Halloween I: Michael Myers’ First Blood

John Carpenter Halloween
“I’m not sold on the nose, but this mask is gonna have to do…”

This Halloween Jokerside turns to a true original, the definitive horror that to carved out the 1980s slasher genre as easily as dicing pumpkin. Halloween, one story, two films of two distinct halves…

IT WAS 1976’S HUMBLY PRODUCED AND KINETIC ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 THAT BROUGHT PRODUCERS TO JOHN CARPENTER’S SUBURBAN PORCH (MAYBE…) WITH THE AIM OF EMULATING WILLIAM FRIEDKIN’S THE EXORCIST. A SCRIPT FOR THE BABYSITTER MURDERS WOULD SOON TRANSFORM INTO THE FILM THAT’S CREDITED WITH CREATING THE HORROR SLASHER GENRE. Sure, producer Irwin Yablans suggested the name and setting it during that ready-made night, but the main spark came from his trust in a low budget and inexperienced director and a tight shooting schedule. The Shape had arrived in a very, very real world.

Psycho’s Norman Bates had shocked audiences in 1960, and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre’s Leatherface appeared four years before Halloween. But the Shape, Michael Myers, was something else. An unstoppable force that didn’t wait, but hunted. He came for you, unrelentingly, following a repeating formula and putting the homicidal figure of uncertain and damaged origins front and centre, rather than the victims. Jason and his mum would follow within two years, Freddy four years after that. Halloween, 1978. When the slasher horror film arrived.

Halloween (1978)

“The night HE came back”

It was a gift of a name, Halloween. And having impressed with thrilling actioner Assault on Precinct 13, John Carpenter and horror was to prove a genre match in ‘heaven’. Much of what makes Halloween the film it is comes from its limited resources. But many of those traits, from the long sequential tension, the apparently simple choice of shots, and use of point of view, soon became definitive marks of a resurgent horror genre. Looking back along a franchise now numbering 10 films, via one sort-of reboot, this first film is a glorious trip back to ponderous lingering shots of banal suburbia. One that shows a defiant lack of gore.

Carpenter has named the shot that brings us bang up to date (Haddonfield on Halloween 1978) as his favourite. A short title set against the wide shot of a suburban street cross-section, autumn leaves falling in the light wind, no one in sight. It’s the first of many hanging shots, and perhaps the one that reminds most of The Exorcist. A film that Halloween would seek to outgrow, just as that 1971 classic had bricked up the crypts of the gothic horror films that came before it.

Leaves aren’t the only things falling there. That shot drips with anticipation following confident sequences of a strikingly different character. First, the simple titles. The black backdrop, unveiling the credits as a carved Pumpkin looms ever closer, just like the unstoppable Shape to come. And all the way to that close-up on the pumpkin’s eye and the nose, that music. As Carpenter has said of his score that it was a luxury to have three days, after only having only one to soundtrack Assault on Precinct 13. Iconic, chilling, relentless, over-melodic, unreal. Long before we see the Myers’ house, Halloween is iconic. And in preparing us for the necessary and riveting monotony of athe original slasher, it’s the perfect primer.

Haddonfield USA, Halloween night 1963

“Don’t forget to drop off the key at the Myers place…”

Revelations may pop up later in the franchise, but Halloween has little regard for flashbacks. The central character and his 15 missing years, require only a few lines to bring us up to speed. In that decade and a half, nothing has happened to Myers bar convince one particular Doctor that he is pure evil. The creators would later frame that as simply as Doctor Loomis. The film hangs on the almost preternatural assumption that those 15 years allowed evil to consume and prepare him; whichever of the subsequent theories the series throws up you believe. But in 1978 we had no idea. And those later films that added rhyme, reason, and backstory to the Shape would show how precious that original lack of explanation was.

Open the door

The film opens with the extended POV shot that would become synonymous with the franchise. Looking back on this and its immediate sequel, it’s astonishing how little is revealed to the audience or the characters. The first lines we hear “We are alone aren’t we?” “Michael’s around someplace,” pretty much sum it up. If there was any doubt before, it’s suddenly clear that we’re seeing through the eyes of an unknown. And that position of privilege reveals nothing; the clinical movements that take in the victim, then the upstairs light going out, before on the first floor an arm picks up a mask and we see a clown’s sleeve.

