IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953)

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beast from 20,000 fathoms poster

Return with me now to 1953, when the giant monster movie genre was still in its infancy, the year that saw the release of THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS (1953).

Prior to THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS,  the world had seen KING KONG (1933), filled with eye-popping special effects by Willis O’Brien, who would go on to make Kong’s quickie (and inferior) sequel SON OF KONG (1933) and later MIGHTY JOE YOUNG (1949), the latter being significant because it introduced O’Brien’s young protegé, Ray Harryhausen, to the world.

Soon after MIGHTY JOE YOUNG, Harryhausen was ready to strike out on his own, and he would provide the special effects for today’s movie, THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, released a full twenty years after KING KONG, and so for two decades, the giant monster movie lay dormant.  That would change with THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS, which pre-dated perhaps the most famous giant monster, Godzilla, by one year.  Of course, once GODZILLA (1954) stomped onto the world, and Toho Studios opened up the door to their Kaiju universe, giant monsters would never look back.

But it’s quite possible that Toho’s incredible world of monsters may not have happened without the success and influence of Ray Harryhausen’s THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS. And when I put Harryhausen’s name in front of the title, I realize he didn’t direct the movie— that job was handled by Eugene Lourie, who actually would go on to direct two other very significant giant monster movies, THE GIANT BEHEMOTH (1959), which featured special effects by Willis O’Brien, and GORGO (1961)— but when you watch a movie with special effects by Ray Harryhausen, it’s his work that you remember, work that is always top-notch and phenomenal; in short, his name belongs in front of the movies he worked on.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is based on the short story “The Fog Horn” by Ray Bradbury, who was good friends with Harryhausen.

The movie opens with atomic bomb tests being conducted in the Arctic.  When two scientists visit the scene after the blast to conduct tests, they are shocked to see a giant prehistoric beast roaming through the snow, causing an avalanche which kills one of the scientists.  This plot point, an atomic blast awaking a giant monster, which would become commonplace in the 1950s, was first introduced here in this movie, making THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS the first movie about a giant creature awakened by an atomic blast.

The surviving scientist, Professor Tom Nesbitt (Paul Christian) tries in vain to convince people that he saw a live dinosaur.  Nesbitt eventually makes his way to Professor Thurgood Elson (Cecil Kellaway), a prominent paleontologist, and his assistant Lee Hunter (Paula Raymond) and tries to convince them as well, eventually producing enough evidence to get them on board.  However, his contact in the military, Colonel Jack Evans (Kenneth Tobey)  isn’t so easily convinced.

But when the beast— identified by Professor Elson as a rhedosaurus—  attacks a lighthouse and eventually surfaces in the waters outside New York City, there’s no ignoring the situation.  The beast is very real.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is not only historically significant in that it’s the first of the 1950s giant monster movies, but it’s also an outstanding movie, one of the best giant monster movies ever made.

And the conversation about BEAST begins and ends with the work of Ray Harryhausen. Harryhausen brought his “A” game to every movie that he worked on.  His stop-motion special effects are always top-notch.  A movie with inferior special effects by Ray Harryhausen does not exist.  The major reason for this of course is Harryhausen’s talent, but another reason is the time he spent on each movie.  Harryhausen never rushed his work, which is why, sadly, there weren’t more movies made with his stop-motion effects.  It often took him years to work on one movie.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS is no exception.  It features superior special effects by Ray Harryhausen.  It also features one of the scariest and most memorable scenes from any giant monster movie period— the lighthouse scene.  Which comes as no surprise since this is the scene directly connected to Ray Bradbury’s short story, which was about a dinosaur attacking a lighthouse.

I first saw THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS on TV when I was probably eight years old or so, and the lighthouse scene gave me nightmares and stayed with me long afterwards. In this scene, there are two men in the closed-in confines of the lighthouse, and outside the protective walls, the beast emerges from the ocean, drawn by the light perhaps.  The men inside hear a noise, and look up to see the enormous face of the creature peering through the glass.  The beast then destroys the lighthouse before the men can escape, and as we learn later, eats them.  It’s a terrifying scene.

beast lighthouse

It’s also perfectly shot by director Lourie and Harryhausen.  The matting effect is near perfect, and without a DVD/Blu-ray to freeze fame, it would be very difficult for the naked eye in real-time to see where the real shots of the ocean and the matte shots of Harryhausen’s animation meet.  The chilling black and white photography helps here, and the whole scene is so well done it’s nearly seamless.  The lighthouse itself is also animated, as is the immediate island onto which the rhedosaurus climbs, but the surrounding ocean is not, as it’s the real thing.

