Friday 26 October 2018


Directed by: David Gordon Green, Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judie Greer, Andi Matichak. Horror.  US 2018, 106mins, Cert 18.

This review contains spoilers.

Following the opening credits, a couple of true-crime podcasters drive out to Laurie Strode’s fortified farmhouse on the outskirts of Haddonfield. Via intercom they try to persuade Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) to grant them an interview without success until they offer her money, at which point the barbed wire entry fence slides open. If ever there was a metaphor for this clunky cash-grab retcon then surely this scene is it.

Director David Gordon Green and fellow writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley (who between them have zero previous genre experience) eschew everything from the last minute of Carpenter’s original right through to all the insipid sequels that followed in its wake. By doing so this allows them to ignore HALLOWEEN II’s soap-opera reveal that Laurie was Michael’s sister. It also gives them a free pass to drop HALLOWEEN 4’s lame take that Laurie died in an off-screen car crash, and consign to fandom history Laurie’s (on-screen) death at the hands of brother Mikey at the beginning of HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION. Not to mention HALLOWEEN 6’s cult of Thorn druid nonsense – so let’s not.

Instead, the revisionist premise is that Michael Myers, aka ‘The Shape’ (James Jude Courtney), was taken into custody that night forty years ago and has been incarcerated at Smith's Grove Sanitarium ever since. Michael’s psychiatrist Dr Sartain (“the new Loomis” as dubbed by Laurie) grants two podcasters access to try (unsuccessfully) to interview Myers - but not even producing his original aged mask gets a rise from him – so instead they set off to interview Laurie Strode. Still suffering from the trauma of the events of that fateful Halloween night, Laurie is now an agoraphobic recluse, hiding behind surveillance cameras, barbed-wire fences and a secret basement beneath her kitchen housing an arsenal of guns and rifles even Sarah Connor would be impressed by. Two failed marriages have come and gone in the intervening years, along with a visit from social services who removed her daughter Karen (Judy Greer). Karen now has an unbearably annoying  husband, Ray ( Toby Huss), and a teenage daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Allyson’s grandmother has spent the last forty years waiting for Michael Myers return. Naturally, no one buys into her obsession until the bus transporting Myers to another institution crashes and the night Laurie has been preparing for arrives...   

Of course it would be unreasonable to expect director Green and his writers to be able to recapture the lightning in the bottle of John Carpenter’s seminal slasher classic. But, if you have the temerity to call your film: HALLOWEEN, not Halloween 2, not Halloween H20 etc, if you replicate the title card and opening credits and you enlist Carpenter himself to not only re-score his original themes but also wheel him out at press junkets to bestow his papal-like seal of approval, you should at least make a decent stab (pun-intended) at honouring the original work you’re riding on the coattails of.

The film fatally fails to generate a modicum of suspense until the final showdown in Laurie’s fortress before granny, daughter and granddaughter form a three-generational female musketeer tag-team to shoot, stab and burn up Haddonfield’s bogeyman. Key scenes and potential moments are squandered and fluffed by Green’s sloppy choreography and over-eagerness to rush to the next damp squib of a set-piece. The credit sequence arrives inexplicably out of beat after an underwhelming opening scene in the sanitarium recreational yard which looked promising in the trailer but dissipates into an anti-climax.

