Today’s Picture of the Day comes from ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981), John Carpenter’s classic action thriller which made Kurt Russell an action movie hero.
I’ve chosen this picture mostly because, and I think this is true for most of John Carpenter’s films, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK has only gotten better with time. Like a lot of his other films in his early career, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK was not critically acclaimed. With the exception of HALLOWEEN (1978), critics gave Carpenter’s work a hard time. There was very little love for this movie upon its initial release in 1981.
It also didn’t wow the masses, as it was made on a smaller budget than most of big budget action films of the time, and it looks it, and back then with its cheaper look it struggled to connect strongly with audiences of the time. On a purely action movie level, it was not able to compete with the likes of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK (1981), for example.
But over the years, it has aged well, in spite of its “futuristic” science fiction plot— the action takes place in the “future” of 1997. Wow, that came and went quickly.
It has aged well because what was considered a “cheap” look in 1981, now looks artistic and special. I love the way New York City looks in this movie. The set design is dark and bleak, perfect for this story.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK is probably most famous for being the movie which changed Kurt Russell’s career, turned him from a child star in Disney films to bonefied action hero. It actually did more than that, as Russell took on all sorts of movie roles and pretty much became a household name after this film. Russell doesn’t disappoint. He’s terrific in this movie.
He almost didn’t get the part, as the producers didn’t feel he had the tough guy status to pull it off. Carpenter wrote the part with Clint Eastwood in mind, and Russell admits he played it as an homage to Eastwood. His performance works perfectly.
Russell plays Snake Plissken, a convict who is tasked with sneaking into the Manhattan Island maximum security prison and rescuing the abducted President of the United States, and unless he can get in and out in twenty-four hours, the authorities will kill him. The world which Carpenter creates inside that Manhattan prison, and the bizarre characters residing there, are the stuff of nightmares. It’s fabulous movie making.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK also features a tremendous cast besides Russell. There’s Adrienne Barbeau, pictured above with Russell, Lee Van Cleef, Ernest Borgnine, Donald Pleasence, Isaac Hayes, Harry Dean Stanton, Tom Atkins, Charles Cyphers, Season Hubley, and Jamie Lee Curtis provided both the voice of the computer and the opening voice-over narration.
Of course, my favorite part of this movie is the amazing score by John Carpenter. It’s one of his best. Then again, you can say that about nearly every film score he wrote.
About the only thing that still doesn’t work for me in this movie is the casting of Donald Pleasence as the President of the United States. I love Donald Pleasence, but he’s miscast here.
If you haven’t checked out ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK recently, do yourself a favor and give it a fresh viewing. It’s already considered a classic of the genre, a superb science fiction action movie from the glory days of John Carpenter’s early career, but it wasn’t always considered that way. It has stood the test of time, and what I am saying today is, that not only that, but it has gotten even better in recent years.
There’s an imagination and spirit in ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK that is present from start to finish, and it’s largely because of the talent of writer/director John Carpenter.
Actually, I’m a big fan of the HALLOWEEN series and have been since seeing John Carpenter’s classic HALLOWEEN (1978) at the movies when it first came out, a long, long time ago. That first movie remains my favorite, and truth be told, most of the sequels and re-imaginings have been pretty bad, but I’ve enjoyed most of them, as guilty pleasures, I guess. I’ve had this conversation with friends, but one of the reasons I’ve always liked the HALLOWEEN movies even when they’re not that great is because of John Carpenter’s iconic HALLOWEEN music score. As soon as it starts playing on the soundtrack, I’m in!
And the music was about the only thing I liked about the reimagined sequel HALLOWEEN (2018) which brought back Jamie Lee Curtis to the series and told her character’s story about how she had been dealing with the fallout from Michael Myers for forty years, a film which pretty much ignored all the sequels and tried to be a sole sequel to the 1978 film. It was a worthy idea, but the script was pretty bad, and the film a disappointment.
I was one of the few people who actually enjoyed the sequel to that movie, HALLOWEEN KILLS (2021) more than the 2018 film.
Now comes the “final” installment in this new HALLOWEEN trilogy, HALLOWEEN ENDS— who is coming up with the titles to these movies?— and all three movies were directed by David Gordon Green.
HALLOWEEN ENDS is not getting good reviews, but I’ll cut right to the chase: I actually liked this one better than HALLOWEEN KILLS, which makes it my favorite of this new HALLOWEEN trilogy.
One of the biggest reasons I liked this one? It tries a lot that is new, and so if you are expecting two hours of Michael Myers vs. Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode, that’s not what you’re going to get. I’m sure some fans will be put off by this. I wasn’t, mostly because what was in its place were story elements that were all rather intriguing.
HALLOWEEN ENDS opens in the here and now in Haddonfield, Illinois, the small town which seems to have been forever cursed by Michael Myers, with a different take on the babysitting trope, as this time the babysitter is a young man, Corey (Rohan Campbell). Corey is babysitting a bratty little kid who tells Corey he’s not afraid because Michael Myers doesn’t kill kids; he kills babysitters! Ouch! Before the night is over, the boy locks Corey inside an attic room. When Corey kicks the door open, tragedy results, and the little tyke is killed in front of his parents’ eyes who have just returned home.
Cue opening credits.
Usually, introducing new story elements and characters isn’t the best idea in a third film in a series, as you want to know what’s going on with the characters from the first two installments, but it somehow works here in HALLOWEEN ENDS, and Corey becomes an intriguing character. Even with all the Michael Myers history, Corey is now considered the town psycho after he is not convicted of murder. He’s the recipient of massive hating and bullying, and he has a mother who would be right at home being best friends with Norman Bates’ mother.
One thing HALLOWEEN ENDS gets right is it paints a portrait of hatred and vindictiveness in our modern-day culture, and I think it nails this throughout the movie. It reminded me a little bit of what Sandra Bullock’s character went through in the excellent Netflix movie THE UNFORGIVABLE (2021), where Bullock played an ex-con where pretty much everyone in society decided her crime was unforgivable and treated her like dirt.
