The TSL’s Daily Horror Grindhouse: Halloween II (dir by Rob Zombie)


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The thing about praising Rob Zombie’s Halloween is that you’re then contractually obligated to talk about the 2009 sequel, Halloween II.  While I certainly don’t have any trouble defending the first film, Halloween II is about as big a mess as I’ve ever seen.

Much like the sequel to the original film, Halloween II opens with Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) being stalked in the hospital by her murderous older brother, Michael (Tyler Mane).  And the hospital scenes are actually pretty good.  Zombie makes good use of Nights in White Satin and the scenes of Michael chasing Laurie are genuinely suspenseful.

However, the film then jumps a year into the future and it’s all kind of annoying.  Halloween II follows three separate storylines, all of which converge at the rushed conclusion.

My favorite storyline dealt with Dr. Loomis (again played by the brilliant Malcolm McDowell).  Loomis has written a book about Michael and is now traveling the country, promoting himself as a true crime expert and dealing with people who think that he’s exploiting the whole tragedy for a quick buck.  McDowell is perfect in these scenes, playing Dr. Loomis as a pompous man who secretly knows that he’s a fraud.  “I was as much a victim as anyone,” he occasionally sputters.  Perhaps the highlight of the film comes when he’s interviewed by a rather sarcastic Chris Hardwick and finds himself being ridiculed by Weird Al Yankovic (playing himself).

The second storyline features Annie (Danielle Harris) and Laurie struggling to get on with their lives.  Laurie is now living with Annie and her father (Brad Dourif).  As opposed to the virginal Laurie of the first Halloween, this Laurie is pissed off and out of control.  On the one hand, I think Zombie deserves some credit for trying to deal with the PTSD that would obviously be the result of surviving being attacked by Michael Myers.  On the other hand, to say that Laurie is never not pissed off would be an understatement.  Scout Taylor-Compton does a good job playing her but, in Halloween II, a little Laurie Strode goes a long way.  You can only watch someone rage at the world for so long before it starts to get boring.

And the third storyline, not surprisingly, is Michael still trying to track down and kill his sister.  Michael continually sees visions of his dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie), occasionally accompanied by a white horse, telling him, “It’s time.”  (Eventually, Laurie starts to see the same thing.)  Usually, if you come across someone online criticizing Halloween II, one of the first things that they’ll mention will be that white horse.  To be honest, the white horse didn’t both me.  I actually appreciated the surreal touch of Sheri Moon Zombie and a white horse appearing out of nowhere.  But still, as opposed to first film, Michael is just boring in this film.  The first film was memorable because it took the time to explore why Michael became who he became.  In Halloween II, Michael’s just another killer in a mask.  Leslie Vernon would have kicked his ass.

So, no, Halloween II does not really work.  The story is too messy and, with the exception of Dr. Loomis, none of the characters are particularly interesting.  I still stand by my claim that Rob Zombie is an underrated director but Halloween II is a definite misfire.

The Daily Horror Grindhouse: Halloween (dir by Rob Zombie)


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Is Rob Zombie a good filmmaker?

That’s the question that every horror fan has to ask themselves at some point.  Needless to say, Zombie has a huge following and no one can doubt his love for the genre.  And yet, despite that, it seems that Zombie’s detractors will always be as outspoken as his fans.  His fans point out that Zombie makes movies that literally feel as if they’re filmed nightmares and that, as a committed horror fan, he’s willing to go further in his quest to shock you than most mainstream filmmakers.  His detractors, meanwhile, tend to see Zombie as an excessive filmmaker who often uses an abundance of style to cover for a weak narrative.

Personally, I’m somewhere in the middle when it comes to Zombie.  I think, as a storyteller, Rob Zombie does occasionally struggle to maintain a coherent narrative but, at the same time, I think his strengths as a director ultimately overcome his weaknesses.  As a visual filmmaker, he’s a lot stronger than he’s often given credit for and I don’t think anyone would criticize the way that he uses music in his films.  He may not be the strongest director of actors but he’s got a good eye for casting and he’s given work to some of our best character actors (Sid Haig, Malcolm McDowell, Brad Dourif, William Forsythe, and the late Karen Black, just to name a few).  If his films are extremely graphic and bloody … well, that’s the current state of horror.  If anything, I would argue that Zombie deserves credit for unapologetically embracing the mantle of being a 21st century grindhouse filmmaker.

