Halloween (2018)

hall1.jpgHalloween 2018 starts out really well. Its central conceit is that none of the myriad Halloween sequels/remakes/spin-offs or reboots ever happened, and that, 40 years later, this is the Part Two to the 1978 original’s Part One. A little like how the aborted Alien 5 would have pretended that Alien 3 & Alien: Resurrection never existed. In a similar way to films like Creed and BR2049, it treats the original material and mythology with some reverence and sincerity. It also allows, as the other films did, for the intervening years in the real world to be reflected by the passage of time in the movie world, adding some weight of pathos to the proceedings, allowing that sense of the weight of time for the characters to be shared by viewers. Maybe it just makes the nostalgia and recollection of the original feel more intense, and maybe it transfers those feelings to the new incarnation.

Of course, the central issue for Halloween 2018 is that its taking something that’s inherently very simple (the 1978 film is basically just a b-movie slasher/exploitation horror flick that has been endlessly copied ever since) and treating it very, very seriously. I’m a big fan of the original- John Carpenter was (is?) a consummate horror director with a keen eye for composition and skill in the editing room at maintaining tension and jumps and scares, but really, Halloween 1978 is not High Art, although it’s surely a classic of a genre not particularly renowned for high quality. Its simplicity is likely the key to its effectiveness and how well it has stood the test of time- and of course there is the brooding, relentless electronic score.

That score returns (and John Carpenter, on scoring duties here, with it), and it really helps Halloween 2018 feel authentic, in just the same way as BR2049 felt like a Blade Runner movie.  Something’s a little off though, with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) not quite ringing true as she goes all Sarah Connor from T2, ready and waiting for Michael Myers to inevitably escape from his incarceration and run amok on another killing spree. This time she’s spent decades survivalist training and building Fortress Strode out in the woods into a safehouse for when Myers comes knocking. And of course, he does, complete with his iconic Captain Kirk mask, conveniently brought along by dim-witted journalists looking for a great story and getting undone by it, the mask apparently the trigger for The Shape to do what he does best on another Halloween night. There’s lots of graphic deaths and grisly gore here, a marked difference to the surprising restraint and suggestion which Carpenter crafted in the original- perhaps the most disturbing sign of just how much times have changed.

It seems churlish of me, really, to criticise this film as it was surprisingly sincere and effective in approach and how it was made, and the cast are great, the jumps are pretty great and the violence certainly made me wince- it works so well in so many ways. But I just didn’t buy Laurie going all Sarah Connor. It just makes it feel like a different, ‘wrong’ movie, like when James Cameron spun his Rambo-in-space yarn from Alien‘s ‘ten little indians’ horror film. Suddenly the tables are turned and the hunter becomes the hunted, and a crazy woman having an arsenal in her basement something to be applauded. Infact, thank God for that, because the doctors are crazier than Myers (I so sorely missed the great Donald Pleasence, whose presence seems to haunt the film like a vacant void) and the cops are more stupid and ineffective than ever. I suppose there’s a kind of movie myth that the world needs heroes like Sarah Connor rather than the original 1978 films nice girl next door; gun-toting heroines rather than terrified babysitters just trying to survive. I quite liked the post-traumatic, dysfunctional and rather unhinged Laurie that we first see in the film, but got rather bored by the killing machine survivalist she turns out to really be. Maybe the film is some kind of commentary on violence breeding violence and Myer’s bloody violence transforming 1978s nice girl next door babysitter into, well, another killer.  Maybe I’m just missing something.

Decent Ben Wheatley movie shocker!

free12017.72: Free Fire (2016)

Frankly, I didn’t see two things ever happening; one, me ever watching a Ben Wheatley film again after the frankly execrable A Field in England and High-Rise, and two, ever admitting I enjoyed a Ben Wheatley film. Well, colour me surprised, thanks to Amazon Prime putting this film up to watch and the cast enticing me in (Sam Riley, Brie Larson, Cillian Murphy, Armie Hammer, Sharlto Copley, Michael Smiley, Noah Taylor… I mean, Christ, it’s a cast to die for, really…). Ben Wheatley’s name on the credits hardly seemed a factor. Lucky me, because this is one of those films that goes with its almost one-line premise and actually delivers a little cracker. And hey, it’s nearly Christmas. Perfect.

Both A Field in England and High-Rise were competently-made high-concept films that drowned in pretentious arthouse shenanigans – Free Fire actually reminded me of 1970s John Carpenter. In a similar way to how Carpenter would skillfully craft a classic film from simple b-movie ideas with Assault on Precinct 13 or Halloween, here Wheatley shoots (unfortunate turn of phrase, all things considered) a taut, funny action-drama from a simple set-up.