When we finally catch up with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), she’s living with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), and the two are trying to live their lives in Haddonfield after the events from the last movie where Allyson’s mom and Laurie’s daughter was murdered by Michael Myers. Laurie is writing her memoirs, and we learn that Michael Myers has disappeared.
When bullies actually push Corey off a bridge, he finds himself left for dead on the banks of the river. He makes his way into an underground tunnel and there discovers— you got it! Michael Myers has taken up residence underneath Haddonfield! When Myers attacks Corey, their eyes lock, and a strange thing happens. Is it a meeting of the minds? Does Myers see a fellow psycho? Or is the evil that inhabits Myers now transferred to Corey? Whatever the answer, Corey finds a newfound power, and an ally, and together they go on a vengeance killing spree.
Around this same time, Allyson meets Corey, thinks he’s cute, and pursues him, and the two characters grow close, finding common ground in their disdain for Haddonfield, and they speak openly of blowing everything up and then leaving for good. This story arc is rather interesting, as it brings together a Michael Myers disciple and Laurie’s granddaughter, now both working together for less than noble purposes.
Of course, Laurie disapproves, especially when she begins to receive Michael Myers’ vibes when she looks at Corey. As she says, she sees Myers’ eyes in Corey’s eyes. There’s a neat scene where Laurie looks out her window and sees Corey standing by some hanging laundry which mirrors a similar scene in the original HALLOWEEN.
Corey eventually wants more power, and battles Michael Myers and steals his mask, in effect becoming a new Michael Myers. But HALLOWEEN ENDS isn’t SON OF MICHAEL MYERS, and good old Michael isn’t interested in retiring just yet.
And Michael is old, as he should be in his 60s right about now, and the film stays true to that notion, and we see a killer who isn’t a young man anymore. That’s not to say he’s not in killing shape. He’s just a demonic killer who’s now in his 60s, which is something else about this movie that I liked.
HALLOWEEN ENDS makes good on its title and goes out of its way to make sure that Michael Myers isn’t coming back ever again—almost to a laughable degree—but never say never. This is the movies, after all, and anything can happen in the movies.
Also, as Laurie says in her voice over narration from the memoir she’s writing, evil never really dies. It just changes shape, an intriguing notion and choice of words, since Michael Myers is often credited as The Shape in the HALLOWEEN movies. Which is a neat way of wrapping up this series, with the idea that Michael was just a temporary shape of evil, housing some demonic entity, which may in fact live on even after its host body has been destroyed.
I thought there was a lot to like about HALLOWEEN ENDS. The screenplay by Paul Brad Logan somehow kept this story fresh throughout. I really didn’t think I was going to enjoy the story about Corey, but it works. I also thought Logan nailed the hate and vindictiveness in our modern-day society. Townpeople call out Laurie and blame her for their woes, because she had the gall to irk Michael Myers, rather than just leaving him alone.
One thing that doesn’t work, however, is the notion that this is a long-standing battle between Laurie and Michael. Sure, he attacked her in the original movie, but if anyone was truly his adversary, it was his doctor, Doctor Loomis, played by the late great Donald Pleasence. The idea that Laurie and Michael are bitter adversaries really was concocted for this trilogy.
Jamie Lee Curtis is fine, playing Laurie for what seems to be the final time. But one of my favorite performances however belongs to Andi Matichak as Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson, who is a much more interesting character, and her flirtations with evil and “burning down” Haddonfield are some of the more interesting parts of the film. Rohan Campbell is also very good as Corey, the misunderstood youth who becomes a Michael Myers disciple.
David Gordon Green’s direction isn’t bad. The film takes its time, which might turn off audiences, but it didn’t bother me because the story was firing on all cylinders. How does it stand up as a horror movie? Not bad. It’s not all that scary, which is not a good thing. How does it rank as a HALLOWEEN movie? It’s the best of this latest trilogy, but it still pales in comparison to John Carpenter’s original.
That being said, it was still way better than I expected, and so I have few complaints about this one. If you’re going to call your movie HALLOWEEN ENDS and plan to end a franchise, this was certainly a fitting way to do it. Then again, maybe it was just that iconic music score working its magic again…
Either way, this series started back in 1978, and although this installment actually included some new ideas, most of the films have not, and so on that note, I think it’s time we put this series to bed. So while I like this one, I’m still hoping HALLOWEEN ENDS lives up to its name.
Let’s talk about HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982), the sole movie in the HALLOWEEN franchise not to feature masked killer Michael Myers.
The story goes that John Carpenter was never interested in making a series of movies about Michael Myers. His original plan was to make a series of HALLOWEEN movies with different plots, each having something to do with Halloween. In retrospect, that seems like an idea that was ahead of its time and would be more at home today as a TV series on one of the streaming networks.
Anyway, after the phenomenal success of HALLOWEEN (1978), there was demand for a sequel that did indeed feature Myers. Carpenter wrote the screenplay, but he killed off both Myers and hero Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence), paving the way for him to return to his original vision of another Halloween-themed horror movie, and that film was HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, the subject of today’s IN THE SPOOKLIGHT column.
Because fans couldn’t get enough of Michael Myers, they were cool to HALLOWEEN III, and the film did not perform well at the box office. It also didn’t do well because it was largely panned by critics. I still remember watching Siskel and Ebert tear the film apart, and one of their biggest criticisms was that the plot about Halloween masks which would be used to murder children worldwide was far too ugly to warrant a positive review. After the box office failure of HALLOWEEN III, John Carpenter sold the rights of the franchise, and eventually Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis were inexplicably resurrected and brought back to the big screen in HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988). That film was a box office success and was also well-received by critics. The rest is history, as the series continues to this day with numerous remakes and re-imaginings, all featuring the unstoppable and apparently immortal Michael Myers.
But back to HALLOWEEN III.
Over the years, not only has the film aged well, but among many horror fans, HALLOWEEN III is now considered to be the best in the series. I don’t agree with this assessment. The original HALLOWEEN is still the best of the lot. However, HALLOWEEN III has indeed aged well, and since it is the only film in the series not to be about Michael Myers, it’s certainly the most intriguing of the HALLOWEEN movies.