Then the vicious attack, the climb down the stairs and the revelation that we’ve been Michael. A small emotionless boy of six carrying a huge knife. Descendant chords rub in the incipient horror, while Carpenter has the camera detach and distance itself – one of the few times it rises into the air to summon judgement on the act we’ve been implicit in. It’s a masterclass. And we’ve only just begun. Read more…

Doctor Who Series 9: The Knightmare of Immortality

The Woman who lived Series Nine Doctor Who

The fourth of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine. The show kept us in the past, this time landing on the highways of the seventeenth century to pick up on the consequences of the Doctor’s actions at the end of his Viking adventure. What do the adventures of the Ashildir now the Lady Me, the latest in a long line of the undying, tell us about humanity?

It’s an immortal question. Inspired by The Woman who Lived

DID YOU FEEL ROBBED? WERE THE HOOKS OF THE GIRL WHO DIED NOT FULFILLED? Perhaps the MacGuffins and red herrings confounded expectation? But in any event, there’s no doubt that this casual two-parter was always intended to realign itself as one of Doctor Who’s occasional treatises on immortality.

The resulting 45 minutes, with its unusual structure pushing full force onto Peter Capaldi and Maisie William’s double-act, proved one of the show’s great explorations of that mighty theme. An irresistible concept that the show’s often danced around but never answered. If it ever did, there’s a good chance things would never be the same again.

Cheating Death

“People like us, we go on too long”

Immortality is built into Doctor Who, and not just in the inexhaustible fuel of the show’s format: Ideas and imagination without constraint that may outlast the Eye of Harmony. At the heart of the show is a Time Lord, almost the last one – recently given a whole new regeneration cycle when the first one might simply have allowed him to live forever. “Barring accidents” as the Fourth Doctor put it once. You can imagine the TimeWhich statistics on Gallifrey, warning year after year that most regenerations happen in the kitchen. Regeneration means every Time Lord or Lady has 12 reset buttons on his genome and mannerisms that could give them a new life as a woman, girl, Mekon, dog or sentient lamp – but has so far always landed the Doctor as a humanoid male between the Earth years of 25 and 60.

Since the show’s return, the revelation of the Great Time War has left unexplored the concept of these regenerating immortals fighting across time zones. It hasn’t touched the compelling possibility of fully piloted WAR TARDISES containing an endless domino spiral of regenerations or soaking up all the ships power just delicately juggle their dying/regenerating inhabitants in various states of temporal grace.

‘Accidents’ is the key understatement in the fourth Doctor’s unhelpful reasoning. Within two generation we saw the Doctor expire due to old age and then forcibly change (after execution we can only presume – nasty). Other times he’s been irradiated several times, poisoned, squashed and found on the wrong side of gravity. Only on occasion has the Doctor regenerated through direct selflessness (the Fifth’s self-sacrifice did more for his reputation than the Ninth’s) unless you want to argue that every regeneration is a result of the indirect selflessness of his universal intervention; a Gallifreyan who had their Type-40 TARDIS stolen would certainly disagree with that.

But as much as the Doctor and the universe combine to pit him against mortal danger, I doubt the latter will ever let him expire. Certainly, the Time Lords who’ve retreated to God-like status while their planet’s AWOL, were happy to break one of Rassilon’s directives to extend the Doctor’s life. I can’t see how that mad despot perished, but I’d be surprised if he’s calmed down.

Immortal crossings

The modern Prometheus to go with the Eyes of Hades.

In opposition to the Doctor and usually his people, Doctor Who presents a universe full of undeniable, illusionary and distorted versions of immortality. The list is a long one.

