Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: Halloween III: Season of the Witch

My Edition: Standard single disc edition as part of a double feature package with Halloween II.

History: Produced with a budget of $2.5 million and wound up with a return of $14.4 million, a lot of which one can assume was from the name alone. Over the years the movie has received mixed reviews, most of which have been negative. However this doesn't stop the fanbase from getting so into it that there was even a super special edition DVD and Blu-Ray released in September 2012. One rumor on the origin of this movie is connected to movie critic Rex Reed. The rumor is that when he panned Halloween II so harshly he wound up stating, "If they make a Halloween III, I'll turn in my press card." Nigel Kneale, the original writer of the story, sued to have his name removed from the credits after he saw how violent the movie was. Lastly, in a really uncommon turnout the movie's novelization became more popular and more successful at the time and was even reissued two years after the original release.

Personal History: This is my second viewing. I wanted to watch it again for review because after that first viewing I developed a strong fondness for it.

Review: Okay, so there was a major detail I ommitted from the history section because I wanted to comment on it as well as report it. The first thing you'll notice about this Halloween is that there is no sign of Michael Myers. The only time he appears in it is in a clip on TV advertising the original Halloween movie. When you've got two before and a basket full of sequels later it looks really odd that this one would have nothing to do with him. Easy to dismiss then like how Friday the 13th Part V didn't have Jason, just a poser (But that was more relevant than this). So what gives? Well, after Halloween II where the movie ended with Michael Myers getting his eyes stabbed out followed up with him being lit on FIRE things looked pretty wrapped up with his story. He can survive getting shot and falling off the second story balcony but he can't survive being blinded followed by burned to death. So John Carpenter wanted to experiment by taking the franchise in a different direction. Instead of it being an ongoing story of the same killer, it would be a variety of stories in a franchise all set around Halloween. Now, despite the fact I recently completed collecting every Halloween title relesed...

Minus the alternate cuts of 1 and 6, and the theatrical cuts of the remake and its sequel.

I would much rather have seen just as many movies released but all with different concepts making for a variety show of horror across a franchise. However the only downside to that is then why not just make a new movie with an original title and not associate it with the rest but that's a totally different argument. And I guess a franchise like that could have wound up being the same story over and over again, too, but at least it would be a new concept of the same story instead of all the sequels and bullshit explinations for how Michael Myers survived to fight another day. (Seriously, fuck the Halloween Ressurection explination for surviving H20. That's stretching it far even for this franchise and genre.) Although the explination for Michael and Dr. Loomis surviving to see another day in Halloween 4 is pretty lame, too.
So essentially through Halloween III you're getting a preview of what could have been the Halloween franchise. Probably wouldn't have generated as many sequels as the Michael Myers story did, but it could have been really cool.

Right off the bat this does feel like a different world. The strange this is that it went from the creepy and non-overblown, prime example of horror and suspense that there was with the original Halloween to the wild, over the top, very sci-fi-like horror that came with III. III is about an evil corporation that makes halloween masks with a special chip built in. This chip is hidden and will kill anyone wearing the masks on halloween day. I mean, c'mon, that's pretty original. Also despite how cheesy elements of the movie is, the story is pretty dark when you think about it. Just take this into consideration. Who on halloween is going to be wearing thse masks? Kids! This evil corporation is going after kids! I should really take a step back, though. Cause a lot of those details don't come up until later in the movie.
The main plot revolves around a doctor. He is a divorced man who clearly has a bad relationship with his ex-wife and a seemingly distant relationship with his kids. He begins an investigation after an emergency patient comes into his hospital, is mysteriously murdered, and then the murderer commits suicide in the parking lot by lighting himself on fire, causing his card to blow up, too. The daughter of the man who was mysteriously murdered joins up with this doctor after they discover he was clutching onto one of the masks that Silver Shamrock (The company in question) makes when he was brought in. What follows is really insane especially when taking into consideration the two titles that came before this one. The film winds up taking more of a science fiction horror route instead of straight up horror/slasher. All of this is bizarre since Halloween and Halloween II were a lot more subtle in their approach. At times over the top but at least a little more realistic. Halloween III features lasers and super villain-like characters. I guess if they wanted to start taking a different direction with the franchise they sure did succeed. Can't get much different than this.

