Suspenseful 'Halloween' 40 years later

Links between 'Notorious' and 'Crimson Peak'
By Tom Von Malder | Jan 19, 2019
Photo by: Universal Pictures Home Entertainment Jamie Lee Curtis struggles in "Halloween."

Owls Head — Halloween (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 105 min.). The first "Halloween" (1976), from director/co-writer/composer John Carpenter, gave us the original "final girl" in Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the teenager who did not drink or have sex, and thus was not killed by masked stabber Michael Myers as were her contemporaries in small-town Haddenfield, IL. Since the original, 10 more films have followed, with different degrees of badness, including two failed efforts by Rob Zombie to reboot the franchise in 2007 and 2009. This is the first of those films to go back to the original and be a direct sequel, presenting us with a 40-year-old Laurie, now a grandmother, front and center, finally able to confront the monster who has haunted her for 40 years.

And make no mistake about it, Laurie is prepared, even if her town is not. She has been practicing marksmanship, turned her new home in the woods into a bit of a fortress, complete with a basement with hidden access and traps within the house, and teaching her daughter (Judy Greer as Karen) to defend herself, even if others felt she was too bizarre and had Karen taken away from Laurie's care when she was 12. Karen is now married to Ray (Toby Huss) and has her own teenage daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), who steps into the role that Curtis had in the original film. Behind the new film are director/co-writer David Gordon Green, co-writers Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride, and executive producers, Carpenter, Curtis, Green, McBride and Ryan Freimann.

By going back to connect to the original film, as if the other nine sequels and remakes did not exist, the writers are able to make the film about the long-lasting consequences of violence and trauma on victims and the people around them, particularly their families. While Allyson loves her grandmother and often takes her side, she caught between the two women in her life, as Karen still resents Laurie for taking over her childhood with survivalist training.

The film opens at the Smith's Grove rehabilitation facility, where Myers (James Jude Courtney behind the mask) has been held for 40 years and studied by Dr. Sartain, a student of the late Dr. Loomis from the original film. Time has run out for Myers to be studied as he is being transferred to a maximum security prison, which, of course, affords him his chance to escape by attacking the prison bus driver and thereby causing the bus to go off the road and crash. In the original film, Myers killed only five, but here that count triples and includes adults, although about half the kills occur off-screen. It essence, Myers now represents the everyday randomness of violence in America.

Others in the film are podcast journalists Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees), who try to interview Myers at the prison and Laurie at her home; local law Officer Hawkins (Will Patton); and Allyson's friends, Vicky (Virginia Gardner), Cameron (Dylan Arnold), Dave (Miles Robbins) and Oscar (Drew Scheid).

The film's showdown climax is very intense and suspenseful. Director Green maintains a look that is faithful to the original film with lots of Steadicam and the same anamorphic aspect ratio, and Carpenter's wonder theme music is back, part of a new score he co-wrote with his son, Cody, and composer Daniel A. Davies.

Extras include two extended and five deleted scenes (12:42), including an earlier introduction of Allyson's friends and Dr. Sartain acting really weird in Hawkins' police car; and five featurettes: a making-of (6:05); a look at Laurie as the original scream queen (2:32); the music score (3:19); creation of the mask (2:33) and a roundtable with Carpenter, Green, Curtis and producer Jason Blum on the original film's legacy (4:25). Grade: film 3. 5 stars; extras 2.25 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Speed Kills  (Lionsgate, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 102 min.). While based on a true story, even the main character's name has been changed from Don Aronoff to Ben Aronoff. He is played by John Travolta, who has gone from the greatness of "Carrie," "Saturday Night Fever" and "Pulp Fiction" to making dreck like "Gotti" and this film.

Aronoff, after an early career of building malls and housing neighborhoods in New Jersey, apparently with some mob money or involvement (one of the film's real problems is it almost never exactly explains what the mob ties were), relocates to Miami, falls in love with speedboat racing (he won three national and two world championships) and along the way creates a successful speedboat manufacturing company. Pals with kings (Prashant Shah as King Hussein) and politicians (Matthew Modine as Vice President George Bush), Aronoff even lands a $10 million contract to supply boats to the U.S. Government, boats to capture the drug smugglers who were using Aronoff's facilities, apparently against Aronoff's will. Apparently once affiliated with the mob, one is always affiliated with the mob. The mob, by the way, is represented by Meyer Lansky (James Remar) and his bothersome nephew (Kellan Lutz as Robbie Reemer).

