Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Happy Halloween! - A Review of the Halloween Films Pt. 1

Horror Icon Michael Myers

Halloween is one of the most well known and well respected horror franchises in cinema.  With ten films and names such as John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Hartnet, Rob Zombie, Malcolm McDowell and Donald Pleasence to its credit it stands tall amongst its competitors as a series to be taken seriously and given respect.

Now that Halloween itself is upon us, and I have a housemate who loves horror movies, I decided that it would be a good time to re-watch the Halloween franchise from start to finish, and here are my thoughts on each.  Hope you enjoy!
Halloween (1978)

Halloween Poster
On Halloween night 1963 in Haddonfield, six year old Michael Myers brutally stabs his sister, Judith Myers, to death with a kitchen knife.  After spending fifteen years in Smith's Grove Sanatorium, under the care of Doctor Samuel Loomis, Michael escapes and returns to Haddonfield.  Fearful of the evil within Michael, Doctor Loomis follows him and begins to hunt him down.

Once back at Haddonfield Michael sees teenager Laurie Strode and begins to stalk her.  Throughout Halloween night Michael begins his killing spree, murdering Laurie’s friends before coming for the girl herself.  During her desperate battle for survival Loomis arrives on the scene and shoots Michael several times, knocking him from a balcony.  After checking on Laurie’s safety Loomis returns to where Michael fell to find him vanished.

Laurie fights for survival against Michael.

The first Halloween film is an all time classic.  Its cast is great, the two stars, Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode and Donald Pleasence as Samuel Loomis, elevate the film from simple slasher with their acting abilities.  Halloween even helped to launch the career for Curtis, paving the way for her to become a Hollywood star.

Movie legend John Carpenter uses the limited time and budget constraints to his advantage, crafting a wonderfully visual piece that’s filled with tension throughout, even when Michael is stalking Laurie in broad day light he manages to keep the scares and tension to a consistently high level.

The music and visual style help to make the movie more than it’s humble beginnings of a man who kills babysitters to a visually moody piece where we focus more on Michael stalking his victims rather than the actual killings themselves.  For a slasher movie there is relatively little gore or blood, instead the scares come from Michael suddenly appearing in frame and disappearing again as quickly unbeknownst to the characters on screen.

Halloween is a suspenseful and frightening film that introduces some great characters and an instantly iconic movie killer.  Well above many of its companions in the slasher genre Halloween stands out as a beautifully cinematic experience.  9/10.

Halloween 2 (1981)

Halloween 2 Poster
Halloween 2 picks up straight where the first film ends, with Dr. Loomis saving Laurie from Michaels attack, and Michael’s subsequent disappearance.  Laurie is sent to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital for emergency treatment whilst Loomis continues with his hunt of Michael through the streets of the town.  Following after Laurie, Michael enters Haddonfield Memorial Hospital and proceeds to eliminate the staff within. 

 During his hunt for Michael, Loomis learns the true reason behind Michael returning to Haddonfield, to kill his younger sister.  A sister who had since been adopted and now goes by the name of Laurie Strode.  Realising that Michael did not randomly target Laurie, Loomis rushes to the hospital.

Together Loomis and an injured Laurie lure Michael into an operating room and use the oxygen tanks to kill Michael with a massive explosion that also claims the life of Dr. Loomis.  Safe from Michael, Laurie is loaded into the back of an ambulance.

Michael hunts Laurie through the hospital halls.
Despite having been made three years after the first film Halloween 2 seamlessly picks up where the first film left off and continues the story of Halloween night 1978.  Despite the fact that John Carpenter did not plan for a sequel to the first film, when watched with the original Halloween 2 feels like the second part of a pair, with the two films complementing each other well.

Due to the success of the first film, however, slasher movies had become more popular to film going audiences and the effect of this can be seen clearly in Halloween 2.  The deaths have become bloodier and more creative, which much more screen time being handed over to the demise of character than was given in the first film.  There is one scene in particular where one of Michaels victims has been drained of her blood, with more blood in that one scene that in the whole of the first movie!

The returning cast from the first film do a sterling job once again, though with Laurie sedated in hospital for much of the film Pleasence is given much more screen time this time round as Dr. Loomis.  7/10.

