(In French, On TV, October 2017) I’m really not a fan of slasher movies, horror remakes or the Michael Myers Halloween movies, but even by those low standards, the Halloween remake is a remarkably boring affair. Too bad; I’m an unlikely fan of writer/director Rob Zombie’s music, but his trash-horror sensibilities don’t translate all that well to the screen. In this version of the John Carpenter horror movie, we delve deeper in the screwed-up dynamics of the Myers family leading to the rampage, but this doesn’t provide depth or substance as much as it adds thirty minutes of prologue to an already dull and superficial film. This is one of those horror movies punctuated by gruesome deaths every few minutes—it’s bad enough, but the lack of originality, wit or even decency does much to confirm the film as a soulless remake undistinguishable from so many other cheap horror films. Perhaps the only thing setting it apart from other horror remakes is the copious amount of nudity—alas, usually as a prelude to the butchery. The last half-hour of the film is particularly annoying, as its soundtrack becomes a quasi-nonstop series of female screams as Myers kills almost everyone he sees. Malcolm McDowell makes a decent showing as Doctor Loomis, but the rest of the cast is largely undistinguishable in the small scream-and-get-killed roles that they’re provided. Halloween is hampered by its own antiheroic sensibilities: There is little reason to care about the victims, and trying to humanize an unrepentant mass murderer just isn’t interesting. The result is entirely optional to anyone, including seasoned horror watchers.
(In French, On Cable TV, November 2016) Given that I have no perceptible affection for the slasher genre, revisiting the Halloween series twenty years later via Halloween H20 is more interesting for what it shows about the evolution of the genre in two decades and where the slasher genre was at the end of the nineties. Comparing the original 1978 Halloween (and its inseparable first sequel) to this nineties remake shows the gradual taming of the subgenre over the years. The 1998 version is slicker, glossier, occasionally sadistic but just as often hesitant to go too far. (e.g.; no killing kids in public restrooms, thankfully!) The focus on teenagers remains, even though this late sequel cleverly makes middle-aged Jamie Lee Curtis the hero of this belated fight with Michael Myers. Perhaps most of all, though, is Halloween H20’s demonstration that the nineties slasher genre was profoundly dull. Once the film spends the first 30 minutes setting up the plot pieces, everything else follows without much surprise or interest. It predictably builds up to a culminating fight in which the final girl presumably kills the villain … at least until later filmmakers change their minds. The problem is that Michael Myers is remarkably dull even as a quasi-supernatural psycho killer—he has no personality to speak of, and he feels less like a mortal threat than an annoyance you can’t get rid of. It’s possible to damn Halloween H20 with the faint praise of competent execution, even though even that has its limits: Much of this 90-minute film feels far too long, stretched beyond impatience through endless “suspense” moments in which we wait for the next predictable event to occur. At least there is some fun in looking at the cast: Beyond a competent Jamie Lee Curtis, there’s the big-screen debut of Josh Hartnett, an early appearance by Michelle Williams, a minor character for LL Cool J and a very short role for Joseph Gordon-Lewitt. It says much about the film’s interest that there’s more fun talking about the cast than in what happens in the film. Slasher movies periodically rise from the grave to annoy new generations, but few people seem to miss them when they go away.
(On TV, November 2016) One of the two best things about Halloween III is how it’s completely disconnected from the other movies in the series. For a series that has come to be defined by its antagonist Michael Myers, Halloween III stands completely apart, focusing on presenting a standalone film revolving around Halloween itself. The second best thing about Halloween III is that it’s, to put it bluntly, a crazy film. Trying to explain it cold sounds like an unhinged rant: A plot to kill children using Halloween masks made with pieces of Stonehenge, and robots killing anyone coming close to exposing the conspiracy! … yeah, OK. Other than the crazy disconnect though, there isn’t that much to be seen here. Stacey Nelkin still looks really good (which isn’t often the case for heroines in early-eighties films) but much of the film plays along dully in between flashes of insanity. The conclusion is grim, although it would have been interesting to see the kind of world that would have resulted from those events. There is a little bit of techno-historical interest in seeing how the film grapples with early questions of networked evil, surveillance cameras and the gradual integration of computers in everyday life. But don’t let that fool you into thinking that Halloween III is essential viewing except as an eighties curio. It does have its moment, though. Don’t expect to forget that infernal Silver Shamrock jingle anytime soon.
(On TV, November 2016) Slicker, gorier but ultimately less interesting than its predecessor, Halloween II at least has the distinction of picking up moments after the original, making for a surprisingly integrated sequel from a narrative point of view. Of course, the match isn’t perfect: Having disposed of much of the cast in the first movie, the follow-up has to reintroduce new characters to kill by moving the action to a nearby hospital. Audience expectations being what they were in 1981 at the height of the slasher craze, the sequel is also significantly gorier, with bigger hints of nudity than the original. Then, of course, is the nature of the antagonist, here even more mysterious and invincible than in the original. There’s also a generally useless revelation regarding the link between heroine and psycho-killer that is best forgotten. But in “improving” upon the original in this way, the sequel also moves closer to the average eighties slasher. As a result, the things that still make the first Halloween remarkable aren’t to be found in the sequel. At least Jamie Lee Curtis isn’t bad as the heroine. Still, the best argument for watching Halloween II is that it closely continues and completes the first film’s story—if you get it in the same DVD series pack, then why not watch it as well? It’s barely more than 90 minutes long, so you can actually watch the two films one after another in the same evening.
(On TV, October 2016) I have no affection and only little academic interest in the slasher genre. It’s not a kind of film that I enjoy (although I’m not opposed to other supernatural horror genres), but in trying to build a coherent picture of the horror genre over the past few decades, it’s often necessary to watch some reprehensible films along the way. Halloween remains a reference largely due to its influence on the horror genre in the following decade, in which an explosion of similar films dominated the lower rungs of the B-movie ecosystem. (I was five in 1980 and ten in 1985, so you can imagine the nostalgic memories of discovering VHS stores at the time and their terrifying cassette box art.) Knowing this, the biggest surprise in watching Halloween is how restrained it is: While there is disturbing violence, it rarely revels in the gore and terror of the victims. While there is teenage hanky-panky, there is no nudity. While the film sustains an atmosphere of dread and suspense, it feels far less exploitative than many of the films it influences. There’s a fair case to be made that Halloween is closer to a thriller than to horror and while I don’t entirely agree, this is a film now most notable for the tropes it does not use. Director John Carpenter is at the top of his game here, and the direction of the film remains remarkable even today. (The opening point-of-view sequence is still upsetting even at an age of found-footage films.) It’s also difficult to avoid mentioning the iconic soundtrack of the film, which set an example that would dominate a slew of eighties films. A very young Jamie Lee Curtis is fantastic in the lead role. While the film remains a slasher, it’s a competently executed one even today (and especially considering its low budget). It’s striking, however, how much of Halloween’s impact is now dictated by the movies it influenced than by itself.