Halloween

Halloween (2018)

halloween

It’s been 40 years since Michael Myers escaped and wreaked havoc on the quiet town of Haddonfield, IL. In that time the lone survivor of the attack, Laurie Strode, has done everything she can to prepare herself and her daughter for the inevitable day when Michael would escape. The night before Halloween, her greatest wish and biggest nightmare comes true. Michael escapes, and his rampage will take him back to the town where it all began. It’s up to Laurie to finally put an end to it all.

At this point, horror fans should have an idea of where this film stands in the Halloween franchise timeline. If you’re unfamiliar, here is a quick refresher: Halloween (2018) is a direct sequel to the 1978 Halloween. Basically, forget every other story line after that first film, because they are irrelevant to this sequel. The screenplay for this new imagining of Halloween was written by David Gordon Green (Joe), Danny McBride (Your Highness), and Jeff Fradley (Vice Principals) and it was directed by Green. The trio brings an interesting mix of background from more serious films, to comedies, to this being Fradley’s first feature film. As a result, there are some aspects of the film that shine and others that don’t quite live up to the franchise.

One of the single most successful aspects of this film is that the filmmakers managed to make Michael Myers even more sinister and murderous than he was in the first film. He is an unstoppable force and his kills are far more gruesome this time around. The development of Laurie’s character is also fascinating. She becomes obsessed with Michael to the point where it completely takes over her life, and it feels like an authentic direction for her character after the trauma she endured the first time Michael escaped.

The filmmakers decided to include many scenes and Easter eggs throughout the film that act as nods to the original Halloween as well as the sequels, even the Myers-less Halloween III. It makes it fun for the audience to watch closely to see how many hidden gems they can spot. At some point the film begins to feel like there are too many different things going on. There are simply too many characters the film follows, too many subplots, and even the Easter eggs get to be a bit excessive. Some of the issues I have with the film could be attributed to there being three screenwriters with varying backgrounds. They likely all wanted to put their mark on the franchise while also honoring the film they know and love, but the plot ends up being muddled in parts because the focus moves from place to place instead of focusing on one or two characters. The third act is where the filmmakers clearly hit their stride. Not only is it the most exciting part of the film, it also finally delivers what fans have been waiting for these past 40 years. The focus tightens on Laurie and her family as they face off with Michael, and the madness that ensues is sure to delight fans.

Even though it seems like there are too many characters to focus on at times, the entire cast does a phenomenal job. The obvious shining star of the film is Jamie Lee Curtis (Halloween, True Lies) as the one and only Laurie Strode. Only Curtis could bring to life such an iconic character, and it is great to see her reprise her role. Curtis excels as she portrays Laurie simultaneously traumatized by the events 40 years ago, while also dedicating her life to preparing to kill Michael. Judy Greer (Cursed, 13 Going on 30) also solidifies her own scream queen status as Laurie’s daughter, Karen. The dynamics between the estranged mother-daughter duo allow Greer to deliver a strong performance, especially as she is forced back to her roots in the third act. A smaller role in the film that resulted in some scene-stealing moments shows Jibrail Nantambu (Preacher) as young Julian, who is being babysat on Halloween night. This kid is downright hilarious, even when his night takes a dark turn, resulting in some of the most memorable lines of the film. Honorable mention also goes out to Andi Matichak (Evol), Haluk Bilginer (The International), and Toby Huss (Rescue Dawn).

The artistry in Halloween (2018) is by far one of the highlights of the film. Right away it is impossible to ignore the drool-worthy cinematography, enhancing the tension and beauty of the film. The original film went for more minimal practical effects, primarily relying on blood to emphasize any wounds. This film cranks out the gore, giving fans some fantastic practical effects for grizzly, unique kills by Michael. The effects team really put in the effort to give the audience something that is both horrifying and believable, and they succeeded. On top of that, it’s impossible to talk about Halloween without talking about the score. John Carpenter returned for the music in this film along with his son, Cody Carpenter, and Carpenter’s tour guitarist/godson, Daniel Davies. The three composers did an absolutely fantastic job of bringing the classic theme that fans adore while also breathing some new life into the rest of the score. The score truly brings the film to life in a way that only Carpenter and co. could pull off.

