Cinemax Friday: Relentless IV: Ashes to Ashes (1994, dir by Oley Sassone)

Sam Deitz (Leo Rossi) is back to hunt one last serial killer in this, the last of the Relentless films.

This time the killer is a boring nonentity.  He’s not as interesting as the killers played by Miles O’Keeffee or William Forsythe.  Nor is he as unintentionally funny as the one played by Judd Nelson in the first Relentless film.  Instead, he’s just your run-of-the-mill religious fanatic, killing sinners and performing rituals.  His trademark is that he only kills the person that he wants to kill.  Anyone else who might be around is just taken out with a stun gun.  That’s a boring if considerate trademark.

Deitz is assigned to track down the killer, along with his new partner, Jessica Pareti (Colleen Coffey).  While Deitz is trying to solve the case, he’s also having to deal with his rebellious teenage son (Christopher Pettiet).  Between this film and the last, Deitz’s ex-wife died and now Deitz is a single father.  He and his son barely know each other.  Deitz tries to keep his son under control while all his son wants to do is spend time with his girlfriend, Sherrie (Lisa Robin Kelly).

Relentless IV is the least interesting of the Relentless film.  It’s so trapped by the now-stale Relentless formula that not even the casting of Famke Janssen as a possible femme fatale can save it.  Janssen is a psychiatrist who is connected not only to one of the victims but possibly to the killer as well.  She and Deitz are obviously attracted to each other and Deitz is torn between that attraction and treating her like a possible suspect.  The relationship between Deitz and the doctor has potential but it keeps getting sidetraced by scenes of Deitz trying to deal with his teenage son and it never really lives up to what it could have been.  Janssen is beautiful and Rossi gives a typically good performance but watching the film, it’s obvious that there wasn’t much left to do with the character of Detective Sam Deitz.

Direct-to-video mainstay Oley Sassone directs in a flat and unmemorable manner and the entire film just seems tired.  When the best your serial killer can do is kill someone with a Campbell’s soup can, you know you’re running on empty.  There would not be a Relentless V.  Hopefully, Sam Deitz finally found some peace and figured out how to balance being an intense New Yorker with living in laid back California.

Relentless 3 (1993, directed by James Lemmo)

Detective Sam Deitz (Leo Rossi) is back and somehow, his life is even more crappy than before.

Detective Deitz is still an intense New Yorker struggling to fit in with the laid back California lifestyle.  Watching a Relentless film, you would think that it’s a crime to be laid back in New York.  After three films,  Deitz should no longer be as much of a fish out of water as he is in Relentless 3.

Deitz is now divorced and he hardly ever sees his son.  That bothers him but also means that there aren’t anymore arguments between Deitz and his wife about him bringing his work home.  Deitz is now out on the dating scene.  The movie spends a lot of time on scenes of Deitz trying to pick up women.  It’s not easy because he’s an intense New Yorker and they’re all laid back California girls.  He eventually meets and falls for Paula (Signy Coleman).

Meanwhile, there’s a new serial killer on the scene.  Walter (William Forsythe) lives with a mentally unstable woman and is always bragging about how he’s a star.  He picks up women in bars, take them home, kills them, and then has sex with their dead bodies before eventually dumping them around Los Angeles.  Even though Deitz no longer wants to chase serial killers, he agrees to serve as a consultant.  When Walter finds out that the famous Sam Deitz is working the case, he decides to make it personal.  Being a “star,” Walter wants to compete with the best.

Relentless 3 gets off to a good start but it runs out of gas quickly.  William Forsythe is an effective villain and some of the early scenes of him picking up women are suspenseful.  Also, there’s an effective scene where Walter mails Deitz a patch of tattooed skin and proves, as if there was any doubt, that Walter was one sick puppy.  But the movie, which should be a relentless cat-and-mouse game between Deitz and Walter, gets sidetracked with all of the scenes of Deitz trying to get back into the dating scene.  For all the build-up, the final confrontation between Deitz and Walter feels like a let down. This Relentless film just isn’t relentless enough.

