HUGHES TREK ACROSS HADDONFIELD: A LOOK BACK ON THE HALLOWEEN FRANCHISE: Part 1
Directed By John Carpenter
Written By John Carpenter and Debra Hill
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, PJ Soles, Nancy Loomis
Music By John Carpenter
Release Date: October 25th 1978
Gross $150 Million
We start with a perfect score. A haunting theme in which we are greeted to a lit pumpkin that stands proud in front of a black background! Its an eerie set-piece, a credit sequence that sums up the entire mood of the film. As the big yellow words appear on screen, the camera slowly strolls towards the pumpkin, until we get to the final moments and we reach the left eye and then the light goes out and its all dark! Its a sequence that perfectly sets up the mood of the film, a sense of dread and fear in which it goes from light to dark, something is coming, something evil, and no one is going to stop it.
The Success of Suspira and everything Giallo had Irwin Yablan desperate to make a horror movie that would be talked about for years. He came up with a concept that had babysitters being targeted by a killer and with Financer Moustapha Akkad in tow, they went to the Milan Film Festival to promote a certain film called Assault On Precinct 13, directed by an up coming director by the name of John Carpenter. There, Yablan met a man named Michael Myers whom on watching Assault, fell in love with the film and agreed to put the film into film festivals all over Europe! During this time, Yablan, had a crazy idea, one he could not shake, about babysitters being stalked and killed by this unknown force of evil. To be called The Babysitter Murder, it was an idea that did not stretch to much, and even though he suggested the notion to Carpenter, it seemed to lack a bite, something was missing and Carpenter went on to film a TV movie. It was the ending of that directing gig, when Carpenter had the call that would change his life! Yablan just could not forget about this horror and one night it just struck him, holding the phone and speaking to Carpenter, he suggested that they should set the film on the night of Halloween, and even call the film that! A rocket of explosions went off in the head of the young director, that lack of something had just been added, and the greatest horror franchise of all time had just been born!!!!
Made for a partly £300,000, in which Carpenter took a deal for ten percent of the film profits, in which he also wrote the film score, the idea from the off was not to make a film soaked in bloodbath. What they wanted was to create a film that would scare the audience, there was no need for the gore that the later many imitators would introduce, there was a need to soak the film full of tension and dread, there was this evil that this town tried to keep secret, but now that secret was out and was returning home. The town in question was Haddonfield, the name taken from an actual town in New Jersey. Carpenter and his then girlfriend Debra Hill who produced the film, were told by Yablan that “less was better” and that it was required that the audience did not see anything, it is as I quote “It should be what they thought they saw that frightens them!” Ann Lockhart was Carpenter’s original choice to play the film’s scream queen Laurie, but was persuaded to cast a then unknown Jamie Lee Curtis with the added bonus that she would bring a much needed boast of publicity because of her mother Janet Leigh the woman who forever be in horror folklore as the woman who checked into Bates Motel. Other casting came in the form of Donald Pleasence who became Dr Sam Loomis (the name a nod to a character on Psycho), after both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee rejected the role ( a move that Lee later regretted) while Nick Castle was signed on to play The Shape, a figure that would terror the horror circles thirty years later.
Halloween was shot in mere 21 days in the Spring of 1978, even though the film was supposed to be set in Autumn. The common mistake of Halloween is that when the film tracks down a long street, we see leaves scattered all over the floor (they were put there) while the trees themselves are full and green, its only a minor point, but now knowing that information you can not help but notice on each watch. When it was released, it started off slowly, Carpenter went off to direct Elvis, and no-one expected much, maybe a moderate hit, but nothing special or big. They were wrong, word of mouth began to develop and soon the film went big, raking over £60 Million from a budget of £300,000 and making it the most successful independent film of all time, only to be beaten twenty one years later by a certain witch in the woods that went by the name of Blair!
