We Need To Talk About Michael

 

News of Jamie Lee Curtis’s return to the long-running Halloween franchise almost broke the Internet a few weeks ago. Some online posts were akin to The Beatles US arrival or the announcement of The Force Awakens. Blumhouse has taken the reigns and hopes to run with it.

Part of this Cynema post asks, “to where?”

There is nothing wrong with what Blumhouse is doing. Films get made, they get sequels, they get remakes. Hats off to any franchise that lasts forty years and remains relevant.  However, there are a number Cynema-like elements to this. While everyone gushes about what this means to horror, I am going to look at just what this means to horror.

Fan Reaction

Details trickled in not long after the initial euphoria. Would this new film ignore the events after Carpenter’s original ’78 film? The news of Judy Greer joining the new film as Laurie Strode’s daughter sent a new wave of concern among online nerd-dom. Is Blumhouse ignoring the events of H20? Is it just going to be Halloween ’78 and ’81 then Halloween 2018?

It’s pretty clear parts 3-6 would be ignored hence leading me to my first point. It all starts to sound pretty exhausting and as a horror fan, one has to ask, is this all worth it? What more can actually be done?

The Series

The entire series is a clusterfuck. It is more consistent in quality than Friday the 13th (although there was the brief talk of Michael going into space in the 80s). This is not the first time Curtis returned to the series. The 1998 H20 ignored all of the films except the first and second. Or did they? Some fans argue Laurie faked her death in the car crash of the original timelines and the H20 timeline dovetailed with the post H3 films.

Take Halloween III out of this discussion. It was never part of the franchise or Myers/Strode storyline. It has zero to do with any of the films before or after it.

Moving on.

The original film is a classic and there is no need to elaborate on its importance to the genre. Carpenter changed the industry and the independent film world.

Done.

If the sequels were done so well, why the need to ignore them? Why weren’t they made right in the first place? Why is there this need to go back and erase timelines?

The answer is simple: the timelines aren’t bad, the films are.

Few would argue the best course of action for the Jaws films would be to make a new film that ignores the events after Jaws 2. Scheider is dead but Dreyfuss and even Jeff Kramer could return. Ignore the events of Jaws 3D and Jaws the Revenge and allow the franchise to end on a high note. A lot of money was spent on those last two films and they really are expensive write-offs. Spielberg, like Carpenter, never saw a franchise after their first films.

If a studio is going to insist on sequels, at least do them right. Otherwise, it’s an expensive do-over. So let’s look at the Halloween sequels EXCEPT for Halloween III.

Halloween II

This is where the problems start. I wrote about this in my look at Halloween III.

This film gets a very large free pass from blind fandom. Halloween II ’81 gets the support it does because it’s the most loyal of the sequels. It takes place on the same night. Curtis, Pleasance and Cyphers return along with Michael. The problem is that the film isn’t really all that good.

It lacks the terror and suspense of Carpenter’s original and substitutes cheap jump scares and gore. It’s a flat, one-note film that does what it has to in a paint by numbers routine.

“When the [ Halloween II ] script came in I thought it was…the anti-Halloween. All the things that Halloween did so well…had been tossed out the window…I understood that in the intervening time between the first movie and what was going to be the second movie that times had changed, audiences had changed…and maybe the dynamics of the movie and the amount of violence might be impacted by all that. I felt that John was betraying his own legacy. I held my breath and said “no.” A director really needs to believe deeply in the material.”  – Tommy Lee Wallace on turning down directing Halloween II

[U]pon being offered Halloween III, John [Carpenter] and Debra Hill told him [Wallace] that neither wanted to do the sequel as John hated Halloween II .

Halloween II is a sequel for sequel’s sake that duped its fanbase into thinking it was getting something good for its devotion to the first film.

The Horror Master disavowed Halloween II, as did producer Debra Hill, but they knew there would be a sequel regardless of their feelings. Wallace stated he declined the sequel even though all associated knew it would be a guaranteed box office success. When Wallace vocalized creative concerns while considering directing Halloween II, he was told by Carpenter, in essence, to back off.

He was a gun for hire. The sequel would require no creativity. Fans would return regardless. The film would direct itself.

