Last of the Monster Kids

Last of the Monster Kids
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Sunday, October 20, 2013

Halloween 2013: October 20

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

“Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers” has many flaws but none is greater then its story. For six years, Jaime and Michael Myers have been in the care of a druid-like cult, led by the mysterious Man in Black. Jaime escapes with her newborn baby, is pursued by Michael and killed. But not before calling into a radio show and leaving her baby in a safe location. The baby is found by a now-adult Tommy Lloyd and an aging, retired Dr. Loomis. Meanwhile, a different branch of the Strode family, fathered by Laurie’s previously unmentioned uncle, takes up residence in the Myers house. Michael returns to Haddonfield on the first Halloween to be celebrated in the town since his absence and begins to kill the remaining Strodes. Meanwhile, the cult attempts to abduct not just Jaime’s baby but the son of the oldest daughter of the new Strode family. They succeed, grab her, the kids, Tommy, and Dr. Loomis, dragging them all over to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium for our conclusion. Considering this is a series that started out with “crazy guy escapes hospital, kills babysitters,” that’s some needlessly complicated bullshit.

I don’t know if we needed an explanation for Michael Myers’ powers. Being “pure evil,” as Loomis has repeated over the years, was always enough for me. The titular “Curse” is the Curse of Thorn, an ancient Celtic rite in which one member of a family is cursed to become an unstoppable super-slasher and murder his family as a sacrifice to the god Samhain. (Which is actually pronounced “Sau-wan” and also not a god.) Myers' annual appearances are tied to a corresponding constellation appearing in the sky. Instead of revealing this information gradually, this is all dumped on us at once as raw exposition.

While tying the Shape’s origin in with the history of Halloween makes sense, this is a deeply unsatisfying explanation. Instead of being a naturally occurring evil, Myers was chosen by a cult. Instead of killing randomly, Myers is given the agenda of eliminating his family. Instead of being a normal boy who became a killer inexplicably, young Michael heard voices urging him to kill. Myers isn’t a unique phenomena but instead one in a line of many ceremonial killers. His murders have been orchestrated by an evil mastermind. This, for me, goes against what the original movie was about. The cult business also takes the focus away from Michael himself. Not to mention scary dudes in black robes being a serious cliché.

The screenplay structure is all over the damn place. The extended Strode family was obviously introduced to up the body count. Older brother Tim Strode and his girlfriend Beth are attempting to bring Halloween back to Haddonfield as a political statement, which doesn’t make much sense. In order to do this, they invite obnoxious shock jock Barry Sims, a cross between Howard Stern and Art Bell, to town. Sims is murdered for no reason while Tim and Beth get naked before getting murdered. This subplot has little impact on the rest of the film. The Strode parents aren’t much help either, existing only to die. All of this business is unrelated to the cult storyline.

The direction is frequently questionable. Scenes are repeated in slow motion, color is inverted, and the editing haphazard. The sound design is atrocious. Punishingly loud musical stings pop up repeatedly. Knife slashing sounds are randomly inserted. The music switches back and forth from the traditional “Halloween” theme, to an awful techno remix, to, ugh, heavy metal guitars. This is all the more frustrating since director John Chapelle is not without visual sense. The blinding white hallways of the sanitarium are striking, as are the red, endless, pointless corridors.

The film completely implodes in the last act. The identity of the Man in Black is given an underwhelming reveal. The cult is up to something, planning to perform a surgery. This is not elaborated on. There’s a suggestion of genetic manipulation, which has no business in a “Halloween” film. Myers turns on the cult for no reasons, signaling the film’s transformation into a chase-and-slash flick. The whole business about the young boy becoming next in line for the Curse of Thorn goes nowhere. Michael is beat in the head until green slime drips out of his eyes and Dr. Loomis dies off-screen. The movie then misspells Donald Pleasence’s name in their dedication to him.

