Halloween II (2009) [Unrated Director’s Cut]

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As anyone who has read my review of Rob Zombie’s Halloween, you might know that I was immediately open to it and generally liked it basically because it was different. It wasn’t a shot-for-shot remake, but it was also a bit messy. The first half was certainly very good; Zombie’s chronicling of Michael Myers’ life stuck in institution was well explored ground and written very well, but then the second half feels like a push-pull between something like Gus Van Sant’s shot-for-shot remake of Psycho to Zombie’s interpretation of the original material, which is where the first film fell a bit flat. However, with the “Unrated Director’s Cut” of Halloween II, Zombie goes in a different direction yet again, and it feels like Zombie’s finally made Halloween his own.

It’s been two years since the psychotic events of October 31st in Haddonfield, Illinois, and Laurie Strode is a mess. She’s living with Annie Brackett, who used to be her best friend, but animosity has grown since the Halloween incident. She’s having bizarre visions and a revelation in the new tell-all book by Samuel Loomis catapults her into events that will finally bring a close to the Michael Myers’ rampage.

From the get-go, this isn’t your typical horror film. It doesn’t even seem like a horror film. Sure, there are deaths, stabbings, and freaky visions, but it plays out more like a drama that used horror as its basis. It’s one of the smartest moves ever made in a horror sequel. Rob Zombie is the thinking horror fan’s director, he won’t do a retreading of material, he won’t rehash ideas, he’ll keep going in different directions, and I never cease being interested in what he has to say within his films.

Scout-Taylor Compton provides a fantastic performance as Laurie Strode and really makes Strode her own; the scenes involving Strode and Margot Kidder’s psychiatrist are of a particular note, showing Strode spiralling out of control and Kidder’s psychiatrist trying to work out how to help this poor girl.

Strode is having psychotic visions, and it is one of these visions that is probably my favourite parts of the film involving lots of profanity, almost silent movie-esque looks and a glass coffin which works very well, it’s a scene that has a great impact and is visually pleasing, despite the amount of profanity being thrown at the camera.

Of particular positive notes is the inclusion of home video footage of Danielle Harris as a young Annie Brackett. The Halloween fan will know Harris played Jamie Lloyd, the niece of Michael Myers and daughter of Laurie Strode in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, and there is a poignancy of showing this footage with Harris’ history in Haddonfield. It’s quite moving actually, which leads me to Brad Dourif.

In the first film, Brad Dourif played Annie’s father, Sheriff Brackett, and it wasn’t terribly memorable. It was cool as Dourif is the voice of another horror icon, Chucky the Good Guy Doll from the Child’s Play films, but other than that, there wasn’t anything stand-out about him in Zombie’s Halloween. He completely breaks out in Halloween II, showing a father falling to pieces, and bringing such a reality to his character and such sympathy, making Brackett my favourite character in Halloween II, and is probably the best performance Dourif has ever given on screen. It’s positively fantastic, and words can’t describe how amazing his performance is…you need to see it.

The Blu-Ray disc provides a great picture and sound, loud and threatening, just the way I like it. The image has changed from the cinemascope 2:35:1 of the first film to a normal widescreen image that helps bring across the raw energy the film oozes out of every grainy pore it owns. It’s a faithful representation and helps communicate the raw energy of the film well.

Deleted and alternate scenes are included which aren’t much to write home to mum about, they provide interesting but unnecessary alternative takes of different scenes. What would have been better is the inclusion of the theatrical cut. Audition footage is provided of some newcomers. While interesting to watch, is there a need for it? Do Rob Zombie/Halloween fans demand audition footage of as-yet-unknown actors? Of note is Chase Vanek, replacing Daeg Faerch as Young Michael Myers due to a growth spurt. Vanek provides a good substitute but didn’t seem as gloomy as Faerch was. Make-up test footage is also included, which, too, is interesting, but hardly necessary. A blooper reel is included which probably made me smile once or twice.

There is a fictitious band made for this film named Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures, and about nine minutes of music video is provided, intercutting black-and-white typical “music video shoot” footage with the scene in the film with sprinklings of old horror films and cartoons. They’re all the same and not my cup of tea.

Unce Seymour Coffin’s Stand Up Routines. This guy is also in the club scenes and isn’t funny, but does some jokes that may make you smile, but providing unused footage of unfunny stand-up routines for entertainment is redundant. I didn’t even make it past one minute of it. The whole joke in the film is that this guy is funny because he isn’t funny. Providing 5-10 minutes of unfunny material will keep hitting the nail on the head but eventually bore the hammer into the skull and then eventually into the brain matter, providing a painful experience. My thoughts go out to all who watch this in its entirety.

