October 1st, 2009

HALLOWEEN 2 (1981) *** ½

<Special Note:  It’s October and that means Halloween is almost here.  If you couldn’t already tell, Halloween is by far my favorite time of the year.  I just like the fact that anyone can dress up like a stark raving lunatic and it’s socially acceptable.  The big reason why I love Halloween though is because that’s when a whole bunch of horror movies start coming on TV.  To celebrate this wonderful time of year I wanted to do something special.  Since I have a soft spot in my heart for all of the major horror franchises, I’m going to try to watch and review one horror sequel (or original) a day for the month of October.  Any Michael Myers, Freddy, Jason, Pinhead, etc. sequels that I haven’t reviewed yet should hopefully be put up on the site one-by-one day-by-day by All Hallow’s Eve.  This is a pretty big undertaking; one that I probably won’t be able to achieve (I’m still working full time and my wife and I are expecting our first baby in the first week of November), but hey we all need goals, right?  To start things off, here’s my review for Halloween 2 (The ORIGINAL Halloween 2, not that Rob Zombie jazz)…>

 

Halloween is hands down the scariest movie ever made.  Since it made tons of money, a sequel was naturally in order.  By the time it came out though, theaters had been flooded with just about every kind of holiday themed horror movie imaginable (from Friday the 13th to My Bloody Valentine).  Because of this, Halloween 2 kinda got lost in the shuffle.  It’s a shame too because it’s a solid and effective movie that unfortunately gets overlooked whenever somebody starts talking fairly kick ass horror sequels.  This is partly because the shadow that the original Halloween cast was so large.  Halloween 2 is a noticeable step down from the first movie but that’s fine.  Any step down from a movie as great as Halloween is going to be a steep drop anyway.

 

Halloween 2 picks up exactly where the first one left off.  (Just like one of those old Saturday morning serials, it actually starts with the final moments of the last chapter.)  Maniac Michael Myers is still loose in Haddonfield; his impassioned physician Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) is still looking for him; and his intended victim Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is still freaked out.  She gets taken to the hospital for her injuries while Loomis relentlessly scours the streets for Michael.  Predictably, Michael finds his way to the hospital and slashes up teenagers, night watchmen, ambulance drivers, doctors, and of course lots of nurses until setting his sights on Laurie again.

 

I like this movie a lot mostly because Michael was allowed to get more creative with his kills this time out.  Throughout the course of the movie he plants a knife in a random chick’s chest, lands a hammer into some dumbass’s head, strangles a horndog, puts a hypodermic needle in the eye of a bimbo, sticks a scalpel in one chick’s back, and lifts her a foot off the ground and slit’s a cop’s throat.  He also makes inventive use of an IV to completely drain a victim of her blood.  Then a guy discovers the body and slips on the blood and hits his head!  Ingenious! 

 

The standout death scene though comes when Mikey Boy drowns some sexpot nurse in a scalding hot tub.  Although this scene was ripped off wholesale from Deep Red, it still rocks pretty hard.  I think I like this scene so much because it’s kinda like a cross between an 80’s slasher movie and a Roger Corman nurse movie.  This hot nurse should be watching her patients but she’s too busy humping to notice that Michael is about to turn her face into the consistency of astronaut ice cream.  I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention that Pamela Susan Shoop looks mighty fine nekkid in the hot tub before Michael offed her.

 

Too many reviews that I’ve read of Halloween 2 say that it sucks because there are hardly any people in the hospital.  The fact is that Haddonfield is an extremely small town so the hospital probably would be empty.  A few years back my brother went to the hospital in the middle of the night with appendicitis and I stayed all night in the hospital with him.  Folks, this was a small town hospital and guess what; there was hardly anybody in the whole place!  All throughout the night, the empty corridors reminded me of Halloween 2.  Since I’ve seen firsthand an empty ass hospital in a small town; all the ninnies out there that poo-poo this movie because of the lack of people in the place can go spit.

 

A lot of negative things have also been said about Dick Warlock’s portrayal of Michael Myers.  I have to disagree.  He does a swell job and although he isn’t quite as scary as Nick Castle’s performance of Mikey in the original film, he has a few nice moments here and there.  My favorite comes towards the end of the movie when he nonchalantly walks through a glass door.

 

One thing completely bugs the shit out of this movie that no one ever mentions is the inclusion of the song “Mr. Sandman”.  This song serves no purpose whatsoever.  It’s not creepy or scary; it’s just one of those irritating oldies that get on your damn nerves.  Why the Hell is it even in the movie?  I mean Laurie calls Michael “The Boogeyman” not “The Sandman”.  If anything, they should be playing KC and the Sunshine Band’s “I’m Your Boogie Man”!

