show, but Thomas and co-writer Diane Ruggiero give Bell a role to act. They finally let her engage with the story instead of just visiting old friends. Problem solved.

Fine supporting turns from Enrico Colantoni, Ryan Hanson and Gaby Hoffmann. Tina Majorino looks completely lost.

Mars succeeds–almost everything with Bell opposite Dohring or Colantoni is spectacular stuff. It's just rough going at the start.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Rob Thomas; screenplay by Thomas and Diane Ruggiero, based on a story by Thomas; director of photography, Ben Kutchins; edited by Daniel Gabbe; music by Josh Kramon; production designer, Jeff Schoen; produced by Thomas, Danielle Stokdyk and Dan Etheridge; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars), Jason Dohring (Logan Echolls), Krysten Ritter (Gia Goodman), Ryan Hansen (Dick Casablancas), Francis Capra (Eli ‘Weevil’ Navarro), Percy Daggs III (Wallace Fennel), Gaby Hoffmann (Ruby Jetson), Chris Lowell (Stosh ‘Piz’ Piznarski), Tina Majorino (Cindy ‘Mac’ Mackenzie), Jerry O’Connell (Sheriff Dan Lamb), Martin Starr (Lou ‘Cobb’ Cobbler), Ken Marino (Vinnie Van Lowe), Max Greenfield (Leo D’Amato), Eddie Jemison (JC Borden), Jamie Lee Curtis (Gayle Buckley) and Enrico Colantoni (Keith Mars).


Halloween (1978, John Carpenter), the television version

The television version of Halloween has an interesting story–the original film ran so short, when the network wanted to run it on TV, there wasn’t enough film after they cut out the violence. Carpenter was producing Halloween II at the time so he came back and filmed some more scenes to pad it out.

Most of these scenes are with Donald Pleasence, which seriously throws the film off-balance. Besides the opening, Pleasence disappears for long stretches while Carpenter establishes Jamie Lee Curtis, Nancy Kyes and P.J. Soles. With so much more Pleasence at the beginning of the picture, one notices his absence more. He ought to be around, given his lengthy presence at the beginning.

The added scenes are also done with the sequel in mind, which means the film no longer makes sense if one has seen the second one and how the new scenes fit. However, during the final sequence everything happens at such an insistent pace it’s hard to dwell on the plot holes.

I’ve seen the television version a couple times and it always seemed like a lesser work, even though it does give Kyes (Halloween‘s unsung comedic star) another scene. This time’s no different.

This viewing must be my seventh or eighth of Halloween and I just now noticed the Psycho reference at the open and how Dean Cundey’s subjective camerawork does everything for the film’s mood.

In other words, awkwardly added scenes or not, Halloween‘s always got more to offer.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Tommy Lee Wallace and Charles Bornstein; music by Carpenter; production designer, Wallace; produced by Hill; released by Compass International Pictures.

Starring Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Nancy Kyes (Annie Brackett), P.J. Soles (Lynda van der Klok), Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Leigh Brackett), Kyle Richards (Lindsey Wallace), Brian Andrews (Tommy Doyle), John Michael Graham (Bob Simms), Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers), Arthur Malet (Graveyard Keeper), Mickey Yablans (Richie), Brent Le Page (Lonnie Elamb), Adam Hollander (Keith), Robert Phalen (Dr. Terence Wynn), Tony Moran (Michael Myers, age 23), Will Sandin (Michael Myers, age 6), Sandy Johnson (Judith Margaret Myers), David Kyle (Judith’s Boyfriend), Peter Griffith (Morgan Strode) and Nick Castle (The Shape).


The Tailor of Panama (2001, John Boorman)

While The Tailor of Panama is on firm ground in and of itself, it’s difficult not to think about in the context of James Bond. Pierce Brosnan plays a brutal, womanizing British secret agent and sort of gives cinema it’s only realistic Bond movie.

Of course, mentioning James Bond is something to get out of the way with Panama, because it’s not a commentary on the film series. Brosnan does a great job with thoroughly unlikable character. He never humanizes the character, making all his shocking behavior continuously reprehensible. Boorman and Brosnan create incredible discomfiture.

Brosnan shares the lead with Geoffrey Rush, who’s the opposite. He’s lovable, partially because he’s not very bright. Rush is great too. There aren’t any bad performances in Panama. Most of them are exceptional–Brendan Gleeson, David Hayman, Leonor Varela. Martin Ferrero is wondrously odious in a small part and Harold Pinter’s hilarious in his cameo role. Oh, and so’s Dylan Baker. Boorman casted the film well.

As the love interests, Jamie Lee Curtis and Catherine McCormack are probably the least impressive. Both are quite good, but there isn’t enough space for them to get the screen time they need.

Panama is packed. It maintains a good pace throughout; the third act full of subtle, difficult content. The script’s outstanding.

