Michael Gets Up Again (Halloween 2)

Rob Zombie returned for the sequel to his fairly successful reboot.  My understanding is he had not intended to, but was talked into it.  And from the outset, this one is a total mess.

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It opens with a bit of text regarding the psychological significance of a white horse.  It then gives us a flashback to young Michael and his mother having as loving a moment between a mother and son as you can have at a sanitarium.  This right here is continuing a wrong foot.  In the original films, Loomis talks about how Michael was quiet and interacted with no one, to the point where everyone grew complacent around him.

The film just jumps ahead fifteen years, to the end of the previous film.  In an imitation of the original Halloween 2, there is a hospital sequence, but it is only about 25 minutes long and then Laurie wakes up a year later.  Was it a memory?  A dream?  The film is unclear.

We learn Laurie is in therapy and has rage issues.  Loomis, on the other hand is now a psych-babble hack who uses Michael as his money-maker.  This is an unpleasant take on the character, which makes him far less sympathetic.  He is convinced Michael is dead, even though no body has ever been recovered.

Michael, very much alive, has been hiding out, building up his murderous rage.  He is haunted by dreams of his mother, and an avatar of himself as a little boy who speaks to the vision of the mother.  There are instances where Michael grunts as he kills that seem out-of-place.  A completely silent Michael makes for a better Michael.  Michael also spends a lot of time with no mask, which just seems wrong.

Laurie seems to have a sudden psychic connection to Michael that comes out of nowhere.  And Laurie has become an entirely unpleasant.  In fact, nobody is really likable in the film beyond maybe Sheriff Bracken and Annie.  But most everyone else is just hard to like or care about.  This is a bad thing for your lead.  It is hard for the viewer to invest our time and emotion to care about a character we cannot even really like.  And to pretty much have her cast her lots in with Michael (this is the same problem the recent Texas Chainsaw Massacre sequel had) is troublesome.

The resolution of the film is nonsense leaving this a complete (as stated earlier) mess of a movie.  It robs Laurie of any actual strength, and ultimately punishes her.  It is pretty clear that Laurie Strode was accepting Michael’s ways.  Her deviant smile before the cut to black is far to dark to be interpreted as triumph over the evil of Michael Myers.

There are some great shots, as Zombie has a real eye for framing shots, especially when going for a creepy vibe.  And there are some solid performances, especially from McDowell, Dourif and Harris.  People need to give Dourif more roles like this.  He shines in the film.  And Zombie (as usual) peppers his film with tons of character actors who clearly had a lot of fun in their roles.

But in the end, the writing and ideas are inconsistent, the characters overwhelmingly unpleasant and a Michael Myers who does not feel at all like Michael Myers.

Michael Gets Zombified

After the failure of Halloween Resurrection, The franchise regrouped and tried to figure out their next step.And they were stumped.  So what they decided to do?  Reboot the franchise.

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Rob Zombie had two films under his belt, and while the response to House of a 1,000 Corpses was tepid, exploitation fans ate up the semi sequel the Devil’s Rejects. The producers decided Zombie could rev new life into the franchise.

The end result is kind of mixed.  To begin, the original gave us very little of Michael’s childhood.  He puts on a clown mask, kills his sister, his parents come home…BAM!  Jump to the present.  The film was more focused on Laurie and her friends, with little attention given to Michael’s past.  All that we really got was he came from a standard suburban family.

Zombie changed all that.  Instead, we were introduced to a little boy from a white trash home.  his stripper mom has an abusive boyfriend…his sister Judith is verbally abusive and mom boyfriend leer at her…and so on.  He is bullied at school, and little Mikey Myers has issues…he kills animals and gets into fights.  And he actually kills before he kills his sister.  He actually goes on a killing spree that culminates in his sister’s death.  The only person left is his baby sister and mother.

Michael continues to be creepy and violent in the hospital.  He grows up to escape, being hunted by his psychiatrist Sam Loomis.  We are almost halfway through the film before we meet the teen  Laurie Strode and her friends.  So, the film tends to be a rush to get to the end, with Michael slashing what seems to be half the town.

