Review- The Fan (1981)

Review- The Fan (1981)

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.

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I’m pretty sure I’d have the same expression as the woman on the left if I got to meet Lauren Bacall

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.

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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?!

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Cruising in a gay bar. Is that Truman Capote next to Douglas?!

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.

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The unbridled camp of the stage show Never Say Never. Silver lame, dry ice and raspberry neon. A design for living.

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.

4 and a half stars out of 5

The Gift That Keeps On Giving- What Makes Black Christmas So Darn Scary?

The Gift That Keeps On Giving- What Makes Black Christmas So Darn Scary?

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.

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‘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.

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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.

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Christmas Evil- another horror masterpiece

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.

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The killer climbs into the attic of the house…
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…which is resplendent with such sinister artefacts as an old rocking horse

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.

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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.

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The almost impossible task of tracing the calls within the film mirrored how difficult it was in real life

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.

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The park search

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.

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Clare’s body in the rocking chair with the plastic bag still over her head

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.

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Barb doing what she does best

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.

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Mrs Mac drinking. Again.

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.

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Jess and Peter have the ‘big talk’

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).

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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.

Review- Movies Are My Life (1977)

Review- Movies Are My Life (1977)

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.

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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.

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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!’

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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.

Can we get a proper release of this gem, please?

Grade- A-

Halloween 2 (1981)- A Sequel That Is Better Than It Has Any Right To Be

Halloween 2 (1981)- A Sequel That Is Better Than It Has Any Right To Be

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.

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A murder mystery in a high rise. Carpenter’s excellent Someone’s Watching Me!

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.

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An original Halloween 2 crew jacket

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.

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The film that would cause Halloween 2 to use the words ‘All New’ in their promotional material
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‘All New’. And what a double bill Halloween 2 would make with An American Werewolf in London

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.

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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.

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Michael’s murder of another authority figure which feels strangely personal

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.

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Alice’s murder

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).

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Hypodermic needle through the temple. Nasty.

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.

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The emergency generator makes for perfect lighting for a horror film

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.

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The young man with a razor blade lodged in his mouth. This urban myth is made flesh in Halloween 2

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).

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An uplifting experience. The start of the Michael/Laurie chase scene which is stunning!

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.

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Dick Warlock on set with John Carpenter. Warlock also played a cop as well as Myers in the film hence his costume

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

31 Days of Halloween- Day 31- Are You In The House Alone? (1978)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 31- Are You In The House Alone? (1978)

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.

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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.

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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!)

Grade- A

31 Days of Halloween- Day 30- Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

31 Days of Halloween- Day 30- Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

I remember I actually had the poster for Halloween 4 which I seem to remember came free with either Fangoria or Gorezone which I used to buy religiously back in the day. This was way before the film would actually be released here in the UK. The poster looked so cool and I was intrigued to see what the film would be like with Mr Myers returning to the fold. The imagery of the poster was very evocative of the original film and so I was moist with anticipation.

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The first Halloween film I ever saw was Halloween 3: Season of the Witch which I loved and continue to love to this day. The fact that Myers wasn’t in the film never even occurred to me until I started to read angry fanboy reviews years later.

In fact, fans of the franchise were so incensed by Myers’ exclusion from H3 that it bombed at the box office even though it’s a great film. But this points out something very telling about horror sequels. Fanboys of the Halloween series are happy as long as a) Micheal is featured and b) he’s killings loads of people in really gory ways. And that’s it. The fanboys don’t care about a fantastic plot, a brilliant soundtrack, gorgeous cinematography and amazing direction. They just want to see The Main Man killing anyone he crosses paths with.

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And this is exactly what the makers of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers sought to accomplish. And do they? Yes. The film is a series of kills with the odd reference both plotwise and through the soundtrack to the original.

But all of the dare I say, art and style of the first two films (the first especially) has been gotten rid of. Halloween 4 feels like a TV movie that feels nothing like the first two films and is instead an exercise in giving the fans what they want.

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The loose plot involves Myers being transferred to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium but disposing of the ambulance workers escorting him on his journey so that he can return to Haddonfield and wreak more havoc. Stop me if you’ve heard any of this before…

The subject of his ire, in this case, is his niece Jamie who is the daughter of Laurie Strode and must be done away with because of this. And what an irritating character she is. In fact, she’s one of the most unlikeable characters I think I’ve ever had to endure in a horror film.

