I Always Have To Smile

Unwelcome encounters with assorted devils
Still feeling threatened on all sorts of levels
Everyone’s a suspect until proven innocent
Especially the ones who claim I’m magnificent

Everyday is filled with unwanted advances
Outright refusal? I won’t take my chances
So I walk a fine line & hope it all stops
It always feels worse when it comes from the cops

If I condemn their comments that are truly perverse
I’m a “stuck-up bitch”, a “cunt” or worse
I can’t run away or they will chase me down
I always have to smile, I can never frown

I can’t say no or I might get hurt
I won’t say yes as they tug at my shirt
I try not to show the disgust on my face
As I search in vain for a safer space

I reluctantly tolerate these “hilarious” jokes
And continue to feel uncomfortable around these folks
They won’t let up no matter what I do
So I control my reactions just to get through

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Published in: on November 25, 2015 at 6:47 pm  Leave a Comment  

Absence Of Reason

Cursed with impulsiveness
Adrenalized by the fight
Angered by the injustice
Convinced you are right

The question was rhetorical
There was no need to answer
Self-righteous spontaneity
Is an incurable cancer

It arises out of nowhere
Awakened in a flash
Like a clumsy diver
Who enters with too much splash

It could have been avoided
Now she thinks you’re a sleaze
This impasse is likely permanent
A harsh Arctic freeze

Is he really guilty?
I expressed my doubts
And in a fiery instant
We are on the outs

We shouldn’t be so certain
Without further investigation
So many unanswered questions
Unavoidable complication

Both our doors are locked
And she will never budge
But I’m willing to reconsider
I no longer hold a grudge

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Saturday, November 21, 2015
2:11 a.m.


Published in: on November 21, 2015 at 2:11 am  Leave a Comment  

National Insecurity

Fueled by paranoia
Motivated by greed
Consumed with control
An insatiable need

Perpetual rage
Contemptible views
Astonished by the secrets
Reported in the news

Genuinely shocked
That not everyone agrees
Hopelessly attracted
To useless sleaze

Panicked by dissent
Growing from within
Listening to the warnings
With ears of tin

War is a racket
Paid for with blood
Their only disappointment
A bomb that’s a dud

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, November 8, 2015
2:17 p.m.

Published in: on November 8, 2015 at 2:17 pm  Leave a Comment  

A Better Way To Feel Bad

It doesn’t go down as easy as it should
It punishes your mind with a flood of shame
A once jolting escape is now elusive and rare
Replaced with a routine so bitter and tame

Years slip by with every committed sip
Another wave of sorrow at the flick of your wrist
Conning yourself into drowning some more
Until your name gets added to the forgotten list

Burning it down when the water’s too deep
The enveloping smoke can’t smother your grief
But the fire inside doesn’t erase the proof
So you yearn for another kind of relief

You cook it before you shoot yourself in the arm
More powerful than a bullet from an actual gun
An emotional laceration too intense to endure
Your persistent past too frenetic to outrun

As your guilt awakens you seek shelter in her bed
One of hundreds you’ve victimized and then cast aside
The heights you reach, a temporary release
Repeat performances never restore your pride

You can’t move forward when you’ve always been still
You can’t be enlightened when you’ve always been had
There’s no comfort to be found in your broken truth
Still searching for a better way to feel bad

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, November 8, 2015
4:09 a.m.

Published in: on November 8, 2015 at 4:09 am  Leave a Comment  

House Of 1000 Corpses & The Lords Of Salem

Rob Zombie is a hack.  He has no business making horror films.  Grossness and incomprehensibility dominate his writing.  And when it comes to directing, he’s no Wes Craven.  Yet people keep throwing loads of money at him to make more of these terrible movies.  It has to stop.

The story of how the completed House Of 1000 Corpses took three years to get released is certainly more interesting than the actual film.  Initially shot in 2000, it was picked up and subsequently dropped by two nervous studios before Lionsgate flung it into theatres in the Spring of 2003.  They should’ve buried it instead.

Set on October 30th and 31st, 1977, two young couples make a pit stop off a Southern highway and stumble upon Captain Spaulding’s Museum of Monsters & Madmen (he also offers fried chicken) right next to a gas station.  It’s a happy coincidence because Chris Hardwicke (with really bad hair) and Rainn Wilson (pre-American Office) just happen to be working on a book about unusual roadside attractions.  Like me, their respective girlfriends (Jennifer Jostyn & Erin Daniels) could care less.  They’re even less enthused about the museum.

Spaulding (the memorable Sid Haig who deserves better lines) is a demented, foul-mouthed, ill-tempered clown who can handle himself.  (Before the foursome even arrive, His Coarseness singlehandedly takes down two dimwitted robbers in a truly random sequence that has nothing to do with the main story.)  He runs a tour (the only good thing about this movie next to hearing The Ramones) that resembles a Tunnel of Love attraction showcasing famous mass murderers in recent history.  One character, the fictional Dr. Satan, stands out so much for Hardwicke & Wilson they want to track him down.  (His supposedly dead body is missing so presumably he’s actually alive and in hiding.)  So Spaulding draws out an impromptu map that will supposedly lead them directly to him.

Instead, on a dark and stormy night, they pick up a cute hitchhiker (Sheri Moon) with an annoying high-pitched laugh.  Shortly thereafter, someone shoots out one of their tires.  Because Hardwicke screwed up, there is no fully inflated spare to replace it.  So, they end up temporarily staying with Moon and her highly dysfunctional family.

Moon’s longhaired psychotic brother Bill Moseley considers himself a prophet of some sort but good luck understanding anything he says.  Their mother Karen Black takes a liking for some reason to the sadly irritating Hardwicke who is thankfully much more likeable and funny these days on his @Midnight program.  (His cameo in Zombie’s Halloween II is so much better than his entire Corpses performance.)

