Monday, 5 December 2016

Vampire Princess Miyu (1997-8)


Director: Toshiki Hirano
Screenplay: Chiaki J. Konaka, Mitsuhiro Yamada, Sadayuki Murai, Tamio Hayashi, Toshiki Hirano, Yasutomo Yamada, Yuji Hayami and Yutaka Hirata
Voice Cast: Miki Nagasawa (as Miyu); Asako Shirakura (as Chisato Inoue); Chiharu Tezuka (as Yukari Kashima); Kokoro Shindou (as Hisae Aoki); Megumi Ogata (as Matsukaze/Reiha); Mika Kanai (as Shiina); Shinichiro Miki (as Larva)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Shows) #3

Originally posted on my other blog 1000 Anime in October during my Halloween viewing, the TV series spin off of the manga of the same name is sadly a case of how I hate episodic storytelling in anime unless it does its best to make every story compelling, or connect it into even a loose framework of some interest. That may come off as a spoiler for the review I'm linking to below, but the experience if nothing else, alongside an ending that would've been great by itself if not with the context of how its set up, is worthy of being read if not seeing the actual series. In lieu to it, the late eighties straight-to-video version is still worthy of interest for me, but in terms of great disappointment, Vampire Princess Miyu is the first big example for this series of reviews of horror television.

A link to the full review is available HERE. Be warned, there are spoilers within it.


Sunday, 4 December 2016

Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998)


Director: Steve Miner
Screenplay: Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis (as Laurie Strode/Keri Tate); Chris Durand (as Michael Myers); Josh Hartnett (as John Tate); Michelle Williams (as Molly Cartwell); Adam Arkin (as Will Brennan); LL Cool J (as Ronald "Ronny" Jones)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #67

When I first reviewed this film on Letterboxd I knew my over-excited positivity would decrease a little on the rewatch, even admitting this in the review itself, but after the mess that was The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), H20 is a breath of fresh air. Even if Halloween parts 4 to 5 were fun, H20 feels like a necessary re-write when usually discontinuing continuity in horror sequels comes off as insulting to previous films. Unlike most of the other sequels in the franchise, only part 3 Season of the Witch (1982) aiming for something profound, you have a film here in H20 which finally deals with what most horror sequels never do, a final girl dealing with her survival in a way surprisingly thoughtful. The final result is more significantly flawed than on a first viewing, but still an admirable attempt considering the franchise could have easily circled the drain by now as Friday the 13th and any horror franchise usually does. Where twenty years on from the first film, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has been under witness protection as Keri Tate, headmistress of a private boarding school in California, a single mother with a nineteen year old son John Tate (Josh Hartnett) who feels caged living with her, a functioning alcoholic and plagued by nightmares of her brother Michael Myers still. In a slasher film which actually deals with survivor trauma and psychological scars, it becomes unfortunate for Laurie when Myers has found out where she lives, in a prologue back in Haddonfield, and intends a family reunion.

The biggest distinction from previous films is how H20 looks and feels like a glossy A-list Hollywood film even if it's less than eighty minutes long. The sudden shift from electronic synth you fell in love with from John Carpenter to a full orchestral score by John Ottman and Marco Beltrami may be jarring at first but for the film in general this sudden shift to a more gloomy, classical style turns out to be a great virtue to give it its own personality and cut the dead weight of the previous films from it. Steve Miner surprisingly, considering how memorably gritty Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) was, is able to transition to this style well as a director, in how the camera glides along corridors or the gothic ting slightly felt, even in sunny California in the late nineties, in the night-time scenes. It does have to juggle this seriousness with a more comedic tone - the snarkier, self reflective dialogue that came after Kevin Williamson and Scream (1996), or LL Cool J as the gate guard whose ultimate goal in life is to become an erotic novel author - but considering how for the most part H20 takes itself seriously, the tone is appropriately dark when it needs to be.