Finally is the audio commentary from Rob Zombie. Zombie is always great to listen to; he’s intelligible and explains certain ideas, cuts, and things become even more clear. He’s a great guy and while he does fall into the audio-commentary no-no of describing what is on-screen, he balances that out by explaining the ideas behind the scene or a story behind the scene, which is alright. He’s insightful company and worth checking out for Zombie fans.

The disc is highly recommended for Zombie fans and for fans of horror in general. This isn’t your typical horror film, not is it your typical Halloween film. But I liked that; it’s refreshing and visually outstanding and has some fantastic ideas. I challenge all who saw the theatrical cut and hated it to watch this fantastic, albeit somewhat slow director’s cut, and try not to change their minds.

The inclusion of the theatrical cut would have made for some nice analyses, and the inclusion of Captain Clegg music videos and Seymour Coffins’ stand up routines are unnecessary waste of precious data space. A faithful reproduction of the image and audio provides the film with a great visceral experience. I could have loved it more, but I loved it more than I expected to. Four skulls.

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My Bloody Valentine (1981)

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Happy Valentines Day!

I had never heard of My Bloody Valentine until I had seen the trailer of the 3D remake, and even then, it wasn’t until a week prior to the film’s release did I actually see the original film, but it blew my socks off.

In the tight-knit mining town of Valentine’s Bluff, everyone is getting ready for its first Valentine’s Day dance in many, many years. However, a local loon, who is also the bartender, warns the teens about a legend, many years ago, where the sole survivor of a mine explosion came back after recovery and went on a ravenous rampage of revenge on the town of Valentine’s Bluff. The teens however, choose to disbelieve this legend, and it will be their undoing, as more and more people are turning up dead on the day where love should be all around…

When you view the original My Bloody Valentine, one thing immediately strikes you: this isn’t your by-the-books slasher movie; it has something, that famous je ne sais quoi that you can’t really put your finger on, no matter how much you try…until you watch the deleted footage.

This effective Canadian gem came out in at the height of the slasher boom of the early eighties, following in the path of the classic Halloween. However, out of all imitators, My Bloody Valentine stands out above all the rest, but, of course, it’s one of those that never grew into a never-ending franchise that has that one film that alludes to the ending of a slasher character, but perhaps that was for the best?

There’s hardly anything wrong with this, and I will go so far to say that if John Carpenter’s Halloween didn’t exist, George Mihalka would be a far better known name for his Valentine’s Day slasher masterpiece.

The Blu-Ray, released by Lionsgate (having bought DVD rights from Paramount) have released the film with the much-awaited deleted footage that has hardly seen the light of day, and while Lionsgate can toot their horn about the inclusion of the sought-after footage, it dramatically changes the way you watch the film, and it’s quite bizarre how a few more minutes of footage can morph the film into something completey different.

The footage, despite what people are saying, is crystal clear. It’s just old. The deleted footage has wear and tear of being mistreated or general storage and at first watching I loved it. It gave the film a true grindhouse kind of quality. However, watching the footage again, on its own, I think the film without the deleted footage works a lot better, whereas if you watch the film with the deleted footage integrated into it, not only does it look like a grindhouse movie, but it also feels like a grindhouse movie. The violence, make-up and gore is in true exploitation fashion, and did, in fact, remind me of the inferior Friday the 13th’s and their respective out-there and consistent, violent kills, effectively giving you two very different versions of the film.

Two other extras, besides a theatrical trailer for My Bloody Valentine and preview for other Lionsgate titles, are presented. First is Bloodlust: My Bloody Valentine and the Rise of the Slasher Film, gives a short and, at first, entertaining look at the slasher films post-Halloween, involving interviews from some cast and crew of this slasher classic, but then takes a right-turn into a full-blown advertisement for Lionsgate’s 3D remake, which I didn’t like – not one bit (it’s pathetic, really).  The second extra is called Bloodlines: An “Interactive” Horror Film History. It is, in fact, called that, but interactive is in inverted commas because it seems like it was taken from an early-90s webpage. There’s nothing interactive about it at all. It’s simply right arrow, left arrow, enter button. It’s a text history, and, whilst comprehensive, unless you’re sitting right up in front of your television, it should prove to be a difficult read.

