31 Days Of Horror: Halloween 4

Halloween 4 (1988) returns to the Michael Myers storyline (well, the first of them!) and swaps the Roman numerals for Arabic ones.  This is the first of a trilogy that delves deeper into Michael’s backstory.

Halloween 4
The mask on the DVD cover is typical of the contemporary advertising for the film – they were very keen to emphasise that they were going back to the Michael Myers story.

Donald Pleasence gets top billing, and is definitely the star here!  His portrayal of Dr Loomis with ten added years of paranoia and stress is fantastic.

The film is set ten years after Halloween/Halloween II, which keeps the setting contemporary.  We’re firmly into the late ’80s here, which adds a lot of fun and colour to proceedings.

We start off with Michael Myers about to be transferred from the sanatorium in which he’s been kept for ten years back to Smith’s Grove, which is the place he escaped from back in 1978.  Why are they taking him back to Smith’s Grove when he’s already proven he can escape from there?

In case you’ve not been keeping up, the backstory is delivered by a helpfully chatty sanatorium staff member.  ‘Both of them nearly burnt to death,’ he says of Myers and Loomis, letting us know that the fire in Halloween II wasn’t fatal for either character.

While one of the doctors is checking Michael’s blood pressure, his arm falls down from the bed, so he clearly wasn’t very well restrained in the first place.  The Smith’s Grove doctors get him in the back of the ambulance and on the road, and start talking about his living relatives. As soon as he hears he’s got a niece, Michael gets his strength back, and off he goes on his killing spree!

We’re introduced to seven-year-old Jamie Lloyd here.  The backstory is that Jamie’s parents (Laurie and an unknown other) died eleven months ago, and Jamie is being fostered by the Carruthers family, including teenager Rachel and Sunday the dog.  Jamie has a picture of Laurie that is clearly a publicity still from the first film!  She’s also having dreams/hallucinations about Michael Myers, which doesn’t make sense given that she doesn’t know anything about him yet.

It’s still the case that nobody else in the Illinois medical system is listening to Dr Loomis, which is nice and nostalgic!

There are lots of beats matched from the first film as Michael makes his way to Haddonfield – including him killing a mechanic just because he needs a new pair of overalls.

The school bullies at Jamie’s school are really vile!  Mocking her for being an orphan, yikes.

We get a good introduction to Kelly, the sheriff’s daughter, who works in the drugstore with Brady, Rachel’s boyfriend – it’s clear early on that she’s a romantic threat to Rachel, especially as Brady is frustrated by Rachel having to cancel their date to babysit Jamie.

Jamie chooses a pierrot costume for her Hallowe’en outfit, just like the one Michael was wearing when he killed his older sister as a child.  I don’t know why kids were ever into those pierrot costumes – they’re really creepy!

As Michael has destroyed his car, Loomis has to go hitchiking.  I quite like the invocation of the ‘crazy drunk evangelical who happily picks up hitchhikers’ trope here!

Haddonfield is beautifully decorated for Hallowe’en – an absolutely picture-perfect American small town.  I never know how people manage to put pumpkin lanterns outside on their porches and not have the wind blow the candles out.  Maybe there’s no wind in Illinois.

While escorting Jamie for trick-or-treating, Rachel catches Brady at Kelly’s house.  ‘So you just hop onto the next best thing?’ Rachel says angrily.  Brady tries to make excuses, but yes, that is exactly what he’s doing.  What a dick!  He only holds Rachel up for about twenty seconds, but it’s still long enough for Rachel to lose sight of Jamie, who has clearly never been schooled sufficiently about how children shouldn’t go running off.

At least Sheriff Meeker is sensible enough to believe Loomis!  Haddonfield cops apparently never forget.  We also get some nice backstory about how Sheriff Brackett retired to Pennsylvania in 1981.

I like the rednecks from the bar who decide to go vigilante as soon as they hear Michael Myers is back in town, even though it’s pretty clear that it’s all going to go horribly wrong.

Loomis and Meeker investigate the Carruthers house to discover that Michael is back to his dog-killing habits again.  Poor Sunday!

Michael also comes up with a rather spectacular way of taking the whole town’s power out, by chucking some poor power plant worker into the electrical grid!

