Category Archives: THE DOCTOR’S PROGNOSIS

The Doctor’s Prognosis

Halloween (1978)

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THE PATIENTS

Director: John Carpenter
Writers: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, Charles Cyphers, P.J. Soles, Nancy Loomis, John Michael Graham, Kyle Richards, Brian Andrews, Nick Castle

THE PATHOLOGY

There’s this fellow named Michael Myers with the blackest eyes…the Devil’s eyes…oh, come on, you know this story surely? OK, moving on then…

THE PROGNOSIS

It’s always difficult to go back to the beginning of a long-running franchise and evaluate the original film with any degree of objectivity. We’re often led to interpret it through the lens of everything that followed, and that makes writing an honest appraisal of a movie like HALLOWEEN so difficult. The fact that it’s universally and rightly hailed as a modern horror masterpiece and a watershed moment in independent cinema does nothing to ease the pressure.

Perhaps the most important thing to note in watching HALLOWEEN all these years later is just how little the movie provides in the way of an explanation for the sheer terror we’re witnessing. At this point we don’t know Michael is Laurie’s brother; we certainly have no inkling of the insane Thorn cult connection that would be grafted on a decade later; in fact, until the final moments of the film, there’s no real evidence to suggest that the Shape is at all supernatural, inhuman, or immortal. He’s just a cold, methodical killer driven by an unknown psychological impulse to murder babysitters and anyone else who gets in his way. Why did he crack that night in 1963? Why did he kill his sister? Why did he wait fifteen years and then escape to cause more mayhem? There is no explanation, no reason – and that is why we still find HALLOWEEN so scary nearly forty years after its release.

There is no explanation, no reason – and that is why we still find HALLOWEEN so scary nearly forty years after its release.

Most readers probably know the various bits of the legend, from the launching of Jamie Lee Curtis’ career as a Scream Queen, to the brilliant choice of a pasty white William Shatner mask for the killer’s emotionless face, to the inclusion of famed character actor Donald Pleasence as the somber voice of doom and relentless pursuer of his one-time patient. Haddonfield comes alive in this movie as well; its leaf-lined streets and party-minded high schoolers feel real, genuine, not at all ‘Hollywood’ choices in casting or performance. And when the murders begin – for the most part bloodlessly and with more suspense than gore – they shock and sicken because of the normality of the community we’ve come to know. Haddonfield invites us by its very warmth and reality to come home with Michael and watch this nightmarish reign of terror descend on that familiar middle-American town again and again.

There’s also no denying the incredible power behind John Carpenter’s unmatched musical score. Most fans know the story about the advance screenings that omitted the music and fell flat with audiences before the score was completed, turning a run-of-the-mill indie suspense film into a box office juggernaut as unstoppable as Michael Myers himself. The title theme and related leitmotifs are burned into the brains of generations of horror fans, and are as elemental in their effect on our psyche as Bernard Herrmann’s legendary PSYCHO score.

For fans, it’s worth seeking out the television edit of the film at least once to see the extra footage shot during the production of HALLOWEEN II for TV airings of the original. While they slow down the pace a little, they add a few very exciting bits for Loomis and Myers continuity fans – just fast-forward through the useless “P.J. Soles borrows clothes from Laurie” scene.

Its power is in a direct attack on our senses; in this way the Shape calmly stepped forward and advanced on us with unwavering determination.

Michael Myers quickly took his place in the pantheon of undying slasher stars, but we all know that his subsequent appearances never lived up to the power and promise of this first great film. As soon as the story moved forward, we demanded to know why he killed and what he truly was. And just like comedy, true horror can never be explained. Its power is in a direct attack on our senses; in this way the Shape calmly stepped forward and advanced on us with unwavering determination. Michael Myers is the embodiment of pure evil, and evil knows no reason…nor does it need one.