A key-scene happens off-screen, Myer’s escape from the crashed asylum bus, cheating us out of a pivotal narrative moment. I read somewhere test audiences didn’t care for the original cut which had Laurie causing the crash herself. Whilst I can’t substantiate this, it would have made more sense psychologically that Laurie’s untreated PTSD ultimately resulted in a self-fulfilling prophecy rather than the laughable left-field twist later on with Dr Sartain. Three writers and that’s the best deus ex machina they can come up with in order to set Myers free on his slaughterthon? Anyhow, the bus crashes, and a clumsily blurred re-staging of Michael’s forcible acquisition of a vehicle unfolds, featuring the logically unnecessary onscreen dispatching of a pre-teen child. The US right-wing media have cried hypocrisy for Curtis’ onscreen utilisation of guns, but far from glorifying the weaponry or suggesting it’s a legitimate method of self-defence, the NRA would do well to take note that guns can’t kill The Shape. Further to which, randomly-written-rifle-toting-boy only manages to accidentally shoot Dr. Sartain before being brutally dispatched by Myers. It’s undoubtedly an initial jolt to the system (major studio film folks!) – albeit hardly groundbreaking to true Carpenter aficionados – but it’s clear Green is setting out his stall here and now. Given the green (ahem) light for a hard ‘R’ rating, an over-reliance on violence and gore will take precedence over even one well-crafted scare. Even then some of the cartoonish over-the-top splatstick make-up effects feel uncharacteristically off-kilter with The Shapes’ previous modus operandi.

Green and his writers then commit the cardinal sin of failing to write sympathetic characterisations for any of Michael’s victims in this film. Allyson’s boyfriend’s brief character arc takes an abrupt shift into full-on dickhead mode at a party; solely it seems to service the plot by rendering her mobile phone unusable and Allyson temporarily oblivious to Myers exploits downtown. Her ‘supportive’ friend Oscar walks her home and once again abruptly switches to complete jerk-mode by making a move on her. This is also necessary in order to isolate him from Allyson so Michael can impale him on a fence. And then there’s Allyson’s dad - also a completely ignorant jerk: “I’ve got peanut butter on my penis!” (these are the jokes folks by the way). His implausible actions unsurprisingly result in his death; unfortunately, strangulation by cow-bells wasn’t as karmically satisfying as I’d hoped for. And as for the cops discussing the contents of their respective sandwich boxes – well words just fail me.

But what of Michael himself? Apart from a brief cameo from Nick Castle, James Jude Courtney dons the Captain Kirk mask for the majority of the running time. The mask’s aged and weathered rendering is a visual reflection that Laurie is facing an older nemesis. Courtney isn’t done any favours by director Green who rather than keeping him in the shadows and corners of the ‘scope screen - which was Carpenter’s masterstroke - instead stalks him by steadicam, at one point in a continuous tracking shot which results in two random kills across two households which are staged in such a matter of fact way it feels like we are participating in a Halloween walk-through at Universal Studios. The closet scene is ruined by virtue of the trailer, although it too looks like a haunted house gag at first.

Jamie Lee Curtis admitted in an interview with Variety that H20 “...ended up being a money gig...It talked about alcoholism and trauma, but I just did it for the money”. I’d argue that H20 tackled the subject of PTSD in greater depth than HALLOWEEN (2018). There’s little actual meat on the bone for her character Laurie besides recreating key moments from the original by inverting those scenes whereby she’s now in Myer’s place, e.g. watching her granddaughter in class from across the street, or disappearing from the lawn after a fall when Michael peers over the balcony. (Admittedly these are nice touches, although ultimately they just serve as callback reminders to confirm how vastly superior the original was.) There’s only one actual glimpse of footage from Carpenter’s 1978 film, the murder of Judith Myers by the young Michael. Bizarrely, the writers have decided to big up the ‘facts’ by adding further grisly details as to what Judith’s younger sibling supposedly did to her. Narrated by podcaster Aaron, the footage (naturally) doesn’t bear any resemblance to what he is actual describing. Now that’s retcon, with the emphasis very much on ‘con’.

Carpenter’s revised and remixed score, in collaboration with son Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies is a fantastic pulsating celebration of electronic menace which rocks, unlike the accompanying visuals which sadly do not.

As the final end credits roll and just before the Universal logo returns, the sound of Michael’s breathing is introduced just in case anyone is in any doubt that a sequel is on the cards. Given the remarkable box-office haul already, I’d say it’s almost certain we’ll get another round with Michael and Laurie. Will John Carpenter be involved again? To quote from a Den of Geek interview when asked about sequels to any of his other films: “I don’t know, but I’m up for almost anything that involves money.” 