Halloween (2018) is a love letter to John Carpenter’s original that only true fans could pull off. There are moments when the film diverges into to many different directions, but there are many things to love about the film. The film has many fantastic nods to the original franchise, as well as thrilling new material including an even deadlier Michael (complete with more graphic kill scenes) and a badder, stronger Laurie. Even Carpenter, Carpenter, and Davies’ score gives a fresh twist to the familiar. The third act is when fans will truly see the film shine as Michael and Laurie become the focus. While the film may not quite live up to the hype, and perhaps a rewatch after the hype has died down will shed new light, the film still has something for every fan to enjoy.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

***Spoiler/Tip: There is an end credit “scene.” Don’t bother staying around for it. It’s literally just a black screen and you can hear Michael breathing, that’s it. You’re welcome.

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Hell House LLC

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Five years ago several people were killed in a haunted house attraction due to an unknown malfunction. The dead included many patrons as well as most of the crew. Now a documentary team is trying to put the pieces together and discover the truth of what happened that night. When a survivor of that night comes forward with new information the documentary crew decides to go back to the site of the haunted attraction. They soon discover some doors are better left closed.

Hell House LLC seems like it would be just another found footage film. While is doesn’t reinvent the subgenre, it definitely excels at it. The plot is interesting, focusing on a group of friends who build haunted house attractions for Halloween every year. This year the hotel they choose for their attraction has a very dark history. Over time things become more bizarre, leading to the disastrous opening night. This is entertaining enough, but what makes Hell House LLC stand out is the characters, the logic, and the subtle scares (most of which I will discuss later). What I will say now is that one of the most difficult things for a fount footage film to achieve is a reason for the characters to keep filming, even when things have gone horribly wrong. The filmmakers do an excellent job, for the most part, of logically explaining to the audience why the footage continues past when many people would stop. There is only one scene that leaves me with more questions than answers, but it doesn’t disrupt the filming logic.

I had the opportunity to watch this film twice in a very short period of time. The first time I watched it on a streaming service per a recommendation. The second time I watched it after receiving an email from the filmmakers with a screener for the extended director’s cut version. When watching the director’s cut I expected the aforementioned scene to be extended and further explained, but sadly it was not. It strongly hints that there is something more going on beyond what is shown to the audience, but we never get to learn what that is. While both versions of the film are great, I would recommend the extended director’s cut as it provides more character development and shows a bit more of what happened on opening night.

The most important thing I want to say is, despite watching the film two times in roughly two weeks, I was terrified during both viewings. A statement from writer/director Stephen Cognetti said, “My intent for Hell House LLC was to produce a slow burn of subtle, yet building scares. I have never been a fan of jump scares or music aided scares. My favorite type of scares in horror has always been the little things caught in the background that the protagonists are not immediately aware of. I worked to embody these sensibilities in Hell House LLC.” I too prefer the subtle scares in horror films. I can say that Cognetti skillfully achieves his goal, resulting in a truly frightening film. He creates the kind of subtle scares that stick with audiences long after the film has ended.

In a found footage film it is important the characters come across as compelling, and the characters must also have great chemistry. Nothing can ruin a found footage film more quickly than an unlikable cast. Hell House LLC has a cast of characters that are very well acted, and the chemistry between them feels very genuine. While the entire cast is fantastic, there are two standout performances for me. The first is Ryan Jennifer (I’d Kill For You) as the lone female of the group, Sara. Jones perfectly conveys trying to be one of the boys, experiencing fear, and balancing that fear with trying to be supportive of the team. Gore Abrams (Let Me Make You a Martyr) also stands out as Paul. Paul is a bit of a typical stereotype often found in modern horror films; the somewhat perverted friend with a heart of gold. What makes Abrams’ performance so memorable is how genuinely funny and enjoyable his character is. Even while his character is the focus of many scares, Abrams still manages to do or say something that delivers a laugh. Honorable mention goes to the remaining actors who made up the Hell House team; Danny Bellini (The Drifter), Jared Hacker (Pact), and Adam Schneider (Dark Skies).

