Halloween V: Re-carving the Pumpkin – Michael Myers Zombie-style

Halloween V: Re-carving the Pumpkin - Michael Myer Zombie-style

 

Halloween had tried a partial reboot for its 20th anniversary, but it was Rob Zombie who took the definitive slasher back to basics just before it’s 30th. Are you ready to head further behind the mask of Michael Myers than ever before? It’s brutal and all a little bit like history repeating…

“Sam, it’s a fucking massacre”

NINE TIMES LUCKY. AFTER 2002’s RESURRECTION WRENCHED THE FRANCHISE BACK TO ITS CLUMSY SIXTH INSTALMENT, THERE WAS AN APPETITE FOR THE FIRST FULL-SCALE REBOOT OF THE DEFINITIVE HORROR SLASHER. The leaner world of 21st century horror saw most box-office diverted to the dominant sub-genre of torture porn and graphic bodily violence, increasingly removed from the supernatural-tinged slashers of the ‘80s and ‘90s. 2003’s Freddy Vs Jason had closed the door on the slasher anti-heroes of the 80s, even if Michael Myers’ invite had been lost in the post, so there was only one way to go. Ditch the post-modern; go for a straight bat / carving knife.

It took five years for Rob Zombie’s reimagining to return Myers to the screen, returning to the slasher original, its shape reassembled to contemporary tastes. The new director was successfully hooked by rights holders Dimension Films following the favourable reception to his films, House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects. But before he allowed himself to be loose on the Shape, Zombie sought the sage advice of franchise grandee John Carpenter. Himself a master of the straight bat, Carpenter either advised, or requested, that Zombie, “make it his own”.

The former White Zombie front man was a compelling successor to Carpenter. As well as writing, directing, and producing, the sequel he could also carry heft in the music department (credited as music supervisor), like his illustrious predecessor – even if the ‘best horror film score’ ever had been taken. And the two films that emerged made for a compelling return. A closed chapter in the franchise, capturing a stark flavour and focus of its own, and one indelibly attached to Zombie’s name. His two-film run is a considered success, certainly beating other reimaginations in the genre, including 2009’s Friday the 13th or 2013’s The Evil Dead; although the pickings were slim.

Zombie’s intended to reclaim the original menace, reintroducing cinema goers to Michael Myers while showing them far more of the icon’s back story. That enabled Zombie to address what he perceived, ironically, as an over-familiarity with the slasher. One that had similarly dampened icons like Krueger and Vorhees in their sprawling horror franchises. He intended to stitch a biographical ambiguity into Michael’s famous journey back home. But adding a past and diluting the original purity, comes with consequences. Consequences for retuned characters, a set sequence of events, and the central antagonist’s MO. Tune up the keyboard. Let’s journey back to Haddonfield.

Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009)

“Look Miss Myers, I do not enjoy calling you down here every five minutes”

Zombie’s decision to delve into Michael Myers’ backstory has major implications for a film that, when in full slash mode replicates the original quite faithfully. The most notable change in those Haddonfield scenes is the considerable shortening of familiar scenes and relationships. The slow build-up and tension so essential to the emergence of the Shape in 1978 is compacted, affecting his appearance, style and movement as well as the web of characters he disturbs.

Child’s play

Halloween Season of the Witch and the Return of Michael MyersThere’s an uncompromising start, of course focussed on the Myers house. But instead of the tracking shot and reveal, we see the dysfunctional family in full, and barely watchable, swing. For all the attempt to add backstory to the hulking monster at the heart of the story, the film has to acknowledge that we already know who Myers is and what he will become. There was never the chance of a shock reveal, which pushes the weight of the narrative on the boy’s journey animal mutilator to knife-obsessed psychopath, although there’s plenty of the clown suit. We meet the live-in lout of a father figure and night-working mum; we see the horrors domestic abuse, the bullying at school, and the older sister who’s a factor in both. Crucially, we also see the baby at home, nicknamed Boo’ by her older brother – here, Michael’s aged to 10 – and also the child psychologist the school calls in when they find implicating pictures, and souvenirs of animal mutilation in his bag. A certain Dr Samuel Loomis. Read more…