The film is very slow, disjointed and never really chooses between the family man forced to deal with criminals and the actual crime elements. I have read that Aronoff's actual life was much more exciting than as presented in this film, which, by the way, has a total of 31 executive producers and eight associate producers. The film is weirdly constructed too, basically beginning with the ending. Travolta provides occasional narration in an attempt to tie the film together. Most of the boat racing is included as montages. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 1.5 stars

Notorious (1946, Criterion Blu-ray, NR, 101 min.). This was director Alfred Hitchcock's eighth film to at least touch on World War II with anti-Nazi sentiment. It was the British filmmaker's fourth film made after relocating to the United States and his second film with stars Cary Grant (also 1941's "Suspicion") and Ingrid Bergman (also 1945's "Spellbound"). In addition to excellent, bit-on- the-edge cinematography, unusual relationship portrayals and excellent performances by the two leads, the film is notable for its lengthy kissing scene between the two stars, at a time when the Hayes censorship office prohibited long kisses.

In one of the extras, Donald Spoto, author of two books on Hitchcock and one on Bergman, says the film deals with three unusual themes: "When does patriotism border on sexploitation; when does espionage border on poisonous fidelities to one's beliefs; and when does flirtation border on sexual blackmail."

The film opens with the 1946 trial in Miami of a man, Huberman, for treason for working with the Nazis during the war. It then cuts to a small party at Alicia Huberman's (Bergman) house; she is the estranged daughter of the convicted man. The film's co-star, Grant as Devlin of the U.S. Secret Service, is only shown by the back of his head for several minutes. Once the party breaks up, Alicia takes Devlin on a drunken ride and their relationship begins contentiously.

Eventually, Devlin's superiors, represented by his boss (Louis Calhern as Paul Prescott), want to use Alicia to infiltrate a group of Nazis operating in Rio de Janeiro. The group is meeting at the seaside villa of Alexander Sebastian (a solid Claude Rains), who, at one time, had a crush on Alicia, but was rejected. However, in the meantime, Devlin and Alicia have spent more than a week together, waiting for an assignment in Rio, and falling in love. Just before a romantic dinner, he is called away and told that Alicia is to "bump into" Sebastian and rekindle his desire for her. It works, and Alicia and Sebastian are married a few weeks later. This leads to bitterness when Devlin and Alicia meet to share notes. Although hurt, Devlin cannot admit he loves her, and her disappointment that that avowal never comes causes her to be mean back to him.

Eventually, Alicia learns a secret may be stored in the basement wine cellar and she has to steal  the key off Sebastian's key ring and pass it to Devlin during the big party Sebastian throws for her. This leads to the marvelous crane zoom that starts above the party from the second floor and ends on the key in Alicia's hand. There also is suspense over whether the party will run out of champagne and the key's absence be noted before Devlin can search the wine cellar. Afterwards, Sebastian realizes he has married an American spy and fears his German colleagues will execute him if they find out. Sebastian's mother (Leopoldine Konstantin) devises a plan to slowly poison Alicia's drinks.

The film is presented in a new 4K remaster by the Walt Disney Company, which also has restored the name of the drug company the Germans are working with, which had been deleted for years. There are two previously released audio commentaries: a 2001 commentary by Hitchcock scholar Marian Keane; and a 1990 one by film historian Rudy Behlmer. Also ported over from previous releases is the 1949 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation, starring Bergman and Joseph Cotten (59:46), and 1948 newsreel footage of Bergman and Hitchcock (48 secs.). A very good addition is a 2009 documentary for a French DVD series (52:02; English with some in French) on Hitchcock and the film with interviews with actress Isabella Rosselini, Bergman's daughter, and filmmakers Peter Bogdanovich, Stephen Fears and Claude Charbrol.

New extras include film scholar David Bordwell breaking down the film's final sequence (29:42); cinematographer John Bailey discussing the film's glamour and tension I(23:25); Spoto on the poisoned romance (21:01); and "Writing With the Camera," featuring new and archival interviews as filmmaker David Raim explores the film's conception (15:54).Grade: film 4.5 stars; extra 4.25 stars

Crimson Peak (2015, Arrow Blu-ray, R, 118 min.). Watching the updated release of this film right after watching "Notorious" again, I was struck by how similar plot elements and portions of the two films are. Both involve secretly removing a key from a key chain and exploring a basement, then trying to sneak the key back on the ring, as well as having the key "borrower" slowly poisoned. Each has a rescue scene in which the hero, long in love with the damsel in distress, but forced to watch her marry another man, cradles her in his arms and tries to leave where she has been held captive  and get her to medical treatment for the poisoning. The ending here is much bloodier than the non-bloody one Hitchcock employs, though.