Right from the off we are treated to a POV shot of a mad man at work. Like a Peeping Tom we see a person watching a young couple make out on a sofa before running upstairs to make love, a scene by the way that is the only part that makes me cringe. I would love to meet John Carpenter and ask him just one question, “Was the Sex scene an in-joke!”. We see the young couple run upstairs but we stay with this person who slowly enters the house, reaches for a very sharp kitchen knife and then go to the bottom of the stairs where we then see the boyfriend (David Kyle) do up his shirt and leave through the backdoor. I counted about 55 seconds from when they ran upstairs and for this person to reach the staircase. It honestly must be the quickest sex ever put to film. Anyway, we keep with the POV shot and watch this person slowly walk up the stairs, it really seems like one long uncut sequence when it fact it is, there are two official cuts, and suggestions of a third in which Carpenter does not deny or confirm. We see a hand reach out for a clown mask on the floor in which the boyfriend was originally wearing, the words “Michael!” ring out from Judith (Samdy Johnson) as the knife begins to go to work in what seems like another homage to Psycho. But its not just a normal killing. If you look closer, while the knife is going in, the killer is looking around, we see the messy bed that suggests the quick bonk, and then a quick look at the knife itself, its like the person is shocked at what they are doing but also fascinated. With Judith dead, the killer flees, we see the front door opening and a young couple walk up to this person, we hear the name again “Michael” and the clown mask is taken off to reveal the shocking image of a young six year old boy holding the knife.
It seems on a cold Halloween Night in 1963, six year old Michael Audrey Myers murdered his sister Judith Margaret Myers and was later sentenced to the Smith’s Grove Warrem Country Sanatorium where be locked away for fifteen years!
October 30, 1978 Is the Night he came home.
Escaping when due to be transferred for a court date in the middle of the night, a now older Michael returns to Haddonfield, where he targets two babysitters, Laurie and Annie, while a third Lynda is nearby planning to have sex with her boyfriend. As the day goes to dark, unknown to them, they are being watched, in the shadows, from the outside, a thirst to kill again strong in this force of evil and their only hope is Dr Loomis, Michael’s childhood psychiatrist who is on his way back to the town, convinced that Michael has returned to the place he calls home, and for the residents of the town, life would never be the same again.
There is no argument that if it was not for Michael there would be no Jason or Freddy. Halloween set the template that others would follow and virtually gave birth to the slash genre that was a major selling point for horror throughout the eighties. Amazingly while this is credited for being the most influential horror film ever, its roots were displayed a couple of years before in the underrated Black Christmas which shares many of its themes and sequences. John Carpenter denies ever seeing that film before he started this movie, but the link is uncanny when you watch them back to back. No matter what though, Halloween is the better film. What Carpenter succeeds in doing is making a horror that is actually frightening. He showed that there was no need to get a high body count to achieve the needs of the horror circles and while this spawned many copies, nearly all including the Friday 13th series, ignored this notion.
In fact apart from the death scene in the beginning, there are no killings of note until the final half hour, more modern audience bought up on Saw will shake their head and demand the gore, but Halloween creates a never beaten sense of dread and fear. Watching this masked fiend, stalking these three, brings more terror than the usual dumb blonde killing, and raises the film up to a high quality level. Michael always appeared from behind, one scene that emphasizes the style is when Annie is on the phone to Laurie while we see Michael looking from the outside. the fear it generates is amazing and when Annie gets trapped in the Laundry room, we see him from behind, and his all purpose slow walk, will send all horror fans in a frenzy. Off course there are death scenes, but they are not cheap sequences that would later dilute the franchise. All are brutal examples of a mad man at work, the killing of Bob is the most memorable of them all, his stabbing feet high from the floor in which Michael just stands there, his held tilting hints again that this is a child with no emotion and special praise must go towards Nick Castle who somehow brings out a personality in this killer with no use of words. He was and always will be the perfect portrayal of The Shape, he makes Michael seem sort of Supernatural, and aided by a creepy score that was created by Carpenter himself, it is a combination of supreme scares that again makes Halloween so hard to beat, and its hard to imagine that Castle could direct something so family and gentle with The Boy Could Fly when he came across so evil here.
