It’s time! Arnold and Natalie head to the movie theater on opening day to see the 40th anniversary installment in the Laurie Strode/Michael Myers saga, HALLOWEEN (2018)! From nostalgic callbacks to thematic layering, they break it all down and examine whether or not this new sequel lives up to all the hype and pays tribute to the immortal classic original from 1978. Slip on your Workrite coveralls and your vintage Shatner mask, tilt your head, and listen to this all-new DOCTOR OF THE DEAD podcast!
SPECIAL NOTE: If you haven’t seen the movie yet, this episode begins with a non-spoiler general discussion; spoiler-heavy conversation kicks in at timecode 31:21!
Arnold and Natalie begin a massive series rewatch of the HALLOWEEN movies! In this episode, they talk about the original HALLOWEEN (1978); the first sequel in 1981, HALLOWEEN II; and a more modern horror favorite, IT FOLLOWS (2014), that shares substantial DNA with John Carpenter’s landmark classic. Arnold also catches everyone up on his upcoming appearance and book launch at Monster-Mania 41. It’s a packed episode of stalking Shapes and sex demons in this all-new DOCTOR OF THE DEAD podcast!
This column examines sci-fi films of the past that tried to predict a future that has now become the present…or perhaps the past (still with me?). We break down each film into categories (many of which recur from one installment to the next) and see how well or how poorly these prognosticating photoplays predicted those futures that were never meant to be. We’ll cover everything from the exceptional to the excruciating. So here’s to the future…all of them!
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK RELEASE DATE: 1981 FICTIONAL DATE: 1997 TEMPORAL DISPLACEMENT: 16 years
SET UP: Snake Plissken (Kurt Russell) is a former war hero recruited by a militaristic police state to find and rescue the President (Donald Pleasance) after Air Force One is forced down into New York City by terrorists (where’s Harrison Ford when you need him?). Simple enough? Not quite. You see, New York has been a maximum-security prison for incorrigibles since 1988, when a massive 50-foot wall was erected around Manhattan island. After the crime rate in the U.S. doubled 400%, the United States Police Force was assigned to contain the criminal element in the confines of the city. “Once you go in,” the sign says at Liberty Island Security Control, “you don’t come out.”
The rest of the film takes us on a journey through the ruins of a once-proud city as Snake searches for and eventually rescues the President. During the course of this adventure, we glean a bit more information about this 1997, meet the Duke of New York (played with considerable understatement by the late Isaac “Chef” Hayes), and learn the true power behind Adrienne Barbeau’s cleavage (she was married to Carpenter at the time). But just how different is this vision of the ’90s from the one we lived through?
POLITICS OF PREDICTION: As we are told in the film, Snake flew successful missions over Leningrad and Siberia. In this 1997, America is involved in a long-running conflict with China and the Soviet Union. The President’s rescue is vital since he must attend a crucial peace summit in Hartford to determine the future of this world’s stability. Obviously no one in 1981, in the peak of our Reagan-era nuclear phobia, could ever dream that by 1997 the Soviet Union would be a memory. Similarly, whatever we may think of the government, the United States is not the repressive imperialist police state portrayed here, with its admonitions against talking and smoking and other forms of freedom. Thankfully, they were way off on this…weren’t they? Hmm, maybe we should ask smokers about that one.
TECHNOLOGICAL TIMING: Here, as we will soon see with many films that try to project the future, is where ESCAPE shows its age. Granted, this 1997 has been at war, so technological advancement may have frozen earlier in the 1980s (see how I try to give them a way out?). Still, the movie gives us officials “tel-ex”ing Washington while walls of yellow bulbs blink in sequence (you know, those ubiquitous computer banks of colored lights that appeared in WONDER WOMAN and every other ’70s TV series). Snake is even given a red LED display to wear on his wrist (when was the last time anybody used one of those?)! There are a few interesting innovations, from the capsule bombs implanted in Snake’s neck (vulnerable to X-rays) to the tiny Gulf Fire plane, a one-man craft with a decidedly dated push-button, red and green raster graphics read-out. Meanwhile, in New York, prisoners have made the most unbelievable leap yet – they’ve successfully retrofitted 1970s cars to operate on steam.
Perhaps the most glaring omission, however, is the Internet. Back then, absolutely no one but the most die-hard techies could have predicted the escalation in use let alone the existence of the Internet, and the myriad ways in which it affects everything in our daily life. From the simplest forms of communication to the most complex search and control functions, virtually everything seen in this film might have been completely different.