That said, Rob Zombie’s films rarely seem to be as good on a second viewing as they were during the first.  He’s one of those directors who comes at you strong that, to a certain extent, his films almost beat you into submission.  During the first viewing of one of Zombie’s films, it’s not unusual to be overwhelmed by all the style and the music and the gore and the over-the-top characterizations.  Even if you don’t like the film itself, it definitely makes an impression on you.  It’s only on repeat viewing that you might start to notice that Zombie’s narratives are often rather clumsily slapped together.  Several times, Zombie’s visual style seems to dictate the story as opposed to the other way around.

That was certainly the case with his 2007 remake of Halloween.  While the film follows the same basic plot as John Carpenter’s original, it also spent a lot more time delving into the past of Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch as a child, Tyler Mane as an adult).  It was obvious that Zombie was far more interested in Michael than in any of his victims.  (Carpenter took the exact opposite approach, developing the characters of Annie, Laurie, and Linda and allowing Michael to remain a cipher.)  As a result, the first half of the film deals with Michael and his dysfunctional childhood while only the second half features Michael escaping and returning to Haddonfield.  Laurie, Annie, and Lynda are well-played by Scout Taylor-Compton, Danielle Harris, and Kristina Klebe but ultimately, they all remain rather generic.

The first time I saw Rob Zombie’s Halloween, I thought it was one of the most disturbing films that I had ever seen.  I should clarify that I mean that in a good way.  Zombie’s Michael was truly terrifying but, at the same time, Zombie portrayed him as a kid who never had a chance.  Whereas Carpenter’s Michael started the film as a fresh-faced little boy dressed up like a clown and holding a bloody knife, Zombie’s Michael is born into a world of chaos and darkness.  With his dysfunctional childhood, it was hard not to feel that Michael never had a chance.  Feeling abandoned by both his family and, eventually, his therapist, Michael retreated into a world of pure anger and hate.  Whereas John Carpenter’s Michael rarely seemed to be angry (instead he was just relentless), Zombie’s Michael is rage personified.

Unfortunately, Zombie’s Halloween spends so much time on Michael and his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell, perfectly cast) that it doesn’t leave much time for the night he came home.  Essentially, the entirety of Carpenter’s original film is crammed into the film’s second half and, on repeat viewings, you can’t ignore how incredibly rushed it all feels.  It’s obvious that Zombie’s heart was in the first half of the film.  In the second half, he’s just going through the slasher movie motions.

Rob Zombie’s Halloween is definitely a flawed film.  John Carpenter’s original remains the superior Halloween but, to be honest, I don’t think Rob Zombie would deny that.  Zombie set out not to replace Carpenter’s Halloween but to tell a different version of the same story.  When Zombie’s Halloween works, it really works.  Flawed as it may be, Halloween proves that Rob Zombie is a talented filmmaker, albeit one with room to grow.

As for Halloween II … well, we’ll talk about that later…

Horror Film Review: Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (dir by Dominique Othenin-Girard)


Oh … dammit.

Hi everyone!  We are currently in the process of our annual horrorthon here at the Shattered Lens so I thought it would be a good idea if me and some of my fellow writers reviewed all of the Halloween films!  Arleigh already reviewed the original Halloween back in 2010 and I took a look at the first sequel in 2012.  So, it just made perfect sense to me that we go ahead and take a look at the rest of the films in the series!

Yesterday, Case reviewed Halloween 4 and, later, he’ll be taking a look at Resurrection and H20.  Jedadiah Leland is taking look at Halloween 6 tomorrow.  So, that leaves me with … *sigh* Halloween 5.

BLEH!

Before we dive into the crapfest that was Halloween 5, let’s take a look at the trailer!  It’ll be fun!

