high school movies

Halloween

For all its frightening moments, Halloween actually features one of the great speeches in the pantheon of horror, Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) musing about his encounter with a young Michael Myers: “I met this six-year-old child with this blank, pale, emotionless face, and the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes…”

It’s a wholesale rejection of social constructivism, an acknowledgement that true evil can emerge from nothing. And it’s this which makes Myers’ later behavior even more sinister.

It’s one of the (many) reasons the Rob Zombie Halloween was so bad: he tried to impose a kind of structure on irrational behavior, the very concept that made Halloween (1978) so uniquely great in the first place.

Halloween fuses four of the most terrifying concepts that can fuel a horror film, chief among these, at the time, a killer killing for absolutely no reason; but also, a mental patient on the loose, the legend of a mythical monster lurking in the shadows tormenting children, and hell, a creepy cursed house too!

Other films feature one, perhaps two of the above…and it’s since become cliche to have a killer kill for no reason (hence the oft-query, “why are you doing this to me?”). Antagonists escaping the confines of a mental institutions can be traced back to D.W. Griffith’s House of Darkness (1913) all the way through to I Dismember Mama and beyond, whilst boogeymen have even spawned their own series and scary home movies are too numerous to count.

But Halloween is a masterpiece that created additive fear, outdoing each sub-genre by combining so many.

And in a slasher genre that seems to be chock-full of expository prologues, Halloween’s 8 minutes of near wordless beginning, save for a sprinkling of “Michael,” and culminating in a young boy dressed as a harlequin, brandishing a long knife, is one of the best of the bunch.

But the whole film is an amazing achievement upon revisiting.

And it’s all thanks to John Carpenter, who made the movie’s most frightening scenes the ones that had nothing to do with the actual killing (slasher filmmakers take note): the broken window pane in the attic that rattles Dr. Loomis (who subsequently shows Sheriff Brackett that his snooping is justified because he has a permit!); Tommy spotting Michael Myers carrying Annie body’s inside the house, almost a nod to monster movies of the past like Curse of the Werewolf or Frankenstein; and the mental patients twisting in the rainy darkness in their nightgowns as Loomis drives up to the sanitarium on a lonely stretch of road.

It’s a master class of lurking, leering, voyeuristic Carpenter camerawork, giving us only quick glimpses of the killer, behind a hedge, drying laundry, a shoulder in the right-hand frame…

Helen of Troy had a “face that launched a thousand ships,” while Myers is the face that launched a thousand slits. Often imitated, seldom duplicated, slasher master work.

****1/2 (out of 5)

A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge

a_nightmare-on-elm-street-2_freddys-revengeA Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge is the Saved by the Bell of horror: stupid, corny, crappy and inexplicably popular.

And it’s a shame because the sequel offers some dynamic set pieces and the occasional kernel of what might’ve been a really good movie.

However, it’s marred by crappy performances. By contrast, A Nightmare on Elm Street, in addition to having atmosphere to spare, had dynamite leads, genre movie kingpin John Saxon, future star Johnny Depp (Glen) and the equally capable Heather Langenkamp (Nancy).

What both films have in common other than a cackling Freddy, is an in-class dream sequence and teen leads who guzzle coffee to stave off sleep. The key difference is Nancy’s dream sequence in the first film is actually dreamlike. She falls asleep during a classmate’s Shakespeare read-through and the boiler room and hallway scares are set up perfectly. And the bags under her eyes as she’s drawn to the coffee maker in the family kitchen is totally on-point.

The way these two scenes are handled in Freddy’s Revenge are forgettable, literally, as this reviewer cannot summon the powers of memory to write them up.

A_Nightmare_on_ELM_Street_2In the sequel, Jesse is the teen whose family has moved into the infamous Elm St residence, on the market for five years due to the horrors that happened therein. (Editors’ note: a home stager would’ve helped: “Get rid of these bars on the windows. It hurts the curb appeal!”)

Anyway, Jesse is plagued by homoerotic nightmares including being left alone on a school bus with attractive girls (OK, admittedly, they were all stranded in some kind of Dante hellscape), visiting a leather bar, seeing his bare-assed gym teacher in the shower, and being told by Freddy that “[he’s] got the body, I’ve got the brain.”

The homo eroticism extends to his waking life as well. In the film’s opener, he rolls around on the ground in short-shorts with bully Grady (he of Venetian blind abs). They become unlikely fast friends, and then a bedraggled Jesse presses Grady about whether he can spend the night at his place. Grady says something to the effect of shouldn’t you be down in the cabana banging your girlfriend rather than spending the night here with me?

There are exactly two scenes where Freddy’s Revenge really comes alive: a protruding tongue that mars a roll in the hay between Jesse and girlfriend Lisa (probably a coming out party for his sub-conscience?) and Grady’s gruesome bedroom death.

Otherwise, this is an occasionally inspired stinker that very nearly derailed the series before A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors put it back on track.

**1/2 (out of 5)

[Please listen to our podcast discussion of A Nightmare on Elm Street 2]