THE HORROR JAR: The HALLOWEEN movies

halloween_posterI wrote this HORROR JAR column on the HALLOWEEN movies for the Halloween issue of the Horror Writers Association Newsletter.  It’s up this month.

—Michael

 

THE HORROR JAR:  HALLOWEEN Series

By Michael Arruda

 

Welcome to THE HORROR JAR, the column that compiles lists of odds and ends about horror movies.  It runs regularly within the pages of my blog, THE BLOG OF MICHAEL ARRUDA, located at marruda3.wordpress.com.  For the first time ever, in celebration of this very special Halloween issue, THE HORROR JAR appears in the pages of the HWA NEWSLETTER.

Today we look at the HALLOWEEN movies, a series that began with John Carpenter’s groundbreaking low budget shocker back in 1978.

I still remember when HALLOWEEN first came out.  It really was something of a phenomenon.  I was at the movies with some friends, and this was 1978, so I was 14, and there was this huge line ahead of us which poured out of the building, when one of the ushers came outside to announce “HALLOWEEN is sold out! HALLOWEEN is sold out!”  People in line huffed and swore, and then to the delight of my friends and me who were not seeing HALLOWEEN, they left the line, enabling us to step right up and buy tickets for whatever movie we were seeing that night.

But I remember wondering, “What’s the story with this movie, HALLOWEEN?”  I had never seen so much buzz about a horror movie before.  I mean, there was JAWS a few years earlier, but I never considered that a true horror movie.  It was more a horrific adventure.  And then I started hearing all these things about HALLOWEEN, how scary it was, how good it was, and the next thing I knew I was seeing it myself, and yes, it was as scary as advertised.  What I don’t remember is how my friend and I got in to see it, because it was Rated R, and they used to check ids back then, and we were just 14.  I think we must have lucked out and had a high school student working the ticket line that night.

HALLOWEEN became a tremendous success and inspired a brand new subgenre of horror movie, the slasher flick.  It’s no accident that in spite of its low budget, it’s one of the best horror movies ever made.  John Carpenter held nothing back when he made this one, and nearly every scene he crafts in this movie is a good one. HALLOWEEN just might be Carpenter’s masterpiece.

In addition to his masterful direction, Carpenter also wrote the iconic music score, which adds so much to this movie it’s almost like an additional character.  In fact, the story goes that after an initial showing, a producer frowned upon the film and told Carpenter he needed to go back and edit it some more.  Carpenter made only one change:  he added his music score.  The same producer saw it again and loved it this time, thinking Carpenter had made major changes.

In HALLOWEEN, a group of babysitters are terrorized on Halloween night by masked killer Michael Myers who has escaped from an asylum after fifteen years of silent confinement.  He returns to his hometown where as a young boy he had murdered his own sister fifteen years earlier.  He’s pursued by his doctor, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) who hopes to prevent Michael from causing another bloodbath.  Easier said than done, because Michael Myers refuses to die.

HALLOWEEN inspired a bunch of sequels, none of which come close to matching the quality of the first film.  In fact, you could make the argument that there’s only been one very good HALLOWEEN movie, the first one.

Here they are, including the recent remakes by Rob Zombie, the movies in the HALLOWEEN franchise:

HALLOWEEN (1978)

Directed by John Carpenter

Screenplay by John Carpenter and Debra Hill

Music by John Carpenter

Dr. Sam Loomis:  Donald Pleasence

Laurie Strode:  Jamie Lee Curtis

Annie:  Nancy Loomis

Lynda:  P.J. Soles

Sheriff Brackett:  Charles Cyphers

Michael Myers:  Tony Moran

Running Time:  91 minutes

John Carpenter’s masterful direction makes this one a true horror classic.  So many neat touches.  My favorite is Michael Myers’ white mask emerging from the darkness behind Jamie Lee Curtis, who is impressive in her film debut as babysitter Laurie Strode.  Donald Pleasence acquits himself rather well as Dr. Loomis, the man in hot pursuit of the demonic Michael Myers, in a role originally offered to Peter Cushing and then later to Christopher Lee.  Both actors turned it down, a decision Lee has called one of his biggest regrets.  The Michael Myers’ mask is a re-vamped William Shatner STAR TREK mask, chosen by the props department because of their ultra-low budget.  John Carpenter also composed the memorable music score.

