I think a filmmaker like John Carpenter might know something of what I'm talking about. At one point he found himself on the receiving end of a Hollywood's sequelitis complex. The difference is he may have had only himself to blame. In 1978, Carpenter made his name with the release of Halloween. It remains something of a rare anomaly in the field of the slasher genre. Unlike a lot of the knock-offs and imitations it spawned, Carpenter's original narrative somehow manages to avoid a lot of the pitfalls that mar a great majority of films that came in it's wake. I'm afraid the same can't be said about the sequel that came a few years later. I can remember being willing to give Carpenter a second chance as far as a follow up was concerned. I wound up tuning out and turning off Halloween 2 somewhere near the middle of the whole thing. It's kind of obvious that Carpenter's heart isn't really in it the way it was the first time. The plot lumbers along with the struggle he had in coming up with a usable sequence of events that would pad out a standard movie-house runtime. The director later admitted that when he wrapped up the first film, a sequel wasn't strictly a part of the package.
The trouble for Carpenter was that he chose to end his film on a shot that more or less begged a sequel of some kind. To be fair, Carpenter did claim that the ending was meant to be taken on something like a symbolic level. The disappearance of that film's villain, the now iconic Michael Myers, was meant to suggest the pervasiveness of evil, or a palpable sense of threat. I suppose it means Carpenter's real trouble stems from the fact that sometimes most audiences can only read symbols on their most literal level. Either way, fans were left wanting to know what happens next. Over the following decade, each sequel detailing Michael's twisted life and exploits made everyone less anxious to find out what happens as time went on. The original Halloween saga came to its inglorious end with Busta Rhymes kung fu-ing the Shape into cinematic irrelevance. Rob Zombie tried to give the mythos his own spin, and as a result we don't talk about that particular episode.
On October 31st of 1978, a series of murders were committed in the small Illinois community of Haddonfield. A patient of the local Smith's Grove Sanitarium, one Michael Myers, somehow managed to escape his permanent incarceration and make his way back to his old hometown. The patient used this opportunity to commit a series of heinous acts against four high school teenagers who were also friends. Of Myers's victims, only one of them, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) managed to escape that All Hallows night with her life. Myers was apprehended not long after his terrorizing of Strode and her young charges by the Haddonfield police force.
Ever since that night Myers has been re-interred as a patient in Smith's Grove. He has never uttered a word in all that time. Mrs. Strode currently resides as a recluse just outside of her hometown. Though she has married and raised a daughter (Judy Greer) of her own, it is theorized that her encounters with Myers has left an indelible traumatic effect on her mental state. Town citizens report that Mrs. Strode has the reputation for being something of a paranoiac. Her relations with her own daughter are said to be strained.
Due to recent budget cuts, Smith's Grove will soon be closing it's doors and services for good. It's entire roster of patients, Myers among them, are scheduled for relocation in the nearest local penitentiary. While there may be a certain amount of speculation as to what benefits such a change will make for the former patients, the major concern of the moment is the reports we've been received as events unfold.
We've received a bulletin from the Haddonfield Sheriff's Dept. about a vehicular accident just outside the city limits. The vehicle in question is stated as a bus, the Smith's Grove prisoner transport. Every patient on that bus has been re-claimed and accounted for except one. As of now, the patient known as the Babysitter Killer, Michael Myers, is believed to be loose and is suspected to be somewhere in or around the vicinity of Haddonfield. Law Enforcement authorities are asking that parents take special care of their children, and that anyone with any possible information as to Myers's whereabouts should report his presence to the Sheriff's Dept. immediately. Do not try to confront him on your own. This man is dangerous, and has taken the life of more than one person in the past. Above all, be safe, and have a very Happy Halloween.
Trick or Treat?
I'm willing to admit that sequels can have a place in the grand scheme of spinning yarns. The trouble is to know when they may be necessary or just superfluous. Films like Hook or The Color of Money earn their places by being more or less well done. I can even think of a few other minor examples I'm willing to give a passing grade. However when do you reach the point where you realize things have been dragged out too far, and every last drop of creative inspiration or invention has been wrung dry from a good idea? That's the inherent challenge facing every sequel, I think. The audience is always left with a sort of wheat and chaff deal. Their stuck having read the entrails in order to find out whether the next installment is a waste of time, and which one has the goods. So how does Green's version turn out when it's placed under the microscope?
