Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

Meathook Cinema Hall of Fame- Assault on Precinct 13 (1976)

It’s 1990. I’m tuning into the excellent Moviedrome series of films on BBC2 with each cult film in the series being introduced by director Alex Cox.

The film being shown that night was John Carpenter’s second feature film Assault on Precinct 13, his reworking of Howard Hawks’ Rio Bravo and my mind was blown. I had been a fan of Halloween since I had seen it a few years before this and desperately wanted to see Assault but tracking it down was very hard indeed due to the video release being out of print. That made this screening even more essential. I recorded the film and watched it over and over and over again.

The film concerns a police station in the crime-ridden suburb of Anderson, California closing down with a cop named Bishop being assigned to oversee this for his night shift. He arrives to see that there are still a few staff working in the police station. Unfortunately, the local gang named Street Thunder have decided to announce a ‘cholo’ (meaning ‘to the death’) against the police as the pigs had killed six members of their tribe. That night they will seek their revenge because of this.

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Members of Street Thunder

Add to this a bus transporting Death Row criminals that has to make a stop at the police station and a distraught father who is catatonic with grief who also arrives at the near derelict locale. Add together all of these ingredients, blend together and voila! You have a kick ass movie.

What is it about the film that makes it so good? There are many reasons.

Firstly, the look and feel of the film are amazing. Carpenter’s use of Panavision gives the film a panoramic (duh) scope that is not only inspired but also epic.

This aspect ratio also makes the film very sinister in places with the Panavision making the dark, shadowy corners of the police station and it’s environs even more creepy. In fact, there are a number of parallels between Assault and Night of the Living Dead with the black leads of both films, the character who you think is going to be a major player in the film’s narrative being completely sidelined because of their catatonic state (Lawson is the father who reminds me of Barbara who very quickly retreats into herself shortly after she reaches the farmhouse in Night) and the zombie-esque qualities of the Street Thunder gang members who are just as omnipotent, numerous and expendable as Romero’s undead.

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Another great quality that Assault possesses is that whilst it contains a great deal of humour this never overbalances the horror and suspense. Whether it’s Napoleon Wilson and Wells playing ‘potatoes’ to decide who goes out to hot-wire a car or the plathora of funny one-liners uttered by one of the film’s characters (‘I have a new plan. It’s called ‘Save Ass’), these moments never make Assault descend into a horrible sludge of geek humour or derivative dialogue (yes, I’m thinking of you Quentin Tarantino). The screenplay for Assault crackles with electricity.

Assault also contains one of the most shocking scenes I’ve ever seen in a film, something that is still talked about by many film critics, journalists and fans. I’m not giving it away but it remains taboo even today.

The characters are another reason why I love the film so much. Napoleon Wilson is yet another legendary Carpenter creation that includes Snake Plissken, Michael Myers and Jack Burton. How did he get his name? (I think the arm breaking scene is a good step in the right direction when pondering this point regarding his backstory). In fact, we want to know everything about his life that led to the night captured within Assault’s narrative.

And yet every character is just as enigmatic and brilliantly realised whether it be Bishop who just wants a quiet night shift or Leigh who is working at the police station still. I love the scene in which Bishop whispers to Leigh what he had carved into a desk as a child that had prompted his father to drag him to that very same police station years before to be ticked off by a cop there. The audience never finds out what it was. I love mystery in film, something that modern filmmakers know nothing about but should. Overexplanation hinders so many films especially the vile horror prequels that get churned out nowadays.

In fact, the character of Leigh is a fantastic updating of the Hawksian woman- tough, resourceful and icily sexual. Witness the scene in which Napoleon finally finds someone with a cigarette. Leigh gives it to him and even lights it. This scene in itself is one of my favourite moments in film history. In fact, there are many scenes with Assault which are lay claim to that mantle. Another example is the gang attack on the police station which quickly turns into a beautiful ballet of bullets. It’s impeccable.

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Add to this one of Carpenter’s best music scores (which is really saying something. His music for Assault is minimalist, gritty and utter analogue synth perfection) and you have a bona fide masterpiece. I was honoured enough to see the film at a midnight screening here in Leeds a few years ago and it was great to see one of my favourite films on the big screen.

A film I love from start to finish. All killer, no filler.