RATING

09brains

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ALL THE OTHER FILMS IN THE SERIES:
HALLOWEEN II

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH

HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS

HALLOWEEN 5: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS

HALLOWEEN 6: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS

HALLOWEEN H20: TWENTY YEARS LATER

HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION

Island of the Living Dead (2007)

THE PATIENTS

Director: Bruno Mattei
Writers: Antonio Tentori, Bruno Mattei, Giovanni Paolucci
Starring: Yvette Yzon, Gaetano Russo

THE PATHOLOGY

The dumbest fortune hunters on the seas are having a bad day – they really should have studied up on things like how to successfully bring treasure chests to the surface – but when they discover a heretofore-unknown island, they embark on one of the most lackluster adventures this side of a rejected Scooby-Doo script. The location shooting is at times truly impressive, and the cinematography far better than it has any right to be. But once inside the island’s catacombs on sets that must have been left over from old GILLIGAN’S ISLAND or MONKEES episodes, the treasure hunters predictably split up, encounter a wide array of inconsistently powered ghost-zombie-vampires, do the flamenco, drink maggot-infested wine, and get themselves killed off way too slowly. You’ll be feeling shipwrecked yourself as this often padded and uneventful ‘adventure’ limps to its finale and one last attempt at a shocking twist.

THE PROGNOSIS

Bruno Mattei has a place in the hearts and guts of zombie fans from his work on immortal ‘classics’ like HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD and ZOMBI 3. ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD was his penultimate film – part one of a two-part saga – but it’s not exactly a triumphant return. There’s really no sugar coating it; this is a bad movie. The acting is amateurish (although admittedly you can tell that most of the cast members are really trying), the dialogue (assuming the dubbed lines are close to the original writing) is awkward and childish, and the quality of the production is a step or two above community theater. Ed Wood himself would be proud of the actors’ attempts to enliven their acting with cartoonish gesticulation and googly-eyed expressions, to say nothing of a familiar lack of discretion in waving guns around at colleagues; Plan 9 is definitely in effect. You do get the sense, however, that everyone involved is working hard to make this come together into something resembling a finished product, and that dedication alone is admirable.

Ed Wood himself would be proud of the actors’ attempts to enliven their acting with cartoonish gesticulation and googly-eyed expressions.

It’s also possible Mattei might have been deliberately playing up the flaws normally associated with his other films for the fun of it, but even if we give him that (and that’s a stretch), the movie still fails to deliver on much of what made his other work so memorable. This is a remarkably tame ‘exploitation’ film, with no nudity and little gore to provide visceral thrills; the only thing it exploits is the viewer. ISLAND could easily air on cable and look poor in comparison to edgier fare on commercial networks.

This is a remarkably tame ‘exploitation’ film, with no nudity and little gore to provide visceral thrills; the only thing it exploits is the viewer.

The zombies are a mildly interesting mix of monsters, with some of them gleefully stalking prey while others are quite chatty. They blur the lines between corporeal zombies, ghostly apparitions, and in some cases, skull-faced vampires! At least one of them demonstrates the ability to regrow a lost limb; that’s a new one on me. The movie also offers a veritable catalogue of zombie pop culture references, with nods to the genre’s Voodoo origins, scenes and lines of dialogue lifted wholesale from NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, ZOMBI 2, BURIAL GROUND, TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD, PSYCHO, THE FOG, and THE EVIL DEAD, and references to KING KONG as well as musical nods to ALIENS and the Berlioz piece heard in THE SHINING.

ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD may be a mess, but it’s still the first part of Mattei’s two-film farewell and a must-see for any zombie fan.

It is a shame that this is only presented dubbed; the only proper way to see films in another language is with the original soundtrack and subtitles. But if this is the only way we get to enjoy Mattei’s final zombie epics, it’s a cross we’ll have to bear. Besides, based on the acting we can see, it’s unlikely the original voices would change the proceedings too much. ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD may be a mess, but it’s still the first part of Mattei’s two-film farewell and a must-see for any zombie fan. Once you reach the typo-ridden disclaimer text at the end, you’ll surely be rushing to move on to the final chapter, so lock and load and join me for ZOMBIES: THE BEGINNING!

RATING

03brains

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