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—

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NUMBERS: Halloween

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NUMBERS:  Halloween Jack O Lantern

 

By Michael Arruda

Here’s a list of some random fun numbers in time for Halloween:

350 million – copies sold of books written by Stephen King.

35 million- pounds of candy corn estimated to be bought for Halloween 2015 in the U.S., according to ABC news.

40,000– Dollar amount stolen by Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) in PSYCHO (1960).

278- The number of screen credits for Christopher Lee, according to IMDB.

22– The number of movies Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee made together

10 – The number of movies in the HALLOWEEN franchise.

8 – The number of times Colin Clive says “It’s alive!” in the creation scene in FRANKENSTEIN (1931)

5– The number of times Lon Chaney Jr. played Larry Talbot/the Wolf Man in the movies.

3– The number of times Boris Karloff played the Frankenstein Monster in the movies.

2– The number of times Bela Lugosi played Dracula in the movies.

1 – Number of times Christopher Lee played Frankenstein’s Creature in the movies.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

PSYCHO By Robert Bloch – A Frightening Read, Perfect for Halloween

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Psycho coverWhat I’m Reading – Psycho  By Robert Bloch

Book Review by MICHAEL ARRUDA

 

Looking for a good read this Halloween?

 

Look no further than Psycho by Robert Bloch, the novel on which Alfred Hitchcock’s classic movie is based.   Hitchcock’s film is such an icon of horror cinema, it’s easy to forget that a novel called Psycho existed first.

 

And whether you’re reading it for the first time, or re-reading it for the umpteenth, it’s still a powerful read.

 

For me, I enjoy comparing the book to the movie, seeing things that Hitchcock and screenwriter Joseph Stefano kept in, things they left out, and things they changed.  I also enjoy reading the original ideas by Bloch.  With very few exceptions, the story of Psycho as we know it today was entirely created by Bloch.  Hitchcock and Stefano added very little in the way of ideas original to the movie.

 

The story of Psycho is so well known at this point, and for those folks unfamiliar with the movie or the book, the less they know about the plot the better, so I won’t go into much detail here about the story. It’s best for you to discover it on your own.

 

Basically, Psycho is the story of a peculiar young man named Norman Bates who lives with his domineering old mother and runs a small motel located on a back road off the main highway.  A young woman, Mary Crane, has stolen a large sum of money from her employer, which she plans to use to help pay her boyfriend Sam Loomis’ debts so they can get married.

 

On her way to visit Sam, she stops at the Bates Motel to spend the night.  She ends up having a conversation with Norman Bates over dinner, and later that night returns to her room where she takes a shower—. 

 

Sometime later, Mary’s sister Lila and a private investigator name Arbogast arrive in Sam’s town looking for Mary, and when Sam tells them he has no idea where Mary is, that she never came to see him, the search continues.  Arbogast finds evidence that Mary had stayed at the Bates Motel, and he tells Lila and Sam this news, but when Arbogast himself disappears, Sam and Lila finally decide to go to the local sheriff, who tells them he believes Arbogast has pulled a fast one on them, because if he told them he was returning to the Bates Motel to question Norman Bates’ mother, he was lying, because Norman Bates’ mother is dead.

 

And thus the mystery deepens, leading to one of the most memorable conclusions ever in a horror movie, and a pretty good one for a novel as well.

 

The first and most obvious difference between the book and the movie is the physical appearance of Norman Bates.  In the movie, as played by Anthony Perkins, Norman is tall and thin, whereas in the novel, Norman is heavy, out of shape, and wears glasses.  In fact, when Mary first sees him in the novel his weak appearance puts her at ease:

 

Mary made up her mind very quickly, once she saw the fat, bespectacled face and heard the soft, hesitant voice.  There wouldn’t be any trouble.

 

Think again, Mary!

 

The novel also introduces Norman Bates right away, in Chapter 1, unlike in the movie where the first third of the movie is all about Marion Crane (she’s Marion in the movie, Mary in the book.)  It’s a great way to open the novel, as the first chapter probably does a better job defining Norman Bates’ character than the entire Hitchcock movie.  Don’t get me wrong.  The Hitchcock film nails Norman Bates, mostly because of Anthony Perkins’ phenomenal performance, but here in the novel, especially in the opening chapter, we get inside Norman’s head and immediately are privy to interactions with his mother that define him with the kind of depth  you can only find in a novel, as it’s nearly impossible to accomplish in a movie.

