Don’t Forget to Wear Your Masks: A Halloween Retrospective Part 3

Don’t Forget to Wear Your Masks
A Halloween Retrospective Part 3: Modern Takes

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers is the first film in the franchise that you could consider a modern take. I know “modern” seems like a stupid, nebulous term in this instance, but I guarantee you know what I mean. It was released by Dimension Films, came out when internet message boards were a thing, the seventh season of The Simpsons had just started when The Curse of Michael Myers entered theatres. That’s what I mean when I say modern.

However, I’d still consider it the final gasp of the original run rather than the beginning of something new. It was hamstrung by an unnecessarily convoluted mythology and being the sixth film in a series of diminishing returns.

The modern Halloween franchise didn’t start in earnest until 1998’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. It’s the first entry to take advantage of nostalgia for the first film while trying to answer the question “what does a Michael Myers movie look like in this day and age?” in any meaningful way.

The late ‘90s was the perfect time to reintroduce Michael Myers to the world. It seems strange that it was only three years after The Curse of Michael Myers because it feels like a much different world. Scream came out in 1996 and, being one of the best horror movies ever, kicked off a string of slasher copycats. You had I Know What You Did Last Summer, Urban Legend, Valentine, I Still Know What You Did Last Summer and a string of others. It was the perfect time to bring back a masked stalker with a large butcher’s knife.

This chunk of the Halloween franchise brings a lot of interesting things to the table, even if they don’t always work. We get an actual exploration of the trauma of surviving a horror movie. We get attempts at found footage, prominent use of the internet, remakes, and filtering new story ideas through the trappings of a Halloween film.

These four films are interesting to watch and discuss. Well, three of them are. One of them is Halloween: Resurrection.


Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later

 If you wanna stay handcuffed to your dead brother, that’s fine, but you’re not dragging me along, not anymore!

As I mentioned, the improbably named Halloween H20: 20 Years Later is cashing in on a few things, mostly nostalgia for the original Halloween and the general resurgence of mainstream horror. It seems like the perfect environment for us to get quick, soulless cash-in but what we actually ended up with was lean, entertaining and one of the better entries in the entire series.

It opens with us dropping in on a character we haven’t seen in a long time. Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), Dr. Loomis’s nurse from Halloween and Halloween II,  is now Marion Whittington. She has a big clichéd wall covered in string and newspaper clippings about Michael Myers. She lives next door to a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and she’s the first one to die. It’s a quick and brutal opening that gives us all the information and backstory that we’ll need over the opening credits, while also killing off someone we’re familiar with and maybe even care about.

Laurie Strode (Jame Lee Curtis) has been living as Keri Tate since faking her death, and she’s now the headmistress of Hillcrest Academy. She also has recurring nightmares, a failed marriage, alcohol and pill dependency and an unhealthy obsession with keeping her son safe. It gives Curtis a lot to do, so I see why she agreed to return.

H20 is the first in the franchise (besides Halloween III: The Season of the Witch) to ignore a number of the sequels. This movie follows from the end of Halloween II, keeping the familial connection established in that film. Originally the film was going to incorporate the other sequels by including references to Jamie Lloyd, but the filmmakers decided to streamline it. I think it works fine as-is, with the headline referencing Laurie’s “death” in a car accident serving as a nice little easter egg for fans.

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later

When I said that H20 was lean, I wasn’t lying. The movie comes in at around 86 minutes, which is a perfect length for a horror movie, in my opinion. After the opening, we’re immediately at Hillcrest where, save for a couple quick interludes, we’ll spend the rest of the film. We meet any important characters, including Laurie’s son (Josh Hartnett), his girlfriend (Michelle Williams), their friends (Adam Hann-Byrd and Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) and Laurie’s boyfriend (Adam Arkin).

Oh, and LL Cool J as the school’s terrible security officer who has a subplot about writing an erotic romance novel.

Thanks to a poorly-timed schoolwide camping trip these characters are left all alone at the Academy when Michael finally reappears after all these years. There’s a surprisingly low body count in this entry, with half of the kills happening pre-credits, but it works. The kills that happen are pretty memorable — the ice hockey skate in the face and Adam Arkin’s body being lifted up by the butcher’s knife were particularly vivid in my memories — and we get more time to appreciate Laurie dealing with her problems.