Everything that is classified as horror cliches was born here. We see sequences like forgotten keys, locked doors, all play a part in the suspense but even now they still have an uncanny way of working to full effect. By the time we get to the final battle between the virgin Laurie and her nemeses, the film is in full swing, a massive battle commences that brings knitting needles, and hiding in wardrobes together for a massive sense of adrenalin Seriously if you not hooked by now, then you clearly do not love your horror. But just when you think Carpenter can not offer any more. He created a setpiece that actually had people running out of the cinema in tears. The shape rising from Laurie has gone down in horror cinema as one of the greatest moments. It really is wonderfully directed by Carpenter who manages to give one last scare to the audience.
The cliff hanger final shot was not meant to offer a sequel or for a franchise to be born. It was meant for the audience to go home wondering if Michael could be there, in the shadows while they sleep. Of course, despite the protests of Carpenter the film made too much money for there not to be a sequel, and of course a storyline was created to fit the “why Laurie?” question.
But while its hard not to watch this film not knowing why he is after her, its nice to know that in 1978, horror fans had a film that had a killer in which no motive was offered. Just a killing machine on a fun game of mayhem, before family issues became a focal point of the series. But I come to that in my Halloween II review, for now though, I take time out to remember a film that is not just a horror film, but a masterpiece in all cinema genres…
Directed By: Rick Rosenthal and John Carpenter (some additional scenes)
Written By: John Carpenter and Debra Hill
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis
Release Date: Oct 30th 1981
Budget: $2.5 Million
Gross: $26 Million
So, its a few years on, Laurie still played by Jamie Lee Curtis has finally recovered from the nightmare of the night he came home, and is living quite well in a large tall skyscraper. Of course being a sequel, the Bogyman returns and now he targets the residents of the building, while Laurie tries to survive each floor of the high tall building!
Sounds a bit like P2, but this idea was quickly thrown out by John Carpenter who struggled at first to find anything new to add to a story that he considered was already told and finished. Michael Myers falling from the top floor of the house after being shot a few times by his Doctor, Sam Loomis was meant to be the end of his return home. Even when Loomis looked down and saw Myers had gone was not meant for a planned sequel. Carpenter’s idea was that fans would forever know that he is out there, somewhere, ready to strike again. Its a creepy thought, and you can see why Carpenter was so against any sequel being made. The trouble was, that money talks, well £60 million to be precise and rumblings began to surface that the studio were thinking of a follow up. Any doubts if this was a bad idea were quickly put to bed due to the success of the Slash genre that was making serious money at the box office. If Halloween was the granddaddy of all things Slash, many others quickly took over and became a franchise, most notably a little film called Friday the 13th which ignored the template of Halloween and upped the gore with added sex. With Friday it was simple, no need for an hour build up, give the audience want they want and that was young teens getting butchered! Not only was it cheaply made and took the money, a sequel was quickly put to film and with Prom Night and My Bloody Valentine all benefiting from the success of Michael Myers, Producers Irwin Yablans a
nd Moustapha Akkad wanted more, and they weren’t going to take no for an answer!
Carpenter though took a lot of convincing and along with returning Producer Debra Hill, gathered around and quickly came up with a storyline that became Halloween II. In the Nineties, Carpenter himself in an interview said that writing the storyline for this movie came about from drinking loads of beer and having a few pizza’s, and while the result is not that too bad from an all night drinking session, Halloween II suffers from lack of thought and a concept that rids The Shape of all its mystique. Yes its here Michael Myers, the man with no motive, had a motive, and the character and franchise would never be the same again. Carpenter having agreed to write it, had no intention of returning to the director’s seat, a policy that would see him do the same twenty years later and instead offered it to Tommy Lee Wallace who was an art director on the original. Wallace refused though, and on watching a short film called Toyer and being blown away by the suspense it generated, Carpenter offered it to the young director Rick Rosenthal, who could not believe his fortune!