** (out of 5*)

Paul Worts

Saturday 6 October 2018

RIPPER TOUR (2018) (Short)

Directed by: Jason Read, Starring: Lynn Lowry, Dudley Sutton, Charlotte Mounter, Christopher Walker. Horror, UK 2018, 9mins.

A Robo Films & Misty Moon Production. 

“I guess horror was my destiny...”

Writer/director/cinematographer/editor/composer (phew!) Jason Read’s crowdfunded short is a cleverly conceived and executed take on the notorious Jack the Ripper murders which plagued the Whitechapel district of London in 1888. 

Setting his short, sharp and spooky story in the present day, Read gifts us with the character of Jackie (Jacqueline) Butcher, an American horror scream queen. Sitting in a East End cafe, Jackie (Lynn Lowry, THE CRAZIES, SHIVERS, MODEL HUNGER) explains to cafe owner Sam (Christopher Walker) that having attended a horror convention in London, she’s now planning on indulging in a little “real-world horror” by visiting the sites of the Ripper’s murders and sharing her tour live with her ‘Butcherooneys’ (fans) on Facebook. This isn’t just some random sight-seeing whim however, for Jackie’s great-grandfather used to have a butcher shop in Whitechapel before emigrating to America in 1889...

It’s not too hard to guess where Jackie Butcher’s misguided tour will take her, but it is undoubtedly great fun following Lynn Lowry’s character as she blithely re-traces a bloody past that’s ultimately a little too close to home for this particular ‘Butcher’.

Genre legend Lynn Lowry is simply fabulous as scream queen Jackie Butcher, reciting every gruesome detail with unbridled relish as she narrates her tour live into her selfie stick- mounted iPhone. Lowry serves up some juicy and witty dialogue e.g. “Keep an eye out for my new film, ‘Slitty Woman’ coming soon!” (an entirely plausible title given the smorgasbord of ripe genre titles on Lynn’s actual IMDb page). The ‘live’ Facebook interaction with fans, whose comments mount up on the screen along with the floating ‘likes’ is brilliantly realised, and Lowry totally sells the set-up with an irresistible twinkle in the eye.

The surprisingly effective shivers (“Behind you”) are provided by Lela Bergeron, Jen Morriss, Samantha Oci, Savannah Raye Jones and Charlotte Mounter - supplemented with some evocative make-up work from Maisie Palmer adding a layer of gravitas to their respective characters. Multi-talented Read layers the incrementally spooky narrative with an atmospherically haunting electronic soundtrack, channelling John Carpenter’s PRINCE OF DARKNESS which lends the proceedings heightened menace as twilight encroaches.

And then of course we have the glorious appearance from the one and only Dudley Sutton, sadly recently departed in real life, a genuine national treasure. Seeing him peer into the phone camera before maniacally laughing at the gradual realisation that his character will live on down the ages for all eternity is in a melancholic way a fitting tribute to a great artist who will be remembered with love and affection.

I particularly liked the fact that the cafe Jackie Butcher sets out from has a poster on the wall quoting Joseph (The ‘Elephant Man’) Merrick - fellow East End resident at the London Hospital around the time of the Ripper murders – a nice incidental detail. I also loved the cafe’s patrons being portrayed by the likes of the location photographer John Gaffen, Jen Morriss (enjoying a quick cuppa before playing Ripper victim Anni Chapman), and the producer and curator of Misty Moon, Stuart Morriss himself. It illustrates perfectly how this (very) modestly budgeted production was clearly a labour of love from a dedicated and close-knit team and I look forward to seeing Robo Films & Misty Moon future projects.
****(out of 5*)    
Paul Worts

P.S. to Jason Read, I just want to say to you: “dum dum diddy, dum dum do.” (Every time I watched RIPPER TOUR this got stuck in my head for hours).