01 September 2008

SUMMER OF BLOOD: WHY WON'T YOU DIE?

When last we saw Michael Myers, his head had been neatly snipped from his body by his long-lost sister Laurie "Keri Tate" Myers Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), in an ending that was obviously designed to give us - us being the fans, I suppose, for whom Halloween H20 was allegedly meant - a good and final sense of closure. At long last, there was to be no more pussyfooting around with Michael surviving a hospital explosion more or less because the screenwriters decided that he just did, dammit: he was dead dead dead, dead by the hand of the woman who he'd spent most of his life hunting. Even though I will never stop hating the initial decision made during the godforsaken creation of Halloween II to make Laurie a Myers scion, still I must confess that the end of H20 is in its own way a satisfying thing, rounding off a franchise that was always curiously fixated on its own mythology with an ending that tied of pretty much all of the loose ends.

Since we're all here, you're likely aware that the geniuses at Dimension Films took one look at the box office returns from that terrifically complete series finale and promptly demanded a sequel.

In a sense, Halloween: Resurrection is something of a godsend, for it provides the Halloween franchise with something that Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street both lack: a clear, objective Worst Movie Of The Series. For in Resurrection, we find a virtually flawless collection of all the things that can make a slasher film unwatchable: the story consists of virtually nothing but padding; the characters are interchangeable, unnamed, and irritating; it could hardly be any less scary if the filmmakers tried; and the central concept is insulting to all thinking people. There is no reason for this to be a Michael Myers film at all - it could be any unstoppable psycho killer in any house full of young people anywhere in the world. For the first time in eight movies, I could hardly pick out one moment that wouldn't have worked every bit as well with Jason Voorhees behind the mask, and this is perhaps the nastiest thing one could ever say about a Halloween, which were at least distinctive even at their most unabashedly awful.

Resurrection's screenwriters Larry Brand and Sean Hood waste no time in establishing how painful the next 89 minutes are going to be, with a sequence that I'm certain was meant to get all the long-time fans worked up but instead is just a real pisser. I mean, a flat-out angrifying kick in the shins. It starts well enough, with Curtis narrating a typically impossible monologue about the tunnel and the door to Heaven or Hell. At the end of this philosophically dubious twaddle, we learn that Laurie Strode is presently residing in a sanitarium, three years after the trauma of killing her psychopath brother-

-OR DID SHE? As helpfully exposited by an unnamed nurse (Lorena Gale, instantly recognisable from her small role in the new Battlestar Galactica), it turns out that Michael somehow managed to swap masks with a paramedic whose larynx he'd just crushed. And it was that poor blighter that Laurie killed. Now she's in the psych ward on suicide watch because...she feels guilty? She was convicted of manslaughter? The film isn't really interested in telling us, for that is not why Laurie has come back.

No, Laurie has come back so that after two really fanatastically shitty guards mistake Myers (played, this time by Brad Loree) for a much shorter, much fatter patient with a love of serial killer mythology (he helpfully gives his own expositon, of all the people Myers killed in the films preceeding this one - Halloween, HII, H20 - and mangles completely the body count from those three films), and get summarily executed, she can have another showdown with her undying bro, on the sanitarium roof. For the most part, Laurie is as resourceful and cagey as we've come to expect of her, trapping him in a hanging snare, but then Michael starts to mimic the "wait, take my hand, don't kill me" gestures that he - excuse me, the paramedic gave back on Halloween, 1998. Laurie hesitates, and Michael uses that moment of hesitation to pitch himself and her over the edge of the building, stabbing her in the process. With her last moments of strength, she kisses his mask on the lips and hisses, "I'll see you in hell, Michael!" and falls to the ground far below.

And that is how the greatest slasher heroine of all time dies. She hisses a cliché and falls to her doom. Curtis had to do it - contracts, you know (and she's remarkably worse in this film than she ever had been with the same role). But somebody had to write this, had to conclude that throwing Laurie off a building was a noble death. That person has become my nemesis.

Michael goes back in, and gives his knife to Harold (Gus Lynch), the serial killer expert. He's extremely thrilled by this consideration, and starts to babbling that "He's back!" And now, 16 minutes and 40 seconds into the film, the prologue is done and the title finally makes its appearance (the rest of the credits already said hi, before any plot actually happened). The prologue, though infuriating and insulting and marred by a crappy performance by a sometime-great actress, will prove to be very much the best part of the whole movie.