There are those not really of our time and space, who no doubt have no need word for immortality, being as it is very much in the eye of the beholder, and as a result little regard for mortals. These include the Eternals seen in 1983’s Enlightenment, elementals who live outside of time, who barely consider the transitory lives of lesser creatures. Those latter years of the Fifth Doctor’s life, coinciding with the show’s 20th anniversary, saw immortality became a focus as the Eternals were joined by returning Black and White Guardians, maintaining the balance of the universe as personifications of chaos and order. In the 21st century we’d meet a member of the Pantheon of Discord in The Sarah Jane Adventures, the immortal Trickster for one lived on the power of chaos that emerged from the Faustian pacts he dangled in front of vulnerable humans. Similar carnage was wrought by the Gods of Ragnarok in Season 25’s The Greatest Show in the Galaxy. Those rogues forced sentient beings to endlessly entertain them at point of elimination, and provided a neat tribute to an old category of the Doctor’s rogues gallery in that silver anniversary year. Those gods joined the Discord and Guardians under the title The Great Old Ones in expanded Who universe prose.

Perhaps the greatest of the Doctors foes belonging to that pantheon is the Great Intelligence who first battled the Second Doctor in the Himalayas and the London Underground before meeting an improbable death in the time streams of The Name of the Doctor. In particular the prose of Andy Lane and Craig Hinton equated the Great Intelligence with Yog-Sothoth, a Lovecraftian cosmic entity of Cthulhu Mythos.

Mythological

The Woman who Lived forwent Norse mythology to dwell on Hades…

The Doctor will always have eternal foes to undermine, tangle with and fight while there is a universe. Elsewhere, a special mention must go to Fenric, the time travelling ancient member of the Great Old Ones encountered by the Doctor in the in the last season of the Classic Series.

Fenric, as its name suggests, was tied up with Nordic heritage and mythology – something that’s made an appearance in almost every episode of Series Nine so far. But, The Woman who Lived forwent Norse mythology to dwell on Hades, the underworld of the ancient Greek world. Greek mythology is well stocked with tales of immortality, from the gods of Olympus to the punishments of Titans and mortals. This time the MacGuffin was the Eye of Hades, alien technology that inspired the ponderous observations: “Purple the colour of death… The light of immortality”.

In one of Doctor Who’s best regarded stories, Egyptian mythology fell under the microscope. The Osirans of Season 12’s Pyramids of Mars Could live thousands of years without sustenance and the most evil of their kind was only trapped by the Doctor thanks to a time tunnel pointed to infinity. Similarly long-lived, potentially immortal, and just as influential on humanity were was Azal in The Daemons and that other horned one, the Beast in The Satan Pit.

The Woman who Lived dragged alien intrigue into the mix like a cat dragging a mouse into a working lunch on everlasting life. Tying into those grand plans of aliens influencing the planet, it only seems natural that the immortal girl, the supernatural human, attracted them. After all, science fiction has taught us again and again that Arthur C. Clarke‘s third law is right: ”Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

Deadly

Dedication to enduring existence is often shown to eliminate individuality…

Many species have survived from the dawn of time to what we can call the present day. They are easy to spot if they are recorded as scaring the ancient Time Lords or even worse, making it into Gallifreyan nursery rhymes or legends. The most famous recent example may be the Weeping Angels – along with their effective forbears the Fendahl, who even the Great Old Ones were said to flee – races almost viral in their persistent survival. Certainly not individualistic, that’s something Doctor Who often shows to be eliminated by dedication to enduring existence. Read more…

Hellraiser: Scarlet Endgames – The recent deaths of Pinhead reviewed

The Scarlet Gospels Hellraiser Revelations

On the day that the glorious Hellraiser Scarlet Box is released, Jokerside has a chance to redress the balance knocked off by its obtusely balanced evaluation of the saga a few Halloweens ago with reviews of old Pinhead’s two last stands. So far.

While we wait in eternity for the Hellraiser big screen reboot, a glimpse at Pinhead’s last film outing in Dimension’s strained Hellraiser: Revelations. But first the true end of the Hell Priest in Clive Barker’s definitive novel The Scarlet Gospels.