Leo Rossi still does a good job as Deitz but it seems like we learned as much as we need to know about the character during the first two Relentless films and nothing that Deitz does surprises us anymore.  Despite good performances from Rossi and Forsythe, Relentless 3 never comes together.

Dead On: Relentless II (1992, directed by Michael Schroeder)

Still struggling to recover from having to act opposite Judd Nelson in the previous Relentless film, Los Angeles homicide detective Sam Deitz (Leo Rossi) finds himself investigating another string of seemingly random murders.  This time, the killer is Gregor (Miles O’Keeffe), a master of disguise who hangs his victims, decorates the crime scene with Satanic graffiti, and takes a lot of ice baths.  Deitz is forced to team up with a condescending FBI agent named Kyle Valsone (Ray Sharkey), who has his own reasons for wanting to capture Gregor and who might not have the best interests of the case in mind.  As if having to deal with killer Russians and crooked FBI agents isn’t bad enough, Deitz is also having to deal with the collapse of his married to Meg Foster and the everyday irritations of being an intense New York cop in laid back Los Angeles.

Relentless II is a better than the first Relentless, mostly because Miles O’Keeffe is a better villain than Judd Nelson.  Whereas Nelson was too twitchy to be taken seriously in the first Relentless, O’Keeffe is cold as ice and believably dangerous.  He’s a worthy opponent for Rossi and Sharkey.  How much Keeffe was in this movie?  Just enough to make it work.

Whenever O’Keeffe isn’t doing his thing, the movie focuses on Deitz and Valsone.  To a certain extent, their relationship mirrors the relationship that Deitz had with Malloy in the first Relentless except, this time, the mentor turns out to be just as bad the killer.  Ray Sharkey was a good actor whose career nosedived because of his own addictions.  He was always at his best playing streetwise bad guys, like Sonny Steelgrave in Wiseguy.  He’s good as Valsone, giving a performance that indicates that, even if mainstream Hollywood wasn’t willing to take a chance of him, he could have carved out a direct-to-video career as a poor man’s Michael Madsen.  Unfortunately, Sharkey contracted HIV as a result of his heroin addiction and he died of AIDS just a year after the release of Relentless II.

Leo Rossi gives another good performance as Sam Deitz.  Rossi was usually cast as abusive boyfriends and low-level mobsters and it’s obvious that he enjoyed getting to play a hero for once.  Meg Foster may not get to do much as Deitz’s wife but her otherworldly eyes are always a welcome sight.

Relentless II was the high point of the Relentless films.  It made enough money to lead to a sequel.  Sam Deitz’s days of hunting serial killers were not over.

Relentless (1989, directed by William Lustig)

Buck Taylor (Judd Nelson) is the son of an LAPD cop who has never gotten over the bitterness he feels over being rejected by the force himself.  Determined to get revenge on a world that refuses to look beyond the dark circles under his eyes, Buck becomes a serial killer.  He picks his victims at random from the phone book.  Because his father was a cop and he studied to join the force, Buck knows all the tricks of the trade.

Pursuing Buck are two cops.  Bill Malloy (Robert Loggia) is a veteran detective who is supposed to be laid back though Robert Loggia was one of those actors who never seemed like he had been laid back a day in his life.  Malloy’s new partner is Sam Dietz (Leo Rossi).  Dietz has just transferred to Los Angeles from New York and he’s having a hard time adjusting.  Everyone is just too laid back.

When Buck starts to target the two cops who are investigating him, the case gets personal and relentless.

Relentless is a movie that I’ve been meaning to review for five years now.  In the past, I’ve always been deterred by the fact that reviewing Relentless would mean rewatching Relentless.  But, having just spent two weeks watching all of the Witchcraft films, I now feel like I can handle anything.  Relentless is a movie that I always remember as being better than it actually is.  The murders are creepy but Judd Nelson gives such a one-note performance as the killer that it’s impossible to believe that he could have gotten away with them.  As played by Nelson, Buck Taylor is such an obvious serial killer that I’m surprised that he wasn’t already in jail, having been accused of every single unsolved murder on the books.  There’s nothing compelling about this killer and films like this pretty much live and … ahem … die based on the quality of their villain.

