A prelude shows a prank in which a socially awkward and sexually inexperienced student is lured into having his first sexual encounter. What he doesn’t know is that the woman waiting for him in bed is actually a corpse stolen by medical students. On discovering this, Kenny becomes unhinged and is rightly traumatised.
Three years later the same students sans Kenny travel together on a train that doubles as a costume party. They start to be picked off one by one. Who could the killer be?
It’s pretty obvious who it is but y’know…
This is one of the horror films that starred Jamie Lee Curtis that helped cement her status as The Scream Queen after Halloween in 1978. Of all of her horror vehicles from this time, I have to say Terror Train is my least favourite. It’s beautifully lit, with a gorgeous colour palate but remains strangely cold for me. A cross-country on a sleeper train could have been the perfect locale for a horror film but for me, the movie is surprisingly suspense free and not very atmospheric at all.
Slasher films in those days offered more than just kills for their audiences and there’s plenty of teen drama between the characters and even a magician in the guise of David Copperfield to add something different to proceedings.
But Terror Train is certainly substandard when compared to Halloween 2, Prom Night, The Fog and, of course, the first Halloween.
A far too mediocre entry in the slasher sub-genre.
After the frankly dreadful film from 2018 I wasn’t looking forward to it’s sequel. I even intended on not seeing the film but someone posted online that this was ‘The Film of the Year’. Mission accepted. I had to see and review it.
After the dodgy political posturing of the previous film (‘The Night The Patriarchy Came Home’), I was wondering which issues the new film would try to slyly convey. I looked at Jamie Lee Curtis’ Instagram profile to try to find a few clues. Maybe the new film would depict Michael Myers as an embodiment of inactivity against global warming with Laurie becoming a Greta Thunberg type Final Girl (or should that be Final Granny), accusing Michael of stealing her childhood and exclaiming that she can *actually see* CO2. Or maybe it will tackle transgenderism with Michael engendering (pun not intended) cis-gender bigotry and heteronormativity. Maybe Elliott Page could battle Michael. The options are limitless.
The start of Halloween Kills seemed to confirm my notions with the first character we see being the stunning and brave Bonnie (actually a man in a dress) from the fancy dress party from the previous movie still all frocked up and arguing with his Clyde on the phone.
But then the film goes light on the political agenda posturing. There are a few touches here and there- the mainly white lynch mob who go after Michael, the mother-daughter action near the end of the film (‘I’m an innocent woman!’ screams Mommy Strode to Michael. ‘Just like my mother was!’ There’s Michael as patriarchy again).
Talking of Granny Strode, Jamie Lee is stuck in the hospital for much of the film rather than being the geriatric Linda Hamilton wannabe she was in the previous film. There is a God after all.
There was only one character I actually enjoyed and rooted for in this film and that was Michael. Maybe that’s his role in the later franchise entries and that’s viciously killing the film’s most irritating characters- the doctor, nurse and Marion (yes, the Marion from the first film), the couple flying the drone around their house, the gay couple who have taken over (and decorated to perfection) the old Myers house.
But the worst crime of this film is that it references, steals and pillages far too much from the first film. In fact, it does so in such a heavy-handed fashion that it reminds you that you could be watching a genuine masterpiece rather than this anaemic entry. Characters from the first are introduced so thick and fast that it feels like there is an air of desperation about proceedings. There are sequences shot depicting other events from THAT night in 1978, a CGI Dr Loomis and even clips from the original film inserted here. Does it feel authentic? Does it hell. Halloween 2 felt wayyy more like the original film in feel, tone and visuals. After coming out of the movie I read a review that said these ham-fisted pilferings were ‘poisoning the well’ regarding the original’s legacy. I couldn’t agree more.
Halloween Kills feels like an episode from some kind of Halloween spin-off TV series that hasn’t even been made- yet. But give it time. It’s a film for the fanboys to salivate over, the kind of viewers who will lap it up as, y’know, Michael Myers is in it and he kills people.
Stick with the original and also Part 2 and the excellent Part 3: Season of the Witch. Everything after that is fanboy territory.
One final thought. During the runtime, I kept thinking about John Carpenter (who acts as Executive Producer for Halloween Kills as well as composing the soundtrack). I kept thinking ‘This is the worst thing he’s ever been associated with during his whole career. And he’s done it by seemingly not caring if he cheapens the legacy of the first Halloween film’. Maybe that’s the real horror regarding this film.
Every week I’ll be recommending one of my favourite soundtracks and why I like them. Hopefully this will inspire you to investigate more, buy the album or dig it out of your collection if you already have it so that you bask in it’s glory again.