Also, the plot about the deadly Halloween masks is far less ugly today than it first seemed back in 1982.
The story is basically about a doctor, Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) who treats a patient at the hospital who is raving about mass murder and doom, sounding an awful lot like he walked off the set of an INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS movie, and Challis thinks he’s delusional and simply sedates him. But later that night, the man is murdered under mysterious circumstances, and when Challis meets the man’s daughter, Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) and she wants to investigate her father’s death, he decides to help her.
Their investigation leads them to the Silver Shamrock company, which produces the most popular Halloween masks on the planet, and also keeps running an annoying television commercial that seems to play every time someone turns on the TV. They also meet the owner of the company, Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), who in spite of his reputation of being the nicest guy in the world, is really up to no good. Yup, he really does have a plan for mass sacrifice on Halloween night, to be carried out by his masks which will be worn by children all over the world.
Well, this is a horror movie after all.
One of the reasons HALLOWEEN III has aged so well is because, simply put, it’s not about Michael Myers! The countless sequels and re-imaginings have become exhaustingly redundant. HALLOWEEN III does not suffer from any of this.
Tom Atkins has starred in a lot of horror movies, from Carpenter’s THE FOG (1980) to CREEPSHOW (1982), and over the years he became a fan favorite. He’s excellent here in the lead role in HALLOWEEN III, the down to earth doctor who suddenly finds himself trying to stop a supernatural plot to mass murder children. Atkins continues to make movies today.
Stacey Nelkin is an effective heroine, and Dan O’Herlihy makes for a very sinister Conal Cochran.
HALLOWEEN III was written and directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, and while Wallace is no John Carpenter, there are some chilling and cool scenes in this movie.
There are also some fun nods to the first HALLOWEEN. A scene from that movie featuring Michael Myers is shown on TV at one point. Jamie Lee Curtis provides the voice of a telephone operator, and Nancy Kyes, who played Annie in the original HALLOWEEN, under the name Nancy Loomis, has a small role here.
Is HALLOWEEN III the best of the Halloween movies?
But it is one of the more entertaining films in the series, mostly because it stands on its own and as such tells a compelling and disturbing horror story in its own right.
AGAINST THE ICE (2022), a new Netflix movie which hails from Iceland and Denmark, is a solid, deliberately paced historical drama based on the true story of two men braving the icy wilderness of Greenland as they try to lay claim of the territory for Denmark.
It’s 1909, and explorer Ejnar Mikkelsen (Nikolaj Costner-Waldau) is leading an expedition into Greenland to disprove the United States’ claims that Greenland is not one piece of land, and that its northern tip is separated by a body of water. The Americans have been trying to claim this northern land as its own. If Mikkelsen can prove that this is not true, that it is only one large piece of land, then Greenland in its entirety would belong to Denmark.
His most trusted explorer injured, Captain Mikkelsen seeks a volunteer to accompany him on the treacherous journey to the north of Greenland, but the only crew member who is willing to do so is the inexperienced Iver Iversen (Joe Cole) who’s a mechanic by trade and not an explorer. With no other options, Mikkelsen and Iversen set out with two dog sleds and promise to return to the ice bound ship and its crew in six months.
It’s a harrowing journey, and the two men both rely on each other and learn from each other, as Mikkelsen provides the determined unrelenting leadership to keep them going, while Iversen proves adept at fixing things both mechanical and psychological, as his upbeat attitude and humor keeps things sane. And it’s a journey that becomes much longer than expected when they return to their ship and discover they have been abandoned.
AGAINST THE ICE is a solid, well-made movie that remains rooted in drama rather than adventure and thrills. Everything is rather low key, which works in a way, as the tone of the film captures the tone of the two men, especially Mikkelsen. Director Peter Flinth isn’t going to win any Oscars here. His direction is rather pedestrian, but it works. It’s never all that intense, and it’s definitely a PG-13 style movie rather than an R rated one. Things like the removal of frost-bitten toes, the execution of sled dogs for meat, and a vicious polar bear attack are all handled peripherally, and none of these sequences are as horrific as they could have been.
The icy scenery is beautiful to behold, and it helps that the film used minimal CGI effects and was largely shot on location in Iceland and Greenland. Forgive this horror writer, but when the movie opens and we see an ice bound ship in which the crew spies a mysterious stranger approaching on a dog sled from across the ice, I couldn’t help but think I was watching the opening to a new version of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Likewise, with all the snow and ice blowing around, I half expected to see Kurt Russell and friends arrive from John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982)!
Nikolaj Costner-Waldau stars as Ejnar Mikkelsen, and he plays the explorer as a man who is both coldly determined yet responsible. He pushes the expedition to the limits, but he rarely puts Iverson’s life in danger. Costner-Waldau turns things up a notch later when Mikkelsen struggles to keep his mind together and begins to hallucinate about the woman he’s left behind. Costner-Waldau is known for his portrayal of Jaime Lannister on the TV series GAME OF THRONES (2011-2019).
Joe Cole is equally as good as Iver Iversen, the man who at the beginning of the movie talks about how he’d rather be working on the Titanic, an amazing new ship that will never sink. Of course, at that time, the Titanic hadn’t sunk yet, which sets up one of the more humorous lines in the movie, when after their ordeal, Iversen tells Mikkelsen that the Titanic went and sunk, meaning he made the right choice by joining the captain on his journey.
I enjoyed these two characters a lot, and aside from the topnotch snowy photography, the performances by Nikolaj Costner-Waldau and Joe Cole are the best parts of the movie.
The rest of the cast is fine. Charles Dance shows up briefly to add some distinguished authority as the Danish leader who wants to finance a rescue mission because he knows its value but continually resists the requests for one since the costs are so high. Incidentally, Dance played the father of Costner-Waldau’s character on GAME OF THRONES.