Its 1978 and a bunch of IRA members meet some arms dealers in Boston to buy a van load of machine guns. A varied and eclectic group of misfits and crooks, the tense dealmaking collapses into a violent stand-off in an abandoned factory, with the two sides in a violent conflict that lasts through the entire film. Yeah, its one long gun-fight and most of these goons ain’t going to walk out of the showdown. Its simple, it’s effective, it’s littered with great dialogue, performances and twists and turns. Sure, it’s not perfect, certainly not as cool or as hip as thinks it is but for a Ben Wheatley movie it’s quite surprisingly brilliant.

It’s a decidedly pulp film just lacking the widescreen elegance of Carpenter in his prime or Tarantino’s witty dialogue or Scorsese’s gritty realism (Scorsese actually features in the films credits as a producer) but its a ball for the ninety minutes it lasts.  Maybe it was a case of extremely diminished expectations (I call that the Wheatley Factor) but I really quite enjoyed it. Great fairly mindless fun and yeah, a great, great, cast. The wrap party must have been an absolute ball.

free2

 

The Guest (2014)

guest12016.88: The Guest (FIlmFour HD)

Dan Stevens’ transformation from Downton Abbey’s noble commoner Matthew Crawley to maniac American killer David Collins is something of a disorientating revelation. To be honest the disorientation was partly down to me not knowing what to expect from what I thought would be a serious thriller. I admit I must be some sort of idiot- I hadn’t seen any hint of it being a dark comedy, coming into the film ‘blind’. From the start there was something distinctly ‘off’ by the tone of the film and its performances and it took a good half-hour for me to realise what was actually going on: I was actually missing the joke. The Guest isn’t the serious thriller I expected it to be- instead it is a dark comic homage to slasher genre films of the 1980s, films like Halloween and Friday the 13th with plenty of First Blood thrown into the mix.

Grieving family the Petersons are visited by all-American, gentle-spoken David Collins, freshly discharged from the Army and visiting the family to give them parting messages from their deceased son who he had served with in combat.Invited to stay with them for a few days he becomes part of the family- for grieving mother Laura, he’s almost a surrogate son, helping out with chores etc, but it eventually begins to unfold that he’s helping out in other, less wholesome ways. The workplace rival of husband Spencer is suddenly found dead by police, easing the path of Spencer’s promotion. Youngster Luke who is bullied at school has his bullies taken care of and given some practical advice re:standing up for himself (and once he does so, his ensuing school suspension is quickly rescinded once Collins visits the Principal). The dead-end junkie holding back daughter Anna from getting on with her life suddenly winds up in jail on a murder charge.

As the number of deaths and violent events ramp up in the otherwise quiet and unremarkable town, it becomes clear that the kindly Collins is more than he appears. He’s actually a mix of Rambo/Michael Myers, a cold killer trained by the military as some kind of psychopathic weapon, a time-bomb on the run from the authorities just waiting to go off. When he finally does go totally berserk, no-one is safe, not even the Petersons, and even the military task-force sent in to stop him might not be enough.

Had this film been made in 1986, it would have been huge. It feels like it was made to be played/watched on a VHS tape. Part of this is the cinematography and a reliance on 1980s-sounding music on the soundtrack (which sounds also very much in the style of the soundtrack of Drive). Its smart and witty and dark and funny, and all its nods to First Blood and Halloween and The Terminator are all part of the delicious fun. The only problem is that it also feels like a film out of its time. It isn’t completely convincing, but maybe that’s just because it feels so less than a film of 2014 and more one from 1986.

No small part of the success of the film though is the performance of Dan Stevens, which is frankly astonishing. He looks and sounds like an homegrown, all-American hero, but behind his charm there is evidently something ‘off’ about him. There are early moments when his smile is revealed to be a mask, with a cold Terminator-like expression underneath it. On initial viewing, they felt awkward and forced but in hindsight, its all part of that 1980’s video-nasty conceit that runs slyly through the film. Its a trickier, and more impressive, performance than it initially looks and deserves some high praise- the film wouldn’t work as well as it does without Stevens in the role and its really light-years from Downton Abbey. I dread to think what the old dears giving this film a rental on the strength of Stevens name on the credits would think of it.

This film really is the kind of film that thoroughly deserves the term ‘cult’ and I’m sure will gather quite a following over the years and re-viewings. Indeed, my own partial misgivings are likely down to not getting the film I originally expected, so will likely be changed when I re-watch it knowing what it really is.

I wonder if a sequel is in the works. There deserves to be, if only to reinforce the conceit of all those serial-killer franchises that seemed to run forever.

 

John Carpenter October film..?

hall2Halloween (1978) – Blu-ray.

Well, October’s a fairly topical month to be watching horror films, and if you are going to watch a John Carpenter film in October, then odds are it’s going to be Halloween. Fortunately I had a copy of the blu-ray 35th anniversary steelbook sitting on my shelf in the unwatched pile, so not only did it tick off another October horror movie but it also got that infamous pile down by one.