Halloween II started filming with the added bonus that everyone who appeared in the original returned. Jamie Lee Curtis reprised her role as Laurie, Donald Pleasence returned in what would eventually be a recurring role as Dr Sam Loomis, even minor characters like Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers) and Annie (Nancy Kyes) (glimpsed in a body bag) all agreed to be seen in fleeting roles. Only Nick Castle failed to come back, with the role going to the wonderfully named Dick Warlock, a stuntman from the land of telly. One of the reasons why Halloween II is considered a good sequel by many of the fans is because the concept has it carrying on from the end of the original film, even though it took fours years on to make. Over the years its impossible to watch the original without not wanting to see this, even though Carpenter was very hesitant in making the sequel when he put pen to paper he was determined that it had to be the conclusion of the story, if Halloween had to be the beginning, then Halloween II had to be the end, and if watched back to back, you can see that Carpenter achieved that aim!
The sequel begins with the tune of “Mr Sandman!” and the showing of the now infamous moment when Myers gets up from behind Laurie. From the off and with no disrespect to Rosenthal, you can feel a difference. The music itself changing the mood, from the creepy piano sound being replaced by a synth tone that while it still the music that you associate the film with, it somehow loses that freaky vibe. We watch the moment again when Myers falls from the top floor only this time from a different point of view, and instead of the good doctor looking down from above, we seem him leave from the front door and exam the ground in which the body should lay. A neighbour shouts and asks what is going on, the Doc replies by asking to phone the police and mumbling “I shot him,” the neighbour at first does not believe “I have been trick or treated to death tonight!” in which Loomis replies, “you do not know what death is!”…and the film starts, the credit sequence mirroring the original with the burning lantern. It does manage to set the mood perfectly, a thrill seeing this characters back in front of you, it actually feels like an Halloween, sadly though this feeling lasts about the same time as the lantern fades from the screen, and from the next sequence you realise that Halloween II has been heavily influenced by the slasher films that came out between the original and the making of this, which makes you weep, as the film that started the genre, should have no need to copy those that could only wish to reach the standard it originally set!
Its when the film begins for good, we see the change of tone, a girl calling calling out from her backyard and being spotted by Myers. When she goes back into the house, we see Myers follow her before finally slitting her throat. We only five minutes in and already this sequel has shown more blood than in any parts of the original and in a sense we can see that this movie is moving away from its own template and wrongly following the path of Friday 13th. We also follow Myers around from that house to a new house, and while Rosenthal manages to create a wonderful image of an old woman watching telly while Myers is behind her grabbing a kitchen knife, we already have seen this force of evil more times than we did before, and for a man who loved to stay in the shadows, it seems he has outgrown the game of hide and seek and decided to come out and play. Yes, the once fearsome character has become like those who wanted to be him and its a weeping shame.
We spend too much time with Myers in the first half, Jamie Lee is wasted and Donald runs about with no real purpose, Halloween II is so thinly plotted that Carpenter must have got really drunk and bored very easily! The aim of the movie is to get Myers to Haddonfield Hospital where Laurie is recovering, and until he gets there, the film is just plot filler. We have a stupid moment when Loomis believes he spots Myers and tries to shoot him, only for this person to get knocked down by a car which results in a massive explosion and the body getting burnt. Why Loomis thinks its Myers is laughable as this man is taller with a different mask and is clearly carrying a bag which looks like full of drink, Its a scene set up so Myers can get to the hospital and quickly begin to purist Laurie. while the cops pack their cars away thinking they have got their man. It really is lazy writing and you expect better from the makers who put in so much care and attention towards the original, that you just wish for a little bit here! But then if you got people who did not want to do this movie in the first place, then you going to have problems,and Halloween II is clearly made for one thing and one thing only, money.
It may seem I am criticising this movie, well I am, but its only minor grumbles. If you compare it to the original then yes you are going to criticise, it lacks the suspense and dread and the slow build up, but like I said somehow by watching the films back to back, it works, but also if you compare Halloween II to the all the other films that came out doing the boom, then you have to say its one of the better ones! The reason for that is because of Laurie and our wish to see her survive. Our need for Loomis to stop his former patient, and of course to find out if Myers does get his wish and kill the girl who got away. The three characters are pivotal to the success of the two films, and while I may moan that the standard may have slipped here, its still a film I am very fond of.