This week is the turn of the Paul Zaza/Carl Zittrer soundtrack for the 1980 Canxploitation slasher movie, Prom Night.
Whilst the film should have been a feeble Halloween/Saturday Night Fever/Carrie hybrid, it proved to be so much more. Great moments of terror, tension and genuine grittiness are punctuated by disco scenes (disco certainly doesn’t suck when it comes to this film!) leading up to the prom, great moments of character development and an introspection that is way too nuanced for other slasher fare of the day.
This is all perfectly manifested in the music on this soundtrack too. Firstly though I have an admission to make- I didn’t even know this soundtrack existed remastered on CD and expanded with extra tracks not included on the original vinyl LP. When I heard that some of the tracks were for pieces of music not used in the original film I thought, ‘Oh no! Filler!’ How wrong I was! The extra songs greatly embellish and expand upon the general vibe of the film.
The tracklisting works very well indeed. Theres the sturm und drang of the music used to underpin the terror scenes (the brilliant piece which accompanies the killer calling each of his future victims is here), the joyous disco songs (my life is better for knowing that there is a song titled ‘Love Me Til I Die’ in a disco inspired slasher movie) that are featured also find their way onto the CD along with others that weren’t used which are just as fantastic.
Just as Synapse’s Blu Ray of the film helped to resurrect the film with a flawless restoration and a whole plethora of extras, this soundtrack contributes to this resurrection with Prom Night ready to rightfully takes it’s place amongst the vanguard of the slasher movement. Yes, it’s not as good as The Undisputed Champion of this subgenre (Halloween, in case you were wondering) but it’s at the forefront of the B+ movies which followed in it’s wake.
Prom Night the soundtrack is available on Perseverance Records.
So, the day has finally arrived. Fanboys have been counting down to this release since the start of the year. Yes, even though the film was due to drop in October. This film is a direct sequel to the first film, the filmmakers told us. We must pretend Parts 2-8 didn’t happen.
So, whats it like?
It feels like some kind of faux sequel made exclusively for Netflix. Even John Carpenter’s score feels like a plastic pastiche.
It’s quite an achievement to make a horror film that has no tension or atmosphere. But they’ve managed it with this film which is such a shame. The original Halloween has atmosphere, tension and menace by the bucketload.
I have never rolled my eyes so many times during a film. The starting sequence in which Michael is shown his old mask and then all the surrounding asylum inmates start to go crazy made me want to stab myself in the eyes. That was followed by a title sequence which made me scream ‘Oh please!’ in the cinema. A flattened and deflated pumpkin filmed in reverse becomes whole again. In fact it’s a good metaphor for the whole film- inadvertently funny yet tragic at the same time.
The only character I liked in this film was Michael. Some of his moments were the only moments of light in the whole affair. When asked to speak by his doctor (imagine an Omar Shariff impersonator doing a dreadful Donald Pleasance impression) Michael stamps on his head making it smash like the pumpkin at the beginning of those awful titles. Michael speaks through violence. Another moment has Michael walking through a house which he has adorned with his latest victims- like a very sick art installation. This was a nice touch and a great (and subtle) reference to the original.
But the worst aspects of the film were the nods to modern politics. There is a very obvious thread of ‘diversity’ that comes across as ham-fisted and very patronising. Theres a character whose gender is unconfirmed (looks like a boy, talks about getting back for dance class) but might be a girl. Strode’s granddaughter and her boyfriend go to a Halloween party dressed as Bonnie and Clyde- her as Clyde (male), him as Bonnie (female). Edgy. Except it’s not. There’s even the grotesque stereotype of the sassy black child. I honestly expected him to exclaim ‘What You Talking About, Willis?!’ Please have a diverse cast, please don’t make it so obvious that it feels like tokenism.
There’s also plenty of references to Me Too, Times Up and The Sisterhood (I’m dry-heaving typing this). Laurie exclaims ‘Times up!’ at one point and screams over her colleagues who are talking over her. She will have her voice heard! The film further reinforces this sense of the sisterhood with a prominent scene really obviously placing Strode, her daughter and granddaughter all together in the frame (I could say more about this scene but I’d hate to spoil the movie for you hahahaha). In fact this scene is so repellent that when I saw it I actually screamed ‘Oh *beep* off!’ in the cinema. But, the film depicted Me Too and Times Up a bit too well. Laurie is hysterical, irrational and deranged most of the time. Kudos to the director for holding up a mirror.
