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Halloween Kills (Green, 2021)



I'm not a diehard fan of the entire Halloween franchise, but I happen to think some of the sequels are pretty good. So when David Gordon Green "rebooted" the series with his sequel in 2018 that ignored all the other sequels, I was a little annoyed by the erasure of Rick Rosenthal's Halloween II, which I happen to think is a pretty strong example of its genre. But at the same time, I could mostly excuse this decision as I appreciated that the movie was having a direct conversation with John Carpenter's original, and while I found much of its exploration of the concept fairly self-defeating, it still worked as a fairly propulsive horror film with a good sense of narrative momentum and some effectively gnarly kills. Halloween Kills, which picks up right after that movie, shares the level of brutality of its predecessor, with a bevy of murders involving neck snaps, crushed skulls, blunt force trauma, fluorescent tubes to the neck as well as the requisite stabs, each of which seemingly has the foley artists working overtime. Carpenter's original is known for being fairly bloodless by the standards of the genre, with Michael Myers' strength demonstrated succinctly when he manages to lift one of his victims by the hilt of a knife. Green bludgeons you with ample graphic evidence of Myers' abilities. Gorehounds will be sated, is what I'm saying.

Unfortunately, in between those scenes, the movie is kind of a chore, and its erasure of Rosenthal's film annoyed me especially as it consciously invites the comparison, re-envisioning events right after the events of the original as well those of the 2018 film. Where Halloween II moves briskly, showing Myers attempting to continue his rampage while evading the police in its particularly thrilling first act, Halloween Kills stops the action every few minutes to tell us the significance of what's happening. The first time it happens, Anthony Michael Hall (playing Tommy Doyle, one of the kids babysat by Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode in the original, a role which was also played by Paul Rudd in The Curse of Michael Myers) dampens the mood during Halloween night at a bar with a not ineffective speech. I think Hall's casting is particularly astute, as his bulked-up physique could be read as an attempt by his character to gain a sense of control after the traumatic events of the original.

But every few minutes, somebody else gives a similar speech, again explaining what Michael Myers means to the community (The phrase "Evil dies tonight" is repeated ad nauseam.) Each of these is staged like fodder for a trailer, so that the movie never breathes dramatically. In Halloween: Resurrection, perhaps the series' least loved entry, Busta Rhymes elegantly explained that "Michael Myers is not a soundbite, spin-off, tie-in, some kind of celebrity scandal. Michael Myers is a killer shark, in baggy-ass overalls, who gets his kicks killing everything and everyone that he comes across. That's all." Not only would his speech not sound out of place here, it's less ungainly and on the nose than some of the ones here. Given the focus on community trauma and the self-defeating strategy of the previous film, I suspect this is Green's attempt to take on modern "elevated" horror films which prioritize theme over tension, but the fact is that some of those are still effective horror films and as a result Green's gambit is either disingenuous ("look at how bad my movie is, just like the ones I'm satirizing") or highlights his relative incompetence. Take your pick.

The previous movie had certain ideas about gun ownership that one could read a clear political stance into, even if the execution felt more in reference to genre tropes than the real world. This one turns its attention to police accountability and especially mob mentality, but while it ultimately indicts the latter, its handling jerks between pro- and anti-mob incidents in a way that seems schizophrenic more than subversive. (One could expect Dr. Hibbert to cry out "We've given the word 'mob' a bad name" and not find it out of place, given the movie's penchant for speechifying.) The mob element also results in a certain sprawl, which is structurally interesting (and allows Myers to rack up his kill count much faster) but takes us away from Curtis and Will Patton, whose relationship is only human element here that feels genuine. It's all pretty unfortunate, as when the movie decides to shut the hell up and commit to following something through, it can be pretty tense, like Patton's flashback to his encounter with Myers on the night of the original film's events. And when Myers is going about his murderous business, there is a baseline of entertainment value given Green's mean-spirited glee in executing these sequences.

