As I write this I’m listening to the the score for the latest instalment of the Halloween franchise—another unnecessary sequel that presupposes the previous unnecessary sequels don’t exist…and were unnecessary? I think I saw H20 at a drive-in with Blade? Was Josh Hartnett Laurie’s college-age son? I’m not looking it up, but it was probably great at attempting to fit Myers into Scream. I wanted to revisit the original before seeing Green & McBride’s attempt at recreating its texture. It’s scored/composed by John Carpenter, so at the very least it’ll sound good and have some following shots.
It’s been a few years since I watched the original Halloween. I don’t know whether I’ve ever actually watched it watched it though. It’s one of those films that’s really difficult to talk about if you saw it for the first time after having spent years watching everything that was born out of the ripples it created. It’s a whole genre! I also co-host a podcast with someone who knows a thing or one-thousand about Carpenter’s oeuvre (Ewww-vre) and I’m not above admitting I’m already embarrassed imagining him reading this. Since its been minute—and the movie doesn’t rank that high for me in Carpenter’s body of—I’ve attempted to look at it with some distance.
Dr. Loomis parks in a handicap spot when returning to the Smith's Grove Sanitarium to chastise its administrator for failing to prevent the escape of Michael Myers—the patient Dr. Loomis spent fifteen years failing to reach. He’s exasperated and clearly terrified, but it’s still not cool. It’s a detail that made the character’s humanity lock into place in a away it hadn’t before. Watching the movie this time, the reality of Dr. Loomis’ obsession with this case, and fact that it has probably ruined his life/career became a lot more central for me—and a lot funnier/scarier? Pleasance plays him frayed, eyes darting, ready to pull the gun he never pointed at a living thing from jump. He’s a tragic figure. Is Myers pure evil simply because Dr. Loomis couldn’t reach him? Is this all Loomis has left?
The opening pov scene and present day hospital escape sequence aside, this movie spends its first half in broad daylight. The camera (Dean Cundey!) floats down small town residential streets to the pulse of Carpenter’s score. The shots of empty Haddonfield streets right before we’re introduced to Laurie Strode are some of the most unsettling images in the movie. The establishing shots! Ext. Empty street. Morning! Stillness in anticipation. The camera was a person for the first five minutes so now everything feels like watching.
Michael behind the clothesline. Michael across the street from the high school while a teacher repeats “fate” way too many times. Michael at the end of the block, half obscured by a hedge (the best shot in the movie!) At a distance but reaching out with that blank face. Not yet the face of the franchise it would become. Here it’s random. Pushing through the shadows in darkened doorways. Obscured by a foregrounded future victim, then gone. Carpenter choosing to linger on Myers tilting his head from side to side in silhouetted profile after lifting a teenager off the ground and sticking him to a door with a knife. It’s moments like this that separate the movie from everything that came after. The stillness and distance. This is “pre-rules” horror.
Horror movie third acts almost never work for me, and this one is mostly no different. Everything gets too close. Too direct and jump scare laden. It’s in the open now and knowing removes some edge. The closet is still the closet. Terrifying. Agonizing in its confinement. An iconic image that shows up in the third act of Alien. Loomis shooting Myers 5-6 times feels like one of those things every horror movie after took too far and—even farther. Like a desperate attempt to sell the inhuman resilience. Shooting him once in the face and having the body gone would have been enough!
What makes the end of the movie resonate is the shot by shot pull-back from the proceedings with Myers breathing laid over it. The expression that washes over Loomis’ face. The body’s gone but he’s still out there. Freed from the cage. It’s like we’ve returned to the pov that we entered into the movie in, only now its presence has overtaken the tether of the roaming camera, hard cuts free of perspective. Everywhere. If this were the end it’d be so much more powerful.
Morgan Jeske is an artist living in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Train To Busan (2016)
Train To Busan lays it on pretty thick, and you’re either going to hate how obvious and saccharine it is (fine, I get that), or you’re going to get swept up and taken for a big stupid ride (me). I loved our main dude, the shitty dad that requires a literal zombie attack to realize that caring about others is good and that being hung up on business is bad. I remember at one point I was like, “This movie is pretty fun, but it stand to be a little meaner.” Then in like the next scene our main dude locks a man and his pregnant wife out of the safe train car as they’re being pursued by zombies! WHAT A DICK! I mean he quickly gets shamed into opening the door for them but in that moment I was thrilled at how heartless that could have been. Train To Busan is not the cold, indifferent movie I thought I wanted it to be, and I still maintain that it could be meaner. The movie is filled with these kinds of moments where something really mean spirited happens but then it’s quickly mitigated in a kind of hasty apology to you, the viewer, for stressing you out so bad. Like when our main group finally catches up with the car that doesn’t have zombies in it, but then they get kicked out by the other survivors because this piece of shit CEO convinces everyone that our group of dudes could be infected (they’re not). Maybe a heavy handed metaphor for refugees and also a deeply mean moment, but it’s immediately reversed when the safe car gets swarmed by zombies right after our heroes make their pitiful exit. It’s vindicating, sure, but I can’t stop thinking about how ready I was to feel so so bad. This is maybe a personal problem.
