Halloween (2018)

Halloween (2018) A SPOILER FREE Review (for a change)
a guest review by Spencer Hackett

If you’d have told me I’d have been excited to see a new Halloween film a few years ago I’d have called you a liar. If you told me I’d be really excited about a new Halloween film made by the guys that made Pineapple Express, I’d probably have discounted anything you ever said or would say. But that’s exactly what has happened. So eagerly I got to the cinema as soon as I could to watch David Gordon Green’s rebooted, sequel thing that annoyingly has just been called Halloween (side note, can this stop, it was bad enough with games like Doom and God Of War, I don’t need it in cinema’s aswell). I’d avoided trailers and most reviews, other than seeing that mostly people had liked it, making sure my enjoyment wasn’t spoiled in any way. Anyway, to cut to the chase, it’s good, pretty damn good in fact. I know for some people that’ll be enough, but for anyone who wants a proper review, keep reading. This time I promise that there won’t be spoilers other than some character names and the scantest of plot details that I’ll need to even vaguely write this, but nothing that you won’t find from just popping on IMDB for two seconds.

I’ll start off with the fact I love the original, but that love came slowly. It was one of my least favourite slashers to begin with, lacking the camp, gory fun of Friday the 13th or the sheer terror of Texas Chain Saw Massacre. However that’s changed and I’ve learned to love it and it’s now probably one of my favourite films ever. I quite liked 2 as well and 3, although that’s ones not relevant to this conversation. I also do like Rob Zombies original remake, even if it doesn’t strike me as the most in keeping with Halloween lore and the eerie creepiness of the original. I know defending that has probably just lost me some credibility, but stick with me. If you found Zombie’s film ruined the mystique of Myers then you’re in luck. This is Halloween as Carpenter-esque as you can get without the master behind the lens.

Without spoiling the plot at all, this is mainly because this film treats Myers as the boogeyman he was in the original, an unstoppable killing machine that just looks awesome, whether he’s imposingly stood over a victim or ominously loitering in the background of shots. This film nails that mix of terror and excitement the best slasher villains have, and it’s all the better for it. Myers is a lot more brutal here than the original, mainly due to the obvious increase in budget, but this isn’t a gore flick, and you’ll be disappointed if that’s what you’ve come for. Myers is still more effective as just being freakily evil and emotionless, like that original incarnation. Myers is played by two actors here, James Jude Courtney for the heavy lifting, and Nick Castle, one of the many original Myers actors from the first film (he’s the one that is in most of the original). Just giving a shout out to the mask design for this as well, it looks worn without looking tacky, and really does capture the sense of the original design.

Plot wise we have two scenarios playing out, Michael versus the occupants of Haddonfield, and Michael versus Laurie Strode, played by a returning Jamie Lee Curtis (who’s clearly loving being in this, she gives the performance of her career in my opinion). Both work in their own right, I just wish they married up better. For once a horror film has teenagers that A. are actually likeable, and B. Reminded me of actual teenagers, which is amazing. Also we get a fantastic performance from a kid (Jibrail Nantambu) who literally steals the film out from under everyone to be my favourite character in any film this year,. Put this kid in more films, he’s ace. But sometimes these scenes feel so isolated from Laurie’s story, the clear central narrative, that they feel almost perfunctory. I don’t think they hurt the film in anyway, and it really helps the pacing as it means you get a kill every few minutes, I just feel that at some point they had more weight. This may have something to do with the roughly half an hour cut out for pacing reasons. That being said what characters we do get are really interesting, Allyson played by newcomer Andi Matichak is great and I hope she gets the scream queen status Curits gained for the original. I just wish it all tied together more, but then I’d have little to complain about at all.

On the technical side the films very well done. Green has an eye for set pieces and how to shoot them, including a lovely extended steady cam shot that has really stuck in my mind. Cinematographer Michael Simmonds clearly loves flashing police lights, but overall does well to keep a very dark film clear, something that cant be said for some big budget films I’ve seen recently. Seriously if you want to shoot in the dark that’s fine, but just make sure we can actually see what’s going on. Fortunately we don’t have that issue here. What we do have are lots of nice homages to not only the original, but a lot of the sequels as well, which is a really nice touch for fans. I’m sure you already know that Carpenter returned to score this film, along with band mates Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies. It cannot be over stated how much this helps the film feel just like Halloween should. It was a joy to hear the iconic theme in an auditorium, along with many other familiar motifs. I rushed to order the soundtrack as soon as I got home from the screening, so that’s a sign that it’s ace.

