LEADING LADIES: JAMIE LEE CURTIS

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jamie lee curtis halloween 1978

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in HALLOWEEN (1978)

Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at the careers of leading ladies in the movies, especially horror movies.

Up today it’s Jamie Lee Curtis.

Curtis of course burst onto the horror movie scene with her signature role of terrorized babysitter Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s groundbreaking classic, HALLOWEEN (1978). And with some perfect symmetry, Curtis’ most recent role is once again Laurie Strode in the latest entry in the HALLOWEEN universe, once more titled, curiously enough, HALLOWEEN (2018). Curtis’ career has come full circle. Of course, she still has a whole lot more acting to do.

In HALLOWEEN (1978), Curtis was so memorable as Laurie Strode not because she screamed a lot.  She did not scream her way to fame a la Fay Wray fifty-five years earlier in KING KONG (1933). No, Curtis’ performance was noteworthy because she created in Laurie a vulnerable yet resilient character who faced doubts about dating and boys but was more than up to the task of protecting the children she babysat from masked killer Michael Myers.

The original HALLOWEEN is famous because of John Carpenter’s outstanding direction, along with his now iconic music score. I was 14 when HALLOWEEN came out, and I still remember all the hype and excitement surrounding it.  Sold out showings, and long lines of people waiting to see it, often spilling outside the theater into the parking lot. I also remember Siskel and Ebert’s initial review of the movie, a review in which they both praised Carpenter’s phenomenal direction. I don’t remember how at 14 my friends and I were able to buy tickets to this R rated feature, but somehow we did, as we saw this one at the theater.

I remember the theater erupting in screams during the movie. I also remember Jamie Lee Curtis.  When the movie was done, and I had returned home, I couldn’t get Carpenter’s music out of my head, and I recalled all the scares, and the image of Michael Myers with his now iconic mask, and this actress named Jamie Lee Curtis.  There was something about her that really resonated with me.  The best way I can describe it is I felt as if Laurie Strode was someone I knew in real life. As I’ve watched and re-watched HALLOWEEN over the years, I’ve attributed this feeling I had back in 1978 to a very authentic performance by Curtis.  I felt like I knew her because she acted like a real person.

Here’s a partial look at Curtis’ career, as we examine some of her 74 screen credits:

HALLOWEEN (1978) – Laurie Strode – Curtis’ signature film role was also her film debut.  She had appeared in numerous TV shows before this, including COLUMBO (1977) and CHARLIE’S ANGELS (1978) but this was the first time she appeared on the big screen. And she has never looked back.  Quite the film debut. In addition to the top-notch direction and music score by John Carpenter, and the presence of Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis is easily one of the best parts of HALLOWEEN (1978).

THE FOG (1980) – Elizabeth Solley – Curtis stars in John Carpenter’s next horror movie following HALLOWEEN. At the time, Carpenter was a victim of his own success. THE FOG was not well-received by critics in 1980. Siskel and Ebert expressed their disappointment, citing that the film lacked a definitive threat, a la Michael Meyers. However, the movie’s reputation has strengthened over the decades. It’s now considered one of Carpenter’s best films. Not only that, but it’s high on a lot of people’s lists for best horror movies period.  I definitely like this one a lot.  I still prefer HALLOWEEN though. Curtis, for her part, is fine here, but her role is not the lead, and she makes much less of an impact than she did in HALLOWEEN.

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Jamie Lee Curtis in THE FOG (1980)

PROM NIGHT (1980) – Kim – John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN gave birth to the slasher movie, and suddenly everyone and their grandmother was making horror movies with masked knife-wielding killers terrorizing teenagers. This one’s not directed by Carpenter, but does star Jamie Lee Curtis. It did well on its initial release and has established a reputation as a decent slasher flick, but this one never did anything for me.  For me, not even the presence of Jamie Lee Curtis could save this HALLOWEEN rip-off.

TERROR TRAIN (1980) – Alana – another crazed killer attacking teenagers, this time on a train.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) – Narrator/Computer Voice (uncredited) – An uncredited Curtis provides the voice of the narrator and computer in this exciting futuristic crime thriller by John Carpenter, notable also for Kurt Russell’s memorable performance as Snake Plissken.