And for a certain strain of horror fan, some of the references here might be enjoyable. The movie calls back to Halloween II with the death of a character dressed as a nurse (a nod to one of that movie's best known kills), and by finding a diegetic explanation for the changed appearance of Myers' mask. (While many of the sequels have used wildly different masks, The earlier film used the same one as the original. The reason that it looked drastically different is that in between the films, it was kept under the mattress of producer Debra Hill, who happened to be a chainsmoker.) Here the explanation is that the mask is burned along with Myers, which brings to mind another line from the great Busta Rhymes in Resurrection:"Looking a little crispy over there, Mikey. Like some chicken-fried mother****er." (We need to bring back Busta, is what I'm saying. Let's get this trending, people!) The use of a firefighter's saw in one sequence also brings to mind High Tension, which has similarly gruesome murders. Both Halloween II and High Tension are substantially more tense than this one (and Resurrection, while far from "good", is much funnier whenever Busta Rhymes is onscreen), but the movie does refer to at least one movie that's much worse, when a character's arm is severed after he falls to his death in a gruesome riff on the most memorably cheap moment in Zombie Holocaust. Take that, Marino Girolami!




I can imagine any Halloween sequel being substantially improved by a moment where Busta goes "Trick or treat... mother****a!", personally.



Setsuko Hara is my co-pilot
Speaking of pink, have toy seen a movie called High Noon Ripper?
Sure. It's good but I've seen better pinks.
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I can imagine any Halloween sequel being substantially improved by a moment where Busta goes "Trick or treat... mother****a!", personally.
He just wanted to get back to watching his kung fu movie. More relatable than 90% of slasher movie protagonists.



My experience with the Halloween franchise is weird in that I think the original is a deserved classic, Season of the Witch a deserving cult classic, and even though Halloween II really isn't much to talk about, it's at least competent and is probably better than a good number of early 80's slashers.


But, outside of the Zombie remakes, I don't think I've sat through any of the others. And it would never even occur for me to do so. I think I've seen random fragments from a few of them, and my memory of them is that they lack any kind of discernable personality. Even more so than F13 and Nightmare and even Texas Chainsaw, each of which have their different phases and approaches to the material, Halloweeen movies just feel like product. And I just get annoyed thinking about them.


But, weirdly, it arguably has the strongest top three out of any of the major slasher franchises (Nightmare being the only other one at all in contention)



While I'm mixed on them, I think the David Gordon Green ones have some personality.


The Miramax/Dimension ones are obvious hackwork. I think H20 is okay, and enjoyed Busta Rhymes in Resurrection, but the generic 90s/2000s slickness takes a lot of fun out of them. At best, they're good "hangover movies" to use a phrase from We Hate Movies (I.e. reasonably well paced and not too obnoxious).


Never watched 4 or 5.



While I'm mixed on them, I think the David Gordon Green ones have some personality.


The Miramax/Dimension ones are obvious hackwork. I think H20 is okay, and enjoyed Busta Rhymes in Resurrection, but the generic 90s/2000s slickness takes a lot of fun out of them. At best, they're good "hangover movies" to use a phrase from We Hate Movies (I.e. reasonably well paced and not too obnoxious).


Never watched 4 or 5.

I haven't seen anything beyond the trailers of the Green ones. But I have a friend who saw the first one, and he knew exactly how to put me off of it forever. Something to do with some kind of tacky musical cue, or some kind of cute nonsense that would be my krypronite.



I haven't seen anything beyond the trailers of the Green ones. But I have a friend who saw the first one, and he knew exactly how to put me off of it forever. Something to do with some kind of tacky musical cue, or some kind of cute nonsense that would be my krypronite.
Was it


WARNING: spoilers below
"You're gonna die, Dave!"



?


Because I was laughing unreasonably hard in the theatre after that line.



Was it


WARNING: spoilers below
"You're gonna die, Dave!"



?


Because I was laughing unreasonably hard in the theatre after that line.

I can't even remember. I just know he didn't even finish his sentence before he'd made his point that it wasn't for me. He seemed almost disgusted with me when I had said I thought the trailer looked half decent and so with laser like precision he cut that urge out of me.



I can't even remember. I just know he didn't even finish his sentence before he'd made his point that it wasn't for me. He seemed almost disgusted with me when I had said I thought the trailer looked half decent and so with laser like precision he cut that urge out of me.
What the hell


Dude, just watch the movie


It's on the Netflix



You will definitely like it better than, I dunno, the Conjuring


And then watch the sequel so you can see how correct my opinion is



What the hell


Dude, just watch the movie


It's on the Netflix



You will definitely like it better than, I dunno, the Conjuring


And then watch the sequel so you can see how correct my opinion is

But...where's the fun in other people being correct??



But...where's the fun in other people being correct??
It's fun for the other person.



Really? I mean, I do think it's good, but next to Warrior or Fury Road...

I meant to just be referring to the original trilogy.


