Franchise Highs and Lows: Halloween

Just a glance at my most-used tags lets me know that I tend to talk about the Halloween films a lot. But seeing as how I did a “Franchise Highs and Lows” piece for Friday the 13th on a Friday the 13th, I just couldn’t let October 31st come to pass without giving the Halloween franchise the same treatmeant – so let’s get to it!

HIGHS

halloween1978Halloween (1978) – The first and still the best. It kick-started the modern slasher genre and set the template that would be used by countless followers. In the hands of writer-director John Carpenter, a simple story of a masked killer (Michael Myers) stalking three girls in the peaceful suburb of Haddonfield,  Illinois became a chilling tale of suspense and terror. Add in perfect performances by Jamie Lee Curtis as the definitive final girl, Laurie Strode and Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis, Michael’s determined and slightly off-kiltermyers1 psychiatrist and you have a modern-day classic.

The Original Mask – take one William Shatner “Captain Kirk” mask, paint it white, and voila – the terrifying non-face of evil is born.

Halloween Theme  – It’s safe to say that the tension and scares in Halloween would have been a lot less effective if it were not for the inclusion of John Carpenter’s score. His main theme has also become so iconic that it’s the horror movie version of the Bond theme, appearing in one form or another in every film in the  Halloween franchise (which was also a sly way for the producers of the non-Carpenter sequels to get his name on the credits).

Halloween 4 and Halloween H20

The original Halloween series was resurrected not once, but twice – and both times it rose from the dead to give fans exactly what they wanted – a return to that classic “Halloween feel”. Halloween 4 returned Michael Myers to the franchise after the Myers-less Halloween III and Halloween H20 brought Jamie Lee Curtis back into the fold after a 17 year absence – ignoring the nonsense wrought by Halloween 6 (more on that below) and picking up the story after Halloween II (which I explained in more detail here).

This Moment*

Halloween 4 Opening Credits – This sequence has an understated genius. It’s nothing flashy or ground-breaking – just some bleak, countryside Halloween-themed images that get more and more sinister looking as the sun sets and the score build ominously. Definitely sets the tension for the film right from the start.

LOWS

Halloween III: Season of the Witch – this non-canon sequel was an attempt at taking the franchise into an anthology-type direction, but with absolutely no connection to the previous films at all (it took place in the “real” world, where Halloween was only a movie) the “III” added to the title only served to confuse and anger movie-goers who went in expecting Michael Myers and instead got an evil, cult-worshipping mask manufacturer bent on killing a ton of kiddies with his deadly masks.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers – the sixth Halloween entry  tried to introduce an over-wrought cult mythology to explain the motivations of Michael Myers. Constant studio interference to the final cut of the film resulted in a bootleg director’s cut surfacing on dvd (aka Halloween 666) with almost 45 minutes of cut footage and storylines. With or without it though, the film was still a jumbled mess full of questionable continuity and plot holes a-plenty.

myers5b

I guess even masked killers want to experiment with their look sometimes

Mask Continuity – Unlike fellow franchisers Jason (Friday the 13th) and Ghostface (Scream), Michael Myers didn’t wear a mass-produced mask. And that became a problem with each successive Halloween film as they tried their best to replicate the original. They met with varying degrees of success, with the worst of the lot definitely being Halloween 5’s flat-ironed hair/flared neck version.

Busta Rhymes – With no more Dr. Loomis in the storyline, Halloween: Resurrection enlisted rapper Busta Rhymes to go mano a mano with Michael Myers. Playing Freddie, a kung fu loving reality tv producer, Rhymes used his velociraptor maw to chew scenery with gusto and make viewers long for the days of the dearly departed Donald Pleasence.

Rob Zombie’s Vision – while Zombie indeed brought new ideas to his 2007 take on Halloween (detailed more here), his “vision” also included changing Haddonfield to a town that was mostly dirty and unappealing and filled with mostly dirty, unappealing (and not to mention foul-mouthed) people – not doing a lot for empathy there. And by Halloween II (2009), Laurie Strode had become so insufferable you were almost rooting for Michael to actually kill her this time around. And as for Michael – he was turned into such a mindless rampaging beast that it almost seemed like a parody (seriously, when you have Michael Myers foot-stomping someone’s head until it is a literal mashed, bloody pulp, the result isn’t scary, it’s just revolting).