Overall I think what we have here is a great, passionately made fan film. Don’t let that sound like a bad thing, this is a film made by fans of the original for fans of the original. I will advice anyone who wants to see this who hasn’t seen the original to watch it before hand. The new film makes little accommodation if you haven’t seen the original, and you’re just missing out anyway. But if you have seen it and were worried this was going to disappoint, don’t. It’s by no means perfect, I do think the film stumbles over its two plots, but my God does it pull them back together. I’ll end by saying that I’ve been disappointed by lots of horror film climax’s recently, that they feel like the worst part of the film. That’s not the case here, it’s one of the best horror finales I’ve seen in ages, for easily one of my favourite films of the year.

Johnny Gruesome

Sober edit – there are spoilers. Also, reading back, I think I was marvellously drunk.

Well, I like the name anyway… And METAL. Just like my teens.

Daytime. I don’t get to watch many films that have daytime. Or locations. Or cars. Or extras.

Shades perched on the tip of his nose. How remarkably 80s.

Man O’War. Awesome.

Death to false metal

Usually, the metaller gets a beat down early, then his revenge.

Nice house for a dead beat dad. His dad reminds me of someone.

Well that escalated quickly.

Why didn’t they gout of the car to help? Now violins have happened.

How do you make strangulation look like an accident?

Kind of a low key reason for revenge.

C’mon. Of course they’d know. That car wasn’t subtle.

Interesting acting by the dad.

Another Man O’War t’shirt.

This is the film of someone who was bullied. Or who has other cause to hate bullies.

He was a jerk, but that’s a bit much.

Now a Gwar t-shirt.

Gwar!

That’s quite a good severed head. I’ve always wondered how that must feel to an actor, seeing their own severed head.

“Oh God. You killed Todd.”

His choice of victims seems a bit random. A lot of films like this don’t seem to have a moral centre.

A Gwar t-shirt again?

Gwar!!

She’d be better off with a water pistol.

Well that was original – the human haggis.

Ouch.

Knife to meet you.

Oh crikey. What bullshittery is this?

Sober edit – so, yeah. You can probably see I was more drunk than usual when doing this one. I would apologise for the rambling, but, well, the rambling’s what drunken reviews are all about (and for me, I love it when I read my reviews back and have no idea what I was talking about).

 

 

Threads

Threads, 34 years on – A Guest Review by Spencer Hackett

I remember a nightmare I had a few months back. It started out as many nightmares do, completely mundane. I was trying get a bunch of friends to a party, or something along those lines. However, by the end of the dream I was stood in an apartment building, presumably my home in this dreamscape. Without warning a blinding light filled the room, followed by an all mighty rumble. As the light dimmed I looked out to see a huge fiery mushroom cloud reaching up to the now blackened, smoke filled sky. Moments later I had startled awake in bed. It soon dawned on me that this nightmare felt out of time, that whilst political tensions of today are certainly high strung, and the threat of nuclear war has never gone away, especially given the blithering tangerine idiot in power in the States, we don’t fear it on a day to day basis. Notably, this felt like a nightmare ripped from the height of the cold war. I can’t help but think I somehow shared the nightmare of many a BBC television viewer from the 23rd of September 1984, when Threads was first broadcast.

For the uninitiated, Threads was a made for TV movie predominantly touted as being from writer Barry Hines (Kes) and was directed by Mick Jackson. It tells the story of a ensemble cast throughout the build up to, during and aftermath of a nuclear attack on the British City of Sheffield. Whilst ostensibly a drama, the film has an almost documentary quality thanks to it’s narration by Paul Vaughan and use of inter-titles. These are often used to display facts, such as the number of megatons dropped, the death rate, and other updates on the situation. The film makes for odd viewing outside of it’s original airing 34 years ago, especially for someone like myself who wasn’t alive at the time. Yet it still gripped me, and I won’t lie, gave me an incredibly troubled nights sleep.