*Advised gore and horror reading awaits – this is Hellraiser. But only light spoilers to be found here – best read in a light circle of hell.*

WHEN JOKERSIDE SET OUT THE VERY GENEROUS HELLPIE THAT SPLIT THE FIRST EIGHT HELLRAISER FILMS INTO THEMATIC SEGMENTS, THINGS WERE DIFFERENT. Dimension Films were resolutely clinging on to the Hellraiser rights as the idea of a franchise reboot floundered in its own hell. Now, just two years on those final five films have somehow found even further to fall while the first trilogy has risen to a shining new Scarlet boxset thanks to creator Clive Barker’s stronger grasp on his creation. This year, he finally realised his mission for the High Priest of the Cenobites to Cenobite it with the release of The Scarlet Gospels, while the film reboot remains in focus, but this time with Barker himself back in charge.

Yes, it’s a (pin) heady year in Hellraiser history, and one that reeks of a turning point. So let’s take a look at Pinhead’s last stands on page and screen so far…

The Scarlet Gospels (Clive Barker, 2015)

Some of it, potentially much of it, is still in Hell…

The Scarlet Gospels found its way out of Hell some years after it was first announced and some of it, potentially much of it, is still there. It was always and still is headlined as the definitive death of the Lead Cenobite, Hell Priest and film icon: Pinhead. Way back in 2010 Clive Barker finally announced that 243,000 words of the rumoured novel were looking for a publisher. There followed three years of furious editing, pruning it down to less than half that word count and apparently excising much of its demonic, angelic and terrestrial mythicism.

Anchored to the mortal realm at the outset, The Scarlet Gospels then sets out to explore vast swathes of Hell and broaden the concepts first laid down in the novella that became the first Hellraiser film The Hellbound Heart.  Its 368 pages are easy to breeze through, sucking up classic Barker horror across Earth and Lucifer’s realm through blackened teeth. And it’s a romp of sorts, the majority tracking a twisted group of Dantean questers entering Pandemonium itself on a rescue mission, at their lead Barker’s recurring protagonist, New York occult PI Harry D’Amour.

The return of Barker’s most famous creations may suggest that D’Amour and Pinhead’s antagonism, switching as it does from the domain of one to the other, is central to the novel. That’s true to a point, certainly they’re never on the same side, but those hoping for a much mooted confrontation will be disappointed. And perhaps not have expectations in line with the pair’s respective franchises. There are mighty meetings and impossible scrapes ahead, but early events make it clear that the chances of D’Amour bringing down an entity as powerful as Pinhead is extremely remote. And while both are transformed by the end of the tale, it’s not to that end. No, The Scarlet Gospel’s are a meta-textual account of Pinheads final revolt in hell, and that’s something he understandably wants recorded. The confrontation arises when he settles on D’Amour as the ideal person to record them for him. All the players subsequently fall into place around Pinhead’s grand, if occasionally obscure plan.

Cuts and Balances

Perhaps these segments were always fated to be lost to apocrypha

The pruning has undoubtedly left the protagonists with a smaller canvas to clamber across, Pinhead with a slimmer motivation, and reduced much of the tale to a chase across Hell. Excised sections were rumoured to explore the significant heavenly side of the equation – in the finished product that is reduced to blasphemy, some foul-mouthed angels and an act of supreme anti-creation. While a shame, that restriction at least brings the Gospels further in line with the scope of the Hellraiser we’ve seen on film, and that’s surely where much of the new audience will come from. Ultimately there was to be no interaction with Christ, or drawing out of the similarities between the Hell Priest’s Cenobite disfigurement and his own crown of thorns. Neither would there be substance added to the Hell Priest and D’Amour’s relationship. Harry’s supposed childhood encounter with Pinhead instead falling in his adulthood, at the end of a rather obscure and unexplained plot to grab the detective’s attention.  Read more…

Doctor Who Series 9: Are Historical Adventures Important again?

Doctor Who Season Nine The Girl Who Died
“Yeah, needles doesn’t it old man?”

The third of a series of essays inspired by the stories of Doctor Who Series Nine.

The Girl Who Died had an ominous name, but did its closing moments suggest that the age of the Doctor’s disposable historical romps is over?

