Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, October 16, 2011

Halloween 2011: October 16

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
I’m of the opinion that “Halloween” never should have been a franchise. The original’s ending was never a sequel hook. It was instead a stark evaluation of the damage done and a reinforcement of Carpenter’s favorite theme of undying evil. The near-universal love part 2 gets confuses and aggravates me. Making Laurie Michael’s long-lost little sister was a desperate, last minute reasoning for a sequel, Carpenter has admitted as much, and completely removed the random nature to Michael’s evil. It’s a bad writing phantom that has haunted this franchise ever since. The series inability to let go of such an obvious, hacky story device would eventually drag it down into incomprehensible convoluted mythology. Overall, I find most of the sequels, including this film, too samey. They all hump the corpse of Carpenter’s genius way too much. (Which, despite not really liking them, is why I still defend part three and Rob Zombie’s films. They may not be good but at least they’re different.)

So it goes without saying that “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” isn’t my favorite movie ever. The only reason I own it is because I found a double feature set of both this film and part 5 in the Wal-Mart five dollar bin and couldn’t resist such a bargain. (Especially since both films are the complete, extras-loaded special editions and not a bare-bone flipper disc as I assumed.) So I tried to clear my mind of preconceived expectations and enjoy this film on its own merits, even though it has no right existing in the first place.

First thing first, Michael Myers looks terrible in this film. The mask appears to be some god awful dime store thing and, worse yet, the actor is wearing obvious shoulder pads. Myers was never suppose to be a hulking, towering monstrosity like his slasher brethren, but, holy shit, this scrawny bastard was the best they could find? Hollywood isn’t full of imposing stuntmen? Especially since Myers is elevated into a Jason-style super-strong mega-maniac who can tear people apart with his bare hands in this film, the visual is even more unbelievable. (I have problems with that too, by the way.) The actor playing the Shape is generally a little too robotic. The movie continues the series’ reputation for forging mythology out of thin air by making Myers’ “evil” into a literal presence that can swap bodies. Dr. Loomis also gets a boost here, not-dying as hard as John McClane. Not only did he survive a fiery explosion with only a little scar on his face and hands to show for it, but, despite being well into his sixties at this point, also survives a dive out a glass window with little to no damage. (The screenwriter at least justifies the burns. On the commentary, he explains the movie originally started by showing Loomis getting blow out of the flames by the force of the explosion. There’s no such tidy explanation for the other incident.) Beyond just nitpicking logic holes in a horror sequel, I’ve always thought the movie looked very cheap. There’s not much atmosphere here.

Not that I hate the movie. There are a few clever elements. The movie has a fairly small cast and takes some time to develop its characters. Jaime would become the central plot puppy for the franchise’ middle chapters, but her sweet relationship with Rachel provides a little heart. And while the character doesn’t do much beyond being a living, breathing MacGuffin, Danielle Harris is at least a competent child actress. The teasing she receives from the kids at school provides a little depth. Kelly and Brady probably could have been indistinct slut and asshole parts but the actors at least give them a little personality. (The rivalry between Rachel and Kelly provide some humor during the slow going middle chapter.) Another thing I like is, unlike the majority of the “Friday the 13th” movies, the killings don’t take place in a vacuum. The town of Haddonfield is full of cops and trigger happy rednecks that react to the violence around them. And while I don’t really like the implications of the ending, it’s at least something different. It’s not a twist ending dependent solely on Michael not actually being dead at the last minute, as if we had any doubt. If Akkad had the guts to follow up on it, the franchise might have actually gotten interesting.

Distinguishing itself so strongly from the slasher glut also comes with a price. The movie is relatively low on the blood and features no gratuitous nudity. It might be puerile but those are the primary reasons we fans watch these films. The movie’s low on atmosphere and fun slashery, doesn’t really do anything exciting with the premise, but it’s got half a brain. I guess that’s worth something. (6.5/10)

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Despite its reputation as the black-sheep of the franchise (You know, after all the other ones.), I actually kind of like this one a lot. The reasoning behind this may very well be completely nostalgic in origin. This was the first film in the “Halloween” franchise I ever saw, it was one of the first R-rated horror films I ever saw, and also one of the first slasher films I ever saw. For all of these reasons it holds something of a special place in my heart. It’s flaws are evident and easily picked out: The way Michael inexplicably escapes his very final seeming death in the previous film, the opening’s odd implication that Michael just hung out on some hermit’s couch for a year in-between movies, the way it lazily retcons away part four’s ballsy ending, how it brutally kills off one of the few “Halloween” sequel cast members you actually care about, the hilarious “cookie woman” scene, the bizarre quasi-comic scenes of a Myers in an old man mask with a hot girl kissing on him, the comic relief cops who come with a precursor to the Bunk and Skull theme, Michael’s face suddenly being a big deal, tattoos, tears, obvious reshoots and inserts, a slasher movie ending that resolves even less then usual… I think I got ‘em all. Anyway, the point is, I find all of these flaws easy to forgive for some reason.

