Happy Halloween everybody! I’ve decided to celebrate the day with a Halloween-themed Reel Life segment. I got to see three horror films this week, and I can certainly say they took me on a strange journey. No dogs playing poker, however.
Halloween (David Gordon Green, 2018)
In 1978, Michael Myers, a man who had been in captivity since the age of six for murdering his older sister, Judith, escaped from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium and went on a rampage in his former hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois. Forty years have passed since that incident. True-crime podcasters Aaron Korey and Dana Haines have travelled to the rehabilitation hospital in which Michael Myers is interred. After failing to get a word out of him, they meet the sole living survivor of his rampage: one Laurie Strode. She has developed severe PTSD due to the incident and has spent the last four decades preparing for the return of Michael Myers. Little does she know that she is about to get her wish.
After seeing Halloween, I now have enough context with which to fully understand Halloween – the sequel to Halloween. Why they couldn’t come up with a new title is beyond me; it would make sense had this film been a reboot, but that’s obviously not the case. In fact, despite this Halloween being the eleventh installment in the long-running franchise, any sequel released between the original and this one canonically never happened. Given that Michael Myers merely disappears at the end of the original, it makes the setup to this film rather awkward – the implication is that he was apprehended offscreen.
This matters very little, however, because I feel the 2018 edition of Halloween is a good follow-up to the original. Part of what makes it good is seeing Jamie Lee Curtis reprise her role as Laurie Strode. Her transformation reminded me a lot of Sarah Connor’s from the Terminator films. Both cases involve a normal young woman being pursued by a relentless killer only to develop severe PTSD in the interim between installments. However, while Sarah was eventually committed, Laurie taught her child how use firearms. This eventually resulted in her kids being taken away. Now, much of the driving force behind dealing with Michael Myers’s inevitable escapes involves keeping Laurie’s granddaughter, Allison, safe.
After many decades of attempting to reinterpret Michael’s character, the 2018 Halloween goes back to basics. He’s a deranged, abnormally strong serial killer with unknown motives, and that’s basically all you need to know. There’s no explicit mention of any supernatural elements, although he retains his ability to withstand an improbable amount of punishment. Once again, his lack of obvious motivations is what makes him an effective antagonist. Most villains couldn’t get away with being so flat, but David Gordon Green clearly knew how this character works. He could kill somebody just because they got in his way, yet completely ignore kids that run into him by accident. |There’s even one moment when he kills a woman, yet spares her infant child.| Ironically, this makes him more terrifying than if he just killed everything in sight; it’s like if a violent maelstrom could actively choose who to kill.
Now, the 2018 edition of Halloween is far from a perfect film, having quite a few annoyances. To begin with, this is a horror film that gets as bad as it does because the characters forgo any notions of common sense. Characters will investigate a disturbance alone despite a serial killer being on the loose, and the cast outside of the lead characters are either bland or unlikable. Granted, they’re not as bad as the cast of the average 2010s slasher film, but it’s still vaguely noticeable.
When it comes to its plot developments, I also feel it goes a few twists too far on occasion. Notably, Dr. Loomis has passed away since the events of the original film. In his stead is Dr. Ranbir Sartain, his apprentice. |After Sheriff Frank Hawkins runs Michael over with his squad car, Dr. Sartain stabs him to death before he can deliver the coup de grâce. As it turns out, Dr. Sartain has become so fascinated with Michael’s motivations that he wants to preserve him and possibly get a word out of him. Michael eventually regains consciousness and kills the doctor.| While I can appreciate the idea of not simply making him Loomis 2.0, the problem with the twist is that it has little buildup and is resolved rather quickly. The twist merely exists to get the main characters in one place rather than coming across as a natural plot progression.
Even with my problems with the film, I feel the 2018 Halloween is an above-average effort overall. I can certainly see Halloween fans enjoying it because it clearly knows what made the original work, and it’s not quite what I’d call a straight retread. There are numerous clever callbacks to the original, and the final confrontation was very well done |– especially in how it blurred the line between the hunter and the hunted|, yet I am a slightly hesitant to give it a recommendation. Definitely see it if you enjoyed the original because it does explore enough interesting ideas to be considered a worthy follow-up. If you’re not a fan of slasher films, however, then this one will probably not change your mind.
Kwaidan (Masaki Kobayashi, 1965)
In 1904, writer Lafcadio Hearn collected several Japanese ghost stories and published them in a book entitled Kwaidan: Stories and Studies of Strange Things. Later, in the year 1965, acclaimed director Masaki Kobayashi then drew upon this book and made an anthological film called Kwaidan based on the stories within the compilation. It is divided into four vignettes.
“Black Hair”: A swordsman who has lived his life in Kyoto in poverty divorces his wife to marry into a wealthy family and achieve a greater social status. Things take a turn for the worse when his second wife proves to be callous and shallow. He soon finds himself longing for his former life.
“The Woman of the Snow”: A woodcutter named Minokichi and his mentor, Mosaku, hide from a severe snowstorm in a ferryman’s shack. Minokichi wakes up only to realize that a Yuki-onna – a snow woman – has killed his mentor. The spirit spares Minokichi but warns him never to mention what just happened or she will kill him.
“Hoichi the Earless”: A blind musician named Hoichi specializes in singing The Tale of the Heike, an account of the Battle of Dan-no-ura fought between the Taira and Minamoto clans in the final phase of the Genpei War in 1185. An unknown figure asks him to sing for a royal family.
“In a Cup of Tea”: This unfinished story details a samurai who keeps seeing a strange man reflected in a cup of tea. Whether the story is unfinished due to laziness, a feud with the publisher, or any other factor is not known.