 

John Carpenter, who did such a magnificent job on the original declined to take the director’s chair, opting to only produce and co-write this installment.  Rick Rosenthal was hired to direct and he apes Carpenter’s style adequately enough.  Ironically, Carpenter was dissatisfied with Rosenthal’s work and went in and added some gory insert shots after the fact.  Since the kills are the best thing about the movie, it kinda just makes you wish that Carpenter had gone ahead and directed the damn thing himself.  Rosenthal does manage to build up a modicum of suspense and atmosphere, just not in the same league as JC.  (Rosenthal would later helm the abominable eighth entry in the series, Halloween:  Resurrection.) 


Acting-wise, Pleasence does another solid turn as Loomis.  He gets a bit unhinged now and then but nothing like his later work as the character.  He does earn points for keeping a straight face while mouthing a lot of gibberish about Samhain and some other nonsense about the Druids.  (This shit would later get incorporated into the immensely crappy Halloween 6:  The Curse of Michael Myers.)  Pleasence does hit some perfect notes during the film’s Bride of Frankenstein-ish ending.

 

The weak link in the movie is Laurie.  It’s not her fault though.  She was so likable and personable in the first film but here she just basically cries, whimpers, and screams.  Since Jamie Lee Curtis is one of the best screamers in the business, this is an acceptable trade-off.  However, one wishes that she had a meatier role.  That would come seventeen years later when she starred in Halloween 7.  (I refuse to call that shit H20.)

 

Also returning from the original is Charles Cyphers who does some woefully bad overacting.  (“YOU LET HIM OOOUUUUTTT!”)  Lance Guest makes a memorable appearance as the nice guy ambulance driver who befriends Laurie.  He later went on to star in The Last Starfighter, which ironically enough was directed by Nick Castle, the guy who played Michael Myers in the first movie.  You should also keep an eye out for Dana Carvey who pops up in a blink-and-you-miss-him role.

 

Carpenter produced the next sequel, Halloween 3:  Season of the Witch but unwisely left Michael Myers out of the film.

 

<Tomorrow’s Horror Franchise Movie:  Friday the 13th (1980)>

BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA (1992) ***

Francis Ford Coppola’s sumptuously mounted, painstakingly (pain-STAKING get it?) faithful adaptation of Bram Stoker’s timeless novel is far too uneven to be called a classic but it’s still quite a bit of fun.  Everyone knows the plot so why even bring it up.  The only major change Coppola made was adding a cool prologue that links the historical Dracula, Vlad the Impaler to the more traditional bloodsucker that we all know and love.  There is also an emphasis on Mina being the reincarnation of Dracula’s lost love too.  Other than that, the “plot” is the same old, same old.

 

Coppola does a great job in the style department.  He cleverly uses shadows to establish mood and even steals a few old school camera tricks from the silent movie days as well.  He also tosses in neat little nods to the 1931 Dracula and even Nosferatu too.  I think he went a little overboard when it comes to being faithful to the book though.  I mean the novel is basically nothing but people writing shit down in their diary.  Keeping a journal isn’t the most cinematic of activities by any stretch of the imagination, so a lot of these scenes are pretty lame.

 

Coppola puts in just enough random weirdness in there though to keep things interesting.  Some of these odd little touches work, like when Dracula crawls up on the castle walls.  Others just don’t make any sense whatsoever.  Like the fact that Dracula has an army of gypsies protecting him.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought gypsies where supposed to warn people about Dracula, not act as his bodyguards. 

 

The film is at its best during the early going where Harker comes to Dracula’s castle.  (Particularly when Drac’s trio of hottie brides give him a toothy blowjob.)  The scenes inside the freaky mental asylum also have a certain kick to them.  After Dracula arrives in England, the film slowly begins to run out of steam. 

 

The second half of the film centers around the love story between Dracula and Mina and is nowhere near as much fun.  This aspect of the film should’ve been the most involving yet it’s the most boring.  The reason for this mostly is that it’s kinda hard to get a read on Mina.  One minute she wants Drac to put the bite on her, the other minute she’s all prim and proper saying crap like, “But I’m Mrs. Jonathan Harker!”  The next minute she's slapping Dracula and crying, “OOOH you killed Lucy!”, then she’s acting all slutty and licking Drac’s bloody chest. 