So as I sit through this movie I come to realize something. This is another case of a movie that feels very schizophrenic  So much of it feels so silly in concept. Everyone is obsessing over these Halloween masks so a lot of focus on the movie is on kids. It isn't until some crazy kill happens that you remember this is an R rated horror. Speaking of masks, I don't understand what all the obsession is about. They look like the masks are made of a nice quality plastic. They look like high quality items. The problem is that there are only three designs and the designs are as cliche as Halloween masks can get. There's a skeleton, a jack-o-lantern, and a green witch. Here's a visual aid. Now I grew up in an era not too long after this so the world of Halloween didn't change that much over time. Kids like to dress up in something they personally love passionately. They also wouldn't want to dress up as the same thing as a friend of theirs. The kids would rather stand out in a crowd to get noticed for something unique. When every kid is wearing one of three types of masks I find it hard to believe that an obsession like this has come up, especially with a limited number of styles. What about all the little boys who want to be Superman? What about all the little girls who wanna be a princess? They sorta got that covered later on in the movie when we see shots from different cities that show kids all wearing different costumes but topped off with these masks. Really weird seeing a ballerina with a witches' head. That strikes me as something that would be ironic these days but it just looks lazy in the context of the story.
So there's all this light stuff happens here and there with kids and their masks. Big obsession all around the country. The movie is even very colorful all around. But the thing is that this movie has got some balls. It goes some pretty dark places and even ends pretty grim. Going back to one of my first points, this movie has a character that is targeting kids by exploiting the marketing they all fall for. They beg their parents to buy them the hot new item. And what's the harm besides fun? So throughout the movie you're wondering what is going to happen to who. They couldn't possibly kill kids, can they? They'll probably just kill the people directly involved along the way but not kids. Well... there are a lot of deaths along the way. Pretty brutal, too. For example, the first time the chip inside the mask is discovered the gal who finds it messes with it cause she doesn't know what the deal is with it. Eventually a laser comes shooting out hitting her in the face. Once it shows the aftermath we see that most of her face has been obliterated. It's really gruesome. It's that kill and then the first kill that sets the story up where the assassin sticks his fingers in the man's eyes and jerks around until he's dead. And we see it all. It's not really covered up. It is in scenes like this where the story feels schizophrenic. Maybe it's the contrast between the science fiction-esque style horror and brightly colored execution with the masks and Silver Shamrock as a whole. Maybe it's once we get to the kills why it feels so extreme and out there. Not like anyone is surprised when a brutal, bizarre kill comes up in Friday the 13th because the whole thing is dark already. It's expected.

So that brings me to what I've been itching to talk about. We do see what happens when the mask kills the person wearing it. It happens pretty late in the movie. There's this salesman you'll see on and off throughout who is considered the best at selling Silver Shamrock's masks. So as an added "bonus," the company brings he and his family in to "approve/test a new promotional commercial." They're put in a steel room and then locked in. His kid runs up close to the TV, throws his mask on, and the commercial runs. This is to be what runs on Halloween during the supposed giveaway they've been promoting and getting everyone excited about. The commercial plays pretty similar to the one we've been seeing throughout which provided a countdown paired up with an annoying song to the tune of London Bridge is Falling Down. It's annoying hearing lyrics in a goofy voice that sounds like a munchkin singing, "Eight more days to Halloween, Halloween, Halloween. Eight more days to Halloween. Silver Shamrock!" Here's a clip from early in the movie. Anyway, once the commercial starts playing a digital image (digital for the 80s so it looks like the title screen to an Atari 2600 game with more pixels) of a jack-o-lantern. The speaker in the commercial tells the viewer to put on their mask and stare at the image. This image activates the chip inside the mask. We then see the mask what looks like slowly eat away the kids head, seemingly unable to remove the mask. The kid eventually falls over dead with the mask partially melted around his head. Then a series of insects comes crawling out of the mask (which is never explained especially since it didn't happen when the laser hit the lady in the face or when the lasers hit the lab workers shortly after this.) So essentially this movie kills a kid, right on screen. Leaving it open  to have other kids killed.
And that brings me to the ending. I felt the ending made the movie worth the bumpy parts that came first. The movie ends with the doctor at a gas station on the phone. He just infiltrated the secret part of Silver Shamrock where he found out the company stole and used the power of a stonehenge to create their evil masks. After defeating the bad guys he still had to make sure the commercial wouldn't air. So he runs down to the first place he can find, in this case a gas station, and calls the TV station that apparently handles multiple channels and will affect TVs all over the country (if you say so screenwriter). While this is going on a group of kids come running in and see the commercial is about to come on so they all gather around. The doctor is then forcing the TV studio to put anything other than the commercial on because it will kill millions, which the studio does despite them not having any proof. Well, they do this for two channels. But for some reason they're not taking it off the third channel. It appears to be getting closer and closer to death. The doctor screams louder and louder to remove it but nothing seems to be happening. Then suddenly, cut to black. It is left open ended. I loved this. It was a pretty bold move because it doesn't say everything came out okay, and it doesn't suggest it either. It suggests that these kids are gonna die. Frankly if the movie was a single minute longer and everyone turned out okay I would be bummed out. And now people may think I wanna see kids killed. Oh boy.