There are a lot of other memorable scenes as well.  The rhedosaurus’ first appearance in the snowy Arctic is also quite chilling, and the ending of the film, which takes place by the rollercoaster on Coney Island is also noteworthy.

Beast - snow

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS also has an interesting cast.  I could take or leave Paul Christian, whose real name was Paul Hubschmid, as lead hero Tom Nesbitt.  Likewise, Paula Raymond  is just OK as lead love interest Lee Hunter.

It’s the supporting cast that stands out in this one.  Cecil Kellaway does a fine job as the amiable Professor Elson.  Kellaway was a famous character actor with a ton of credits in a career that spanned from the 1930s through the 1970s, appearing in such movies as Disney’s THE SHAGGY DOG (1959) and GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER (1967).  Kellaway also appeared in two Universal monster movies and was memorable in both of them.  He played Inspector Sampson in the first Invisible Man sequel, THE INVISIBLE MAN RETURNS (1940) in which he doggedly pursues Vincent Price’s Invisible Man, and he played the flamboyant magician Solvani in THE MUMMY’S HAND (1940).

Kenneth Tobey plays Colonel Jack Evans.  Tobey of course played the lead hero Captain Patrick Hendry in THE THING FROM ANOTHER WORLD (1951) and he would play the lead again in Ray Harryhausen’s IT CAME FROM BENEATH THE SEA (1955), which tells the tale of a giant monstrous octopus.  Tobey is excellent here in THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS in a supporting role.

And yes, that’s Lee Van Cleef as Corporal Stone, the marksman given the daunting task of shooting the fatal radioactive isotope into the wound of the rhedosaurus.

Lou Morheim and Fred Freiberger wrote the screenplay, based on the Bradbury short story.  It’s a decent screenplay as it tells a solid story, contains realistic dialogue, and creates sympathetic characters.

THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS also features a compelling music score by David Buttolph.

So, the next time you’re enjoying a giant monster movie, especially one in the Godzilla/Toho/Kaiju universe, remember it might not have happened without the success of Ray Harryhausen’s rhedosaurus, aka THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS.

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972)

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For a monster born more than 50 years ago, Godzilla may be more relevant now than ever before.

The movies just keep on coming.  The latest Godzilla movie arrived last year with SHIN GODZILLA (2016) to a limited release here in the U.S., and it received some pretty good reviews.  And there is another film in the works, GODZILLA:  KING OF MONSTERS, due out in 2019, from the same folks who made the Bryan Cranston GODZILLA (2014).  All told, there have been 31 Godzilla movies to date, and it doesn’t look like they’re stopping any time soon.

But today’s movie comes from that time when Godzilla was a silly monster superhero, constantly saving the world from the evil and bad monsters.  Silly stuff for sure, but also the type of Godzilla movie that a lot of us grew up with.

Today IN THE SPOOKLIGHT it’s one of my favorite Godzilla movies from the 1970s, GODZILLA VS. GIGAN (1972).

This one sat on the shelf for a few years before being released in the U.S. in 1978 with the title GODZILLA ON MONSTER ISLAND.  It was supposed to be a return to the traditional Godzilla format, after the offbeat message-driven GODZILLA VS. THE SMOG MONSTER (1971),  a film I did not enjoy as a kid, but it’s one that has definitely grown on me over the years.

In GODZILLA VS. GIGAN, aliens from outer space are once again trying to take over the Earth, and they employ space monsters Gigan and King Ghidorah to help them.  To defend the Earth, humankind turns to their giant monster friends Godzilla and Anguirus for help.

And defend the Earth they do, in one of the series’ better and longer climactic monster bashes.  And there you have it.  That’s pretty much GODZILLA VS. GIGAN in a nutshell.  What did you expect?  Shakespeare?

