I’ve always been fascinated by the writing of, and indeed, the legend of playwright Joe Orton. It was so refreshing to discover someone who was, shock horror, a confident homosexual in the 60s rather than some simpering, guilt-ridden closet case. I remember when I arrived in London to study film, a friend told me about an organised tour entitled The Joe Orton Walk that went to the sites of public lavatories where Joe looked for casual sex. A worthy tribute as ever there was one.
Stephen Frears’ 1987 film adapts John Lahr’s fantastic biography of Joe with the working-class boy from Leicester venturing to London to join the RADA (darling) and pursue a career in acting. It’s here that he meets Kenneth Halliwell who becomes his partner and co-conspirator. But this union would come to a horrifying conclusion as the tutored (Orton) would eclipse his teacher (Halliwell) and accomplish everything he wanted to but that which was beyond his grasp (you could say it was ‘Beyond Our Ken’ haha).
We get a fantastic depiction of being gay in London in the 1960s where sex was everywhere with a knowing look or if you knew the relevant places to frequent. We also get a vivid depiction of the gay paradise of that era, Morocco.
Orton was ‘punk’ before ‘punk’. His plays poked fun at society’s hypocrisies through his amazing use of language and his fantastic, laser-sharp wit. The library books he altered the covers of and wrote new liner notes for were another example of his playful subversion. I love the fact that the existing examples of these books have now been preserved for the enjoyment of generations to come. And to think that this act actually earned Orton and Halliwell six months holiday at Her Majesty’s Pleasure. Outrageous.
Frears’s directs amazingly aided and abetted by a screenplay by none other than Alan Bennett. The cast is also uniformly brilliant with Prick Up Your Ears being an example of perfect casting- Gary Oldman as Orton, Alfred Molina as Halliwell and Vanessa Redgrave as the regal but irreverent Peggy Ramsey.
I also loved the parallels between Kenneth Halliwell and Lahr’s wife that the film establishes. This is very perceptive indeed.
And something else which is remarkable about the film is that it’s currently on YouTube for your delectation. Watch it before it gets taken down.
I was brought up in Yorkshire and still live here (I just got lucky, I guess…) but even I have a problem with the Barnsley accents in Ken Loach’s masterpiece, Kes. Thank God for subtitles and online Yorkshire dialect translators.
Billy Caspar is a 15-year-old youth who is due to leave school soon. He is permanently dishevelled, looks unwashed and is smaller than everyone else in his class. He always seems to be in another world, maybe because his existence in his grim 1960s town is so brutal. He discovers a nest of kestrels and early one morning steals one as a pet.
Billy and his kestrel quickly become inseparable as Billy trains and cares for it.
Kes is nothing short of astounding. A film that was made just after the boom in ‘kitchen sink dramas’, it blows my mind that a film featuring characters with the broadest Yorkshire accents would eventually be so revered that it would be released on the prestigious Criterion label when it was released on home media.
Billy is daydreaming his way through life but is approaching a critical juncture. He is due to leave his soul-destroying school life and is due to enter the equally vile world of work.
Kes (the name he gives the kestrel) gives him a purpose in life and shows that there are things that fire his interest and can even win him admiration and attention (witness the impromptu presentation he gives on his newly found passion to his English class). It’s a cruel irony that the horrific event that occurs near the end of the film (I’m not going to ruin it, but I will warn you that it’s one of the most upsetting scenes I’ve ever seen in a motion picture) occurs just after his meeting with a school careers advisor. We literally see Billy’s hope, his newly found sense of freedom and his passion snuffed out in one fell swoop. It’s devastating.
Whilst there are plenty of fantastic performances by already established actors (Lynne ‘Ivy Tilsley’ Perrie, Brian Glover), it’s Ken Loach’s insistence on using ‘real’ people who had never acted before that is the revelation here. Kes feels 100% authentic on every imaginable level.
Loach’s greatest find when it came to authenticity and real people being captured on film, was the casting of David Bradley as Billy. Bradley’s performance is nuanced, multi-layered and, most of all, utterly captivating. It’s one of the best performances I’ve ever seen in a film and one of the most audacious and brilliant casting decisions also.
I’m so glad that the sheer brutality of the dark years when corporal punishment was permitted in school has been captured here also and shown as the archaic practice it really was. If you don’t feel a twinge of emotion at the youngest boy’s reaction to getting the cane then you don’t have a soul. Corporal punishment in schools was outlawed in the UK in 1986, the very year I entered a secondary school. My timing was impeccable. I could still sense that some teachers were gutted that physically punishing a child had been made illegal and that their real reason for being a teacher had been taken away from them.
Kes is beautiful but don’t forget to switch on the subtitles. Loach says that for the American release of the film, some parts were dubbed to try to make some speeches a bit more understandable for those not from South Yorkshire. But even this didn’t work. One American film executive said that he had a better chance of understanding Hungarian films than he did of Kes.
