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…

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…

Halloween III: Difficult Middle Children

Halloween III Season of the Witch - the Difficult Middle Child

The third of Jokerside’s surveys of the Halloween franchise. All hopes of an anthology series had gone and the franchise was set on building a new continuity that paid close attention to the past. As it stretched into the late 1980s and mid-1990s, Halloween struggled to keep the Shape in his favourite pastime in a changing world of horror.

MICHAEL MYERS’ THIRD APPEARANCE IN HALLOWEEN 4 HAD ACHIEVED SOMETHING INCREDIBLE. A NEW BLOODLINE AND THE SERIES’ GREATEST TWIST. Spurred on by the return of buoyant box office, there was little chance the Shape could stay off the screen. A fifth instalment was quickly pushed into pre-production. But Myers was rivalled in threat by events away from the camera as the franchise strolled on. It’s impressive that a constantly the revolving teams of talent behind each instalment stuck to Halloween’s important continuity. It’s not surprising that the Shape couldn’t stave off the horror of diminishing returns.

Halloween 5: The Return of Michael Myers (1989)

“In my heart I knew that Hell would not have him”

Donald Pleasance rightly gets top billing at the start of the fifth Halloween film, before an effective if inexplicable pumpkin slashing exercise backs the main credits. After part four jumped straight into the action, Halloween 5 takes time to recap the ending of that previous film and show an unlikely escape for the masked killer; to the bottom of the mine shaft and then a fast running river. Who knew? Of course Myers survived, and with the slightest of nods to Frankenstein finds some respite at the house of an old man he dispatches… When he emerges from his coma a year later. It’s the same kind of continuation that the first two films relied on, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the following 97 minutes always seems to have keep an eye on Halloween 2. Here more than ever we’re watching this silent, homicidal anti-hero survive rather than his victims.

One year on

“She has something to tell us”

Moving on one calendar year has mixed results. The idea that Myers wakes up on Halloween may be a growing and compelling element, but loses a bit of power when the film flits through the year he spent undisturbed and physically unaffected in someone’s house. It’s more important that this missing year allows his bloodline to move on. After the twist of the last film, Jamie’s year in hell has left her mute like her uncle, under constant supervision in Haddonfield Children’s Clinic. It was no dream, but also she’s no murderer. Her foster mother survived and she is being treated rather than pilloried.

The fifth film explores the evident link between niece and uncle that the previous film established. She dreams of Myers as he wakes from his coma and we see a strange Norse symbol tattooed on his inner wrist for the first time. Even before the nod to earlier films, as she sees her uncle standing under a tree in the clinic gardens, she scrawls ‘He’s coming for me” as she assumes her role as a Myers detector and a tool in Loomis’ crusade to locate the murderer he knows is not dead.

“Have you come back home Michael? I know what you want from her…”

The treatment and sympathy of the town sit at odds with Loomis’s usual role as a lunatic outsider. Fortunately this time, although the audience can see the link, the Children’s Clinic is uninterested and the eminent Doctor of Myers is more desperate than ever. But as the killer circles once again, Loomis struggles to pull his plan into gear in a typically uncooperative town. The format needs to stretch around the Jamie developments, but it ensures that he remains the outsider with a view that no one will buy into too much. And his derangement only increases with his conviction. It’s almost a relief when early on he stumbles into the old Myers house, now derelict and overgrown, and manages to smile when he’s surprised by a dead rat. But rather oddly convinced that he has the answer to Myers, Loomis will now take unprecedented risks to stop the killer once and for all, and that early trip just serves to set up the finale. He might not be altogether with it if he thinks the original Halloween events took place “12 years” before but amid this unscrupulous desperation comes the oddest of things. After three films that painted him into a catalogue of errors, the indefatigable doctor actually gets some things right in Halloween 5.

Continuity

“They should ban Halloween in this town”

Banning Halloween. What a good suggestion that is, one of the best Haddonfield’s ever heard. But still, it hasn’t happened. After the misstep of calling a curfew in the fourth film, one thing Loomis does get right is listening to Jamie’s warning and quickly trying to save Jamie’s foster sister Rachel. But for all that warning and the continuity with the previous instalment, she is cruelly dispatched early on after a strangely gratuitous dressing sequence.

“Why, why are your protecting him? …There’s a reason why he has this power over you”

Without Rachel, much sisterly connection falls to Tina Williams, although the connection isn’t drawn out. She’s certainly very close friend of Rachel and particularly fond of Jamie, and a lot hangs on that connection come the mid-point of the film. Read more…

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