The redneck riot mob naturally kill the wrong person.  Poor Ted Hollister joins Ben Tramer from Halloween II on the list of characters who die in Halloween films without the assistance of Michael.

The lock-in, with all the characters holing up in the Meeker house, is quite an interesting setup for the penultimate sequence – everyone is in the same place and on high alert (except for Kelly, who’s still thinking about sex – this is a very good indication in a slasher film that someone’s not going to survive for long).

We conveniently lose all the competent characters when Loomis goes off to hunt Michael at the Carruthers house and Meeker goes off to stop the rednecks, meaning that everyone at the Meeker house is now doomed.

‘Wish they’d fix the power.  At least we’d have some MTV while we wait for the cavalry,’ says Kelly to the dead deputy, approximately five seconds before she realises he’s dead and then gets killed by Michael herself.  Are these the most ’80s last words ever?  I will pay attention for the rest of this month and keep you posted.

Brady idiotically traps the surviving characters in the house by not checking whether the door lock’s made of metal before shooting it, and then finds that he’s run out of ammo and is too clumsy to reload the gun before Michael catches up with him, but at least he dies heroically and thus sort-of-redeems himself (punching Michael Myers in the face is pretty fruitless but also pretty brave!).

The rooftop sequence, with Rachel and Jamie trying to escape Michael by finding a way down, is fab!  Really tense and well shot.

The rednecks see sense at last, deciding to let the state troopers handle it, but are sadly not long for this world – Michael quickly dispatches them in his last-ditch attempt to reach Jamie.

The cops arrive in time to load several clips of bullets into Michael, but there’s some convenient unstable ground for him to fall into at the end, so he’s clearly not dead yet!  ‘Michael Myers is in hell,’ says Loomis, but without a body to prove it, he should know that you can’t be sure about that.

Having been sent insane by Michael (which is not explained in the slightest), Jamie puts a mask on and stabs her mother, providing a great chilling moment, bringing Loomis to utter terrified hysteria, and nicely setting up the next film.

Speaking of which, we’ll move onto Halloween 5 tomorrow!

31 Days Of Horror: Halloween III

Halloween III (1982) would later become known as the entry in the series that’s not as good because it doesn’t have Michael Myers in.  This is quite a shame, ’cause it’s actually quite a fun (if daft) wee film, and I think things would have been different if the filmmakers had done what they originally intended to do with the series, which was to have different standalone stories with the common theme of being set on Hallowe’en.

Halloween III opening credits
Love those old computer graphics!

We get some awesomely of-the-time ’80s computer graphics in the opening credits, with a pumpkin lantern being drawn line by line on a screen.  This image plays a part in the story later on. </foreshadowing>

The story opens with some standard-looking men in black chasing a guy down; he manages some impressive car-hauling to kill one of them who’s trying to strangle him, and buys himself probably half an hour more of life so he can kick off the plot.  Good work!

There’s a lovely bit in the nearby petrol station (or gas station, I suppose, as it’s California) with a British news correspondent reporting from Stonehenge, where it’s been nine months since somebody stole one of the stones.  The whole Stonehenge stone-stealing plot point is utterly ludicrous.  As a teenager who had only seen the giant standing stones you get in the Outer Hebrides, I always used to say it would be impossible to steal a standing stone.  When I later visited Stonehenge in adulthood, the standing stones there turned out to be tiny in comparison to the Hebridean ones, but I still think they’d be pretty tough to steal and ship across the Atlantic/continental US (spoiler: it shows up in California later in the film) without anyone noticing.

The highlight of this film is the brilliantly silly advert jingle to the tune of London Bridge (‘X more days till Hallowe’en, Hallowe’en, Hallowe’en, X more days till Hallowe’en, Silver Shamrock‘) that is on every TV and radio station advertising the masks made by the sinister Silver Shamrock company.  I find myself singing it in the lead-up to Hallowe’en every year!

Nancy Loomis (who played Annie in Halloween and Halloween II), credited as Nancy Kyes this time, shows up as Linda, the ex-wife of main character Dr Dan Challis.  Nice to see these nods to the previous films – many of the same production staff are involved too.