So I reinvestigated The Running Man last night. The last time I had watched it was in the 80’s on VHS. I remember it as not being one of Arnie’s best efforts.
On watching it now I found some of the worst acting I’ve ever seen from Arnie (which is REALLY saying something), hamfisted attempts at social commentary and more cheesiness than an Edam factory.
But maybe these aren’t criticisms because IT WORKED!
It’s a fun movie that doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s also aged very well indeed with great special effects that look great as they pumped megabucks into the production. You get what you pay for (Yes, I’m thinking of you Escape From LA).
In fact, there was more than a passing nod to Escape From New York and They Live (but not as good as either).
I also love that it takes place in 2017. Their predictions as to life in the future are unerringly accurate (Alexa, booking a holiday through a screen, differing views being punishable by law…)
Also, we get a great supporting cast, fantastic source material and solid direction by Paul Michael Glaser. And I had forgotten about the iconic Harold Faltermeyer score.
I’m so glad I rewatched this noisy wild ride of a film.
One of the best things about Yorkshire Television, when I was growing up, was the eclectic fare that made up their schedules. At night they showed the most wonderful and unexpected films you could ever imagine. They also showed films you had never heard of before that were either unavailable on video because of some silly oversight or they were caught up in some rights limbo which denied their exposure to a wider audience.
I used to scour the TV listings and use the timer on our prehistoric video machine during the 80s to record anything on late that sounded vaguely of interest to a cult film fan like myself. And there were plenty of movies offered up that I found interesting.
One such was Slithis from 1978, a monster movie that I’m so glad I recorded.
There’s a monster on the prowl in 1978 Venice Beach who starts by killing the dogs in the neighbourhood but then starts killing humans. But don’t worry. There’s a local journalism teacher (!) and some of the nerdiest scientists you’ve ever seen who are on the trail of the sub-aquatic being named Slithis, a product of a leak from a local nuclear plant.
This is amazing cult film goodness. A man in a rubber suit is always better than the CGI monsters you see in modern-day horror films. I love Slithis’ look and the way that the film’s lighting and colour palette changes dramatically whenever he makes an appearance. It’s important to light your leading man in the best way possible.
I also love the locale of Venice Beach that was used with the settings being so beautiful and full of such eccentrics, bohemian types and winos. You get the impression that these extras were captured on film just the way they were which is fantastic. I wish I was a meths drinker in 70’s Venice when Slithis was doing the rounds. But I digress…
There are also scientist types who give you the impression that they aren’t actors at all but just knew the director and were asked to appear. Their acting is erm, raw. Think Edith Massey but rawer (and if you think that’s some kind of insult, you obviously know nothing of my cinematic preferences. It’s a compliment of the highest order. No ‘so bad it’s good’ nonsense here!)
I was amazed by Slithis when I first saw it and I get more and more from it with every screening. It would make a great double-bill with the equally brilliant Blood Beach. Both self-aware and brilliantly executed horror movies from the ’70s which also contain a deft sense of humour.
But as if this wasn’t enough, I then learnt that Slithis had his own fan club! Yes, you heard that right. HIS OWN FAN CLUB!!!
I loved what I read about the publicity used regarding the release of this film. Every patron would receive a Slithis Survival Kit on the purchase of tickets to the movie. This kit (in reality a pink or yellow piece of folded cardboard) included information regarding joining the Slithis Fan Club, how patrons could help promote the notion that Slithis is, in fact, a victim (he is, after all, the product of nuclear plant leakage) rather than a foe and, most importantly, the information that if you keep the kit on your person at all times or stash it under your pillow at night then Slithis would know and won’t come to pay you a visit when he inevitably stalks your neighbourhood.
You could even send off for a Slithis 8×10, a Fan Club membership card and merch order form.
As if that wasn’t enough, the campus screenings of the film (notice where the film played and that the film’s producers already knew the demographic who would dig Slithis the most) would involve someone wearing the actual costume from the film for the occasion.
There’s a great press clipping of one such screening with a picture of Slithis walking alongside students from the University of Nebraska.
This is all very William Castle (actually, Castle would have gone one further and not told anyone about the costume and had someone wearing it jump out unexpectedly at the audience towards the end of the screening) and that just makes me love the film even more.
Do you remember showmanship? Do you remember films that were, y’know, fun?!
That’s Slithis. And it’s a terrific monster movie to boot.
Ahh, the giddy days of home video. In the early days of this new and very exciting medium, there were loads of videos that featured the gaudiest and lurid cover artwork.
One film that had such artwork that I will always remember was The Exterminator. The box depicted a muscled man wearing what looked like a black motorcycle helmet whilst firing a machine gun. It suggested something grittier than your average action flick.
When I finally saw the film I wasn’t disappointed.
