When David Gordon Green’s 2018 Halloween dropped I didn’t quite believe that talk of an entire trilogy was true because we’ve heard that one before. As such, there were things that felt unwieldy, strange and open ended in the narrative that are explored further and deeper in Halloween Kills, a film that is getting some serious bad mojo out there in internet land. Well, it’s certainly not perfect, but I still enjoyed it for what it was: an expansion on the 1978 Halloween night and Myers lore with a whole circus tent of new characters, comic relief asides, callbacks, fresh themes and a surprising amount of actors from Carpenter’s original film returning once again. It’s hectic, it’s cluttered, at times it feels like far too much is going on but there’s also this feverish momentum to it as Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie and her whole band frantically run about trying to track down Michael and kill him. There’s her daughter Karen played by the always lovely Judy Greer and granddaughter Allyson played by Andi Matichak, a wonderful actress who creates a character you care about and is the emotional lynchpin of this new vision, I like the dynamic between the three of them that is given more room to develop here. Will Patton returns as Haddonfield’s toughest Sheriff’s Deputy, it’s always nice to see him and I’m not sure what’s spoiler territory or not in mentioning who shows up but none of it seems to really be a secret, they are kind of hit and miss across the board. Anthony Michael Hall is oddly stilted and stiff as grown up Tommy Doyle (where’s the 78 Doyle actor?) , while Kyle Richards is utterly sensational reprising her role as now adult Lindsay Wallace, she has become a terrific actress, a beautiful woman and the closest the film gets to a true retro Scream Queen, she rocks it in the single most suspenseful Michael sequence I’ve seen in these intense new visions. Equally effective is the wonderful Robert Longstreet as adult Lonnie Elam, exuding the same gritty humanity he brought to Mike Flanagan’s Haunting Of Hill House and Midnight Mass. This might be the most ambitious Halloween sequel we’ve seen yet and, naturally, not all of it works or clicks into place in a way that feels earned and organic, but look back at each instalment in the canon and you’ll find films that aren’t perfect, are rough around the edges but to a true diehard fan of this franchise (raises hand) all have some lovable quality or aspect that can be enjoyed and held dear. Except for for Resurrection, fuck that movie right up it’s Jack o’ lantern ass. But Kills is a sequel with a lot of inspiration and heart for the Myers mythos, the overarching Haddonfield saga and the slasher motif. There’s a sequence in the film where Haddonfield’s residents are whipped up into an angry, frenzied mob trying to hunt down Michael, but they become a maniacal, non thinking rabble with tunnel vision instead of carefully examining their situation and forming a tactical, realistic plan. I see a lot of that on the interwebs, where one bad review snowballs into a fervour of keyboard mashing until a big dumb mob forms to rip the film a new one. But did that first guy even see the thing, or form a focused, logical assessment of why the film is bad? Did you, dear critic, even read that before suiting up and joining the ranks? If you saw Halloween Kills and genuinely thought it was a bad film and can concisely articulate for us why it didn’t work for you, then carry on. But don’t just pitch your voice in tune with the din because that’s the way the fish are swimming, because that doesn’t make you cool, babe, it just makes you boring. I for one got a lot of enjoyment from the film, both in that special nostalgic spooky way the original two films made me feel and in a fascinating expansion of lore sensibility too. It’s not a perfect film and maybe not even a great one, but it sure works as an effective, formidable and entertaining chapter of the Michael Myers legacy for me.
What makes John Carpenter such an incredible filmmaker? Many things, but one skill he has is being able to make a terrific story come alive whether he has a huge budget or not, whether it’s a giant high concept story, or a lean, mean, minimalist chamber piece. With Assault On Precinct 13 he’s got a few guns, a few cars, a few actors and one derelict police station, and the result, although not among his best work, is one nasty little urban exploitation feature that entertains and packs a bloody, visceral punch. The premise is gloriously simple: Several spectral, inhuman gang members chase a witness into an almost shut down precinct with intentions on killing everyone inside. One intrepid Deputy (Austin Stoker), a mysterious career criminal (Darwin Joston), a plucky secretary (Laurie Zimmer) and others are all that stands between these marauders and all out warfare. It’s a siege flick, a cop flick and an action picture all in one and works because of how low key it all is. The assault on the building itself is showcase low budget cinema and really well done as multiple silenced weapons shred through the doors and windows, but my favourite sequence is an earlier one in the film. As the gang prowls the desolated, decayed LA streets looking for suitable vehicles to hijack, a lone ice cream truck driver (Peter Bruni) finds himself right in the crosshairs of these heavily armed psychos. Then as if that isn’t bad enough, a little girl wanders up to purchase a frozen treat and, non discriminately, is gunned down in cold blood. It’s a shocking scene on its own just for the fact that Carpenter had the balls to do it and in fact on Robert Rodriguez’s Director’s Chair interview he said that he probably wouldn’t have gone that far had he made the film these days. What’s worse for me is that the girl is played by Kim Richards who starred as Tia Malone in Disney’s Escape To Witch Mountain, a film I grew up with and saw hundreds of times as a kid, so thanks John for ruining my childhood with that. Jokes aside it’s a galvanizing scene from beginning to end and even if there are way better Carpenter flicks out there overall, it’s probably one of the best sequences he’s directed in an otherwise solid pulpy action flick. Gotta mention Carpenter’s original score too which, as per usual, is brilliant.