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Everything the Myers fans wanted from Halloween 4 was delivered on point. Everything that fans of decent, suspenseful horror movies wanted and expected after the first three Halloween movies were left disappointed.

But the film was a huge hit at the box office which is all that matters when it comes to cynical and stale filmmaking. The budget for the film was $5m (it looks like it had a budget of a fraction of that) and it made $17.8m at the box office. Kerching!

In a parallel universe, Halloween 3 made a ton of money at the box office and the Halloween franchise was reinvented as an anthology series with different stories, different and interesting characters and all of the brilliance of H3. Now, how do I get to this parallel universe?

The Halloween franchise died for me after Halloween 3. And with Halloween Kills being as abysmal as it was, it’s in rapid decline. But hey, it made lots of revenue at the box office!

Grade- E+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 29- Ants (1977)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 29- Ants (1977)

A hotel complex where a new building is being constructed is infested with killer ants.

I love the TV movies that featured a special guest star who was slumming it as work had dried up. Ants stars Myrna Loy as well as Suzanne Somers (!) and Lynda Day George (yes, the actress from Pieces!) so you know you’re in for a special time.

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I actually remember watching this on UK TV in 1980 when I was the tender age of 5.

I love the fact that whenever the ants appear on screen we get discordant violins on the soundtrack.

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This is surprisingly bright and breezy in tone until the ants become more prevalent within the storyline and then it becomes a lot more apocalyptic in tone (which is always welcome for cult film fans). The whole production is a triumph in camp however dark it tries to become.

Ants aka It Happened at Lakewood Manor holds up very well though. The TV movie was also issued on DVD in 2014. This might not be some kind of classic uncovered from the vaults but it’s nice to see it has a life after being shown on TV all those decades before.

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Grace- C+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 28- Madman (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 28- Madman (1981)

This slasher movie starts in the most obvious seting for a film of this ilk- a campfire! We hear of Madman Marz who was a vile man by all accounts. Abusive to his family until he decides to kill them with an axe. He then casually goes to his local tavern to have a drink or ten but not before he’s placed the bloody axe on the bar. He’s then jumped by a posse of men who bury the axe in his face and attempt to hang him for his crimes. When they go to cut down his body the next day they find that it isn’t there anymore.

Three guesses where he is and that he’s still murdering people.

I watched this film on the same day that I watched another film I had heard plenty about- Pieces. How’s that for a double bill?

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My first thought on watching Madman was ‘Oh my God! That’s Gaylen Ross!’ Yes, Fran from Dawn of the Dead is one of the cast members. Why wasn’t she in more films? She’s a legend.

The other prevailing thought I had was that Madman kicks ass royally. This is far from your bland and cliched summer camp based slasher film. The kills are amazing, it’s gory as hell and the killer is fantastic.

Madman plays with the tropes of the early 80’s slasher film and feels like a breath of fresh air in much the same way as Jeff Lieberman’s Just Before Dawn. There is deft and innovative direction by Joe Giannone which places this head and shoulders above similar fare.

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Add to this an excellent and very effective electronic score by Steve Horelick and you have one hell of a ride.

Madman also went under the alternate title of Slaughterhouse.

Grade- B

31 Days of Halloween- Day 27- Eyes of a Stranger (1981)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 27- Eyes of a Stranger (1981)

Lauren Tewes stars as Jane, a Miami newsreader who suspects her neighbour of being a murderer who’s crimes she reports on with shocking regularity. She lives with her blind deaf-mute sister (Jennifer Jason Leigh’s first starring role).

This was another example of a film I had been meaning to watch for the longest time (since about 1989 when I read about the film in Kim Newman’s seminal book Nightmare Movies) and sought it out after one of my friends was talking about it online (see, Instagram isn’t all bad).

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And my! What a film it is! The film doesn’t shy away from the violence the women characters are subjected to. Rather than being titillating for the sicker audience members, it feels like it depicts realistic portrayals of the kind of abuse some women are subjected to. The camera doesn’t flinch away from these even though most audience members will do.