FASHION FLASH FORWARD: The totalitarian black worn by the United States Police Force (adorned with their omnipresent logo, a stylized eagle) is pretty similar to all-too-familiar riot gear worn in almost any other decade past or present. But the most obvious examples of extremely dated fashion appearing in this 1997 are the mohawk-wearing ’80s punks that litter the streets of New York. I doubt even the most down-and-out crook in Manhattan would have been caught dead wearing spandex and a spiky hairdo in our late ’90s. In Russell’s case, his outfit doesn’t exactly contradict any ’90s realities, and it is one of the more memorable “cool” ensembles worn by an action hero (Russell was proud of the fact that he could still wear the identical sprayed-on gear in the sequel).
IN CONCLUSION: As we can see from just a few examples, predicting the future is a tricky business, and it’s the job of science fiction to speculate about what the years ahead hold for us, good or bad. ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is a rather bleak view of where our country may be heading as freedom is slowly curtailed and crime spins wildly out of control. There are the clichéd images certain to place any film firmly in the post-apocalyptic genre, such as the ever-present ‘car-b-ques’ and the mobs of disheveled wanderers pelting newcomers with rocks (a scene that takes place on Broadway, so it’s fairly accurate) and prowling the night looking for food (incidentally, these night raiders are referred to as “crazies;” together with characters named “Cronenberg” and “Romero,” Carpenter maintained a tradition of paying homage to friends and fellow filmmakers).
Most importantly, we see a blend of a possible future mixed with the fears and sensibilities of the time in which that future was conceived. In this case, our 1997 was worlds better than the one seen in ESCAPE, which is merely John Carpenter’s twisted view of 1981…or was it a glimpse of a future we just hadn’t quite reached yet? Take a look around in 2016 and you tell me. Oh, and put out that cigarette.
Director: Dwight H. Little
Writers: Alan B. McElroy, Danny Lipsius, Larry Rattner, Benjamin Ruffner
Starring: Donald Pleasence, Ellie Cornell, Danielle Harris, Beau Starr, George Wilbur
On a rainy night in 1988, the Shape is about to be moved from the medical facility where he lay comatose for ten years since the concluding moments of HALLOWEEN II. One medic signs for the bandaged Michael Myers while another checks his blood pressure. They’re ready to move him. Then the music blasts from the screen – HALLOWEEN is back! It’s just like going home again.
One of the greatest fanboy thrills of my teen years was sitting in a darkened movie theater and seeing two doomed paramedics moving the dormant body of Michael Myers. HALLOWEEN III, while a fun experiment, was almost the death of this film series; no Myers was a no go at the box office. Finally, in 1988 producer Moustapha Akkad resurrected the Shape and reunited him with his tireless pursuer, Dr. Sam Loomis, once more played by Donald Pleasence. There was no chance Jamie Lee Curtis would return to the series – her career had to take a few more downturns before that would happen – but Loomis found allies in a new sheriff (Beau Starr) and a fresh bunch of young Haddonfield natives led by Rachel (Ellie Cornell) and her foster sister Jamie (Danielle Harris). Did I mention that Jamie is the late Laurie Strode’s daughter and Michael Myers’ niece? Yes, Michael has a new family member to kill, and the stage is set for good old-fashioned HALLOWEEN mayhem!
Michael has a new family member to kill, and the stage is set for good old-fashioned HALLOWEEN mayhem!
HALLOWEEN 4 ages pretty well. There are likable characters in Rachel and Jamie, and Loomis – now more deranged in his obsession with Myers and with scars from the hospital explosion at the end of HALLOWEEN II – has a chance to grow into a more complex and magnetic foe for the Shape, a Gerard to Myers’ FUGITIVE. Musically, the theme tune and “Laurie’s Theme” are used frequently and well, further tying this new installment into the HALLOWEEN universe. Recapturing some of the tone of the original, there’s only a small amount of actual blood or gore. Arguably the most violent sequence involves a rowdy bunch of Haddonfield redneck vigilantes incorrectly identifying a fellow gun-toter as Myers in the movie’s funniest scene. George Wilbur is also a decent enough Myers, although he lacks the distinctive body language created by Nick Castle and Dick Warlock.
The worst part? That mask! So begins what HALLOWEEN fans often consider the ultimate cross they must bear through every new sequel – enduring an endless parade of completely inaccurate mask sculpts that utterly fail to recapture the simple terror of the William Shatner white-face that started it all. The expressionless, way-too-clean version seen here lacks the scowl and twisted mouth of the original, robbing Myers of his trademark demonic visage…and what’s with the friggin’ ’70s sideburns? Now that’s pure evil! (And yes, I know he acquires this new mask in town early in this movie, but with an icon like the Shape, there’s no reason to reinvent the wheel. If Haddonfield can keep stocking the damn things despite all the history that builds up around them – surely residents must cringe to see the face of their own local Boogeyman in stores every Halloween – they can at least stock the right style!) Let’s not even talk about the awful shot at the school with the platinum blonde version of the mask that looks like a poorly executed tribute to Ben Tramer from HALLOWEEN II.