 

Fortunately, this portion of the film also features Van Helsing cutting off heads and driving stakes into people’s hearts and saying funny shit afterwards.  I especially liked the scene where he cuts off Lucy’s head then the next shot is of Van Helsing cutting into a big slab of pot roast.  Very classy editing there Francis.

 

If you can’t already tell, this movie is all over the damn place.  The ending is also a bit of a letdown and feels sorta rushed.  This is forgivable mostly because of Gary Oldman’s portrayal of Dracula.  (Or “Drac-Cool” as he pronounces it.)  He’s great at playing the many different incarnations of Dracula.  There’s Soldier Drac, Old Drac (he’s pretty hilarious when licking Harker’s razor), Wolfman Drac (there’s an excellent scene where he fucks Lucy in the rain giving new meaning to the term “Doggy Style”), Gothic Gentleman Drac, and Bat Drac.  While he is rather unconvincing at playing the more romantic aspects of the character, he totally owns the screen whenever he’s covered in latex make-up. 

 

The other actors are pretty hit and miss.  Winona Ryder does a fine job as Mina, yet like Oldman, she has trouble conveying her character’s more seductive traits.  That’s OK though because the foxy ginger-headed Sadie Frost more than makes up for Ryder’s lack of sauciness as Mina’s sex-obsessed friend Lucy.  And I’m sorry, as much as I like Keanu Reeves; he gives one of the worst performances in the history of celluloid in this movie.  He can barely even do an English accent and is hopelessly out of his depth in his scenes with Oldman.  Watch him flounder while trying to say shit like, “I was chased by a pack of wolves through a blue inferno!”  Also painfully annoying is Tom Waits as Renfield.  Whenever he appeared he just irritating the living piss out of me.  Giving easily the best performance in the movie is Anthony Hopkins.  His deliciously hammy version of Van Helsing is downright hilarious and although his zany characterization runs against the grain of the rest of the movie, it’s still pretty awesome.

 

He also gets all the best lines in the movie.  While Oldman gets to recite the more classic Lugosi lines like “I never drink… wine” and “Listen to them… children of the night”, it’s Hopkins who gets all the juicy dialogue.  Try not to crack up whenever he says shit like, “She was in great pain then we cut off her head and drove a stake through her heart; then she found peace!” and “Your precious Lucy will become a bitch of the Devil.  A whore of darkness!”  Great stuff. 

 

I think the coolest thing about the flick though was that Dracula’s screams where provided by the late Lux Interior of The Cramps.  I can only imagine how awesome that ADR session was.  Just picture the director of The Godfather giving vocal direction to one of the greatest frontmen in punk rock.  Coppola:  “Okay Lux this time I want you to sound more like a wounded hyena!”  Lux:  “AAAAAHHHHHH!”  Coppola:  "Perfect!"  Too bad that isn’t on the DVD Bonus Features.

 

Coppola executive produced the similar (and to me, slightly better) Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein two years later.

DAUGHTER OF THE TONG (1939) * ½

A hood (Dave O’Brien) is marked for death for threatening to blow the whistle on a crime ring ran by a devious Dragon Lady named Carney (Evelyn Brent).  A federal agent (Grant Withers) gets wind of this and goes undercover as a lowlife to infiltrate the gang and rescue him.  Carney is crafty though and captures the agent and is about two seconds away from giving him an “Oriental Manicure” before the Feds bust down the door and arrest her.

 

Daughter of the Tong runs a scant 53 minutes.  If you don’t count the credits, the long-winded opening crawl telling us all about how great the FBI is, and all the excessive stock footage of telephone operators and newspaper printers, the running time’s actually closer to 45.  That’s still too long in my book.

 

I’m up for any Poverty Row gangster movie but even I have my limits.  No matter how brief the movie is, it’s still chockfull of useless padding and has far too many lulls in between the action.  As lame as most of the stiffly choreographed fistfights and half-assed brawls were, I must admit the final car chase is actually decent for the time.  It was all done live and doesn’t rely on any of that rear screen projection nonsense you’d usually see from a cheapie like this one.  That scene alone is worth the extra Half Star.

 

The familiar faces of Grant (the Mr. Wong series) Withers and Dave (Reefer Madness) O’Brien help somewhat.  They can only do but so much when the rest of the supporting cast are thoroughly dreadful.  To top it all off, Brent is about as Asian looking as Benny Hill.  At least in the Charlie Chan movies the filmmakers made SOME attempt to make their Oriental characters actually look like Orientals.  No such luck here.