In addition to playing the lead role, Nikolaj Costner-Waldau also co-wrote the screenplay with Joe Derrick, based on a bookby Ejnar Mikkelsen. So, yes, Mikkelsen was not only an explorer but also an author. The script is a good one. It tells its story without any frills, doesn’t sensationalize any of the proceedings, but also doesn’t strive to really draw in its audience in any other way than the straight telling of its narrative.
I enjoyed AGAINST THE ICE, but it definitely plays more like a TV movie than a theatrical release. Still, its story of two men’s journey into the icy wilderness of Greenland held my interest throughout, even if the most satisfying emotional moment in the story doesn’t come until the film’s final minutes.
All in all, AGAINST THE ICE is a satisfying historical drama that tells a worthwhile tale of determination and perseverance.
Just don’t be surprised if while watching it you find yourself reaching for that extra blanket and perhaps even a hat and gloves. Brr!
And with good reason. Russell starred in what many horror fans consider today to be their favorite horror movie of all time, John Carpenter’s remake of THE THING (1982). I don’t know if I would call THE THING my favorite horror movie of all time, but it is a favorite.
Russell also starred the year before in Carpenter’s ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981). Those back to back performances jettisoned Russell’s film career, and he never looked back with starring roles continuing all the way up to day. Of course, those of us of a certain age remember Russell as a young actor starring in some silly Disney comedies like THE BAREFOOT EXECUTIVE (1971) and THE STRONGEST MAN IN THE WORLD (1975).
Two years ago, Russell made for a surprisingly charming and very funny Santa Claus in the above average Netflix movie THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES (2018). It was one of my favorite movies that year, and Russell’s performance was the main reason for that.
Now comes the sequel, THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES 2, and I wish I could say it is a worthy successor to the first film, but it’s not. And not even Kurt Russell’s presence can save this one.
Whereas the first film was a touching and pretty darn funny tale which placed Santa in the here and now and had a very flippant Russell interacting with lots of present day disbelievers, THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES 2 largely takes place at the North Pole and for the most part is a Christmas fantasy, filled with CGI special effects giving life to hordes of elves, reindeer, and various other creatures. Its target audience is largely chiildren. There’s not a whole lot here for the adults in the room to enjoy.
Kate (Darby Camp) the young girl in the first movie is a teenager now, and she is upset that she has been forced to spend Christmas on a tropical island with her brother and mother, and her mother’s new boyfriend and his young son Jack (Jahzir Bruno). Kate decides to run away and catch a flight on her own back to Boston.
But she is intercepted by the evil manipulative former elf Belsnickel (Julian Dennison) who whisks her and Jack to the North Pole so Santa Claus (Kurt Russell) can save them and inadvertanly let Belsnickel into the magical city where he can wreak havoc in an effort to get back at Santa and his wife Mrs. Claus (Goldie Hawn.)
The rest of the movie follows Mrs. Claus’ and Jack’s efforts to save Christmas town, while Santa and Kate pursue Belsnickel to retrieve the magical star he has stolen. If this sounds like fun for you, you might enjoy this movie. It wasn’t fun for me. At all. Mostly because Kurt Russell’s Santa performance was devoid of all the biting humor it possessed in the first movie.
THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES 2 was directed by Chris Columbus who years ago directed HOME ALONE (1990) and MRS. DOUBTFIRE (1993). He also directed the first two HARRY POTTER movies. More recently he directed the dreadful Adam Sandler vehicle PIXELS (2015). While THE CHRISTMAS CHRONICLES 2 isn’t as awful as PIXELS, it’s one of Columbus’s weaker movies.
The screenplay by Matt Lieberman, who co-wrote the first movie, and Chris Columbus, offers nothing for adults and remains on a child’s level throughout. If you’ve got young kids, they will probably like this one.
While it’s fun to see Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn on screen togeher again, they don’t actually do a whole lot together and spend most of the film separate from each other. Russell’s performance simply lacks the fun edge fromt the first movie.
The kids, Darby Camp and Jahzir Bruno are fine, but again, their performances are strictly for kids.
Malcolm McDowell does lend some nice voice over work in a brief scene.
The special effects are decent, and the film is bright, colorful, and Christmasy. Again, the little ones won’t be disapponted.
There is a brief neat time travel bit, but even that doesn’t really take this one to any worthwhile place.
So, to wrap thing up, you’re sure to love this one…. if you’re under the age of ten.
COLOR OUT OF SPACE (2019), filmed in 2019 but just getting its U.S. release here in February 2020, is based on the H.P. Lovecraft short story of the same name, and tells a tale of a meteorite which crash-lands on the property of a family’s farm, poisoning the land and water surrounding it, as well as the people, and if that wasn’t enough, completely messes with the space/time continuum.
Sound like a crazy trip? That’s because it is! And if you want further proof of just how trippy this one is, look no further than its cast, which includes Nicholas Cage as the patriarch of the farm family and Tommy Chong of Cheech and Chong fame as their oddball neighbor.
And while the film is a visual tour de force, taken as a whole, it’s far from being a complete package, as its story is uneven at best and the special effects while colorful are often cheap-looking and unimpressive.
In COLOR OUT OF SPACE, Nathan Gardner (Nicholas Cage), his wife Theresa (Joely Richardson), their teen daughter Lavinia (Madeleine Arthur), teen son Benny (Brendan Meyer), and young son Jack (Julian Hilliard) have all moved to a secluded farmhouse in Arkham, Massachusetts to get away from it all, to basically live off the grid and raise alpacas. Everyone seems happy enough, except for rebellious Lavinia, who wants nothing more than to escape her family and the isolated farm.
But when a meteorite crash-lands on their property, things change. For starters, their personalities are affected, especially Nathan’s and Theresa’s who both become more belligerent around their children. Young Jack hears voices coming from the well. Time changes, as it’s dark one moment, light the next, and they find themselves off- kilter, in an almost dreamlike state as their grip on reality begins to shift.