HALLOWEEN II (1981) – Laurie Strode – Inferior sequel to HALLOWEEN. Rick Rosenthal takes over the directing duties from John Carpenter, and his vision here is far less impressive.  Curtis is okay, but sadly, spends most of the movie confined to a hospital bed and in and out of a medicated stupor.  While this really is not a good movie, it is actually better than most of the later HALLOWEEN films, some of which are really, really bad.

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With Donald Pleasence in HALLOWEEN II (1981)

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1983) – Curfew Announcer/Telephone Operator (uncredited) – A disaster upon its initial release, this was part of John Carpenter’s vision to create a HALLOWEEN series featuring different horror stories each year and not necessarily be about Michael Myers, but film audiences wanted Myers and didn’t really accept this movie. That being said, this one has enjoyed a growing reputation over the decades, and there are some (not me) who consider this to be the best of all the HALLOWEEN movies.

TRADING PLACES (1983) – Ophelia – This funny comedy by director John Landis stars Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. Murphy, who was insanely popular at the time due to his stint on Saturday Night Live, is the main reason to see this one, but Jamie Lee Curtis is also hilarious in her role as prostitute Ophelia. She makes the jump into a non-horror movie quite nicely.

GRANDVIEW U.S.A. (1984) – Michelle “Mike” Cody – Drama in which Curtis co-stars with C. Thomas Howell and Patrick Swayze that asks the question, can the young folks from Grandview U.S.A. pursue their dreams and shed their small town roots? Nothing special.

A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988) – Wanda Gershwitz – co-stars with John Cleese, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin in this uproarious comedy written by Cleese. Kline won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

jamie lee curtis - fish called wanda

Michael Palin, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kevin Kline in A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988)

FOREVER YOUNG (1992) – Claire Cooper – co-stars with Mel Gibson who plays a 1939 pilot awoken from a cryogenic sleep in 1992. Written by J.J. Abrams.

TRUE LIES (1994) – Helen Tasker – plays the wife of a spy, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, in this entertaining action comedy by director James Cameron.

FIERCE CREATURES (1997) – Willa Weston – Reunited with her co-stars from A FISH CALLED WANDA, John Cleese, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin, this time with lesser results.

HALLOWEEN H20 – TWENTY YEARS LATER (1998) -Laurie Strode- Curtis returns to the HALLOWEEN series after a three film hiatus, and the emphasis returns to Laurie Strode, still dealing with the trauma caused by Michael Myers twenty years earlier. The masked killer of course once more sets his sights on terrorizing Laurie. Some girls have all the fun. This film was well-received when it first came out, but it hasn’t aged all that well. That being said, I still like this one a lot.

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Facing fear in HALLOWEEN H20 (1998)

HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION (2002)- Laurie Strode – Curtis returns as Laurie Strode for about two seconds before her character is abruptly killed by Michael Myers in the most undramatic and anticlimactic of ways. By far, the absolute worst of all the HALLOWEEN movies.

FREAKY FRIDAY (2003) – Tess Coleman – co-stars with Lindsay Lohan in this remake of the Disney classic.

SCREAM QUEENS (TV Series) (2015-2016) – Dean Cathy Munsch- TV horror/comedy series about a— you got it— a crazed serial killer terrorizing, among other places, a college campus.

HALLOWEEN (2018) – Laurie Strode – Curtis comes full circle, playing Laurie Strode once again, this time in a movie that ignores every other HALLOWEEN movie in the series except the original. Lots of hype and box office success, but ultimately this one was a letdown. Curtis’ scenes and storyline are the best parts, as she is once again still dealing with the trauma from Michael Myer’s original attack, now forty years earlier. Everything else in this film is pretty bad. A major disappointment.

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Taking on Michael Myers yet again in HALLOWEEN (2018)

And that wraps things up for this edition of LEADING LADIES.

Join me again next time when we check out the career of another Leading Lady.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

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HALLOWEEN (2018) – Jamie Lee Curtis Returns With a Vengeance, But Rest of Horror Flick Pretty Bad

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HALLOWEEN (2018)

The Jamie Lee Curtis story arc in HALLOWEEN (2018) is so good it almost saves the rest of the movie which sadly is rather— well, there’s no other way to say it, awful.