Hammer: Baron Frankenstein at 60 – How to build a monster

The Hammer Baron Frankenstein at 70

Last year we celebrated the 50th anniversary of Hammer’s Dracula Prince of Darkness and the Wallachian Count’s glorious powers of resurrection. To complete the double-bill, we toast the 60th anniversary of the release of The Curse of Frankenstein by picking up tips on how to build a monster from the imperious Baron Frankenstein. Or, inevitably, how a bunch of pitchfork wielding villagers might thwart his plans…

*** Spoilers for the classic Frankenstein Hammer series stitched in ***

“Why can’t they leave me alone? Why can’t they ever leave me alone?”

BARON VICTOR FRANKENSTEIN IS 60! OR IS THAT DR STEIN? OR DR CARL VICTOR? YES,THE HAMMER SEQUENCE OF SEVEN FILMS THAT SPUN OUT FROM MARY SHELLEY’S DEFINITIVE NOVEL NEVER REALLY GAVE THE DOCTOR’S FAMOUS CREATIONS A CHANCE. Instead recognising them as the symptoms of a compulsion – following instead the journey of the talented and visionary, yet self-centred, increasingly obsessed, deluded and immoral scientist himself, through a variety of mishaps, aliases and decades. Despite the names that would be stitched into the form of the Baron’s creatures over the franchise, unlike the famous Universal Studios series that preceded it, Hammer’s adaptation insisted on following the scientist himself, played – with only one misguided exception – by the big name the sequence hang off: Peter Cushing.

The Curse begins…

The Curse of Frankenstein premiered on 2 May 2017 and changed everything. The Hammer entity had produced films since the late 1930s with mixed success, but it was in the company’s third incarnation during the mid-1950s that they invested in horror. The phase started with an adaptation of Nigel Kneale’s Quatermass, quickly followed by a scrambled pastiche. But it was when their sights fell on direct, period horror and rose to their strengths, without overdoing the funding of course, that they not only returned gothic horror to the cinema for the first time since Universal Studio’s heyday, but crucially, introduced colour. And what glorious colour it was.

Everything synonymous with Hammer Horror is there in that 1957 feature. The opulent cinematography, the period setting, the melodrama. Hammer’s horror output would later deviate from that formula, to mixed success; competitors would have great success aping their formula. But it remains one of the most distinctive studio signatures in cinema history.

Grave digging

Like a reanimated corpse at the hands of the Baron, Hammer’s Frankenstein had a painful root to life, despite Mary Shelley’s book being long in the public domain. Searching for production partners across the Atlantic, a Frankenstein script from two young American scribes landed on the desk of Hammer supremo Michael Carreras, son of the studio’s founder James Carreras. Close to the plot of Universal’s Son of Frankenstein (1939), the idea of filming it cheaply in black and white, and knowingly bringing in horror giant and Frankenstein alumni Boris Karloff as their mad scientist was electrocuted at the bolts when Universal heard of their plans. And with the production firmly on the American studio’s radar, Universal were determined to protect their property. And so did constraints and circumstance become a significant shaper in not only this vision of Frankenstein, but also Hammer’s future.

The original script, eventually titled Frankenstein and the Monster, ran to a shoddy 55 minutes and under heavy threat from Universal it was reluctantly reworked until it fell to a rising star in Hammer’s home, Bray Studios. Jimmy Sangster had risen up the ranks when his script for X – the Unknown dug them out of a difficult hole when a Quatermass sequel fell through in 1956.

Adding colour

Sangster’s Frankenstein script pulled the story back to the 19th century, placing the imperious Baron in a satisfyingly central Europe. Like the Universal adaptations that cut a swath through film a few decades before, this was no faithful interpretation of Mary Shelley’s original. But the treatment was crucially strong enough to boost the production into full -olour production. Hammer engaged Eastman Colour, much to the BBFC’s dismay – horror in colour? – and under the unbelievable eye of cinematographer Jack Asher – who did more than anyone to define the ‘Hammer look’ – prepared to change gothic horror forever.