The most enjoyable part of the film is the cast.  It is a horror and exploitation who’s who.  Brad Dourif (Child’s Play), Malcolm McDowell, Danielle Harris (Halloween 4 & 5), Ken Foree (Dawn of the Dead) among others play either prominent characters or have cameos.

This is a bloody exploitation take on the franchise, unlike prior attempts.  Depending on the version you watch, it can be potentially triggering for a viewer.  The theatrical cut has Michael fighting a bunch of guards to escape…in the unrated cut, he escapes when the sleazy asylum employees drag a girl into Michael’s room so they can rape her on his bed (?!).  It is a pretty sickening scene that was not needed.  And truth be told, I might like the film more if is was just Rob Zombie’s Exploitation Horror Movie.  But calling its lead “monster” Michael Myers and having the title of Halloween invites a lot of comparisons.

The biggest is that part of what made Michael Myers scary in the original was his ambiguity. What little we could see was he appeared to come from a middle class family.There appeared to be no abuse.  Michael appeared to lack any warning signs.  That question made him very frightening.  Rob Zombie’s Halloween gives us a view of a textbook case of the “childhood of a serial killer”.  Michael has everything working against him.  Michael should be haunting and this new back story ruins that.  It makes Michael a predictable monster, rather than a foreboding shape.

Michael kills more in the reboot…and we get more profanity.  The exploitation approach does make it stand out from the other horror reboots…rather than a glossier reboot, Zombie gives us a grittier one.

The standout for me in Rob Zombie’s Halloween films is probably Brad Dourif’s Sheriff Bracken.  He remains a good-hearted heroic type angry with Loomis for what has been unleashed on this town he protects.  Dourif does not seem to get a lot of those roles, and he is actually quite good at it.

Revising the Curse

Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers was terrible.  It was Plodding, confusing and a genuine mess.  I went back and revisited it and even realized I had filled in the blanks.  The cult that oversees Michael is barely seen.  Oh, we meet some of the characters, but it is unclear why or how they know stuff.  Instead, I was filling in my memory with stuff I had heard about the ideas behind the film.

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After almost two decades, we have finally gotten a legit copy of the often bootlegged Producer’s Cut.  This is the film the producers wanted to release.  And you know, had the succeeded?  Part 6 might have had a better reputation.

Oh, yeah, there is still creepy stuff like Jamie being impregnated by her uncle Michael Myers.  But other things are more explicit, like the cult that has overseen Michael.  It makes the talk of the voice that called to Michael to kill his family make a bit more sense.  And the ending is far better.

In a lot of ways, this is a very different film.  Far superior to the theatrical release.  Of course, it still falls short of being a great film.  Frankly, I still do not find the “Michael is controlled by a Cult” storyline particularly compelling.  And considering the seventh film ignored this plot point entirely… I am not alone in such a feeling.

But it is a lot of fun seeing the new footage of Donald Pleasence.  The ending was chopped short, with Sam Loomis bidding farewell to Tommy, Kara and her little brother.  We just see Michael’s mask on the floor and a distance scream from Loomis suggesting Michael killed him offscreen.  In the version, Loomis walks back into the hospital they had the showdown with Michael in and sees Michael still standing…joined by Dr. Wynn (Mitchell Ryan)… Sam Loomis is not killed in the producer’s cut…but rather faces a cruel fate worse than death.  It is actually pretty inspired and ties back to the original in a ironic way.  If you have  not seen it and are a fan of the franchise, I recommend this one.  The blu-ray also includes some great featurettes exploring the history of this film.

Chucky’s Package

For years, a Chucky box set has meant one thing.  You would not get the original Child’s Play.  Earlier in the year, to coincide with the sixth film, the Curse of Chucky, Universal and MGM came to an agreement.  A limited edition box set with all six Chucky films.

The packaging does it’s job, but I cannot say it is all that unique.  But the discs themselves are quite nice.  All the film’s blu-ray transfers look great.  The audio is effective (I had the menu for Child’s Play going and kept looking around as I would suddenly hear footsteps).