HALLOWEEN (2018) is the latest chapter in the Michael Myers saga, and before this film was released, I found myself shaking my head at the title. This is the eleventh film in the series and the third to be called HALLOWEEN. Granted, the second film entitled HALLOWEEN (2007) was Rob Zombie’s flawed reimagining of the original, but still, to call this movie HALLOWEEN seemed rather lazy.

However, when I saw the film’s trailer, which I really enjoyed, I decided to reserve judgement on the title because what I saw in the trailer looked so good.

HALLOWEEN (2018) completely ignores events in any of the sequels and re-imaginings and exists in a universe where only events from the original HALLOWEEN (1978) have occurred.

And so it has been forty years since Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) survived the brutal attack by masked killer Michael Myers on Halloween night, a night that saw three of her high school friends murdered. She has spent her remaining years dealing with the trauma, preparing for Myers’ eventual escape from the mental hospital, as she says here in the movie, so she can kill him.

And of course, Myers does escape and does return to Haddonfield, Illinois, to kill more teenagers on Halloween night, and to go after Laurie Strode once more, who after forty years of preparation, is more than up to the task of taking on the masked madman.

The best part of HALLOWEEN is the Laurie Strode story arc, and in fact it’s the only part of this sequel that’s worth watching. Her story is first-rate, as is Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance. It’s a shame the writers couldn’t come up with equally impressive stories for both Michael Myers and any of the other new characters.

But back to Laurie Strode. She’s agorophobic and lives in a secluded fortified compound. She’s estranged from her adult daughter Karen (Judy Greer), but she has a better relationship with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who’s now in high school and along with her friends are the new natural targets for Michael Myers. But even Allyson implores her grandmother to “get over it” and get on with her life.

But Laurie is wise not to, as Michael Myers returns to start another murder spree. The story told from Laurie’s perspective is completely believable, and her scenes where she takes on Myers are the best in the movie.

Jamie Lee Curtis is excellent here, and she pretty much alone saves this movie from being horrible.  She does this because the rest of the movie is pretty bad, and with Curtis’ effective performance and watchable storyline, things balance out.

So, why is the rest of the film so awful?

Let’s start with the Michael Myers character. If only the writers had spent as much care crafting Myers’ story as they did Laurie’s. His story here makes little sense. One of the biggest problems is the constant need by several characters in this movie to know more about Michael, in effect teasing the audience with their questions, and then the film gives us absolutely nothing for answers.

In John Carpenter’s original classic, we knew nothing about Michael Myers other than he was, as Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Sam Loomis constantly reminded us, “pure evil.” Myers was somehow for whatever reason the embodiment of evil. Not knowing more about him worked here because frankly it didn’t matter.

In the sequels, we learned all sorts of laughable reasons for his existence, from he was Laurie Strode’s brother to he was controlled by an evil cult going back to the time of the Druids. None of these plot points did the series or the character any favors. In short, there has never been a decent explanation for who Michael Myers was or what he did other than he was “death on two legs.”  And in Carpenter’s original movie this worked just fine.

Actually, the best explanation may have come in Rob Zombie’s 2007 reimagining, which revealed Michael’s traumatic childhood. What that flawed film failed to do however was connect the dots from bullied child to supernatural killer.

The problem with Myers in this new HALLOWEEN is that everyone and his grandmother keeps asking “what’s Michael Myers’ secret?” “What’s it like to be Michael Myers?” “Why won’t he talk?” And for answers, the film gives us nothing. If you’re going to give the audience nothing, don’t ask the questions!

That being said, I did enjoy how Michael Myers walked in this one, as he had a little more skip in his step—even at his advanced age!— than he did in the older films, where he would have lost a race to Kharis the Mummy!

The other huge problem with HALLOWEEN is the supporting characters are all for the most part, dreadful. It’s as if the writers spent all their time writing Laurie Strode and had nothing left in the tank for anyone else.

Judy Greer, a fine actress, who I’ve enjoyed in such films as CARRIE (2013), the recent PLANET OF THE APES movies and the ANT-MAN films, is wasted here in a whiny role as Laurie’s adult daughter Karen who criticizes her mom for obsessing over Michael Myers but herself can’t stop obsessing about her own childhood or lack thereof.

Newcomer Andi Matichak is okay as Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson, but it’s not really her story, and even though at times it seems as if she’s going to become a central character, she never really does.