ANYWHERE IN SPACE AND TIME, EVERY ONE THAT EVER LIVED. THE PAST IS EVERY BIT AS POTENT AS THE FUTURE WHEN YOU’RE WATCHING A MAD MAN IN A BOX HURTLE THROUGH SPACE-TIME. But while the future offers optimism (or pessimism) infinite for a writer and audience’s imagination to run wild with no constraint, the past brings a different kind of curiosity and challenge. The discovered country, where everything from mysteries to myth, fact to historical figures, form steps to where we are now. If you’re intrigued about visiting the far future or the distant past, it’s a different kind of fascination that draws you to either. Or if it isn’t when you set off, it will be once you arrive.

Historical adventures have been wired into the TARDIS console since Doctor Who’s first serial. Even in their prestigious and epic prime during those early years, some were less enthralling than others. It didn’t take long for the story length to shorten and the educational slant of those slightly loose historical ganders like The Aztecs and The Romans to give way to a science fiction influence. In fact, the last Who historical story of any weight that featured not a toot of a sci-fi conceit was 1966’s The Highlanders – notable for introducing one of the all-time great and, therefore surprisingly, male companions in Frazer Hines’ Jamie McCrimmon, primed to last the entirety of the Second Doctor’s run. The actual last was the slight Black Orchid in 1982, but as that also avoided any historical point of interest it’s easy to overlook.

Historical Intervention

The slice of sci-fi became the de facto way to judge historical adventures…

During the show’s 26 year classic run, historical stories managed to hit a higher bar and avoid derision more often than their futuristic cousins, even though the majority carried at least an edge of science fiction. And that slice of sci-fi became a de facto way to judge them. Even when the classic series got things slightly wrong, many of them proved their staying power. There was the impressive medieval introduction for the Sontarans in Robert Holmes fantastic The Time Warrior, an adventure that pitted the Third Doctor against grumpy barons and castle sieges. Famously a serial where script editor Terrance Dicks recommended that the sceptical Holmes research the period in the children’s section of a library. Not fond of historical adventures was Mr Holmes. When later script editor himself, Holmes would get suitable revenge by commissioning Dicks to craft his own historical story The Horror of Fang Rock around a lighthouse. When Dicks protested that he knew little about lighthouses, it was with a wry acceptance that he was directed to the children’s section of a library.

That was the fourth historical adventure attended by the Fourth Doctor, an incarnation who’d previously had a slam-dunk triple of trips to the past. Those stories had taken him from alien prison escape in the 1910s of Pyramids of Mars to Renaissance Italy and a confrontation with the Masque of Mandragora and then on to battle time fugitives in the Victorian classic penned by Holmes once again, The Talons of Weng-Chiang. Later, the Fifth Doctor would ignite the Great Fire of London and lose his sonic screwdriver in the attempt during The Visitation, the Sixth Doctor would see the industrial revolution backdrop the notable team-up of Academy foes the Master and the Rani in The Mark of the Rani, and the Seventh Doctor would mess around with his companion’s mind in the creepy Victorian mansion of Gabriel Chase in Ghostlight and an equally mesmerising World War II base in The Curse of Fenric. None of those ‘80s tales were the worst of their respective Doctors, in fact some are bona fide classics.

And it’s no surprise that the torch was always held high. Doctor Who after all, is produced by the BBC, and the BBC does period drama like nothing else.

New times

Recently things haven’t been so set in stone

Come the show’s return in 2005, Russell T Davies set a simple template whereby the first three episodes of each of his series would take in the present day, slingshot to the future and then venture to the past. In his four seasons, this took us to the Victorian London of Charles Dickens, the Gothic Victorian Highlands of Queen Victoria, the magickal Globe Theatre of William Shakespeare and then the doomed market bustle of Pompeii.

But recently things haven’t been so set in stone. That saves on predictability in these times of higher concept series openers, but it’s also led to some peculiar off-shoots. A few years ago you may expect the lightweight stories to fall in the present day, while now viewers are steeled for disposable romps in days of yore.

Bringing robotic moves

Robot of Sherwood was a nadir in many ways.

In the build up to this ninth series, 2014’s Robot of Sherwood found a new lease of life, having set a new template for historical adventures that was exponentially more powerful than the quality of its story. Unfortunately, Robot was a nadir in many ways. Read more…

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