The distinctive make-up that defined Universal’s most famous version of the Doctor’s creation was out of bounds under scrutiny from across the Atlantic. And so it fell to Phil Leakey to sculpt something entirely different. The disfigured, alarming, brutal result did the job, even though it would never be repeated. That make-up almost transformed Bernard Bresslaw until either his agent’s pay demands or his reputation for comedy found him second best to the two inches shorter Christopher Lee (6’5”). The role didn’t allow Lee the moments that Boris Karloff enjoyed at Universal, but twitchy and child-like he managed two subtly distinct personalities in his few scenes. Karloff’s portrayal was governed by pathos, with Lee’s creature was a cipher for the Baron’s puppet. By sheer force of his creator’s will, Lee monster is half-mimic, half-puppet, walking as if on strings. And before he walks comes the famous, over-cranked reveal, when the score roars back after some purposeful silences during the accidental reanimation. That was the scene where Lee first shared the screen with his friend and long-time on-screen antagonist, Peter Cushing. Legends were set. Read more…

The Mummy Unwrapped: Original Shifting Sand from Universal to Hammer

Karloff the Uncanny The Mummy

The original shared film universe of Hollywood is stirring in its crypt, as a new Universal Mummy is set to emerge in 2017. This Halloween found Jokerside wrapping itself up in… The Mummy. Before we head to action-adventure, we first pitch Boris Karloff against Christopher Lee in two undead classics!

THERE’S A HIERARCHY OF HORROR, YOU DON’T NEED ABBOT AND COSTELLO TO POINT THAT OUT. From the great gothic tradition, there are some clear if conflicted leaders. Bram Stoker’s Dracula and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde have been adapted over 140 times. Mary Shelley’s older diabolical exploration of nature and nurture has led Dr Frankenstein to the screen over 150 times, and that’s not to mention, unironically, a legion clones. It’s no surprise that these characters along with the odd Phantom of the Opera and Invisible Man have led the charge of literature adaptations in Hollywood and across the planet.

That was never clearer than when Universal Studios were propelled to another level by their adaptations of Dracula and Frankenstein in 1931. Those smashes came almost ten years after the studio had kicked off what would become a highly successful brand of heightened stylish horror, fantasy and science fiction. On screen, names were made overnight. A number of actors still have their names indelibly attached to parts that were galvanised during the Studio’s peak. Although many swapped across various leading roles of the key franchises that spilled down from these iconic originals, there’s no doubt whose names are still a breath away from that era’s Frankenstein, his monster, Dracula or the Wolf Man. But standing head and shoulders above them all, sometimes literally, there’s one of actor who’s name shouts the loudest. A year after originating Universal’s definitive Frankenstein’s Monster, English actor Boris Karloff originated a threat of a different kind. It wasn’t one that obviously sprung from the literature of the previous century, but it slotted so perfectly into contemporary zeitgeist and the essence of success behind those gothic adaptations that that it quickly set a permanent mark on horror cinema. No wonder it’s gearing up its major relaunch under Universal’s care for 2017. Dracula may not have rediscovered his lost love so much, slashers may not have been the same, zombies might never have caught on… without… The Mummy.

The Universal universe

It was Karloff who portrayed the Egyptian mummy Im-Ho-Tep himself in that first eponymous film, before other actors took on the role for five sequels in various states of bandage. A giant of the horror film, and certainly one of the finest actors the country has ever produced, the English actor’s nuanced performances as much as his distinctive looks are in large part responsible for the continued hold Universal have over the cultural the perception of The Mummy and Frankenstein’s Monster. Karloff acted in a number of Universal films before their association ended with 1952’s The Black Castle. Intriguingly, an earlier temporary break came after The House of Frankenstein as the early rise of Universal’s shared film universe proved too much for him. He later retired to Hampshire in England and before he died in 1969 could not have missed the rise of the British rival to Universal’s hold on the horror film genre. Hammer Studios were in the middle of, if arguably past the peak of, their Dracula and Frankenstein series by the time the world of horror lost Karloff. Hammer is similarly defined by a key core group of actors. And there it’s Christopher Lee who stands out as the key comparator to Karloff. He remains most famous for his occasionally feral blood-eyed Dracula, but it was Lee who followed in Karloff’s footsteps in originating Hammer’s Frankenstein’s monster and then Hammer’s The Mummy.