Halloween 3:
Season of the Witch (1982)

Halloween 3: Season of the Witch Poster
Called into cover a night shift at his hospital, Dr. Dan Challis finds a patient suffering from severe shock, repeating the words ‘they’re going to kill us all’ and clutching a Halloween mask made by Silver Shamrock.  The patient is murdered by a strange man in a suit, who then proceeds to leave the hospital and kill himself by setting himself on fire.  Witness to these events Challis is deeply disturbed.

Challis and the patient’s daughter, Ellie, decide that something was terribly wrong with what happened and decide to investigate matters further.  Together the two of them travel to the small town of Santa Mira, home of Silver Shamrock.  Upon arriving in the town they find that Silver Shamrock effectively own the small coastal town, with many of the people there working at the factory and everyone claiming that the town owes everything to Mr Cochran, the man behind Silver Shamrock.

Managing to get a tour of the Silver Shamrock factory Ellie discovers her father’s car hidden within, guarded my more of the mysterious suited men.  Challis and Ellie return to their motel and attempt to call for help but discover that they cannot reach anyone outside of Santa Mira.  Ellie is then kidnapped by the suited men.

Challis proceeds to Silver Shamrock and breaks into the factory.  Confronted by one of the men in suits Challis fights him, only to discover that he is in fact an android created by Cochran.  Challis is captured by the androids and Cochran reveals his plan to kill children on Halloween night.

It is revealed that the Silver Shamrock logos on the Halloween masks contain a computer chip and a small fragment of one of the rocks from Stonehenge.  When the Silver Shamrock commercial airs on Halloween night the mask will kill the wearer and release a swarm of insects and snakes to kill those close at hand, in an attempt to appease the god Samhain, whose festival of Halloween has become subverted.

Challis escapes and with Ellie manages to destroy both Cochran and the factory.  Whilst fleeing back to town Challis is attacked by Ellie, who it is revealed has been replaced by an android copy.  Challis defeats the android and runs to a local gas station.  From here he calls the television stations in an attempt to get them to stop the commercial from playing.  All but one station do so, leaving Challis screaming for them to stop it as the film abruptly ends.

Challis tries to stop the deaths of millions.

Halloween 3 is a great film.  It’s also the only film in the series that has nothing whatsoever to do with Michael Myers.  Halloween 3 was made following the completion of the Michael Myers story and the creators wanted to give audiences something different, and keep producing Halloween films as an anthology series, much like the Twilight Zone, with each new film focusing on another aspect of the Halloween season.

Unfortunately when the film was released it was not looked upon favourably, and as such some consider it to be the ‘black sheep’ of the series, which is a shame because I loved it.  This was the first time I had seen Halloween 3, and I knew that it wasn’t a Michael Myers film going into it, and as such I had no idea what to expect from it.

Whereas the other Halloween films are your basic stalk and kill slasher movies, Season of the Witch had more plot than the first two films, more mystery and a villain that wasn’t just driven by the desire to kill, but has a big complicated plan that took years to come to fruition.

Tom Atkins is great as Dr. Challis, giving us a vastly different hero from others in the series, and Dan O’Herlihy is on top form as the villainous Cochran.  Together with an intriguing plot and some horrific effects during the activation of one of the masks, Halloween 3 is a brilliant stand alone movie.  8/10

Halloween 4:
The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers Poster

Michael Myers, who survived the explosion at the end of Halloween 2, has been in a coma for the last ten years, but whilst being transferred from one hospital to another overhears the paramedics talking about Laurie Strode, who it is revealed died since the second film, but is survived by her daughter Jamie.  Michael attacks and kills the paramedics and escapes, heading back to Haddonfield to find his niece.  Dr. Samuel Loomis, who also survived the explosion ten years previously, learns of Michaels escape and swiftly follows him to Haddonfield to once again stop his murderous plans.

In Haddonfield, eight year old Jamie is living with a foster family and is aware that Michael Myers is her uncle, and frequently has nightmares about him.    When her foster parents leave town for Halloween night Jamie’s foster sister Rachel is given responsibility to look after her.

Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis arrives in Haddonfield and teams up with Sheriff Meeker to find Jamie and prevent her from falling victim to Michael.  Finding the girls being chased by Michael whilst trick or treating the two of them return to the police station for help, but find that Michael has already been there, and has killed all of the other officers in town.  When news of this breaks a lynch mob forms in an attempt to find and kill Michael.

Loomis and Meeker retreat to the sheriff’s house with the girls and secure it against Michael.  Unfortunately Michael breaks into the house and Jamie is forced to flee.  In a desperate chase that leads to an old mine, Michael is cornered by Sheriff Meeker and the lynch mob and is subsequently shot multiple times before falling down an old mineshaft, where he is presumed dead.