So I focused a lot on basically two scenes, both of which happened within the last thirty minutes of the movie. But those are a couple of the best parts where they did something that not many other movies were doing. Sure a lot of movies would leave things open ended, but usually there's some sense of survival and the evil being defeated and maybe the bad guy will return for a sequel. Whereas this one left things wide open in a way that is a lot darker. Also usually horror movies these days kill unsuspecting horny teenagers or whoever gets in the killer's way, never kids, though. And if they do it's off screen or just suggested. This one killed a kid right in front of you! For this time period that was intense.
But what about the rest of the movie? I would say the rest of the movie is pretty okay. The story can be such a confusing mess that it's hard to track or care. All you know is something isn't right with this company and their masks. Then they bring in robots as their minions which they can also apparently use as a clone of a real person, too. Also there's something of a romance between the doctor and the daughter of the victim from the beginning of the movie. It's a romance that makes no sense outside of the the screenwriter (or producers) wanting romance in the movie which is what it feels like. I guess the thing is that there's not a lot to comment about because a lot of the movie is typical 80s horror. If you're into that sort of thing then it's definitely for you. It has enough elements overall to keep you interested with an excellent ending. Also it just gets so crazy with all the mediocre to bizarre elements mixed together that it does make you wonder what will come next.

This one really is an acquired taste. As the review suggests you're pushing through a lot of cheese and weird, confusing stuff to get to the good bits. But all in all it's a fund journey. This is one of my favorites in the franchise. I would much rather watch this installment over anything that came after it cause the ones that came after were essentially the same story told over and over again. Basically on a level of preference, my first pick goes to the Original, then Halloween II because it follows up and gives the story (temporary) closure, then I would want to watch this one next, with the remake as a close follow up. In terms of the rest: 4 is okay, 5 and 6 were pretty cool but nothing substantial, H20 was plagued with too much of the post-Scream tropes instead of being another Halloween like it should have been, Resurrection can pretty much fuck itself, and the sequel to the remake was pretty passable but had some great kills and a special appearance by Weird Al. That warrants a viewing alone!
What I'm trying to say is I really like Halloween III. It's hard to recommend  If you think you'll like it you'll probably like it. If you're on the fence then you probably won't like it. It's such an acquired taste that you really need to have the interest right on front street or else it probably won't grab you like it did for me.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Quick Review: A Good Day to Die Hard

One reason why I love my wife so much is because she's not always into the super romantic stuff. What I mean by that is that last night, Valentines Day, instead of going out for a fancy meal or a romantic outing we went to the movies. And the movie we went to wasn't whatever that new romance flick is that came out recently (go research!). No, we went to freaking Die Hard! And as a long time casual fan of the franchise I just wanted to express my quick impressions that I left the theatre with. This won't be as long as other reviews.