Of course, those problems are personified by Michael himself. The big hero moment, the moment the entire movie is leading towards is Laurie sending her son and his girlfriend down the street to go get help — a nice callback to the first film — while she stays behind to finish things. She walks back to the building he’s in, axe in hand, and calls out “Michael!” while the music swells. That’s the kinda shit we paid for.

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later

After a brutal game of cat and mouse, with Laurie scrambling under tables while Michael throws them to the side, she defeats him. Except that you and I and Laurie all know that he’s not really dead. So she steals a cop’s gun, absconds with the van his body is in and drives off. The van ends up crashing, and a still-alive Michael is pinned against a tree, struggling to get free to, presumably, keep killing.

There’s a nice moment near the end where a bloodied Laurie gets Michael’s attention and reaches her hand out to his, the brother she never got to know. Jamie Lee Curtis sells this moment completely, and it’s heartbreaking. She also sells the moment where she swings the axe, decapitating Michael and leaving his severed, masked head in the dirt.

It’s no surprise that Halloween H20: 20 Years Later as actually good. The director, Steve Miner, is no slouch when it comes to horror movie sequels. He directed Friday the 13th Part 2, easily the best entry in that franchise. Still, it’s hard not to wonder what could have been. Apparently, John Carpenter was very interested in coming back to direct H20, but he wanted a three-picture deal with Dimension Films. The Weinsteins said no. Who the hell wouldn’t agree to let Carpenter direct three new films? I mean, it’s not the worst crime the Weinsteins have committed, but still.

Anyway, that’s gotta be it, right? Michael’s dead for good. There’s no coming back from a decapitation unless you bring back some crazy cult stuff or, even dumber than that, completely invalidate the powerful ending you just made and the closure you gave to the long-suffering Laurie.

Right?

 

Halloween Stat Count

Kills: 6

Jamie Lee Curtis: Hell Yes

Dr. Loomis: No, but a soundalike does Loomis voiceover

Danielle Harris: No, Jamie Lloyd doesn’t exist in this timeline

Druid/Cult References: No

Redneck References: No

Ben Tramer Alert: Nope

Does Michael Myers Die?: Yes, his head is chopped off

Continuity Status: Ignores the previous sequels except for Halloween II


Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

Halloween: Resurrection

I’ll see you in Hell.

I don’t want to talk about Halloween: Resurrection.

Fine.

I’ll talk about Halloween: Resurrection.

Impressively yanking the title of worst Halloween movie from Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Resurrection is bad in every way. I don’t think there’s an original idea in the entire thing. That alone wouldn’t necessarily be enough to sink it. The fact that the warmed-over ideas it does have are executed so poorly is a slap in the face.

First of all, we find out that the ending to Halloween H20: 20 Years Later was a fakeout. Michael put his mask on some EMT. Then, he wandered off into the woods. So Laurie chopped some poor bastard’s head off. Since then, she’s been heavily medicated and stuck in a sanitarium. Where, of course, Michael finds her. Laurie has a trap waiting for Michael, but then stupidly gets way too close to him while he still has a knife and is hanging over the roof of the building. So he obviously stabs her and then drops her.

Halloween: Resurrection

It’s a really shitty ending for Laurie and leaves a sour taste in your mouth for the rest of the film.

There’s also a part that really, really annoys me. I may have only noticed it because I’ve been watching these films so close together, but as Michael is leaving the sanitarium, a patient sees him and starts reciting his history. But all of the numbers are off. The guy says he only killed four people in Halloween II, which is way too low, and then also says Michael killed “four students [at] Hillcrest Academy” which isn’t true either.

Michael killed two students at Hillcrest and Laurie’s boyfriend, the guidance counselor. Even if you include the murders earlier in the movie that’s six total, not four. So where the fuck are they getting these numbers from? Is this another separate timeline from the previous movies? Is this insane man just misinformed about the numbers? Were the filmmakers too lazy to actually give a shit about what happened in the previous films they were directly referencing?

I think I know which one it was.

Anyway, the stupid story is that a media company run by Freddie Harris (Busta Rhymes) and Nora Winston (Tyra Banks) called Dangertainment (UGH!) is setting up a live-streaming event at Michael Myers’s childhood home. Several college students will explore the house on Halloween while being recorded by hidden cameras and body cameras. The final girl for this movie is Sara Moyer (Bianca Kajlich) makes absolutely no impression except for a really dumb scene where she’s startled, and her scream literally breaks a glass. Whatever, movie.