Furthermore, a young man tasked with studying the water tables in the area, Ward (Elliot Knight) determines that there’s something wrong with the water, that it’s poisonous. As things grow more bizarre, strange mutations start taking place, and suddenly in this dreamlike state the Gardners find themselves fighting for their lives.
For the most part, I liked COLOR OUT OF SPACE. It tells a decent enough story, although it doesn’t really push the envelope enough to fully do justice to the source material. The film is unrated, and in spite of some scenes that try to be gory, the film doesn’t ever really get all that disturbing or scary.
Once the meteorite has crashed and is doing its thing, the colors at the farm and throughout the surrounding wilderness are fun to behold, but the actual special effects aren’t so great, and in fact they’re rather cheap looking. What should be some of the more disturbing effects, scenes where beings are mutated together in horrifyingly twisted creatures, come off instead looking like inexpensive cousins to the effects seen way back when in John Carpenter’s THE THING (1982). Carpenter’s classic is 38 years old, and the effects in that movie are better than the effects here.
The actual story remains more bizarre than frightening. Screenwriters Scarlett Armaris and Richard Stanley, who also directed, do a good job setting up the mystery but afterwards never go for the jugular.
Nicholas Cage has a field day as papa Nathan Gardner, and for most of the film, he was my favorite part. Madeleine Arthur is also very good as recalcitrant daughter Lavinia.
The rest of the cast is satisfactory. And if young Julian Hilliard with his big eyeglasses looks familiar acting terrified, it’s because he did the same thing with better results on the Netflix TV show THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE (2018).
COLOR OUT OF SPACE works better as a science fiction movie than a horror movie, although it certainly tries hard to be the latter, thanks to some gory scenes by director Richard Stanley. Unfortunately, these scenes don’t really resonate. With their cheap look, they play more as high camp, but other than Nicholas Cage’s performance, the film isn’t all that campy.
I wish COLOR OUT OF SPACE had been better. As it stands, it’s a many-hued science fiction flick with aspirations of being horrific, but it falls slightly short of this goal. Still, if you like this sort of thing, you definitely want to check it out, especially if you’re a fan of Nicholas Cage.
At the end of the day COLOR OUT OF SPACE is just decent enough to satisfy its niche audience.
The scariest thing about BLACK CHRISTMAS (2019), the new horror movie about sorority girls being terrorized by a supernatural killer, is its subtext— that men prey on women and get away with it.
It’s the scariest part because it’s largely true. You don’t have to look far to realize this, from who’s president of the United States in 2019, to the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court Justice hearings. BLACK CHRISTMAS is driven by the overwhelming frustration women feel in the battle with abusive men.
It’s also the scariest part because the horror elements in the movie really don’t work all that well.
But its subtext works and works well, in spite of the fact that the film hits you over the head with its theme time and time again, to the point where it’s so blatantly obvious it almost defeats its purpose. Almost. It doesn’t because, as I said, it’s based on truth, and truth works.
BLACK CHRISTMAS is a remake, the second remake actually of the 1974 movie BLACK CHRISTMAS, which was directed by Bob Clark, the man who also gave us the classic Christmas movie A CHRISTMAS STORY (1983). The original BLACK CHRISTMAS starred Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, and John Saxon, and is a highly regarded horror film, notable because as a “slasher” movie, it pre-dates John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) by four years, which is significant because HALLOWEEN is largely considered to be the movie which jettisoned the slasher movie genre.
The remake BLACK CHRISTMAS (2006) is not so highly regarded. Now comes the 2019 version, written and directed by Sophia Takai as a Me Too Movement horror movie. This new BLACK CHRISTMAS isn’t exactly getting lots of love, and I suspect a lot of that criticism is because of the film’s feminist angle rather than on its merits as a horror movie.
That being said, it’s not a great horror movie, but the point it is making is well taken, especially here in 2019. Just ten years ago the blatancy of this film would not have worked, but its raw take on the issue resonates in the here and now.
It’s just before Christmas break, and most college students are on their way home to spend time with their families, but some students remain on campus. Riley (Imogen Poots) and her sorority sisters Kris (Aleyse Shannon) and Marty (Lily Donoghue) are among those who are staying. While the girls prepare to perform a song at the big fraternity party on the last night before students leave, Riley is struggling emotionally because the young man who sexually assaulted her and got away with it because people didn’t believe her side of the story, will be at the party.
The girls perform their song, and it is a biting attack on the young men in the fraternity, especially towards the young man Riley accused of assaulting her. They are booed off the stage. Soon afterwards, they begin receiving obscure yet threatening text messages, and when some of their sisters disappear, they fear they are being targeted, perhaps by frat boys with a vendetta.
Now, there are many ways this story could have gone. The fact that it takes the most obvious and ridiculous path does not help its cause as a horror movie. See, in this story, the villains are those fraternity brothers who have somehow made a supernatural pact with the undying spirit of their sexist racist university founder, which as a result turns them into supernatural killers!
Yup. The plot is that ridiculous.
However, the subtext in this movie is not ridiculous, and that’s why it ultimately works. The lyrics to the sisters’ song at the party are spot on, and capture real frustrations and real pain.The idea that men treat women this way is not ludicrous. Men do treat women this way. Not all men, obviously, and the film covers this point by having some male characters who are above this sort of nonsense. In fact, one of them, Marty’s boyfriend, comes right out and tells them he’s offended that they would attack all men since he’s not like that, and that they’re not doing themselves any favors by doing so. He also points out that they were naive not to expect that the fraternity brothers wouldn’t target them after they performed such a humiliating song at the party. He is then promptly killed off. So much for the enlightened male!
Sure, I would have preferred a more clever plot, one that was more ambitious, where perhaps Riley and her sisters might find themselves working side by side with the frat brothers to fend off a common enemy, the supernatural killer, but that’s not really how things work in 2019, is it? You don’t see opposing sides coming together all that often. Again, the film’s take on this issue resonates.
