Tag Archives: Roger Ebert

Why I Pretend None Of The Halloween Sequels Exist

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It’s October, the best month of the year. The heat and humidity of summer have given way to the cool, crispness of autumn. The leaves are ablaze with color. (I feel pity for those who don’t get to experience autumn.) My wife and I were married in October. I saw The Who for the first time in October. The baseball post season is in October. And the month is capped off by the greatest holiday of all. Excluding Father’s Day, of course.

The month tends to find me watching horror films. I’m partial to the classic Universal monster movies of old, but there are plenty of more modern horror flicks that I enjoy very much. The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972) has been discussed in this blog. As have The Legend of Hell House (1973) and The Changling (1980). It’s time I look at another modern horror classic: Halloween (1978).

Oh! It should be said there will be spoilers. But, relax. The movie and its first sequel are damn near 40 years old. If you haven’t seen them by now…

John Carpenter co-wrote, scored and directed this landmark horror film. It had a low budget and a cast of unknowns, with the exception of the over-dramatic Donald Pleasence as the villain’s doctor. The movie was almost universally praised by critics and loved by audiences. Roger Ebert compared it to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) and lauded it for not following the horror trope of the female lead being the helpless damsel in distress. Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie was smart and level-headed and, when forced to fight, she didn’t freeze up or faint. She fought back with whatever she had at hand, be it a knitting needle, a dropped knife, or wire hangers. (Christina Crawford would be out of luck if her famous mother had her way.)

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Michael Myers, the relentlessly stalking villain, dressed in dark overalls and a pasty, white mask of William Shatner/Captain Kirk, whose first kill at the tender age of six was his promiscuous teen-aged sister, fixated on Laurie. He killed three of her friends, who were overly preoccupied with sex (teenagers!), as he slowly worked his way to attempt to kill Laurie.

I’m not sure why Michael was compelled to kill her. Laurie wasn’t all about having the sex, she wasn’t doing any drinking, and she wasn’t much of a pot-smoker. She was considered pretty square by her friends. These slasher/horror films liked to kill the non-square kids, to punish them for daring to have sex. Maybe Laurie just looked like Michael’s sister. Since he was pure evil, as Pleasence’s character repeatedly said, I guess Michael didn’t need a reason.

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The film unfolds slowly, but keeps the audience’s suspense high by showing tantalizing glimpses of Michael stalking Laurie. She would spot him, but he would slip away instantly. Did she really see a man standing there? Was she imagining it?

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The film reaches its exciting climax with Michael’s doctor shooting Laurie’s homicidal stalker six times in the chest, sending the monster over the side of the second story balcony. The killer lay still on the grass as the doctor tended to Laurie. It was over. Or was it?

The final shot is brilliant. Michael Myers was no longer there on the front lawn, despite having been stabbed in the neck and the face and shot six times. He had vanished.

Shudder!

It’s a terrific horror movie with a tremendously effective score. That music instantly sends chills down your spine and turns your skin to goose flesh. It also has some very striking visuals. I particularly like the shot of Michael standing on the porch across the street from the house where Laurie was babysitting. The boy she was tending to saw him, but when Laurie investigated, she saw no one. A neat turnaround from earlier in the film when she was the only one seeing this menacing figure.

Such a great horror film, with an ending that told us the evil of Michael was still lurking.

I would have left it that way. Any additional films would risk lessening this origin’s impact.

But Hollywood had to go and spoil it all by giving us a sequel. Several of them, but this blog is focusing on the original and the first sequel.

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The sequel, which takes place immediately after the events of the original (admittedly a nice touch), was co-produced and co-written by John Carpenter. He also provided music for the score, but he didn’t direct the 1981 film simply titled Halloween II. It wasn’t terrible, however it just paled in comparison to the original. There were a few effective moments. The hot tub killings of the promiscuous nurse and her creepy, sex-obsessed EMT boyfriend comes to mind and not just because of the naked breasts. (Although, they didn’t hurt.)

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Donald Pleasence and Jamie Lee Curtis returned. Pleasence was even more over-dramatic than in the first film, which, don’t get me wrong, I really like his performance in both films. Curtis, on the other hand, was way under-used. She had very little screen-time and even less dialogue. (Her availability was limited while she working on another film.) And, sadly, she became that damsel in distress who spent much of the final attack running and hiding from Michael. Well, she did finally shoot Michael (called “The Shape” in the credits, don’t ask me why) in his eyes, blinding him.

She’s one hell of a shot! She was on medication, she had multiple injuries from her battle with “The Shape” in the first movie, yet she was able to score two direct hits to his eyes. And she didn’t damage the mask in doing so. Amazing!

The worst aspect of this sequel was that a motive was given for Michael’s unstoppable need to kill Laurie. You see, Laurie was Michael’s younger sister! What? Why? WHY?!