Watch the original version first, without the deleted scenes, it’s a classic of the genre. Harry Warden is one of my favourite slashers, but Lionsgate haven’t treated him like they should have with a passable but could-have-been-better Blu-Ray presentation. Also, at the end of the day, when you pop the disc into your player, what version do you want to watch? The version that most of us have fallen in love with, that has that je ne sais quoi that most slashers don’t have, or the traditional, by-the-slasher-books version? Three-and-a-half for the whole thing. Too bad the film is tarnished by a sub-par Blu-Ray presentation.

Black Christmas (1974)

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51pPDkCDumL._SS500_I was pretty excited to receive this in the mail after seeing the sub-par remake, but was unsure if it would be the blueprint of the remake (like the original and remake of Psycho, both the same, shot-for-shot), or whether this would be more in the vein of John Carpenter’s Halloween – I truly didn’t know what to expect. Thankfully, that’s probably the best attitude.

A sorority house over Christmas is experiencing obscene phone calls, and what few inhabitants of Pi Kappa Sig are left over the holiday break are experiencing troubling events after one of the sisters disappears without a trace.

I’m pretty sure this is my first Bob Clark film. I’ve never seen A Christmas Story, and just having a glance at his IMDb page, I’ve only seen Porky’s and Baby Geniuses (in my youth, I swear). A truly diverse director ranging from horror to comedy to children’s films, that’s a sign of true talent (even if the children’s film sucks). Four years before Michael Myers escaped Smith’s Grove, Billy terrorised Pi Kappa Sig on one fateful Christmas holiday.

From the get-go, I was hooked. I love any movie that is overtly old, and this was extremely 70s (check out Gene Shallit look-a-like just about 5-10 minutes in), and simple fact everything was handled in such a seventies manner (of course) made it so much more enjoyable to me.

The thing that stood out about Black Christmas was two things – it’s not filled with scares every five seconds. It’s scares are drawn out and are more creepier than full-on “scary”. This is the smartest form of horror convention, letting fear seep itself under your skin instead of giving you an outright jump every five minutes, which we all know: gets very old, very fast. The second thing that stood out to me was, while the film is set around Christmas, and Christmas stuff is in the background of every shot, the film is not horrendously Christmassy, unlike its remake, rampant with Christmas lights everywhere and warm, glowing colours despite the remake’s ugly nature.

The thing that also stands out about this film is all the characters are individualistic, there are no cookie-cut characters we’ve come to expect in horror films, even as far back as the early 80s, when Jason’s mum was getting her teen murder on. The sorority house mother is an alcoholic, hiding bottles everywhere, sometimes comically, but nearly every time we see her, she is looking for or has a bottle of alcohol in her hand pushed against her lips. All the sisters are very individual and different from each other, giving a fresh quality to the interplay between the characters, helping it feel real.

Props must be given to Olivia Hussey. She’s a fantastic “final girl” and portrays her character, Jess Bradford, in an extremely likeable way. She’s a headstrong and confident young woman and more ambitious and realistic (in terms of dealing with situations) than her boyfriend, Peter Smythe (played by Keir Dullea). She brings such bravado to the character, and I actually found her character fantastic to watch. This is the seventies, and beginnings of the second wave of feminism, and having this character, who had brains, beauty, and courage, must have been such a step out of the norm for a film, and for a horror film as well, where, more often than not, the hero would be a man and the woman would be the damsel-in-distress. When you have such a likeable character on which the film centres, you’ve got your audience hooked.

The ending is ambiguous and but I certainly have my theory about it (and it’s not about who the killer is). The phone ringing throughout the credits gives me a horrible idea that Jess Bradford, sleeping, with no-one attending at her side, gave me the idea about the actual fate of the final girl. However, you’d have to make up your own mind when you see it.

The Blu-Ray presentation is fair, but nothing extraordinary. The picture, as you may know by now, is the kind of picture I love looking at. Grainy, while being very clear representation of the film, as well as film artefact-a-plenty, made me a very happy bloke. The film was just fantastic to look at. The soundtrack was cool (I heard something, I can’t quite remember, in a speaker right near my ear, that freaked me out something chronic), but wasn’t a thorough workout for the speakers.