Speaking of nods to the first film, thorazine is mentioned again!  In Halloween, Dr Loomis wants to use it to sedate Michael Myers before they realise he’s escaped, while in this film, Dr Challis is more successful in using it on poor, doomed Harry Grimbridge, the man who (temporarily) escaped the men in black.

The men in black just seem like regular creepy mooks to start off with, but when one of them crushes Harry’s head it’s pretty clear they’re robots.

Dan seems to have a history with autopsy specialist Teddy, which perhaps gives us some insight into why his marriage failed.

The first Halloween – or an advert for it – is being shown on TV, indicating that this is definitely a different universe in which the first film is just a story.

The creepy town of Santa Mira is really well done, with the locals all staring at Dan and Ellie (Harry’s daughter) when they arrive, and the curfew announcement over the tannoy.  It wouldn’t be somewhere you’d want to stay even if there was nothing sinister going on.

‘Relax, I’m older than I look,’ says Ellie when Dan finally thinks to ask her how old she is AFTER sleeping with her.  I sincerely hope so, ’cause she looks about twelve to his forty-five!  (I just looked up actor Tom Atkins to check I wasn’t being unkind about his age, but he was indeed forty-six when this film was made!  Stacey Nelkin, who played Ellie, was twenty-two.)

The other people staying in the motel/visiting the factory are shown to be pretty awful, but you still feel sorry for them when they fall victim to Conal Cochran and his murderous plans.

I love the primitive creepy old woman robot that Dan knocks the head off when he enters the factory to look for Ellie, although it’s really obvious she’s mechanical so I’m not sure why he thinks she’s human!

Hallowe’en falls on a Sunday in the film, indicating that it is indeed set in its year of release, 1982.

The Stonehenge stone turns out to be being held in the factory, which is still silly.  Apparently tiny chips of the stone have the power to transform rubber masks into death traps that turn kids’ heads into locusts and snakes!

The demonstration scene with the toy salesman and his family is gloriously grisly – a lot of horror films shy away from straight-up killing a child character, but there are no bones made about it here.  The purpose of the pumpkin graphic is also revealed here – it’s the trigger that sets off the death trap chips!

I quite like the round-the-US roundup of kids in Silver Shamrock masks, showing that the whole country is in danger.

The adverts say that the giveaway (i.e. the thing that kids in Silver Shamrock masks are supposed to tune into at nine o’clock) will be shown straight after Halloween finishes.  However, when Dan is tied up in a room in the factory with the TV on, it’s ten to eight, and the scene from Halloween being shown on TV is at completely the wrong point in the story if the giveaway’s still an hour and ten minutes away!

Dan blowing up the Stonehenge stone setup by chucking the chips around the place is a bit daft, but it’s also quite a punch-the-air moment.

It’s kind of obvious that the ‘Ellie’ Dan has rescued is not the real one, ’cause she doesn’t speak for the ten minutes between being rescued and being revealed to be a robot.

I quite like this early example of the ‘robot arm comes to life and tries to strangle character’ trope!  Doctor Who didn’t do this one until twenty-three years later!

I love that when Dan finally makes it to a phone and tries to get the authorities to shut the giveaway broadcast down, it’s the same gas station – and the same attendant – as in the opening section of the film!  ‘Don’t I know you?’

Did they manage to take the broadcast off the third channel before it was too late?  We’ll never know, because the film ends without telling us.

Another break from the Halloween films tomorrow!

31 Days Of Horror: Halloween II

I’ve not watched Halloween II (1981) for a while.  It’s set on the same night as the first film and is a continuation of the story, but there are a few things that give away the fact that it was now the ’80s when it was made.  You can’t hide the ’80s!

Halloween II DVD
Gotta love those early ’00s DVDs and the long boring anti-piracy ads you can’t skip.

The film opens with the Chordettes’ Mr Sandman playing over the top.  I’m currently catching up with Doctor Who Magazine in preparation for the new series, and so I recently reread an interview with Mark Gatiss from last year in which he was discussing his episode Sleep No More, in which Mr Sandman was also used.  Apparently it was Russell T Davies who pointed out to him how creepy the song was – but being a horror fan, Gatiss should have known that the Halloween series did it first!