But, just to end on a good note, I leave you with this – a decidedly different take on a classic scene – Happy Halloween!

lil halloween

*gif via Popobawa

Remakes, Reboots & Reimaginings: Part 3

So, after discussing remakes in Part 1 and reboots in Part 2 of our look at the Three Rs of non-original film-making, what we’re left with is a type of film that falls into the limbo between the two – a film that is definitely not a remake, but not a reboot, either. This would be, of course, the third R – a reimagining.

There’s no clear-cut definition of reimagining, since of the Three R’s, it is the one that is most open to interpretation. But here are the points I use to identify a non-original film as a reimagining:

1) it tells the same story as the original

2) but goes about it in a completely different way (by adding scenes, expanding character roles, providing new back story and/or changing genres, etc)

Now, while the term “reimagining” has only recently come into vogue among film-makers, the concept has been kicking around in the theatre world for quite some time now. Broadway has been a long-time rider on the reimagination railroad by regularly producing musical versions of popular non-musical films for decades . Except they’ve always been called just that – “musical versions”. But when you think about it, this makes them essentially reimaginations of the original work.

With films though, reimaginings are still a rare breed, and are usually just lumped in with remakes – but they are less about just making a new “version” and more about a writer and/or director sharing a new “vision” of a classic work. And this can seem both respectful and pompous at the same time. Respectful in acknowledging that there would be no point in just remaking original but a little pompous in a “but look what I can do with it” kinda way. Obviously this approach can have its ups and downs – the film can dodge  being  judged under  a straight-forward “which version was better” scrutiny , but then it also sets itself up for the “they ruined a perfectly good story” backlash. Another plus for film-makers is that it also helps to give clout to their project – it makes it seem unique and not just another run-of-the-mill remake.

Perhaps one of the most well-known reimaginings is writer/director Rob Zombie’s Halloween, his 2007 take on the horror classic originally halloweenzombieco-written and directed by John Carpenter in 1978. Released amid the flurry of horror remakes that were produced in the mid-aughts, Rob Zombie’s Halloween was touted from the get-go as not just a remake, but Rob Zombie’s creative vision of Carpenter’s film. A fact directly reinforced in the tag line for the film’s  trailer: This summer, Rob Zombie unleashes a unique vision of a legendary tale. 

So what did Zombie do to take his Halloween from remake to reimagining? Well, he took the 5-minute sequence at the opening of Carpenter’s film, where young Michael Myers stabs his sister, Judith and then is discovered in an almost catatonic state by his parents, and expanded it by about 40 minutes. Not only did he add scenes (and additional murders) before and after the death of Judith, he actually created a full-blown character out of young Michael (who didn’t speak a single word at all in the original) and built to role of his mother from a non-speaking walk-on to a substantial supporting part.

Well, with all those changes, why isn’t this just a reboot then? That would be because after those 40 minutes of new, original material, Zombie then went into straight-up remake mode, and crammed what basically amounts to a condensed version of Carpenter’s Halloween into the last half of his Halloween.

So, it followed the same storyline in the end, but took completely different (not to mention bloodier) route to get there. Response to the film was generally mixed, with many fans and critics finding that giving a face and voice to a famously “faceless” masked killer is not only unnecessary, but doesn’t make him terrifying anymore. People were also critical about the distinct shift from Zombie’s material to the “remake” material – since it meant that key characters like stalked babysitter Laurie Strode and her besties Annie and Lynda  weren’t introduced until the midway point of the film, allowing the audience little time to get to know them before Michael came a-stalkin’.

