Category Archives: Halloween

Halloween III: Season of the Witch 1982

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I think it’s fair to say that the Halloween sequels are like doner kebabs – even when they’re good they’re still pretty bad. You can cover them in as much chilli sauce or Jamie Lew Curtis cameos as you like but ultimately they’re still only worth having a go at when you’re right royally pissed up.

Upon its release Halloween III: Season of the Witch was considered the worst of the lot. This is mainly because it has nothing to do with Michael Myers or Donald Pleasance or killing teens with a kitchen knife and leaving their corpse spread out on your bed with a stolen headstone as a bedstead. Audiences felt short changed – this wasn’t what they paid their hard earned money to see: some gubbons about killer Halloween masks. They wanted The Shape in a boiler suit dealing out death wearing William Shatner’s face. This was not to be though. Whilst the Friday the 13th franchise was doubling down with more and more of the same, the great John Carpenter had had enough. He was not going to be doing the same old sequel. It was bad enough that he’d had to write and produce Halloween 2 (the night HE went to the hospital for a check up). Now Carpenter had free reign to persuade his original idea for Halloween sequels: an anthology series with a different horror story set at Halloween in each film.

Season of the Witch was the first of the anthology films, it was also the last.

You can see why it annoyed people so much. It is such a U-Turn from Halloween. Its a weird mix of witchcraft, Videodrome and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. An ordinary man, escaping suited strange figures, is carried into a hospital clutching a Jack-o-Lantern children’s mask and claiming “they’re going to kill us all”. He’s soon bumped off by having his eyes pushed into his skull and its left to his tending physician (Tom Atkins) to unravel the mystery of who killed him. Meanwhile the nation’s children are in the grip of toy fever over the “Silver Shamrock” Halloween masks – the same as the mask the dead man was holding…

Atkins is assisted by the deceased’s daughter, Stacey Nelkin. She is firstly, trying to find out who killed her father and secondly, waaaaaaay too young for Atkins. Nelkin may have been in her early twenties when she filmed this but she looks a hell of a lot younger than that. Add in the fact that poor old Atkins always looked about ten years older than he ever was (although here he was 47) and the whole coupling starts to feel more than a little uncomfortable. And they couple a lot. They do it twice before Atkins even asks her how old she is (risky attitude there Tom) and when someone in the next room gets zapped in the face by a laser, Nelkin worries “What was that?!?” “Who cares!” says Tom as he goes down on her breasts once more.

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Anyway, I recounted the entire plot to the always delightful, and soon to be my wife, May. She proclaimed “wait! What! That’s the actual plot of a film! Nonsense! That sounds dreadful!” May has a point, it IS kind of ludicrous. However, on the other hand how can a film involving slimy suited robots, children’s heads melting into a mountain of insects, stones stolen from stone henge and a villainous Irish magician ever really be that bad? Okay, yes. Maybe quite easily, but the way Season of the Witch is made it feels like a lost John Carpenter movie, mainly because that’s what it is.

Tommy Lee Wallace would go onto direct a number of interesting projects (including Fright Night Part 2 and Stephen King’s It) but, whether by choice or not, here he is purely channelling Carpenter’s directional style. He does it through framing with sinister characters just being out of shot and then stepping into view, or being revealed with a slow pan. He has some great use of steady cam, especially early on when Atkins is chasing the suited killer out of the hospital, the villain always just at the edge of Atkin’s (and our) view. Wallace also uses dark very effectively with mysterious shapes running through the night. Add into all this a great synth score by John himself (along with Alan Howarth) and this feels like vintage Carpenter.

I mean, it’s NOT vintage Carpenter. May was right, the story is nonsense, but it has the mood and feel of the master. Plus the mystery, whilst it’s being solved, is weirdly compelling. And there is something disturbingly hypnotic about the Silver Shamrock masks and that repetitive advert that plays throughout the film: promising fun and prizes for all the children but really only giving death and sacrifice in the name of something old and horrible.

If you thought Halloween III: Season of the Witch was also old and horrible then maybe it’s worth giving it another shot. It’s certainly better that Halloween: Resurrection which is set on a reality TV show. Now that really is dreadful, like as a doner kebab from “Chick Pizz”* in Stoke Newington on a Saturday night.

 

*They do Chicken AND Pizzas (and Doner Kebabs) and are the worst in London. I’m not being cruel, its been scientifically proven.

 

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Hellions 2015


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If you’ve noticed a drop in the amount of reviews I’ve done this year I’m here to tell you exactly when and why this happened. It occurred when I saw and wrote this review of Hellions. Here was a film which had obviously been made by a talented team who’d put there heart and soul into it. Furthermore reviewing films is one thing but who am I to make a judgement on something like this? Horror films frequently are over looked or pushed aside, they have low budgets, people don’t take them seriously and have a hard time getting a decent distribution. Hellions is a low budget movie with only a release on Amazon Prime here in the UK. It’s not like a big, bad studio tent pole and I felt like I was bullying it. So I didn’t publish the review and it affected my reviews there after, it even maybe a little bit less in love with the genre. Not because I hated the film or anything, although I did kind of hate it, more it just made me really sad.