I think to explain how the film works so well, it’s best to split the film into it’s three acts. This isn’t a typical beginning middle and end, but more a before during and after. So lets start where the film starts. The key principal players are set up, Ruth Beckett (Karen Meagher) and Jimmy Kemp (Reece Dinsdale) are a newly pregnant couple, and along with them we get to meet their immediate family. We are also introduced to Clive Sutton (Harry Beety), who will be given emergency powers of government in the case the bombs fall. We do deviate to other characters briefly, such as some anti war protests, but it’s mainly the story of these groups. We mainly watch as the cast get on with day today living, work, going to the pub, gardening etc. But even these scenes are under pinned by a sense of encroaching dread, notably due to inter-cut use of BBC news anchors Lesley Judd and Colin Ward-Lewis, along with fighter planes screaming over head and the use of real preparation for nuclear war PSA’s often heard in the background. The film brilliantly builds this sense of paranoia and tension that makes you feel sick to your stomach.

And then the bombs fall. The sirens ring out, and within the minute the first bomb has hit Sheffield. The sheer realism that this film displays the moment of the bomb dropping cannot be understated. This is not a glamorous or softened depiction. Pedestrians stampede, a character wets themselves in fright, central character’s including children are burned alive. The mushroom cloud reaches up just like that image from my nightmare, made even more imposing by the 4:3 aspect ratio. Even the powers that be, deep underground are not safe, ceilings collapsing in as panicked communication is attempted. I feel I shouldn’t dwell on this section, its a horror that has to be seen to be believed. How the BBC felt they could commission and show this is beyond belief, given their lack of real bite these days.

But whilst the shock of seeing such devastation on screen may well have been enough for most audience to stomach, the world of the “post apocalypse” for lack of a better word is truly distressing. The calm narration from Vaughan frequently updates on the effects of radiation sickness, the dwindling food stocks and how government facilities are running is unnerving, delivered as fact, not prediction. This is not the nuclear wasteland of Mad Max or Fallout, which look leisurely by comparison. Certain characters fates are never learnt, a cold reality of this level of devastation. But those we do follow give way to some of the most striking images I can think of. Workers calmly placing a colleague’s corpse into a bin bag, a woman cradling the shared remains of an infant and the now iconic traffic warden, face bandaged, armed with an assault rifle. At this point the film begins to jump forward in time, showing us the evolving landscape of post bomb Britain, jumping to around 11 years from the bomb if not further. Whilst I think narratively this hurts the film, it does make for brilliantly dreary watching. I won’t spoil some of the later reveals, but Hines and Jackson are definitely out to test their audience.

The performances here are absolutely top notch. I was really pleasantly surprised by how well the cast do in staying believable in what must have been a surreal filming situation. The heavy accents may be off-putting especially for foreign audiences, although this didn’t stop Threads being the most watched basic cable program in the history of American telly at the time (at least according to the back of the Blu Ray case). With most of the cast being from soaps and other bits of British telly, I worried the performances would let down the serious tone of the film. I love classic Doctor Who, but if you think of that around this time in its run, it was marred by less than stellar acting and set design, so for the BBC to churn this out was a pleasant surprise. The destroyed cityscapes look as real as is to be expected, and apart from some wonky looking stock footage that doesn’t gel completely, and some obvious matt paintings, the set design holds up nicely, better than some modern TV to be honest.

I’ll say it again, I can’t believe the BBC would show something like this, when this was at the heart of the nation’s fears. It was a test even for me, someone who thinks Martyrs (2008, Laugier) and Cannibal Holocaust (1980, Deodato) are some of the best films ever. To be honest, those films feel like ideal bedfellows for Threads. This great, nihilistic feeling permeates all these films, to allow for the most brilliantly, un-compromised, haunting images you can think of. It’s the clear research that went into this portrayal of nuclear Armageddon that makes it so Harrowing. Hines used “Square Leg”, a British Government project, to inform the scale of the devastation and the effects it would have on the nation. A lot of credit should also be given to Directors of Photography Andrew Dunn and Paul Morris, who shoot the film with this real gritty, natural style. This is most likely due to restrictions but it works so effortlessly. I’m sure the film would be awful if shot now on 4K ultra HD. It’s the tactility of the 16mm footage that lends the film that documentary feel, much in the way of something like Cannibal Holocaust. Similarly the use of scan line covered computerised text, whilst may seem outdated now, has this unsettling power. The film uses still photography for some moments, bringing up images of La Jetee (1962, Marker) in the mind, but without any pretence of either ham or art. This is journalism for a future that thankfully hasn’t come to pass. I urge anyone who can get hold of a copy of this film to watch it. I’ll personally vouch for the Severin re release which is what I watched, and it has bags of extra features. Watch it in the dark, alone if you can, and I’m sure by the end you’ll have your mattress pressed up against the window in paranoid fear.