Why do I always remember Relentless as being better than it is?  Most of the credit for that probably goes to Leo Rossi, an underappreciated character actor who gives such a good performance as Sam Dietz that he makes the entire movie better.  Rossi even got a brief franchise out of his performance in Relentless, as Dietz returned for three sequels.  Robert Loggia is also good as Malloy and it’s unfortunate that the movie doesn’t do as much with the character as it could have.

Rossi and Loggia aside, Relentless doesn’t live up to its potential.  But it was still popular enough to launch a direct-to-video franchise.  Tomorrow: Relentless 2.

An Offer You Can’t Refuse #23: Gotti (dir by Kevin Connolly)

Few recent films have been as misunderstood as Gotti.

When this film was first released in 2018, it was slammed by critics and it flopped at the box office.  On Rotten Tomatoes, it managed a score of 0% from the critics.  At the same time, the opening day audience score was 80%.  (Over subsequent days, the audience score would drop to 46%.)  This disparity was blamed on studio employees inflating the audience score, though I think it’s more likely that, after months of negative press about the film’s troubled productions, critics were already looking forward to slamming the film before they even had a chance to see it.  At the same time, the buzz on Gotti was so bad that the opening day audience was made up of a combination of John Travolta die-hards (whoever they may be) and people who were expecting such a trainwreck that all Gotti had to do to surpass their expectations was to occasionally be in focus.

Then again, it could be that some members of the audience understood what I instinctively understood when I first watched GottiGotti is not really a film about John Gotti, the flamboyant New York mob boss who ruled the streets with an iron fist and who eventually ended up dying of cancer in prison.  Instead, whether it was the filmmaker’s actual intention or not, Gotti is a film about the audience’s fascination with not only gangsters but also the movies that have been made about them.

It’s true that John Travolta may be playing someone namned John Gotti but the film goes out of its way to remind you that he’s not the real John Gotti.  The film is full of archival news footage of the real John Gotti, either laughing it up with reporters or smirking while sitting in a courtroom.  Every time that we’re shown footage of the real John Gotti, we’re reminded of the fact that, at not point during the film, does Travolta look anything like John Gotti.  Add to that, the real Gotti is always smirking whereas Travolta always looks somewhat grim.  At the time this film came out, many claimed that this was evidence of lazy filmmaking but I viewed it as being a Brechtian distancing device.  Whenever the real Gotti makes an appearance, we’re reminded that we’re just watching a movie and then we’re encouraged to ask ourselves why we would want to watch a movie about such a disreputable figure.

The movie opens with John Travolta standing next to the Brooklyn Bridge and speaking directly to the camera.  Though Travolta is meant to be speaking to us as John Gotti, the sight of him standing near a bridge in New York will automatically remind some viewers of a previous Travolta film, Saturday Night Fever.  The character that Travolta played in Saturday Night Fever, Tony Manero, has come to epitomize New York in the 70s.  The film suggests that, in much the same way, Gotti epitomized New York in the 80s and 90s.  Gotti, the film is saying, is as much of an icon of the popular imagination as Tony Manero dancing in a white suit.

Why is Gotti speaking directly to us in that scene?  It may seem like a framing device until, a few minutes later, we see a bald and sickly Gotti in a prison meeting room, telling his life story to his son, John, Jr. (Spencer LoFranco).  Gotti talking in prison is then established as the narrative’s other framing device.  So, why was Gotti speaking to us on the bridge and why did he look so healthy and have a full of head of hair when the film has made it clear that the newly bald Gotti is going to die in prison?  When I first saw the film, my initial thought was that the Gotti who speaks directly to the audience was meant to be a ghost.  But then it occurred to me that he’s actually not meant to be John Gotti at all.  Instead, the Gotti who talks to us on the bridge is meant to be our popular conception of what gangsters like John Gotti as like.  He’s what we imagine gangsters to be — i.e., tough-talking, well-dressed, and played by an iconic actor.  As such, the film’s narration is not being provided by John Gotti.  Instead, it’s being provided by the person that we imagine someone like Gotti to have been.