The irony is that the traditional slasher that takes place in the middle of the film, of Michael Myers stalking Josh Hartnett and the young cast (including a young Michelle Williams) is the least interesting aspects of H20. Everything about Laurie Strode is compelling, helped by Jamie Lee Curtis' performance and how the story takes the character's plight seriously, a person constantly plagued with nightmares and, through a love interest Will (Adam Arkin), a background detailed of her having to struggle with being the lone survivor of the first film without resolution but only shock. It's a surprisingly level of depth for this genre and it also finally explains the issues I had been sat on the wall with slasher films about, stuck between liking them and hating the genre, in how whilst the economy of the genre is compelling (a killer picking people one by one), it's the Italian counterpart the giallo which is ultimately more rewarding. Even if the stories could be ridiculous, there's more concern about the plot in giallo with the murders having to be emphasised in context of said story, in vast contrast to the slashers which, sadly, mostly don't spin forward memorable plots to add to their main meat of narrative. Most of what's made the Halloween sequels interesting is the build up to death scenes or the plots, no matter how silly they got, and it's clear here that, unless you're talking about the first film where John Carpenter was such a talented working director, scenes of slashing are ultimately tedious for me by themselves like shoot-outs and fight scenes are in action movies.


As a result, the film lags badly in the middle. Thankfully said film is so short this doesn't sabotage the whole narrative but on revisiting the film it's a drastic effect on your viewing experience difficult to shake off. Why H20 still manages to succeed in the context of all the other Halloween sequels, barring Season of the Witch, is that there's more to engage with. From the nice cameo of Curtis' real life mother Janet Leigh as Strode's secretary Norma to LL Cool J, who was also able to make something as dumb as Deep Blue Sea (1999) bearable with his charisma, a lot still stands out and that's before you get to the climax proper. A proper sequel to a horror film, rather than just repetition, where Strode gets an axe and goes after Myers herself. Here, even if the film's still a popcorn horror flick, you can make an argument for it being symbolic of a woman having to conquer her demons, or for the viewer of any ilk to place themselves in Strode's shoes and portray Myers as any form of psychological or physical bogeyman, and especially with its end moment, it should've been the best way any franchise finishes. Sadly this wasn't the case - Halloween: Resurrection (2002) is next before they remade the series - but it doesn't detract from Halloween H20's reward barring the dreadful Creed song over the end credits.


Wednesday, 30 November 2016

The Burning Moon (1992)


Director: Olaf Ittenbach
Screenplay: Olaf Ittenbach
Cast: Olaf Ittenbach (as Folterknecht/Peter); Beate Neumeyer (as Julia Sanders); Bernd Muggenthaler (as Cliff Parker); Ellen Fischer (as Linda Sanders); Alfons Sigllechner (as Vater)
A Night of a Thousand Horror Movies #66

Synopsis: Strung out on heroin, a jobless delinquent Peter (director-writer Olaf Ittenbach) tells his younger sister two bedtime stories. The first tells of a sociopath escaping from a mental asylum and posing as a young woman's blind date. The second, set in fifties Germany, follows a priest who rapes and kills members of the community, a local farmer and his friend viewed as the culprit by the local townsfolk with bloody consequences and a trip to Hell itself involved.

Sometimes, one is faced with not only crushing disappointment but a restless tedium, The Burning Moon even with its reputation as one of the bloodiest shot-on-video films in existence such a painfully dull viewing experience to sit through, all its gruesome violence merely for nothing. Realising its lo-fi style could be used unfairly against it, I'm not dismissing the film because of its budget, although its aesthetic will be a cause of concern later in the review for creative purposes, the issue instead with The Burning Moon that barring its gore and practical effects, Olaf Ittenbach's film is exceptionally lack sure in terms of creativity or any sense of interest. With bookends involving Peter, a layabout we first watch purposely sabotage one of his job interviews and get into a gang fight, the nihilistic tone of The Burning Moon is set up but ultimately it's a surface dressing without anything rewarding or even illicitly pleasurable to it onwards. None of the two stories that follow merit a lot to write about, the first a generic serial killer story which is merely for the sake of its gore without any shock to it.


The second story is a little bit more interesting if more of the juvenile nihilism of the entire film, in having a priest kill people than be the one who delivers their funeral service. As with the first story, its rudimentary in style and plotting, eventually to the point its flat look and lack of personality bites into your patience. It takes over eighty of its ninety minutes or so for The Burning Moon to reach something of interest and get a reaction out of viewer when it reaches the infamous Hell sequences - a basement of practical effects horror of mutant demons, various forms of dismemberment from a drill through the teeth to being spread eagled to death, and a complete lack of hygiene with body parts and blood everywhere. It's the entirety of this sequence, certainly memorable, which created The Burning Moon's reputation in my mind. Whilst the rest of the film can be as bloody and schlocky in its lingered upon practical effects, here the barrage of effects each second is a brief moment of delirium when everything else is laboured. The only issue, however, is that it completely pales in comparison to two far superior depictions of Hell in psychotronic cinema - José Mojica Marins' This Night I'll Possess Your Corpse (1967), with its shift from a black and white film to lurid colour and snow in Hell, and Nobuo Nakagawa's Jigoku (1960), a depiction of Buddhist Hell no way near as violent as The Burning Moon but far and away more disturbing and gruesome in its aesthetic beauty and hellish imagery.


