Sunday, September 18, 2011

Series to Reboot: Pushing the Envelope of Credibility with Halloween (Part 1)

The first of the Series to Reboot articles is a personal favorite series of mine, the Halloween franchise.  For the background on this concept read the series intro: Series to Reboot: The Intro.  Assuming you've done that and are prepared, and without further ado, here is Halloween.

The Halloween franchise was officially launched in 1978 when the John Carpenter/Debra Hill classic Halloween premiered on the silver screen and became more successful than the creators ever expected it to be.  I've read different reviews of the first film that credit Carpenter with starting the Slasher genre with Halloween, but Tobe Hooper's The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (yes, Hooper spelled it that way) premiered in 1974 and it is very much a film in what would become the Slasher style.  Regardless of the fact that TCM was made first and by 4 years, Halloween is the film that really made the genre marketable.  The entire series has produced 10 films to date with the most recent two being remakes/reboots by musician/artist/producer/writer/director/icon Rob Zombie.  Here is the Celtic Pumpkin's critical look at the series film-by-film.
Simple, elegant, a bloody classic
Halloween (1978)- The film that started it all.  This film introduced us to the series antagonist Michael Myers, the boy who killed his teenage sister at the tender age of 6, went into Smith's Grove Sanitarium where he became a catatonic then broke out again 15 years later to return home and kill again.  His doctor, psychiatrist Sam Loomis (played by the incomparable Donald Pleasance) follows the trail.  Michael stalks the streets of his hometown, killing a few unsuspecting teenagers until the final showdown with final girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis in her first starring role).  The film ends with Dr. Loomis showing up at the last second to empty his pistol into Mikey who falls out of an upstairs window to his doom...until Dr. Loomis looks out of the window to see no body on the ground.  Cue scary music and montage of locations where Myers had been previously.  Throughout the film Dr. Loomis treats us to an ever more insane set of descriptions of his former patient, leading up to the conclusion that the man he hunts is not a man at all, but pure evil.
Credibility, plausibility, possibility are all firmly intact.  Michael does not seem superhuman, despite Loomis's claims until the very end when his body is not to be seen on the ground.  Every event is not only possible, but quite plausible.  Even if we consider that his escape from the sanitarium seems a little too convenient, it is not out of the realm of possibility and the plot brings us back, safely, to the credibility bubble.  A good slasher has the feeling that this could happen just down the street, and the first film of the Halloween franchise accomplishes this well.  The characters feel real, sound real, and they die real (seemingly).  The only moments when you might question the reality of it are when Micheal makes good his escape in the station wagon and when he kills Bob by impaling him with a knife that, honestly, would not be able to hold an adult male off the floor a foot by tacking him to a wall.  Aside from that bit of artistic license, it seems plausible throughout and credible.  By the time you get to the surprise ending (no body on the ground) you are ready for anything but that.
Overall Credibility: 10 out of 10
Series Credibility: N/A (First installment sets benchmark)
Halloween II (1981)- The first of the post Friday the 13th films in the series (important because F13 set the standard for the Slasher genre for gore and kill counts) and it shows.  Michael is still alive and kicking and increases his body count by 83.33% from his first outing.  This film is decent enough but disappointing as a sequel if you are as into the first film as I.  Carpenter did not direct the sequel but he and Debra Hill are given the writing credits.  John Carpenter has said that when trying to find a hook for the sequel he came up with the notion that Laurie Strode was actually Michael's long lost baby sister and that was why he was so determined to kill her.
Yeah, um...bollocks.  The first hit to the credibility is that Michael is still alive.  Yes we saw he was not lying on the ground at the end of the first film, but it is clear that the first film was not written with a sequel in mind.  Halloween II is forced.  That does not make it bad, but it is true.  Following the standards set by Friday the 13th rather than the standards set by its own first film, Halloween II opts for more gore and higher body count and moves the location to a single locked in hospital.  The victims are not sympathetic and are mostly interchangeable, we don't feel for them at death.  Hell, we look forward to it.  Loomis is back and still partnered up with a local cop as in the first film, but logistics required that Sheriff Brackett be replaced with a deputy.  He mostly gives the same tough lines to allow Loomis to again ponder the nature of evil.  In the final reel Laurie, Loomis and Michael clash at the hospital for the big showdown.  Here again we see a degradation in the credibility envelope as Laurie, showing no previous firearms skills, manages to shoot out Michael's eyes with two perfect shots.  Not plausible.  Possible, but that's stretching it.  The other credibility killers are the relationship between Michael and Laurie.  