After dinner where we meet the rest of the clan, bizarrely they decide to put on a show complete with staging and lighting.  Grandpa (Dennis Fimple in his final onscreen performance) tells snippets of a really awful dirty joke (the even worse full version is shown in rehearsal footage on the DVD).  Then, Moon pantomines I Wanna Be Loved By You.  (She’s obsessed with old Hollywood starlets.)  Hardwicke and the family appear to be the only ones enjoying this.  After Hardwicke’s gal pal takes offense to Moon moving in on her man, show’s over.  Imagined tension arises followed by a doomed attempted escape.

Unbeknownst to our forgettable heroes, this family, like the cannibals in The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, love to torture and kill.  (Before they even arrive, they content themselves with tormenting several high school cheerleaders they’ve kidnapped.)  One by one, the numbers start to dwindle until we’re inevitably down to the Final Girl.

Meanwhile, Daniels’ dad Harrison Young realizes something is wrong because, despite a courtesy phone call letting him know they would be late, the foursome don’t arrive at his place as planned.  Along with local law enforcement (William Bassett and Walton Goggins) helping him out, they get the full story from a still agitated Captain Spaulding and unwittingly walk right into a trap.

House Of 1000 Corpses is a great title in search of a great story.  Beyond the briefly disturbing museum tour, the film is more of an endurance test than a frightfest.  Because of numerous cuts made to get an R-rating from the ever maddening MPAA, we are thankfully spared from being subjected to even gorier moments.  In this case, the MPAA did us a favour.

Zombie’s meandering, unfocused screenplay throws in clips of a fake late-night UHF cable program called Dr. Wolfenstein’s Creature Feature Show which serve no purpose other than to eat up a few seconds of screen time.  The opening titles function more as a demented music video for Zombie’s surprisingly listless title song.  And there is way too much time spent getting to know this murderous, unoriginal family before our dopey heroes fully realize the clichéd danger they’re in.

Add to that some pretentious visuals and an unwanted cliffhanger ending and what you’re left with is an ignominious debut.

Ten years after House Of 1000 Corpses, Rob Zombie unleashed his fifth theatrical feature, The Lords Of Salem, an even less coherent work.  Sheri Moon (his real-life wife) plays a Rush-lovin’, dreadlocked DJ in recovery from heroin addiction who is sent a bizarre gift.  It’s a rather thick 12″ record sent by “The Lords”.  Moon does a popular nighttime radio show (not believable once you hear it) with Jeff Daniel Phillips and Ken Foree which features a regular segment called “Smash or Trash?”  Upon playing the record, she has, shall we say, an adverse reaction, while a number of female listeners are hypnotically stunned.  (The song sounds like an out-of-tune Velvet Underground badly covering The Tea Party’s The Bazaar.)

Over the course of several long, tedious days (the pacing of this movie is so glacial), she starts to fall apart.  She has one too many peculiar nightmares, one of which involves her performing forced fellatio on a priest.  (Disgusting.)  She sees an unfriendly someone in a supposedly abandoned apartment across the hall from her and her dog before the door slams shut.  She becomes transfixed by a neon cross after being somehow lured inside that same apartment.  Outside, she watches as some odd character walks toward her with a goat (or was it an illusion?).  Her downstairs neighbour (or is it her landlord?) introduces her to her “sisters”, one of whom gives her a rather lewd palm reading.  Unsurprisingly, she ends up breaking her sobriety.

Bruce Davison does a good job playing an author of a book on the Salem witch hunt.  Conveniently, he’s the guest on the same radio show the DJs play that strange Lords track.  Intrigued, he conducts his own private investigation and learns that Moon’s bloodline stretches all the way back to a witch-obsessed minister in the 17th Century.  After meeting with Seinfeld’s Richard Fancy, another author who’s an expert on American witches, he learns that because the minister had a specific “coven of six” burned to death (their constant chanting (“blasphemous music” he calls it) drove him particularly crazy), they placed a curse on his future female descendants as well as all the women of Salem, Massachusetts.

Unfortunately, we don’t learn this crucial, not exactly persuasive detail until about halfway through the film.  It’s clear why Zombie delays it.  If the scene comes any sooner, he’d have a short, not a feature, and a predictable story.  So, this gives him an excuse to fuck with the audience for a while as he presents a number of underwhelming scenes as real only to have Moon immediately wake up from them dragging the story out needlessly.  We could also be spared her dull interactions with the bearded Phillips.

Like House Of 1000 Corpses, The Lords Of Salem (another great title) suffers from poor plotting that’s plodding.  The very first scene reveals a fatigued Moon barely able to keep her eyes open while being a passenger in a moving car.  Snippets of a radio talk show play in between a few opening credits.  Because the film doesn’t steer back to this particular moment, it’s a meaningless random scene never addressed again, a Zombie trademark.  (Hearing the tuneless Lords song is what causes her drowsiness we later discover.)

Right after, we get a flashback with that letter-writing, witch-obsessed minister and meet that clothes-hating group of Satan worshipping witches (led by a completely unrecognizable Meg Foster who I sincerely thought was a man at first).  It’s not clear what the women do that’s all that threatening besides kissing the devil’s butt, hate on Christianity, lick and spit on babies (wait, that was one of Moon’s dumb dreams) and hope he’ll grace them with his presence as they dance and cackle in the nude.  Looking back, you get the feeling the minister’s only real beef with them is they refuse to keep the noise down.

It isn’t until much later that the connection is finally made between all these characters, but by that point, the movie has given us little reason to be emotionally involved or unsettled.  (Regarding scares, I can only remember two effective moments and they are modest ones at that.)  Not only does it fail to hook us right away, it also takes way too long to not pay off.

As a result, The Lords Of Salem is overly mysterious because not much of its thin story can be reasonably explained.  (How exactly is the 17th Century minister being punished when he’s already been long dead for more than 300 years?)  Stripped to its essence over time, it eventually reveals itself to be just another revenge thriller with not much dread and a whole lot of hokum.

Zombie’s a sucker for cheesy, uncomfortable dialogue and like House Of 1000 Corpses and his Halloween remake, The Lords Of Salem is saturated with it.  From the gross, “slut” shaming witches to the deeply unfunny radio trio, listening to the potty mouths of these characters grows weary over time.  Zombie’s definitely no David Mamet.  There’s just no poetry in his filth.