2014-10-12 21.33.352014-10-12 21.34.05The Breakdown is:

Child’s Play:  This is chock full of special features to go with the movie.  There is a lot of information to be found in the featurettes.

Child’s Play 2 & Child’s Play 3:  Each disc just has the films.

Bride and Seed of Chucky: Both have the features that were included on the original DVDs.

Curse of Chucky:  All the special features included on the solo release of the disc

As franchise collections go, this is pretty darn good.  It would have been nice if they had created special features for films two and three.  One of the great things about these types of franchise sets is getting to hear the thoughts and feelings of cast members decades later.  For one thing, people tend to be more honest, rather than in promotion mode.  Hearing how everyone felt about two and three would be intriguing.

But overall, this is a nice little set and it is worth it for Chucky fans.

ANARCHY IN THE USA

The first The Purge was an interesting idea that did not delve all that deep into its core idea.  It was a claustrophobic small-scale film, taking place almost entirely in a house.  It had some solid performances from Lena Heady and Ethan Hawke among others.  But it really did not explore the Purge concept much at all.

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The Purge: Anarchy, however, rectifies this.  It explores the larger concepts.  Now mind you, the Purge has an interesting concept that false apart really quickly.  To combat crime and poverty, America instituted the Purge.  One evening a year where for twelve hours all things are lawful.  Right up through rape and murder.  The idea that organized crime and other criminals would just hold off until that one night seems pretty unlikely.  I presume insurance companies do not payout on life insurance for people who are killed on the night of the Purge.  Considering how many murders are crimes from the heat of the moment, rather than calculated and the compulsive obsessive nature of certain sexual crimes, the idea that everyone would just keep themselves in check…

But anyways, in the film there are interesting aspects the the first film only hinted at.  We hear more from the President, and see the Purge being presented in patriotic and religious language.  The president speaks of cleansing our souls, how good it is for America.  We see how people use the night to blow off steam, get revenge and, of course make money.  There is an explicit explanation that the government encourages as much killing as possible (and is actually frustrated by the fact that not enough people get killed in the annual Purge).  We see people being purchased at auction by the rich so they can safely kill people without being in danger themselves.  And there is a revolutionary group opposing the Purge and the Government.  I suspect it is not accident that this group is mainly black and Latino.

But while this makes for a creative environment, storytelling-wise, it is meaningless if you have no characters to root for.  In the film we have a mother and daughter (Carmen Ejogo and Zoe Soul) who narrowly avoid getting raped (by the biggest MRA/Nice Guy you can imagine-he wants to rape the mother because she did not show him proper respect…”You should be nice to people!”) only to be taken hostage.  We also meet a couple whose car has broken down (Kiele Sanchez and Zach Guilford).  In walks Frank Grillo (Captain America:the Winter Soldier).  He walked into the street ready to kill the man who killed his son, instead ending up helping our scared foursome.

The characters are all likeable, Grillo plays the role as a grief stricken father on a mission, and the resolution to his story?  I think it plays out very well.  The core plot might make you presume it is a glorification of mayhem, but the film ultimately favors the notion that the purge is a great evil, that heroes saving lives are a threat to the purge and mercy is a virtue.

I ended up liking this film far more than I expected to. I was worried when the leads were in danger, and I hoped for them to survive.  And when I thought we were ending on a down note, the film took a hopeful turn.

Heck, I even like the idea of a third film… And it should be called The Purge: Revolution.

Leprecon

So, the WWE got the rights to the Leprechaun Franchise, home of Warwick Davis for over two decades.  The WWE got into making movies as a vehicle to promote their wrestlers.  And the rebooting of the Leprechaun films with Leprechaun Origins was meant to be a vehicle for Dylan Postl.

leprechaun_origins_xlgAs with several recent reboots, this one does not fare well.  But where as the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street reboots did not try and find a new approach to Jason Vorhees and Freddy Krueger, Leprechaun Origins abandons it’s core concept completely.