The film picks up wonderfully by the time Myers reaches the hospital. Of course the location is nothing more than Camp Crystal Lake in which the people working there are mainly victims for Myers, but there is some fun to be had and Rosenthal does a great job in making full use of the hospital setting. An empty ward in the middle of the night brings a great eerie atmosphere which gives the film some quality while Myers goes to work with a hammer in the head, a great needle death scene and one of my favourite moments in all horrors, of a nurse getting stabbed from the back while Laurie watches, all makes the last half of the sequel a great watch, we even get Waynes World Dana Carvey has meat fodder. Of course the film’s last quarter mirrors the first in which Laurie tries to invade Myers while Loomis plays catch up, and Rosenthal brings out the thrills in massive style. Warlock though loses the essence that Castle bought to the role of Myers here he
is quite still and he walks very slow as well.
The many faults of Halloween II may be the fault of Carpenter himself. Rosenthal was determined to make the film less horror and more suspenseful, and really did not want to load the film with gore. On watching the final cut Carpenter was horrified at the film and decided to add the many death scenes on show. Its a common trait to blame Rosenthal because he replaced the great man, but it would have been interesting to see his cut of the film especially as he was bitterly disappointed by the film that got released.
Carpenter also thought up the storyline that changed everything. The moment in which we the viewers were stunned to find that Myers and Laurie were actually brother and sister and having killed his one sister all those years ago, it was time to finish off the other! This new information was a shocker back then, but giving the big man a motive to kill is not the best thing and rids him of his power of fear. What was if that Billy Loomis said in Scream “did Norman Bates have a motive, did they explain why Lector liked to eat people!” By adding this storyline, it wrecked the ultimate Bogyman. I would have been quite happy to go a long with the fact that Myers was just pissed off that this girl got away from him and he had the need to finish the job! I also do not believe that Dr Sam Loomis never knew this information. This is a man who needed to know everything about his patient, why he killed his sister? so not telling him that this once young boy has another sister smacks of unprofessional, of course he is told about this development just at the right time to run and save Laurie from her brother even though it may kill him in the process.
Halloween II serves its purpose well. it will make the fans happy and while it lacks the deft touch that made the original such a classic, its a horror that for me is the best sequel of the entire franchise, the one thing that Halloween II does well and shows that Carpenter was so determined to end it once and for all, is that it gives us a conclusion. Here we see the Bogeyman stopped once and for all, there is no going back…well not for another seven years anyway…
While fans like myself cam be too critical, Halloween II gets by with the strong factor that it continues from when the original ended. Lazy writing brings a dull script, but the sole triangle act of Donald, Jamie and Myers makes it all the worthwhile and the fact remains if you love Halloween then you like Halloween II
Written and Directed By: Tommy Lee Wallace
Starring: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy
Music By: John Carpenter
Release Date: October 22nd 1982
Budget: $2.5 Million
Gross: $14.400 000 Million
“Its the one chapter that all Michael Myers fans hate!”
My biggest shock when reviewing Halloween III is the obvious influence of a certain Terminator. Seriously, just watch the credit sequence and its drum beat and you swear that the name Arnold is going to pop up any minute. The music is a sort of mixture of The Terminator and The Fog and when the film begins of a man running down the street, being chased by what must be a man in black who is actually an android, then I really thought that writer and director Tommy Lee Wallace must have sat down to watch that James Cameron film and came up with this, so I was stunned to realise that Season Of The Witch came out two years before the words “I be back!” would go down in movie history!….