If you enjoy quality found footage, and find subtle scares to be the most terrifying, then Hell House LLC is the film for you. It is the perfect Halloween horror flick to watch with a group if you want a good scare. There are only a few minor details that could be altered to get rid of one or two unanswered questions. Hell House LLC has compelling characters, chilling scares, and a simple yet interesting story. As someone who has seen this film more than once I can also say the scares hold up on second viewing. If my review has convinced you to see the film, I would suggest putting in the extra effort to see the director’s cut. This film will likely become an annual Halloween must-watch.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10

31

A group of carnies gets kidnapped while on the road. They are brought to a massive compound and forced to play a twisted game by three people dressed as old English aristocrats. The game is called “31”. All the carnies have to do is survive 12 hours in the compound while being hunted by one twisted clown after the other, each one more dangerous than the last. These clowns specialize in murder and mayhem. Will the small band of unwilling participants be able to survive the night?

31 was a hodge podge of really great ideas and some not so great ones. Overall, I think the concept was a really fun and exciting one. There wasn’t ever a dull moment during the film. The opening scene was one of the best parts of the entire film. It was a monologue by the aptly named “Doom-Head” clown. The scene was intense, even though it was just Doom-Head talking to his victim. That was a great way to start the film (even though there were some editing errors where the amount of blood on his face drastically changed between cuts and drove me crazy). After such a strong opening, the rest of the film was filled with a mix of high and low points. Most of the film was fun and exciting; I laughed, I gasped, and I had a lot of fun. Unfortunately, there were definitely some holes in the plot, which was where we run into the low points. Most of the holes surround the orchestrators of this event known as Father Murder, Sister Serpent, and Sister Dragon. Who are these people? How are they funding this? What do they do when it isn’t Halloween? How did they find the psychopaths to participate in their murder game? We may never know.

One of my biggest issues with this film was the character of Charly, played by Sheri Moon Zombie (Devil’s Rejects, House of 1000 Corpses). Anyone who has seen a Rob Zombie film knows that he is going to have his wife as the star and hero of the film. That I don’t mind, but Charly was such a pathetic “hero”. There were times in the film where she definitely rose to the occasion and did what she has to do, but at the same time there were scenes where she was made out to be such a weak person. It was too extreme to see her go from one end to the other, making her character unbelievable. Also, the wig they had her wear throughout the film was so distracting for me. Every time Zombie came on screen all I could look at is the ridiculous hair. The various clowns, on the other hand, were fantastic. They were such extreme caricatures of demented personalities that you couldn’t help but laugh at them as they were hunting their victims.

The biggest standout performance was, of course, Doom-Head. He was played by Richard Brake (Water for Elephants, Spy). If this film had just been his opening monologue, I would have been completely satisfied with that. Brake managed to play a ruthless killer who clearly enjoys what he does, and it made you enjoy watching him at work. My only complaint was that I wish he had been in the film more. Jeff Daniel Phillips (Lords of Salem, Halloween II) also stood out as the carnival worker, Roscoe. Of all the carnies, I found him to be the most likable and realistic character. I was rooting for him to survive the game more than any other character (maybe it had to do with his sweet sideburns).