For a brilliant, deft, and innovative example of feminism and diversity in a film check out Patty Jenkins’ Wonder Woman. The ‘No Man’s Land’ sequence epitomises ‘We Can Do It!’ in action and without the amateur dramatics. The scene in which she recruits the member for her expedition team is a far greater and emotionally moving demonstration of diversity and a sense of everyone being empowered to get involved and engaged.
Back to Halloween 2018. The references to the original film will have you rolling your eyes/wanting to scream/wanting to actually inflict violence. Theres a moment that copies the ending of the first film- but with a twist. It’s so obvious, heavy-handed and irritating that I felt like randomly slashing cinema seats with my keys. Whats more, they use footage from the 1978 film within this film which is a very risky manoeuvre. Especially when you’ve made an utterly inept piece of crap. It reminds the viewer that they could be watching a much, much better film instead.
But then that’s one of the few good things about this sequel- it means there there are screenings of the original in cinemas at the moment and a new Blu-ray release. Every cloud has a silver lining.
Oh, and for the record- this film isn’t fit to even be compared to Halloween 2 (1981). In fact, the argument should be about which film is worse? This or Halloween: Resurrection. Yes, it’s that bad.
I’ve just reviewed Snapshot that was cheekily renamed ‘The Day After Halloween’ to capitalise on the success of John Carpenter’s masterpiece.
I remember the first time I saw this was on a copy of the soundtrack that I saw whilst browsing for soundtracks in the mid 90’s when I had moved to London to study film. ‘Well, I’ll be damned!’ I thought as I saw the title of the film and the same font used as for the original film. I was also amazed to see Sigrid Thornton on the album’s sleeve art. I had known and admired Ms Thornton’s work in the TV series Prisoner Cell Block H.
Now rewind a few years. It’s the late 80’s. I’m in Leeds after taking the bus from York to visit a brilliant film memorabilia shop called Movie Boulevard.
It’s here that I buy a quad poster for the film Halloween 2. I wondered why it said ‘All New’ on it.
”I remember when that came out, the ads eventually had a banner that said Not a Sequel to Halloween but it wasn’t in theaters for very long…”
So is this why the posters for Halloween 2 had the words ‘All New’ written on them? Had this small (but perfectly formed) film from Australia which had tried to market itself as a sequel to Halloween perplexed the makers of the real sequel to the film to such an extent that they had to tell audiences that this was the real deal, the real sequel? It would appear so.
This ‘All New’ addendum was added to both the American and British posters for the film (the British poster is earlier in this article)-
This also extended to the British and American/Canadian newspaper ads for the film-
A childrens game goes horribly wrong and a child falls backwards from the first floor window of an abandoned building and dies. The remaining kids vow to never tell anyone about what happened. Its now 7 years on and the children in the gang are preparing for their prom night. They one by one start to receive menacing phone calls…
I first saw this and expected to see a C grade slasher movie- one of the many mediocre movies made in the wake of Halloween.
Boy, was I wrong! Theres loads to love about this movie. Firstly, Jamie Lee Curtis is in it. Shes such a great actress that if shes on the cast list you can expect a stunning performance. Not only is she another kick arse Final Girl but we also get to see her disco moves. She also has a great exchange with the school bitch. This features some fantastically camp lines (‘Its not who takes you to the prom. Its about who takes you home!’) Jamie wins and has the last word in this verbal volley naturally.
Another great feature of this film is that its actually very scary in the appropriate scenes. The killer ringing the teenagers one by one is a scene so threatening and jarring that its a sequence that is one of the scariest I’ve ever seen in any horror film. The simplicity of the scene (just a hand, a pencil, the school yearbook, the list of names and the phone) is extremely effective and downright chilling.
The film is also brilliantly chilling as it touches on the subject of paedophilia- a local sex offender is known to the police and they think he is the reason for the dead little girl. They hound him to such a degree that he crashes his car which bursts into flames. The police had no evidence that it was him but hey, hes so disfigured that he now can’t commit anymore crimes and is placed in an asylum.
And there are the actual kills and the scenes they are contained within which are directed with aplomb. These are very tense and unnerving. OK so this certainly isn’t John Carpenter’s Halloween but these scenes are still very good for a slasher movie.
With Halloween being a major influence on this film there are also the atypical scenes of the female characters talking about, y’know, girls things- boys, hair, going to the prom etc etc. In fact in the book Blood Money it has been suggested that there were two types of advertising for this film- one that dwelt on the themes thought to be more appealing to a young female demographic (the disco music, the relationships and drama within the film) and one that dwelt on what was thought to appeal to the guys- namely the tension, suspense and kills.