The practical splatter effects in the end of the main point for The Burning Moon existing in the first place and at the centre of it all where my issues with the film stem to. They are particularly nasty but there's little else barring this string of gore moments to actually keep the film together. Barring an occasional moment which elicits some sort of a reaction, like a POV shot from inside someone's mouth as they're forced fed an eyeball, it eventually becomes desensitising violence for me, not causing any sense of revulsion or disgust but merely a numbing sensation sitting through it all. Films which end up doing this are for me the more problematic than something which causes a viewer to squirm, like Takashi Miike's Ichi the Killer (2001), as because there's no sense of cause-and-effect done to said viewer its merely seen as a pile of practically done atrocities, not to mention the fact that because of this deadening effect the shock scenes in The Burning Moon become utterly useless if I as a viewer don't feel any disgust to them. Add to this the aforementioned flat production style and this makes the sluggishness of sitting through these special effects worse.


Technical Detail:
Shot-on-video is an area of cinema which is a fascinating niche. Not to be confused with films shot on digital or released straight to videotape (and eventually DVD), this is entirely the period of cinema shot on various forms of videotape media (Betamax, VHS etc.) which were dominant n the eighties and nineties (and still were until recently in news broadcast archives and Japan). I don't look down on the fuzzy look of the medium in the slightest. Baring the issues, having volunteered for a media preservation organisation, of trying to preserve a medium which wasn't necessarily designed for long term preservation like celluloid, the look of videotape is capable of having an incredible effect on viewers, something Harmony Korine's Trash Humpers (2009) and the Ringu franchise tapped into perfectly, how even its technical faults as a medium added to its virtues. It provides a potent waxiness in image which could be used to an incredible advantage and, for older films which used it for practicality like The Burning Moon, it certainly adds to the weirdness of films like Things (1989), effectively the Citizen Kane (1941) of this medium-based genre.

Unfortunately with The Burning Moon, the presentation is so perfunctory that this sheen merely comes off as lifeless. Because of this, the main aesthetic touch is the terrible hairstyles and clothes of early nineties Germany, which isn't enough to entice.


Abstract Spectrum: Grotesque/Psychotronic
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): None
Unless you touch on the Hell sequence, a montage of atrocity which visibly comes from the same school of Jack Smith's Flaming Creatures (1963) of filming a group of people writhing about in fake blood in a basement, The Burning Moon is a gore film by design, a gore film as a result without any touch of weirdness or unconventionality at all to it.

Tragically, what was meant to be a nihilistic, transgressive film made by scoundrels for scoundrels, made by people like the viewers on low budget videotape, feels like those brandless cans of foot on the shelves in Repo Man (1984), a budget brand of gore film which has no real transgression or daring to it, its lack of weirdness as much a visible sign of its blandness. Compare it to a superior, far more infamous German film from the period, Jörg Buttgereit's Nekromantik (1987), which takes on numerous flights or fantasy and (rewarding) artistic pretensions, then The Burning Moon looks even more inferior in comparison.

Personal Opinion:
An exceptional, tedious disappointment for me. Visible evidence of shock for shock's sake not being enough to make a film good.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)


Director: Joe Chappelle
Screenplay: Daniel Farrands
Cast: Donald Pleasence (as Dr. Sam Loomis); Paul Rudd (as Tommy Doyle); Marianne Hagan (as Kara Strode); Devin Gardner (as Danny Strode); George P. Wilbur (as Michael Myers)
A Night of a Thousand Horror Movies #66

An important note for this review is that I viewed the theatrical cut. The Producer's Cut, which was made available in the USA in a limited edition Scream Factory set which put all the Halloween franchise together, is difficult for me to acquire so I had to judge the theatrical cut. This is important as there're well documented differences which drastically effect the versions. The theatrical cut of The Curse of the Michael Myers, after a tolerance even to the dumber moments of the Halloween sequels, is where the wheels fully fall off the franchise's cart. I could accept illogical plot points, dumb characters and death by boiling therapeutic Jacuzzi beforehand but The Curse of the Michael Myers is legitimately bad in its theatrical form, not able to get away with its sillier content because of how utterly dull and visibly tampered with it is.