The clown makeup and costumes in 31 were delightfully strange and minimal. The various clowns were all made to look ridiculous, and only slightly clownish, in order to add to the insanity. For example, Sick-Head was a little person who was a Spanish speaking Nazi clown. He primarily looked like a Nazi with a painted on Hitler mustache and a swastika on his chest. The only aspect that looked clown-ish is the white painted face and red nose. Probably my favorite clown look was Death-Head, who was this mammoth of a man. He wore a little white leotard and the tiniest tutu I have ever seen. It was hilarious because Death-Head was so huge and terrifying, yet he was running around in the least threatening outfit one could possibly think of. Again, he could only really be thought of as a clown because he was wearing such a comical outfit. It was all a fun juxtaposition by having murderous lunatics in ridiculous costumes.

Rob Zombie gave us a film that has everything you expect from a Rob Zombie film: excitement, bloodshed, and bad guys that you can’t help but love. This was definitely not his best film, but it was a lot of fun to watch. He always succeeds in making me laugh at the most inappropriate times. If the various plot holes had been filled, or at least briefly touched on, and if the hero character was a bit stronger I would have enjoyed 31 that much more. As it is, 31 is a thrill ride that lacks a bit in substance, but makes up for it in carnage and madness.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10

Favorite Things: Halloween Horror Movies

Halloween. It’s my favorite time of year and my favorite holiday. The change in leaves, the crisp air, the costumes, and of course the great horror movies. It only seemed fitting that for my blog’s first Halloween I do a list of some of my favorite horror movies that take place during Halloween. This list is in no particular order and range from classics to more recent favorites. Let’s begin…

Halloween (1978) 

This is probably the most obvious horror movie that takes place during Halloween, but it is also one of the best. Like A Nightmare on Elm Street, some of my earliest horror movie memories are related to this film. It is a classic slasher flick that still sends chills down my spine, even though it’s been almost 40 years since its release. Jamie Lee Curtis really showed her acting abilities in this. She also has one of the best screams I have ever heard. She is by far one of my favorite “final girls.” Although I may be a bit biased because I think she and my mom look alike.

Honorable Mention: The 2007 Rob Zombie remake of Halloween is actually quite good. It stayed true to the original, while also adding quite a bit of back story on how Michael Myers became the iconic killer.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

This may be a slightly less popular choice, but this film definitely has a cult following. The Halloween movies were meant to be almost like an anthology series where each film focused on a different story taking place during the holiday. Many people likely went to the theater expecting to see another Michael Myers film. Because of this, the film did not do well at the box office. Since then it has become wildly popular with horror fans. I have to admit the first time I saw this movie I hated it. I have watched it a few times since then, and now it is definitely one of my favorite Halloween-themed films.

Trick r’ Treat

This is another film that has a huge cult following. I didn’t see this movie until several years after its release. When I finally watched it, I immediately fell in love. The film is done in an anthology style where all the stories are connected in some way. What makes this film so great is that it covers all the major themes you think of when you think of Halloween. The “main character” of the film, Sam, is great because he manages to be absolutely adorable and terrifying at the same time. This is very difficult to manage, and I still don’t understand how they did it. Trick r’ Treat really is a classic film that I now watch every year for Halloween.

Ginger Snaps

Ginger Snaps will forever be one of my favorite horror movies. The fact that it takes place during Halloween just adds the icing to the cake. I find the main characters, Ginger and Brigitte, to be fascinating and complex characters. It’s also amazing the actresses are able to portray this complexity while also having to be regular teenage girls. Their bond throughout the film also draws me in. I will warn the men who are interested in seeing this film that the entire movie could be seen as one giant metaphor for a girl going through puberty, but don’t let that stop you from seeing it. There is a lot of fun gore and practical effects, plus the script for this film is absolutely incredible.

Idle Hands

I know this is probably the most cheesy movie that will appear on this list. You might say it’s a ridiculous choice. Well, I don’t care. This movie cracks me up and has fun with horror. Plus the young nineties girl in me will forever be in love with Devon Sawa. I have always loved this film because it is hilarious and has copious amounts of gore. It is a film you can watch for Halloween if you want a healthy dose of horror accompanied by a fun and light-hearted tone. Idle Hands is a great Halloween horror choice for watching with a group of friends, especially if there are some in your group that don’t necessarily want to watch a scary movie.