The effects are simple, and most you can tell were produced on a small budget, and almost amateur. There are two scenes presented with different soundtracks that were never before released, and both were a bit pointless. Subtle differences in muffled soundtrack does not an interesting Blu-Ray extra make. The 12 Days of Black Christmas is a non-linear documentary providing some insight into the production of the film, and is very by-the-books, but still worth a watch for those who want to get into the story behind the story. Three twenty-minute interviews with Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder and Art Hindle are presented, and are essentially extended, uncut versions of the snippets used in The 12 Days of Black Christmas, but still worth a watch to hear the questions coming from three very different people’s mouths and hearing their opinion on everything involving the film. Midnight Q&A is provided, twenty minutes, roughly, of Bob Clark, John Saxon and Carl Zittrer (the film’s composer) answering questions after a screening. Very amateur but worth a watch, though it would have been better to actually be sitting in the audience more than watching a recording of it. Two trailers are presented: English and French, and watch-worthy if you want to observe how trailers were done back in the good ol’ days.

While the slasher was at its infancy four years before Halloween, and my absolute love for John Carpenter’s film still reigning supreme, Black Christmas is an older and more slow and more creepy film than most slashers. The characters are well thought out and the way they’re dealing with situations was handled very realistically, much to my surprise. I would choose this when I’m in the mood for a slasher over one of the Friday the 13th films, and maybe over Halloween, and I will definitely get this out every Christmas before Santa comes. A new holiday tradition begins this year! Just make sure when you look under your tree, there isn’t a present that reads “FROM: Me, Billy”. Four skulls (purely for the film).

4

Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007)

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802348People are strange (when you’re a stranger). When a company announces they’ll remake an original film from just under three decades ago: uproar from the original film’s fans. When it’s released, those Uproared Fans go see it anyway. Then go into an uproar about how much it sucked.

You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t.

In a world where the slasher has a particular mould, Rob Zombie has completely turned that mould onto its head with his remake of John Carpenter’s Halloween.

Zombie has acknowledged he did the movie somewhat haphazardly, unsure of whether or not to stick to the original story (like most remakes do, ending up with carbon copies of the originals – ending in uproar from fans) or completely re-imagine the film (usually to the uproar of fans). Zombie has done both, and, surprise, surprise, there was uproar from fans.

The film is pretty much two films. The first half in a completely Zombie creation, whilst using the character John Carpenter and Debra Hill created, he’s created his own sub-film within the remake focusing on Michael’s murders of his family and his growing up in Smith’s Grove sanitarium. In the original, not much was explained about The Shape, as he was called (and credited) in the original film. It would make sense that this is the area Zombie would have a field day, creating a fractured relationship between Michael and his mother after the murders (I love Sheri Moon, and yes, Zombie puts her in all his movies, to which there is uproar, but has anyone actually seen Kevin Smith’s movies from Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back onwards? I’m sure there are others but hating a film-maker for him putting his wife into his film is an idiotic reason to hate a film), and also just creating this soul-less and mindless monster.

There are elements in the second half, which is more of an amalgamation of Zombie redoing the original film than a shot-by-shot redo, that work excessively well, using the plot point revealed in the second film (the original second film) that Laurie Strode is, in fact, Michael Myer’s sister. By simple misunderstanding, Laurie fights this Shape thinking he just wants to kill her.

This remake was the first time I had realised the simple idea of Michael using the Myers headstone and placing it near one of Laurie’s friend’s bodies to symbolise he had killed his sister but wasn’t going to kill Laurie.

True, there are lots of hits and lots of misses in this, and this isn’t a slasher film in the typical sense. It’s nasty, and angry, and unforgiving, and, ironically, refreshing from most dross in the horror genre.

Scout Taylor-Compton has proven to be a fine young actor (now in Zombie’s Halloween II and the upcoming Runaways biopic) and handles the part with a weird unlikeable connection. It’s hard to describe, but she isn’t necessarily likeable nor is she a character you love to hate, nor is she a character just there. Hopefully she has more room to roam in the sequel, which is yet to be released here in Australia.

Tyler Mane is a force to be reckoned with as The Shape and gives a (while not necessarily frightening) lingering and eerie performance. Malcolm McDowell isn’t a likeable Dr Loomis, whereas Donald Pleasance was. I like McDowell, but his performance as Loomis was a bit off for my liking. He came off more subdued crazy than full-on crazy that Pleasance portrayed.

While I have mentioned a lot of negativity about this film, I’m still a strong supporter of Zombie’s vision purely because it’s different. It’s not a slasher. It’s a crazy and disgusting little family reunion. Try to watch this and the original film and not find yourself saying “totally” more than you usually would!

