MONSTERZERO NJ’S SATURDAY NIGHT DOUBLE FEATURE: HALLOWEEN II and HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH

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The Halloween season may be over, but I couldn’t let it pass without giving this fun double feature a mention…

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HALLOWEEN II (1981)

With John Carpenter’s Halloween a big hit, it was inevitable that there would be a sequel. And while he had no intention of directing it, Carpenter along with Debra Hill wrote Halloween II which takes place on the same night of the original, basically picking up right where the first film leaves off. The flick continues the story with an injured Laurie Strode (Jaime Lee Curtis) being taken to a hospital in Haddonfield while Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) and the police scour the neighborhood for the still at large Michael Myers (stuntman Dick Warlock). But unbeknownst to them, Michael has discovered Laurie’s whereabouts and heads to the hospital to find her, leaving a trail of bodies along the way and once there he begins to decimate the hospital staff in search of his prey. It is in this film we find Laurie is actually Michael’s other sister and he has come home to finish the job he started 15 years ago.

While Halloween II is far from the masterpiece that Halloween is, it is a classic in it’s own right and in retrospect is definitely among one of the better slasher flicks of the 80s. Carpenter chose unknown Rick Rosenthal to direct and it’s hard to tell just how much of the film’s effectiveness is his, as it is said that producer Carpenter was unhappy with the film and did some re-editing and reshooting himself upping the gore and nudity quotas…which, in turn, made Rosenthal unhappy with the film. Photographed by Dean Cundey, the look of the film certainly matches the first and with Carpenter again handling the music, the atmosphere is there. The two flicks fit together quite nicely, but it’s hard to tell just how well Rosenthal did as director when Carpenter basically took over post production and added new material and rearranged sequences. The result is a solid slasher with some decent kills and gore and some nice suspense sequences as Myers stalks Laurie and the hospital staff in the dark hallways of the nearly abandoned hospital night shift. It has it’s intense moments and it certainly is a bit more brutal than the first with a much larger body count. Though, obviously it doesn’t have the first film’s finesse.

The cast all perform well with Curtis once again strong as Laurie and Donald Pleasence seamlessly reprising his role as Loomis. Dick Warlock gives Michael a powerful presence and newcomers Jeff East, Leo Rossi, Ana Alicia and Pamela Susan Shoop are all suitable as hospital staff and potential victims.

Who actually deserves more credit for making this sequel a solid slasher and a decent follow-up to Carpenter’s classic is not clear, but what is clear is that despite the large shoes it had to fill, Halloween II is an entertaining and effective slasher sequel that over time has come to stand on it’s own and has earned it’s own reputation as a classic.

3 and 1/2 skull pumpkins!

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HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982) 

Basically having concluded…or so he thought…Michael Myers’ story in Halloween II, producer John Carpenter intended to turn the Halloween series into an anthology, with each year a new Halloween themed film being released under the Halloween banner, but each one a separate and unrelated story.

The first of this proposed series is a bizarre, twisted and in my opinion, very underrated little horror thriller that mixes the supernatural with a bit of hi-tech (for the time). The film opens with an atmospheric and spooky sequence of a lone frantic man (Al Berry) clutching a Halloween mask while being pursued by ominous suited figures and finding his way to a gas station where he proclaims that someone is going to ‘kill us’ before collapsing. He’s brought to a hospital and put under the care of alcoholic Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins), but later that night one of the suited figures arrives and gruesomely murders the man and then sets fire to himself. Challis soon learns the man was Harry Grimbridge, a local shop owner who was recently reported missing by his daughter Ellie (a smoking hot Stacy Nelkin). Now Ellie and Dan team up to find out what happened to Harry and why someone would want him dead. The only clues being the Silver Shamrock mask he was holding and that picking up a shipment of those masks from the factory in the remote little town of Santa Mira, was the last thing he was known to have been doing. But when the two get to Santa Mira they find something very sinister is afoot and that factory owner Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) may have a horrible plan in store for the innocents wearing his masks on Halloween using modern technology to resurrect an ancient evil.

A lot of fans of the Halloween series were very disappointed with this entry for abandoning Michael Myers and his storyline, but I really liked the idea of an anthology series and I have a lot of fun with this gruesome little horror thriller with a twisted sense of humor. Carpenter pal Tommy Lee Wallace directs…and wrote the script from a story by Nigel Kneale…and he does a good job of replicating the master’s style and having Dean Cundey doing the cinematography and Carpenter and Alan Howarth on musical chores, the film fits right in with the Halloween series despite sharing none of the story elements. There are also some nice gore effects and other make-up to portray the various effects of Cochran’s Druid black magic and the after-effects of his suited thugs’ handiwork. The film has some nice atmosphere from the score…one of Carpenter’s best, actually…and the fact that Wallace has learned a lot about setting up shots from his director friend.

We get a flawed hero in the alcoholic divorcee Challis, who is brought to life with a really good performance by Tom Atkins. Dan is a very down to earth and real guy who comes up against a horrifying plan to murder thousands of children and faces the challenge with nobility and guts. Nelkin is a pretty and spunky heroine as Ellie and while it may be a stretch that she would fall so quickly for a borderline wreck like Challis, they do work well together as both characters and actors. And it would be remiss to not give Dan O’Herlihy a nod for a strong and creepy villain who has the charm of an angel, but the soul of a devil. The movie has it’s share of flaws. It can be silly at times, though sometimes it works in it’s favor, such as a last act that turns into a sort of supernaturally themed James Bond movie complete with a hidden lair, evil world effecting plot and arrogant boastful villain. And some characters are obviously just there for exposition and to be victims. But I think overall, you can forgive some of it’s flaws because it is such a well intentioned and fun horror thriller that has it’s heart in the right place and, in retrospect, is actually one of the more original horrors to come out of the franchise heavy 80s despite it’s farfetched story.

A very underrated horror thriller and a spooky, fun and twisted Halloween flick that gets watched every year during the spooky season at MonsterZero NJ’s lair. A favorite that I find is finally getting the respect it deserves. Listen for vocal cameo’s by none other then Jaime Lee Curtis during the scenes in Santa Mira.

Michael Myers returned to the series in Halloween 4 a few years later and the anthology series idea faded with Halloween III‘s weak box office returns. Too bad, I would have liked to have seen what Carpenter and co. would have come up with for future installments.

3 sinister Silver Shamrock masks!

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