I find GODZILLA VS. GIGAN particularly enjoyable for two reasons.  The biggest reason is the aforementioned climactic battle.  It’s one of the best in the series.  That being said, in terms of monsters, this one gets off to a slow start, and it seemingly takes forever for Godzilla and Anguirus to show up, but once they do, nearly the final third of the movie is one long and rather exciting giant monster bout.

The other fun thing about GODZILLA VS. GIGAN is its human characters.  While the space villains are your typical bad guy types, the heroes in this one seem to have stepped out of a Scooby Doo cartoon.  They’re young and they’re hip.  Groovy, man!  We have a young cartoonist who draws monsters, a young woman looking for her kidnapped brother, and her male friend, a classic hippie who can’t seem to stop eating corn on the cob.  I guess Scooby snacks weren’t available. These three provide lots of light-hearted fun during the people parts of this monster flick.

GODZILLA VS. GIGAN is also the film famous for being the movie where Godzilla actually talks!  Yep, words come out of Godzilla’s mouth as he talks to his buddy Anguirus. It’s a ridiculously silly scene, and Godzilla and Anguirus sound like Yogi Bear and Boo Boo.  It’s awful.

The good news is, we live in the age of DVDs and Blu-ray, and these discs often include the original Japanese versions as well.  So, you can watch the original Japanese version in which Godzilla and Anguirus do not talk.  Oh, they communicate, but through sounds rather than words, and it’s very obvious that they are communicating.  Unfortunately, the American distributors didn’t think their Godzilla audiences were intelligent enough to figure this out, and so they added the ridiculous English language dubbing.

GODZILLA VS. GIGAN was directed by Jun Fukuda, no stranger to the Godzilla franchise, as he directed five movies in the series. In addition to GODZILLA VS. GIGAN, GODZILLA VS. THE SEA MONSTER (1966), SON OF GODZILLA (1967), GODZILLA VS. MEGALON (1973), and GODZILLA VS. MECHAGODZILLA (1974) were all helmed by Fukuda.

Shin’ichi Sekizawa wrote the screenplay, based on a story by Takeshi Kimura. Kimura wrote the screenplays to some of my favorite Toho movies, including RODAN (1956), THE WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966), and KING KONG ESCAPES (1967).

Are there better Godzilla movies?  Certainly!  But in terms of fun Godzilla movies, GODZILLA VS. GIGAN ranks near the top.

Of course, the big question for Godzilla fans is, how does Godzilla fare in this one?  Well, truth be told, it’s not one of the big guy’s better performances.  The costume looks rather silly here, and it does take Godzilla forever to finally show up and take on Gigan and King Ghidorah.  There really isn’t a good balance here of Godzilla scenes.  It’s pretty much all or nothing, with the “all” coming in the film’s final  30 minutes or so.  But the climactic battle is worth the wait.

Plus, Godzilla’s goofy appearance kinda fits in with the rest of the movie, a 1970s romp.  You almost expect to see Cheech and Chong show up.  It would actually make a nice companion piece with Hammer’s DRACULA A.D. 1972 (1972).

Want a cure for the winter blues?  Watch GODZILLA VS. GIGAN and see Godzilla and Anguirus take on Gigan and King Ghidorah in an all-out monster bash.  It’s a sure-fire way to smash out the cold weather doldrums.

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IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964)

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Here’s my latest IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on the science fiction flick ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964).

Thanks for reading!

—Michael

 

robinson_crusoe_on_mars_poster

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT

BY

MICHAEL ARRUDA

We venture into the realm of science fiction today IN THE SPOOKLIGHT as we pay a visit to ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS (1964).

ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS is not the best science fiction movie to come out of the 1960s, but it is certainly one of the best intentioned. Think THE MARTIAN (2015) with a smaller budget and less science.  A lot less science!

Two astronauts on a mission to Mars, Colonel Dan McReady (Adam West) and Christopher Draper (Paul Mantee) run into trouble with an asteroid and are forced to jettison from their ship in escape pods which land on Mars.  Draper survives, along with a monkey, but McReady is killed.

With only the monkey for companionship, Draper has to find ways to survive on the desolate planet while at the same time trying to find a way to get home.