Halloween: Resurrection

Is there anything good in this movie? I mean, not really. There are a few good ideas. It’s not inherently lame to incorporate live streaming reality television into the film, and it’s nicely prescient for a movie from 2002. But they don’t really do anything interesting with the idea, except the scenes with Sara’s underage penpal (ew) watching the live stream at a party and trying to help her avoid Michael in the house.

And that’s about it for the good.

OH! Busta Rhymes gets to karate kick Michael Myers. Which is, rightfully, one of the only things Halloween: Resurrection is known for.

Halloween Stat Count

Kills: 10

Jamie Lee Curtis: Yes, unfortunately

Dr. Loomis: No

Danielle Harris: No

Druid/Cult References: No

Redneck References: No

Ben Tramer Alert: Nope

Does Michael Myers Die?: No

Continuity Status: Direct follow-up to Halloween H20: 20 Years Later


Halloween (2007)

Halloween

In the spectrum of colours, you go from black, which is no colour, all the way through to white, which is every colour.

There are basically two types of remakes: the ones that cover the same story or the ones that use the story as a jumping off point and do their own thing. Neither is inherently better than the other. There are great and terrible horror remakes that slot into either category.

Rob Zombie’s take on the Halloween series is an interesting combination of both styles. 2007’s Halloween follows the general beats of the original with a few big chunks that veer wildly away from what the 1978 film was trying to do. His follow-up, 2009’s Halloween II is an even bigger departure. I’d argue that the more Zombie stayed away from a direct remake, the better his films got.

Zombie is a huge fan of the original, so I understand the desire to direct a remake. It’s going to happen anyway, so why not try to do it right? I’m not sure if I’d call Halloween wholly successful. It comes off as a little bloated and like it’s serving two masters, the 1978 film and Zombie’s original vision. But this film is absolutely the most inventive the series has been since the first movie came out. It’s practically crackling with new ideas and new angles on things.  

Halloween

I think you could fairly describe Rob Zombie’s dialogue as “obnoxious,” with no judgment on the word. The characters he writes tend to be grating, and that seems to be by design. I’m not surprised that a lot of people are turned off by the first part of the movie. Hell, when I first watched the film, I was turned off by it. The decision to show Michael’s home life, and make it an awful, is bold and controversial. I generally subscribe to the opinion that over-explaining something in a horror film takes away a lot of what makes it scary, but turning it into a true crime history of a serial killer kind of story is interesting.

There’s more sympathy for Michael as a person in Halloween than we’ve ever seen from any other entry in the series, especially when we see him in the mental institution or any interaction with his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie). On the flip side, Zombie clearly picks up the asshole aspects of Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) and runs with them. He enters the movie like a swaggering hot shot. He’s exactly the kind of prick who calls other people “suits” and explains to you that “black isn’t technically a colour” if you tell him it’s your favourite. The development of Loomis’s character — where he realizes he can’t cure Michael so he decides to make some money off of him — throughout these two films is one of the best things.

Halloween

When Michael finally escapes the story becomes a more standard Halloween remake. We meet Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton), Annie Brackett (Danielle Harris, returning to the franchise), Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif), Michael gets his mask, and his boiler suit and he kills a lot of people. There’s still some great stuff in the second half of this film, particularly Dourif’s and Harris’s performances, it’s all pretty boilerplate. A fun thing about Zombie is that he loves to give bit parts to horror icons, especially underappreciated ones, which rules. It’s great to see people like Dee Wallace, Ken Foree, Clint Howard, and Udo Kier appear and it makes the smaller bits really pop.

I’ve always thought the finale in the Myers house was a little too boring for the interesting movie that had preceded it. The actual ending itself, with Laurie screaming and covered in blood, is a great little homage to another obvious influence on Zombie, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre. So it ends up being a mixed bag, but luckily this wouldn’t be the last we’d see of Rob Zombie’s Halloween universe.

 

Halloween Stat Count

Kills: 18; 17 by Michael, 1 suicide; a rat and a coyote are also killed

Jamie Lee Curtis: No, Laurie is played by Scout Taylor-Compton

Dr. Loomis: Yes, now played by Malcolm McDowell

Danielle Harris: Yes! Now she’s playing Annie Brackett

Druid/Cult References: No

Redneck References: Hell Yes

Ben Tramer Alert: Hell Yes

Does Michael Myers Die?: Yes, shot in the head

Continuity Status: Remake


Halloween II (2009)

Halloween II

I love you, Mommy.