At this point, the franchise acquired by Dimension Films, this is the first 90s Halloween film with an entirely new decade of fashion and type of horror movie in existence, yet they decided to follow the twist ending of the 1989 fifth film and the entire pagan plot line from before, Jamie Lloyd (J. C. Brandy replacing Danielle Harris) having escaped a cult with her newly born child, leading a much older Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance in one of his last films) and a grown up Tommy Doyle (Paul Rudd), one of the charges of Laurie Strode's from the original 1978 film, to discover said cult which has been responsible for Michael Myers and is using him to kill. Allowing six years to pass for real is not a necessarily a bad idea in terms of sequels - as Halloween H20 (1998) will show, having time passing for viewers to have lived with the prequel adds to the significance of the plot alongside seeing actors and their characters age. Even visibly weak in voice and appearance, it's not sad to see Pleasance here as a milder, inquisitive Dr. Loomis investigating the events that are taking place, instead what should've been perfect closure as the character is trying to close the book on what's consumed his life. The problem is that's the only good comment I've got for The Curse of the Michael Myers within a film that's utterly disastrous.

What happens, in terms of trying to take the cultist lore of the sequels before it, is that most of Pleasance's scenes are visibly cut from the theatrical cut, absolutely reprehensible especially as the film's dedicated to him after his death during its production, and Tommy Doyle comes off as a sociopath, through Rudd's cold delivery and spying at the old Myers house through a telescope, rather than a sympathetic and psychologically damaged young man. The other protagonist, young mother and college student Kara Strode (Marianne Hagan) - a member of another Strode family clan living in the older Myers' house under an abusive alcoholic father, and whose young son is being corrupted by the cult - doesn't have a lot to do and, in how she looks and acts, would make more sense if she was a single mother in her early thirties, forced to live back with her parents, rather than the young college student she's clearly meant to be.


The film's also an utter mess in terms of plot; even if the previous sequels weren't exactly bulletproof in their logic, here it does feels like the narrative was cut to shreds by post-production issues. The whole narrative arc of Part 4 onwards if already killed off in a terrible creative decision, to make a cult the reason behind Michael Myers in the first place, turning the character from a bogeyman to a toothless puppet, but the theatrical cut ironically cuts out all the cult subplot that originally tried to deepen it in the original version, thus making the whole point of the Part 4 to 6 story ultimately pointless. The noticeable tampering on the film also leaves a literal mess of snap cuts of images just for cheap scare effects, an obnoxious soundtrack of screams and moans for each kill, and more bloodier but terrible murder scenes including something worse than any from Halloween II (1981), involving a washing machine that somehow still works with all the electricity being turned off and electrocution, despite the power being cut out, leading to a Scanners-like head explosion. The ending, knowing what happened with the final cut of the film until the Producer's Cut came to existence, is embarrassing in how jarring the events in each scene are connecting to each other, taking place in a mental health facility that's designed as an industrial hellhole from a Silent Hill videogame with an abrupt end and Myers being able to be subdued with merely an iron pipe.

I find however the most problematic aspects of The Curse of the Michael Myers is how it's both aesthetically awful and as mean spirited as it is. The general tone of the later is one dimensional, with crass figures like the alcoholic father or especially the obnoxious shock jock who comes to Haddonfield for cheap Halloween season publicity, less adult but more like being screamed at in un-meaningful dreck. As for the former, the nineties was a glorious decade for cinema, the last when celluloid was the main medium before digital started to take over, and when even blockbusters could be unconventional and inventive, but it was especially for horror films after Scream (1996) also when the worst traits of the American genre industry started to appear, where the post-music video aesthetic used in The Curse of the Michael Myers is distracting and the film even fails in using John Carpenter's musical theme, turning it into a guitar lick abomination. Altogether, unless Halloween Resurrection (2002) manages to be even worse, this is really the nadir for the franchise; all the sequels before this still have some fun to them, whilst the only humour I have here is calling it The Curse of the Michael Myers with "the" added intentionally rather than by mistake of my typing. 


Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Cosmos (2015)


Director: Andrzej Żuławski
Screenplay: Andrzej Żuławski
Cast: Jean-François Balmer (as Leon); Sabine Azéma (as Madame Woytis); Jonathan Genet (as Witold); Johan Libéreau (as Fuchs); Victória Guerra (as Lena); Clémentine Pons (as Catherette / Ginette)

Synopsis: Taking residence in a family run country guesthouse, Witold (Jonathan Genet) and Fuchs (Johan Libéreau) believe themselves to be in the midst of a mystery when Witold finds a dead bird hung by its neck on a branch. Witold, visibly in emotional turmoil from the start, is nonetheless convinced of this mystery as further strange sights disrupt his reality - the maid Catherette's (Clémentine Pons) lip disfigurement, a tea kettle in a tree, strange images marked on the wall - as everyone around him in the family is as eccentric and in the midst of their own emotional angst. One such figure, the married daughter Lena (Victória Guerra), becomes a singular obsession for him.

Żuławski directing a comedy of manners? Words I'd never expect to write but with Żuławski unpredictability is his forte; like the best and true definers of auteur theory, they are never predictable in the types of genre they blend and tackle. With Żuławski as well, much of his filmography is still difficult to acquire; the bias of Possession (1981) as the key film of his career, and the only film of his most will see, does have a drastic effect on your attitude of his filmography as a whole. Cosmos, based on a novel by legendary Polish author Witold Gombrowicz, whose namesake fittingly travels through this modernised parody of a mystery, is certainly a 180 degree turn from the stereotypical view of his films but very much in his wheelhouse, the only difference is that whilst the likes of Diabel (1971) have characters constantly screaming about death and misery, this is a farce where a family and their paying guests constantly scream about how each other doesn't understand them or how they have unrequited feelings for another whilst they're trying to collect all the peas dropped on the kitchen floor, the childish older patriarch Leon (Jean-François Balmer) sticking cocktail sticks into one at a time and lining them up in a straight line.


The film is exceptionally dense just in the literary and cinematic references alone, the dialogue and the story needing multi watches to fully digest, but the significant idea behind Cosmos is to deliberately take the piss out of the mystery genre, where in the end none of the strange circumstances Witold encounters are anything else but odd coincidences or a result of someone's angst, even he going as far as contributing to the events with a very severe, if not most severe, incident involving the pet cat. Tailed by his trusting friend Fuchs, smartly dressed but appearing in each scene with new bloody noses and bruises each morning from constantly disastrous cruising nights, they have to wrap their heads around the guesthouse owners and their quirks. The matriarch Madame Woytis (Sabine Azéma), who can get so overwhelmed she actually freezes in the spot for a period of time like a malfunctioning machine. Leon, whose dialogue at first is witty and henpecked by his wife, but starts to take on childish plays on words and more swearing as he goes along. Their maid Catherette who is baring a small lip disfigurement is the sanest person in the house, but with someone in the family who's also played by Clémentine Pons later on in the film And Lena,  the object of Witold's overwhelming obsession, who sleeps on a bed without the mattress on the springs, doesn't react to severe events as the viewer would presume her to, and whose husband first appears dressed as Tintin.  

As the mystery is ultimately a farce, you are instead turning your attention to the world and its little details; a "metaphysical noir thriller" according to its late director, the title Cosmos is apt in how ultimately the mystery Witold is obsessed with is insignificant to the literal cosmos of human behaviour, able to see a rake etched in water stain in the corner of the wall but completely blind to the significantly bigger sexual symbolism in the same spot in the lounge. As Witold reacts violently to each odd event which bursts his personal bubble, even beating his chest like a deranged gorilla at the dinner table, everyone's internal emotions are literalised as part of Żuławski's trademark, slapstick for him kinetic and as exhausting for the characters themselves as it will be for some viewers. All Witold is able to find is absurdities with little connection, instead the real mystery to be found in dealing with his emotions for Lena, her emotions for him back and how her husband, a likable guy himself, reacts badly when he pegs what is taking place between them as they all decide to go to a summer cottage to escape the stress of the hostel.


Technical Details:
Żuławski's style is entirely artificial, very much against the notion of realism throughout his career which is hence why his most well known trademark, the hyper stylised and extreme acting style, is what it is. Restraining his use of prowling camera movements for his final film, although it makes his prescience known gliding through the guesthouse corridor and tracking characters along through their monologues, the irony of his hyper dynamic style tackling a genre which would seem safe is fitting for such an openly brazen and intelligence person to conclude on, able to get away with actor Jonathan Genet doing one scene directly to the camera, in extreme close-up by himself, in a Donald Duck voice and it making perfect sense.