 

HALLOWEEN II (1981)

Directed by Rick Rosenthal

Screenplay by John Carpenter and Debra Hill

Music by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth

Dr. Sam Loomis:  Donald Pleasence

Laurie Strode:  Jamie Lee Curtis

The Shape:  Dick Warlock

Running Time:  92 minutes

Dreadful sequel to HALLOWEEN takes up right where the original left off, as Michael Myers continues his pursuit of Laurie Strode, while the tireless Dr. Loomis tries to stop him.  Without John Carpenter in the director’s chair, this one plays like a cheap imitation.

 

HALLOWEEN III:  THE SEASON OF THE WITCH (1983)

Directed by Tommy Lee Wallace

Screenplay by Tommy Lee Wallace

Music by John Carpenter and Alan Howarth

Dan Challis:  Tom Atkins

Cochran:  Dan O’Herlihy

Running Time:  98 minutes

This one has nothing to do with the Michael Myers storyline.  Instead, we have a mad toymaker who plots to kill children across the country on Halloween night by using demonic Halloween masks.  John Carpenter planned to make a different HALLOWEEN horror movie each year, each one with an entirely different story centered on Halloween, but this movie flopped at the box office, mostly because audiences were looking for Michael Myers, and the idea was abandoned. HALLOWEEN III is actually not that bad, as long as you go in expecting the worst!

 

HALLOWEEN 4:  THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988)

Directed by Dwight H. Little

Screenplay by Alan B. McElroy

Music by Alan Howarth

Dr. Sam Loomis:  Donald Pleasence

Rachel Carruthers:  Ellie Cornell

Jamie Lloyd:  Danielle Harris

Michael Myers:  George P. Wilbur

Running Time:  88 minutes

The title says it all, as Michael Myers is back, and he’s madder than ever!  In spite of the silly storyline, this has always been one of my favorite films in the HALLOWEEN series.  The plot takes place ten years after the events of the original film, as Michael Myers awakes from a coma and escapes from yet another institution when he learns that he has a niece living in Haddonfield, so naturally he wants to kill her.  I’ve never liked the direction the series took, that Myers simply wanted to kill his relatives.  He was much scarier in the original film where he was an unpredictable killing machine.  Why the obsession with his own family?  I always thought he simply hated women.

But this one is a lively film in the series, as director Dwight H. Little includes some impressive action scenes and suspense sequences, and the script by Alan B. McElroy remembers to have fun, like the scene where the armed vigilantes all jump into their pick-up trucks in an attempt to lynch Michael Myers.  Good luck with that!

It also helps that Donald Pleasence is back, reprising his role as the ever dedicated and relentless Dr. Sam Loomis, who will stop at nothing to hunt down and destroy Michael Myers.  Pleasence seems to have really grown into the role here, as this is probably his best performance in the series.  Young Danielle Harris in her film debut is also very good as little Jamie Lloyd, Myer’s niece who becomes his intended victim throughout the movie.   Interestingly enough, Harris would return to the series as an adult, as she would star in both of the Rob Zombie HALLOWEEN remakes as Annie Brackett.

HALLOWEEN 4 also has the best final scene in the series other than the original film.  It really works and stays with you long after the movie has ended.

It’s also the first film in the series not to involve John Carpenter at any level, since he was dissatisfied with the script and distanced himself from the project.

 

HALLOWEEN 5:  THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1989)

Directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard

Screenplay by Michael Jacobs, Dominique Othenin-Girard, and Shem Bitterman

Music by Alan Howarth

Dr. Sam Loomis:  Donald Pleasence

Jamie Lloyd:  Danielle Harris

Michael Myers:  Don Shanks

Running Time:  96 minutes

Direct sequel to HALLOWEEN 4, but this one is nowhere near as good.  It’s a much darker film than HALLOWEEN 4, but I’ve never warmed up to it.  Gone is any sense of fun the previous film had.  This one introduced the mysterious character of “The Man in Black” who’s certainly interesting, but it’s clear watching this movie that the writers had no idea who he really was, and they make the audience wait until the next film in the series to find out.