There’s not much to be said about Halloween, its surely all been said already. Separated from its iconic status over the years and its franchise of endless sequels and reboots (which beyond Halloween 3 I have never watched), the 1978 film remains a great little horror movie. Its a small, lovingly-crafted, nicely acted, wonderfully scored horror film. Like Alien and Jaws, it’s a great film that begat many (often inferior) sequels but remains perfect all in itself. Its a lesson in tension and the implied threat of violence- indeed, in gore/violence terms it’s a very restrained film, and its also a masterclass in using the widescreen frame in its shots. Carpenters films -particularly his early ones- are beautifully composed, he really knew how to use the widescreen frame.

hall1Donald Pleasence- isn’t he wonderful in this? He was always a great talent that graced genre films like THX 1138 and Escape From New York, and channeled all sorts of Peter Cushing vibes in this, perhaps his most famous role as Dr Sam Loomis. He was the kind of actor we seldom see these days, but his twitchy, nervous bald Everyman convinced he’s hunting the Devil Incarnate (and who’s to say he isn’t?) is a joy here as he is in most everything, really. I miss him, and as with Peter Cushing, with his passing we as film-fans suffered a major loss that grows more pressing as the years pass.

One thing I will note regards this 35th Anniversary disc -and I don’t know if this appears on the films many other home editions- is a great little documentary, The Night She Came Home, which features Jamie Lee Curtis attending a Halloween/horror convention and spending a weekend meeting and greeting fans, the proceeds going to a hospital charity.  Apparently she distanced herself from horror fans and the Halloween fanbase for some years so her attendance here is a rare event and warranted this video record. Its a nice doc. I quite like this kind of thing, related to the film on the disc but not restricted to being a making-of talking heads piece, rather it’s a fly-on-the-wall look at the event, the actress, the fans who share their stories regards love of the film etc, and we see other actors and behind the camera staff from the film series. Its not often I really bother with extra features on discs these days (much to my shame) but this was a nice one that sucked me in immediately after watching the film.

 

 

.

It Follows (2014)

it12016.10: It Follows (HD Streaming, Amazon Prime)

It Follows is yet another frustrating horror film. Maybe I expect too much these days (is it possible to have watched too many horror films?). There was great word of mouth about this film and positive reviews when it first came out but it doesn’t really live up to that praise. Yes it does have a great central premise and it is well shot with some nice scares in there but… well, okay, it’s good. But it could have been great.

Jay (Maika Monroe) has a date with Hugh (Jake Weary) and the night goes so well that they park up in a deserted carpark and have sex on the back seat. But things take a strange turn when Hugh then knocks Jay out and she wakes up strapped to a chair in an abandoned warehouse. Hugh tells he that by having had sex with her, he has passed on to her a curse. Unless she herself passes on the curse by having sex  with someone else, a nameless creature that can take on the appearance of other people will stalk her and kill her. Only she and others who have previously received and passed on the curse can see the creature. The creature will not run, only walk, but it will not stop. It cannot be talked to or reasoned with. It will kill whoever currently has the curse and then it will backtrack through those that had passed it on. Her only hope is to avoid being caught and killed by the creature before she can pass on the curse. Well, she looks fairly hot and already has some geek lad back home drooling over her, so she shouldn’t have much trouble shaking the curse.

So basically, sex = death. Great premise for a horror film aimed at horny teenagers featuring horny teenagers. Its like one of those late 70s/early 80s Guy N Smith horror stories in some beaten-up old paperback. I guess it could have had some kind of meaningful subtext about sexual disease in the modern world, promiscuity and women using sex as a weapon (or men abusing women to shake off the curse). But this isn’t that movie. Which is a pity. The kind of layers that, say, a film like The Thing had back in 1982 are woefully lacking here, but films don’t seem to have that baggage these days.

it2What lifts the film up to something mildly interesting is that it’s well directed and has a great retro-synth score by Disasterpeace that recalls John Carpenter’s Halloween music. The film though falls far short of Carpenter’s classic. For me -and okay, maybe I wasn’t in the right mood, or maybe that great music was bringing to mind that great movie and raising unfair comparisons- It Follows just felt pretty dumb and too teen-orientated. There’s no adults around, no parental involvement, the kids just lounge around watching tv or drive around or… I don’t know. No-one calls the police? Or a parent? Or a teacher? Or maybe a priest? (of course, The Exorcist is positively ancient, these kids have likely never even heard about it nevermind seen it).

Worse, the internal logic itself doesn’t hold up. Early on the creature behaves just as we’ve been led to think it will, but later it starts just, well, standing on the roof of a house because it looks threatening, and throwing objects at its victim in order to avoid a trap. We learn that it was standing in a cinema just watching its victim when it should have been tearing his face off. It’s supposed to just track down its victim and kill, not hang around looking cool or enabling the curse to be passed on. But this isn’t really a horror film, it’s a date movie. I think. Its just a silly teen fantasy that could have been a kick-ass hardcore horror movie with something to say about sexual politics.

Still the film seems to have been very popular so I dare say It Follows Too (see what I did there?) will be on the way before long…