 

As in this exchange:

 

“—-You never listen to me, do you?  It’s always what you want and what you think.  You make me sick!”

 

“Do I boy?” Mother’s voice was deceptively gentle, but that didn’t fool Norman.  Not when she called him “boy.”  Forty years old, and she called him “boy.”

 

And: 

 

“That’s the real reason you’re still sitting over here on this side road, isn’t it, Norman?  Because the truth is that you haven’t any gumption.  Never had any gumption, did you boy?

 

“Never had the gumption to leave home.  Never had the gumption to go out and get yourself a job, or join the army, or even find yourself a girl—.”

 

“You wouldn’t let me!”

 

And this thought from Norman:

 

She’d always laid down the law to him, but that didn’t mean he always had to obey.  Mothers sometimes are overly possessive, but not all children allow themselves to be possessed.

 

This is all from Chapter 1, which really sets the tone for the rest of the novel, as right off the bat we get a full understanding of the dynamic between Norman and his mother.  We see and understand what his mother has done to him, and what he has become in the process.  I think it’s better defined here in this opening chapter than anywhere in the Hitchcock movie.

 

Of course, the defining moment of the movie PSYCHO (1960) is the shower scene, one of the most memorable and most studied scenes in film history.  Now, whereas the book obviously isn’t going to capture the cinematic craftsmanship of Hitchcock, the bottom line is Bloch doesn’t have to because his version is even more brutal than the film version.  His shower scene ends with a beheading.  Nuff said.

 

Granted, I enjoy the first half of the novel better than the second.  I find the chapters about Lila and Sam’s investigation much less captivating and interesting than the ones about Norman Bates and his mother.  During these later chapters, Norman is in them less, and the novel just isn’t as creepy when he’s not present.

 

The same goes for his mother, whose presence is felt much more in the book than in the movie.  When she’s in the novel, she’s a monstrous character, and Bloch does a masterful job with her.  She’s much less of a force in the movie, where for obvious reasons, we don’t see her much.

 

There’s a great scene after Norman has spent hours cleaning up after his mother’s crime and meticulously disposing of the body.  He returns to his house, exhausted.  He collapses in his bed and soon hears his mother enter the room.

 

“It’s all right son.  I’m here.  Everything’s all right.”  He could feel her hand on his forehead, and it was cool, like the drying sweat.  He wanted to open his eyes, but she said, “Don’t you worry, son.  Just go back to sleep.”

 

“But I have to tell you—.”

 

“I know.  I was watching.  You didn’t think I’d go away and leave you, did you?  You did right, Norman.  And everything’s all right now.”

 

Yes.  That was the way it should be.  She was there to protect him.  He was there to protect her.  Just before he drifted off to sleep again, Norman made up his mind.   They wouldn’t talk about what happened tonight- not now, or ever.  And he wouldn’t think about sending her away.  No matter what she did, she belonged here, with him.  Maybe she was crazy, and a murderess, but she was all he had.  All he wanted.  All he needed.  Just knowing she was here, beside him, as he went to sleep.

 

Aaargh!!!  How creepy!!!!

 

Great stuff!

 

Psycho is an excellent read, especially around Halloween. If you want to curl up with a frightening book this Halloween, grab a copy of Robert Bloch’s Psycho and invite Norman Bates and his mother into your home.  It’ll get under your skin in ways the Hitchcock film doesn’t.

 

Bloch brings you in so deeply into the mindset of Norman Bates and his mother, it’ll leave you feeling uncomfortable and dirty, in need of a shower.  Then again— maybe you better opt for a bath.

 

–END—

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES: PSYCHO (1960)

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Anthony Perkins has some things to say as Norman Bates in PSYCHO (1960)

Anthony Perkins has some things to say as Norman Bates in PSYCHO (1960)

MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES:  PSYCHO (1960)

By

Michael Arruda

“A boy’s best friend is his mother.”

 

So says Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins) in PSYCHO (1960), Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece shocker, the film that changed the way people take showers.

Welcome to another edition of MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, the column where we look at memorable quotes from the movies.  Today we look at PSYCHO, the classic thriller starring Anthony Perkins as everybody’s favorite cross-dresser and knife-wielding maniac, Norman Bates.  The film also stars Janet Leigh, Vera Miles, and John Gavin.