I like Will Patton a lot and pretty much enjoy everything he does, and his performance here as Officer Hawkins is no exception.  Patton is very good as an officer facing his own demons, as we learn that he was one of the officers at the scene of the original 1978 Michael Myers murders.

But the writers botch this character as well, as he simply is not in this story enough to make an impact.

All of the teen characters are negligible and forgettable.

But the absolute worst character is Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) who is Myers’ current doctor and who calls himself a protegé of the deceased Dr. Loomis. Sartain’s motivations make no sense at all, and the plot twist involving his character is one of the most ridiculous plot points in the entire series. It’s awful.

The only other character who fares well is young Jibrail Nantambu who plays 10 year-old Julian who’s being babysat by Allyson’s friend Vicky (Virginia Gardner). Nantambu is only in a couple of scenes, but he steals them all, and is the only other lively part of this film other than Jamie Lee Curtis.  That being said, Virginia Gardner’s best scenes are the ones she shares with Nantambu.

Director David Gordon Green and Danny McBride wrote the deeply flawed screenplay. They get Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode right, but that’s all they get right. The other characters and the rest of the story is a mess.

The same can be said for Green’s direction.  Truth be told, I did enjoy all the scenes where he pays homage to the original HALLOWEEN. For example, the scene where Allyson sits in her high school class listening to a teacher— played by P.J. Soles, who played Laurie’s friend Lynda in the original—  drone on about fate is exactly like a similar scene in the original where Laurie sits in class listening to a similar lecture. Laurie looks out the window and see Michael Myers. Here, Allyson looks out the window and sees her grandmother.

Laurie falls from a balcony the same way Myers does at the end of the original, and likewise, just as Donald Pleasence’ Dr. Loomis looks down to see that Myers has disappeared, here, Myers looks down to see that Laurie has disappeared.

These scenes work well, However, the gas station scene which is supposed to pay homage to a similar scene from HALLOWEEN 4 – THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988) simply comes off as too derivative.

And what’s with Myer’s obsession with wearing a garage mechanic’s uniform? He wore similar garb in the original because he happened to kill a random man for his clothes, but in the sequels he seemingly has to find a way to wear the same kind of clothes all the time. Rather silly when you think about it.

The film tries to make a big deal about Myer’s mask. Everyone in the movie wants to know: What is it about this particular mask that sets off Michael Myers? Again, the film offer no answers.

Green also doesn’t give the film any decent pacing or true scares. It simply plays like your standard— and oftentimes bad— slasher horror film, complete with characters making bone-headed decisions.

John Carpenter’s original HALLOWEEN was ripe with suspense, including a final twenty minutes which was sweat-inducing. There’s no such suspense here.

Speaking of John Carpenter, he’s credited once more with scoring the music, and that is certainly a plus. His HALLOWEEN theme has never sounded better.

HALLOWEEN (2018) is a mixed bag of trick or treats. I loved the Laurie Strode storyline and Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance, but the rest of the film isn’t any better than HALLOWEEN’s worst sequels.

Somewhere druids are celebrating.

—END—

THE HORROR JAR: Genre Films Where PETER CUSHING Did NOT Play A Doctor/Scientist/Professor

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Peter Cushing - The Skull

Peter Cushing and the Skull in THE SKULL (1965), a horror film in which Cushing did not play a doctor.

 

Welcome back to THE HORROR JAR, that column where we look at lists of odds and ends pertaining to horror movies.

Up today, my all time favorite horror movie actor, Peter Cushing.

When you think of Peter Cushing, his two most famous roles immediately come to mind, Baron Frankenstein and Dr. Van Helsing, two characters who were also both doctors.  In fact, a lot of Cushing’s roles in horror movies were of medical doctors, professors, or scientists.  So much so, that I thought:  when did he not play a doctor?

Turns out— many times.

Here’s a look at those roles, the times Peter Cushing starred in a horror or science fiction film but did not play a doctor or scientist.

THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959) – Sherlock Holmes.  Technically not a horror film, but that being said, Hammer Films added plenty of horror elements to their rendition of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tale.  Directed by Terence Fisher, with Cushing as Sherlock Holmes and Christopher Lee as Sir Henry Baskerville.  Superior little movie, atmospheric and full of thrills, with Cushing’s energetic Holmes leading the way.