But you know what? Time is a healer. So fuck sadness and fuck Hellions. Its not my fault if the director of the great Pontypool has gone crazy in the grading suite. So here’s that review and watch out for more regular reviews again from now on…

 
Making movies is not easy, not by a long shot. It’s all very well for me to sit here deep underground making snap judgements about films left, right and centre but I’m not the one sweating blood and tears trying to bring my vision to life. It’s got to be particularly gruelling for the low budget film maker. You’re dealing with little to no money, sometimes poor acting and rubber monsters that look as cheap as they cost to make. So I have a lot of sympathy for those poor artists battling to make their stories come true against limited resources.

Hellions is such a movie and it would have pulled it off if director Bruce McDonald hadn’t  made one fatal mistake which ruins the whole thing. The worst part is that this mistake isn’t even a budgetary comprise – it’s a stylistic choice, and a disastrous one at that.

Anyway we’ll get to that in a bit. In the meantime we start with our teen heroine discovering that she is up stick and in a whole lot of trouble. Being Halloween everyone is off out trick or treating or if they’re the right age, going to a party to get wasted. Weirdly enough the rather cool Chloe Rose doesn’t feel like it and just wants to slum it at home. Left alone she has a change of heart and invites her boyfriend round to pick her up. Instead of him being at the door though there are three weird little kids in freaky Halloween costumes. It very quickly becomes apparent that these aren’t children at all but almost certainly relatives of Sam from Trick ‘r Treat. This is where limited budget meets innovation as these creatures, whilst no means as cool as Sam, really do work as creepy little monsters: and this is despite the fact that one of them is basically a child with an upside down bucket on his head. Yeah, damn straight – we can’t afford extensive prosthetics or digital make up so we’re going to put a bucket on his head! Sometimes the simplest designs can have the best results and here this and the other hellions really hit the mark.

Between them, some very nice camera work, a good lead actress and a dark premise (the hellions want to kill Rose and cut out her feotus) the first half hour of the movie is a great start to what could have been a minor classic. However if you’ve looked this up on IMDb you’ll see it’s not a very liked film at all. This could be down to the slightly abstract and incoherent back end of the story although I kind of liked the dream logic of it all and it still, mostly, makes sense even if the plot has kind of run out of steam long before the end. But no, I don’t believe that’s the reason why people don’t seem to like Hellions. I think it’s because just before the half hour mark the entire film goes magenta.

Yes. Magenta.

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Look I’m all for taking a film as left field as you like, and I love a bit of crazy lighting at the best of times (as all fans of classic Argento do) but this stylistic choice is bizarre and kills the film dead. Let me explain: Rose is on the phone to the cops explaining about the kid with the bucket and his mates when suddenly there is a bright light and the entire film goes magenta. As in its now daylight outside but everything is magenta or pink. And it’s really, really bad. I know there’s a fair amount of pink lighting in Stuart Gordon’s From Beyond but it fits in with the alternative reality plot, maybe here the magenta is meant to represent Rose’s womb or something but it’s so distracting it just ruins the great atmosphere that had been building up to then. It’s also really ugly and not very well done. Maybe some people will like the style but I just couldn’t bare it or understand why director McDonald would even do it. It must have been a decision made whilst shooting though as the rest of film is in daylight, well this pink daylight. Maybe it’s because one of the things I’ve noticed from years of post production is that when anyone had fiddled too much with the colour correction nodes the first thing that happens is you end up with magenta creeping into the image. Then it’s a battle to remove that magenta. So it just baffles me as to why would anyone want to put it in there in the first place.

This colour change isn’t even a brief interlude either, literally the rest of the film, bar the final shot, is the same revolting looking colour – it ruins compositions, effects, even characters. Robert Patrick shows up for a bit with some plot and maybe a bit of a twist but none of it sunk in, it was all too covered in bright mauve.

Maybe it was just me but I couldn’t get past that. If you’ve only got a black and white TV then maybe it won’t bother you, but for me the stylistic choice was just too confounding, too garish and  not atmospheric in the slightest.

i don’t even know what else to say about Hellions. That colour grade is such an unmitigated disaster I’m too upset to carry on. Why would such a seemingly minor thing affect me so? I just don’t know. Maybe because I know that the director is capable of such good cinema. Or maybe it’s because there is the germ of a good film wrapped up in this, I can’t even call it pretentious, vibrant nonsense. Or maybe it’s just that I don’t like magenta.

Still… I did like the kid with the bucket on his head.

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Trick ‘r Treat 2007

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To many horror fans Trick ‘r Treat Is the horror movie that should have been a good commercial hit and become a repeated seasonal favourite loved across world. It should have seen that commercial success mixed with being a critical darling and its director, Michael Dougherty, should have gone on to a varied and successful career as horror’s new champion. However the film got dumped by Warner Brothers on to a very minor straight to DVD release two years after being made and it’s taken Dougherty eight long years to get his second feature done. It’s one of the great crimes of horror cinema along with The Devils being buried (again by Warners) for years and that terrible Nightmare on Elm Street remake being allowed to exist.