The trailer’s actually fairly effective.  I have to wonder how many people, way back in 1989, were fooled into seeing this film as a result of this trailer?  I imagine probably more than who are willing to admit it.  Paying money to see Halloween 5 doesn’t seem like something anyone would want to brag about.

Halloween 5 is the one that has the dumb cops.  Now, I know that every Halloween film seems to feature at least a few dumb cops but the ones in Halloween 5 are really dumb.  And they get their own theme music!  That’s right — whenever these two dumb cops show up on screen, comedic circus music plays.  Needless to say, it’s woefully out of place in a horror movie.  I read that this was apparently meant to be an homage to the dumb cops from the original Last House On the Left.  This despite the fact that … EVERYONE HATED THE DUMB COPS IN LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT!!!  Even Wes Craven later said that the dumb cops were a mistake!  If you’re going to rip off (or pay homage) to another movie, don’t pay homage to the part that sucked!

Anyway, you may remember that Halloween 4 ended with Jamie (Danielle Harris) attacking her mother and holding a knife.  Uh-oh, looks like Jamie’s going to be a murderer!  Well, no — that would have been too interesting.  Halloween 5 finds Jamie being committed to a mental hospital for a year while Michael Myers (Don Shanks) is in a coma.  Michael eventually comes out of his coma and starts stalking Jamie all over again.

Once again, Dr. Loomis (a depressingly frail Donald Pleasence) is one of the few people who realizes that Michael is still alive and once again, nobody is willing to listen to him.  Here’s the thing: Dr. Loomis may be kinda crazy and yes, all the scars are kinda disturbing but he’s been right every single freaking time in the past.  I understand that the people of Haddonfield are kind of in denial about Michael but this is just getting ridiculous.

Rachel Carrathurs (Ellie Cornell) returns for this movie but she gets killed early on.  Apparently, she was killed so that the audience would know that anyone could be killed and that nobody was safe but Rachel was such a strong character and Ellie Cornell did such a good job playing her in the previous film that you really feel her absence in Halloween 5.  Her death leaves a void that the film fails to adequately fill.  Add to that, if you insist on killing a kickass character like Rachel, at least give her a memorable death scene.  Don’t just have her blithely wandering around the house half-naked until she suddenly gets stabbed, as if she was just some generic slasher victim and not the lead of the previous movie.

With Rachel dead, it now falls to her amazingly annoying best friend, Tina (Wendy Kaplan), to serve as Jamie’s protector.  Tina is hyperactive and talkative and quirky and blah blah blah.  Basically, she’s like that person who is really annoying but since you’ve known her since the third grade, you feel obligated to hang out with her.

It all leads to another big Halloween party and few rather bloodless deaths.  It’s all pretty boring, to be honest.  There is one good scene where Michael chases Jamie in a car (the headlights cutting through the darkness create a wonderfully eerie effect) but, otherwise, it’s depressingly generic.

In the end, Michael is captured and put in a jail cell.  Fortunately, a mysterious man in black shows up and breaks him out.  Gee, I wonder what that’s about?

Halloween 5 is undoubtedly the worst of the Halloween films.

Bleh!

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Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers; ALT Title: Anybody seen my pants? Really, I’m cold.


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We open in rural …. Iowa? Illinois? Middlewest?  We see lots of ramshackle farms and shitty halloween decorations, but that’s not all… there’s also a prison for the criminally insane.   Apparently, it’s time to move Michael Myers from his basement asylum Hell to somewhere….else.  MM is put in an ambulance for transport and proceeds to wake and stick his thumb through a man’s skull.  I get it- MM is pissed, but why didn’t he use his thumb powers to get out of the prison basement?!  Oops, I forgot to take my stupid pills….ahhhhh…. this is GENIUS!!!

We are in a suburban home and we meet Jaime who is the orphaned child of Jamie Lee Curtis AKA MM’s Niece.  She is having all kinds of disturbing hallucinations of MM coming to get her.  Her adoptive sister Rachel is not much help.  She whines about babysitting her sister Jaime because she wants to be the latest conquest of the massively eye browed Brady.