I actually have a few technical things I want to get off my chest. First off, this is the first Die Hard to be filmed in 1.85:1 instead of 2.35:1. This may not mean anything to most of you (or most of you may not even know what I'm referencing) but I felt it did damage the film a bit. What this does is it tones down the scope of the film. All the previous one had the wider image providing a stronger visual to go along with all the action on screen. Cramming all that action into a smaller aspect ratio makes it a slightly rougher experience. Not to say you can't make a great action flick in that aspect ratio, there are plenty of examples in recent years that proves that. However the problem is that this movie also suffers from very modern cinematography and editing.
What I mean by the cinematography and editing is that there's a lot of shaky cam, lots of fast cuts, and a lot of close ups. I don't know what it is about extreme close ups in modern cinema but the more "exciting" form of editing seems to love the shit out of it. Because of this there are a lot of moments where it's so far zoomed into a character it's hard to tell exactly what's going on and a sense of location. It's like watching the scene live, from a distance, with binoculars only not knowing what will happen next so you have to wing it.
Another complaint is the length. Every Die Hard before this was more than two hours long. It provided a lot of time for good character development, lots of action, and over all a very well fleshed out story that leaves you very satisfied. However this Die Hard came in at a mere 97 minutes. That's seems very short for the franchise that's come about. That's like (and this is an example that's not 100% on the ball) if J.K. Rowling was writing out the Harry Potter books, they all start cranking out with around 600-77 pages each. Each providing a lot of time for a lot of the same things I previously mentioned. Then all of a sudden Deathly Hallows gets sent out with a mere 300-450 pages. Not a drastically huge cut but a surprising cut in content in a franchise that otherwise had a lot of meat on it's bones. Well I guess it isn't all a loss because then I didn't have to put up with my other complaint for very long. How most action movies these days all want to be The Bourne Identity.
This is something I'm getting especially tired of. It seems like the hot ticket item is when there's an action packed movie that integrates different governments, secret agents, spies, the FBI, etc into it. Personally I'm not into those themes unless it's in a political drama/thriller, and the only spy I ever really got super into is James Bond but I think that goes without saying. So the fact that this franchise that was previously all about an every day cop taking down big bad terrorists is now on a greater global scale that deals with the previously mentioned items takes it a different direction that this franchise didn't need to go. It was fantastic when it was on a smaller, more condensed scale. Not when it incorporates the government and then makes things more complicated than it needs to be. I think this is more personal preference than anything because I'm a much bigger fan of a one man army taking down terrorists or a group of thugs without getting the FBI or secret agents involved, and at the most political them doing it at war ala Rambo. This is why I found Crank and Shoot 'em Up to be a couple of the best action movies in the past decade because they put aside all the bullshit and got down to what matters in these movies, as Bruce Willis stated in the new Die Hard "Let's go kill mother fuckers."
I think what I'm trying to say is that it may say Die Hard but it doesn't feel like a Die Hard. They said John McClane and it starred Bruce Willis but that doesn't automatically make it a Die Hard. It had this overall feeling that it was originally a script to a different movie that was eventually reworked so it can be justified to call it Die Hard. It felt like so many things that make the previous ones so great were missing here.

Now it may sound like I didn't even like this movie. That is far from the truth. I didn't like it as much as the last Die Hard but it was still a great action packed movie!
Despite moments of an overly complicated plot it does get things moving really fast. The first act was packed mostly with an exciting and very extensive car chase sequence. Cars are flying everywhere, Bruce Willis is shooting out those cheesy one liners we all love, it's just great. And the whole sequence finishes off with awesome end crash for the bad guys. It really got my blood pumping and ready for what comes next. And what comes next was also pretty bad ass. One of my favorite moments was still pretty early. The scene is in a safe house that is suddenly raided by what is essentially a Russian SWAT team. While the other characters all went hiding in other rooms or behind crates, Bruce Willis instead goes into the middle of the room, whips open a crate, grabs a machine gun and blows away the raiders because he had no fucks to give at that moment. It was so bad ass to see him just do that like it was nothing and added to the overall excitement of the movie.
Make no mistake that this is a very exciting movie. Most of the things I was talking about in the first large chunk of this review pertained to the franchise as a whole or personal pet peeves with the action genre as it is right now. The action sequences just get so wild as the film continues. One thing that does stay alive with this franchise is the unbelievable stunts the characters pull and over the top action. There are so many moments when the characters should not have survived an explosion, fall, etc etc but that's what makes this so exciting. I can't help but feel the Jason Bourne approach to a lot of modern action is a way to bring it into the real world, but some of the stunts throughout this movie shows that the world still wants over the top insanity as it should get.
I was definitely left wanting more when it ended but that's a good thing. It passed by quickly and I wanted to see more of the same of what I was given (for the most part). Especially during the "final showdown" in the third act which sent the insanity above and beyond what was already being done. It's certainly a fun popcorn flick that tries a little to hard to be smarter than it really is. I would say give it a shot if you like action flicks. I just don't see why this had to be called Die Hard. It could have just as easily been another Bruce Willis action flick with no connections to John McClane. But I guess it's a good way to sell easy tickets.

P.S. Some "quick" review, huh? I think I have Kevin Smith syndrome where when I get talking I can't quite stop.