The opening sequence is a reprise of the end of the first film, mostly with original footage that has been recut slightly, but with the final reveal on the balcony having been reshot, which is a bit jarring.  The reshot sequence results in a continuity error – throughout Halloween II, Loomis is constantly insisting that he shot Michael Myers six times.  In the original film, that was indeed the case, but in the reshot sequence, there are actually seven gunshots!  The sequence is also overdubbed with new music – it is, of course, ’80s synth music, which is the first giveaway that this is indeed an ’80s movie.

We get the cool spooky pumpkin opening again, this time with an added bit where the pumpkin cracks open to reveal a skull.  Showing off the shiny new ’80s special effects!  I have to say I prefer the simplicity of the lantern flickering out in the first film.

The series continues with the nods to classic horror through the old films that are playing on TV.  This time it’s Night of the Living Dead, with the infamously badly acted ‘They’re coming to get you, Barbara!’ scene.

Michael Myers’ MO seems to have shifted slightly as soon as he gets back to killing.  He ignores a barking dog (in contrast to the first film, where he killed nearly as many dogs as he did humans) and the nice old couple in the nearby house – he just steals their carving knife instead.  As soon as he spots a teenage girl in the house next door, though, he just nips in and offs her for no reason!

Laurie Strode has been taken to a local hospital, and there’s a couple of fairly pointless characters who get two scenes here – a mother with a child whose mouth is bleeding profusely.  It’s not 100% clear, but it looks like he’s got a razorblade stuck in his lip, which would be a nice (if grisly) nod to the ubiquitous American Hallowe’en myth about razorblades being hidden in apples to hurt kids out trick-or-treating.

The doctor who treats Laurie is clearly a bit tipsy.  I assumed this was just for comedic value, but there’s a brief line later about him having been at the same party as Laurie’s parents, whom the hospital can’t track down.

I quite like the gang of nurses and paramedics who comprise this film’s gang of young, disposable, doomed, horny idiots.  Jimmy, the paramedic with the crush on Laurie, makes for a cute sideplot too.

There’s a great bit where some journalists are in front of the Wallace house desperately trying to get the whole story, and then Dr Loomis is just shouting the whole truth about Michael Myers right in front of them, but this is never followed up!

In comes the security guard cliche!  This became a real trope of slasher horror, the poor incompetent overweight security guard who’s too distracted by reading a magazine or something to notice the killer wandering across the security monitors.

Speaking of tropes, we’ve got the good old ‘phone lines are cut’ going on here as well.  In more recent films, in addition to the landlines being cut, they always have to throw in a line about there being no reception for mobiles (how convenient!).  Oh, for simpler times.

Laurie has a creepy dream/flashback to when she was a young child circa 1970.  In contrast to the non-attempt at 1963 from the first film, the costume/makeup department here actually does quite a good job of period 1970 hair and clothes.

The thing about Laurie being Michael Myers’ secret baby sister who was later adopted by the Strodes is introduced here.  This continued to be the official story in the two different continuities of Halloween 4/5/6 and Halloween H20/Resurrection, as well as (I believe – I’ve not watched them yet) the Rob Zombie remakes, but apparently they’re not going with that in the new one, which should be interesting.

There’s an unintentionally hilarious bit when Jimmy discovers Mrs Alves’ body, realises he’s standing in a pool of blood, and decides it would be a good idea to start running.  Obviously, he immediately slips in the pool of blood and knocks himself out like a prat.  Who didn’t see that coming?  Jimmy, apparently.

One nurse nearly escapes!  She knows there’s danger and that she has to call the police, makes it out to the car park, realises the tyres on all the cars have been let down…then goes back into the hospital building.  Why?

The ending sequence is really well done – there’s a bit with Laurie waiting for a lift to arrive that’s nearly as tense as the first film.

However, just like the nurse, Laurie doesn’t leave the scene when she makes it out to the car park, instead hiding inside a car.  Why will no one leave the hospital grounds?  Surely the best thing would be to run away from the building to try and find a phone box (or booth as I think they might be called across the pond) or flag down the nearest driver for help?