Film critic James Bernardinelli corroborates Wallace and Carpenter while illustrating Cynema in his scathing and dead-on review for Halloween II:

“The main problem is the film’s underlying motivation. Halloween was a labor of love, made by people committed to creating the most suspenseful and compelling motion picture they could. Halloween II was impelled by the desire to make money. It was a postscript—and not a very good one—slapped together because a box office success was guaranteed.”  – James Bernardinelli 

“The plot of Halloween II absolutely depends, of course, on our old friend the Idiot Plot , which requires that everyone in the movie behave at all times like an idiot. That’s necessary because if anyone were to use common sense, the problem would be solved and the movie would be over.”  — Roger Ebert 

The silly subplot/twist of Michael and Laurie being siblings was a soap opera type move that tried to add some depth to a shallow script. Carpenter and Wallace both stated this was never intended to be part of the storyline. However, that’s what it turned into, so we went with it.

Halloween II was a financial success. There almost no way it couldn’t as a sequel to the then-most successful independent film of all time.

Its two main characters perished in a fiery conclusion, consequently concluding the storyline. John Carpenter and producer Debra Hill were approached for a third installment and as a result,  agreed only if it were a whole new storyline that did not include Michael or Laurie or Haddonfield.

Halloween 4

Michael Myers aka The Shape, returned to the franchise in 1988, six years after the failure of Halloween III in the retread, Halloween 4.

“I just went back to the basics of Halloween on Halloween 4 and it was the most successful.”    – Moustapha Akaad, executive producer of the original Halloween series.

Back to the basics? More like copied the same script.

Akaad took a page from the Friday the 13th playbook. Don’t make a sequel in a franchise without its most popular character. Jason Vorhees was “killed off” in F13th Part IV. Paramount got a financial punch in the nose with their fifth installment (A New Beginning)  and quickly rectified its mistake by bringing Jason back to life in the aptly named Jason Lives (just to be clear to the fans, Jason was back. Got it?).

Friday the 13th: A New Beginning was New Coke and we all know how that turned out.

Halloween 4 film gets its free pass because it went right back to Classic Coke formula.

This slap job fourth Halloween film made sure to let fans know Michael was back. Yes, he was shot in the head twice, his eyes blown out and engulfed in flames. He clearly perished with his doctor at the end of Halloween II, but hey, it’s Hollywood. The producers knew the fans would return if golden goose Michael did as well. They got Pleasance to return which added the familiarity fans needed.

It was like a big safety hug for horror fans.

“Yes, yes, we know we hurt you with Season of the Witch. It’s gonna be okay now. We promise. Shhhh! Shhhh!”

Myers somehow regenerated his sight. His skin was healed of third-degree hellfire burns. He found another mask (the worst looking in the series. It looks like a Party City knockoff) and a set of coveralls. It was all just how we left it and Dr. Loomis was back with nary a scar for being engulfed in a room of oxygen-fueled flames. Pleasance gave his Greek Chorus doctor a limp and cane. The makeup department slapped on some facial and hand scarring. Wardrobe even got him his trademark Columbo trenchcoat.

It’s almost like setting a holiday table. You check the settings, the glasses, you run by the food. You stand back and look at the table and silently, proudly say to yourself: “It’s all here.” All you need are the asses in the seats. You know they’ll eat it. It’s what they want and ask for every year. You followed the routine and recipe. Your job is done.

Jamie Lee didn’t return, but hey…two outta three wasn’t bad. We did get a brilliant performance from Danielle Harris which is this film’s saving grace. Harris plays the hidden child of Laurie Strode. Laurie may or may not be dead (depends on the fan theory you subscribe to). It’s here where the whole thing really starts to go off the rails.

Nevermind that we have the same old story as before. It’s Halloween. Michael is coming home to Haddonfield. Hilarity ensues. Danielle Harris gives a moving portrayal of child terror and distress. I found myself really feeling for her while watching in theaters. I wondered what kind of hell they put that kid through to get such a convincing performance. She is the best thing about this movie.

So what WAS the actual story? Was Laurie Strode really killed in a car crash? Was she in some kind of witness protection and sent her daughter away to keep her safe? The question is “why?” Michael burned up. Why would Laurie think he survived? So she had to be dead, right?

Doesn’t matter. Michael has some family matters to tend to. We get a 90-minute retread of the original film but only the bad version.

Halloween 4 is the film a director less talented than Carpenter would have made. It makes Part II look like a classic. There are no scares. We get some hot chick taking her clothes off and we get a poor man’s Sheriff Brackett. Some rednecks gun Michael down on a cheap looking set. Donald Pleasance shrieks a lot as Danielle seems to repeat the evil cycle right down to her clown suit in the closing moments.

It should have failed. Only it didn’t. The tickets sold and a sequel was quickly commissioned as Halloween was back in business.