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31 Days of Halloween- Day 15- Halloween Kills (2021)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 15- Halloween Kills (2021)

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.HalloweenKillsQuadPoster

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).

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The matriarchy are back!

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.

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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.

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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.

Grade- E 

Soundtrack of the Week- The Fog (1980)

Soundtrack of the Week- The Fog (1980)

I actually think John Carpenter is as great a musician and composer as he is a film director.

A great example is his amazing soundtrack for his 1980 masterpiece, The Fog. Just as the film was a traditional ghost story rooted in the past but taking part in the present, his soundtrack completely conveys this.

There are the pianos and synths present on his scores for Halloween and it’s sequel but there are also musical nods to the past representing the timelessness of the campfire story being told to us as it plays on the screen. In fact, the starting story by John Houseman told to the assembled children around a fire on the beach makes an appearance as the first track on the soundtrack.

But it’s also worth noting how Carpenter conveys the concept of the fog within the music. There is the recurring motif on some tracks of air being released and spreading out. The way the fog moves is also represented on some tracks with a sense of it gliding through the music as a living, breathing malevolent being (the start of the epic Antonio Bay especially demonstrates this).

I felt like I have grown up with this soundtrack as I bought the Varese Sarabande edition in 1994 when I arrived in London to study film analysis, the 2000 Silva Screen edition which featured even more tracks not present on the previous edition but it is the 2012 Silva Screen edition which is the most complete edition you can buy. It contains cues not used on the original album all of which are great and the whole album is also remastered.A lot of these cues were used on the Special Edition DVD which was released in the early 00’s.

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The 2012 Silva Screen edition of the soundtrack. The most complete collection of the film’s music and remastered to boot. Buy this one.

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The Varese Sarabande edition…

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…and the 2000 Silva Screen edition

An essential soundtrack to an essential film, The Fog is an example of Carpenter firing with all six guns.

Soundtrack of the Week- The Thing (1982)

Soundtrack of the Week- The Thing (1982)

It was dreadful news when I heard about film maestro composer Ennio Morricone’s recent passing. He was one of the greatest film soundtrack composers of all time with his scores lending the sonic landscape for so many cinematic masterpieces.

My favourite soundtrack by Morricone is the score he composed for John Carpenter’s The Thing in 1982. He didn’t even get to see the completed film when he wrote and performed the soundtrack as Carpenter was in the midst of editing the film and so it was from this incomplete state that Morricone came to write and realise his musical accompaniment.

Just as the film starts slowly and builds in intensity,  so does the soundtrack with the beautiful Humanity- Part 1 with it’s underlying menace as almost a warning of the full-on dread and horror to come. This is followed by the cello-heavy warnings of the track Shape as the music starts to build up as do the film’s events.

The sudden change in the film’s events are expertly captured on the next track Contamination as random discordant sounds multiply layer upon layer whilst getting faster and faster whilst becoming more mutated until the track is akin to aural insanity. Just as certain irreversible events within the film (I’m being ever so careful not to spoil the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it!) leave the audience feeling that this is completely uncharted territory for both horror and sci fi, the music feels the same- a piece of music like this has NEVER been heard on a film soundtrack before and the effect is startling, disorientating and brilliantly effective.

The next track Bestiality is full of sturm und drang with it’s slabs of cello building up and up, again layer by layer until it reaches a shocking conclusion. It perfectly mirrors the action within the film. The Antarctic research unit has been rocked by events that will make sure that it’s never the same again.

A major theme within the film is that of the ominous silence and deafening quiet as the members of the research unit have to wait it out to see who will be the next to manifest signs of being the next host of the alien intruder, contemplate what can be done when this happens and how they will determine who the next will be. This disarming sense of silent and disquieting dread is also captured on the soundtrack and effortlessly conveyed in Morricone’s music. The stirring Solitude, the electronic pulse and distress signal of Eternity (here Morricone shows that he can excel not just when writing for an orchestra), the underlying dread, menace and claustrophobia of Wait, the heartbeat of Humanity- Part 2 that slowly builds into a low simmering manifestation of underlying menace and the impending terror of events to come.

This is all stellar stuff and completely revolutionary for the horror genre and film in general. This is music that has been conceived by a composer who has dared to think outside the box to accompany a film made by a director who has dared to do the same. This is a big reason why The Thing is a masterpiece and still beloved by fans and critics alike today.