Why did Warners dump Trick ‘r Treat? Well there are rumours that it was in response to the supposed failure of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns which Dougherty wrote (Singer produced this) but that seems like madness: our giant summer tent pole did only average business so we’re going to fuck you over with your smaller horror anthology, oh and fuck ourselves over at the same time because we paid for the thing. It doesn’t make any sense but then I don’t know how some minds work. The main reason though seems to be the old it’s-too-difficult-to-market-to-a-mainstream-audience bullshit. I have never understood this argument for two fairly simple reasons:

1) if you think no one is going to see this film then why bother pouring money into it in the first place? It’s not as if you didn’t read the script before you invested in it, unless of course that’s exactly what you did.

2) If a marketing team says that a film is too hard to market then it is not the film that is at fault it is the marketing team. They are clearly either the wrong people for the job or talentless knob cheeses who should be fired straight on the spot. You know a film about multiple characters taking shit in LA where the hero played by a then unhirable John Travolta who dies half way through is a tough film to sell, but not that tough that some marketing gang with some serious skills can turn the obscure cultural referencing and extremely violent Pulp Fiction into a worldwide smash. Why couldn’t Warners find a way to get this beautiful little movie out to the general public? It’s a tragedy I tell you.

I mention Pulp Fiction because Trick ‘r Treat is not your average horror anthology but is instead the Pulp Fiction of Halloween horror. However, instead of Travolta as a hitman you have Dylan Baker as a child killer. And instead of Bruce Willis as a washed up boxer you have Anna Paquin as Little Red Riding Hood. Okay it doesn’t sound as cool but really it is.


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Essentially Trick ‘r Treat consists of four tales set over one night but instead of them happening one after each other with a surrounding story, they weave and intermix with each other, characters cross over from one story to another, plots are connected to other plots, some are even the ends of a different story and it all wraps up with some clever use of time so that the end of the film is also the beginning and vice versa. It also helps that whilst there is a lot of variety in the four tales and you could say that two of them a comedic and two of them are more straight forward (well not straightforward at all actually) scary tales, they also flip about on the heads with some genuine frights in the comedy tales and some terrifying bits in the funny ones.

What I’m saying is there’s something for everyone here.

If we are really going to break things down then the first story would be about Dylan Baker and his quite frankly awful approach to parenting and children in general. If you’ve been fortunate/unfortunate enough to see Todd Solondz’s Happiness then you know full well that Baker excels at doing awful things to children. Trick r Treat goes nowhere near that dark but Baker is great at black comedy, trying to cover up a despicable crime whilst attempting to give the aura of the opitame of normalcy. He does this all whilst covered in a dead child’s blood but hey, it’s Halloween, it’s just a costume right? That’s one of the lovely things about this film, the most atrocious crimes and murders happen right in the public eye but everyone just ignores it, thinking it’s all just part of the fun. I imagine it’s only the next day when the police find bodies all over the place that they realise they’re not just props from a seasonal costume store.

The next story involves Anna Paquin and her chums rolling into town to party and pick up some blokes for a good time. Paquin is the classic horror virgin cliché but there’s a twist in the tale and it’s worth watching a second time just to hear how almost every bit of dialogue tells you what is really happening but you just don’t know it until you know it. Actually Trick ‘r Treat is worth watching multiple times anyway because despite its very tight eighty minutes it is so packed with incident, detail and clever asides that you might never get bored of it.

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The third story is probably the scariest with some kids playing a trick on a nerdy girl in their neighbourhood. The setting here is an abandoned water filled quarry and is incredibly creepy, what’s hiding in the water is even more so. This sequence is filmed with more mist that John Carpenter’s The Fog and with its water-logged monsters is probably scarier.

Watching all these different events unfold is a weird little boy dressed in a dirty orange costume with a sack on his head called Sam. He flits in and out of the different tales like a happy little observer untouched by the horrors in front of him and maybe even enjoying them a little too much. Sam is a fantastic character even though we know next to nothing about him: he’s like the embodiment of the spirit of Halloween – creepy and weird but also a lot of fun. Sam is the main player in the final story, tormenting an up-for-it Brian Cox in a story that is like a Halloween version of A Christmas Carol only with chocolate and Stanley knives.

Watching Trick ‘r Treat now it is impossible to understand what some Hollywood executives at Warner Brothers must have been thinking back in 2007. The film is a near perfectly made slice of macabre movie entertainment. It’s not that it isn’t dark and gory because it is, but it is also so brilliantly crafted and entertaining that it is apparent to anyone with even half an understanding of cinema that it is a modern classic. Maybe it could be said that it might not work quite so well watching it in the middle of summer as it does the week before Halloween but then that’s all the more reason to roll it out now, turn off the lights and curl up with some chocolate and wine and enjoy Trick ‘r Treat for the seasonal wonder that it is. And next year you can put it on and enjoy it all over again. And then do it again the year after that. And the year after that…

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