Enter Donald Pleasance (DP).  He’s all scarred up from his previous MM run-ins and limps his way to the Prison Administrator.  They go back and forth:  DP: MM is evil. Administrator: No, you are.  DP: He’ll kill everyone.  Administrator: You’ll kill everyone. DP: I’m evil.  Administrator: No! MM is evi…. You got me!  Phone Rings: MM has escaped.

MM has found a Diner/Gas Station who’s decor is wall to wall Abe Lincoln pictures.  MM who is evil, and apparently a closeted supporter of John Wilkes Booth, kills everyone there.  Donald Pleasance arrives and tries to kill MM and fails.  MM steals a tow truck and drives off to Haddonfield, Illinois to purportedly kill his niece Jaime.  DP is stranded and is forced to hitch rides.

Jaime is being bullied at school.  Rachel picks her up to get a costume for Halloween, which you’d think would be this town’s least favorite holiday, but NOPE.  They arrive at a drug store where one of the clerks is Kathleen Kinmont- the Sheriff’s daughter- who really really wants to sleep with Brady and Rachel is oblivious to this.

Rachel takes Jaime trick or treating and Brady decides to pork Kathleen Kinmont (KK) and gets totally busted when Rachel rings the bell and KK answers the door for some reason and for another some reason doesn’t have any pants on! Brady is in the background and no one seems phased that KK is without pants for 45 more minutes of the film.  This cheating distracts Rachel, leaving Jaime on her own.

DP goes to the Haddonfield Sheriff and convinces him that MM has RETURNED!!! He lets the town know and a beer addled Drunken Posse forms.  These men are beer fueled, shotgun toting, drunkards going on an MM hunt!!

The Drunk Posse thinks they’ve spotted MM, but they just shot up and murder a sleeping drunk guy.  OOPS!

The Sheriff and DP find the police station filled with dead cops.  They go outside and find Jaime and Rachel. They take the remaining police force to his house to make a last stand. This is where is gets weird….  Brady and KK are trying to pork and are interrupted by her dad the Sheriff and his deputy.  KK never puts on pants even when her dad and his co-workers arrive.  It could be a pants allergy.  The Deputy proceeds to sit in a rocking chair…yep…a rocking chair.  Huh?  I was in the Army for a long time;  I learned how to breach a building, hold a fixed position, and look awesome in Green, but I was never taught the Rocking Chair maneuver.  Maybe, that was just for Delta Force guys.

Brady tries to board up the house a bit.  KK checks on the deputy, but he’s dead.  Looks like Myers did kill the DEP U TEE!!! [sung]  Then, MM kills KK- She’s now pantsless forever with the angels in heaven.  Jaime is upstairs with Rachel and MM goes after her.  Brady tries to stop him, but MM kills him too.  MM has more urge to kill than a person who had to sit through a 3 hour timeshare presentation.

The girls manage to escape: Jaime by being lowered slowly down from the roof and Rachel much more quickly by falling off the roof.  They run for the school and MM pursues them. The Drunken Posse arrives and manages to not kill themselves or others for this scene only.  They take the girls in the truck and drive away to safety …. or so they think!!! MM climbs up from under the truck Indiana Jones style and kills all of the Drunken Posse. Rachel takes the truck and slams on the brakes to get MM to fly off of the roof of the truck. She then runs him over.  The Sheriff and some extras arrive to shoot up MM.  Jaime goes to the now deceased MM and touches his corpse.

They go home and Jaime dresses up as a clown like MM did in Halloween 1 and stabs her adoptive mom to death.  The End.

This is the most analysis this film has ever received or should, but it’s Halloween time. Thanks for enjoying this terrible film with me.  Remember, as always, if you like my work, tell my boss Lisa Marie Bowman!!!