The edition of the album that I bought was the 1991 CD by the ever brilliant Varese Sarabande (pictured below).

The album has now actually been remastered from the original master tapes and this edition will be next on my purchase list.

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The artwork for the new remastered edition

Michael Myers Comes To London

Michael Myers Comes To London

Another past event has just popped up in the Memories section of my Facebook account. Apparently, 15 years ago I was watching Halloween at the National Film Theatre.

And apparently, I have scanned and posted the NFT notes for the screening.

As I remember, this screening was utilising a brand spanking new 35mm print that had been freshly made. The video and audio were sensational and a far cry from the print that was used at another cinema screening I attended a few years before this. That print was from the original release of the film in 1978 and was in a dire state. Although it was of historical value and great to see the BBFC card for the film from when it was released, it looked and sounded terrible.

Anyhoo, here’s some film history for you.

See John Carpenter’s Halloween. Win A Toaster

See John Carpenter’s Halloween. Win A Toaster

I’m loving going through the Yorkshire Evening Post’s archives to reveal the ads used to publicise a film’s release. I fondly remember seeing these as a kid- little glimpses into a film’s grittiness and sleaziness when I was too young to actually see the film.

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Original Halloween ad for it’s Leeds screening in 1978

 

The other day I stumbled upon the original ads for one of my favourite films, Halloween.

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I also came across the original film review which was very positive (which it should have been!)

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Original Yorkshire Evening Press review of Halloween from 1978

In fact it appears that the film ran for quite a few weeks here in Leeds. The folks here have great taste!

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‘3rd Great Week!’

But I’m especially loving the fact that a competition was run in the newspaper to publicise the film. I’m just astounded that the prices couldn’t have been more topical for the film’s content- a new set of knives, an endless supply of coat hangers, driving lessons (although Michael Myers seemed to get by without these when he escaped from Smiths Grove).

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Hilarious contest. Can you complete the titles?!

31 Days of Halloween- Day 19- Halloween (2018)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 19- Halloween (2018)

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.

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Unintentionally hilarious/vomit-inducing. Michael is shown his mask again

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.

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Sarah Connor Laurie Strode

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.

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Genuine feminism, genuine diversity- WW kicks ass

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.

1 out of 5 stars.

31 Days of Halloween- Day 14- Vampires (1998)

31 Days of Halloween- Day 14- Vampires (1998)

A comic book type caper in which a posse hunts down vampires for a living.

This is at the lower end of John Carpenter’s filmography. It feels more intent with slick visuals and trying to come across as ‘cool’ than being a thought provoking piece of cinema with any kind of substance. We get nods to the Western genre with the posse. We even get a reference to The Searchers. That’s the deepest and most thought provoking thing in the whole film.

The only people this film is of interest to are the nerdier depths of the horror/sci-fi demographic.

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Yes, it’s as bad as this still suggests

In fact, this feels more like a TV movie than a proper film. The only innovation within this flick is that it’s ahead of it’s time in predicting the dearth of similar fare made to go straight to cable. As a matter of fact I saw this on the Horror Channel. I’m glad it found it’s rightful home.

Not the worst film I’ve ever seen but light years away from Halloween, Assault on Precinct 13, The Fog, Someone’s Watching Me…

1/5 out of 5 stars

The Halloween 2 Riddle Solved?

The Halloween 2 Riddle Solved?

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.

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It’s here that I buy a quad poster for the film Halloween 2. I wondered why it said ‘All New’ on it.

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The UK quad poster for Halloween 2

When I posted my review of Snapshot in the Meathook Cinema Facebook group yesterday one of my regular contributors Phillip Lopez Jimenez said

”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)-

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The original US poster

This also extended to the British and American/Canadian newspaper ads for the film-

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Original London newspaper ad

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Canadian newspaper ad. What a great double-bill!

A mystery solved. Take a bow, Phillip.

Assault on Precinct 13/Halloween Leeds Newspaper Ads

Assault on Precinct 13/Halloween Leeds Newspaper Ads

More hidden treasures from the local newspapers of the past…

Assault on Precinct 13 played for four glorious weeks in Leeds (click on each ad to see it actual size).

 

Later it played in a double bill with the film Halloween.

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The best double bill EVER!!!

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The newspaper ad for the Assault on Precinct 13/Halloween double bill.