Tag Archives: Halloween

“HALLOWEEN (2018)” Review (✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Universal Pictures

40 years later…

The biggest issue with 2018’s Halloween is its title. This is the 11th Halloween movie, the fifth reboot, the fourth to feature Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee-Curtis), and the third sequel; but it’s also the third movie to be called merely Halloween. What, was it too good for a subtitle? I know you have one good film and nine awful ones Mike, but don’t try to re-write them out of existence. They still happened, and we still had to go through them. Even if you were fortunate enough that people forgot the rest of your franchise, what good does it do? Now you have three movies in the series all named Halloween. When this movie is released for home video, the studio would be wise to retitle all of the Halloween movies as Halloween: The Original, Halloween: The Reboot, and Halloween: The Sequel, just to save the audience from some much unneeded confusion.

Taking place 40 years after the events of the original Halloween (not to be confused with H20, which took place 20 years after the original before it was written out of continuity), this new Halloween features an elder Laurie Strode, still haunted by that night where Michael Myers (Nick Castle) hunted her and her friends several decades ago. Even though Michael is now behind bars, Laurie hasn’t stopped preparing for the worst that might happen. She trained her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) from birth to defend herself. She’s fitted her house with gadgets, security cameras, and traps around nearly ever corner. Not to mention that she has a weapon stockpile so big that the NRA would wet their pants.

Her paranoia is later validated when Michael breaks out during a prison transfer. Now on the loose during the one night of the year where Michael returns to wreak havoc again and again, Laurie needs to find her loved ones, keep them close, and protect them from the monster that wants her and her family dead.

With this being the 11th film out of a long and exhaustive franchise, you would expect things in Halloween to feel tired and overused. In a way, you wouldn’t be wrong. The nine films before Halloween 11 were all the same hack-and-slash nonsense that became so redundant that another knife swipe felt like another jab at our sanity. The Rob Zombie movies were especially the worst, with the gore, violence, and sex ticked up so much that it felt more like a metal head’s music than it did an authentic horror experience. Year after year, Halloween has done Michael Myers wrong so many times. Going into this movie, I was expecting it to be done wrong yet again for the ninth time.

The best thing I can say about Halloween 11 is that it is perhaps the best attempt yet at adapting what made Halloween so great in the first place. One of the things most of these movies miss is the act of subtlety. In the original Halloween, John Carpenter sent chills down our spine not through gruesome kills or bloody violence, but through slight-of-hand and anticipation. The thing that was so startling about the original Halloween was Michael Myers’ sudden, unexpected appearances: slightly standing out of frame, following a kid around a playground, his ominous figure eerily following oblivious teenagers throughout their bleak houses. Sure, when he murdered someone it was startling, but it wasn’t the scariest thing out of the movie: the terrifying part was not knowing when he was going to strike, or how.

Halloween 11 understands that subtlety and exercises it similarly, placing Michael in natural, believable environments where he can freely move in and out, killing anyone across his path. One of my favorite sequences in the movie was watching Michael just roaming in the neighborhood all while kids are trick-or-treating down the block. As the camera follows him down a driveway, past a backyard, into somebody’s kitchen, and out of frame when we hear someone’s exasperated gasps in between violent “thuds,” it’s incredibly unsettling to watch as Michael flourishes in his element. It brought me much joy to see Michael as I once knew him: as the methodical, pathological, emotionally-detached killer that was just seeking to murder as many people as he possibly could. Is director David Gordon Green copying Carpenter’s artistry in the 11th Halloween? Yes, but at least he’s copying him well.

I also like how Jamie Lee Curtis updates her portrayal of Laurie Strode here. While she was great in the original Halloween and did an excellent job in portraying Laurie’s innocence and terror, the rest of her filmography felt like a retread where she didn’t face much growth as a character. But with Halloween 11, she demonstrates a strength and conviction that feels like it grew from all of the years of post-traumatic stress that she faced in the wake of her friends being murdered by this unfeeling cretin. Seeing her scared, jumpy, and petrified from the startling image of Michael Myers, yet adamant in her mission to be free from him Michael is nothing short of inspiring. It was great watching that growth in her character and seeing her mature from the scared, helpless kid that she was 40 years ago.

As always, one of the dumbest things about these horror movies is the “pure evil” cliche, where its villain is so supernaturally evil that he has become the physical embodiment of it. Whatever happened to letting these characters just be murderous psychopaths and leave it at that?