Philippe Rousselot’s rich photography is an asset to the film. Ron Davis’s editing is sublime.

Great costumes, which a film with Tailor in the title probably needs, from Maeve Paterson.

Panama‘s rich, but easily digestible.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by John Boorman; screenplay by Andrew Davies, John le Carré and Boorman, based on the novel by le Carré; director of photography, Philippe Rousselot; edited by Ron Davis; music by Shaun Davey; production designer, Derek Wallace; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Pierce Brosnan (Andy Osnard), Geoffrey Rush (Harry), Jamie Lee Curtis (Louisa), Brendan Gleeson (Mickie Abraxas), Catherine McCormack (Francesca Deane), Leonor Varela (Marta), Martin Ferrero (Teddy), David Hayman (Luxmore), Jon Polito (Ramón Rudd), Mark Margolis (Rafi Domingo), Dylan Baker (General Dusenbaker), Ken Jenkins (Morecombe), Jonathan Hyde (Cavendish), Paul Birchard (Joe), Harry Ditson (Elliot), John Fortune (Maltby), Martin Savage (Stormont) and Harold Pinter (Uncle Benny).


Halloween H20 (1998, Steve Miner)

Halloween H20 is a mishmash. It’s a sequel to a seventies slasher movie, it’s a post-modern slasher movie of the Scream variety, it’s a thoughtful sequel, it’s a somewhat successful rumination on redemption and the cost of such redemption.

Director Miner’s composition is, appropriately, more John Carpenter homage than mimicry. He and cinematographer Daryn Okada hold the picture together; while pieces occasionally spill out, they keep it pretty well solid throughout.

Without Jamie Lee Curtis, of course, H20 wouldn’t work. The plot could work without her, but not the scenes. Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg’s script has these great scenes–particularly Curtis’s relationship with son Josh Hartnett and beau Adam Arkin. Those are the “real world” things. The writers also produce a striking horror sequence involving a child in distress.

For the teenagers being in danger, the script doesn’t do as well. Some of it is just bad acting. Jodi Lyn O’Keefe is bad, Michelle Williams is mediocre–though Adam Hann-Byrd is good. O’Keefe butchers her witty dialogue.

H20 isn’t a scary movie in the traditional sense. It toys with the whole idea of inevitability as it relates to the genre, whether in the opening “scare” or the boogeyman’s arrival.

Curtis is utterly fantastic. Hartnett and Arkin are both good, though in some ways neither get enough story time. Janet Leigh has a nice little part and LL Cool J is amusing.

The Marco Beltrami (with some John Ottman) score is usually effective.

It’s an unexpectedly excellent film.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steve Miner; screenplay by Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg, based on a story by Zappia and characters created by Debra Hill and John Carpenter; director of photography, Daryn Okada; edited by Patrick Lussier; music by Marco Beltrami and John Ottman; production designer, John Willett; produced by Paul Freeman; released by Dimension Films.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Keri Tate), Josh Hartnett (John Tate), Adam Arkin (Will Brennan), Michelle Williams (Molly), Adam Hann-Byrd (Charlie), Jodi Lyn O’Keefe (Sarah), Janet Leigh (Norma Watson), LL Cool J (Ronny), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jimmy), Branden Williams (Tony) and Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers Whittington).


Halloween II (1981, Rick Rosenthal), the television version

Halloween II–if it isn’t the worst film John Carpenter ever worked on in some capacity–certainly features Carpenter’s worst script. There isn’t a single well-written conversation in the entire picture–the closest one is a couple young women talking; presumably co-writer Debra Hill wrote that conversation–and then it’s one of the handful of scenes Carpenter himself directed. It’s a fine scene, maybe the single scene in the entire film similar to the excellent character moments in the first one.

But it’s hard to compare Halloween II to its predecessor. While Hill and Carpenter produced this film, like they did the first one, and wrote the screenplay, like they did the first one, it’s a completely different approach. It feels more like an imitation–an ignorant one–than a sequel to the original film. The pacing is all different, the emphasis is on physical danger as opposed to fear. The dialogue’s atrocious–the television version adds more screen time for Jamie Lee Curtis (whose wig looks awful) and it doesn’t help the film any. Curtis is playing a completely different character than the first time around; her character doesn’t have an arc. The film starts and stops with her, but it’s trading on sentiment from the first one. There’s no reason to care if she makes it, not after the film brutally murders a bunch of other characters.

Even with the crappy script, however, there’s no way the film can survive the direction. It’s unclear how much influence Carpenter had over Rosenthal’s choices–Carpenter’s regular cinematographer, Dean Cundey, shows up for this outing and at least makes it look beautiful–but someone’s responsible for the mess. Rosenthal’s always showing Michael Myers–poorly played here by Dick Warlock, but some of the fault lies with Rosenthal’s handling of the character. There’s no uncanny factor anymore, there’s Michael Myers playing a joke on an old lady. Or something along those lines. It’s just goofy.