There also are two new bonus features: critic Kim Newman on the film and the tradition of gothic romance (17:27); and a video essay by writer Kat Ellinger on the violence and beauty of Guillermo del Toro's films, comparing themes in his "The Devil's Backbone," "Pan's Labyrinth" and "The Shape of Water" to this film (23:37).

The remainder seems the same as Universal's Blu-ray release of two years ago, and the following is my review from January 2016:

Co-writer/director Guillermo del Toro's latest film is exquisite to look at, a gothic romance with ghosts, but it is a bit disappointing in plot. However, the extras are superb, a course in filmmaking of themselves.

The film opens with narration by Edith Cushing (Mia Wasikowska of "Alice in Wonderland"), who says ghosts are real, because her dead mother visited her when she was 10 and said beware of the "crimson peak." It is now 14 years later, in the Buffalo, N.Y. of 1901, and Edith has written a ghost story. Her father, Carter Cushing (Jim Beaver of TV's "Supernatural") is considering funding a new clay excavator, invented by Thomas Sharpe (Tom Hiddleston of the "Thor" and "Avenger" films). However, when Sharpe starts romancing Edith, her father has Mr. Holly (Burn Gorman) look into the Sharpes and the subsequent report -- that basically Thomas has wooed and wed multiple times to fund his project -- causes Carter to send Sharpe and his sister, Lucille (Jessica Chastain of "Zero Dark Thirty"), back to England with only a $5,000 payout if Sharpe publicly breaks his Edith's heart. However, before Sharpe leaves, Carter is brutally murdered.

Edith then becomes the latest Mrs. Sharpe and moves to England, where Sharpe and his sister's decaying mansion, Allerdale Hall, is located above a clay pit. The house is huge, but in very bad shape. There is a big hole in the roof over the foyer, which has led to rotting in the floor beneath it. The house is obviously haunted and the first real scare emerges from the floor of a hallway 58 minutes into the film. Three minutes later, Edith learns that the clay turns the snow and grounds bright red, and that is why Allerdale Hall is located at what is called the crimson peak. Edith's situation steadily gets worse, even though Sharpe seems to come to really care for her. Meanwhile, a friend from Buffalo, Dr. Alan McMichael (Charlie Hennan of FX's "Sons of Anarchy") comes looking for Edith, as she has not been in contact for many months. What has been a slow, steady film for the first 90 minutes of so ramps up the action for the bloody finale.

The extras start with an audio commentary by del Toro ("Pan's Labyrinth," "Pacific Rim") in which he discusses the film's style and genre, as well as the importance of color, music and the sound mix. There also are five deleted scenes (4:41); a walking tour of the secret spaces in Allerdale Hall, guided by Hiddleston (7:51); and a look at two of the settings and the color scheme (7:53). Exclusive to Blu-ray are five more extras, three of which are terrific. Those three are a four-part feature on the key locations, del Toro's inspirations (including mid-night trips to get water when he was a child) and designs, covering the gothic corridor, the scullery, the red clay mines and the limbo fog set, with each lasting four to five minutes (Wasikowska has very short hair in her interview; del Toro talks about the visual echoes he created); a primer on gothic romance, as opposed to gothic horror (5:36); and a look at Allerdale Hall's planning and construction (it took 5 months to build), as it was to be a manifestation of the psyche of its inhabitants. The final two Blu-ray extras look at the costumes (8:58) and the practical and digital effects used in the film (7:02). Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 4 stars

The Dark (Dark Sky DVD, NR, 95 min.). The feature debut of director Justin P. Lange has a few scares, some blood and a bizarre plot. It opens with a wanted man stopping at a gas store convenience station. When he realizes the clerk has recognized him from a TV news report, the man (Karl Markovics as Josef Hofer) kills the clerk and then heads for Devil's Den, a mysterious tract of woods with a legend about a murdered girl who haunts the area. The story is that no one has ever returned from Devil's Den.

Well, the girl (Nadia Alexander as Mina) is not actually dead, but is disfigured. Her story, which includes sexual abuse by her mother's boyfriend, is told in flashbacks. Mina, who is bordering on feral, kills Hofer, then discovers he has a kidnapped boy (Toby Nichols as Alex) in his car. Alex also has been mistreated, such that his eyelids are shut by scars, making him blind. The two form an unlikely friendship, while they take care of any intruders. (There are searchers looking for Alex.) No explanation is given for what happened to Alex. There are no bonus features. Grade: film 2.5 stars

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