BLACK CHRISTMAS attempts to do with sexism what GET OUT (2017) did with racism, that is, make a horror movie with a strong and relevant theme. BLACK CHRISTMAS is far less successful in this regard as its attempts to do so, while appreciated, are way too simplistic and over the top to be completely successful. Yet, somehow, it still works.
For example, in the climactic scene where the fraternity brothers finally get a hold of Riley, and they force her onto her knees, say some very humiliating things to her, and make her say some humiliating things, it’s all so over-the-top it strains credibility. Yet, it’s a very uncomfortable scene because in spite of the ridiculousness of the the sequence’s horror elements, the things said are not only awful, they’re real. I mean, these things are said about women.
And that’s ultimately why this movie worked for me. It speaks to an issue that is real.
I like Imogen Poots a lot, and she’s really good here in the lead role as Riley. She brings to life Riley’s deep pain, her fears, her insecurities, and ultimately her strength in rising up against her attackers.
The rest of the cast is fine, although screen veteran Cary Elwes is stuck playing the very one-sided Professor Gelson, who makes it no secret to the girls that he’s out to get them because of their petition to have him removed from the University for his insistence of teaching them literature only written by white males.
BLACK CHRISTMAS is not going to win any awards for being subtle, or for being a really good horror movie. But its presence here in 2019 is a good indicator of what a lot of women are feeling and of their need to strike back against threats they see as alive and well in the here and now.
In the interest of full disclosure, I am not a fan of Jason. Nor am I a fan of Freddy.
So, if you absolutely love the NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET series and/or the FRIDAY THE 13TH series, you’re probably not going to enjoy this review. I know, there’s a generation of fans who swear by these movies, who believe that the FRIDAY THE 13TH movies are the best thing since sliced bodies. Er, bread.
I’m not of that generation.
See, back in the day, when the slasher film was just getting started, I saw John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) and loved it, so much so, that even though each successive film in the series was inferior, I enjoyed most of them and they pretty much were all guilty pleasures. So, when it comes to loving films that really aren’t that good, I get it.
Anyway, I also saw the original FRIDAY THE 13TH (1980) and immediately thought it was a pretty inferior rip-off of HALLOWEEN, but being a horror fan, I wasn’t ready to quit on the series. However, after suffering through a couple of more FRIDAY films, I said enough is enough.
Now, I enjoyed the original A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET (1984) very much, and for a while watched and enjoyed the sequels, and I found Freddy Krueger to be a pretty cool character. However, over the years with subsequent viewing, I’ve found that the NIGHTMARE films really haven’t aged all that well.
Which brings us to the subject of today’s In The Spooklight column, FREDDY VS. JASON, that epic battle of titans, a bout to rival FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN (1943), KING KONG VS. GODZILLA (1962), and Ali vs. Frazier.
Well, not really.
How about ALIEN VS. PREDATOR (2004) or BATMAN V SUPERMAN (2016)?
Needless to say, I didn’t rush out to the theater in 2003 to see FREDDY VS. JASON. And in subsequent years I never had any interest in seeing it.
I thought, heck, you’re a horror fan, let’s give these guys a chance.
So, I did.
Did the years of waiting erase my disdain for the FRIDAY THE 13TH series? Was all forgotten when after finishing this one, I found it refreshing and fun?
Not even close.
The plot here, if you want to call it that, centers around Freddy (Robert Englund) realizing that in order to restore his power and escape from Hell, where he’s been imprisoned since the last NIGHTMARE movie, he needs dead bodies, and so he resurrects Jason Voorhees (Ken Kirzinger) to kill unsuspecting teenagers for him. For the life of me, I don’t understand why Freddy can’t do this on his own. I mean, he’s Freddy Krueger, for crying out loud!
The bulk of the film involves Jason killing teenagers, in between ridiculously boring conversations between these teenagers as they discuss their fear of Freddy Krueger, who attempts unsuccessfully to enter the world of dreams to murder teens himself. Since his return is a big fail, he retreats, once more allowing Jason to have all the fun. Eventually, Freddy makes it back just in time to realize that there’s not enough room for two leading supernatural maniacs in the same movie, and so they decide to battle each other.
Yeah, I know, there’s more specifics here, and other characters with names in the film, but the problem I have with this movie and others in both series, especially FRIDAY THE 13th, is they make little sense and worse, they’re not in the least realistic. In short, without any of the action seeming believable, it becomes an excuse to kill teens in creative and supposedly humorous ways. Which just bores the hell out of me. No pun intended.
I know there are some folks who like this sort of thing.
I’m not one of them.
All I can say is I’m grateful horror movies have taken another direction in recent years, with compelling believable scripts and talented directors at the helm. People like to bash horror movies, but really, since the mid 2000s, there have been a lot— a lot!— of quality horror movies released both to theaters and to streaming services.
But FREDDY VS. JASON is not one of them.
Was there anything at all that I liked about this film?
Yeah. I liked it when it ended.
With that said, let’s end this column as well.
I know FRIDAY THE 13TH movies have their fans, and I’ve listened to some of these fans in person explain to me why these films are so good, and I respect the opinion of these folks, but for me, well, I respectfully disagree.
Jamie Lee Curtis as long suffering Laurie Strode striking back against Michael Myers in HALLOWEEN (2018)
2018 wasn’t really the best year for horror movies, at least not at the theater. Netflix actually had some of the better horror movies I saw this year. But at the theater it was slim pickings. Of the nearly 100 movies I saw at the move theater this year, only 12 were horror films, and a few of those weren’t really “horror” per se. Granted, there were a few clinkers I avoided all together, and so by design I saw fewer horror flicks in 2018.
Here we go, my list of HORROR MOVIES 2018, from worst to first:
12.THE NUN – by far, the worst horror film I saw this year. I know, a lot of people liked this one, but the script with both its lame story and ridiculous dialogue was horrible. Shot on location in Romania, the film looks terrific, but that’s all it has going for it. Part of the CONJURING universe.
11.INSIDIOUS: THE LAST KEY – yet another INSIDIOUS prequel. I really wish they’d put this series to rest already. I do like Lin Shaye as demon hunter Elise Rainier, but since this character was killed off in the very first INSIDIOUS movie, the continuing back stories told in the prequels don’t really resonate.