By the time we reach the bizarre ending which features more unexplained nudity, pseudo masturbation, a devilish little person and a possible tribute to Alien (the second one, by my count), whatever little sanity existed in this story has long since disappeared.  Not even the Velvets’ timeless All Tomorrow’s Parties can rescue it.  (Venus In Furs, another standout track from their 1967 debut, pops up in a meaningless scene with Moon and Phillips earlier on.)

One can easily forgive a bad movie in a filmmaker’s catalogue if it is an uncharacteristic lapse in judgment.  But after seeing four Rob Zombie movies, all terrible, I see a stubborn pattern of dreck.  There is no lapse in judgment.  There is no judgment whatsoever.

From here on out, it would be best if Zombie’s ugly imagination is kept to himself.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, October 26, 2015
3:57 a.m.

Published in: on October 26, 2015 at 3:57 am  Leave a Comment  

Halloween III: Season Of The Witch

Halloween III:  Season Of The Witch is one laughable mess, a pitiful attempt to carry on the Halloween name without Michael Myers, the once terrifying masked predator who tormented babysitters and hospital staff in the first two films in this series.  Having finally screened the movie more than 30 years after its brief run at the cinema, I now fully understand why the producers decided to resurrect him for number four.  Having now seen every chapter in this franchise, this might be the worst one of them all.

The uncharismatic Tom Atkins plays a sleazy, divorced, alcoholic doctor in Northern California who doesn’t get along with his always angry ex-wife (she’s hard to tolerate but she’s right to be greatly annoyed with him) and, despite having zero charm or respect for boundaries, has no shortage of women interested in him (except the nurse he sexually harasses and gropes).

On the night of October 23rd, a good samaritan gas station attendant brings a troubled guy to the hospital.  Troubled guy’s clutching a Jack O’Lantern mask and making the usual “they’re gonna kill us all” pronouncements.  No one knows what the fuck he’s talking about.  Shortly thereafter, some mysterious guy with very nice gloves hilariously gouges his eyes out right in his hospital bed.  (Honestly, it’s a really cheesy moment, one of many in this debacle.)

While wiping his bloody gloves all over the divider curtain (how rude!), the nurse walks in wondering what the hell’s going on.  Curiously, the killer just leaves.  Then, in another hilarious scene that makes absolutely no sense, he douses himself with gasoline while sitting in his car and lights the match.  The extremely compassionate staff take their time getting outside and just stand there watching the bizarre spectacle.  No one brings a fire extinguisher.  No one bothers to get him out of the fucking car.  They all freeze in amazement.  Topping it off, Atkins has a very silly “concerned” look on his face.  He’s not concerned enough to do anything but stare like a big-eyed, useless dope, though.

Later on, after a couple of talks with the redheaded coroner’s assistant (they’re apparently seeing each other off and on), Atkins learns that there are no bone fragments or other identifying remains in the ashes that she’s examining.  Before that, though, he meets the troubled dead guy’s beautiful daughter (Stacie Nelkin) who identifies his body in his hospital room.  As Atkins leaves, he spots her weeping in the hallway.  They lock eyes and Mr. Compassionate just walks away.

Later on, while having a brewski and complaining about the shitty TV he’s being subjected to in a bar, she arrives, introduces herself and thanks him for attending her dad’s funeral (not shown, by the way).  She wants to play amateur detective and find out why he was killed.  Horny Atkins is instantly sold.  Any excuse to not have to deal with his pissed off ex.

After making a pit stop in her dad’s store, we learn troubled guy ordered a bunch of masks from a company called Silver Shamrock (they make the Jack O’Lantern mask he was holding at the start of the movie).  His daughter wants to retrace his steps which means Atkins won’t be looking after his two young kids as promised.  The ex-wife reams him out, as usual, over a pay phone.  (She plays this same note over and over and over again.  A terribly sexist caricature.)

Silver Shamrock has made a series of countdown TV ads hyping a movie “horrorthon” (the original Halloween is the only film advertised) for Halloween night.  At 9 p.m. there’s going to be a “big giveaway”.  Kids are instructed to buy one of three masks, the skull and the witch are the others, which they must wear for reasons that are never explained.  For the purpose of the plot, they do as they’re told.  In the real world, they certainly wouldn’t give a shit.

Of course, there is no big giveaway.  It’s all a scam to kill them.  Late in the film, Silver Shamrock’s old sideburned owner (Dan O’Herlihy) reveals himself to be some kind of witch who needs to make huge sacrifices because it’s been 3000 years already, the planets are aligning and, oh yeah, he needs to “control” his “environment”, whatever the fuck that means.  He’s some businessman.

The Silver Shamrock factory is located in Santa Mira, a remote California town that has a 6 p.m. curfew, out-of-date surveillance cameras, bugged phones, an abundance of crickets and guys in suits who suddenly walk into the frame to remind you this is a horror film.  (Stop stealing Michael Myers’ gimmick, assholes.)  If you say or do anything remotely rebellious, like the drunkenly foolish, unemployed homeless guy, you either get choked out, eye gouged or beheaded by their bare hands.  (Hilariously, homeless guy gets option three.)

Atkins and Nelkin pretend to be a married couple thinking of buying property in the area.  Outside the local motel, Nelkin encounters a disgruntled woman who hates the place but the masks are big sellers apparently so she keeps placing orders.  (Yeah, I’m really not buying this, guys.)

A doomed out-of-town family of three also arrive.  The dad has sold the most masks in the country in the past year so they all get a personal tour of the factory with O’Herlihy himself serving as their gentlemanly guide.  We learn O’Herlihy’s a big fan of practical jokes and gag gifts, the latter of which is how he made his supposed fortune.  He even has a whole room dedicated to such nonsense.  (I was surprised he doesn’t have a William Shatner mask in his collection.)

But the tour stops short of the room where the final phase of the mask making process takes place.  (Huge red flag.)  That’s a “trade secret”, you see.  They don’t want you to know how dangerous their masks really are.  (Innocent question:  where do all those bugs, spiders and snakes come from?)