The film really does feel like a cross between Halloween, Carrie (the prom setting and the potential for carnage in this setting) and Saturday Night Fever- this film has disco stomps and a brilliant disco soundtrack that strangely provides a brilliant and sinister backdrop to the murders.
Another great feature is that of the character of Slick. Just like the bawdy British comedies of the 1970’s featured the most unlikely candidates for male eye-candy who somehow get the women, so does this film. Slick thinks hes a modern day babe magnet. I’ll leave it up to you to agree or disagree with his self perception.
This movie also has one of the most hilarious characters in horror history- look out for Mr Sykes played by Robert Silverman (he would also appear in Scanners and Jason X). Is he the killer or a far too obvious red herring?
Prom Night is far too good than a Halloween rip-off slasher movie deserves to be. If Halloween is A+ then Prom Night is B+
If you’re going to buy this film please look out for the Region 1 Blu ray from Synapse Films. The best transfer and bonus features I’ve ever seen for ANY Blu ray title. Stunning.
I remember being traumatised by the Poster for The Fog before I actually saw the film. We had driven past The Odeon in York and I briefly glanced at it. As this was just a glance I thought I saw a woman lying in bed with a ghostly hand reaching out to grab her. I didn’t sleep for several nights after this.
I finally saw the film on video years later and loved it. Whereas Halloween is a killer on the loose movie, The Fog is a modern twist on the old fashioned ghost story.
In fact the plot comes from an event that happened in the late 1890s with a ship being lured onto rocks so that the gold onboard could be robbed and the people onboard left to perish.
The film makes light of this with a buried secret and buried treasure both coming back from the dead. People coming back from the dead in the film is also a knowing wink to the EC Comics of the 50’s and 60’s in which the dead avenge the living by coming back from their graves. The guilty who are still alive have to face those whom they wronged and with ghastly consequences. Theres also a feeling of ordinary people having to endure extraordinary circumstances with these specific comics and within this film.
Whilst the cast is amazing (watch out for the interactions between Janet Leigh and Nancy Loomis- they’re hilarious) the true star of the film is the fog itself. With this picture being made in 1980 the fog was real rather than being computer generated as it was in the appalling remake. The fog here is a living, breathing and very menacing entity.
This film also has some of the best cinematography in any horror film and its courtesy of Dean Cundey who had also shot the masterpiece Halloween. The anamorphic Panavision used here was inspired and this and the film’s lighting make the movie absolutely beautiful to look at.
Whilst this is an old fashioned ghost story there is also a modernity about proceedings with some sequences that are as nasty if not nastier than the other horror films of the day by their being committed out of frame or within the fog itself. Check out what happens to the men aboard The Seagrass and the way they are dispatched. The sound effects suggest breaking bones and slashed flesh whilst being obscured by the fog itself. Whilst other horror films were being more explicit with their blood and gore, Carpenter suggested these atrocities whilst not fully showing them. This was the correct approach for this film as excessive gore would have seemed out of place and quite cheap for this movie. Carpenter actually reshot scenes to add to the film as he didn’t think it was scary enough. I’m glad he didn’t go overboard (pun not intended).
Another thing to love about The Fog is the soundtrack. We get the simple piano motifs like in Halloween but also analogue synth atmosphere that really adds to the film as a whole. But most surprisingly there are fully blown baroque pieces that suggest something older and more classical- a reference to what happened years before in Antonio Bay and the resurrection of this piece of grisly history.
Add to the mix some pretty amazing special effects (look out for special effects genius Rob Bottin as lead zombie pirate nicknamed on set ‘Wormface’) and you have a rip-roaring ride that never outstays its welcome and always feels fresh, innovative and a joy to behold.
In fact this is one of Carpenter’s best films and is often overshadowed by Halloween. Its almost as if when a director makes a bona fide classic then any other film is destined to be unfavourably compared to it. The Fog and Halloween are both from Carpenter’s Imperial Phase and are both stunning pieces of cinema.
It takes a great big set of balls to make a sequel to a film that is recognised as a classic. One such film is Halloween. Is the sequel any good?
Well, yes it is actually. There are many things to love.
One such thing is that the film carries on straight after the events from the first film. Laurie is taken to hospital and Michael Myers follows her. This is audacious in the extreme. It also means that the feel and look of the original need to be similar to the iconic original. And whilst Carpenter isn’t directing this time (he co-wrote the film with partner Debra Hill and co-scored with Alan Howarth), new boy Rick Rosenthal does a pretty good job. It feels for the most part like the first film but that doesn’t mean that its as good. But if Halloween is A+ then Halloween 2 is B+.