Robert Ginty plays John Eastland who we see in the film’s opening scene as a soldier being captured by the Viet Cong. He escapes after being saved by his best friend Michael Jefferson (but not before he sees another friend being beheaded, a scene that would prove problematic for the BBFC. Stan Winston was the SFX whizz who designed the dummy for this scene, film fans).
The action then transfers to a jungle of another kind, New York. Eastland and Jefferson are working together in a warehouse. After seeing gang members stealing a shipment of beer, they are confronted by both men with Jefferson kicking their asses. However, the gang members track him down and leave him crippled (another graphic scene that would be excised in different countries).
This propels Eastland into action as he becomes a one-man vigilante who tracks down the gang members and then the mob who have been making his employer pay protection money and even skimming the top off all of the employee’s wages.
The Exterminator is gritty, extreme, VERY gory and brilliant fun. Director James Glickenhaus knew exactly the audience he was aiming this film at. This was aimed squarely at the audiences who would go to see films in 42nd Street grindhouses (part of the film even takes place in some of the sleazier establishments of The Deuce), drive-ins and as part of midnight movie double-bills (The Exterminator played with The Postman Always Rings Twice (!) in the UK).
But it was also made for the new medium of home video on which the genre of horror or exploitation wasn’t seen as a bad thing but instead as a major selling point. With so many shocking and lurid video artwork being on the shelves of the video shops I spent hours in, the artwork for The Exterminator still screamed out to me.
People have criticised Robert Ginty in the lead role as being devoid of the necessary charisma or leading role chops for such a film. I disagree. Ginty plays an everyman, someone who is sick of being pushed around when there appears to be no real justice by conventional routes of law and order. Of course, there are strong links between this film and Michael Winner’s masterpiece Death Wish but there are also links to Taxi Driver, Maniac and The New York Ripper because of the themes, locales and time frame.
Look out for the uncut version of The Exterminator as there are plenty of versions, especially in the UK, that are cut. I bought the DVD distributed by Synergy who had submitted the film to the BBFC a second time to try and get some of the previous cuts waived. They then proceeded to release the film uncut anyway and completely ignore the 22 secs of cuts the board had recommended. Hooray for Synergy!
One review of the film says that Glickenhaus knows nothing about framing, lighting or direction in general. Poppycock! When I saw the film in widescreen for the first time I noticed these very aspects and marvelled at them. The film is lit, directed and coloured like a very gory comic book. It’s beautiful to behold and reminds me of The Warriors.
You know you’re in for a good time when the death scenes within the film involve an industrial mincing machine, a flamethrower and an electric knife.
The Exterminator will always hold a special place in my black little heart.
I’ve wanted to see 1981’s The Fan for the longest time and finally, it was shown on TV here in the UK (the channel Talking Pictures is amazing and never disappoints!)
Sally Ross (Lauren Bacall) is an actress who is heading a Broadway musical. She is also the target of super-fan and super-stalker Douglas Breen (Michael Biehn) who professes his undying love for her in numerous letters that are intercepted and responded to by Ross’ assistant who grows increasingly worried about the mental state of this particular fan. She even raises it was Ross who admonishes her for treating a fan badly. But then things go from bad to worse.
Was the wait to see this film worth it? YES! There’s so much to love about The Fan.
Firstly, I found myself aghast at the cast. Not only do we get Bacall, Biehn and James Garner but also Hector Elizondo, Griffin Dunne and Dwight Schultz (from The A-Team!) We even get a non-speaking cameo from Charles Scorsese (father of Martin) in a theatre audience scene.
The Fan doesn’t skimp when it comes to the gritty and deranged nature of stalking which wasn’t a crime or behaviour that had been discussed widely at that point yet. Although, the film was released a few months after Mark Chapman shot dead John Lennon outside The Dakota Building (where Bacall used to live spookily enough) and so stalking was set to enter the zeitgeist and prompt more conversations. Biehn is excellent as Douglas Breen with the scenes in which we see him at a typewriter professing his love for Ross in his typed letters reminding me of the telephone scenes from Prom Night- dimly lit, claustrophobic and scary as hell.
In fact, Biehn is fantastic at turning from loving to psychotically menacing at a dime. He’s perfectly cast.
The film is also very gory that mirrors a lot of films that were bigger budget efforts but didn’t skimp on the blood perhaps to tap into the demographic who were going to see slasher movies. In fact, there’s an amazing scene in the New York subway in which you definitely get a Dressed To Kill vibe that apparently this film’s producer Robert Stigwood had just seen.
There’s also a nod to Cruising with one scene involving the killer getting picked up in a gay bar and leaving for a tryst which takes place on a rooftop. Sex and death go hand in hand with this scene. What would Genet say?!
I love the look of the film with it having a certain haze as if there’s Vaseline on the camera lens.