After the negative response to Halloween, it feels like Halloween II was even more mercenary. As if Zombie said, “fine, you want a straight remake? You’ve got it” and then spent the first twenty minutes of the movie remaking 1981’s Halloween II. Except faster, more brutal and a million times better.

Then, once he gets that over with, he does his own thing. His own thing happens to be exploring trauma and PTSD through a horror movie protagonist, similar to H20 but a lot more in-depth. Rarely do we get to see the immediate or long-term effects of an encounter with a horror movie villain. In this, we get both. There are quick cuts of Laurie’s injuries as the doctors treat them, showing the extent of her encounter with Michael Myers in the last film. One year later Laurie and Annie, another survivor of Michael’s rampage, are still dealing with the trauma.

Halloween II

Laurie is now living with Annie and Sheriff Brackett. Their friendship is strained, and the Sheriff is trying to create some kind of family unit, but it’s a struggle. Laurie is dealing with nightmares and flashbacks and visions and trying to work things out through a therapist.

Halloween II also continues Dr. Loomis’s character arc. In the previous film, he was acting like some hot shit authority, dressing like Steve Jobs and espousing bullshit about true evil as if it were a science. He’s back to his douchebag ways, making money off of Michael’s story and getting annoyed when the press asks him about it. There’s even a really funny moment where Loomis confidently and angrily says that Michael is dead, intercut with shots of Hobo Michael walking across a field.

Hobo Michael Myers is maybe my favourite thing Zombie does. Aesthetically it isn’t as iconic as the mask, obviously, but it’s still imposing. It makes it seem like Michael has been out there for a year, wandering and surviving, remembering his mother and looking for his sister. When he does put the deteriorating mask on the transformation is more stark. He turns from a quiet giant into a brutal, grunting killing machine.

Halloween II

The two other things that stand out most to me with Halloween II are: 1) the death of Annie Brackett, and 2) the cinematography.

Brad Dourif and Danielle Harris work really well together. Dourif is a great, underrated character actor — and no stranger to long-running horror franchises — and Harris finally gets her due after spending a couple movies being a scared, crying kid. Her death in this, especially after surviving the previous movie, hits like a ton of bricks. Dourif’s wailing sobs that turn silent and the footage of Harris as a child are devastating. It’s easily the most affecting death in the entire franchise.

I love that Zombie decided to go all out when it came to the look of the film. Previously the films either tried — and failed — to capture the look of the first film or just stuck with a standard shooting style. Zombie shoots Halloween II in 16mm, giving it a gritty, grainy aesthetic. He also amps up the stylization, including stark black and white dream sequences.

I think it’s the best-looking film in the franchise other than the 1978 original. I also think it’s the second best movie in the series, period.

 

Halloween Stat Count

Kills: 19; 4 of them may have only happened in a dream; 1 dog is killed and eaten

Jamie Lee Curtis: No, Laurie Strode is played by Scout Taylor-Compton

Dr. Loomis: Yes

Danielle Harris: Yes

Druid/Cult References: No

Redneck References: Yes

Ben Tramer Alert: Nope

Does Michael Myers Die?: Yes, stabbed to death by Laurie

Continuity Status: Direct follow-up to the Remake


 

Unfortunately, Halloween II didn’t exactly set the world on fire either. A third film in this universe was planned — sans Zombie. He had clearly taken enough of a beating critically — but never came to fruition. Instead, we got what I’ll be discussing in the fourth and final part of this series.

I think that’s a good thing though. Zombie’s take is a perfect two-parter. We could all use less boring, paint-by-numbers sequels, especially if you consider the fact that Halloween H20: 20 Years Later was the first original entry in a while. It was immediately followed by another soulless entry, and that’s almost certainly what we would have gotten if someone besides Zombie had been allowed to continue this continuity.

A few good things have happened since the release of Halloween II. It’s been almost 10 years and I have seen a spattering of re-appraisals, recognizing it for the great movie that it is. Rob Zombie has since directed The Lords of Salem, his best and most mature film so far. And Blumhouse has become as close to a household name for horror movies as we’ve got these days.

That last part is what we’ll talk about next time. Blumhouse acquiring the rights to Halloween and bringing in the talents of David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and a returning John Carpenter.

So come back next time for the final entry in this series… A Halloween Retrospective Part 4: The Future.

Halloween
I mean, come on. Look at this asshole.

A Halloween Retrospective Part 1

A Halloween Retrospective Part 2

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