Also, there is a character here who Laurie dubs as “the new Loomis,” who for lack of a better word is just… creepy. Whereas Loomis in the original movie had a sound understanding of Michael Myers and was appropriately disturbed by his being, this new Loomis is awkward, unsettling, and just feels out of place. It feels like he should be locked up in the ward right alongside Michael Myers.

These are all minor problems in the face of an otherwise solid horror movie. The majority of today’s horror pictures revert to an onslaught of violence and gore that results only in shock value and cheap thrills. Halloween is the breath of fresh air that understands buildup, not shock, is what amounts to the best scares in a horror movie. As this series continues to tack on more unnecessary sequels as it’s highly successful box office numbers seem to suggest, the sequels will do well to remember that sometimes less is more. We all have our demons. Imagine if yours was Michael Myers.

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“HALLOWEEN (1978)” Review (✫✫✫✫)

SOURCE: Compass International Pictures

The shape will pursue you. 

There is a reason why Horror icon Michael Myers was credited as “The Shape” in John Carpenter’s first horror movie Halloween: it’s because he didn’t need an identity to make him terrifying. In fact, giving him one might have weakened him as an antagonist. Too often horror movie villains are fleshed out so much to the point where they are empathized with more than they are apathized. We are expected, after all, to be terrified by these horrifying figures: not understand them. But with Halloween, John Carpenter achieves an uncanny reaction through Michael Myers. He doesn’t even have to be doing much, yet the sheer sighting of him never fails to send shivers down our spine.

My first experience with Halloween wasn’t even with the movie. Sitting alone in my bedroom in my junior year of high school, I was eager to learn more about the screenwriting process and started tracking down movie scripts to read from. One of the earliest screenplays I read was John Carpenter’s Halloween, and from just the first few pages it completely haunted me.

The opening scene illustrates a six-year-old child stalking his older sister and her boyfriend around the house on an eerie Halloween evening. As the child makes his way into the kitchen, pulls out a knife, and sneaks his way up the stairs, he makes his way into his sister’s room and proceeds to stab her repeatedly, over and over again until she’s dead. When he exits the house, the most disturbing thing is not the bloody knife in his hand, but rather his young, innocent-looking stare: unfazed by the horrible act of violence he just committed against his own sister.

That boy is Michael Myers, and 15 years later, he escapes his insane asylum and returns to his hometown to wreak havoc on the same night he did several years ago.

When I first read the original screenplay for Halloween, I was entranced by the details Carpenter paid attention to in his script: the normalcy of the character’s everyday lives, the disturbingly methodical movements of this pathological child, the way he stalked his victims as an adult like a predator stalked his prey through the woods. But when I watched the movie, I found myself even more encapsulated by Carpenter’s spellbinding technique. He doesn’t just illustrate a feeling of paranoia, isolation, or unease: he places you right in the middle of it. It echoes of Hitchcock’s technique from 1960’s Psycho. In the iconic shower scene, you weren’t just seeing Marion getting stabbed in the bathtub: somehow, you could feel the blade digging into your own skin as you saw Marion’s blood drawn over, and over, and over again.

A large part of that immersion is how Carpenter chooses to frame his shots, and how cinematographer Dean Cundey tracks the action throughout the movie. In the movie’s early moments, nothing of major significance happens in the picture: some creep just throws on a janitor’s suit, puts on a Halloween mask, and stalks some people around town. But it’s not the actions that are so encapsulating, but rather how Carpenter chooses to capture that. A scene could be playing out naturally like any other moment would. For instance, a high school student and her girlfriends could be walking down the street, gossiping about rumors and romance. Not exactly anything out of the ordinary. But then when out of the corner of somebody’s eye, they spot a tall, stoic figure just slightly placed out on the edge of the frame, then a blink later… he’s gone.

This is why it was appropriate to label Michael Myers as “The Shape” in the end credits. It’s because he isn’t a character, but a point of fixation: something to divert our attention towards. When the Shape is noticed for a brief second, our focus shifts directly towards him. When he’s absent from the frame in the next take, we let our guard down. That’s why when Michael brutally murders someone in a violent, gruesome fashion later on, it shocks us so much: because we aren’t conditioned to the violence up until that point.

I would be remiss if I ended this review without mentioning this film’s eerie music, which builds up with such unease that it feels like someone is peering through your window watching you. Carpenter composed the music in three days, recorded it off of a few keys on his piano, and from it comprised one straightforward melody. But its impact on the film is electrifying. The keys shifting back and forth between notes feels like feet moving at a quick pace, while the crescendoing buildup feel like a pursuer gaining on his victim. Carpenter once said in an interview that he could play just about any note on a keyboard, but he couldn’t read or write a note. How was it, then, that he was able to write music as impeccable as this? It’s because he wasn’t writing music. He was writing a manhunt.