This was inevitable: as the series in both of its divergent continuities focused mainly on how Michael pursued, with single-minded intensity, the last members of his bloodline and those who stand in his way of that goal, the question rises with ugly urgency: where does he go after his quest is ended? After Laurie's son John Tate? Theoretically that might have worked, but Josh Hartnett don't come cheap. So the answer is instead: after the yahoos spending Halloween night in the old Myers place in Haddonfield, IL. Why, you might ask, is there a group of people spending Halloween night in the old Myers place? Simple! Because new-media mogule Freddie Harris (Busta Rhymes - the new series does love casting rappers) has come up with something he calls "Dangertainment", in which he puts a bunch of pretty young people in a dangerous spot rigged with dozens of cameras, fits the victimes out with head-mounted camera, and then broadcasts the whole thing on the web with a "choose your own viewing angle" gimmick.

Let us briefly pause to give Resurrection credit. Though horror films are frequently given to cultural commentary and satire, slashers by and large are not, and certainly none of the previous Halloween films have much connection to the world around them (unless you count how enthusiastically The Curse of Michael Myers rips off The X-Files). Thus, it is both original and brave that the filmmakers would plunge headlong into the idea of web-based entertainment and how it affects the way we view the world around us. Their conclusions are not novel, and they were not novel in 2002, but I daresay the best parts of the film are those which most directly address this topic.

Then again, it's this gimmick that leads Resurrection down the path to its very crappiest feature: a good third of the movie - and maybe even more - is shown from the webcams' POV. Even now, webcams aren't capable of streaming high definition video in 24 frames per second, and the state of the art in 2002 wasn't enough for cinematographer David Geddes to get something out of the footage that was even marginally nice to look at. It's hard not to suspect that the filmmakers took the lesson from 1999's The Blair Witch Project that crappy-ass videography is really scary & awesome, despite the fact that it is neither of those things. Anyway, the long and uneven tale of visual beauty in the Halloween franchise ends here: with the ugliest film of all eight.

Before we ever met Freddie, though, we were introduced to some of our pretty young leads: beginning with Sarah (Bianca Kajlich), boldly announced as the Final Girl in the first seconds she appears, answering questions about Jung's concept of "The Shadow" at Haddonfield University. She brings along two friends: a foodie whose name is mumbled many times before we finally learn, clearly, that he's called Rudy (Sean Patrick Thomas); and her shrill BFF, a blonde in whore make-up named Jen. Jen is played by a 21-year-old actress named Katee Sachoff, and for a few delightful seconds as the credits played I pretended that the misspelling actually meant that this was some random unknown. But no, it's definitely Katee Sackhoff, AKA Kara "Starbuck" Thrace of Battlestar Galactica (I'd love to think that she and Gale swapped Resurrection horror stories on the BSG set, but I don't believe they ever appear together). About Ms. Sackhoff's performance, I can only say that it turns out she is able to be really fucking lousy when she wants to be.

The first night of Dangertainment, in which the victims record their bios, is an exceptionally cynical chance to Meet the Meat, though we'll have to wait a while - sometimes a ridiculously long while - to learn their names. Besides Sarah, Jen and Rudy, we get a music major named Jim (Luke Kirby), red-head psycho student Donna (Daisy McCrackin), and some poor anonymous blighter called Bill (Thomas Ian Nichols), whose name we won't learn until after his death, in the grandest tradition of gutter-level slasher films. They get deposited in the house and told to look around; after a while, it's apparent to us that they're supposed to be looking for clues to what made Michael Myers the deranged psycho that he became, but that's quite a bit of detective work for something that isn't made explicit until something like an hour into the movie.