Review: The Black Waters Of Echo’s Pond (dir. by Gabriel Bolongna)


 

I’m going to start this review with a disclaimer.  Yesterday, I nearly died trying to see this movie.  As I was driving to the theater, I nearly collided with another car.  One of us (okay, it me) wasn’t paying attention and ran a stop sign.  We handled the near accident with the usual mix of car horns and profanity and, my heart still racing, I drove on to the theater and saw The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond.

As a result of my near death experience, I sat through this movie with one thought in my head: was seeing it worth losing my life?  While there are some movies (Suspiria, Beyond the Darkness, Zombi 2, and the Living Dead Girl, for example) that I would happily sacrifice a few years in order to see on the big screen, Black Waters is not one of them.

The film actually starts out well with a 9-minute prologue.  An archeological expedition in Turkey discovers an ancient tomb.  Inside the tomb, they find a map that is somehow linked to the Greek God Pan.  For nine minutes, we’re treated to clunky exposition (“Why, it’s what we’ve been here looking for!”  “Professor, do you mean that it’s the ancient map of Pan’s Arcadia?”  “Yes, the same Pan who was the Greek God of fertility and…”) and it seems like this movie might actually turn out to be a fun, cheerfully stupid take on the old Mummy movies that Hammer Studios released in the late 60s.

No such luck.  All the members of the expedition are promptly killed off-screen.  We jump forward to the “present day” and the entire movie quickly goes downhill.

In the present day, nine college friends get together to spend a weekend in an isolated mansion on an even more isolated island.  Why they would want to do this is never really addressed nor do you ever believe that any of the characters have a shared history or would actually be friends if not for the fact that the film demands it.  While there are some talented actors in the cast, they have absolutely no chemistry when they’re on screen together.  Since the rest of the film is pretty much dependent upon us believing that these people are all old friends, this lack of chemistry pretty much dooms the entire movie. 

(Add to that, the men in this group all appear to be having the worst bad hair day in recorded history.)

Once they’re in the mansion, the power promptly dies.  While attempting to find a fuse box, one of the friends instead discovers a board game.  Our group proceeds to play the game and soon, they’re seeing visions of murder, illicit sexual activity, and a big-horned demon.  However, none of them find this to be all that curious because they are 1) stoned and 2) incredibly stupid.

As I watched them play this cursed Jumanji death game, I found myself wondering if nobody in this film had ever seen a horror movie before.  Surely, if they had, they would realize that getting together in an isolated location, joking about sex, smoking weed, and then playing with the mysterious game that was previously walled up in the cellar is a good way to guarantee that you’re not going to be alive in the morning. 

To a certain extent, you have to be willing accept a lot of stupidity on the part of the characters in a horror film.  After all, we all know that our poor victims are always going to end up running up a flight of stairs in order to escape the killer (as opposed to going out the front door) and we forgive them for that because we know that if their actions were logical, then there would not be a movie.  However, the victims of the Black Waters of Echo’s Pond simply require us to forgive too much. 

Anyway, the game quickly starts to get weird as everyone draws cards that require them to answer increasingly personal questions.  Old resentments boil up to the surface.  One guy admits to wanting to have sex with both his girlfriend and her sister while the token responsible girl finds herself compelled to flirt with the token slut.  All of this goes on until finally, one member of the group snaps and, while everyone else is busy getting it on, proceeds to cut his best friend in half with a chainsaw.  (And no, nobody in the house hears the screams or the chainsaw because, as I mentioned earlier, they’re all incredibly stupid.)

Once that first murder is committed, everyone is soon trying to kill everyone else.  In this regard the film is remarkably similar to Mario Bava’s classic Bay of Blood (a.k.a. Twitch of the Death Nerve).  However, the constant carnage in the Bava film worked because Bava made it clear that his many murderers were all working independently from each other with just their own greed to motivate them.  Whereas in Black Waters, it is made clear from the start that everyone has been possessed by Pan.  In short, the murders have nothing to do with the people being killed or those who do the killing.  And while the murders are nicely brutal and bloody (I hate bloodless horror films), they don’t have any meaning beyond the mechanics of the film.