Is the imprisoned Gotti meant to be the real Gotti?  Perhaps.  However, it’s hard not to notice that, over the course of the film, Gotti’s son never ages.  Though several decades pass, Gotti’s son always looks like he’s in his mid-twenties.  When he visits his father in prison and talks about having teenage children of his own, it feels odd because he barely looks old enough to be out of high school.  That may seem like lazy filmmaking but again, I would argue that this is a distancing device.  It’s a reminder that we’re not watching reality.  Instead, we’re choosing to watch actors pretending to be gangsters.

Once you accept that Gotti is a film not about John Gotti but instead about those of us in the audience who are watching, the film makes a lot more sense.  The film’s cliches about life in the Mafia are revealed to be not so much the result of an uninspired script as they’re an homage to American folklore.  Of course, there’s going to be a scene where Gotti tells his children never to rat on their friends.  Of course, there’s going to be random shootings and burly men demanding respect.  This is a gangster movie, after all.  By populating the cast with people who you normally wouldn’t expect to see playing members of the Mafia — Stacy Keach, Chris Mulkey, Pruitt Taylor Vince — Gotti continually reminds you that you’re watching a movie.  The real mafia isn’t like this, Gotti is saying, but the mafia of the popular imagination is.  Why are we horrified by real-life crime and yet we flock to movies that claim to recreate it for our entertainment?  This is the issue at the heart of Gotti.

Gotti’s flaws are there to remind us that we’re just watching a movie.  They’re also there to make us wonder why we’re watching that particular movie.  Gotti asks us why audience idolize killers like John Gotti.  Why do we turn them into folk heroes?  Is it because we imagine them to be characters in films as opposed to actual human beings?  Whether or not one feels that the film succeeded in its goal, this is an offer that you cannot refuse.

Previous Offers You Can’t (or Can) Refuse:

  1. The Public Enemy
  2. Scarface (1932)
  3. The Purple Gang
  4. The Gang That Could’t Shoot Straight
  5. The Happening
  6. King of the Roaring Twenties: The Story of Arnold Rothstein 
  7. The Roaring Twenties
  8. Force of Evil
  9. Rob the Mob
  10. Gambling House
  11. Race Street
  12. Racket Girls
  13. Hoffa
  14. Contraband
  15. Bugsy Malone
  16. Love Me or Leave Me
  17. Murder, Inc.
  18. The St. Valentine’s Day Massacre
  19. Scarface (1983)
  20. The Untouchables
  21. Carlito’s Way
  22. Carlito’s Way: Rise To Power

Sundance Film Review: Circle of Power (dir by Bobby Roth)

With the Sundance Film festival currently taking place in Utah, I am currently reviewing films that originally made a splash at the Sundance Film Festival!

(a.k.a. Circle of Power, Mystique, Naked Weekend, and probably a handful of other titles)

The Sundance Film Festival wasn’t always the Sundance Film Festival.

Up until 1984, it was known as the US Film Festival.  Because of the involvement of Robert Redford, it was something of a big deal but still nowhere as big a deal as it is today.  In fact, many of the films that were showcased and celebrated at the US Film Festival have slipped into obscurity.  While winning an award at the US Film Festival may have been nice a ego boost for an independent filmmaker, it certainly didn’t bring a film anywhere near the amount of attention that winning at Sundance does now.

Take the long and strange saga of Circle of Power, for instance.

From my own research, it appears that Circle of Power was originally filmed in 1980.  At that time, it was called Mystique.  It premiered at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1981.  A year later, under the title Circle of Power, it played at the US Film Festival.  It was awarded the Dramatic prize (which was the forerunner for Sundance’s Grand Jury Prize).

After that, it still took Circle of Power two years to achieve national distribution.  In 1984, when it was reviewed by Roger Ebert, the film had been released as Naked Weekend, a title that was as commercial as it was misleading.  (There is nudity in the film but probably not the type of nudity that Naked Weekend‘s audience was expecting.)  By the time the film was finally released on VHS, it had picked up yet another title: Brainwash.

That’s the poster for Brainwash at the top of this video.  There are two images on that poster.  One is of a woman holding a riding crop and showing off her bra.  The other is of a naked man in a cage.  Only the latter image actually appears in the movie.