It Gets Worse From There

Jamie Lloyd may or may not be evil. Her mother may or may not be dead. Michael survived. We spend Halloween 5 going through it all again, with Dr. Loomis trying hard to pursue his nemesis around ridiculous sets. The Myers house inexplicably grew over the years as can be seen in the final confrontation. That’s nitpicking compared to “The Cult of Thorn.”Yes, a mysterious man in black boots springs Michael from prison. Now, just bear with me, but if you finally got the most famous serial killer Haddonfield has ever seen, wouldn’t you TAKE THE FUCKING MASK OFF?

Anyway, we find out Michael has some stupid tattoo. The man who jailbreaks him has the same stupid tattoo. Michael has some druid-type backstory. Who the hell cares? By this point, it’s all gone completely off the rails and I see why they considered sending him into space. Where else are you going with this? One more film with Michael chasing the little girl with Pleasance moaning like some hobbled ghost was going to drive me nuts.

I sat through the sixth film that Pleasance died while making. Harris didn’t return, and whether it was money or she had other obligations, she dodged a bullet. The butchered ending didn’t matter. The whole thing was downright stupid and it’s amazing Paul Rudd launched a career from the silly mess that was Halloween 6. There have been several fan edits and a restored director’s cut and the film still stinks.

Bring Back Jamie Lee!

By the mid-90s the producers knew Michael had blown his load. It was time to change shit up or let the series die.

As luck would have it, the twenty-year anniversary of Halloween was coming up and something wondrous was happening in horror…

Scream hit theaters and became a surprise sensation. The film cleverly wove a mystery of horror tropes and cliches to gave good high school scares to millions who never got into horror. For many, the cliches and tropes the characters talk about were lost on the target audience. Many never saw the original Psycho and the gulf was growing between a generation and the original slasher films that fueled Wes Craven’s excellent tip of the hat to the genre.

It gave birth to what I call “Designer Horror.” I did a previous piece on this topic.

Look at the posters above this paragraph. They look almost identical. Attractive young kids (mostly their heads) looking glossy and mysterious through the wonders of the new Photoshop. Hand-drawn posters were out, slick and sexy photo posters of pretty girls and pretty boys were in. Just imagine the original Halloween’s poster like one of these.

Michael Chases Pretty People

Kevin Williamson was horror’s new flavor of the month. His tenure on the hit TV angst show, Dawson’s Creek made him America’s latest authority on teenagers. As a result, Williamson knew what kids wanted in horror so he was hired to write Halloween H20 (Get it? Halloween 20 years laters?) just in case the redundant subtitle didn’t spell it out clearly enough on the poster. He went on to pen Scream sequels as well as I Know What You Did Last Summer and The Faculty.

We were told THIS was THE Halloween movie to see. As good as the original. It had to be, that’s why Jamie Lee returned. They lured her back so it had to be good, right?

H20 gave us Jamie Lee and Josh Hartnett. It gave us the required ethnic hip-hop flavor of LL Cool J (this will be repeated by throwing rapper Busta Rhymes into the next installment). The film gets another free pass similar to Part II.

It opens well enough with Donald Pleasance (or a sound-alike) giving us chilling convo over the original music. The original nurse from the ’78 film makes an appearance. Then we get Jamie Lee in a new life in California. We are back to familiar territory and it’s like coming home.

However, can you really go home again?

The film devolves into another Laurie running from Michael situation. Yes, her son is involved this time. Some cute teens die. Michael cocks his head after he kills someone. Yet it’s all pretty flat and ends with what should have been the definitive conclusion. Instead, we get swindled by a cheap editorial trick when we find how Michael made it to the next movie.

H20 offers nothing new and maybe it’s time to say it…IS there anything that can be offered up as new to this series?

I mean, what else is there? What else could possibly be done? Send Michael into space? I see why the filmmakers went the “Thorn” route. They were at least trying to give us something different, as silly as it all was. How much more can you do than have Michael walking and stalking, killing people in his way and then seemingly die to only rise again?

How was H20 any different than any of the other films?

This is exactly why no one wanted a sequel to the original 1978 film. Like Jaws, just what more is there to do with the story?

The Internet was fastening itself into mainstream society. Fan theories sprouted trying to merge all of the films together. Laurie faked her death, started a new life in California to leave little Jamie (get it? Jamie for Jamie Lee Curtis?) with her relatives. Hell, I even read one that connected Halloween III with the original series. They tried to connect the Celtic/Druid Thorn with Conal Cochran’s witchcraft. I will say this, some of these had better plotlines than the original films.

Kill Jamie

See the glossy poster of pretty floating heads? Look! There’s supermodel Tyra Banks! The designer horror tradition continued. Wait…fucking TYRA BANKS?!