In the meantime, Atkins gets lucky with Nelkin (there’s a weird moment where they’re about to go for round two and he suddenly wonders if she’s underage) and the disgruntled saleswoman meets a grisly end in another unintentionally humourous scene.  (Should’ve kept reading your book, toots.)  When the weird guys in suits arrive to collect the body, O’Herlihy unconvincingly reassures a concerned and initially oblivious Atkins and Nelkin that she’ll be just fine.

We never see her again.

Atkins discovers that Nelkin’s dad stayed in their motel while both learn from a couple of Silver Shamrock employees that he did in fact pick up his mask orders.  After walking away from the concluded factory tour, the fake married couple notice the guys in suits have his car.  (We never do find out how Nelkin’s dad put everything together before his demise, not that it matters.)  Atkins gets into a fight with one of them (more laughs) and learns a big secret.  (Is that mustard?)  Think replicant but far less interesting.

Halloween III:  Season Of The Witch is the first film in the series where the quality is almost nonexistent.  It’s a sad state of affairs that the two clips shown of the original Halloween are the best parts of this movie.  Oh, to be fair, I also liked a brief shot of a sunset and the jingle for the “big giveaway” promotion (even if the tune is set to London Bridge).

Other than that, it’s a real struggle to like anything here.  By the time O’Herlihy explains why he wants to kill all his loyal customers and salespeople on Halloween at 9 p.m. you realize you’ve just wasted your time.

The superb music for the original Halloween (thankfully heard in those aforementioned TV clips) has been disappointingly replaced by a distractingly bad score (co-written and co-performed by John Carpenter himself) that feels like inferior outtakes from the fine Ennio Morricone arrangements heard in The Thing (a good scary movie).  It’s just too similar and not at all atmospheric.  And then there are the “scares” (almost all of which are weak and laugh out loud ridiculous) that are each accentuated by one off-kilter techno note.  Dorky.

There is one minimally effective thrill in the film but it happens in an instant.  While the suspicious coroner’s assistant is talking to a co-worker on the phone (after failing to get a hold of Atkins), one of those men in suits can be seen undetected entering the room from the left side of the screen.  That’s it.  What happens next isn’t scary, just gruesome but thankfully & mercifully restrained in its presentation, the only moment of horror that isn’t silly.  (Despite the absence of gore, I still cringed.)  Let’s just say I’m grateful for that strategic placement.  I wonder if this was an unwelcome homage to The Toolbox Murders, a far more misogynistic pile of trash than this one.

Halloween III was supposed to inspire a series of one-off sequels each featuring a different story with new characters.  But because this one tanked so badly (the third act, in particular, is filled with unplanned laughs leading to a bogus, indecisive ending), Carpenter and Debra Hill (I can’t believe they produced this) sold their rights to the franchise and as a result, seriously burnt Mikey Myers was preposterously brought back to life to stab, strangle and electrocute more unsuspecting victims again and again in one terrible sequel after another, not to mention two needless remakes.

My God, what a disaster this is.  All these years later, I can’t believe it ever got a theatrical release.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, October 22, 2015
5:14 p.m.

Published in: on October 22, 2015 at 5:14 pm  Leave a Comment  

Halloween II (2009)

The best thing about Rob Zombie’s Halloween II is The Newman Hour.  Hosted by David Newman (a pre-Midnight Chris Hardwicke), this fictional chat show briefly enlivens a mostly dead, very tired remake sequel to an earlier remake no one even asked for.  Featuring the hilarious Weird Al Yankovic as his sidekick, Newman interviews the shamelessly self-promoting Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), the incredibly incompetent shrink who somehow lived through a rather thorough thrashing from his most famous patient in the previous movie.

Capitalizing on his rather improbable survival in a second high-profile book, Loomis is stunned to face refreshingly adversarial questions from a deeply unimpressed Newman.  (If only real talk shows were always this funny and tough.)  Skeptical from the start, the host and “Mr. Weird” (as Loomis humourously calls him) show him absolutely no reverence.  Embarrassed during the taping, he’s even more humiliated when he watches it again on TV.  “It’s over, ” he says softly to himself, utterly defeated.  (Not buying that belated ‘face turn, though.)

Now if only the rest of Halloween II was this much fun.  Like its needless predecessor, it’s literally a bloody chore to sit through.  Underdeveloped characters we barely know or care about get carved up in one gruesome scene after another.  And when murder isn’t happening, boredom sets in for the most part.

Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Hampton) thought she had shot her homicidal brother to death in the last scene of Halloween.  (She finally learns about her biological connection to Michael Myers (Rob Zombie doppelganger Tyler Mane) thanks to Loomis’ very helpful book.)  Still terrorized by a recurring series of nightmares about him (including one that’s clearly a tribute of sorts to the original Halloween II), the now orphaned teen lives with Haddonfield’s ponytailed sheriff (Brad Dourif) and his still obnoxious daughter Annie (Danielle Harris), the only friend of Laurie’s to survive the earlier film (which never made any sense).

When she’s not in session with her therapist (nice to see you, Margot Kidder), she works in a used record shop with her friends:  Frank-N-Furter fan Harley (Angela Trimbur), blonde, bespectacled Mya (Brea Grant) and Mya’s die-hard vinyl-lovin’ hippie dad Uncle Meat (WKRP’s Howard Hesseman).  Meanwhile, Dr. Loomis is doing the hard sell for his second Myers book and, excluding the excitable weirdo at the book signing, meeting a lot of resistance for it which his suffering publicist Nancy (Mary Birdson) has already warned him about.  (She’s way too ethical for the job.)  He conducts an interview with an attractive Australian journalist he fancies right in front of the old Myers place.  The scoundrel.

As for the unkillable damnation himself, thanks to a car accident (fucking cow), despite being shot at super close range in the previous film Michael is able to escape out of the back of a coroner’s vehicle and fend for himself in farm country.  (Let’s just say he would love living in China.)  As he slowly hacks his way back to his old hometown, by the time Halloween arrives he’s back in Haddonfield looking for Laurie again.  All this time, he’s been having visions of his dead mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and his 10-year-old self (Chase Vanek replacing Daeg Faerch which is awfully noticeable) with a white horse.  Apparently, they want a family reunion with Angel, Laurie’s birth name.