Another thing I loved about The Fan was that it’s a great New York movie. This actually feels like a cleaner and more genteel vision of New York from that time. Maybe the filmmakers thought there was enough sleaze in the events taking part in the film without depicting the sleazier locales of the city as well.
And then there’s the camp. Not only do we get divine creature Bacall gracing the role of Sally Ross but with the action revolving around her heading a Broadway musical, we get deliciously gay rehearsals and even get to see the finished product on opening night resplendent with a song that was subsequently nominated for a Razzie (a sure stamp of approval) that was written by Tim Rice. Hell, we even get Do The Dog by The Specials over one earlier scene in a record store. Talk about contrasts.
The Fan bombed at the box office on its initial release and was derided by Bacall who hated how gory and violent it was. James Garner even said it was the worst film he ever made. Some reviews were fair but others were really bad (yes there’s that Gene Siskel again).
I love The Fan and feel that maybe audiences didn’t fully engage as at that time stalking as a crime hadn’t entered public consciousness yet. Remember, another film that dealt with stalking was The King of Comedy which was released the following year and also underperformed. Some films are way ahead of their time and judged very well by history with both films finding their audiences and being appreciated more now.
One person online said that this would make a great double-bill with The Eyes of Laura Mars. That’s very true. Both films are as camp as a row of pink tents but with gritty and genuinely disturbing scenes that reflect the slasher film sensibilities of the time.
Look out for the remarkable edition of The Fan on Blu ray on Scream Factory.
I had heard so much about the original of Black Christmas from 1974 by the time I finally got to see it. Its reputation as being the main film that inspired the slasher movie sub-genre pre-Halloween was well established with horror fans salivating over it and singing its praises to the heavens.
‘Let’s see how scary it really is!’ I said to myself as I watched it on the DVD brought to us in the UK by the excellent Tartan Video. It was Christmas Eve and I was all alone in a shared house that all of my housemates had vacated to go home for the holidays. I can honestly say that I have never felt so scared, unsettled and downright terrified in all of my life.
Years later and I’ve just arrived in Sydney to start a year-long vacation/working holiday and as it’s almost the Yuletide season I see that my local cinema is showing a double-bill of Black Christmas and Christmas Evil which I had heard John Waters say was the best Christmas movie ever made. Christmas Evil was every bit as brilliant as I hoped it would be.
But a very curious thing had happened. I found my second viewing of Black Christmas to be even creepier and scary than the first.
So what is it about the film that works so well? In less imaginative hands Black Christmas could have been far more generic and less inspired, especially if it had been made when the slasher genre had kicked off. But the fact that the film was made prior to this means that there were no genre conventions or expectations to constrain it and so the sky was the limit.
The film concerns a group of sorority sisters and their house mother being together in their sorority house just before they all depart for their Christmas vacations. They don’t realise that they will be departing but in a much bloodier way than they could have imagined. They start to receive obscene phone calls but don’t realise that the deranged person making them is already inside the house. In fact, this is one major plot device that the audience is privy to as we even get a shaky POV shot of the killer making his way to an attic window to enter the residence. He makes said attic his HQ of terror if you will. The decor is suitably demented and creepy as hell with an old rocking horse and shop mannequins in it.
Of course, this plot device has been used sooo many times since but this was all very new in 1974 when the film was made and released. Black Christmas brilliantly mines into the urban legend of The Killer Upstairs that has been told countless times around campfires with the odd tweak or variation according to the person telling it.
The fact that the killer is using a separate phone line to make the calls whilst being in the same house as his prey has also been used since with 1979’s excellent When A Stranger Calls fully exploiting this idea and also referencing the same urban legend. But this was a full five years after Black Christmas was unveiled to the world. Director Bob Clark also says that back then it was very common for one property, especially a multi-residence property like a sorority house, to contain many different phone lines for the multiple occupants.
And these aren’t just any kind of disturbing phone calls. These are calls that Clark wanted to be as disturbing as possible and he really excelled at this! He used multiple different actors during these telephone calls to convey the different personalities inhabited within the killer who later identifies himself as Billy. If these calls don’t scare the bejesus out of you, you’re either lying to save face or you’re trying to be an edge lord. These calls veer between being sexually explicit, feral, unhinged and animalistic.
But the film also depicts something that was happening to millions of homes around the world at that time. The primitive methods of tracing a call in the film and how difficult it was was a very accurate portrayal. In those days technology regarding telephones was in its infancy and so this left many people vulnerable to prank calls. It also left them vulnerable to calls from people who wanted to do more than just scare whoever was unfortunate enough to answer the phone. Black Christmas was reflecting back to audiences something that wasn’t spoken about back then and how scary and potentially traumatic it was. It was a practice so widespread that it resonated massively with audiences.
The calls suggest that you’re watching something a lot grittier than how other horror films operated up until that point. The Exorcist had been released the year before and pushed as many envelopes as possible whilst not merely for some tedious attempt at shock value. You get the feeling that Black Christmas is doing the same but in a very different way.