I'd probably definitely put Fury Road above it. But, admittedly, there is a flashiness to that one I do find a little over done at times. Where as the original Mad Max really knows how to be stylish very simply, and which is generally kind of more my jam, FR is a little unrelenting in that department.



Fury Road is the kind of beautiful extravagence that one can't help making an exception for though. So I won't be too dumb here.



Microwave Massacre (Berwick, 1979)



The movie opens with a vaguely sinister shot of a large, state-of-the-art microwave. Given the title, we begin to have our concerns about what exactly this device will be used for, but this is the closest Microwave Massacre will get stylistically to a conventional horror movie. As the opening credits start rolling, we get treated to extremely attentive close-ups of certain parts of a very pneumatic woman's anatomy undulating as she skips along. Now, I am not above enjoying movies for prurient reasons, but I appreciate if they try to maintain some semblance of dignity when delivering these elements. There is no such dignity here. (Michael Bay would blush.) Anyway, this woman finds herself in a construction site with her breasts pushing through a hole in the wall, which attracts the attention of some nearby workers. (In the first few months of the pandemic, British Columbia Centre for Disease Control recommended the use of glory holes as a way to practice relations while mitigating the risk of COVID transmission. My guess is that the hole here would likely not be regulation. But I also live in Ontario where no such guidance was issued as far as I'm aware, although I must note that I didn't pay too much attention as I can think of few things less appealing than hearing our Premier talk about such matters.) However, this hubbub does not attract the attention of our protagonist, who seems preoccupied by his unsatisfactory lunch, a crab prop wedged between two slices of bread ("The little critter just followed me here").

You see, his shrill, harpyish wife likes to experiment with her cooking (she fancies herself herself a "conno-sewer") and subjects him to the results (usually accompanied by horrifically mangled French), much to his dismay. One day he has enough and ends up beating her to death with a saltshaker. Later, after carving her up in order to dispose of the body, in the throes of a late night craving, he grabs something half asleep out of the fridge. Only problem is that it's her hand and now he has a craving for human flesh, which he proceeds to feed by murdering and cooking hookers ("I'm so hungry I could eat a whore") sometimes sharing the results with his coworkers. All of this could be played disturbingly, but the tone here is like a bad sitcom, with most of the proceedings accompanied by the lamest, most obvious wisecracks. A good example, from a conversation with his wife:

"Some men, you should know, still find me attractive."

"How would I know them? I didn't attend the braille institute."
And let us not forget his attempted confession to his psychiatrist, who confuses his cannibalism for an interest in oral sex. The humour is so unbelievably lame that it kind of crosses over into being pretty funny. I realize ninety percent of people will find this terrible (and that seems to be the consensus in my little internet circle), but I laughed often. Sometimes a movie breaks through your defenses.

That being said, I do think there's something to the way the movie frames its horror as stale comedy. I'm sure you can cite any number of sitcoms where the loser husband is antagonized by his monstrous spouse. (My primary reference point for this trope is Everybody Loves Raymond, which I consumed in large quantities during my early high school years as it was on syndication but stopped watching after a bad fever when the show's de rigueur shouting matches proved a bit too much for my feeble constitution. Also, I'm not much of a Family Guy fan, but it nailed the show's dynamic pretty nicely in a throwaway gag.) There is something ugly in the centre of these domestic situations, which the movie is aware of. Using the flat, almost cheerful style of these shows to depict a tale of uxoricide and cannibalism, it lays bare the misogyny embedded in that trope.

And the movie ensures that we never really root for the main character by excising any potentially appealing qualities. As played by Jackie Vernon, best known for playing Frosty the Snowman in Frosty the Snowman, this is the most debased, sad sack, unappealing, total loser protagonist I can remember seeing in a movie. One look at this guy and you can feel the stale sweat and body odour wafting through the screen. Also, I don't mean to be insensitive, but he also looks like he might have a heart attack at any given moment, which the movie leans into. It is not a flattering performance in any respect, but just right for the movie. I've seen him compared to Rodney Dangerfield, who was the first choice for the role, but the key differences are that a) Rodney is funny and Jackie Vernon is not and b) Rodney delivers his jokes with a certain level of forcefulness while Jackie Vernon metes them out like air leaving a deflating balloon, as if he's resigned from any real semblance of humanity. There's a void at the centre of this movie, which gives it a power somewhat akin to a lowbrow Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (but, you know, not nearly as potent; I cannot stress enough how wide the gulf in quality between the two films is). Microwave Massacre isn't a terribly witty or energetic affair, and doesn't have the benefit of a charismatic lead, but these shortcomings arguably lend the material a sense of transgression a better made movie might not have.