Ol’ Mikey has some unfinished business to attend to, plus some new victims to slash (an iconic murderer’s work is never done, you see) while the sheriff is none too pleased with Dr. Loomis’ latest “literary” cash-in.

Bereft of fresh ideas, Halloween II recycles, to a certain extent, elements of Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later as it concludes by, shall we say, passing the torch.  Whether it will actually follow through with this bad idea in Halloween Returns (yes, another remake is in the works), unlike Halloween 5, I don’t care.

Honestly, John Carpenter’s original Halloween has no equal when compared to any of the follow-ups in this overlong franchise.  I highly doubt yet another entry will change my mind.

God knows I don’t need to see any more naked women getting their head repeatedly bashed against a mirror or watch some drunken bouncer get his head repeatedly stomped on, not to mention all those horrifying stabbings.  (Poor Octavia Spencer.  The road to that Oscar was painful.)  Nor do I need to hear that creepy coroner talking enthusiastically about the temptations of necrophilia or listen to that lousy rockabilly band that specializes in lame Halloween-themed material.  (We could do without the immensely unfunny host in the skeleton make-up, too.)

Ok, I’ll admit it.  The herpes insult is funny, Coach’s Bill Fagerbakke is good as a deputy (as is Margot Kidder as Laurie’s therapist) and even though some of it sounds like it was recorded with kids’ instruments, I’ll never tire of John Carpenter’s classic Halloween theme, even in this less intense, remade form.

But come on.  This is the 10th film in this series and this is the best they can do?

I’d rather see a full episode of The Newman Hour.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Thursday, October 15, 2015
3:43 a.m.

Published in: on October 15, 2015 at 3:43 am  Comments (1)  

Halloween (2007)

This is an ugly remake.  Totally unnecessary, too.

Rob Zombie’s Halloween is an unpleasant mess, an excessively gory, shamefully recycled desecration of one of the best horror films of all time.  Whereas John Carpenter’s tightly edited original was beautifully photographed and imaginatively restrained, this depraved, overlong update drowns you in pools of its own bloody mediocrity.

There are significant departures from the original story, at least at first.  When we first meet him, Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch) is now a talkative 10-year-old mask-wearing deviant already screaming to be locked up.  He has a very dysfunctional family:  an embattled stripper mom (Sheri Moon Zombie), her injured, verbally abusive, deadbeat, live-in boyfriend (a scenery-chewing William Forsythe), a jerky, older teen sister (Hanna Hall) and his two pet rats, one of whom meets an early demise.  (Poor Elvis.)  We have no idea what happened to his biological father.

Michael’s also being terrorized by some of the kids at school who want to publicly shame his mom for being a sex worker.  (Nice guys.)  Already an expert at killing animals (he takes Polaroids of their carcasses), he graduates to humans once he beats one of his tormenters to death with a shovel.

Shortly thereafter, it’s bye-bye to all but two members of his family plus his sister’s long haired boyfriend.

Convicted of first-degree murder, he’s sentenced to a mental institution where he’s under the care of Dr. Loomis (an old looking, ineffective Malcolm McDowell in a really bad wig) who has painfully unproductive sessions with him and makes redundant observations to an audience well aware of the character’s long cinematic history.  His guilt-ridden stripper Mom makes weekly visits but not for long.

Realizing he can’t reach him (young Michael eventually clams up for good) but sensing a financial windfall all the same, Loomis writes a best-selling, exploitative book about his charge which makes him a very unsympathetic character indeed.  I’m amazed Myers doesn’t target this charlatan first.  Who was his mentor?  Dr. Phil?

Years later, a now grown Myers is a towering Cousin It who has become consumed with creating masks that hide the ugliness inside his blackened soul.  (Because of his long hair, when he wears one he looks like a member of Slipknot.)  In a grotesque scene that turns an average film into an awful one, two men, one of whom is a hospital employee who treats him like shit, forcefully drag a new admission, a poor young woman, out of her new home and into Myers’ cramped cell as they proceed to rape her hoping he’ll join in.

The silent prick could care less.  He only intervenes when these misogynistic assholes touch two of his precious homemade masks.  That’s a big no-no, so I don’t have to tell you what happens next.

More hospital employees bite the big one including a soon-to-be-retiring Ismael Cruz (Danny Trejo in a good performance) whose only crime was always showing compassion for the big jerk.  “I was good to you,” he correctly pronounces to no avail.

Once out and about, Myers seeks a wardrobe change.  The truck driver admiring that nude pictorial in a public stall picked the wrong time to take a dump.

And, as before, we’re back in Haddonfield many years after Myers went on his first human killing spree.  We meet a less likeable, now bespectacled Laurie Strode (a seriously miscast Scout Taylor-Compton) and her obnoxious friends, Annie (Halloween 4 & 5’s Danielle Harris) and Lynda (Kristina Klebe).  It’s at this stage in the film that Zombie decides to take famous scenes from the original and tweak them to the point where they stop working altogether.

An ordinary conversation about learning new cheers during a busy day is now turned into a moment of unnecessary rudeness.  An early encounter with the masked Myers involves more obnoxious teen behaviour and no car.  Laurie’s requested envelope drop off at the abandoned Myers house has no suspense now because we already know the killer’s inside before she even gets to the door.

We meet Laurie’s housewife mom (the ageless Dee Wallace) and her realtor dad (Pat Skipper) who later on this Halloween evening, in one of the few effective scares in the film, meet grisly ends.  As in the original Halloween II, we learn in this remake that Laurie is actually adopted.  In a departure from that film, Myers doesn’t want to kill her (they were close when she was just a baby), he just wants a family reunion with his younger sister.  Maybe he should’ve sent her a nice note instead of kidnapping her against her will.  (She understandably doesn’t remember posing for that pic you’re showing, Mikey.)  As you can imagine, things get awkward and a pissed off Myers has a new target.