The concluding scene promised an all-new direction for the series that might have been fascinating but was never meant to be.
The ending is a brilliant parallel of events at the start of the first HALLOWEEN, and Loomis’ tortured screaming should send a chill down any fan’s spine. Unfortunately, the concluding scene also promised an all-new direction for the series that might have been fascinating but was never meant to be. Moviegoers were quite happy with HALLOWEEN 4, but they definitely wanted Michael Myers back at fighting strength for 5. There was no room for a new Shape, and Akkad wasn’t about to disappoint his audience. But soon enough, fans would rue the day they clamored for the revenge of Michael Myers…
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Writers: Tommy Lee Wallace, Nigel Kneale, John Carpenter
Starring: Tom Atkins, Stacey Nelkin, Dan O’Herlihy, Jamie Lee Curtis (the voice of Santa Mira), Tommy Lee Wallace (the voice of Silver Shamrock)
The petite but buxom Ellie Grimbridge (Stacey Nelkin) teams up with troubled alcoholic physician Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) to investigate the disappearance of her father. There’s a peculiar little toy factory churning out the coolest masks this Halloween, and every kid wants one. So why do the strangely emotionless minions of Silver Shamrock founder Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) seem so hellbent on murdering anyone who tries to uncover the secret behind their special Halloween promotion? And why does a kindly Irishman like Cochran have a full-size piece of Stonehenge sitting in a warehouse in company town Santa Mira (a nice reference to ’50s paranoid sci-fi tale INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS)? What demonic fusion of modern electronics and ancient Druidic rites will enable Cochran to resurrect the “true meaning” of Halloween and have a last laugh on the giggling trick-or-treating children of this great land of ours? Ooh, that Cochran! He’s one nasty warlock!
Wait a minute! Where’s Dr. Loomis? Where’s Laurie? No MICHAEL MYERS?! What the f***!
This movie has suffered much over the years. I admit that Michael Myers fan that I am, I too used to savage this film for committing the heinous crime of bearing the HALLOWEEN title and numbering but leaving out the horror icon himself. But with age comes maturity; I can now evaluate this for what it is – a self-contained Halloween-themed tale that attempted to take the series into anthology territory. It didn’t succeed, but it was an admirable effort. It’s also a damned nifty little chiller with a creepy Carpenter electronic score and a superb hammy turn by O’Herlihy. At times, Cochran is so giddy about the prospect of murdering millions of children that you just can’t help but root for the guy (well, maybe not), and that’s largely due to O’Herlihy’s delightful performance.
HALLOWEEN III is a damned nifty little chiller with a creepy Carpenter electronic score and a superb hammy turn by Dan O’Herlihy.
This installment ratchets up the gore and viciousness, with both adults and children stricken with electronically-enhanced magic and turned into exploding bags of flesh filled with bugs and snakes and all sorts of creepy crawlies. Eww! There’s also a drill to the temple, a hands-on decapitation and a few androids leaking yellow ichor, but nothing beats that early scene of Ellie’s father having his skull crushed. While we’re talking uncomfortable visuals, there’s the otherwise chaste sex scene between Nelkin and the craggy but heroic Tom Atkins, who gets to put his beefy hands all over the poor girl in a sequence that should give you more chills than any horrific Halloween trick Cochran could cook up.
As long as you’re willing to forget that this is part of a series at all, which it really isn’t, then you can enjoy SEASON OF THE WITCH on its own terms. It’s a great homage to UK horrorfests of the sort you might see on an old DOCTOR WHO (which regularly featured small towns controlled by ancient evil back in the 1970s, as did much of British fantasy television), not least because it was actually written by QUATERMASS creator Nigel Kneale. It also makes good use of Carpenter’s repertory group, musical skills, and talent for staging suspenseful sequences capped by sickening, bloody deaths.
Just imagine if Cochran had access to cable or the Internet (there’s your remake premise)!
Everything leads up to a Bondian final confrontation in Cochran’s factory, and while the warlock’s grand plan crumbles around him, Challis discovers that saving the world isn’t as easy as movie heroes make it seem. Then again, he has only three networks to call as he struggles to get the deadly Silver Shamrock commercials off the air; just imagine if Cochran had access to cable or the Internet (there’s your remake premise)!
Although Carpenter has often been quoted as listing THE THING, PRINCE OF DARKNESS, and IN THE MOUTH OF MADNESS as his three “End of the World” movies, this dark fairy tale comes damn close to an apocalypse itself. Can you imagine the clean-up on November 1st? Ugh. Now let’s all sing along: “One more day to Halloween, Halloween, Halloween! One more day to Halloween, Silver Shamrock!” Watch the magic pumpkin…watch…