We are told she was two years old when Michael killed his other sister. And she was adopted out when their parents died two years after Michael’s crime and institutionalization. The records were sealed, yet somehow Michael knew who Laurie was. Well, he was evil incarnate, so I guess he would know. Being evil incarnate does has its perks.

Eventually, Michael was destroyed. Blown up and burned from existence. There would be no returning now. Right? Of course, there would be. In fact, there were seven Halloween sequels and one remake with a sequel of its own. However, Halloween III does not feature Michael Myers at all.

I haven’t seen any of the Halloween films after Halloween II. Until the other night, I had only seen that sequel once and that was when in was originally released. I really wish I hadn’t watched it again. The original, which I’ve seen many times over the years, is so good just as it is. To me there is no reason to make any more. I like the way the original ends. Don’t mess with it.

So, I’m going to do my best to forget there are any sequels at all.

Happy Halloween!

Packing Peanuts!

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Yeah? Well, I like it!

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And so do a lot of horror movie fans, despite critics’ less than enthusiastic reviews at the time.

I’m talking about the 1982 sci-fi/horror classic John Carpenter’s The Thing. I was about 16 or 17 when I first saw it, so that might color how I feel about it, teenagers not necessarily being the most sophisticated of film connoisseurs. After all I thought Porky’s was hilarious when I saw it at roughly the same age. I haven’t watched Porky’s in a very long time, but I watched The Thing again just two nights ago.

And, for me, it still holds up.

It’s a terrific, if very intense and gruesome, popcorn movie!

Film critic Roger Ebert was bothered by the lack of character development and lack of intelligence of those characters. He wondered: If the creature prefers to attack individuals out of sight of the others, why did the fellows keep going off on their own? That is a good point, but I didn’t let that bother me. Good popcorn movies get a pass on such deficiencies. And, in recent years, the attitude toward this movie by critics has been changing. More and more it’s being lauded as one of the 80s’ best sci-fi/horror films.

The story involves a group of American men (no women!) stationed in Antarctica to do science or whatever they do down there, whose day is interrupted by a dog being chased by a couple of crazed Norwegians in a helicopter. The Norwegians, along with being crazed, are pretty bad with their weapons as they attempt to kill the dog. One couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn with his high-powered rifle and the other manages to blow himself and the helicopter up with a mishandled hand grenade.

Come to think of it. Why would scientists in the Antarctic need high-powered rifles and hand grenades? Ah, never mind. Where’s that popcorn?

So, the dog is taken in and it is quickly discovered that it ain’t no ordinary dog. We learn that it is a parasitic creature from another world that creates exact duplicates of other living creatures. It duplicates members of the American team so well, right down to being able to talk and act just like the original, that it’s impossible to tell the difference until it’s too late. Well, Kurt Russell’s character, McCready, the hard-drinking, cynical, world-weary, helicopter pilot does devise a way to tell the difference. I won’t say anymore than that.

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McReady conducting tests.

Ebert mentioned that Ridley Scott’s Alien (1979) handled the same basic story (a group of people in an isolated area with a powerful creature hunting them) much better. I agree. The suspense of Alien is more intense than the suspense generated in The Thing, still there is plenty of suspense as no one knows who can be trusted to not be the alien.

Let me praise the special effects of The Thing for a moment. They were excellent 35 years ago and they still look pretty damn good today. (There is a moment where the alien is clearly stop-motion animation, but it’s a fleeting glimpse.) The effects are all practical. There are no computer generated  effects in the film. In fact, in the film (set in the year it was released) we get to see that time period’s level of computer graphics sophistication in a scene with McReady playing chess on a computer. How far we have come in 35 years!

There is one particularly spectacular creature transformation scene. It is completely unexpected. It’s shocking, gruesome, frightening, and hilarious all at the same time. The alien might not be bothered by the intense cold or bullets, but it does burn, so the men use flame throwers to destroy the monster, which still manages to be able to escape. Well, part of it does, as we see in that exciting sequence. And the reaction shot as the men see the alien’s method of escape is terrific. It has to be one of the greatest “you gotta be kidding me” moments in cinematic history.

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Hang on. Why would scientists in the Antarctic need flame throwers? Ah, never mind. Where’s that popcorn?

The ending is bleak. (Sorry if this is a little bit of a spoiler for you, but the movie is 35 years old.) The survivors realize that there is no chance of any of them getting out alive. And they certainly can’t let that creature anywhere near civilization, so they have to flush it out and destroy it once and for all. McReady determines they need to make the area as hot as possible in order to keep the alien from just allowing itself to freeze again and wait for the unsuspecting rescue team to arrive.

They gather up all the dynamite they can carry and blow up the compound.

The survivors, exhausted and not sure if the alien is still among them, decide to wait and see what happens…

Ummm. Why would scientists in the Antarctic need dynamite? Ah, never mind. Where’s that popcorn?

Packing Peanuts!

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