The dialogue in particular, in testament to translator and Żuławski documenter Daniel Bird for creating English subtitles for a film this quickly paced and dense, is a huge chunk of Cosmos' style. Restraining himself in terms of the more extreme moments of his career - from a man who had Isabelle Adjani writhing around in white milky liquid in the subway to On the Silver Globe (1988) and its mass anal impaling crucifixion - or in the use of constantly moving camera, the dialogue is still rapid fire and breath taking to follow, each character having individualistic quirks to them seen in their dialogue which, even if you were to struggle with at times, still paints their character in the poetic flourishes they use; that Żuławski has no qualms with referencing anything from himself to even Star Wars means the dialogue is exceptionally flexible and inventive, a reflection of how imaginative he was as a screenwriter. The acting as well is also exceptional as to be expected from Żuławski's films, able to convey just in exaggerated body language what their emotions are before they even speak.


Abstract Spectrum: Expressionist/Weird
Abstract Rating (High/Medium/Low/None): Medium
Cosmos feels like entering an alien environment, relatively close to reality within a guesthouse full of arguments, constantly delicious culinary dishes and nature constantly appearing within the middle class environment, a slug literally letting nature be known sitting on the butter for the croissant. When the extreme emotions of the occupants of the house are shown, and reach their peak however, things drastically change, having to keep pace with Cosmos and see the literal "cosmos" of title in how dynamic and unconventional human behaviour is at its fullest.

As a result of this, the experience of Cosmos is an ever increasing series of stranger events taking place as the realisation Lena is as interested in Witold as the other way round becomes know to the later, the madness of a priest suddenly unzipping his flies and releasing bees into the air deliberately maniac energy is actually more pronounced in a film like this than in one like Possession as, while the later is more extreme in content and tone, the more abstract of the pair, the stereotype of what this type of slice of life drama with possible mystery content is belies the surprise of what actually takes place, having greater impact.


Personal Opinion:
Sadly Żuławski is no longer with us, but with his final film Cosmos he was still as uncompromising as his reputation suggests, delightfully wild with intelligence and actively encouraging me to rewatch it over and over again to catch more details and moments of gleeful humour

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) [Mini Reviews]


Director: Dominique Othenin-Girard
Screenplay: Michael Jacobs, Dominique Othenin-Girard and Shem Bitterman
Cast: Donald Pleasence (as Dr. Sam Loomis); Danielle Harris (as Jamie Lloyd); Ellie Cornell (as Rachel Carruthers); Don Shanks (as Michael Myers); Wendy Kaplan (as Tina Williams)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #64

Around Part 5 is when you can see the cracks start to appear in the Halloween franchise. Some will have justified arguments that it practically broke here, but for me, as it follows Michael Myers again terrorising Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) again, there's still a great deal to like in the film before the wheels could've come off the wagon. There's still a solid slasher film here if you're willing suspend disbelief as its more supernatural content, as a mute Jame is living in a home for mentally disturbed children after the shock ending of Part 4 and has a psychic link now to Myers, brings a greater absurdity to the content. The idea of what was originally a realistic film about a killer with a knife becoming more and more supernatural - Season of the Witch (1982) notwithstanding - is exceptionally strange as this series of viewings have gone on, to think that to literalise the bogeyman the productions had to be this ultimately the real flaw of the sequels when, for fans, a metaphorical take of Myers as a psychological threat that Halloween H20 would go back to is more potent.

Thankfully this isn't Jason Goes To Hell: The Final Friday (1993) where you need a relative of Jason Voorhees with a magical fantasy sword now to kill him, the psychic link a simple McGuffin to a vicious, ominous movie, one which manages to get away with a young girl being terrorised by an adult, even trying to run her over in a car at one point, and depicting it with teeth to it you don't find in any of the Myers related sequels so far in the series. Stylistically, this is still as memorable as Part 4, everything from night time onwards having a great atmosphere that adds tension, especially in prolonged sequences such as in an isolated barn at a Halloween party, fake jump scares actually succeeding throughout the film unlike others because the environments are swamped in shadow and slow building pace.