The worst thing that can be said about the original Halloween is the endless string of copycats that it inspired in the slasher genre. Several films have followed the same formula of the lone killer stalking the rebellious teenagers. Nightmare on Elm Street. Friday the 13th. Even the later Halloween sequels lost their edge. And yet, the original remains invigorating. Why? Because it understands the environment that it’s inhibiting. John Carpenter’s Halloween is an elaborate, masterful, and bloody game of cat-and-mouse: and we are the mouse.

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“THE CONJURING” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

Be afraid of what you can’t see.

The Conjuring is a revelation in horror cinema: a genuinely creepy and disturbing movie, infesting every nerve of your body with consistent tension, anxiety, and unease. In a long failing genre that mistakes horror for sick images and macabre violence, at last we find a movie that gets it. True horror does not come from the gruesome things we see on the screen: it comes from the things that we don’t see, the things that we suspect are hiding in dark corners, quietly leaning over our shoulders.

The fact that The Conjuring is based on two real-life paranormal investigators, Ed (Patrick Wilson) and Lorraine Warren (Vera Farmiga) makes the film’s events all the more unnerving to watch, and it makes you question how much of it is fiction. In the film, the Warrens are investigating the Perrons, a family that recently moved out to a house in Rhode Island where they think they will be able to peacefully raise their five children. It doesn’t even take a day for unexplainable occurrences to start happening in the house. The clocks always stop at exactly 3:07 in the morning. Picture frames fall to the floor all at once. Strange clapping can be heard in the house every now and then. And after a while, the Perron’s youngest daughter Christine (Joey King) persists that she sees a malevolent spirit late at night. The Warrens commit to the case to find out what is causing the occurrences and help the family before it is too late.

The Conjuring reaffirms an idea I’ve believed in for a long time now: ghosts by themselves are not scary. Neither are poltergeists, demons, monsters, psychotic murderers, serial killers, or supernatural entities. None of these things are scary on their own. What makes them truly scary is the environment around them, the sounds of feet shuffling, the crunching of leaves as they are being stepped on, the chairs creaking, the wind blowing out of nowhere, the chill running down your spine that you can’t explain where it came from. True fear comes from knowing that the threat is near, and yet, not being able to see or sense them.

Director James Wan plays on the senses brilliantly in The Conjuring. He doesn’t evoke sensationalism. He evokes moods, tones, feelings, paranoia, confusion, hopelessness, distrust, and dread. Because he relies on these things instead of the usually cheap jump scares, the picture lasts longer and leaves a heavier impact on you than most other horror pictures do.

Compare one of this film’s creepier antagonists, a small ceramic Annabelle doll, to most of today’s horror icons, such as Jason Vorhees and Michael Myers. Maybe once they were scary, but nowadays they’re just big, brainless buffoons that groan at their victims, swinging sharp objects around, their brutish bodies invulnerable to every hazard imaginable. That’s not scary, that’s overkill. How are you supposed to get invested into a story where its main threats are indestructible? How are you supposed to be surprised or shocked when you can see them lumbering 50 miles away? In the Friday the 13th and Halloween movies, you don’t go to get scared: you go to watch teenagers get hacked to death, with no suspense or investment to supplement their bloody deaths.

Annabelle, however, is a different story. She’s not scary because of one specific instance: she’s scary because she represents something much larger than herself, which is the obvious risks of the Warrens’ career choice. In one moment, the Warren’s professional life crosses over into their personal life, and the threat that entities like Annabelle poses to the Warrens is truly frightening. It made me really think, if this story were true, and malicious spirits like Annabelle are really out there, what defense would we have against them? What would we do if our families were haunted by them? We would be truly helpless, just like one of Annabelle’s victims.

Some might argue that the pace is too slow or deliberate in this picture. I guess I would agree with you, if James Wan hadn’t made Insidious before this, which truly was a slow, deliberate picture that didn’t have half of the thrills as The Conjuring does. Most horror pictures take their genre for granted, thinking that they will be successful just by following conventions. Not The Conjuring. It cherishes its horror, lingers on it, and smartly builds up to unexpected moments, surprising you in the most profound of ways. Like a poltergeist, The Conjuring possesses you, and no incantation can lift the spell it has on you.

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