The film’s distributors were obviously trying to sell Circle of Power as an exploitation film.  Actually, it’s not.  It’s … well, it’s hard to describe what exactly it is.  It starts out with a title card, informing us that what we’re about to see is based on a true story.  The rest of the film deals with a group of executives and their wives who are required to spend the weekend attending a “training course” at a beautiful hotel.  The weekend gets off to a good start, with lots of dancing and laughing.  Of course, none of the executives seem to notice that the hotel staff is watching them with a mix of scorn and pity.

(The film continually contrasts the privileged white executives with the largely black and Hispanic hotel staff.)

Before the training sessions begin, all of the executives and their wives are forced to sign a paper that states they understand that they will be psychologically and physically abused over the weekend.  Only one executive objects and he is quickly bullied into signing by his co-workers.  Apparently, they can’t do the training unless everyone agrees to sign.

The men and the women are separated.  (Interestingly, all of the executives are men.)  The men are “trained” by Bianca Ray (Yvete Mimieux, who is chilling in her final performance to date) while the women are left with Jordan Carelli (John Considine).  The training turns out to be a combination of ego stripping and physical abuse.  One overweight executive (Walter Olkewicz) is ordered to strip naked and is then locked in a cage, where food is dumped on him.  An alcoholic is forced to lay down in a coffin.  Soon, everyone is covered in bruises.  What’s remarkable is that only one executive and his wife actually seems to find any of this to be objectionable.  In fact, everyone else reacts to the abuse by hugging their abusers and crying for joy.

It’s a strange little film, one that often seems to be unsure of what it’s saying but which, at the same time, still possesses an undeniable power.  The film may be 38 years old but brainwashing is a timeless subject.  One need only spend an hour or two on twitter to see how easily people can be brainwashed.  While the film probably disappointed those seeking a naked weekend, it’s still an undeniably watchable oddity.

Previous Sundance Film Reviews:

  1. Blood Simple
  2. I Don’t Feel At Home In This World Anymore

A Movie A Day #88: Where The Day Takes You (1992, directed by Marc Rocco)

This month, since the site is currently reviewing every episode of Twin Peaks, each entry in Move A Day is going to have a Twin Peaks connection.  Where The Day Takes You is a movie that has not just one but two connections to Twin Peaks.

Where The Day Takes You is an episodic film about young runaways living on the streets of Los Angeles.  Led by 22 year-old King (Dermot Mulroney), who ran away from home when he was 16, the runaways form a surrogate family.  While being constantly harassed by both the police and well-meaning social workers, some of the runaways get addicted to drugs while others turn to prostitution in order to survive.  Some find love.  Some find death.  They all go where the day takes you.  (Not sure if that was the movie’s tag line but it should have been.)

Where The Day Takes You is a gritty and often tough film, though it’s effectiveness is undercut by a predictable ending and the presence of too many familiar faces in the cast.  The runaways are made up of a who’s who of prominent young actors from the 1990s.  Balthazar Getty plays King’s second-in-command.  Sean Astin plays an obviously doomed drug addict.  Alyssa Milano and David Arquette play prostitutes.  Ricki Lake and James Le Gros play comedic relief.  Will Smith, in his film debut, plays a wheelchair-bound runaway.  Christian Slater and Laura San Giacomo show up as social workers while the police are represented by Rachel Ticotin and Adam Baldwin.  Everyone gives a good performance but the film would have worked better with unknown actors or even real runaways.  No matter how good a performance Sean Astin gives as a heroin addict, he is always going to be Sean Astin and it is always going to be difficult to look at him without saying, “I might not be able to carry the ring but I can carry you!”

The movie’s first Twin Peaks connection is that Lara Flynn Boyle, who played innocent Donna Hayward on Twin Peaks, plays innocent runaway Heather in Where The Day Takes You.  The role is cliché but Boyle shows the same charm that she showed while playing Donna.

The movie’s second Twin Peaks connection is more unexpected.  Kyle MacLachlan is effectively cast against type as Ted, the drug dealer who keeps most of the runaways hooked on heroin and who is perfectly willing to leave an overdosed junkie in a garbage bin.  Ted is about as far from Dale Cooper as you can get.