The Houses October Built

This film only came out last year, but it has already made quite a name for itself. The most endearing quality of this film is that it examines why people love to be scared. It also delves into how extreme some people will go with those scares. It’s a great concept, and the cast is really fantastic. I’m sure this film will only grow in popularity over the years, much in the way that some of the previous cult classics I mentioned have. My only recommendation is to watch this after you go to a haunted house. If you watch it before, you just might change your mind.

House of 1000 Corpses

This is another one of my favorite horror films, and the film that made me fall in love with Rob Zombie as a director. It’s a unique story that got me within the first few minutes. This film is intense, bloody, and filled with insane characters. What I love most about the film (and the sequel) is that Zombie manages to create characters that are truly despicable, yet there is something about them that you can’t help but love. That takes true talent, especially when you see what these crazies like to do for Halloween (and on ever other day of the year). Watching this makes me want to be a part of the Firefly family. After watching the film, you will understand that this is not the most sane way to look at that family.

HAPPY HALLOWEEN, EVERYONE!

The Houses October Built

Every October, various haunted houses and corn mazes open up all over the country. Their sole purpose is to scare the living hell out of you. In this film, a group of childhood friends decide to make a documentary about the scariest, most extreme haunts in the United States. Along their journey they hear humors about one specific haunt that is the most intense scare a person could ever have. As they journey to find this elusive haunt, things start to happen that lead them down a dark path they may not be able to come back from.

The main premise of the film is how back in the day, a basic haunted house where people jumped out at you and said “boo” was enough to scare the pants off most people. I myself am a total wimp. I went to the same haunted corn maze two Halloweens in a row and it scared me to death both times. These days people want the more extreme kind of haunt where the actors go past the point of what may be considered legal in most places. I have even heard stories of haunted houses where you have to sign some kind of waiver before you even go in so that if any physical or mental harm comes to you there can be no legal action taken. While I don’t know if places like this truly exist, it is the kind of place mentioned in the film that these people are dying to experience.

Intermixed within the film are interviews with supposedly real owners and actors at various haunts. The people being interviewed tell stories about extreme things that have happened at haunted houses, even murderers and sex offenders being hired as actors and using the job as a way to find new victims. While I have heard of plenty of crimes committed on Halloween, I’m not sure how valid the claims are that crimes are committed within haunted houses. This does bring up a fear that I believe many people have before entering a haunted house. You know the actors are technically not allowed to touch you, but what if a serial killer really was hired at a haunt and hid the remains of their victims within the sets.

The two aspects mentioned above give you the two extremes. On the one hand, people want something that is so outrageous and horrifying that they will never forget it. On the other hand, there is always the chance that the people in your friendly neighborhood haunted house are much worse than what they appear to be. In that way, this film makes sure that it covers all the potential fears a person may have before entering a haunt. They even show the different kinds of scares you get in various haunted houses and how it has evolved over the years. It starts with your more basic evil clowns and creepy dolls then moves into more shock horror with people being gruesomely tortured before your eyes, culminating in the ultimate scare where you are the victim of an all too real haunt.

Looking beyond the story alone, one of the aspects of this film that made is so believable was the acting. This group of people had such amazing chemistry and genuine reactions when they were going through the haunted houses that it made the entire story that much more believable. The few characters that you see from the haunted houses were great as well. Even the more silent ones, like the iconic porcelain doll, really know how to creep you out. The various masks and makeup that were used on the haunt actors was quite effective as well.

In my opinion, this film did not get as much credit as it deserved. While the ending was a bit lackluster, like so many horror movies, the overall storyline was very interesting. It seems likely that the kind of people that would appreciate this film the most are those that love Halloween and love to be scared. With excellent acting and a fairly unique topic for this fake documentary, it was hard for me to not enjoy the movie. It is the kind of movie that will be a favorite when Halloween comes around each year.

OVERALL RATING: 7/10