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Cushing as Holmes in THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (1959).

 

NIGHT CREATURES (1962) – Rev. Dr. Blyss – even though the character is identified in the credits as “Dr. Blyss” he’s really the vicar of the small village of Dymchurch— check that, he’s actually the infamous pirate Captain Clegg, hiding out, posing as the vicar, while secretly smuggling rum in this rousing adventure/horror tale by Hammer Films.  Cushing at his energetic best.

Peter Cushing - Night Creatures

Peter Cushing delivers one of his best performances, as Captain Clegg/Dr. Blyss in NIGHT CREATURES (1962).

 

SHE (1965) – Major Holly – lost cities, a supernatural woman, and lots of action in this fantasy adventure by Hammer Films.

THE SKULL (1965) – Christopher Maitland – plays a private collector interested in the occult who purchases the skull of the Marquis de Sade with deadly results.  Christopher Lee co-stars as Cushing’s rival in this fine horror film by Hammer’s rival, Amicus Productions.

TORTURE GARDEN (1967) – Lancelot Canning – another film by Amicus, this one an anthology film featuring five horror stories based on the works of Robert Bloch.  Cushing appears in the fourth segment, “The Man Who Collected Poe,” once more playing a collector of the macabre.  Jack Palance co-stars with Cushing in this segment.

THE BLOOD BEAST TERROR (1968) – Inspector Quennell-  One of Peter Cushing’s worst movies.  In fact, Cushing himself considered it his worst.  Produced by Tigon Films, a company that tried to join Hammer and Amicus as a voice in British horror but ultimately failed.  The monster is a woman who turns into a giant moth that preys on men’s blood, and Cushing plays the police inspector (in a role originally written for Basil Rathbone) who tries to stop her.

SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970) – Major Heinrich Benedek – pretty much just a cameo in this film, famous for being the first time Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Vincent Price all starred together in the same movie.  A bizarre flick, perfect for 1970, but ultimately a disappointment as Cushing and Lee only appear briefly, while Price gets a bit more screen time.

THE VAMPIRE LOVERS (1970) – General von Spielsdorf – Cushing finally appears in a vampire movie where he’s not a doctor or a professor!  This time he’s a general, but he’s still hunting vampires in this atmospheric and very sensual vampire film from Hammer, starring Ingrid Pitt as the vampire Carmilla.  The first of Hammer’s “Karnstein” vampire trilogy.

THE HOUSE THAT DRIPPED BLOOD (1971) – Philip Grayson – Another anthology film by Amicus.  Cushing stars in the second segment “Waxworks” and plays a retired stockbroker who runs afoul of a nefarious wax museum.  Director Peter Duffell once said in an interview that Peter Cushing’s entire segment in this film was simply a contrivance to place his head on a platter, which remains one of the more shocking images from the film.

TWINS OF EVIL (1971) – Gustav Weil – Cushing is excellent (as he always is) in this vampire film from Hammer, playing a different kind of vampire hunter.  He leads the Brotherhood, a fanatical group of men seeking out witches in the countryside, a group that is every bit as deadly as the vampires.  As such, when the vampire threat becomes known, and the Brotherhood turn their attention to the undead, it makes for a much more interesting dynamic than the typical vampire vs. heroes.  It’s one of Cushing’s most conflicted roles.  There’s a scene where he laments that he only wanted to do the right thing, that really resonates, because for most of the film, he’s been doing the very worst things.  The third “Karnstein” vampire film.

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Peter Cushing as the fanatical Gustav Weil in TWINS OF EVIL (1971).

 

I, MONSTER (1971) – Utterson – plays a lawyer in this version of the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde tale by Amicus, which changed the names of Jekyll and Hyde to Marlowe and Blake, played here by Christopher Lee.

TALES FROM THE CRYPT (1972) – Arthur Edward Grimsdyke – famous Cushing role in yet another anthology film by Amicus.  Cushing appears in the third segment, “Poetic Justice” where he plays an elderly junk dealer who is terrorized into suicide by his neighbors, but a year later, and this is why the role is famous, he returns from the grave.

DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972) – Captain – cameo in this Vincent Price sequel.  Blink and you’ll miss him.

ASYLUM (1972) – Smith – appears in the segment “The Weird Tailor” in this anthology film by Amicus.