Reblog: Lisa’s Thoughts on Halloween II (directed by Rick Rosenthal)

And now that you’ve re-read Arleigh’s review of the original Halloween, why not check out my review of the original Halloween II? This was originally published in 2012! After reading this, be sure to check back in about 90 minutes for Case’s review of Halloween 4! And then come back on Thursday for Halloween 5! (Where’s Halloween 3? It will be dealt with as soon as we finish the saga of Michael Myers…)

Through the Shattered Lens

Last night, I watched Halloween II.  No, I’m not referring to the rather disturbing Rob Zombie movie that came out in 2009.  Instead, this Halloween II was the original sequel to the original Halloween.  This version was written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill.  It was released in 1981 and I saw it in 2012, via Cinemax.

Why Was I Watching It?

Because it’s October, of course!  It’s horror month and Halloween is one of the great horror movies.  Would Halloween II turn out to be another great horror movie?  Well, to be honest, I figured it probably wouldn’t but I decided to watch it anyway.

What Was It About?

Halloween II picks up exactly from where the first Halloween ended.  The sole surviving babysitter, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), is being rushed to the hospital by two paramedics, one nice (Lance Guest) and one kinda crude and pervy (Leo Rossi). …

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Back to School #43: River’s Edge (dir by Tim Hunter)

In his film guide, Heavy Metal Movies, Mike McPadden describes the disturbing 1987 teen crime drama River’s Edge as being “666 Candles“.  It’s a perfect description because River’s Edge appears to not only be taking place in a different socio-economic setting than Sixteen Candles and The Breakfast Club but perhaps on a different planet as well.

River’s Edge opens with a close-up of a dead and naked teenage girl lying on the edge of a dirty, polluted river and it gets darker from there.  The dead girl was the girlfriend of the hulking John Tollet (Daniel Roebuck, playing a character who is miles away from his role in Cavegirl).  As John explains to his friends, he strangled her for no particular reason.  His friends, meanwhile, respond with detachment.  Their unofficial leader, the hyperactive Layne (Crispin Glover), insists that since nothing can be done about the dead girl, their number one concern now has to be to keep John from getting caught.  While Layne arranges for John to hide out with a one-legged drug dealer named Feck (Dennis Hopper), two of John’s friends, Matt and Clarissa (played by Keanu Reeves and Ione Skye), consider whether or not they should go to the police.  Oddly enough, John really doesn’t seem to care one way or the other.

Seriously, River’s Edge is one dark film.  If it were made today, River’s Edge would probably be directed by someone like Larry Clark and, in many ways, it feels like a distant cousin to Clark’s Bully.  The teenagers in River’s Edge live in a world with little-to-no adult supervision.  Matt’s mom is more concerned with whether or not Matt has been stealing her weed than with the fact that Matt might be covering up a murder.  The local high school teacher is a former hippie who won’t shut up about how much better his generation was compared to every other generation.  In fact, the only adult with any sort of moral code is Feck and he’s usually too busy dancing with a sex doll to really be of much help.  It’s a world where no one has been raised to value their own lives so why should they care about a dead girl laying out on the banks of the river?

The film features good performances from Keanu Reeves, Ione Skye, and Daniel Roebuck but really, the entire movie is stolen by Crispin Glover and Dennis Hopper.  In the role of Layne, Glover is a manic wonder, speaking quickly and gesturing even when he isn’t making a point.  When Layne first shows up, he seems like he’s just overly loyal to his friend John but, as the film progresses, it becomes more apparent that he’s less concerned about protecting John and more interested in ordering other people to do it.  For Layne, protecting John is ultimately about maintaining power over Matt, Clarissa, and the rest of their friends.

As for Dennis Hopper — well, this is one of those films that you should show to anyone who says that Hopper wasn’t a great actor.  The role of a one-legged drug dealer who lives with a sex doll sound like exactly the type of role that would lead Hopper to going totally over-the-top.  Instead, Hopper gave a surprisingly subtle and intelligent performance and, as a result, he provided this film with the moral center that it very much needs.