One of the best elements of John Carpenter’s Halloween was the extraordinary patience of its villain.  He lived to psychologically torture his victims long before he killed them.  The timing and the location had to be just right before he acted.

In the Zombie remake, Myers hates waiting.  Consider the scene where Annie is getting it on with her boyfriend on the couch (and proceeds to complain about how he treats her “expensive” clothing).  Look closely in the background.  Myers is already there lurking, basically waiting for the director to cue him already.  When the inevitable bloodshed ends, somehow Annie survives this time which doesn’t make any sense.  Why does Myers spare her?

And then there’s the shameless recycling.  Remember when Myers wears the white sheet with glasses to fool Lynda into thinking he’s her lover?  Remember when Laurie asks Loomis if that was the boogeyman and he confirms?  Remember how he explains Myers’ absence of reason and goodness to the sheriff?  They’re all here again to remind you that Carpenter did it better the first time.

Speaking of recycling, we even get covers of the classic musical score from the first film.  Do you really want to remind the audience that they’d rather be watching the original?

When the movie begins, it seems like Zombie wants us to root for Myers to get vengeance on all the awful people in his life (not unlike the future Dr. Lecter in Hannibal Rising or TV’s Dexter).  But during the escape scene when he snuffs out Danny Trejo, that’s completely abandoned which muddies how he wants us to view him.  (Then again, he does kill innocent animals early on.)  Zombie can’t decide whether Myers is an anti-hero or just a relentless psycho and that’s a big mistake.

Another big error in judgment involves those pointless shrink sessions with Loomis.  (McDowell can’t make you forget about the great Donald Pleasance.)  They just drag on without offering any new insight that would distinguish this wretched update from its original inspiration.  As a result, the film is easily a half hour too long.  Really, stretching things out for the purpose of half-hearted ambition slows everything down to a hopeless grind.  A mysterious Michael Myers is a scarier Michael Myers.

Daeg Faerch, who plays the masked killer as a demented 10-year-old, looks too much like Win Butler of The Arcade Fire to generate much fearful intensity.  Also, as a rule, I don’t hate villains who dispose of lousy, uninteresting characters (not that I actually liked this unrepentant psychopath).  God knows there’s too many of them in this version of Halloween.

The coarseness of the dialogue might be even more disturbing than the murders.  (Believe it or not, there’s barely any cursing in Carpenter’s original.)  Just hearing the words “faggot” & “bitch” again and again grows numbing after a while.  There’s almost nothing to like about many of these characters.

Was there really a demand for this sloppy remake, a collective outcry for a new story?  For those who asked for it, I hope you’re happy.  For everybody else, stick with the original.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, October 9, 2015
10:41 p.m.

Published in: on October 9, 2015 at 10:41 pm  Comments (2)  

Halloween II (1981)

A knitting needle in the neck didn’t stop him.  Neither did getting jabbed by a wire hanger or his own knife.  Christ, not even six bullet blasts were able to finish him off.

A stunned Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) looks out the window again at the beginning of Halloween II (just as he did at the end of Halloween) to discover that Michael Myers, the man he just shot and who crashed through the second floor window onto the ground below, is nowhere to be found.  All that’s left is a rather large body imprint on the front lawn and some blood.

Of course, that’s not quite how it happened in Halloween.  (Halloween II reworks the famous ending of its predecessor with new footage not so seamlessly edited with the old.)  Regardless, the point remains that a man who should be dead is still walking around freely.

And he’s not done killing people.

After surreptitiously retrieving a kitchen knife from an old, oblivious housewife distractingly annoyed her husband fell asleep while the original Night Of The Living Dead starts playing on the telly (he’s too tired for that sandwich she was making), Myers squeezes in an extra kill before heading to the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital.  The embattled Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis with strangely different hair even though it’s still October 31, 1978), the 17-year-old babysitter he only injured in the first movie, is being directly ambulanced there.

Now, common sense would dictate that Dr. Loomis would be right there with her knowing that Myers, his deeply troubled patient, wants her dead.  But Halloween II is not a smart movie.  Instead of doing the logical thing, Loomis sticks around with the bumbling local police and becomes indirectly responsible for a completely avoidable tragedy.  It’s a scene so silly you just shake your head and laugh.

After arriving at the hospital, a highly stressed Laurie is diagnosed with an ankle injury, injected with medication against her wishes and ordered to rest.  Jimmy (Lance Guest), a kindly EMT, befriends her, much to the annoyance of one of the nurses.  (His younger brother goes to high school with her.)  Meanwhile, his obnoxious partner is hoping to get lucky with another nurse, his chronically late girlfriend, later on during what should be a relatively quiet night shift.  Let’s just say they picked the wrong time to hot tub.

But, of course, with Myers easily slipping into the facility shortly thereafter, completely undetected by the lazy-ass security guard who’s too immersed in his reading material to bother seeing the masked man slowly walking by on the surveillance monitor, death is on the horizon.

And Laurie knows it.  How quickly she is able to elude his constant pursuit despite being heavily doped and hobbled.  Yeah, I’m not buying it.

While Loomis is desperate to confirm if that young guy in the mask whose death he accidentally caused is who he hopes it is (keep hoping, dummy), Haddonfield’s least favourite son quietly gets back to work.  Suddenly and inexplicably, the hospital phones stop working.  No dial tone.  That same security guard goes to check it out but gets seriously distracted by unexplained noises which, of course, he has to investigate.  In a long, unscary, drawn out sequence, filled with the usual false alarms and tedious silences, it’s not exactly a big surprise who’s hiding on the other side of that last open door.

Over time, more hospital personnel are suddenly unaccounted for and it never occurs to anyone that maybe that’s just a bit suspicious, especially in the wake of sensational local media coverage of the murders from the original movie which everybody there talks about.  (Where the hell are the police?)

It takes Loomis an incredibly long time to finally get his fucking dumb ass to the hospital (who cares about those goddamn druids?) but not before learning some new information.  Laurie is Myers’ biological sister, hence his obsession with her.  (At one point, she has a nightmare about visiting him in the mental institution when they were kids.)  Despite being ordered by the Governor of Illinois to go back to Smith’s Grove to account for Myers’ escape, Loomis belatedly takes matters into his own hands.

