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

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.