Halloween III may carry the title of the much loved franchise, its the one chapter that all Michael Myers fans hate, simply because there is no sign of the bogyman who loves to wear the William Shatner mask. The reason for his non appearance is not because he burnt to a crisp at the end of Halloween II but because of the insistence of creator John Carpenter to move away from the style of the franchise. Having been pulled into making what he thought was a pointless sequel to the original, there was no chance of the studio getting John to make a third film involving a brother wanting his sister dead, and owning the rights to the franchise, Carpenter had the upper hand when it came to negotiations. What he and Debra Hill planned was to move away from a genre that was dominating the box office and offer something different. The plan was, that on each year on Halloween, they would release a film that would scare the audience, but each new chapter would be different. A kind of like Creepshow but with just one sole episode.
The fact that this plan only lasted the one film shows how badly received this was. Yes, the title itself may have sold it to the horror crowd at first, but despite the good intentions of all involved, they deeply underestimated that fans back then going to the pictures to see a Halloween film, expected to see a Halloween film. With Slash films coming out every week, 1982 the year this was released, was still a time when masked fiends were still box office gold, the simple truth is that, Halloween III got lost in the mix and instantly forgotten.
But does that mean the film sucks like the reputation is has gained. Well, there are many out there who can not accept the fact what this film is about. You be hard pushed as well to find any favourable reviews from well established critics, who simply pick fault with everything the film offers. For myself and a few, if you can forget about the bogyman for an hour and a half, then you may get a nice little surprise! For a start any film in which plot is to kill young children must be considered dark! Yes, even more dark that the original Halloween film offered, but this is what Season Of The Witch is all about, young children wearing their Halloween masks and having they heads turned to mash and insects, thanks to the most annoying but can not get it out of your head TV advert!
Its a quite barmy concept that deserves at least some praise and while the motives behind it all is very unclear, the film manages to hook you from the start, simply because its so damn original. Regular Carpenter collaborator Tom Atkiens takes over from the Laurie role as the main hero of the picture, as a Doctor who after dealing with a death of a patient, teams up with the daughter Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) to discover why her father was killed. They travel to the town of Santa Mira where they find that the place is in under control of the local factory Silver Shamrock which is owned by the Mr Burns type Conal Cochran (played with relish by Dan O’Herlihy) All the towns money is connected to that damn factory, in which they are also making and selling Halloween masks for kids and are responsible for that damn advert that shows up on the TV.
For all those who do not care to remember the annoyance look away now……Four more days for Halloween, Halloween, Fou
r more days for Halloween Silver Shamrock, four more days for Halloween, Halloween, four more days for Halloween, silver shamrock! and so on…. What follows is a barmy piece of story telling involving a piece of stonehenge and computer chips in masks, it is a messy plot that has so many flaws, and on occasions, just to remind the viewer the franchise they are watching, the original Halloween film gets played on the background on some TV! Yes it may sound awful, but I honestly believe that if this did not have Halloween in its title and also not called Season Of The Witch because to be quite honest this is has no mention of any witch, then this would be fondly remembered as one of 80?s most bizarre horror.
There is a delicious dark edge throughout with its final sharp blow coming right at the final scene has the words “Stop it! strikes you with venom! The film has a great sound, that even Carpenter himself should be been proud of, there may not be many scenes of scare, but the music itself sweeps you in, carrying a menace that deserves the respect that the film clearly lacks from all horror fans. There are some wonderful imagery, the melting masks followed by snakes and insects is a set piece that even Bava could have come up with, and lets not forget that there are moments here of a rocking chair and of a face being zapped that should be cherished by fans.
No where near has bad as the fans and critics put it! Yes there is no bogeyman, damn there is not even a witch, but any film that shows a scene of the good guy being attacked by a robotic severed arm, should not be laughed at, but cherished for all its bizarre and surreal oddity……
Yes there is no Myers, but who cares. When you have a film made of so much oddity and originality, then how can you complain and at least this Halloween night, the town of
Haddonfield could sleep easy in their beds, well at least for another six years. While Halloween III was made for a partly £2.5 million and made a £14 million return the studio was unhappy with the results. So they had a plan, and soon the man with the William Shatner mask started to stir from his long sleep, leaving many virgins worried, and fans open mouthed at what was going to be a highly anticipated return…….
TO BE CONTINUED!