One of the first things Draper does once he steps out of his escape pod is take off his space helmet.  Hmm.  Not a good idea!  But  like I said, the science isn’t exactly strong in this movie.  Draper discovers that he can indeed breathe on Mars, but only for brief periods of time, so he still he needs his oxygen supply, which obviously is limited.  But  lucky for Draper, he discovers certain rocks on the planet that provide him with air!  How about that!  Air from rocks!  Just hold up a stone to your nose and mouth and breathe in!  Hmm. This is starting to sound like GILLIGAN’S ISLAND ON MARS!  Gee, Professor, how does the air come from these rocks?   Well, Gilligan, the oxygen inside these stones is released when—.  

Y—eah.  Riiiiight.

Draper also has a limited food supply, but not to worry, he soon discovers an edible plant that looks an awful lot like a sausage.  Even better, there are plenty of these for him to eat.  But then again, he needs water.  He can’t survive without water.  But alas!  He discovers an underground cave that is full of water!  Drinkable water to boot!

He sure is lucky.  Maybe this should be called BUGS BUNNY ON MARS.

One day, Draper’s peace of mind is interrupted when spaceships descend upon his Martian neighborhood, spaceships that deposit a bunch of humanoid slaves on the ground so they can mine Martian ore.  One of these slaves escapes and befriends Draper.  Draper promptly names his new friend Friday, after the character in the Daniel Defoe novel ROBINSON CRUSOE.  Together, they continue the fight for survival.

Now, I poke fun here at ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS because the science in this film is laughable, but that’s about it.  The rest of the movie is surprisingly good.  Sure, it has low budget special effects, but its color cinematography is nothing to laugh about.  There are actually some nifty looking and very colorful scenes of the Martian landscape.  So, visually the film is fun to look at.

And Paul Mantee, who spends most of the film alone and thus talks to himself throughout, is very good and makes for a likeable hero who you really root for and want to see survive.  He pretty much carries the movie and does it with ease.  He remains entertaining throughout.

Robinson-Crusoe-on-Mars -paul mantee

Paul Mantee in ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS.

The real culprit in this one is the writing which comes off as science fantasy.  There’s nary a realistic bone in this one’s body.

The screenplay was written by Ib Melchior and John C. Higgins, based of course on Daniel Defoe’s novel.   Melchoir is no stranger to genre movies.  He penned the screenplays to THE ANGRY RED PLANET (1959), REPTILICUS (1961), JOURNEY TO THE SEVENTH PLANET (1962), THE TIME TRAVELERS (1964), and PLANET OF THE VAMPIRES (1965).  Plus he also wrote the screenplay for the American version of the second Godzilla movie, GODZILLA RAIDS AGAIN! (1955).

Higgins’ genre credits include the all-star low budget shocker THE BLACK SLEEP (1956) which starred Basil Rathbone, Lon Chaney Jr., John Carradine, and Bela Lugosi, and DAUGHTERS OF SATAN (1972), starring Tom Selleck, which was Higgins’ final screen credit.

The special effects are cheesy and cheap, yet somehow they don’t look all that bad.  You may notice that the alien spaceships here resemble the Martian machines from George Pal’s classic production of THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953).  That’s because they are the Martian machines from George Pal’s THE WAR OF THE WORLDS!  The ships are leftover models from that movie, and director Byron Haskin had access to them because he also directed THE WAR OF THE WORLDS.  Producer George Pal’s name is always so closely attached to the 1953 classic, it’s easy to forget that he didn’t direct it, that it was in fact Byron Haskin calling the shots.

robinson crusoe ships

While the spaceship effects throughout the movie are cartoonish and certainly do not hold up today— they were subpar even by 1960s standards- they’re still fun.  And the ship zooming through space in the film’s opening is clearly reminiscent of the way the starship Enterprise zipped across TV screens in the opening credits of the original STAR TREK television show, and it pre-dated STAR TREK by two years.

There are also some pretty cool looking fireballs which streak across the Martian landscape whenever they feel like it.  And that Martian landscape is as colorful as it gets.  Think STAR TREK and LOST IN SPACE sets, and you’ll have an idea of what to expect from this one, in terms of its production values.  Low budget, but respectable.

ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS is also notable for featuring a pre-BATMAN Adam West in the cast, even if it is only for a few minutes.  West became typecast so quickly, that seeing him play someone other than Batman is a rare treat indeed.

ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS is not the most realistic science fiction movie you’ll ever see, but it is certainly one of the more entertaining.

Doing any stargazing this summer?  If you point your telescope at Mars and look closely, and you see a man sucking air from a rock and eating plants shaped liked sausages, that’ll be ROBINSON CRUSOE ON MARS.  I hear he’s mighty lonely up there.  Why don’t you drop by and pay him a visit?

Just watch out for low flying fireballs.

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—If you enjoyed this column, you might enjoy my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT book, a collection of 115 IN THE SPOOKLIGHT columns, available as an EBook at neconebooks.com, and also as a print-on-demand edition.  Check out the “About” section of this blog for ordering details.—

IN THE SPOOKLIGHT: ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004)

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This IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column on ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004) originally appeared in the HWA NEWSLETTER in March 2008.  It’s being reprinted this month in the March 2016 edition of the HORROR WRITERS ASSOCIATION NEWSLETTER.

Enjoy!

—Michael

alien-vs-predator-movie-poster

In the tradition of FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLF MAN (1943) and KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1963), we have ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004).

I hate to admit it, but I like ALIEN VS. PREDATOR.  Here’s why.

The number one reason? It’s the monsters, stupid.  For those of us who love our movie monsters, it’s hard not to like a film like ALIEN VS. PREDATOR.  That’s not to say the film doesn’t have flaws.  It does.

The story is simple.  A group of experts make an expedition to the Antarctic in search of a strange underground pyramid.  While there,  they discover a breeding ground and learn that the predators are breeding the aliens for hunting practice.  Of course, to breed the aliens, the predators need humans to serve as hosts.  Nice vacation spot.

By far, this plot point of the relationship between the predators and the aliens is the worst part of the movie.  The first time these creatures meet it should have been something special.  We the audience should have been privy to it, but we’re not.  Imagine if in KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1963) the filmmakers revealed that these two behemoths had already met, frequently, and that Godzilla uses King Kong for target practice on a regular basis.  Would you still want to watch the movie?  It just wouldn’t be the same.

It’s a major blemish on the screenplay by Paul W.S. Anderson, who also directed.

Still, it doesn’t ruin the entire movie, and to his credit, director Anderson does craft a neat first meeting between a predator and an alien in this movie.  It’s just that we know through the story that these creatures have met before, and so, much of the zing of what is to follow is lost.

Even so, the battle sequences are still entertaining, but oh what could have been.  Director Paul W.S. Anderson does a good job for the most part helming these cinematic monster battles, which at the very least are not boring.

And the film looks good.  The shots in the icy Antarctic bring to mind John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982), and the special effects aren’t that bad either.

Absent from the film however is the gripping suspense from the earlier ALIEN movies, though this isn’t a complete surprise because the suspense was also absent from the previous two ALIEN installments, ALIEN 3 (1992) and ALIEN RESURRECTION (1997).

The cast is pretty good though.  I enjoyed the lead character (Sanaa Lathan).  Nathan turns in a strong performance, in keeping with the ALIEN tradition of having a strong female lead, taking over the job from Sigourney Weaver.  She gets to say such tough gal lines as “When I lead my team, I don’t ever leave my team,” and “We’re in the middle of a war.  It’s time to pick a side.”  And did I mention she looks good?

The rest of the cast is OK, even though Lance Henriksen, a fine actor who appeared in ALIENS (1986) and ALIEN 3 (1992) is somewhat of a disappointment.  Compare Henriksen’s performance in this film to his performance in ALIENS as the android Bishop, and you’ll find that Henriksen showed more range as the android than as a human.

But who are we kidding?  ALIEN VS. PREDATOR is about the monsters, not the people, and there are plenty of monsters in this movie.  For this reason alone, it’s fun.

All in all, ALIEN VS. PREDATOR is a well-produced and well-acted film that in spite of its flaws, satisfies that hunger which those of us  who love movie monsters all share, a hunger for monsters.

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And remember, if you enjoyed this column, you can read 150 of my IN THE SPOOKLIGHT columns in my book, IN THE SPOOKLIGHT.  It’s available as an Ebook at http://www.neconebooks.com, and if you’d like a print edition, just visit the “About” section of this blog for ordering details.

Thanks!

—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.

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