The aspects which will divide viewers are, ironically, the idiosyncratic traits unique to Part 5. The psychic subplot does feel very unexpected, fully immerging as some form of symbol of Jamie's relation to her uncle, taking an extreme with the idea of inheriting his bloodline, the horrible reputation of his crimes like a real life family of a murderer,  whilst giving an excuse for creepy POV shots. Everything involving a faceless man in iron toed heels, so evil he punts a small dog to the side, is a bizarre decision to try to sustain the series when you have hindsight; that after it finishes with shocking the viewer with mayhem and a jailhouse on fire, the sequel did so bad at the box office it took six years for the next film in the series, with another company, to be made, dampening this intentional rug pull. Then there's the most controversial aspect, Donald Pleasance's performance as Dr. Loomis as a man fully losing his mind and spending most of his time screaming at a young girl to help him like a madman. It's either an apt depiction of him breaking down, desperate to end Myers, or the biggest slice of bowl of ham acting you'll ever see.

Part 5 also starts to have utter stupidity in terms of creative decisions, traits that if the series didn't get unplugged for the next six years would've lead to utter disaster sooner. Mainly it's the soundtrack that betrays this film, somehow spitting out something as dreadful as the Romeo Romeo song, which appears in a transition scene for no reason, or the infamous comedy trumping sounds for the dumb cop duo. The entire thing with Myers suddenly having a Samhain tattoo on his wrist is also absurd, crow barring the cultist back-story where it doesn't belong. These are little defects which thankfully don't destroy the final film - this isn't a steaming piece of garbage - but certainly warnings of what could've happened. 


Sunday, 13 November 2016

Halloween Part 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) [Mini-Review]


Director: Dwight H. Little
Screenplay: Alan B. McElroy
Cast: Donald Pleasence (as Dr. Sam Loomis); Danielle Harris (as Jamie Lloyd); Ellie Cornell (as Rachel Carruthers); George P. Wilbur (as Michael Myers); Beau Starr (as Sheriff Ben Meeker)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #63

After Part III Season of the Witch (1982), it took six years before Halloween returned to the silver screen, Michael Myers firmly back in its centre having been in a coma since the second film, awoke from his slumber in an institute when word of him having a niece is uttered in ear shot. The decision to write Laurie Strode off screen, as Jamie Lee Curtis was long past slasher films in her mainstream career, and switching to an adopted girl played by a young Danielle Harris is actually a smart move to have gone with. I may find the decision to make Strode related to Myers annoying, but if one is forced to continue the series, having the bogeyman plague other members of the family is far more practical, and meaningful, the random groups of teens in the first three Friday the 13th movies.

Particularly when you get to Part 5 as well, Harris as a child actor in the film is incredibly charismatic and likable, making the fact her two films in the franchise are about Myers threatening and trying to kill a young girl more disturbing. Particularly when her adoptive older sister Rachel, played by Ellie Cornell, is merely okay and Donald Pleasure is turning his Dr. Loomis into an Ahab character slowly losing his mind, Harris is an anchor for viewer sympathy greatly needed.

It's amazing as well how beautiful and moody the film looks. The Blu-Ray era has been an incredible godsend for cinema like this; once a luddite who had no interest in the technology, my sudden change to the medium over DVD over the last year has nothing to do with picture resolution but because it has lead to films being restored or at least, with this one, getting better visual quality for them. The orange hued yet cold autumn colours of Haddonfield adds to the creepiness of the premise, of scarecrows in the fields, Jack O' Lanterns everywhere and a small local town plague by memories of the bogeyman before he even returns. The slow, extremely glacial nature of the film, even next to the first two in the series, adds an atmosphere that can stand up to the prequels in having its own personality.

The real issue, with is subjective for each viewer, is that after Season of the Witch bombed The Return of Michael Myers is a very safe direction to have gone with the franchise. Beyond its supernatural twist ending, which leads to the precipice of the franchise's obsession with adding occult details, it's a very solid and easy to understand slasher film. In the long term, a franchise entirely about Michael Myers terrorising people could end up with what happened to Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees as staleness kicks in, which is up to my opinion of the next sequels after Part 4. In the short term, The Return of Michael Myers does a commendable job of being a solid, mood drenched horror film.

The sense of classiness I always viewed Halloween as a franchise in having is especially found here, a mostly bloodless chiller which is about tension, drawing things out and not falling into terrible late eighties perms or z-list glam metal songs. Aspects are up to question in logic - the most egregious being the subplot of the locals becoming an armed mob, with an unresolved event when they shot an innocent bystander by mistake - but the rest of Part 4 is entirely better on this re-visit than I originally thought of it.