There are a lot of neat quotes in this movie, most of them coming from Perkins’ Bates.  So here are some of the better ones for your reading pleasure, quotes from PSYCHO, screenplay by Joseph Stefano, based on the book of the same name by Robert Bloch.

Some of my favorite exchanges are between Anthony Perkins’ Norman Bates and Janet Leigh’s Marion Crane, after she makes the fateful decision to stop and spend the night at the Bates Motel.  Speaking of which, she should have known immediately that the place was trouble, as soon as she asked Norman her initial question.

MARION CRANE:  Do you have any vacancies?

NORMAN BATES:  Oh, we have twelve vacancies. Twelve cabins, Twelve vacancies.

 Run for the hills!  Run for the hills!

But alas, Marion doesn’t run away.  She spends the night.  Her last night alive, as it turns out.

But before she takes that fateful shower, she accepts Norman’s invitation to join him in his office for a small simple dinner.

NORMAN:  You eat like a bird.

MARION (looks at the stuffed birds in the room):  And you’d know, of course.

NORMAN:  No, not really. Anyway, I hear the expression ‘eats like a bird’ is really a fals-fals-falsity. Because birds really eat a tremendous lot. But  I don’t really know anything about birds. My hobby is stuffing things. You know – taxidermy.

Run for the hills!  Run for the hills!

Just before this dinner get-together, Marion overhears an argument between Norman and his mother up at the main house.

MOTHER:  No! I tell you no! I won’t have you bringing some young girl in for supper! By candlelight, I suppose, in the cheap, erotic fashion of young men with cheap, erotic minds!

NORMAN:  Mother, please…!

MOTHER:  And then what? After supper? Music? Whispers?

NORMAN:  Mother, she’s just a stranger. She’s hungry, and it’s raining out!

MOTHER:  Mother, she’s just a stranger! As if men don’t desire strangers! As if… ohh, I refuse to speak of disgusting things, because they disgust me! You understand, boy? Go on, go tell her she’ll not be appeasing her ugly appetite with my food… or my son! Or do I have tell her because you don’t have the guts! Huh, boy? You have the guts, boy?

NORMAN:  Shut up! Shut up!

And then later at dinner, Norman tries to explain his mother’s behavior to Marion.

NORMAN:  It’s not like my mother is a maniac or a raving thing. She just goes a little mad sometimes. We all go a little mad sometimes. Haven’t you?

Run for the hills!  Run for the hills!

Some of the more intriguing exchanges occur when Marion’s boyfriend Sam Loomis (John Gavin) and sister Lila (Vera Miles) talk to Sheriff Chambers, as they investigate Marion’s disappearance.

SHERIFF:  Your detective told you he couldn’t come right back because he was going to question Norman Bates’ mother. Right?

LILA:  Yes.

SHERIFF:  Norman Bates’ mother has been dead and buried in Greenlawn Cenetery for the past ten years!

SAM:  You mean the old woman I saw tonight wasn’t Bates’ mother?

SHERIFF:  Now wait a minute, Sam, are you sure you saw an old woman?

SAM:   Yes! In the house behind the motel! I called and I pounded, but she just ignored me!

SHERIFF:   You mean to tell me you saw Norman Bates’ mother?

LILA:  It had to be, because Arbogast said so too. And the young man wouldn’t let him see her because she was too ill.

SHERIFF:  Well, if the woman up there is Mrs. Bates… who’s that woman buried out in Greenlawn Cemetery?

Who, indeed?

And of course my favorite quote of the entire movie might be its last line, as Norman sits in a prison cell, thinking thoughts in his mother’s voice.

NORMAN (as Mother):  They’re probably watching me.  Well, let them.  Let them see what kind of a person I am.  I’m not even going to swat that fly.  I hope they are watching— they’ll see.  They’ll see and they’ll know, and they’ll say, why, she wouldn’t even harm a fly!

 

Well, that’s it for now.  Thanks for joining me on MEMORABLE MOVIE QUOTES, the PSYCHO edition.

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

Books by Michael Arruda:

TIME FRAME,  science fiction novel by Michael Arruda.  

Ebook version:  $2.99. Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT, movie review collection by Michael Arruda.

InTheSpooklight_NewText

 Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com.  Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.

FOR THE LOVE OF HORROR, short story collection by Michael Arruda.  

For The Love Of Horror cover

Ebook version:  $4.99.  Available at http://www.neconebooks.com. Print version:  $18.00.  Email your order request to mjarruda33@gmail.com. Also available at Amazon.com.