I love the bit with Laurie and Dr Loomis teaming up at the end, but I find it odd that Laurie’s such a good shot given that she’s clearly never held a gun!  Also, it’s interesting, having not watched it in a while, that neither Loomis nor Jimmy are confirmed alive at the end.  Indeed, Loomis is clearly meant to be dead, having done the whole heroic sacrificial blowing-up-the-room-while-still-inside.  (Spoiler alert: he shows up in later films, which is why I never think of him as having died in this one.)  I can’t remember why I had the impression that Jimmy survived, but maybe something in the next few films will remind me.

Something different tomorrow, for a bit of a break from the Halloween marathon!

31 Days Of Horror: Halloween

It’s October!  One of my favourite months of the year.

I’m a goth, a Celt, a lover of autumn, and a horror film fan, so it will probably come as no surprise that I absolutely adore Hallowe’en.  What I’ve found over the years, though, is that I never have time on the day/weekend itself to watch as many horror films as I’d like.  As such, this year I’m starting early, and watching a horror film every day of the month!

I’m starting with Halloween (1978), which may seem a bit backwards, but rest assured I’ll be watching it again on the day itself.  I must have seen this film over a hundred times – it’s my joint favourite film of all time (Velvet Goldmine is the other joint favourite, if you’re interested!).  There’s a new Halloween film coming out this month, so I’ll be watching all the others in the series before I go to see the new one at the cinema.

Halloween (1978)
Dr Loomis and Sheriff Brackett explore the Myers house.

I love the opening credits with the slow zoom on the lit pumpkin lantern.  It’s especially fun around Hallowe’en itself when I have my own lanterns on and can compare them with the one on the screen!  (I don’t have lanterns carved yet – I’m not quite that obsessed.)

The opening section, set fifteen years before the main story, I always found super scary as a young teenager and always fast forwarded through it.  These days, though, I just marvel at how poor the period feel is – I’m sure every attempt was made at the time to make it look like 1963, but the hair and clothes of the teenage characters just scream ‘1978’, like the rest of the film!  (This is a persistent problem with recent retro/vintage period costuming in film and TV and I’m going to do a whole post on it at some point.)  It’s shot in real-time from the POV of the killer (although there is a notorious continuity error with the clock in the hall) and so it’s also fairly hilarious when you notice that the teenage tryst only takes about ninety seconds between the couple going upstairs and the dude pulling his shirt on as he heads out the front door.  The reveal of the child killer is brilliant and still really creepy forty years after the film was made.

Fifteen years later, we’re introduced to Dr Loomis, who is an amazing character – his obsession with Michael Myers comes across right from the off during the drive to the sanatorium with the nurse.  Donald Pleasence’s accent is all over the place though!  He starts off attempting an American accent, but it rapidly disappears.  I like to assume the character is a Brit who has lived in the US for many decades, and is reverting to his native accent due to the stress.

Blue Öyster Cult’s Don’t Fear The Reaper is used beautifully when Annie and Laurie are driving to their babysitting jobs, and it’s been a favourite track of mine since my teens as a result.

Speaking of ways Halloween influenced teenage me, the fashions in this, with the costuming done by Nancy Loomis (who also played Annie), are awesome – as a result of this film I have been wearing colourful knee-high socks since age seventeen.  Usually under jeans nowadays, but they’re still there (and very cosy in the autumn!).

Unlike later slashers of the ’80s (which was when the slasher craze really took off), all the characters are well-rounded, rather than just being one-note carving knife fodder.  No matter how many times I’ve seen the film, I always find myself wishing they didn’t die and imagining an alternative universe where Michael Myers didn’t exist and they all got to live happily ever after.  I know that would kind of defeat the point of the film, but maybe I’ll write that AU fanfiction one day!

I generally find the kid character of Tommy a little annoying, but I do appreciate his comic book geekery!

The tension in the final sequence, where Laurie investigates the Wallace house only to find all her friends dead, and then has to escape Michael, is brilliantly done. Even knowing all the scenes and dialogue by heart, I still find it incredibly tense to watch.  Jamie Lee Curtis’ first film performance is fantastic, and you can see already why she went on to be such a big star.  I also like the fact that Pleasence and Curtis’ characters don’t actually meet until the last sequence.

Also, the very first shot and very last shot of the film are both of the Myers house, which is quite cool.

The ‘it’s not over’ ending is great too!  I’ll discuss how it was resolved in future films over the next couple of weeks – starting tomorrow, when I’ll be watching Halloween II.