In fact, another feature of the film that makes it feel utterly unsettling is that whilst everything is going on in the house, other similarly dark events are playing out in the wider community. A young girl has gone missing. Some of the film’s characters join a search party in a local park to look for the girl and her body is discovered. Just as the film depicted the horror of the nuisance call, it also depicted the full horror of child abduction with many such cases seemingly happening with shocking regularity at that time and continuing to happen to this day.
In fact, this sequence is given an extra layer of poignancy as the father of one of the sorority sisters, Clare who he was due to meet him that morning but didn’t show up, takes part in the search. After reporting her missing to the police, Clare’s father searches for the other missing girl unbeknownst that she has been murdered at the hands of Billy who has suffocated her with a plastic dry-cleaning bag. He places her body in a rocking chair in the attic with the film cutting to her body resplendent with the startled expression on her face still under the plastic.
Another great feature of Black Christmas is the characters. One example is Barb who provides the film with a hilarious scene whilst interacting with a very gullible and inexperienced cop when they report Clare missing. Her drinking becomes endearing to the audience (check out the scene when she’s letting a child have some of her booze) but could also be used by her to mask the fact that her mother seemingly doesn’t care about her. Mommie Dearest has decided to go away for Christmas with her latest boyfriend and these plans don’t involve her daughter.
Another character who likes to booze is eccentric housemother and cat-lady Mrs Mac. We see that she has alcohol stashed in all kinds of places in the house including in a hollowed-out book in her library. This character along with Barb provides a lot of the comedy within the film. But just because there are comic interludes these don’t detract from the feeling of unease and terror the film generates for the audience.
Jess is having problems in her relationship with her pianist boyfriend Peter when she discovers that she’s pregnant. She says to him that she is going to have an abortion which provokes the testy retort from her other half that she talks about it almost as if she’s ‘getting a wart removed’. Billy references this later in one of his phone calls, thus making her think that Peter could be the killer.
The actual murders themselves are something to behold in the film. Not only are they shocking and very well executed (pun not intended) but are also beautifully directed sequences. Clare’s shocking murder only ten minutes in, housemother Mrs Mack’s almost slapstick sequence involving a hook after she’s discovered Clare’s body, Barb’s exit with the glass figurines by her bed of which Billy utilises one to stab her. These wouldn’t have been out of place in one of the best Giallo movies never made. In fact, Black Christmas seems to hold quite a few similarities with some of its Italian counterparts.
The sorority house feels like another character within the film. The dark wooden shadowy passageways, cubbyholes and nooks and crannies to which the killer has full access are the perfect locale for the film to take place in.
The cast of Black Christmas is also a strong point for the film with a list of actors that is like a roll call of the creme de la creme of cult filmdom. Olivia Hussey, Margot Kidder, Keir Dullea, John Saxon to name but a few. Again, if Black Christmas had been made whilst the slasher movie was in full flow, maybe some of these actors would have declined to take part as some may have felt they were above such fare.
Carl Zittrer’s music for the film is suitably unsettling, surreal and downright macabre. Apparently, the composer achieved the score by tying different objects to the strings of a piano to distort and warp the sounds it made when played. He would also record music and then playback the results at a slower speed to further manipulate the results until they were suitably unsettling enough. He certainly succeeded.
Whilst I’m rhapsodising about the film, there’s plenty more I could say but to do so would spoil the experience of seeing this masterpiece, especially for the first time (although multiple viewings seem to enhance the film’s stature in my head as I pick up things that I didn’t hone in on during previous viewings).
Black Christmas is a one-off. It has its own feel and sense of terror and dread that no other film has ever come close to replicating. There are very few horror films that actually frighten me but this movie scares the pants off me. It’s the Christmas gift that keeps on giving.
My early teenage years were when I discovered my three favourite living film directors- John Waters, William Friedkin and Martin Scorsese.
It was whilst I was frantically hunting down all of the movies made by Scorsese after first watching Taxi Driver when I was 14 that I read of a documentary made in 1977 called Movies Are My Life. I had a friend who was lucky enough to have Sky TV on which there was a one-off screening of this and so I gave him a blank videotape and begged him to record it for me. He obliged.
It didn’t disappoint. Over the years the tape it was on disappeared but it was just the other day that I was thinking about this documentary when I had the lightbulb moment that involved looking for it on the internet. And after a quick Google search, I found it!
It’s great watching it again. It was made in 1977 after Scorsese had finished shooting New York, New York and was editing The Last Waltz. This was an iconic time for Scorsese when he had made so many classic movies and was yet to make even more.
Not only is the maestro interviewed about his career so far but his contributors and collaborators are also interviewed and it’s great to see such luminaries as De Niro, Jodie Foster, Steven Prince and Liza Minelli speaking about what’s like to work with such a visionary.
