Halloween Film Franchises

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 30th October 2012.

As All Hallows’ Eve approaches, it’s time to don your spookiest costume, carve a pumpkin and visit strangers’ houses demanding food, because I’m about to perform a scary autopsy on Halloween film franchises.

Last week I reviewed the original Halloween film series which introduced serial slasher and horror film icon Michael Myers to the world. Beginning with the original John Carpenter classic in 1978 and concluding with a whimper in 2002, a total of eight films were unleashed upon cinema audiences at around the same time of the year, Halloween.

Several years later, the torch was passed to a ventriloquist’s dummy named Billy with a penchant for riding tricycles. In 2003, Australian filmmakers James Wan and Leigh Wannell managed to convince American backers to fund a low budget horror film to be shot in just 18 days. On October 29 the following year, the movie grossed over $100 million at the box office from a budget of $1 million. Welcome to the Saw franchise.

The Saw films centre around John Cramer, a genius engineer who is dying from cancer. After an attempt at suicide fails, he reassesses his existence and finds a new purpose, testing others to value their own lives with deadly physical challenges. Cramer then takes on a new moniker, Jigsaw.

Just like the Halloween series, the original film is the best, with a killer (pun intended) twist at the end. The subsequent six sequels, including a final instalment in 3D and all released on the Friday before Halloween, vary in quality. What remains consistent throughout the series is the cleverness of the deadly challenges placed on unsuspecting (and not so innocent) victims which usually result in painful and bloody deaths. Most of the challenges involve lethal mechanical devices which are a testament to Jigsaw’s maniacal but brilliant mind. They also suggest he had a lot of time on his hands.

Also impressive is the layering of the storylines. With Jigsaw killed off in Saw III, the filmmakers had to come up with a smart way to keep his legacy alive. There are various apprentices, as well as a brilliant conceit which sees two of the sequels taking place simultaneously. This is not revealed until the end of Saw IV (oops, spoiler alert).

By the time Saw 3D was released in 2010, audience enthusiasm for the franchise had waned and producers announced that there would be no further entries (for now). Of course that paved the way for a new Halloween film franchise. Enter Paranormal Activity.

If you’ve ever harboured an ambition to be a security guard in a big building, then this is the series for you. Mostly consisting of security camera footage, the movies focus on the premise that setting up cameras when you suspect your house is inhabited by demons is a good idea, not getting the hell out.

Paranormal Activity 4 is currently in cinemas now, with a fifth instalment due next Halloween. I’m not a huge fan. I like my horror franchises to have an element of logic. I can accept Michael Myers surviving every attempt to send him back to Hell, and a genius Jigsaw who had the foresight to plan and build extra deadly challenges just in case he was killed, but investigating a haunting in your own house by installing video cameras and then editing the footage into a movie after you have been slain by your homely demon? Don’t be ridiculous.

Happy Halloween everyone!

Published in: on December 25, 2012 at 09:04  Leave a Comment  
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Halloween Movie Franchises: John Carpenter’s Halloween

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 23rd October 2012.

On October 25 1978, a low budget slasher film made its debut in US cinemas. John Carpenter’s Halloween was produced for a paltry sum of US$325,000 and eventually grossed $55 million at the box office worldwide. Introducing masked serial killer Michael Myers to popular culture, no babysitter was safe in this classic horror flick.

Halloween starred a young Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, Michael’s sister and the object of his (murderous) intentions. On the killer’s trail was Donald Pleasance as psychiatrist Dr Sam Loomis. Complete with a spooky piano melody, composed by Carpenter himself, the movie is genuinely creepy and still provides “watch through your fingers” scares decades later.

The original Halloween spun off seven sequels, and was rebooted in 2007 by musician turned film director Rob Zombie, which in turn spawned a sequel. To date, the franchise has generated over $366 million worldwide. Not bad for a series of films featuring a lead character wearing a Captain Kirk rubber mask sprayed with white spray paint.

Each entry of the Halloween story was released on or around, not surprisingly, Halloween, thus beginning not one, but two traditions: scary movie franchises released at Halloween; and scary movie franchises released at Halloween with diminishing returns.

Three years after the original, Michael Myers returned in Halloween II. Picking up immediately after the events of the first film, Myers survived six bullets from Dr Loomis’ gun to continue stalking Laurie.  The following October, Halloween III: Season of the Witch was unleashed on unsuspecting fans. Intended to shift the franchise into an anthology of unrelated horror films, the film features a plot to kill thousands of children at Halloween with deadly latex skeleton, witch and jack-o’-lantern masks. How are the masks deadly? They have evil powers because they are each embedded with a tiny chip of Stonehenge. Insert your own sound of crickets chirping here.

Unsurprisingly, Myers was resurrected in 1988 for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. Unfortunately, this and the next two sequels all hail from the late eighties, a period that was not kind to horror franchises. With box office returns shrinking, desperate film companies churned out substandard, low budget Freddy, Jason, Jaws, Chucky and Halloween flicks.

In 1998 the series peaked again as Jamie Lee Curtis returned for Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later. With an original star onboard, the film picks up the Laurie Strode storyline again, finding her hiding from her now infamous brother at a posh private school. Of course, Myers tracks her down and mayhem ensues, but at least the storyline had some weight due to Curtis’ presence, unlike the cast of unknown victims from the previous sequels.

Four years later, the original Halloween canon concluded with a disappointing whimper, as Myers returns to his childhood home to find it the subject of a Big Brother-like television show. After so many brushes with death, serial killer Michael Myers is finally sent to hell by the incredibly terrible acting of rapper turned “actor” Busta Rhymes.

I’m not a big fan of the Rob Zombie reboot so I won’t discuss it here. I have no interest in back story or motivation when it comes to my movie killers. Call me old fashioned.

For a real Halloween treat this, er, Halloween, grab a copy of the original, er, Halloween on blu-ray and relive the mother of all slasher films in high definition. Next week, I’ll discuss more recent movie franchises to also capitalise on Halloween releases. Boo!

Published in: on October 23, 2012 at 11:11  Leave a Comment  
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