I first saw the TV version of Halloween II when I was a teen and it did scare me.  But all these years later, now that I know better, the theatrical version just isn’t compelling.  It’s an average successor to the remarkably good original.

Carpenter and co-screenwriter Debra Hill can’t recapture what made the first film so menacingly good.  That’s because they’ve pretty much run out of ideas here.  (It also doesn’t help that Carpenter opted not to direct this time.)  The scare scenes are mostly routine and we’re just not as hooked as we were in the original story.  (Innocent question:  besides the boy with the bloody mouth who comes and goes, where the hell are all the other patients in this hospital?)

In a lot of ways, the ending is supposed to tie in with Loomis’ history lesson about Druids and their dumb way of seeing the future, but it really serves as a reminder that the Myers character should’ve died at the end of Halloween, not this one.

Certainly better than most of its subsequent, awful sequels, Halloween II is a curious case of a film in dire need of a reason to exist.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, October 9, 2015
10:01 p.m.

Published in: on October 9, 2015 at 10:02 pm  Comments (2)  

Halloween (1978)

Once you hear it, you can never forget it.  It seeps into your brain, claiming permanent space for itself.  It lingers, it haunts, it unsettles, it unnerves.  It may go silent at times, sometimes for years, and then suddenly, it returns, reminding you of its chilling, ever lurking presence.  Try as you may, it never really goes away.

The scariest thing about John Carpenter’s Halloween isn’t the story, as well crafted as it is, nor is it the villain, a mute, heavy-breathing masked killer, as memorably smart, vicious and creepy as he is.  It’s the music.  Carpenter had all of three days to write and record the kind of score that would bring out the terror and shock depicted on screen.  On such a tight deadline, he created one of the greatest series of movie themes of all time.

Although Halloween is not a perfect film, the music sure is.  In every scene where Carpenter’s notes are present, none are wasted.  In such an incredibly short period of time, he managed to figure out exactly where each of his spontaneous compositions would make a considerable emotional difference.  He got it completely right.  Talk about perfect placement.  Imagine every one of those scenes working without that music.  You can’t, can you?

Ordinary small-town sequences featuring characters just walking down the street are transformed into something far more sinister, the music representing the hidden menace the town of Haddonfield is not expecting to encounter.  The observation of young trick-or-treaters making out like bandits during the afternoon as Carpenter’s score foreshadows the coming, violent disruption to enjoyable, comfortable routine.

On Halloween night, 1963, a young boy in a clown costume quietly observes his older sister as she briefly canoodles with a fellow teen paramour.  Once they take things upstairs, the child makes his move.  He slips inside from the back, grabs that knife from the kitchen drawer and lingers silently in the darkness.  Suddenly, his sister’s lover has second thoughts about fooling around.  He’s soon down the stairs and out the door.  Opportunity.

The boy calmly walks towards a life-changing experience.  He finds the clown mask her boyfriend was wearing laying harmlessly on the ground and puts it on.  His breathing now laboured, he finds her topless calmly singing to herself as she combs her long, flowing hair.  He approaches.  In a matter of seconds, she is dead.

No explanation, no motivation, no reason.  Six-year-old Michael Myers doesn’t need any justification for his brutality.  He just needs victims.

Fifteen years later, having spent the rest of his childhood in an institution, he’s got an upcoming court appearance.  He never makes it.  His longterm psychiatrist Dr. Loomis (a perfectly cast Donald Pleasance) is on his way to see him on October 30, 1978.  Driven to the Smith’s Grove facility on a miserably rainy night by a skeptical nurse who doesn’t understand why he has such a low opinion of his patient, they are shocked to see several patients wandering around outside in the dark in just their hospital gowns.

Loomis gets out of the car to investigate and someone suddenly leaps on top of the roof, jostling, through a now open door window, with the startled nurse who eventually gets out herself.  And just like that, Michael Myers is free and Haddonfield, a small town where everybody knows everybody, doesn’t know what’s coming.

The idyllic tranquility of this place is a perfect hunting ground for Myers.  No one knows that danger has moved in.  And because it’s Halloween, he easily blends in wearing that blank, white mask.  Oh sure, when a little boy accidently runs into him outside the school yard, he becomes wide-eyed and entranced.  And when he suddenly hits the brake on his stolen car after a teen girl openly mocks him on the sidewalk, it’s noticed.

But Myers is ever calculating, ever cunning.  You only see him when he wants you to see him.  There are no accidents.  There are no mistakes.

One of the great pleasures of Halloween is the Myers character himself.  He is God in this story.  Once he takes a personal interest in you he is in complete control of your fate.  At any instantaneous moment, he can squeeze or choke the joy right out of you.  But he’s never rushed.  Long before he cuts you or strangles you, he targets you.  He familiarizes himself with your daily routine, secretly spying on your most private moments, figuring out the best time to attack.  During the day, he’ll drive around in that stolen car following you and you won’t even know it.  When he wants to make his frightening presence known, he appears.  And just as suddenly, he is gone.  For a man who often moves very slowly, very deliberately, it’s stunning how fast he really is.

Myers is an absolute master of psychological torture.  Consider what happens to Annie (Nancy Loomis), one of several teenagers he selects for extermination.  She’s babysitting a little girl in the neighbourhood.  While talking on the phone to close pal Laurie (the excellent Jamie Lee Curtis), Myers is seen outdoors watching her from just outside the kitchen.  At one point, he yanks a hanging flower pot to the ground which is mostly ignored.  Then he yanks another.

Already annoyed with the little girl’s dog who won’t stop barking (she’s not the only one), she accidentally spills her drink on her clothes in the midst of all the distracting noise.  This means she needs to go to the laundry room to wash them.  But the machines are not in the house.  They’re in a separate property in the backyard.  While there, she finds herself locked in.  She yells out to the little girl but she’s watching The Thing From Another World (a very good film, by the way) and can’t hear her.  So, Annie tries to squeeze herself out through a very tight window but she gets stuck.  At one point during this part of the scene, Myers can be briefly seen and we think she’s done for.