The acting and characters are terrible too. Barry Simms, performed by a shouting Leo Geter, is incredibly obnoxious. Amazingly, he’s not the most annoying character in this film. That dishonors falls to John Strode, the alcoholic, constantly ranting patriarch of the extended Strode family. Actor Bradford English plays it as exaggerated theater. Mom Debra is played by Kim Darby, who deserves so much better then this. Darby plays an older, bitty version of Velma from “Scooby-Doo,” up to loosing her glasses at a pivotal moment. Marianne Hagan, as Kara the final girl, is incredibly flat. Her screams of help during one moment are hilarious. Child actor Devin Gardner is also terrible. Young Paul Rudd plays Tommy Doyle. He’s obviously set up as the new Dr. Loomis, the well-meaning but possibly unhinged knower of evil. Rudd can’t pull it off, acting like a socially awkward conspiracy theorist. All the acting is exaggerated, lending an air of unreality. Even the random old lady is a terrible actor! In the middle of this is elderly, dying Donald Pleasence. Donald is in high spirits, laughing and smiling in-between dialogue about evil and rage. A consummate professional up until the end. 

The only thing “Curse” gets right is Michael’s look. Part 4’s George Wilbur returns but, fortunately, skips the shoulder-pads this time. The mask is the best since part two’s, even if the long hair throws me off. Michael, once again, is tearing people apart with his bare hands, using axes and machetes, teleporting all over the damn place, and playing possum on the floor. The gore is exaggerated, including an exploding head.

This poster is better then the movie.
“Halloween: Curse of Michael Myers” was a troubled production, with daily rewrites, extensive reshoots and re-editing. Still, I can’t imagine any movie hassled with the Curse of Thorn plot line being good. No wonder all future sequels ignore this mess of a film. I known I still have other stinkers to work through but I’m prepared now to declare this my least favorite “Halloween” film. [3/10]

Return to Glennascaul (1953)

My fascination and love of urban legend has probably come up before. I’ve been craving a classic ghost story this year too, a category my DVD collection is lacking in. But, look at that, the Dissolve reminded me that “Return to Glennascaul” is right there on YouTube. “Presented” by Orson Welles, the half-hour short is straight retelling of the Vanishing Hitchhiker legend. Orson, on break from filming “Othella,” picks up a broken-down motorist. On the ride, the motorist tells him a story about picking up two women, taking them back to their home, only to return and discover an abandoned, empty house.

The rendition of the story is simple and straight-forward. The strength of “Return to Glennascaul” is its tone and presentation. The music frequently drops out all together before coming back strong, adding an eerie effect. The photography is especially moody, a shot of a man walking through a thorny bush, in shadow, being my favorite. The Irish tone adds some nice flavor to the familiar retelling. The ending goes for laughs, in a cute way, and reveals this as a film about perspectives. “Return to Glennascaul” was nominated for an Oscar upon release and is widely regarded as a classic short film. It’s funny, spooky viewing. [7/10]

So Weird: “Will 'O the Wisp

I seem to have a Celtic theme going today... The first season finale of “So Weird” ups the stakes. When the tour bus stops over in Marfa, Fi, Jack, and Clu decide to investigate the Marfa Lights phenomena. Jack has an up-close encounter with one of the lights and afterwards, starts to act very odd. A frightened Fi quickly deduces he’s been possessed by a will 'o the wisp, a malevolent Scottish spirit. Quickly, a game is enacted between the two, Fi forced to guess the fairy’s true name while the possessed Jack plans to take over her brother’s life.

This episode is about an even split between everything that’s good about the series and everything that sometimes makes it embarrassing for a twenty-something to watch. For the first half of “Will ‘O the Wisp,” Patrick Levis overacts like crazy. He leaps around, singing, dancing, and slipping in and out of a Irish accent. Half-way through, the possessed Jack traps Fi’s family in a time warp he calls the Nexus. This is illustrated by lots of smoke and green light. After several more rounds of dress-up and party favors, the episode finally settles into a pleasant groove. Fi tries to get answers out of the spirited while Possessed Jack grills Fiona on her brother’s history. Once again, Cara DeLizia wrings earnest, honest emotion out of the material, reflecting on Fiona’s relationship with her brother. Ultimately, the topic turns towards the teens' deceased father. In those last five minutes, “Will ‘O the Wisp” becomes quite good. The way the spirit is banished has stuck with over the years and I still think it’s clever. (Though I’ve got to agree with Bricriu on this one. It’s total cheating.) If this show was produced today, Fiona probably could have looked up “Bricriu” in five minutes on Wikipedia.

As a season finale, you get the impression that “Will ‘O the Wisp” was mostly a cost-saving measure, since it has limited sets and features several flashbacks. While the goofy stuff and overacting makes you cringe a bit, the pay-off is strong enough to keep you watching. [6/10]

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