The Blu-Ray disc features two discs. On the first disc, obviously, is the film looking gritty and clear in high definition. The sound is crisp, but not necessarily surround-sound demo material, but gets the job done. There is a commentary with Zombie which surprised me how knowledgable and intellectual he is and how much passion he has for old films, as well as old horror films, which he is obviously emulating with this film. He’s a guy I wouldn’t mind having a beer with! There are deleted scenes with optional commentary, alternate endings with optional commentary, bloopers rounding out things about the film. Leading behind-the-scenes stuff is “The Many Masks of Michael Myers”, Re-Imagining Halloween, Meet The Cast, Casting Sessions, Scout Taylor-Compton Screen Test, Theatrical Trailer and BD-Live. All are pretty self-explanatory from their respective titles and aren’t fantastically put-together or features you’ll watch repeatedly, but do give important insight into aspects of the production.

Heading over onto disc two is a four-and-a-half hour (!) documentary entitled “Michael Lives: The Making of Halloween” starting from the early seeds of production to the end of production. This disc is one reason for budding horror film-makers to buy this, irrespective of whether or not they enjoyed Zombie’s vision. It portrays more depth of the production of the film that the featurettes on disc one do, and it isn’t sugar-coated, either. That’s probably why I like it as well, it shows some aspects of production where Zombie gets a bit pissed-off or something going wrong, which is true to life, as no film production ever goes 100% smoothly. It’s deeply insightful and one of the best extras I’ve ever seen purely because of its length, but as previously said, it’s amazingly informative and definitely worth a watch for budding film-makers and worth the cost of purchasing alone.

I respect Zombie’s vision and, while it certainly doesn’t hold a candle up to John Carpenter’s original film, it’s definitely worth a watch if you want a different perspective on things, and definitely worth a buy if you want to get into the film industry. The film itself is pretty much a three-and-a-half film, but the Michael Lives documentary is absolutely fantastic.

3.5

Black Christmas (2006)

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black_christmas_ver3I’m slowly (but surely) making my way across a year celebrating the holidays with a good horror movie. Well, a horror movie, at least, with a holiday themed…theme…

Black Christmas was one I watched recently. It’s the remake, not the original (which I have on the way from Amazon – hopefully it will be a good purchase for $20 all up).

It’s like what I imagine Sorority Row is like at Christmas. That sums it up.

Sorority sisters are being knocked off one-by-one by an unknown assailant(s) on Christmas Eve.

Like all slasher movies, there is a backstory that happened years before the kills we’re going to see, teenagers getting offed in brutal ways, etc, etc.

For a slasher, it’s pretty average, really. I hear nothing but how much the original outshines this remake and I’m truly looking forward to watching it (it has Superman’s girlfriend in it, kids!)

The problem with this, besides a very average and predictable script, is that the killer(s) don’t have anything iconic unlike Michael Myers (Halloween), Freddy Kreuger (A Nightmare on Elm Street), Jason Vorhees (Friday The 13th), even Harry Warden (My Bloody Valentine). It’s just deranged escaped mental institution patient(s) with orange overalls and pretty ugly faces.

What’s with that skin condition of Billy’s? That didn’t really add anything to it either…

I like watching Michelle Trachtenberg and Mary-Elizabeth Winstead on film, and having them in a film together, nay, a slasher film together has its rewards for me, but it’s nothing really Oscar (or even Razzie) worthy. It’s just very mediocre.

The kills aren’t very graphic, although there is a lot of eye-gouging, but be warned: there are “skin cookies” that actually did make me feel  a bit sick inside, and are making me feel a bit nauseous at the moment as I think about it. If there is a consistency to the killer(s) in this, it’s the way people die. All die from suffocations and have eyes ripped out. That’s pretty consistent.

The characters and their stories – none of them are really likeable, nor are they explored in vicious depth. You just find yourself staring blankly at the screen – not wondering who will be next, but more wondering when it will be over. You know, like when you’re around people you feel really uncomfortable around? That kinda feeling.

I’m sure as sheep that the original will be a lot better than this, but I still don’t see a problem with this remake. Maybe if you absolutely need it to complete your complete “Slasher Holiday” collection, other than that, give it a rent if you feel the compulsive need to watch it, but let me tell you right now: you ain’t missing out on anything. Two-and-a-half.

2.5