The Red Queen Kills Seven Times (Miraglia, 1972)




This review contains mild spoilers. It's regarding a key piece of plot information, but it happens quite early in the movie. Read at your own risk.

I don't know if I'd call giallo my favourite genre (I love horror of all stripes, picking just one strain seems a bit limiting), but it does seem to be the most indicative of my favourite things in movies. What other type of movie delivers a combination of stylish cinematography, great music, nonsensical plotting, attractive cast members, elaborate titles, sex and violence (the last two sometimes together) so consistently? I'm too lazy to do a proper mental inventory, but while my knowledge of giallo is far from encyclopedic, I struggle to think of one that I didn't find at least watchable. (It helps when the level of craft involved is part of the package, so to speak.) With that in mind, it was very likely that I would enjoy The Red Queen Kills Seven Times regardless of how good an example of its genre it might have been. Luckily, it happens to be pretty good, even if it hasn't landed among my favourites.

When the movie opens, we meet two sisters and their elderly grandfather living in a castle. One of whom, a blonde named Kitty, seems relatively normal. The other one, a raven-haired little girl named Eveline, who is maybe not so normal. We learn this when she takes Kitty's doll and starts stabbing the bejesus out of it. Anyway, the grandfather thinks this is a great opportunity to explain the meaning of the creepy as hell painting they keep in their living room (or whatever the equivalent of a living room would be in castle). Turns out that many years ago, their ancestors, the red queen and the black queen, did not get along. The black queen put up with the red queen's antagonism for many years until she finally killed the red queen by stabbing her seven times. But joke's on her, the red queen seemingly came back from the dead and killed six people and then the black queen. This relationship anticipates the one between the sisters, as Kitty accidentally kills Eveline during a fight and covers it up. Unfortunately, someone has started murdering people Kitty knows, possibly while wearing a red cape like the one worn by the red queen in the painting. Could this be Eveline, getting her revenge from beyond the grave? You'll have to watch the movie to find out.

One of the things that stands out about giallo in particular is the way the proceedings take on a visual and psychosexual resonance beyond the motivations driving the plot. All the characters here are sinners and/or hiding a secret, which not only complicates the investigation but creates a compromised atmosphere. Even the heroine is implicated, and by extension the viewer. (That being said, the movie is perhaps softer on her than it could be, as it's clear that her crime was an accident. The queasiest example I can think of is how Lucio Fulci has us sympathize with a probable pedophile in the angry, disturbing Don't Torture a Duckling. Yes, I will gladly take any opportunity to talk about Fulci.) The fact that many of the characters look alike adds further intrigue. (There's a scene where they're seated beside a table while being questioned by the police. If you rearranged a few of them, they could form a neat spectrum of gradually darkening hair.) Are all of them extensions of the heroine?

Of course, the genre is greatly concerned with surfaces and this holds plenty of interest from that angle. The contrast between the modernist design present in the ad firm in which the heroine works and the characters' chic apartments with the rustic interiors of the castle place the film in a state of visual flux to match the psychological unease. In terms of wardrobe (another thing I will talk about any chance I get), the red cape worn by the killer has an undeniable visual impact, but so do a pair of truly hideous pieces (a pair of multicoloured checkered pants worn by a woman when she buys drugs, and a double-breasted blazer adorned with ungainly-coloured circles), which are visual repulsive in a slightly psychedlic way. Aside from these aesthetic qualities (which include the Bruno Nicolai score, which I don't have a whole lot to say about as I'm a musical luddite other than the fact it sounds real nice and parts of it reminded me of Fabio Frizzi's work on City of the Living Dead and The Beyond; let me stamp my Fulci punchcard, two more mentions and I win a free hot dog), the movie is involving on a narrative level as well. The premise ensures that it clips along nicely, as there is only so much time that can pass between a given murder so it better get a move on. And as the protagonist, Barbara Bouchet is not without her charms, which include her intensely spherical eyes, great for looking surprised and shocked at all the right moments. Would I have liked more scenes of Bouchet being startled by the red-caped killer? Yes, and the ideal version would consist of wall-to-wall capes and reaction shots, but alas, they don't let me make movies.




There's a scene where they're seated beside a table while being questioned by the police. If you rearranged a few of them, they could form a neat spectrum of gradually darkening hair.



There she is. Sybil the siren.