 

HALLOWEEN:  THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995)

Directed by Joe Chappelle

Screenplay by Daniel Farrands

Music by Alan Howarth and Paul Rabjohns

Dr. Sam Loomis:  Donald Pleasence

Tommy Doyle:  Paul Rudd

Dr. Terence Wynn:  Mitchell Ryan

Michael Myers:  George P. Wilbur

Running Time:  88 minutes

There’s very little right with this sixth film in the series, yet somehow I like it better than HALLOWEEN 5.  Director Joe Chappelle gives this one some style, and screenwriter Daniel Farrands has some neat ideas, but the true culprit here are a host of rewrites/re-edits that dramatically changed the plot in this one, and not for the better.  The identity of “The Man In Black” and his cult’s relationship with Michael Myers is laughable.  This movie also marks the final appearance of Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis in the series, as Pleasence died during filming.

 

HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER (1998)

Directed by Steve Miner

Screenplay by Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg

Music by John Ottman and Jeremy Sweet

Laurie Strode: Jamie Lee Curtis

Will Brennan:  Adam Arkin

Molly Cartwell:  Michelle Williams

Norma Watson: Janet Leigh

John Tate:  Josh Hartnett

Ronny Jones:  LL Cool J

Jimmy Howell:  Joseph Gordon-Levitt

Michael Myers:  Chris Durand

Running Time:  86 minutes

Probably my favorite of the HALLOWEEN sequels, as it marked the return of Jamie Lee Curtis to the series.  Slick, polished, well-written production, this one has one of the better casts in the entire series, but it does tend to be a bit talky and struggles in the scares department.

 

HALLOWEEN:  RESURRECTION (2002)

Directed by Rick Rosenthal

Screenplay by Larry Brand and Sean Hood

Music by Danny Lux

Laurie Strode:  Jamie Lee Curtis

Michael Myers:  Brad Loree

Freddie Harris:  Busta Rhymes

Running Time:  94 minutes

Bottom of the barrel entry in the HALLOWEEN franchise.  By far, the worst film in the original series.  I thought this was as bad as things could get.  I was wrong.

 

HALLOWEEN (2007)

Directed by Rob Zombie

Screenplay by Rob Zombie

Music by Tyler Bates

Dr. Samuel Loomis:  Malcolm McDowell

Sheriff Lee Brackett:  Brad Dourif

Michael Myers:   Tyler Mane

Michael Myers, age 10:  Daeg Faerch

Running Time:  109 minutes

Dreadful re-imagining of the original HALLOWEEN by writer/director Rob Zombie.  Best part is the Michael Myers background story, and the performance by young Daeg Faerch as the ten year-old Michael.  The film explains how Michael Myers came to be better than any of the films before it.  However, the rest of the movie is horrible.  Malcolm McDowell, usually one of my favorite actors, is stoic and forgettable as Dr. Loomis.  In spite of a fun cast, this one is no fun at all.  It makes for a very long 109 minutes.  This movie has its fans, but I’m not one of them.

 

HALLOWEEN II (2009)

Directed by Rob Zombie

Screenplay by Rob Zombie

Music by Tyler Bates

Dr. Samuel Loomis:  Malcolm McDowell

Sheriff Lee Brackett:  Brad Dourif

Michael Myers:   Tyler Mane

Laurie Strode:  Scout Taylor-Compton

Running Time:  105 minutes

This sequel to Rob Zombie’s reimagining of HALLOWEEN is even worse than the first film, if such a thing is a possible.  Violence is way over the top and nonsensical.  Zombie seems to have forgotten his sense of storytelling in these two movies.

Well, there you have it:  the HALLOWEEN movies.

It’s really a shame that the HALLOWEEN series has come to a close on such a low note.  These latter movies are a far cry from John Carpenter’s original iconic classic from 1978.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this list, and I look forward to seeing you next time on another HORROR JAR, which you can read each month at THE BLOG OF MICHAEL ARRUDA at marruda3.wordpress.com, along with many other goodies and tidbits, both horror and otherwise.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

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