Jamie and Rachel return home, where her now returned foster parents are waiting.  The girls are consoled by their parents before Darlene, the mother, goes to run a bath for Jamie.  Jamie proceeds to don a clown mask and brutally stabs her mother with a pair or scissors, similar to Michael’s original crime.  The film ends with a blood covered Jamie with Dr. Loomis screaming and Rachel and Meeker looking on in horror.

Michael hunts his niece Jamie.
Halloween 4 is a fine return to the formula of the first two films, with the welcome return of both Michael and Loomis.  Unfortunately Jamie Lee Curtis was no longer willing to be part of the franchise due to her success as an actress outside of the Halloween series, and as such as killed off off-screen.  Fortunately Danielle Harris does sterling performance as Jamie Lloyd.  Plus its fun to see Michael chase a victim who needs to rely on others to help her, teenagers can fight back against Michael, a child can’t.

Whilst both Loomis and Michael were killed in the second film they are quickly brought back to life with some simple lines of dialogue that state they survived the explosion at the end of the second film.  Whilst this is highly unlikely, the explosion was massive, I found it quickly acceptable as I just wanted to watch Loomis chase Michael all over again, and as such didn’t become hung up on these ret-cons. 

The kills are gain getting more and more creative, probably due to the need to compete with other slasher movies, but aren’t too over the top gory like many other horror films.  It’s also fun to see the residents of Haddonfield step up and take action into their own hands once the mention of Michael Myers is made, the brutal murders of the first two films still fresh in their minds.

A competent sequel that manages to revive a series and characters that were effectively put to bed in Halloween 2, that also introduces us to some great new characters such as Sheriff Meeker and Jamie Lloyd.  7/10.

Halloween 5:
The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers Poster

Beginning where the fourth film left off we see that Michael survived his fall down the mine and escapes into a river, where he is found by a local hermit.  The hermit takes care of Michael, who falls into a coma for the next year.  Waking on October 30th, Michael kills the hermit and heads back to Haddonfield to find Jamie once again.

In Haddonfield we see that Jamie has been admitted to a children’s psychiatric ward and has been rendered mute due to psychological trauma.  During this time she also begins to exhibit signs of a psychic link with Michael, and discovers that he is returning.  Aware of Jamie and Michaels link Loomis tries to convince Sheriff Meeker that Michael is coming back to Haddonfield.

Michael kills Jamie’s foster sister Rachel, and begins to stalk Rachel’s friend Tina.  Aware that Michael is pursuing Tina, Jamie leaves the hospital and goes to the Halloween party where Michael is trying to kill Tina.  Tina sacrifices herself to save Jamie and Michael escapes.  Jamie then agrees to help Loomis lure Michael into a trap.

Using Jamie as bait Loomis and Meeker devise a trap at Michael Myers’ old home.  Michael arrives and chases Jamie through the house, killing several officers in the process.  Loomis manages to catch Michael in a chain net and shoots him with several tranquilizers, allowing the police to take Michael into custody.

Michael is locked up in the sheriff’s station, waiting to be transferred to a maximum security facility, when a mysterious man attacks the station, killing all of the officers within, including Meeker, and escapes with Michael as his captive.

Loomis confronts Michael in the Myers house.

Halloween 5 was released only a year after Halloween 4, and you can tell.  The film feels rushed throughout, with a poor story that is the first major let down in the franchise so far.  The characters no longer seem to have character, but are simply archetypal horror movie victims, there simply to be killed in creative and gory ways.  There is no real investment in any of them.

Even the returning characters seem to be poorly done by, with Rachel being quickly dispatched to make way for the character of Tina, and Jamie being psychologically traumatised by the events of the previous film.  Loomis seems to do little to nothing different in this film also, simply being used because it’s his job to hunt Michael.

The inclusion of the psychic link between Jamie and Michael seems to come out of nowhere and adds an element of the supernatural that has this far not been included in the Michael Myers films.  The link itself is never explained or used well in the course of the film.  One minute Jamie is able to prevent someone being killed by Michael, the next Michael is able to spring a trap on Jamie, one she surely should have seen coming because of this link.

Halloween five was a great disappointment from a series which up till then had been a pleasure to watch.  6/10.

In the seconnd part of my Halloween review I will be looking at Halloween 6, H20, Resurrection and the two Rob Zombie movies.

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