So, while you have to give credit to film-makers who want to do something different than just a remake, reimaginings run the risk of severely dividing their audience, even more so than remakes or reboots. On the plus side though, being a reimagining means that it doesn’t necessary fall into canon with the films that came before it, so they can more or less be just regarded as unique works unto their own.

And that concludes our look at the Three Rs – I hope I managed to clear up some confusion people may have had about these three types of films (and hopefully, didn’t cause even more confusion).

Oh, and one more thing, back in Part 1 I mentioned how the 2008 Prom Night remake didn’t really belong in the remakes post, and here’s the reason why: Prom Night actually falls under the unofficial fourth R of non-original film-making – “rip-off”. That’s when film-makers get the rights to a well-known film title and then proceed to pull a bait-and-switch, creating a completely new story, with new characters and new settings that has NOTHING to do with the original. At all. As with  reimaginings, rip-offs don’t pop up that frequently…but enough so that I may just have to devote a follow-up column to the scourge of the Fourth R.

 

 

Nonsensical Sequel Titles 2: Franchise Fiascos

So, my last post on nonsensical sequel titles , along with the current crop of films raking it in at the box office, got me thinking of another little problem I have with sequel titles – this one  has to do with sequel titles in specific film franchises (and you should also note that I’m adhering to proper sequel titling etiquette with this post – since this is a follow-up, and not a continuation, of my previous post there is no “Part II” in the title, just a regular, sequel-indicating, traditional “2”).

Now this probably speaks to the OCD side of me, but I really like it when the movies in a film franchise all maintain a similarity across all their titles. Whether it be the basic sequel numbering (as in Scream, Scream 2, Scream 3 and Scream 4) or a recurring titling structure (as in the follow-ups to 1968’s Planet of the Apes –with each film prefacing the original title with either Beneath The…, Escape From The…, Conquest Of The… and  Battle For The…), what can I say, I just love consistency.

But don't even get me started on how Halloween III is the most non-sequel sequel of any film franchise

But don’t even get me started on how Halloween III is the most non-sequel sequel of any film franchise

Now, I only find it mildly irritating when there’s just a superfluous inconsistency in franchise titles. I mean, it irks me that the Halloween franchise went from numbering their sequels with Roman numerals, to standard numeric figures, to dropping the numbering altogether, but it’s not really that big of a deal (and I do appreciate that they were at least consistent in their progression of changes).

However, when the title changes are inconsistent from film to film and choices are made that makes the titles actually stop making sense, well that’s where I have a bigger problem.

I’m pretty sure I was the only kid who was disgruntled way back in 1988 when Rambo III came out…and not because of anything to do with the actual film, but with the title. I mean, yes – everyone knew that technically this was the third movie with Sylvester Stallone playing John Rambo – but the first movie was called First Blood and its sequel was Rambo: First Blood Part II. So if the third film isn’t going to have “First Blood” as part of  its title, then “III” should not be a part of title either. Call it Rambo’s Revenge, Rambo: Still Killin’ or whatever…but calling it Rambo III would imply that there was a Rambo II, which there was not (not to mention a Rambo, which actually does exist, now — albeit as the fourth movie in the series. *sigh* I know.)

RamboSo, this brings me to the example that got me thinking about this all over again. One of the biggest current franchises is also one of the worst offenders when it comes to inconsistent sequel titling. It’s like the makers of these films have a big hat filled with scraps of paper on which are written words from the first film’s title, some numbers and maybe a random location or two, and whenever they make a new film they can only pull a certain number of scraps out of the hat before they have to make a title out of their selections. Yes, I’m talking about the Fast and the Furious franchise.

Now, just take a moment to look at this collage of titles here. It’s like some messed up version of the Sesame Street standard “One of these kids is FastFurdoin’ his own thing” – except it’s all of the kids, and they should know better and they’re not setting a good example for others.

Let’s break it down and see when and how logic leaves this franchise’s titles:

The Fast and the Furious – first film, so nothing wrong here

2 Fast 2 Furious – unintentionally amusing, but actually works, given the film (and moreso if the franchise is going to go the non-traditional sequel titling route)

The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift – kind of odd to refer back to the original title now, but it does the job to indicate that the film belongs to the F&F franchise but might not be an out-and-out sequel. Lack of a “3” is in line with the non-traditional sequel titling.