I liked how the film played with genre expectations regarding the violent episodes. The first victim Debbie asks her boyfriend to come over and this lulls viewers into thinking that this instantly makes her safe from the killer’s advances. This couldn’t be further from the truth as Stanley instead just dispatches of the boyfriend (Tom Savini carries out the special effects for this movie and as usual does an absolutely fantastic job. Debbie’s boyfriend is beheaded and his head placed in her fish tank) and then moves onto her.

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This sequence is also very perceptive as Debbie rings the police and complains about the awful abusive phone calls she has been getting from the killer. The policeman she speaks to is far from sympathetic and complains that whenever violence against women is reported and warned against on the news this creates a huge spike in abusive phone calls from other sickos. He then says he will send out a phone officer to see her but during the next day and when it’s too late! The police’s inactivity and scepticism are portrayed and are still an issue today towards women who report similar behaviour. There is a story in the news at the moment about a young woman who was being stalked and sent abusive messages which she sent to the police who failed to act. She was eventually killed by her stalker.

The film also shows how the telephone as an appliance can take on sinister connotations. A victim who is being telephoned in her office late at night can’t even get away from her stalker contacting her when she steps into a lift to go to her friend’s house for safety as there is a phone in the lift that he calls her on. The threat of the killer is shown to be omnipresent and inescapable.  Again, the film led us to believe that this would-be victim would be safe after she had arranged to leave her workplace and venture out to safety.

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A film that Eyes of a Stranger reminded me of was the TV movie written by John Carpenter in the ’70s, Someone’s Watching Me! starring Lauren Hutton and Adrienne Barbeau. Both take place in the same time period with the primary action taking place in apartment complexes. There’s an element of surveillance within both films, with Jane watching her accused’s apartment which is opposite hers and Hutton’s character doing the same in the TV movie.

One sequence that made me perch on the edge of my seat was when Jane enters Stanley’s apartment when he is out but is unaware that he is returning. The execution of this scene was expertly handled and the outcome handled with real aplomb and without any filler or unnecessary padding whatsoever.

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I also loved the scene whereby the killer meets Tracy for the first time and surmises correctly that she is deaf, blind and mute. The sequence in which he moves the objects she has placed down just out of reach is almost like some kind of gaslighting as if he wants her to question her actions and let her know that he is there. The rest of this scene is also stellar but to go into that would ruin the film’s ending which I’m not going to do!

Eyes of a Stranger is a fantastically powerful film that depicts the violence endured by women that never slips into being some kind of misogynistic or moralistic vehicle. Any woman could have fallen prey to Herbert and the full horror of this is shown even if these scenes are rightly uncomfortable to watch. A sobering thought is that as the film was being made The Yorkshire Ripper was still at large and blighting the lives of not just his female victims but ALL women as they had to adjust their lives accordingly because a woman-hating psychopath was at large and had been for several years.

Grade- B+

31 Days of Halloween- Day 26- White Zombie (1932)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 26- White Zombie (1932)

We see the soon to be wed Madeleine and Neil being driven by horse drawn carriage to the house of plantation owner Charles Beaumont. They pass by a man named Murder (a red flag) Legendre played by the one and only Bela Lugosi. His evil face is another red flag. This isn’t a good man as is obvious for any sane person. Beaumont is also in love with Madeleine and goes to see Legendre to enlist his services so that Madeleine will marry him instead of Neil as Murder is a master of voodoo. He even has zombies that he has created as workers at his sugar cane mill. Legendre states that the only way for Charles to get Madeleine to love him is to turn her into a zombie also. But will his dastardly plan work?

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Lugosi in White Zombie. Just an average looking kinda guy

White Zombie was one of the films on the list I have labelled in my head as ‘Horror Films That I’ve Heard Are Really Influential But Haven’t Gotten Around To Watching Yet’. That is until now.

And I’m so glad that I finally have. It’s a fantastic film that still holds up as an experimental piece of cinema with superimposed images, the use of shadows and is perfectly framed. It’s a joy to watch. And the plot and subject matter is far from conventional for horror in the 1930s.

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But best of all is to see horror maestro Lugosi at the top of his game. He can say more with his eyes than most actors could even dream of. I’m so glad that someone who was destined to star in some of the genre’s very best works actually ended up doing just that. And by the time he starred in White Zombie he was already a star of the genre through his starring in Dracula and Murders in the Rue Morgue.

If I had to compare this film to any other it would be to the equally experimental (and brilliant) Vampyr. This is compliment in itself.

Grade- B+