Hammer Time

And those were greatly different beasts. The brands and rivalry of those two great horror studios were never clean cut. Universal distributed Hammer films in the United States, and various exclusive deals and copyrights led the Hammer adaptations to be markedly different to their Universal forbears. That was clear in not only the look of Hammer’s various monsters of Frankenstein, but also in the emphasis that fell to Baron Frankenstein rather than those creations. Things were a little more muddled with Dracula. Hammer’s Horror of Dracula was typically distributed by Universal having forfeited the rights to distribute the film themselves to gain the rights, earning a longer title to distinguish it from the 1931 Universal film. Although Bram Stoker had never found a publisher in the United States and his most famous book remained out of copyright, Universal had signed an unusual deal with Bram Stoker’s wife that forbade any other film adaptations at the time. Hammer went through the grinder to produce their version, a mere four years before the work became public domain in the United Kingdom. Lee was famously and increasingly more dissatisfied with his role as Dracula, apparently rebelling against the sequels that worked further from the source novel by refusing to speak in some. And that’s after Hammer’s original had managed to be more faithful to Stoker’s original novel than Universal’s effort, though not by much. When it came to their Egyptian starring roles, a product of film rather than prose, things were a little different. Read more…

Halloween IV: Watering Down the Franchise (H20 and Resurrection under the knife)

Halloween H2O Michael Myers

He always comes back. One year on from Jokerside’s retrospective of the first six instalments of the Halloween franchise, we turn to the short-lived 20th anniversary revival. Very short-lived, although the start wasn’t as wet as it sounds…

H20 WAS RELEASED A MERE TWO YEARS AFTER THE SIXTH INSTALMENT, THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS. BUT IT PROVED THAT IT WASN’T SO MUCH THE TIME AS THE OCCASION THAT MAKES ALL THE DIFFERENCE TO A SUCCESSFUL HALLOWEEN FRANCHISE. AND IT TOOK THE RETURN OF LAURIE STRODE, NOW A HEADMISTRESS, TO SPELL THAT OUT.

Or more specifically Jamie Lee Curtis. In the wake of arguably her greatest box-office triumph True Lies (1994), the actress’ thoughts had returned to her big movie break. And in the event, she even brought her mother along for the ride. Janet Leigh’s sneaky cameo as Norma, put the influence of Psycho front and centre once again in a film that succeeds in capturing the roots of the franchise while taking on the changing face of the slasher pic over the past 20 years, picking up the 1960s influences just as the 1978 original had nodded to the gothic horror it had been sent to stake.

Janet Leigh’s Norma can’t be missed as she walks back to 1957 Ford Fairlane 500, the same model her character Marion had in Hitchcock’s 1960 classic. And the score serves up a musical refrain to that film, as she wishes Laurie Strode a happy Halloween. When Laurie first bumps into her it’s perhaps the film’s most effective jump.

However, this mild-reboot, that wiped out three sequels and made an excellent stab at regaining some of its purity as a result, was short-lived. A delayed sequel not only failed to live up to the previous film’s promise, but fell straight back into the trap of prolonged sequels and a severe case of postmodernism, that other horror franchises were languishing in. It’s as though the savage cull of H20, itself a deliberate response to post-modern slashers, had never happened.

How does it go? It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

Halloween H20: 20 Year’s later

The anniversary feature was shot in a 2.35:1 ratio just like the original, and that wasn’t the only attempt to recapture the masked magic of 1978. Curtis had wanted to reunite as much of the first film’s crew as possible for the 20th anniversary. An intention that almost brought John Carpenter back to the director’s chair, supposedly only falling through due to the financial disputes with the series regular producers that had rolled on since the original. Instead, the directing job fell to Steve Miner, drafted across from helming the second and third parts of the Friday the 13th franchise.

Twenty years on from the definitive Halloween, the slasher horror genre had come on streets and bounds, but by far the greater influence came from something far more recent than the stomping grounds of Norman Bates or Jason Vorhees. Read more…

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