FEAR IN THE NIGHT (1972) – The Headmaster – plays a sinister headmaster, in this thriller written and directed by Jimmy Sangster, and also starring Joan Collins and Ralph Bates.

FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE (1974) – The Proprietor – plays the owner of an antique shop, and the man in the wraparound story in this Amicus anthology horror vehicle.

MADHOUSE (1974) – Herbert Flay – plays a screenwriter in this one, and best friend to Vincent Price’s horror actor Paul Toombes.  Toombes is having a rough go of it, as the character he played in the movies- Dr. Death – seems to be committing murders in real life.  A really interesting movie, not a total success, but definitely worth a look, mostly because Price and Cushing share equal and ample screen time in this one.

TENDRE DRACULA – Macgregor – bizarre ill-conceived French horror comedy, notable for featuring Cushing’s one and only performance as a vampire.

LAND OF THE MINOTAUR (1976) – Baron Corofax – plays the villain to Donald Pleasence’s heroic priest in this tale of devil worship and demons.

STAR WARS (1977) – Grand Moff Tarkin – aside from his work in Hammer Films, the role which Cushing is most known for.  As Tarkin, he’s the one character in the STAR WARS universe who bossed Darth Vader around and lived to tell about it.

Peter Cushing - Tarkin

Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin in STAR WARS (1977).

 

SHOCK WAVES (1977) – SS Commander – Nazi zombies attack!    Nuff said.  With John Carradine.

THE UNCANNY (1977) – Wilbur – Cushing plays a writer who learns that cats are a little more “active” than he first imagined in yet another horror anthology film.

MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND (1981) – William T. Kolderup – plays the “richest man in America” in this bizarre horror comedy.

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1983) – Sebastian Grisbane – famous teaming of Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, and John Carradine in the same movie for the first (and only) time ever, this really isn’t a very good movie.  It tries hard, and ultimately isn’t all bad, but could have been so much better.  Price and Lee fare the best.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE MASKS OF DEATH (1984) – Sherlock Holmes – Holmes comes out of retirement to solve a case.   Again, not horror, per se, but since this film was directed by Roy Ward Baker, written by Anthony Hinds, and of course starred Peter Cushing, there is a definite Hammer Films feel about this movie.  John Mills plays Dr. Watson.

There you have it.  A list of genre films starring Peter Cushing where he did not play a doctor, scientist or professor.  Perhaps next time we’ll have a look at those films where he did don a lab coat or carry a medical bag.

That’s it for now.  Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER (1998)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, on HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER (1998), one of the better films in the HALLOWEEN series.  This column is currently being published in the November 2015 issue of the HWA NEWSLETTER.

Enjoy!

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHThalloween-h20-poster

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER (1998), in spite of its ridiculous title, is a pretty good horror movie.

It’s one of the better films in the HALLOWEEN franchise and it’s how the original series should have ended.  The powers that be should have quit while they were ahead, but unfortunately, they didn’t, and there would be one more movie, HALLOWEEN:  RESURRECTION (2002), which is the worst film in the series.

But HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER once you get past its title is one of the best films in the series.

It has a solid, logical story, which basically asks the question, how would Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) be handling life twenty years after the events of HALLOWEEN (1978).  What would her psychological and emotional state be like?  The answer, as you might expect is “not too good.”

Yes, it’s twenty years after the events of the first movie, and Laurie Strode is now the proud owner of a new identity.  She goes by the name of Keri Tate and is the dean of a private high school in California.  It’s a boarding school, and she lives there with her son John (Josh Hartnett), who goes to the school.  Laurie/Keri is also in a relationship with the school psychologist, Will Brennan (Adam Arkin), and all is well, except— it’s not well.  Laurie suffers from ongoing nightmares about Michael Myers, and she’s constantly worried that Myers will find her and her son John.

Trouble is, she’s right.  The film opens with Marion (Nancy Stephens), the nurse and Dr. Loomis’s (Donald Pleasance) assistant from the original HALLOWEEN, coming home to an intruder, none other than Michael Myers, who promptly kills her in a pre-credit sequence, but not before finding his sister Laurie’s file and learning where she’s been keeping herself the past twenty years.

It doesn’t take long for Michael to travel across the country— how does a guy who walks so slowly move so quickly?— and before you can say “Dr. Loomis” he’s at the school ready to wreak havoc with his sister once again.

HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER has one of the finer casts in the entire series.

Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the series after missing the previous four films, and it’s her best performance since the first movie.  A young Josh Hartnett plays her son John, and playing his girlfriend Molly is a young Michelle Williams, who would go on to star in the TV series DAWSON’S CREEK (1998-2003) and would later be nominated for a Best Actress Oscar for her role as Marilyn Monroe in MY WEEK WITH MARILYN (2011).

Adam Arkin is solid as psychologist Will Brennan, and LL Cool J hams it up as a wannabe writer security guard.  And yes, that is Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the pre-credit sequence as Jimmy, the neighbor who tries but fails to come to Nurse Marion’s assistance.

And for good measure Janet Leigh even shows up as her real life daughter Jamie Lee Curtis’ secretary, Norma, and there’s a nice PSYCHO homage for sharp viewers in Leigh’s final scene, involving the car she’s driving, its license plate, and the background music being played.

All the actors show up and do a phenomenal job in this one, but none more than Jamie Lee Curtis.  She takes this role seriously, and she’s the one who drives this movie along.  It’s her best performance since the first movie.

This is also the first of the Michael Myers HALLOWEEN films not to feature Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis, as Pleasance passed away during the filming of HALLOWEEN 6:  THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995).  And while Pleasance is definitely missed here, it was somewhat refreshing to see this film take a different direction, as truth be told, there are only so many times you can watch Pleasance run around in his signature trench coat calling “Michael!  Michael!”  And Curtis’ performance here goes a long way in helping the audience move on from Pleasance.

HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER has a smart and on the money script by Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg.  It’s also very aware of what kind of movie it is, and it seems to have been influenced by the snappy self-aware style of SCREAM (1996) which had been released two years earlier.

Director Steve Miner gives this film lots of visual style and it contains some of the best cinematography in the series since John Carpenter’s work in the original.  It’s polished and slick.

One thing, however, that HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER is not is scary, and that’s always been a knock on this film for me.  It has its suspenseful moments, but scares?  Hardly.  Michael Myers barely makes an impact in this one.  HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER is pretty much Laurie Strode/Jamie Lee Curtis’ movie.  Don’t get me wrong, Curtis is excellent, and she more than carries this film to higher places than a film this late in a series deserves, but in terms of horror, it falls short, which is too bad because it has the makings of a classic.

Speaking of Michael Myers, he looks kind of goofy in this movie.  His mask looks like it’s been stretched out, and he’s just not as imposing a figure as he’s been in earlier movies.  He’s supposed to be older here—twenty years have passed, after all, and so he’d be 41- but it’s not like he’s an old man.  It’s just not a very intense performance.

HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER is a more literate chapter in the Halloween saga, and it boasts some of the series’ best acting.

Wish you could still have Halloween in November?  Well, you can.  Just check out HALLOWEEN H20:  20 YEARS LATER, and the best part is you don’t have to wait twenty years to do it.

—END—

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column, published in the April 2015 edition of the HWA Newsletter, on John Carpenter’s science fiction action thriller ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

Enjoy!escape-from-new-york poster

—Michael

 

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

John Carpenter’s movies, especially his early ones, are defined by a distinctive directorial style that makes his films more creative than most, and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), his futuristic science fiction thriller, just might be his most imaginative film of all.

The epitome of John Carpenter’s work of course is his masterpiece, HALLOWEEN (1978), but his early films were all very good.  You can’t go wrong with DARK STAR (1974), ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13 (1976), HALLOWEEN (1978), THE FOG (1980), ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), or THE THING (1982).  Carpenter would continue to make decent quality movies, some better than others, but it was these early films which defined Carpenter’s work for me.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) is classic John Carpenter.  Chock full of style, its story of the island of Manhattan serving as a maximum security prison is about as far-fetched at you can get, which comes as no surprise since believable plots have never been a John Carpenter strong point.  But Carpenter’s signature touches are all over this one, and as such, it’s one of my favorite John Carpenter movies.

The story takes place in the “future” in the year 1997— gee, that went by fast!— and Manhattan is a maximum security prison with one simple rule:  once you go in, you never come out.  The President of the United States (Donald Pleasence) is on his way to an important summit to meet with the leaders of China and the Soviet Union (which of course would cease to exist before 1997, but to be fair to Carpenter, who in 1981 saw that coming?) when his Air Force One jet is hijacked and forced down into the streets of Manhattan.