I have to admit I was going into this film expecting something overtly scary, but what I got instead was a set of thought-provoking stories that have a very unique style to them. In many shots, you can see the walls of the sets, which lend a surreal quality to the environment. But of course, style is nothing without substance, and I have to give this film a lot of credit for telling fully fledged stories in a relatively short span of time. The only exception is “In a Cup of Tea”, which ends abruptly with no resolution. I get the feeling it was intended to be a postmodern twist |in how the figure in the story shows up in the tea’s reflection in the real world|, but it’s still a strange note to end the film on. Other than that, the three vignettes leading up to it were solid. Each of them could have been made into their own films, yet they were as long as they needed to be.
The film is a lot like what would happen if one combined The Twilight Zone with traditional Japanese folklore. The vignettes describe fantastical situations with surprisingly relatable messages. |Respectively the first three messages could be interpreted as don’t abandon your loved ones, don’t break your promises, don’t let a traumatic experience keep you from doing what you enjoy. Considering the last one ends abruptly, it appears to be the only exception to this. Considering the samurai’s troubles started as the result of being too rash, maybe it extols the importance of taking a rational approach to life?|
Kwaidan is considered a horror film, but it’s not in-your-face about its creepiness. It is very much an arthouse film first and a horror film second. It is definitely worth watching. Whether you consider yourself a horror fan or not, these stories will stick with you if you give them the time of day.
A Nightmare on Elm Street (Wes Craven, 1984)
Tina Gray awakens from a nightmare in which she was pursued by a disfigured man wearing a glove with bladed fingers. To her shock, her nightgown has four mysterious slashes. She talks about the dream to her best friend, Nancy Thompson and Nancy’s boyfriend, Glen Lantz. To her surprise, Nancy tells Tina that she saw the same figure in her dream. After Tina’s mother goes out of town, the two stay at her house. Rod Lane, Tina’s boyfriend arrives shortly thereafter and the two proceed to copulate. When Tina falls asleep, she is chased by the man in her dreams once again. This time, the figure stabs her. In the real world, Rod sees his girlfriend dragged and stabbed to death by an unknown force. He is arrested for murder, but it is clear things are not as they appear.
By 1984, the horror genre was at the height of its popularity. The 1978 film Halloween is often cited as the work that kickstarted the scene with its memorable, sociopathic serial killer Michael Myers. After Friday the 13th Part 2 introduced Jason Voorhees, there were at least two memorable horror movie villains to scare audiences everywhere. Almost as response to these villains, Wes Craven goes in an interesting direction with the mysterious man in the protagonist’s dreams. His name is Freddy Krueger – a serial child killer who was killed by vengeful parents after escaping justice. He is quite a bit different than Michael or Jason before him. The former killed because it was in his nature while the latter killed in a warped effort to make his mother proud. Though their motivations varied, they were ultimately creatures guided by instinct. They killed like a normal person breathes. This doesn’t apply to Freddy. He actively enjoys watching his victims squirm and taunts them seconds before extinguishing their lives. As a result, Freddy is a much more contemptable villain, though no less terrifying given how he goes about hunting down his victims.
By 1984, most of the horror movie clichés had been firmly cemented. While they are present in A Nightmare on Elm Street, the very premise goes a long way in justifying their presence. Police and anyone over the age of eighteen are useless because Freddy haunts his victims’ dreams. It’s obvious from our standpoint what’s going on because we observe these events from beyond the fourth wall, but from their perspective “a dead child killer is murdering teenagers in their dreams” is a conclusion no sane person would reach. Plus, given that Freddy is haunting their dreams, there’s little they could do to help even if they wanted to – other than waking them up when they start thrashing around, that is.
Despite this, I do have to comment that the writers overreached with this justification in that the protagonist isn’t believed even when she produces material evidence of Freddy’s existence. It’s especially noticeable given that one policeman happens to be her father. It also stretches the suspension of disbelief a little too far later on. |Even when Glen is eventually murdered in a truly spectacular fashion, no one bothers to help Nancy when she has pulled Freddy into the real world and is screaming that the killer is in her house. Predictably, by the time they can be bothered to do anything, he’s gone. Even if they’re understandably not convinced of Freddy’s existence, a teenager just got murdered, so if anybody is calling for help minutes later, that deserves to be investigated.|
Despite its flaws, I was mostly onboard with the film, but I have to say the ending was terrible. |Nancy causes Freddy to evaporate when she declares she’s not afraid of him anymore. The next scene shows a beautiful day in which Nancy gets into Glen’s car to go to school. The car locks them in, taking on the colors of Freddy’s outfit while Freddy himself kills Nancy’s mother. This is a case in which we have the executives to blame. Mr. Craven wished for a happy ending, which while out of place, would’ve made for a more logical stopping point. Unfortunately, producer Robert Shaye demanded a dark twist ending, and it was made so. Given the myriad sequels of varying quality that followed, what Mr. Shaye did was ruin this film’s ability to stand on its own, rendering Nancy’s arc, which could be considered an unconventional coming-of-age analogue, pointless – even if she does show up in later films. It does kind of play around with how it is often difficult to tell the difference between dreams and reality in this film, but it still doesn’t feel like the ending the film was working towards.|
Though I mostly enjoyed it, A Nightmare on Elm Street ultimately encapsulates the best and worst aspects of the eighties slasher film scene. It has a premise markedly more creative than most of its contemporaries, yet certain developments mark it as a product of that “let’s make every horror film into a franchise and watch the money roll right in” era. If you’re a fan of that era, watch this film with the intent to see its sequels. If you’re not, it’s probably best to look elsewhere.