10. JURASSIC WORLD: FALLEN KINGDOM – not really a horror movie, but you do have those dinosaurs. Pretty bad entry in the JURASSIC series. Silly and oftentimes dull.
9. HALLOWEEN – after all the hype, this latest entry in the HALLOWEEN series was ultimately a disappointment. Ignoring every other movie in the series except for the original John Carpenter classic HALLOWEEN (1978) the film joins Laurie Strode 50 years later as she’s still dealing with the traumatic events of being stalked by Michael Myers on Halloween back in 1978. Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the series to play Laurie once again, and her scenes are by far the best in the movie- the best written and the best acted. The rest of the movie is surprisingly awful. Tells nearly the same story as HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER (1998).
8. RAMPAGE – Again, not really a horror movie, but the film does feature giant animals battling each other. This ultra silly Dwayne Johnson vehicle has its moments, and it’s more fun than you might think.
7. HEREDITARY – I know, for a lot of horror fans, this was the best horror flick from 2018. I was lukewarm to it. I enjoyed it for nearly 2/3 of the way through, but its ending pretty much ruined it for me. There’s a lot to like about this horror movie, which for me, ultimately did not deliver.
6. OVERLORD – this horror move/World War II action adventure combo wasn’t half bad. On the eve of D-Day, a small group of American soldiers on a secret mission discover a horrific Nazi secret. Works better as an action film than a horror movie, as the horror elements don’t really show up till the end, and they’re not as horrifying as expected.
5. THE POSSESSION OF HANNAH GRACE – this demonic possession movie was better than I expected. The gimmick here is that the possessed being is a corpse rather than a living person. I know. That doesn’t sound like much of a gimmick. But it works here thanks to a compelling lead performance by Shay Mitchell as the woman in the morgue who encounters the angry demon.
4. HELL FEST – another one that was better than expected. This one got off to an awful start with some sloppy direction and bad dialogue, but its standard tale of a crazed killer causing havoc at a Halloween amusement park gets better as it goes along, much, much better. Amy Forshyth is excellent as main character Natalie, the one girl in the group who’s not interested in horror or the supernatural but finds herself smack dab in the center of all it.
3. THE MEG – this giant shark tale starring Jason Statham should have been stupid, but surprise! It’s actually pretty good. So much so that it was one of my favorite movies from last summer. No, it’s not JAWS (1975), but it’s the best of the recent shark movies, in spite of run-of-the-mill special effects.The strength of THE MEG is its surprisingly snappy script and exceptional performances by everyone involved, and seriously, you can’t really go wrong with a Jason Statham action movie, even if he’s battling a gigantic prehistoric shark.
2. ANNIHILATION – this film is way superior to the previous ten films on this list. This horror/science fiction flick about a group of women led by Natalie Portman on an expedition to investigate a bizarre phenomenon where the normal laws of nature don’t apply has three things going for it: the science fiction aspects will blow your mind, the horror scenes deliver, and its female cast is second to none. Exceptional science fiction horror.
1. A QUIET PLACE – my pick for the best horror movie of 2018. Sure, its ending doesn’t make a lot of sense, but what comes before it works so well I let the weak conclusion slide. This tale of vicious alien creatures with exceptional hearing which hunt down humans whenever they hear them follows one family’s efforts to survive in this apocalyptic tale directed by John Krasinski, who also stars as the father in the family. Co-star Emily Blunt has one of the best scenes in the movie, a birthing scene. Yup, try giving birth silently as a hungry alien creature closes in for the kill. Scary stuff. Well done throughout. Also a lot of fun to see a movie that for nearly 45 minutes offers no sound on the soundtrack as the family has to survive silently. It was amazing how fast the silence caused people in the theater to stop munching on their popcorn.
There you have it. A look at the horror films from 2018.
Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in HALLOWEEN (1978)
Welcome back to LEADING LADIES, that column where we look at the careers of leading ladies in the movies, especially horror movies.
Up today it’s Jamie Lee Curtis.
Curtis of course burst onto the horror movie scene with her signature role of terrorized babysitter Laurie Strode in John Carpenter’s groundbreaking classic, HALLOWEEN (1978). And with some perfect symmetry, Curtis’ most recent role is once again Laurie Strode in the latest entry in the HALLOWEEN universe, once more titled, curiously enough, HALLOWEEN (2018). Curtis’ career has come full circle. Of course, she still has a whole lot more acting to do.
In HALLOWEEN (1978), Curtis was so memorable as Laurie Strode not because she screamed a lot. She did not scream her way to fame a la Fay Wray fifty-five years earlier in KING KONG (1933). No, Curtis’ performance was noteworthy because she created in Laurie a vulnerable yet resilient character who faced doubts about dating and boys but was more than up to the task of protecting the children she babysat from masked killer Michael Myers.
The original HALLOWEEN is famous because of John Carpenter’s outstanding direction, along with his now iconic music score. I was 14 when HALLOWEEN came out, and I still remember all the hype and excitement surrounding it. Sold out showings, and long lines of people waiting to see it, often spilling outside the theater into the parking lot. I also remember Siskel and Ebert’s initial review of the movie, a review in which they both praised Carpenter’s phenomenal direction. I don’t remember how at 14 my friends and I were able to buy tickets to this R rated feature, but somehow we did, as we saw this one at the theater.
I remember the theater erupting in screams during the movie. I also remember Jamie Lee Curtis. When the movie was done, and I had returned home, I couldn’t get Carpenter’s music out of my head, and I recalled all the scares, and the image of Michael Myers with his now iconic mask, and this actress named Jamie Lee Curtis. There was something about her that really resonated with me. The best way I can describe it is I felt as if Laurie Strode was someone I knew in real life. As I’ve watched and re-watched HALLOWEEN over the years, I’ve attributed this feeling I had back in 1978 to a very authentic performance by Curtis. I felt like I knew her because she acted like a real person.