The film is also noteworthy as it shows the friendship that Scorsese had/has with Robbie Robertson. These were Scorsese’s wild years when he took certain substances to excess and ended up hospitalised because of it. The interviews with Robinson here capture this very vividly indeed (you’ll know what I mean when you watch the film!) A choice moment is when he looks out of the window into the night sky and says ‘It isn’t even dawn yet!’
It’s great that this peeks into such a thrilling era of Scorsese’s filmmaking life was chronicled, not so great that this film was unavailable for so long. It’s fantastic that someone has uploaded it onto the internet but how long it stays up before it’s pulled down is unknown. If I was you I’d finish reading this, do a Google search and watch it now. Just to be sure. Note- the version on YouTube is cut. Go the Google route to watch the full version on the net.
John Carpenter’s Halloween had been a huge hit at the box office through the word of mouth of people who had seen it and were knocked out by the experience. In fact, the film was so successful that it became the most profitable independent film of all time, a title it held until it was overtaken by 1999’s The Blair Witch Project.
Producer Irwin Yablans wanted a sequel even though director John Carpenter didn’t. He instead decided to write and score the project but not direct it. Carpenter was in the midst of developing another project that he would go onto directly which was The Fog when he was approached by Yablans. He recommended Rick Rosenthal on the strength of a short film Rosenthal had made called The Toyer. Before Rosenthal, Carpenter had actually asked Tommy Lee Wallace who had been the art director on the original Halloween but he declined. He would go on to direct Halloween 3: Season of the Witch though.
Carpenter and his producer and co-writer Debra Hill had envisaged the idea of a sequel based several years later than the events that take place in the first Halloween movie with Michael tracking Laurie down to a high rise building that she has moved to. When I first read about this I immediately thought of the TV movie Carpenter had made around this time, Someone’s Watching Me! starring Lauren Hutton and Adrienne Barbeau which takes place primarily in a high rise complex. Maybe this would have been too similar and so Carpenter was forced to think of a new concept. He said that this involved drinking beer (for inspiration) whilst sitting at a typewriter and wondering what he was doing there.
I was also surprised to learn that Debra Hill had looked into the possibility of shooting the film in 3D, a gimmick that was about to enjoy a renaissance around this time. Hill gave up on this possibility however as it was very costly. It was also very difficult to accomplish 3D effects in a film that would visually be dependent on darkness and shadows. This seems to make sense in relation to another sequel from another horror franchise. Friday the 13th Part 3 was shot in 3D the following year and altered its look from earlier films in the series because of it. The third instalment was brighter and more colourful than its preceding two films. Part 3 feels almost like some kind of demented horror comic come to life. This works very well indeed whilst ensuring that the 3D effects could be brilliantly effective and delivered with panache and style.
Whilst Halloween 2 wouldn’t be filmed in 3D, the cinematographer who went a long way to why the original was so memorable and looked so hauntingly beautiful would be returning to shoot the film. Dean Cundey also turned down the opportunity to work on the film Poltergeist to film Halloween 2. I think he made the right decision.
A funny thing happened between the release of the original and Halloween 2 and that is that another film tried to market itself as a sequel to the first film. Snapshot, an Ozploitation film retitled itself The Day After Halloween for its American release with posters and press ads utilising the font and style used for the original Halloween promotional material. The makers of H2 ordered the distributors of The Day After Halloween to add a disclaimer to their posters and ads that stated that this was in no way connected to Carpenter’s original film. This was done but when The Day After Halloween was coming to the end of its run anyway. When Halloween 2 was officially released the words ‘All New’ were added to its posters and ads so that people knew this was the real deal. Snapshot, by the way, is a fantastic oddity of a film that is now widely available and well worth checking out, especially if you’re a fan of Prisoner Cell Block H as there are many cast members used.
So, what is Halloween 2 actually like?
The first thing which is noteworthy about the sequel is that it continues straight after the events of the first movie. In fact, not just that but there is even an overlap with the first film (with Mr Sandman by The Chordettes playing over the soundtrack that bookends the movie as it also plays at the end) as we see the ending before the new narrative begins with Dr Loomis going downstairs to where the shot body of Myers should have been. We also see that Loomis’ dialogue has started to become even more exaggerated than it was in the original. A neighbour comes out and approaches Loomis remarking about the noise and exclaiming ‘I’ve been trick or treated to death tonight’ to which Loomis replies ‘You don’t know what death is!’ Yes, this first reply exemplifies a lot of Loomis’ lines in the sequel. Just a little bit more unhinged, fraught and oh so camp.