It's true that I might have a few minor critiques. The surprising part is that I'm not sure these issues are anything like a deal breaker for me. One of the first things that jumps out at the viewer is just how fast this movie is in comparison to Carpenter's slow burn, accumulative case of of the creeps approach. I often find that the latter pacing works best for the Horror genre because it is ideal for turning up the dials on the audience's anxiety. This works especially if you can introduce the horror into the scene, and then just leave it there, knowing it could strike at any moment.
As a contrast, Green starts everything off on a similar pace. We are allowed to enter Smith's Grove and gain a sense of the layout. We are shown snatches and glimpses of both the staff and patients and see the basically unhealthy environment that both coexist in. Then we are taken to Michael, played by original actor Nick Castle in a rather clever cameo. From there we are allowed to catch up with Laurie and the strained nature of her current family life. It is in these scenes that Green introduces a thematic question. Can the violence of one monster turn his victim into yet another monster? The question itself is intriguing enough that it can produce an interesting story if handled right.
I have to wonder if Green and his partner in crime, Danny McBride, underwent a similar thought process in trying to flesh this film out. This may account for why the director has decided to play things a little more straight-forward. That's not a bad thing, though it does sort of shoot his idea of the victim turned monster in the foot. While he does mention the concept, it's obvious that we are meant to be on Laurie's side from the very beginning, with little doubt that she's always more or less in the right. As a result we are left to see how well the script develops the new characters into the mix.
Laurie's daughter, Karen, is perhaps one of those moments where the script could have been fleshed out. Karen isn't a bad idea, in and of herself, however once the two main leads are established, it does mean the rest of the cast tends to take a back seat. That's a shame because if there was ever any spot that afforded audiences an opportunity to reconnect with Laurie as a character, then it would be in her interactions with her own daughter and her grandchild, Allyson (Andi Matichak). The sad part is that a little thought makes it easy to see why the filmmakers didn't choose to slow things down for the characters a bit more. McBride and Green must have had their eyes on the other films the whole time they were writing this script. They had to have been aware of all the negative backlash that H20 received on it's release. That meant the goal they set for themselves was to try and revamp that same scenario while trying to avoid all its mistakes. Since audiences really didn't like the way Laurie's home life was handled in H20, the filmmakers decided the best course of action was to place as little focus on her family as possible.
I honestly can't tell what's worse here. The fact that an interesting set of characters didn't get all the justice they probably should have deserved, or else the fact that most audiences seemed to agree with Green and McBride's choice. I can see and understand why you'd want to avoid the mistakes of your predecessors. I'm just less sure why characterization has to be part of the sacrifice. The curious part is this. While it's true we never get as much time with the characters as I might have liked, it strangely doesn't ruin the proceedings for me.
If there is one scene I had to cite as the ultimate WTF moment, then it is one that comes perhaps somewhere just before the final act. It involves, Michael, a police deputy and a character Laurie characterizes at one point as "The New Loomis". Despite this setup and the name tag, there's a bit more here than meets the eye. I've decided not to go into too much detail so as not to spoil anything. However I'm not sure whether I'm doing this because it is something you don't want to miss, or else just because it is so out of left field that I'm afraid some viewers will mentally check out at that point. Let's just say you'll know the scene when it happens, because nothing in it goes in any way like you might be expecting. I can see how it might be a deal breaker for some. The curious part is that it didn't ruin the whole thing for me. Yes, I kind of found myself rolling my eyes as this particular moment played out. The good news is that it never outstays it's welcome. Once it is over with, we are back to the main crux of the story, and it is here where I think the film's biggest strengths pay-off.
Nitpicks aside, what we have here is a neat little character study between two outcasts and how their traumatic pasts shapes and molds their eventual reunion in the present. Without giving too much away, the ending is where all the film's strengths come into play. Green and McBride are to be commended for finding ways to make their finale both an echo and reflection of the denouement of Carpenter's original. Another interesting part of this final sequence is that it is the first time I can ever recall the Shape being caught in a moment of indecision and uncertainty. Every other time I've seen this character, Michael always comes off as more of a force of nature that is able to flit about the scenery without a care in the world. He was often treated as a prop, like a mannequin or an automaton. Someone who always knew what to do the moment he arrived on the scene and never had to give anything a second thought. Green and McBride present the first example I know where Michael is thrown off balance. We see him give a confused pause, then look around, unsure of what to do next. From there on, his moves become much slower and cautious, and mostly trying to second guess his targets. It's an astonishingly interesting and welcome character note for the Shape.