So! Freddie promises that there's nothing in the house but what's been there ever since the Myerses left in 1963, despite the fact that this all but guarantees that nothing of interest could remain (even the Haddonfield cops aren't that bad), so it's not remotely surprising to learn, much later, that he actually larded up the place with giant knives and assorted bric-a-brac implying that Michael had a terrible, abusive childhood. What Freddie doesn't know is that Michael is already in the house, and he's already begun killing the innocent bystanders, starting with a feckless DP named Charley (Brad Sihvon), whose death-by-tripod is a rip-off of Michael Powell's Peeping Tom more blatant than any rip-off the series has yet attempted. Incidentally, the reason that Freddie doesn't know that Michael's about - nor that Michael has already claimed one life - is because Freddie's assistant is a bit addle-minded and spends more time making iced mochas than watching the cameras. Said assistant is Nora, played by the inimitable Tyra Banks, in just about the smallest named part in the film, thank God and all the angels.

One last wrinkle: Sarah has a robust chatroom-based friendship with a guy she only knows as "Deckard", but who we learn is Myles (Ryan Merriman, whose most significant role was on the TV series The Pretender), a high school freshman. Myles is supposed to be at a raging Halloween party - the kind with booze! - but even when he gets there, he'd rather watch his ladyfriend on Dangertainment, and thus co-opts the weird combination theater room/office in his host's house, where more and more goggle-eyed young voyeurs come to watch what may or may not be legitimate death and terror going on before their very eyes (these brief snippets are those things I mentioned before that we the best parts of the film; largely because they are subtle and short).

That's all the pieces - so bring on the killin'! And this Resurrection verily does; by the way, I've only taken us about 40 minutes into the film. For the next 40, it's nothing but stalking scenes and false scares piled one upon the next, livened up with some killing sequences that aren't imaginative enough to be memorable, gory enough to be pornographic, or surprising enough to be scary. It's unrelenting tedium without even the slightest entertainment value. Let us all cheer the name of Rick Rosenthal, who once helmed Halloween II and did a kind of decent job about it (it's hard to tell where Rosenthal ends and John Carpenter's tampering begins), but whose return to the franchise is slack and patently confusing. Six people wander around a spooky old house, with doors all over the goddamn place. That practically grovels for a strong directorial hand to keep things moving, and to provide a good sense of space to make sure the audience doesn't get lost in all the blind corners. Rosenthal provides neither of these things; though to be fair, Resurrection has the unmistakable feel of a movie that was marginally watchable before it was massacred in the editing room (among other cuts: Nora's death scene, allegedly because the producers felt it was a good thing to have the Final Girl discover one corpse that we didn't see die).

It's a muddle. There's no better way to say it. And the Final Girl sequence is even a wreck, given that it's more like a Final Half The Cast before they're killed with all due contrivance. This is a climax whose highlight - highlight, folks, that means the very best part - is when Freddie taunts Michael by cursing "Trick or treat, motherfucker!" A line that I'm sure brought the house down at the midnight screenings, but in the cold light of day sound desperately like the work of a screenwriting team too much in love with '80s action films.

Of course it sets up a sequel - and even that set-up would fit better in a Friday the 13th picture, involving as it does Michael waking up in a morgue where his "dead", "burned" body was shipped. Thankfully, Resurrection was every bit the box-office washout that it deserved to be, taking in some $30 million and barely doubling its production cost - not quite enough to make it the least successful investment of the series, but still not a warm enough total to justify any more of the damnable beasts. Just like before, the rebooted alternate history of Michael Myers crapped out on audience indifference, and the series was well and truly buried. Five years later, the original would be remade - and that remake, though its own special kind of shitty, was at least made by a director who approached the project from affection, not mercenary hackery. But for ourselves, let us finally put Michael Myers to rest, resurrected though he might be: even the most unstoppable killer can never compete with the grim-faced spectre of audience indifference and a 21st century horror culture that no longer makes much room for bog-stupid slasher movies.

Body Count: With yet another "oops, he didn't really die!" fakeout, and the wholly expected fake-out surrounding Michael Myers's death, the grand total is 10 deaths, among the lowest in the whole series. I'm not counting the paramedic's death that appears in the opening recap. Nor the coroner who almost certainly dies about five seconds after the ending cut to black.

Reviews in this series
Halloween (Carpenter, 1978)
Halloween II (Rosenthal, 1981)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Wallace, 1982)
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Little, 1988)
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (Othenin-Girard, 1989)
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (Chapelle, 1995)
Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (Miner, 1998)
Halloween: Resurrection (Rosenthal, 2002)
Halloween (Zombie, 2007)
Halloween II (Zombie, 2009)

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