Police Commissioner Hauk (Lee Van Cleef) decides to send in notorious convict Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) to rescue the president since he can move about unnoticed— unlike the police— although I’ve always wondered what happened to their undercover officers?— and he can get the job done.  Hauk promises Snake a full pardon if he rescues the president.  To cement the deal, Hauk implants poison capsules into Snake’s neck.  If he makes it back in time with the president, he’ll be given an antidote.  If not, it’s sayonara Snake!

Snake pilots a glider into New York and lands on top of the World Trade Center.  As he searches for the president, he learns from Cabbie (Ernest Borgnine) that the man holding the president is The Duke (Isaac Hayes), the most powerful man in the Manhattan prison.  In order to save his own life, Snake will have to rescue the president from the Duke, and together, they’ll have to escape from New York.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is one of John Carpenter’s most stylish films.  I absolutely love the look of this movie, as Carpenter nails the futuristic vision of New York City.  There’s something exceedingly animated about the look of this film, the vibrant colors, the brooding camerawork, and the artistic photography.  It reminds me a lot of what Tim Burton would do with Gotham City in BATMAN (1989).  There’s a lot of Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK in that film.

Carpenter embraces a lot of horror elements in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, including the “Crazies,” people who live underground and come out at night to wreak havoc.  One of the more memorable scenes in the film is when Snake meets a woman (Season Hubley) in a Chock Full of Nuts store, and the Crazies break in from underneath the floor and drag the screaming woman down with them.

The fight between Snake and the muscular giant (Ox Baker) is also notable, and the race across the mined bridge at the end of the film is one of the more suspenseful sequences.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK also enjoys one of the deeper casts in a John Carpenter movie.  Snake Plisskin became the role which would define the second half of Kurt Russell’s career, as he made the jump from teen star in Walt Disney movies in the 1960s and 70s to full-fledged mainstream actor.  This role combined with Russell’s work in Carpenter’s next movie THE THING also cemented Russell’s place in the horror/science fiction genre.

Kurt Russell as Snake Plissken.

Kurt Russell as Snake Plisskin.

Kurt Russell almost didn’t get the part, because the producers were concerned he wasn’t right for the role because of his Disney background.  Russell based his interpretation of Snake Plisskin on Clint Eastwood, and Eastwood was one of the actors John Carpenter originally wanted for the role, but he turned it down.  Tommy Lee Jones, Nick Nolte, Jeff Bridges, and even Charles Bronson were all considered for the role before it went to Russell.

Had Eastwood taken the role, it would have been an interesting bit of casting as it would have reunited Eastwood with Lee Van Cleef, his co-star in FOR A FEW DOLLARS MORE (1965) and THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY (1966).  In ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, Van Cleef is excellent as Hauk and makes a perfect foil for Russell’s Snake Plisskin.  Van Cleef was 56 when he made ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK and he still looked like he could kick the stuffing out of everyone in the movie.

Lee Van Cleef gives Kurt Russell all he can handle in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

Lee Van Cleef gives Kurt Russell all he can handle in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.

Donald Pleasence with his British accent is strangely cast as the President of the United States.  As much as I like Pleasence, he’s not very convincing in this role.  Harry Dean Stanton stands out as Brain, the brilliant right hand man to The Duke, who always seems to know that one bit of information that makes his life valuable.  The cast also includes Adrienne Barbeau, Ernest Borgnine, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, and Isaac Hayes as The Duke.

The screenplay by John Carpenter and Nick Castle isn’t going to win any awards for the most realistic tale ever told, but the film as a whole works well.  It also features some memorable dialogue.

ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK also has one of John Carpenter’s best music scores.  Better even than his HALLOWEEN score?  I don’t know about that, but other than his music for HALLOWEEN, his score for ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is my favorite.

John Carpenter is famous for his horror movies, specifically HALLOWEEN and THE THING, but his futuristic action tale ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is one of his finest films.  With his inspired direction, a strong cast led by Kurt Russell in a career-changing role, and a superior music score, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is dark escapism at its best.

—END—

THE HORROR JAR: The HALLOWEEN movies

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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