Upon hearing who her attacker was she has memories of the name and realizes it is her brother and that she is adopted.  Plausible, but annoying.  Finally the timeline.  The first Halloween ends well into the night.  All the houses around the Doyle and Wallace houses have their lights off and people are going to bed.  Annie told Laurie that she was going to let Lindsay Wallace watch Doctor Demento, which she referred to as 6 straight hours of horror movies.  We know that Lindsay watched The Thing From Another World and Forbidden Planet.  Throughout Halloween II people are seen watching Night of the Living Dead which means the entire events of the film take place in 2, maybe 3 hours?  And we also see young kids running about the streets of Haddonfield, people still at parties, people awake and watching TV.  Laurie had put those kids to bed in Halloween and they were zonked out.  I'm afraid some sort of time dilation has occurred.  That's pushing the plausibility a bit.  Not a bad film, certainly a good Slasher.
Overall Credibility: 4 out of 10
Series Credibility: 7 out of 10
Ladies and Gentlemen, the incomparable Tom Atkins: "Hi everyone, thanks so much for calling.  Yes, I starred in Halloween 3 and...excuse me caller...'why no Michael Myers, your film sucks', ha ha, good question.  I think it's because Michael Myers died in the second film and the filmmakers wanted to try something new associated with Halloween.  Either that or you just couldn't see what was going on on the screen with your head so far up your ass."
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)- Purists hate this film.  I love it.  The first (and only) film in the series to NOT feature any major character from the previous films (no Mikey, no Sammy, no Laurie), H3:SotW is a film about Halloween, not about Halloween.  The first film, all fans know, was originally entitled  The Babysitter Murders and was not set on Halloween night.  Carpenter and Hill chose to move the setting a bit and incorporate a bare minimum of the icons of Halloween and viola, a hit film.  Part 2 tried to draw more on the Halloween theme by teasing us with Samhain...but it just feels forced.  Here in the 3rd film we have an actual Halloween themed Halloween.  Summed up: A druid running a novelty factory steals a chunk of Stonehenge to make masks that are designed to go off on kids heads like bombs on Halloween night when his special commercial plays, Tom Atkins and some skinny bimbo set out to stop him.  Awesomeness ensues.
The reason series purists hate H3 is that it has nothing to do with Michael Myers.  Well too damn bad, Mikey died in H2.  This film is about Halloween itself.  Clumsy at times, the film keeps its own credibility by setting the story in a world where magic is most definitely a factor, it just doesn't tell you that from the start.  Oh, and Tom bloody awesome Atkins.
Overall Credibility: 7 out of 10 (there are moments that require you to really suspend that disbelief)
Series Credibility: N/A (not a part of series canon)
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)- What can we say about a film with that title?  It is correct; Michael Myers indeed returns, as does Dr. Sam Loomis.  Outside of that...
H4 is very much a late 80's Slasher with a huge body count, obligatory T&A, stupid victims you want to see die and general mayhem.  The lurking, efficient predator of the first film has been replaced by a more Jason Vorhees type of 'creative kill' guy.  Instead of looking to kill his sister Laurie, Mikey must content himself with killing his niece as Laurie has died in an automobile accident leaving behind her only offspring, Jamie Lloyd who lives with foster parents and a foster big sister, Rachel.  Michael survived total immolation from H2, it would seem, by going into a protective coma (credibility gone, plausibility gone, possibility stretching) and Dr. Loomis survived as well with some nasty burns and a limp (credibility still gone, plausibility stretching back, possibility restored...we never saw Loomis's body, he could have survived the explosion...he does look rough).  Michael awakes from his coma, gets to steppin' and does his thing back in Haddonfield.  Loomis pursues.  It's great to see Loomis do the crazy rants because you start to feel the man is sliding into insanity for real.  Big redneck explosions end the film.  Little girl in peril...risky subject.  Oh, and a whorey girl gets her comeuppance.
Overall Credibility: 3 out of 10
Series Credibility: 6 out of 10
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1889)- A follow up to H4 in a year's time?  The hell you say.  Yes, friends, H4 did enough business to warrant a part 5.  This film really feels like part 4 again.  The differences are that it is one year later, Jamie, who ended the 4th film by stabbing her foster mother as though "possessed" by her uncle's evil (Loomis certainly believes it so) is now mute (from PTSD no doubt) and lives in a hospital for messed up kids.  Michael returns to get his revenge on...well nobody really because that is a dumb title.  Part 5 marked the beginning of the "endings that seem totally out of place" phase of the series.
Overall Credibility: 6 out of 10 (really, if you accept the premise the film does not leave its credibility envelope too often...the ahem EXPLOSIVE ending however, does)
Series Credibility: 4 out of 10 (it's just too contrived a series of events to keep the series afloat)


  1. Oh sure, cut me right off while i'm waiting to hear about the reboot. Waiting for part duex, tap... tap... tap