We then get the title sequence which is similar to that of the original film with the pumpkin but this time the camera glides into it as it opens to reveal a skull at its centre. With this sequence as with the recap of the end of the first film and the addendum as to what happens next, we get a sense of how audacious Halloween 2 is. It was made in 1981 a full three years after the original and enough time for the first film to be recognised and reviled as the masterpiece it truly is. For a sequel to pick up just after the original had ended was a massive risk as Carpenter’s original had a look and feel that was very unique to it. The sequel would have to try to replicate this to feel authentic. Halloween 2 almost succeeds. The word ‘almost’ isn’t an insult though. The first film was and is so iconic that ANY attempt to either equal or top its brilliance and innovation would be foolhardy at best. That Halloween 2 still comes across as a worthy attempt is the best that could be hoped for. If Halloween is an A+ movie, then Halloween 2 is a B+ film. That’s no mean feat.
Halloween was so iconic that it spawned a whole subgenre of movies within horror, the slasher movie. In the three years since the original, this genre had been given birth to, had enough time to establish its conventions and also showed why audiences were flocking to see these movies. Carpenter realised this and so after seeing a rough cut of Rosenthal’s sequel suggested the film be beefed up with more kills, more blood and more edge of the seat suspense sequences that would satisfy the rabid slasher movie aficionados. He also commented that the rough cut he had seen was about as scary as an episode of Quincy! In fact, the sequences that could be seen to be (thankfully) quite restrained in the original, particularly the kills, were turned up to 11 for the sequel. The Fangoria crowd would get a film that looked great, felt eerie as hell (thank God for Cundey), but with kills that were more graphic, more innovative and more shocking than the other entries in the genre. Apparently, it was Carpenter who actually directed these sequences. He would do a similar thing on the next movie that he actually directed himself, The Fog as he would direct new kills to insert into the film merely days before the film was due to be released as he realised that it didn’t quite work.
And it wasn’t just the kills that were made more explicit within the film. Halloween 2 also ramps up the sexiness within the movie to keep in line with its competition. Hence, we get the nudity during the therapy room sequence and Bud’s rather unique (and cringeworthy) version of Amazing Grace.
Whilst watching the film again recently it seemed as if Myers was gleefully bumping off the only types of people he would have had dealings with during his incarceration- doctors, nurses and cops. Maybe this sequel really was a case of ‘This time it’s personal’ for our leading psychopath.
The fact that there are people who Michael had a perfect opportunity to dispose of but didn’t shows that he isn’t just some killing machine, indiscriminately killing anyone who crosses his path. One example of this is poor old Mrs Elrod who is making a sandwich for her dozing husband (who’s sleeping through the classic Night of the Living Dead. Sacrilege!) when Myers sneaks in and grabs the knife that she was using. Myers knows the groups of people who he wants to butcher which is one of many reasons why Halloween from 2018 and its sequel seemed so inauthentic and fake. Of course, Michael also bumps off anyone who fits the same criteria as his sister Judith and Laurie Strode. The next person Myers encounters is Alice, the young woman who is within the same age category, is saying how great it is that she has the house to herself to her friend on the phone (she could invite a male over because of this. Michael doesn’t like potential horny hi-jinx) and so, hence, she meets some of the criteria for someone who would be killed by Michael. And he obliges.
The hospital that Laurie finds herself at and which Michael follows her to is the perfect locale for gruesome but innovative kills involving implements that would ordinarily be used for more altruistic purposes. Hence we find that Michael carries a scalpel rather than his ordinarily preferred butcher knife. We also get hypodermic needles inserted in eyeballs and temples and an overheated therapy pool used to fatally scold a nurse (both of these sequences were cut in different versions).
The hospital also provides a great locale for Michael to make his own private slaughter ground. The shots of him walking (never running) down the dimly lit corridors is very effective indeed (I love the fact that a deleted scene that was shown as part of the TV version of the film shows that the electricity goes out for the building but an emergency generator kicks in that uses only some of the lights. Boom! Instant moody lighting that is perfect for a horror film).
In fact, there was a lot of additional footage that didn’t make it into the film but was then seen in the TV version of the film that excised a lot of the violence but padded out the running time with trimmings that didn’t make it into the final movie.
Another great device that is used within this location is the building’s CCTV. Not only does Myers look very scary when captured on the monitors looking for Laurie, but he even sees where Laurie is through seeing her on the CCTV screens. They help to direct him in the right direction when he’s looking for her. Also, the CCTV monitors act as a third eye for the audience. One scene shows where Myers is headed, but a moment later it shows a nurse heading in the same direction and possibly to her doom. The CCTV has just been utilised as another way of adding suspense and tension to a scene and has just placed the viewer on the edge of his or her seat.
Halloween 2 also has some perceptive things to say about the media and how corrupt and unscrupulous they are. We see a reporter who says to a colleague to get a statement from any witnesses to Myers’ crimes. She adds that if they’re underage they will need their parent’s permission. She also adds that if they can’t get that they should get a statement anyway! As a side note, there was apparently a deleted scene in which this reporter was murdered by Myers which was maybe Rosenthal’s two fingers up to what he thought of the media.