The Star Trek franchise brought in sales to the mediocre Generations film by killing off Kirk. It only stood to reason to kill Jamie Lee Curtis. Michael finally gets his sister and people would pay to see it. It worked. Sort of.

Jamie Lee took buckets of money to come back one more time. She’s dead in the first ten minutes or so of the film. Or is she? Did she somehow survive and Halloween 2018 will pick up all these years later? Fans will be ramping up the online theories, I am sure.

In this new film, we find out the filmmakers pulled a lame cheat on how Michael survived decapitation in H20. The director of the 1981 Halloween II returned with the expected results.

This film is a hot mess. It tried to bring in the Blair Witch type digital feel. It threw in, inexplicably, Tyra Banks, only to have her die OFFSCREEN? Busta Rhymes punctuates the dumbed-down mentality of the entire film with Schwarzenegger-style one-liners. Bad acting. Bad writing. Bad directing. Bad casting.

It’s just bad, folks. Like really bad.

Pretty much even the most ardent Halloween fans would agree with this assessment. So that’s it, right? That SHOULD be it.

But it wasn’t.

Those Remakes

There was nowhere else to go. We ran as far from Michael as we could with the original series of films.

We went from a nightmarish classic to a silly horror soap opera that tried to ignore its dumbest entries; only to come full-circle-stupid in the end.

We ran as far from Michael as we could with the original series of films. We went from a nightmarish classic to a silly horror soap opera that then tried to ignore its dumbest entries; only to come full circle stupid in the end.

A remake was in order and it was announced Rob Zombie would take a stab at it. Love or hate the remakes (I found them to be well-made) my argument is, they were just not needed.

Horror was now going down the “backstory” road. You see, we needed a REASON for Michael’s evil, just like the Friday the 13th reboot would give a “backstory” to the new Jason Vorhees. Star Wars did it with its first shitty prequel, The Phantom Menace when The Force was explained as a genetic medical condition known as midichlorians.

Did anyone ask for this? What was happening in society where we now had to have everything literal? We needed explanations for everything. Was it a post 911 world that left us asking why these things happen? Was it the insecurities brought up by the new online world, that left us questioning everything? Conspiracy theories were treated with a new level of sincerity online. Just what do we believe? WHO can we trust? The Matrix tapped into the whole “are we really alive” and “life is but a dream” thinking.

Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Sam Loomis summed up Michael simply in the first film: he was evil.

No explanation was given to his ability to rise after gunshots and other bodily harm. He was evil. he killed his sister because he was evil. He came back on Halloween because he was evil. He had to die. That was pretty much it. There was no elaborate scientific explanation on how Michael’s cell regenerate. There was no silly Cult of Thorn excuse. The kid was born bad.

Sometimes bad shit happens to people. A tornado can touch down and destroy your house while leaving your neighbor’s untouched. Michael Myers was a supernatural tornado that touched down in Haddonfield. It destroyed indiscriminately until it was done.

That’s it.

We had a new generation of horror viewers who couldn’t cope with the idea that sometimes bad things just happen and there isn’t a reason. They had the Internet to now explain everything to them. Every tiny detail, every useless factoid and trivia note was at their disposal. They needed answers to everything because their brains didn’t know how to extrapolate or even imagine. They couldn’t suspend disbelief because they were never allowed to.

Back to Blum

Here we are again. Jamie Lee and Michael are coming back for one more round. She’s pushing 60, so unless they plan on a senior care home series, it’s time to wind this up.

Whether they erase all of the films except the first, keep Part II and ignore H20, it is a clear sign that this series is not the string of classics so many like to think.

Studios are ranting against Rotten Tomatoes but missing the simple answer: just make good stuff.

You see, if you just didn’t make lousy sequels for a quick buck, you wouldn’t have to spend a ton more to go back and erase your mistakes.

Studios have already fatigued audiences with remakes and reboots of films that didn’t need them. Now they antagonize further by going back to erase canon. They confuse. They piss off and they show that no matter how badly they treat their patrons, people will still fork over money.

I once said a better strategy to remaking good films is to go back and remake the bad ones. Fix the entries that did a disservice to the series.

Maybe that’s what Blumhouse is doing here? Halloween couldn’t end on those remakes let alone the terrible “Tyra Banks” Halloween. However, let’s say this new film is a hit (my bets are it will be) what comes next? Where does it go from there? Or is this the Viking funeral the series needs?

No matter what, get it right. Stop making deliberately shitty films (That’s right Universal, I’m looking at you with this franchise and Jaws The Revenge).

Do it right the first time and you won’t have to do it again. Just like good teachers and parents teach us.

 

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