The hospital provides the perfect setting for the terror to continue. Yes, there aren’t many people in the building but its a small local hospital. Stop nitpicking, horror geeks. The setting also means that Michael can use medical implements to kill with- ironic when these instruments are intended to save lives rather than shorten them. Hence, Michael’s weapon of choice is a scalpel. In other scenes he also uses syringes (inserted into eyeballs!) and a therapy pool is turned up to boiling and a nurse is dunked underwater until her face receives the face-peel from hell whilst drowning at the same time. This scene was severely cut in the UK video release. In its uncut glory it really is something to behold.
In fact, the murders in this film are a lot nastier and more graphic than in the original. When Halloween 2 was made the slasher genre it inspired was in full swing. This film had something to prove and so the murders are very nasty indeed. Its like the makers of Halloween 2 were trying to show that they were still head and shoulders above the rest of the pack. And they succeed whilst doing so with artistic aplomb.
There also seems to be a grittiness and cynicism underlying the film that is both endearing and entertaining to watch. Examples of this jaded mentality are peppered throughout the movie. A child is admitted with a razor blade embedded in his mouth which alludes to the ‘razor blade in the candy’ urban legend. A female reporter tells a colleague when reporting Myers’ bloodbath from the first film ‘You need the parents’ permission to get a statement. If you can’t get it then get a statement anyway!’ The nurse who deals with the child bleeding from his mouth shows no compassion at all and gets the child and his mother to wait whilst the child suffers. The security guard Mr Garrett is seen reading a comic book instead of doing his job properly. Hence he doesn’t see Myers on his CCTV monitors. The doctor who treats Laurie’s injuries from the first film was at the same party as her parents and is actually drunk on the job. These quirks make Halloween 2 much better than its competitors. Whilst this isn’t George A Romero level social commentary this film isn’t as vacuous as many slasher imitators and still has astute observations to make.
But there are a few (but not many) examples of the film pandering or conforming to slasher movie conventions. One such is the scene in which Mr Garrett goes to investigate a break in. There is the cliched cat scare and also a door being opened to have lots of boxes fall onto the rotund night watchman. Whilst this all happens as a build up to Michael finishing off this character these events would never have happened in the original film. In fact, wasn’t there a cat scare in Friday the 13th Part 2? Thats more the kind of thing to find in that franchise than the Halloween films.
Also, the nudity and sexual references are ramped up in this film. Hence there are more titties and the irritating character of Bud singing a really unfunny dirty version of Amazing Grace. I cheered when he was killed by Michael in such a non-descript way. His vile character deserved no more than this.
Within this film is the revelation that Michael is actually Laurie’s brother. Hence why Myers wants to kill her- hes killed one sister, hes come back for the other. This plot detail doesn’t feel forced and gives the film the truly chilling dream sequence that Laurie has- including seeing an evil looking Michael in his asylum.
Theres also appearances of other characters from the first film. Annie appears as a corpse (!) and Laurie’s crush Ben Tramer is killed by when running from a gun wielding Dr Loomis (more of that cynicism). Freud would have a field day with the Myers costume that Tramer is wearing. Was this the film being really clever by suggesting a kind of subconscious incestuous desire between Laurie and Michael or was it just being really stupid by having Ben coincidentally wear the exact same costume as Michael? The examination of the teeth of Ben Tramer’s charred body fully depicts the sequel’s mentality- where the original used the economy and anonymity of shadowplay and genius framing this film presents the horror in full sight with all of the lights on, warts and all. Nothing is hidden, on any level.
On the whole the film feels similar to the original and pulls off, for the most part, the impossible. Jamie Lee Curtis is as kickass as ever as Laurie (check out the big chase scene- its edge of the seat brilliant) and Donald Pleasance is also excellent (even though some of his dialogue lapses into camp. ‘I’ve been trick or treated to death!’ says a neighbour to which Loomis replies ‘You don’t know what death is!’ I stifled a laugh).
The score is a progression of the original score. Where the original was piano led with a smuttering of synth, this score is all synth with the original songs elaborated upon by Carpenter and Alan Howarth. Its a great soundtrack even though, like the film itself, it isn’t as great as the original. The score for this film was named one of the best soundtracks of all time by Empire Magazine.
This film is great fun. Its as good as a sequel to a masterpiece could be. Which is the highest praise possible. Judging by the other Halloween movies featuring Myers, this could have been a lot worse.