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

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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.