Besides wearing the wig, Curtis doesn’t have much to do. She needs to scream occasionally, but nothing else. The script saddles Donald Pleasence with some terrible dialogue–so bad even he can’t deliver it. Neither Curtis nor Pleasence have a character anymore. Halloween II is practically real time–it should have been, thinking about it, and set against Night of the Living Dead–which lets Hill and Carpenter get away with a character development-free ninety minutes.

Charles Cyphers is good in a too small role, as is Jeffrey Kramer (in a minute role). Gloria Gifford’s okay as a hospital administrator and Leo Rossi has a couple good deliveries. Lance Guest is lousy–and his character seems kind of stupid for someone Rossi calls “Mr. College.” The rest of the supporting cast stinks… Actually, there aren’t any good performances in the entire film–except Cyphers and Kramer. Hunter von Leer is particularly terrible.

When the movie starts, with the recap of the original’s ending–followed by some terrible dialogue–and then lengthy opening titles… it almost pauses any judgment. Sure, the dialogue’s crappy, but it’s just in the one scene, there’s no way to know it’s the standard for the rest of the film. During the first third, Rosenthal’s direction–mimicking Carpenter’s–isn’t terrible. Maybe it’s Charles Cyphers’s presence–even though the script’s so stupid, so full of holes, it’s hard not to trip–but it doesn’t seem too terrible. Then it gets to the hospital and gets stupider in every way possible. Even some unimaginable ways.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Rick Rosenthal; written and produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Mark Goldblatt and Skip Schoolnik; music by Carpenter and Alan Howarth; production designer, J. Michael Riva; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Leigh Brackett), Jeffrey Kramer (Graham), Lance Guest (Jimmy Lloyd), Pamela Susan Shoop (Karen Bailey), Hunter von Leer (Deputy Gary Hunt), Leo Rossi (Budd), Gloria Gifford (Mrs. Alves), Tawny Moyer (Nurse Jill Franco), Ana Alicia (Janet Marshall), Ford Rainey (Dr. Frederick Mixter), Cliff Emmich (Mr. Garrett) and Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers).


The Fog (1980, John Carpenter)

It’s not just Janet Leigh being in the film or all the trouble–visibly–starting when Jamie Lee Curtis arrives in town, it’s everything about The Fog–it’s an aware Hitchcock homage. The list can continue with the setting, the reference to The Birds, but it’s even more. There’s a definite feel to the film; Carpenter seemingly (he really doesn’t, since the film’s only ninety minutes) dedicates a bunch of time to the character development.

He’s got that fantastic introduction to Adrienne Barbeau’s character. There’s her talking to admirer Charles Cyphers on the phone to showcase her actual personality (versus her radio personality), the guys on the boat talking about her, then, a few scenes later, there are the backstory heavy photographs and newspaper clippings. It takes almost no time, but Carpenter and co-writer Debra Hill create this incredibly full character. I think the line about her grocery shopping does a lot of work in about four seconds.

Hill’s contributions to the script can’t be overlooked–besides Barbeau’s fine character, there’s also the almost passive–but touching–romance between Tom Atkins and Jamie Lee Curtis. It’s so passive, it’s hard to even call it a romance, but it’s there and the scenes are great. Atkins is the closest thing the film’s got to a leading man and he’s fantastic–his character’s also very Hitchcockian. The film’s got six principles–Barbeau, Atkins, Curtis, Leigh, Nancy Keyes and Hal Holbrook. Leigh and Keyes spend most of the film together–another great relationship–while Barbeau and Holbrook are mostly solo. Holbrook’s part is only significant at the beginning and end, so the film’s almost three–Barbeau the radio deejay, Atkins and Curtis’s wild ride, and Leigh and Keyes working on the town’s anniversary celebration.

The anniversary celebration, which is handled extremely carefully, just shows off what a great job Carpenter does with limited money here. Everything gives the impression of majesty, mostly due to Carpenter’s fine Panavision composition and Dean Cundey’s lush color palate (another Hitchcock similarity). It’s an incredibly tight script and the majority of the film doesn’t have a single misstep. There’s Cyphers in his small role and he’s great. Darwin Jostin has a cameo, he’s great. It’s all great… until the end.

The end falls apart slowly, maybe because it’s hurried. After spending so much time with Curtis and Atkins (and Leigh and Keyes), seeing them pushed aside for Holbrook to take over–while Barbeau awkwardly narrates–really knocks away at the picture.

The film opens slowly and quietly. You’ve got John Houseman telling a story. Houseman’s definitely got the voice for it. It’s gradual, ominous and full of mood. The ending is fast, loud and neon.