Pan (or at least I assume that its meant to Pan because it looks more like a Minotaur than anything else) shows up fairly early in the movie and he is an impressive creature with a goat’s head that features glowing eyes and long, dirty talons at the end of his fingers.  Still, I think it was a mistake on the part of the filmmaker’s to reveal him as early (and as often) as the film does.  Once Pan shows up, the movie loses all of its mystery.  We now know, for sure, that all the ensuing mayhem is the result of Pan’s supernatural malevolence.  By revealing Pan as early as it does, the film sacrifices whatever chance it may have had to be truly scary.  Instead Pan, just becomes another faceless killer and the movie, which has been advertised as a “psychological thriller,” loses its edge.

Outside of Pan, the cast is largely forgettable and they’re certainly not helped by how unlikable the majority of the characters are.  A few members of the cast do occasionally manage to offer up a few good (or, at least, memorable) moments but their efforts are sabotaged by some of the most leaden dialogue I’ve ever heard.  (It’s not a good sign that the film feels like it was dubbed into English even though it’s not.) 

The Babysitter twins from the Planet Terror segment of Grindhouse show up for instance and, even though their characters are wildly inconsistent, they both bring a lot of energy to their roles.  Incidentally, one of them gets the worst the line of the dialogue in the entire film when she says, “Shakespeare is Shakespeare!  B-movies are porn!”

Robert Patrick plays Pete, the grizzled old-timer who gets to do the whole “Some people say the killer is still out there…” thing.  It’s not much of a role but Patrick has fun with it.

Speaking of horror film tropes, Mircea Monroe plays Veronique, the token slut.  From the minute she shows up on-screen, you know she’s doomed because she’s flirtatious, openly bisexual, and likes to show off her boobs.  (Come to think of it, if I ever find myself in a slasher film, I am fucked!)  It’s a thankless role but Monroe does her best with it and actually give Veronique a personality that goes beyond the puritan stereotype of the slasher film slut.  Her best scene is her last.  The look of mournful resignation on her face make her final fate rather sad and suggests the type of film that Black Waters could have been.

The two nominal leads are played Danielle Harris and James Duval and they both occasionally manage to transcend the shallowness of their roles.  Harris, of course, is a horror film veteran who could play her role in her sleep.  To her credit, she doesn’t.  James Duval is best known for playing Frank the Bunny in Donnie Darko.  Here, he plays ne’er-do-well Rick.  If for no other reason, the movie is worth seeing just for the way Duval delivers the line “Shit!  We’re fucked!”  It’s a line that he repeats several times and he says it with just the right combination of genuine frustration and stoner pathos.

In many ways, Black Waters On Echo’s Pond feels a lot like one Lucio Fulci’s post-Manhattan Baby efforts.  You have no doubt that the movie was made by talented people and you keep wanting it to be better than it actually is.  You find yourself clinging onto the few isolated moments that are actually effective and hoping that maybe they’ll carry you to the light at the end of the tunnel.  Unfortunately, by the end of the movie, you realize that the light was actually the train that’s just bisected you because you were too stupid to jump off the tracks.

Ultimately, the main problem with The Black Waters of Echo’s Pond is that it just is not a scary movie.  I can usually forgive a lot from a horror movie as long as there’s a handful of shocking “jump” moments.  Unfortunately, Black Waters doesn’t feature a single one.  While the gore effects are occasionally impressive, it takes more than blood to make a horror movie.  All the material was there for this to be a fun little B-movie (and not a porno, regardless of what that Babysitter Twin claims) but it just doesn’t happen.

I recently posted some of my feelings about this film over on a message board.  I quickly received a reply from a gentleman who disagreed with me.  He informed me that not only did I not have the slightest idea how difficult it is to make a movie but by criticizing this film, I was failing to support “independent film.”  “Why don’t you just go spend more of your money on Avatar again?” he asked.  Well, for the record, I hated Avatar and I do support independent film.  Just because this movie was made outside of the studios, that doesn’t make it a good film.  If you want to see a good, independent horror and/or fantasy film, go track down Baghead or Primer.  Leave the Black Waters of Echo’s Pond undisturbed.