The movie immediately fixes one of the biggest issues I had with part four: Myers doesn’t look like an asshole. Yeah, the mask has got a receding hairline and a fat neck, but it’s a major improvement over goofy-eyes from last time. Moreover, Donald Shanks is big, but not unbelievably so, and he actually carries himself with some threatening character. Jamie Lloyd is given more to do as well. Yeah, the psychic link is a bit silly but, if you’re going to play up the supernatural aspects of Michael and his connection to his niece, I prefer this over Jaime becoming the vessel for his nebulous “evil.” Danielle Harris does a good job with her imposed muteness and her performance is an improvement over part four’s.

I love Dr. Loomis. He’s my favorite character in the series. I’ve also loved the implication that he’s just as crazy and dangerous as his favorite patient. The movie plays that angle up a lot. Donald Pleasence is drunk and his scratchy voice, lack of regard for personal body space, and willingness to put a little girl in peril makes him a fantastically unbalanced protagonist. Loomis takes even more improbable damage then is possible and I adore the scene of him beating the shit out of Myers with a 2x4. Basically, get Donald Pleasence to scream raspily about THE EVIL and I’m having a good time. The rest of the cast isn’t really worth discussing, but I do like the stuttering little boy with the crush on Jaime. That’s a nice touch. (I like the anachronistic greasers too, much more then I liked them in “Friday the 13th: A New Beginning.”)

I’d say the movie is an improvement over part four in a lot of other ways too. The direction and atmosphere are better. Right from the carving pumpkin opening, the movie has more of a Halloween flavor and I like how deep and black the nights are. The gore is great in this movie and Myers is, overall, very violent and pissed-off, killing people hardcore but without sticking his fingers in people’s heads and necks. Though it never provides a satisfying reason why, Michael definitely, emphatically wants to get his hands on Jaime. Yeah, the Myers house suddenly being a mansion doesn’t make much sense but, as far as last act suspense sequences go, I’ll take part five’s laundry chute over part four’s rooftop any day of the week. Also, for what it’s worth, the movie has got absolutely the hottest sex scene of the entire series. (And lots of gratuitous cleavage for extra exploitation value.) It makes absolutely zero sense and would lead to part six having one of the messiest storylines, but at least the ending doesn’t even give the slightest illusion that the story’s actually over. I admire that level of directness. Have I made enough of a case for “Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers?” It’s not high art but it’s not like I’m looking for that either. Its light-years better then other horror part fives, that’s for sure. (7/10)

Night of the Demons 2 (1994)
Pop quiz! Which minor eighties horror franchise with a killer named “Angela” has two sequels from the dark days of horror that I vastly prefer to the original? If you answered “Sleepaway Camp,” you would be correct but “Night of the Demons” (which I will remind you is about neither ruins nor sasquatch) would also be an acceptable answer. Not to say I dislike the first film, but its horror/comedy tone is uneven and I feel like it peaks early with the rightfully famous Bauhaus dance sequence. Not necessarily a flaw, but that movie is more zombie film then slasher.

Part two fixes a lot of those issues, far as I can see. It leans far more heavily, and far more successfully, on horror/comedy then the first. It also has more of a slasher tone, with Angela engineering clever kill scenes for individual characters, and rightfully builds Angela up into the kind of iconic character she could always be. (Mimi Kinkade is hilarious, by the way.) When the movie covers her in make-up and dubs her voice over in the last act, it looses some steam. The Catholic school setting makes for an awesome, and logical, starting point. The cast and characters are really fun to be around. Mouse is the kind of meek, traumatized film character you just want to hug. Moreover, that the film’s central conflict is based out of sisterly love adds a lot of genuine tension. I really love the scene where Johnny and Bibi decide not to go all the way, I feel like that adds a lot to the characters. The movie is full of fun, smart, little character orientating sequence like that, such as the opening peeping tom sequence or the scenes of kids making out in a van. Shirley is an excellent Libby and you really can’t wait for her inevitable descent into evil. Jerry, the demonology expert, could have easily been a broad annoying character, but the movie makes him work. But, as far as memorable characters go, nothing really tops the kung-fu nun Sister Gloria (a strict Catholic nun that manages to be neither annoying nor a cliché. And in a horror film, no less!), or the deadpan, dryly humorous Father Bob.

It’s really the movie’s sense of humor I like. It successfully uses the “Evil Dead 2” model of horror sequel escalation by throwing more creativity and outrageousness at the material. You’ve got demonic naughty lipstick, grabbing tits and grabbing-tits, possession via French kissing, improvised demon smiting weapons including nunchuck rosary beads (Would that be a nunchuck? Thank you, I’m here all night), decapitation basketball, and a climatic transformation into a giant snake monster. The first movie focused heavily on how people could become demons by being attacked. This one smartly saves those antics until the finale and it provides a nice build-up. Hull House also seems much more shadow filled, cobweb infested, and generally more atmospheric then before. And, if nothing else, this one features a boatload of nudity.

Looking this movie up, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised to find it was made by the director who brought us films as varied in quality and concept as “Turkey Shoot,” “Stunt Rock,” “Dead-End Drive-In,” “Escape 2000,” “BMX Bandits,” “Leprechaun 3” AND “Leprechaun 4: In Space,” “Megiddo: The Omega Code 2,” “DC 9/11: Time of Crisis,” and “Aztec Rex.” What a weird fucking career path this guy has had. I might have to investigate further. Anyway, “Night of the Demons 2” is pretty much a blast from start to finish. I don’t like it as much as the other-other Angela, but then again, what do I like that much? (7/10)

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