John Carpenter’s The Fog is such a great campfire ghost story that it literally starts off with a campfire of its own, told by wistful sea captain John Houseman in a role that feels like it was meant for Donald Pleasance. He spookily regales a bunch of youngsters one cold coastal night: Long ago, a mysterious schooner crashed against the rocky landscape of Antonio Bay in a dense fog, for reasons slowly made clear. A century or so later, the fog returns, and those onboard come with it seeking revenge. Speaking of the coast, that vast, gorgeous California shoreline is a perfect backdrop and character all it’s own in Carpenter’s tale, the title credit appears over a picturesque beach, setting the ambience of the seaside region perfectly. Carpenter always values atmosphere and suspense above all else, his films have some of the most delicious slow burn setups out there, and the ethereal first act before the fog even shows up is one of the best extended sequences he’s ever done. As far as plot and character goes, the film has a cool Robert Altman vibe to its ensemble, from Hal Holbrook’s nervous priest, Jamie Lee Curtis’s plucky hitchhiking artist, Adrienne Barbeau’s sultry radio DJ and more, they all work in round-table fashion to get their stories across. They and others find themselves suddenly stranded in the approaching haze and hunted by silent, sword wielding zombie pirates who are more than a little pissed off that their boat crashed. The real treasure here is Carpenter’s original score, one in a long line of brilliant compositions. The main theme is a restless, jangly electronic cadence that feels both melodic and laced with doom, while quieter synth chords are infused with church bell cues elsewhere to bring the soundscape alive as only Carpenter can. This is a brilliant horror film, my third favourite Carpenter after Halloween and The Thing, and never fails to be as effective, chilling or beautiful to behold with each revisit as it was the first time I saw it.
John Carpenter’s Escape From New York is lean mean, brawny and one of the director’s best efforts, one of his leaps into non horror territory and a high concept, exploitation template that has become so iconic that he’s had to sue one production for literally copying and pasting. More iconic still is growling Snake Plissken, a nasty, uncooperative, maladjusted piece of work that has calcified into both a genre titan and one of Kurt Russell’s most instantly recognizable, badass characters. Plissken is basically a villain transplanted into the protagonist’s seat, where he gets to shake up the formula and push the boundaries of being an antihero nicely. By now everyone knows the story. The President (Donald Pleasence) ejects out of Air Force One and crash lands in futuristic NYC, now a giant penitentiary housing unwanted criminals from all over, cordoned off from the rest of the world. Snake is sent in by General Hauk (Lee Van Cleef is a sadistic snake in his own right) as a ‘fight fire with fire’ ditch effort, given twenty four hours to retrieve POTUS at an extraction point and implanted with a microchip that will blow him into hamburger helper if he doesn’t make his deadline. Cue explosions, car chases, wicked stunts and set pieces galore, done in Carpenter’s careful, tactile, authentic and slightly non-Hollywood manner. The guy just has a knack for taking formulaic premises and giving them a just-south-of-normal spin, his own flavour and one that makes cult classics that are built to last. Adrienne Barbeau, Isaac Hayes, Ernest Borgnine, freaky Frank Doubleday, Charles Cyphers, Tom Atkins and good old Harry Dean Stanton all provide standout support. My favourite aspect of the film is the original score, composed by Carpenter himself, of course. It’s a spooky, atmospheric riff that’s akin to the music in The Thing, and just has this synth-y way about it that transports you to the specific time and place of the film flawlessly, it’s a showcase example of an auditory mood board. No remake could ever touch this, it’s too idiosyncratic and special to be updated, and the sooner studios realize their never ending goose chase to capture lightning in a bottle twice is a fool’s errand, the sooner we’ll get back on track and make original contemporary films that will becomes genre classics in the future, just like this. I love Plissken’s final act of brutal rebellion, a reminder that this is not a nice guy we’re dealing with here, but one who plays by his own rules and shirks the standards, much like Carpenter himself. I imagine Plissken’s reaction to news of a remake would be similar, if not more hotheaded, than that final, lethal sleight of hand prank he pulls on a government that stabs him in the back. Solid gold.
Murder In The First examines courtroom intrigue in San Francisco, concerning an Alcatraz inmate (Kevin Bacon) who has been accused of killing a fellow prisoner upon being let out of a cruelly long stint in solitary. In fact, the word cruel seems to be the running theme of his incarceration, at the hands of sinister and sadistic Warden Milton Glen (Gary Oldman). A decade prior, Bacon almost succeeded in escaping the island, which seems to have given the correctional officers the idea that they can do whatever they want to him. His plight creates ripples in the D.A.’s office, and soon a young, inexperienced attorney (Christian Slater) is assigned to his case. His boss (Stephen Tobolowsky) seems to think, and I quote, that a monkey would be more suited for the job. The D.A. (William H. Macy) has hope. And so it happens, with Bacon arriving in an obvious shellshocked state, Slater trying to exploit his maltreatment at the Warden’s hands and win not only his innocence, but his freedom. Bacon can swing his internal compass from victim to villain at the drop of a hat, taking up the bruised martyr mantle here and proving to be quite affecting. Slater is… Slater, the guy doesn’t have endless range but can carry a scene decently enough. Oldman is sly and scary, covering up the true nature of Glen’s monstrosity underneath a beauricratic sheen. The cast is wonderful, with further standouts from Brad Dourif as Slater’s veteran lawman brother, Embeth Davidz as a key witness, R. Lee Ermey as the stern judge overseeing the trial and brief appearances from Mia Kirshner, Charles Cyphers and Kyra Sedgwick. The expert cast carries it along with innate talent and applied teamwork, with Bacon and Oldman taking front and center. Now I’m not entirely sure if this is based on a true story, but it’s very fascinating nonetheless and serves to show the rotten places in the penal system which definitely do exist in real life. Solid stuff.