Fast & Furious – ooookay, things are starting to get shaky. Title loses a couple of  “the”s  and swaps in an ampersand for “and”, making it all right in line with the off-putting recent trend of sequels just modifying the name of the original film, like they’re trying to hide the fact that they are actually a sequel (see also: The Final Destination, the aforementioned Rambo, The Wolverine). Still, marks for being consistent in avoiding the traditional sequel numbering though.

Fast Five – Actually kind of genius. Shortens the title even more (since at this point audiences know what the franchise is) and by spelling out “Five”, it manages to convey it’s the fifth film while still avoiding the traditional sequel numbering.

Fast & Furious 6 – Good lord, here’s where it all blows up. Someone decided “screw creativity” and that now, six films in, would be a good time to fall back on the traditional sequel titling and numbering. The thing is, “Fast & Furious 6” used as a title would logically indicate that it is the fifth sequel to a film called “Fast & Furious”. But, since the franchise’s title was never officially shortened (as it would’ve been if they had released the fourth film as “Fast & Furious 4”) “Fast & Furious” only refers to the fourth film, not the franchise (which is still “The Fast and the Furious”)…thereby making Fast & Furious 6 this year’s Rambo III – a sequel title with no immediate predecessor.

Of course, just like Rambo III, everyone knows that this film is the latest installment of a popular franchise, so it’s not like this is having a negative effect. What it is doing though is sending out yet another message that filmmakers care less about logic and sensibility when it comes to titling their sequels – they just want to get their films out there with the least complicated, most recognizable branding they can (which of course, isn’t really a shocker).

Am I being nit-picky? Absolutely. I can’t help it, but I just find it to be a problem that something as simple as title consistency just gets brushed aside with so many big money-making franchises.

However, if they decide to title the next installment Mo’ Faster, Mo’ Furiouser, then I’m all in – consistency be damned!

Back From The Dead: Part 2

PROBLEM: A popular actress has opted to return to the now-flagging franchise that shot her to stardom. There’s just one setback – her original departure was explained by killing off  her signature character.

CASE STUDY: Jamie Lee Curtis, Halloween (1978)

After  portraying Laurie Strode, the target of masked maniac Michael Myers in Halloween and Halloween II, “scream queen” Jamie Lee Curtis said goodbye to her signature role, and the film’s producers did as well. The Halloween franchise continued on – and now focused on Laurie’s young daughter, orphaned after her parents’ death in a car accident. After three films though, the storyline was pretty much played out and the franchise seemed as dead as one of Michael’s hapless victims.

But then in 1996 a little film called Scream was released and suddenly the horror genre was revitalized. That, along with the approaching 20th anniversary of the original Halloween, had Curtis herself thinking that the time was right to revisit her iconic character.

There was just that one minor problem to address – what about those pesky three previous Halloween films which had all but nailed shut the coffin (literally and figuratively) on Laurie Strode?

SOLUTION: No problem – just ignore them!

Not to worry though,  it wasn’t quite the “it never happened” tactic that was employed by Dallas (as covered in Part 1). The film in which Jamie Lee Curtis was making her return – Halloween: H20 – was being touted as a direct sequel to just the first two Halloween films and was picking up on Laurie Strode, now living under an assumed name and still dealing with the trauma she experienced on that fateful October 31st  two decades earlier (a point that was even helpfully laid out in the film’s full title, Halloween: Twenty Years Later). The producers weren’t necessarily saying that the in-between films no longer existed, just that they simply “weren’t canon” anymore and this was the direction the franchise was now following.

RESULT: A slashing success. Fans loved seeing the franchise resurrected with Curtis returning as a stronger-than-ever Laurie and the film did a good job of honouring the original with nods to classic characters and locations. Halloween: H20 went on to become the highest grossing of all the Halloween sequels – pulling in $55 million at the box office.