The performances are all good, especially Barbeau (until the end, she can’t make her monologues sound good, no one could), Atkins, Keyes and Curtis. Atkins is such an assured leading man, it’s hard to believe he never played one again (maybe he did, but I’ve sure never seen it). Barbeau’s character is so interesting, she could have played her in a straight, non-genre picture and it probably would have been even better.

It’s great filmmaking, it’s just a problematic film.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Charles Bornstein and Tommy Lee Wallace; music by Carpenter; production designer, Wallace; produced by Hill; released by AVCO Embassy Pictures.

Starring Adrienne Barbeau (Stevie Wayne), Jamie Lee Curtis (Elizabeth Solley), Janet Leigh (Kathy Williams), John Houseman (Mr. Machen), Tom Atkins (Nick Castle), James Canning (Dick Baxter), Charles Cyphers (Dan O’Bannon), Nancy Kyes (Sandy Fadel), Ty Mitchell (Andy), Hal Holbrook (Father Malone), John F. Goff (Al Williams) and George ‘Buck’ Flower (Tommy Wallace).


Halloween (1978, John Carpenter)

Halloween is a technical masterpiece. It’s absolutely spectacular to watch. Carpenter’s composition is fantastic, but Dean Cundey’s cinematography and the editing–from Tommy Lee Wallace and Charles Bornstein–creates this uneasy, surreal experience. The way Carpenter uses the wind in the film is probably my favorite, since he establishes it early on and keeps it going until the very end. It’s transfixing.

There are some great performances–Jamie Lee Curtis’s character arc is spectacular, Nancy Kyes is excellent. Donald Pleasence is solid and the film’s too good for P.J. Soles and (surprisingly) Charles Cyphers to damage it. Soles is just annoying, but Cyphers just can’t deliver his lines with the gravity Pleasence can–most of their scenes are together–and Cyphers comes off poorly because of it.

If it seems like I’m listing all the positives about Halloween, I am.

I first watched Halloween when I was eleven or twelve and wasn’t at all impressed (first, I was eleven or twelve and, second, I was watching a pan and scan VHS). In fact, I liked the second one more at the time (strangely, the same thing happened–around that time–with Jaws). A few years later, after I’d started to discover Carpenter’s other work, I went back to Halloween and came to appreciate it much like I did on this viewing. It’s a technical marvel.

But it’s got a weak plot.

The script’s strong–Debra Hill writes the female characters extremely well–watching Curtis at the end, it’s hard to think of any Hollywood film with such a strong female character until Aliens. Carpenter shoots every scene perfectly, but there’s something off.

Halloween, intended as a one-time picture, became the first horror franchise. Watching the film, even if one knows Carpenter didn’t intend it, he enabled that franchise. As the film progresses–it’s a perfectly paced ninety minutes–it becomes clearer and clearer the strongest point is Curtis and her reactions. Had the film centered on her experience, never making the bogeyman real until the end, it would have been a far superior film. It would have run only forty-two minutes, but it would be amazing.

The problem is how Carpenter shoots it. He relies entirely on his score to create fear in the viewer and it doesn’t work. The score’s effective and the theme’s good, but it doesn’t compliment the foreboding scenes. These scenes, with Carpenter shooting them matter-of-factly, are somewhat too well-made to be scary. They’re too visually beautiful. Carpenter lets his talent for composition get in the way of the story’s need to creep out the viewer.

He never even gets around to the weight of the film’s content. When characters die on screen, Carpenter doesn’t pause to give the viewer time to reflect. It’s an intentional move, but it’s a wrong one. The lack of emotional connection at that moment removes the viewer from the film and makes the artifice of the experience apparent.

Every time I start Halloween, just before it starts, I think it’s going to be better than I remember it. Every time, it’s about the same. For all the film’s successes, there’s a misguided creative impulse in the mix as well–and those successes can’t overpower it.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by John Carpenter; written by Carpenter and Debra Hill; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Tommy Lee Wallace and Charles Bornstein; music by Carpenter; production designer, Wallace; produced by Hill; released by Compass International Pictures.

Starring Donald Pleasence (Dr. Sam Loomis), Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode), Nancy Kyes (Annie Brackett), P.J. Soles (Lynda van der Klok), Charles Cyphers (Sheriff Leigh Brackett), Kyle Richards (Lindsey Wallace), Brian Andrews (Tommy Doyle), John Michael Graham (Bob Simms), Nancy Stephens (Marion Chambers), Arthur Malet (Graveyard Keeper), Mickey Yablans (Richie), Brent Le Page (Lonnie Elamb), Adam Hollander (Keith), Robert Phalen (Dr. Terence Wynn), Tony Moran (Michael Myers, age 23), Will Sandin (Michael Myers, age 6), Sandy Johnson (Judith Margaret Myers), David Kyle (Judith’s Boyfriend), Peter Griffith (Morgan Strode) and Nick Castle (The Shape).


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