The film opens with two young people being chased through the woods into a field.  They are being hunted by a growling monster.  After dying at the hands of the unseen creature, we meet the four young people who are our heroes.  The two couples are backpacking through Ireland and come upon a small pub.  There, they meet an old farmer who offers to put them up in his cabin for the night.  They accept the offer, but find out that it is in fact a setup.  They are trapped in the cabin, and there is a small creature after them.

There is lots of running, and glimpses of the creature that is chasing them.  And the creature is a big part of the problem.  We often get shots from it’s point of view, which is a goldish tint.  The creature likes gold, stealing gold jewelry off of people.  Which is all we get to suggest this is a leprechaun.  It is a snarling beast that shows itself to be clever once in the entire film, it never shows a level of intellect the rest of the film.  It does not talk.  It just growls.  The leprechaun in the film is just a generic monster.  The shots of the monster are constantly going in and out of focus, allowing us to only get a vague idea of what it looks like.  This, however, does not result in a mysterious and scary monster.  Instead?  It feels like an attempt to hide uninspired creature effects.  What we can see?  Looks like a rubber monster that was never finished.

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The characters are pretty uninteresting, and spend most of their time screaming and making dumb choices.  At one point, the leads are trapped in a car  and realize the keys are on the mutilated body nearby.  The girl gets up to the body and suddenly pauses to get freaked out by what she already knew was a mutilated corpse.  Even when they are ready to kill the creature, the leads never come across as having gotten any courage.

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They never actually get this badass in the film, they just pose like they are before screaming and throwing weapons away.

Dylan Postl should be upset that he got given this thankless and generic role.  The original films were not that great, but at least Warwick’s Leprechaun had personality.

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Packing Up Camp Crystal Lake

In 1980, Sean Cunningham and Paramount pictures unleashed Friday the 13th, one of the biggest horror franchises ever in the world of horror.  Who knew ripping off Halloween would be so successful.  34 years and ten films later, we have a box set billed as the complete collection.  This is a big set, it has the eight Paramount films and the four New Line films, 3-D glasses for Friday the 13th 3D, a camp counselor patch and a booklet called Crystal Lake Memories. (an excerpt from the book).  It is all held together in a steel tin with an embossed Jason.  The discs are housed in a very nice book with slip case pages.  The artwork is great.  This is very nice packaging.

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And it starts off great.  First, the sound and picture are great.  The films benefit from Blu-Ray.  Each of the first eight films are packed with special features covering the various DVD releases of the films.These are pretty in depth and since some featurettes were made years apart, they do at times retread tales that were told.   But there are fun inclusions like convention footage featuring multiple Jasons and the like.  There is a series, an episode on each disc that is called “Lost Tales From Lake Blood”.  It is the tale of a Jason like killer who is not actually Jason.  It is not all that effective, and lacks a sense of real plot.

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After the fifth film, the features taper off slightly, mainly just including the features from the original DVD releases and the Lost Tales.  But after the eighth film?  It becomes hit or miss.  There are no special features for Jason Goes to Hell.  Just a trailer.  To top it off, they only include the theatrical cut of the film.  The DVD had the uncut version along with the theatrical version, as well as an audio commentary and featurettes.

There are a few features from the Jason X disc, and the same goes for Freddy Vs. Jason and the Friday the 13th remake (which is the same disc that was available in stores on it’s own.  Starting with Part V through Jason X, each disc has two films per disc.  I suspect Freddy vs Jason and the remake are on their own discs simply because it was less trouble to repress the discs they had.

Probably the biggest disappointment?  The promoted bonus disc.   The bonus disc is the same DVD that was included with the previous DVD box set from a couple years before hi-def that only covered the first eight films.  And a majority of the special features included on that disc appear on their respective blu-rays.

Overall, it is a nice set, and the first eight discs are nice and packed with features.  It is just that it starts to decline after that.  As I said previously, the picture quality is solid and the audio is high quality.  And again, the actual packaging is great.  I can only wish the Nightmare on Elm Street set had been packaged with such care.