The little girl takes a call from Annie’s boyfriend and goes to retrieve her.  Myers has since disappeared and the kid unlocks the door from the outside.  A thankful Annie pleads with her to keep this embarrassing moment to herself.  That leads to a very big laugh just moments later.

Annie finally talks to her boyfriend and once again, there’s Myers now observing her from the other side of the house.  But just as quickly, he is gone.  But not for long.  When Annie makes a fateful decision to leave the little girl’s house, God is waiting for her.

The first half of Halloween nicely establishes Myers’ disturbing pre-murder psychology.  Unexpected appearances observed by puzzled residents followed by sudden vanishings, seemingly casual drives around the neighbourhood, round-the-clock surveillance.  He gets away with it not just because they’re distracted by the holiday and the bustle of their daily lives but also because those who see him and then don’t see him become filled with doubts.  (Is he even real?)  Their uncertainty adds to their increasing vulnerability.

When Laurie spots him on Halloween afternoon suddenly popping out from behind some giant hedges, when she sees him staring at her from across the street outside her English literature class at school, both sightings jolt her out of the illusion of her comfortable existence.  When Annie goes to talk to him behind the hedges, he’s nowhere to be found.  When Laurie looks back out the school window after first seeing him standing beside his car, both have disappeared.  (In that instance, isn’t it a bit of a contrivance that she wouldn’t hear him drive away?  Automobiles are noisy, even ones driven by maniacs.)

At one point, after spotting him briefly just outside her bedroom window, she takes a call from someone who doesn’t say a word.  She hangs up completely freaked out.  The caller calls back and reveals herself to be Annie who had strangely decided to chew food into the receiver the first time around.  “Obscene chewing”, indeed.

Later than night, while on her own babysitting gig, Tommy, the little boy she’s looking after, who’s obsessed with “the boogeyman” thanks to some jerky middle school bullies, spots him in the distance directly across the street from his window.  (Fantastic camera shot, by the way.)  By the time he draws Laurie’s attention to it Myers vanishes yet again.  (Weird how she’s skeptical despite experiencing the exact same phenomenon earlier that day.)  It isn’t until she hears another friend being strangled by a mysterious heavy-breather during another phone conversation that she becomes deeply concerned.

And that’s when Halloween really juices up the tension as Laurie makes some horrifying discoveries in the darkened house across the street and walks right into another brilliant trap laid by the man with “the devil’s eyes”.

It’s hard not to notice how many successive films have ripped off not just the premise of this movie (masked maniac going on a holiday-themed massacre) but also the beats and rhythms of the murder scenes themselves.  But what they never succeed in duplicating, let alone topping, is the actual dread the Michael Myers character represents, the prevalent sense of disruption he brings to this once safe small town where nothing usually happens and the skill in which he annihilates the weakest of the herd.

While knock-offs up the gore, Halloween is noticeably restrained.  It is our imagination that is violent more than any kill scenes depicted.  Myers’ expressionless mask, like the ominous music, is perfect.  Its absence of concern matches the character’s detached disposition.

Having a unforgettably strong villain like this is only half the battle.  You also need an equally strong hero.  Thankfully, Jamie Lee Curtis’ intelligent, sweet, shy, loyal, reliable and responsible Laurie fits the bill.  We like her right away.  We respect her goodness.  (We like her more adventurous friends, too, plus the kids they’re babysitting.)  And when she unwittingly places herself in the clutches of a very determined psychopath, we hope she prevails.

Halloween was famously shot in three weeks for just $300,000 with only one major star.  You would never know it from how beautiful it looks.  That credit goes to cinematographer Dean Cundey (Back To The Future, Jurassic Park).  Look at that shot where Tommy sees Michael Myers in the distance through the window.  Watch the camera as it slowly pulls back to reveal Myers standing in the living room as he silently observes Lynda and her bespectacled boyfriend necking on the couch.  See what the killer sees during those fantastic steadicam POV shots, particularly the first one during the 1963 murder scene.  Just superb cinematography.

Enough good things can’t be said about the late Donald Pleasance’s stellar performance as Loomis, the rightly worried shrink who finds himself mostly outmatched by a smarter, younger opponent despite his own vast experience and intelligence.  During pauses in the mostly bloodless mayhem, his sharp conversations with Haddonfield’s incredulous sheriff shed just enough light on his history with the man who forever changes his life.  He also gets a big laugh when he scares a bunch of curious kids away from the Myers house.  You can feel the joy in his performance every time you see him.

Halloween, the theatrical cut, has held up remarkably well since that one time I saw the much longer and more sanitized TV version.  But one thing that hasn’t is one key part of the ending.  This idea that Myers can’t die because “evil never dies” is bullshit.  Yes, he’s a highly sophisticated predator with incredible patience, precision, instincts and smarts and by God he can take more punishment than any other human being you could name.  But despite Loomis referring to him as an “it” and “not a man”, he is a man, not an animal, which is why I’ve always been afraid of him, even now.  To not acknowledge his damaged humanity is to lessen, in a small sense, the real threat he has always represented.  Humans may be the scariest predators of them all but they are not invincible.  No one is.

In retrospect, it’s also bit contrived that Laurie wouldn’t just keep repeatedly stabbing Myers during the two glorious opportunities she has to do so in the otherwise gripping third act.  Instead, she just waits around, dropping her weapon, occasionally checking on the seriously terrified kids, leaving herself incredibly vulnerable as her relentless nemesis quietly rises to resume his assault.

I will say this for what happens after Loomis makes his shocking discovery.  The use of that heavy breathing, which gets louder and louder as that hypnotic theme burrows itself permanently into your mind is most effective, one last scare just before the credits roll.

John Carpenter’s Halloween is easily the scariest movie I’ve ever seen, past and present.  And while it is just shy of greatness, I now more than ever fully appreciate its stunning craftsmanship.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Friday, October 9, 2015
8:20 p.m.

Published in: on October 9, 2015 at 8:20 pm  Comments (3)  

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 133 other followers