Here’s a partial look at Curtis’ career, as we examine some of her 74 screen credits:
HALLOWEEN (1978) – Laurie Strode – Curtis’ signature film role was also her film debut. She had appeared in numerous TV shows before this, including COLUMBO (1977) and CHARLIE’S ANGELS (1978) but this was the first time she appeared on the big screen. And she has never looked back. Quite the film debut. In addition to the top-notch direction and music score by John Carpenter, and the presence of Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis is easily one of the best parts of HALLOWEEN (1978).
THE FOG (1980) – Elizabeth Solley – Curtis stars in John Carpenter’s next horror movie following HALLOWEEN. At the time, Carpenter was a victim of his own success. THE FOG was not well-received by critics in 1980. Siskel and Ebert expressed their disappointment, citing that the film lacked a definitive threat, a la Michael Meyers. However, the movie’s reputation has strengthened over the decades. It’s now considered one of Carpenter’s best films. Not only that, but it’s high on a lot of people’s lists for best horror movies period. I definitely like this one a lot. I still prefer HALLOWEEN though. Curtis, for her part, is fine here, but her role is not the lead, and she makes much less of an impact than she did in HALLOWEEN.
Jamie Lee Curtis in THE FOG (1980)
PROM NIGHT (1980) – Kim – John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN gave birth to the slasher movie, and suddenly everyone and their grandmother was making horror movies with masked knife-wielding killers terrorizing teenagers. This one’s not directed by Carpenter, but does star Jamie Lee Curtis. It did well on its initial release and has established a reputation as a decent slasher flick, but this one never did anything for me. For me, not even the presence of Jamie Lee Curtis could save this HALLOWEEN rip-off.
TERROR TRAIN (1980) – Alana – another crazed killer attacking teenagers, this time on a train.
ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK (1981) – Narrator/Computer Voice (uncredited) – An uncredited Curtis provides the voice of the narrator and computer in this exciting futuristic crime thriller by John Carpenter, notable also for Kurt Russell’s memorable performance as Snake Plissken.
HALLOWEEN II (1981) – Laurie Strode – Inferior sequel to HALLOWEEN. Rick Rosenthal takes over the directing duties from John Carpenter, and his vision here is far less impressive. Curtis is okay, but sadly, spends most of the movie confined to a hospital bed and in and out of a medicated stupor. While this really is not a good movie, it is actually better than most of the later HALLOWEEN films, some of which are really, really bad.
With Donald Pleasence in HALLOWEEN II (1981)
HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1983) – Curfew Announcer/Telephone Operator (uncredited) – A disaster upon its initial release, this was part of John Carpenter’s vision to create a HALLOWEEN series featuring different horror stories each year and not necessarily be about Michael Myers, but film audiences wanted Myers and didn’t really accept this movie. That being said, this one has enjoyed a growing reputation over the decades, and there are some (not me) who consider this to be the best of all the HALLOWEEN movies.
TRADING PLACES (1983) – Ophelia – This funny comedy by director John Landis stars Dan Aykroyd and Eddie Murphy. Murphy, who was insanely popular at the time due to his stint on Saturday Night Live, is the main reason to see this one, but Jamie Lee Curtis is also hilarious in her role as prostitute Ophelia. She makes the jump into a non-horror movie quite nicely.
GRANDVIEW U.S.A. (1984) – Michelle “Mike” Cody – Drama in which Curtis co-stars with C. Thomas Howell and Patrick Swayze that asks the question, can the young folks from Grandview U.S.A. pursue their dreams and shed their small town roots? Nothing special.
A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988) – Wanda Gershwitz – co-stars with John Cleese, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin in this uproarious comedy written by Cleese. Kline won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.
Michael Palin, Jamie Lee Curtis, and Kevin Kline in A FISH CALLED WANDA (1988)
FOREVER YOUNG (1992) – Claire Cooper – co-stars with Mel Gibson who plays a 1939 pilot awoken from a cryogenic sleep in 1992. Written by J.J. Abrams.
TRUE LIES (1994) – Helen Tasker – plays the wife of a spy, played by Arnold Schwarzenegger, in this entertaining action comedy by director James Cameron.
FIERCE CREATURES (1997) – Willa Weston – Reunited with her co-stars from A FISH CALLED WANDA, John Cleese, Kevin Kline, and Michael Palin, this time with lesser results.
HALLOWEEN H20 – TWENTY YEARS LATER (1998) -Laurie Strode- Curtis returns to the HALLOWEEN series after a three film hiatus, and the emphasis returns to Laurie Strode, still dealing with the trauma caused by Michael Myers twenty years earlier. The masked killer of course once more sets his sights on terrorizing Laurie. Some girls have all the fun. This film was well-received when it first came out, but it hasn’t aged all that well. That being said, I still like this one a lot.
Facing fear in HALLOWEEN H20 (1998)
HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION (2002)- Laurie Strode – Curtis returns as Laurie Strode for about two seconds before her character is abruptly killed by Michael Myers in the most undramatic and anticlimactic of ways. By far, the absolute worst of all the HALLOWEEN movies.
FREAKY FRIDAY (2003) – Tess Coleman – co-stars with Lindsay Lohan in this remake of the Disney classic.
SCREAM QUEENS (TV Series) (2015-2016) – Dean Cathy Munsch- TV horror/comedy series about a— you got it— a crazed serial killer terrorizing, among other places, a college campus.
HALLOWEEN (2018) – Laurie Strode – Curtis comes full circle, playing Laurie Strode once again, this time in a movie that ignores every other HALLOWEEN movie in the series except the original. Lots of hype and box office success, but ultimately this one was a letdown. Curtis’ scenes and storyline are the best parts, as she is once again still dealing with the trauma from Michael Myer’s original attack, now forty years earlier. Everything else in this film is pretty bad. A major disappointment.
Taking on Michael Myers yet again in HALLOWEEN (2018)
And that wraps things up for this edition of LEADING LADIES.
Join me again next time when we check out the career of another Leading Lady.