Glover and Hopper


What Horror Lisa Marie Watched Last Night #53: Halloween II (directed by Rick Rosenthal)

Last night, I watched Halloween II.  No, I’m not referring to the rather disturbing Rob Zombie movie that came out in 2009.  Instead, this Halloween II was the original sequel to the original Halloween.  This version was written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill.  It was released in 1981 and I saw it in 2012, via Cinemax.

Why Was I Watching It?

Because it’s October, of course!  It’s horror month and Halloween is one of the great horror movies.  Would Halloween II turn out to be another great horror movie?  Well, to be honest, I figured it probably wouldn’t but I decided to watch it anyway.

What Was It About?

Halloween II picks up exactly from where the first Halloween ended.  The sole surviving babysitter, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), is being rushed to the hospital by two paramedics, one nice (Lance Guest) and one kinda crude and pervy (Leo Rossi).  Two guesses which one of our two paramedics eventually ends up dead.  Meanwhile, Michael Myers has apparently survived being shot six times and falling out of a second story window and he’s still wandering around Haddonfield, Indiana.  Best of all, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is still running around all over the place, telling anyone who will listen that it wasn’t his idea to allow Michael to be released.  (In one of the film’s best running jokes, everyone responds to Loomis’ protestations by saying stuff like, “Damn you for letting him out!”  “Uhmm, I didn’t…” Dr. Loomis mutters at one point.)  It quickly becomes apparent that Michael’s rampage wasn’t quite as random as it seemed in the first film.  He’s after Laurie and, once he breaks into the local hospital, it seems like he might very well get her.  Why?  Because, for the most part, it appears that every single citizen of Haddonfield is a total and complete moron.

What Worked?

Halloween II is actually one the better of the slasher sequels of the early 80s.  While it can’t compare to the first Halloween, it’s still a fairly suspenseful little film and Michael Myers is just as frightening as ever.  However, what truly makes this film memorable, is Donald Pleasence’s unhinged performance as Dr. Loomis.  Whereas in the first film, Pleasence played Loomis as just being somewhat testy and annoyed, his performance here suggests that, in the minute or so between shooting Michael and then looking out the window at the end of the first film, Loomis has managed to totally lose his mind.  Pleasence gives one of the most mannered, over the top performances in film history in Halloween II and it works perfectly.  Whenever the film starts to drag, Pleasence shows up and injects a nice bit of crazy into the proceedings.  My favorite moment comes when Loomis suddenly yells at a policeman, “What is it you guys you usually do?  FIRE A WARNING SHOT!?”

Lance Guest, who plays the nice paramedic, was really quite likable.  I know there’s some debate as to the ultimate fate of his character but I chose to believe that he survived.

The Halloween theme music is still probably one of the most effective horror soundtracks to have not been composed by Goblin or Riz Ortolani.  When it came on the TV last night, our cat Doc actually got scared and ran out of the room.

What Didn’t Work?

It’s not the first Halloween.

While the film nominally stars Jamie Lee Curtis, Laurie spends most of the film catatonic and she never really gets to do much other than run from Michael.  Say what you will about how Laurie kept dropping her weapons at the end of the first Halloween, she still at least fought back.  In Halloween II, Laurie is reduced to being a stereotypical victim.

“Oh my God!  Just like me!” Moments

I have to admit that I kinda related to the three nurses who were on call at the hospital.  I related to Karen (Pamela Susan Shoop) because, like her, I have, in the past, shown a weakness for bad boys who insist on making out in a hot tub even while there’s a merciless serial killer wandering about.  I related to Jill (Tawny Moyer) because, like her, I tend to look at my nails whenever I get bored at work.  Most of all, I related to Janet (Ana Alicia), because she couldn’t figure out how to use a walkie talkie.  (And, seriously, what type of name is walkie-talkie anyway?  It sounds like a cutesy robot.)

So, as opposed to most other slasher films, I was able to find instant empathy with not one but three characters!  Unfortunately, all three of those nurses were dead by the end of the film so, seriously … agck!

Lessons Learned:

I would not survive a slasher film.