The film also brilliantly depicts a horrific incident that has nothing to do with Michael Myers. A mother and her small son rock up to the hospital as he has bitten into something that he was given whilst trick or treating which contained a razor blade which we see is still lodged in his mouth which has blood pouring out of it. The infamous urban myth is made flesh here and also shows that there are enough dangers in the world, with or without Myers.
Another great aspect of the film is the soundtrack that Carpenter and the great Alan Howarth would compose and perform. The score is a major part of why Halloween 2 is wayyy better than it should have been. Whilst the music for the first film was primitive, simplistic and utterly brilliant because of it, the soundtrack for Halloween 2 is the same music but with more synth, more layers and with even more of an urgency to it. In fact, I remember after I saw the film for the first time, in an issue of Empire magazine around that time (89/90), I saw an article on the Top 50 Soundtracks of All Time. They had actually included Halloween 2 and it didn’t surprise me.
Add to this that both Donald Pleasance and Jamie Lee Curtis are as excellent as ever in the film (check out the chase scene when Myers finally catches up with Laurie starting with the nurse being stabbed in the back by Michael. This is an AMAZING sequence. I love the fact that they made Laurie’s POV shots blurred because of the heavy meds she’s been placed on. Also, check out the shots of Myers strolling robotically after Strode and how genuinely unsettling it is, even when he’s tackling the stairs).
Jamie Lee Curtis wears a wig for the movie. This is blatantly obvious (sorry fanboys who thought they were the only ones to have noticed this). In fact, I love the fact that in the tenser scenes the wig seems to take on a life of its own and frizzes up. It’s like the wig is acting along with the person who’s wearing it.
We also get a cameo by Nancy Loomis as her own corpse with her Sheriff father (again played by Charles Cyphers) damning the doctor who he sees as letting him out after he has seen his murdered daughter. It’s great that both actors returned to reprise their roles in the sequel instead of different actors stepping in.
Dick Warlock is a good Michael Myers but doesn’t quite nail what came before. But he gets pretty close and his depiction of Myers inhumanly walking around the hospital corridors is very chilling indeed. I can’t think of anyone doing a better job other than Nick Castle.
There’s also a revelation regarding why Michael might be so insistent on coming after Laurie (I’m not going to ruin things here).
All in all, you have a fantastic film. Halloween 2 isn’t as good as the original. But for a film that has the balls not just to be that film’s sequel but also to have the audacity to carry on events straight after the original has ended, it’s a damned good effort.
Whatever its shortcomings, Halloween 2 is still head and shoulders above most slasher fare and is a very dignified sequel to a horror masterpiece. In a franchise in which each new entry makes me facepalm even more and is an even bigger embarrassment to the original’s legacy, (yes I’m looking at you Halloween Kills), the entries closest to the source film are the best with only the first three films being of any interest to me or anyone who knows anything about good filmmaking. They have suspense generated brilliantly, atmosphere by the bucketload, cinematography to die for and amazing music scores to boot. Part 4 onwards are just cynically made cash cows to milk revenue from the fanboys. More kills, no suspense, nothing redeeming in any of them.
If only the Laurie and Michael plotline had ended with Halloween 2.
Halloween 2 is available now on Scream Factory. My essay on Halloween 3: Season of the Witch is here.
Gail Osborne is a 16 year old who starts dating Steve Pastorinis who goes to the same school as her. It’s also around this time that she starts to receive abusive notes stuck in the grills of her school locker and also abusive telephone calls.
For a film, let alone a TV movie to deal with an issue such as stalking in 1978 was very brave indeed as it hadn’t entered the public consciousness yet and was largely an alien concept. But Are You In The House Alone? deals with the subject very intelligently and exposes it for the vile, terrifying and horrific practice that it actually is.
But the movie also deals with other issues such as Gail’s parents struggling with their marriage following her father losing his job. This again is dealt with brilliantly and feels integral to the plot rather than just feeling like padding to fill up the running time.
But Are You In The House Alone? also deals with rape, another taboo topic for 1978. It deals with it amazingly well with discussions regarding getting the rapist to court and obtaining a conviction against him being seen as being very difficult indeed.
I love doing 31 Days of Halloween as it’s a great chance to revisit horror films that I have seen in the past but also to watch films that are completely new to me. Some of these I’m really glad I took the time to watch. A small minority bowl me over as they are just so powerful and brilliant. Are You In The House Alone? is one such film. When it ended I literally had to just sit and digest what I had just experienced and think about just how trailblazing the production was especially for that time and for the topics it depicted without any sugar coating or saccharine gloss.
Are You In The House Alone? is a very unsettling experience as it worms its way into your head and will stay with you long after it has finished. And it’s a rare instance of a TV movie rightly finding its way onto Blu Ray (thank you Vinegar Syndrome!)