I haven’t seen every single zombie movie ever made but here’s a question: are zombie movies leftist? I mean, I’m being glib here, but Train To Busan definitely feels like it. The entire movie is spent harping on the idea of individualism and capitalism being inherently selfish and destructive. The worst characters in here are the ones who are only in it for themselves, bitter old fucks who think they deserve to survive more than the next guy. The good guys are the ones who risk staying behind to make sure that everyone, even the pricks, make it to the next set piece. They’re thinking about the good of the collective!
The Strangers (2008)
There are these super scary parts in Halloween (1978) where the scare happens from just having Michael Myers appear into frame, the suggestion that he’s been standing there watching you the whole time. The Strangers is an entire movie’s worth of this feeling. It’s this feeling that this evil can get to you whenever it wants, and on top of that this evil chose you on a lark. You didn’t do anything. You were minding your own business, living your life, and these killers chose you because you were ones who happened to be home that night. You’re prey and that’s all you ever were, even in the moments when you felt untouchable and safe they were there just waiting. The Strangers has the look of a run of the mill slasher/home invasion movie, but it’s also a cut above the rest at depicting this fear that maybe deep down, when you’re placed in this situation where you have to fight for your survival, that you’ll be too weak, that the other guy is going to be faster, stronger, and smarter than you. The killers in The Strangers are an embodiment of the worst and most malicious aspects of humanity. We never see their faces, so it’s easier to view them more as a broad idea, a metaphor, an allegory, but whatever it is, they’re not “us.” “Us” is Kristen and James, real people who are imperfect, real people who we’re meant to identify with. We’re supposed to see ourselves as these two characters, trapped with a bunch of killers, trying to outwit them and out fight them, and ultimately failing. It’s bleak, but I loved that feeling of being placed in these characters’ shoes and not only feeling helpless, but also that idea of realizing that you’re going to lose, you’re going to fail, and you’re going to die.
The Boy (2016)
What the fuck. Look, I’m gonna spoil The Boy here for you, not because I want to but because I must: The titular The Boy is not the doll from the trailer and posters. The Boy is actually an emotionally stunted man-child who has been living in the crawlspace of this massive old mansion, popping in and out of the walls to cause mischief and be a creep. Here’s the best part: HE WEARS A HOMEMADE MASK TO LOOK LIKE THE DOLL FROM THE POSTERS OF THE MOVIE THE BOY. Can you believe this?? I can’t believe that that part hadn’t been spoiled for me! Truly a charmed life I live. It’s close to being that kind of so bad it’s good movie, but I think it ultimately just ends up being bad.
Here are some qualms I had with The Boy: It’s too quiet throughout, then when a scary thing happens it gets super loud, an incredible way to make cheap scares cheaper. Please stop making me adjust the volume settings, hack horror movies! Also, I have no problem with Lauren Cohan, but was it necessary for her to be this bumbling American in the English countryside? I guess the idea is that she’s on the run from her shitty ex boyfriend or whatever and her being American makes her feel like more of a fish out of water in this stodgy British setting, so maybe I get that. I’d definitely prefer an over the top American reaction of incredulity to the idea of these old people treating a doll like it’s their son, so whatever maybe that’s not a qualm, sorry Lauren Cohan. What’s definitely a qualm though is that twist of The Boy being a man. A really poor and bizarre choice that kind of undermines the weirdness of the concept, the only real good thing this movie had going for it. I don’t know, make the doll haunted, it’s fine if the doll is haunted. Or make it like these sick old people playing a perverted prank on this woman. It could be a weird old people sex kink, I don’t know, anything but this thing where The Boy is just a guy that she can defeat with some luck and quick thinking. It’s ultimately disappointing because it feels like a bait and switch where it starts out with all this weird creepy uncanny potential and what we end up with is the same final act of every played out slasher.
THE WIDE WORLD OF MOVIE DIARY 2018
Friends, did you know that former special guest Caroline Golum is also an accomplished director? Her movie A Feast Of Man is playing now at Brooklyn’s very own Spectacle! If you’re in the area, make sure to check it out, it rules!