Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Happy Halloween!!!

Well, another year another All Hallows Eve.  I don't know what it is about October and this night, but it paraphrase a much better writer, "thrills me, fills me with fantastic terrors never felt before."  I don't know why, but I always get an adrenaline rush on Halloween Night and I think this burst is going to be just the thing I need to get me through to Friday.  I think the weight of the world is slowly crushing me, but hey...that's life right?  I may also have been revitalized by yesterday's unexpected snow day (yeah, a snow day before Halloween...thanks Sandy...too bad you had to destroy a good deal of the East coast to do it) and therefore have my fur up due to that.  It's hard to say really, but either way it is Halloween and I am pumped up.  I suppose its nice to have a return to my old excited self after a couple of weeks of feeling simply exhausted, and since I'm on the subjects of 'returns' I thought I might revisit the face of Halloween himself, Michael Myers, and the night he came home.  Oh, and I don't mean that night in 1978....I mean when he came back ten years later.  This marked a return of the series to it's roots after the departure of Season of the Witch and also a return to good old fashioned slasher basics (which were becoming something of a thing of the past among new supernatural wonders like Zombie Jason, Freddy Krueger, and Pinhead). So let's all return to Haddonfield as we hide under a warm blanket (cause it's COLD out there) and watch Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.

Ten years have passed since Michael Myers' horrific homecoming in Haddonfield and despite rumors of his firey death at Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, Myers has actually been in a coma at Ridgemont Federal Sanitarium for the past ten years.  He is a vegetable...or so his doctors think.  While being transfered from Ridgemont back to Smith's Grove Warren County Sanitarium, one of the EMTs lets it slip that he has a young niece living in Haddonfield.  Suddenly Michael is back on his feet and ready to kill his only remaining family member.  The niece in question is Jamie Lloyd, 8, who has spent the last year grieving for the loss of her mother, Laurie Strode (Michael's sister and original target), and father who died in a car crash.  She has also been having terrible nightmares about a palefaced "boogeyman" who relentlessly pursues her and wants to kill her.  She doesn't know why, but she feels that something or someone is coming to get her.  When Jamie's stepsister Rachel Carruthers finally gets her to join in the Halloween spirit, that is when all Hell breaks loose.  Michael has found her and will stop at nothing in order to snuff her little life out of existence.  It's up to Rachel and Dr. Loomis, Michael's aged but still spry psychiatrist, to try and save her before it is too late.

There are those (a small amount to be sure) who would tell you that this beloved sequel to Carpenter's original Halloween is simply a rehash, a pale imitation of Carpenter's film with none of the suspense or class of the original.  Those people are correct on a very basic level, in that the film repeats the basic template of Halloween, but where they are wrong is in underestimating just how effective writer Alan B. McElroy's and director Dwight H. Little's little horror film is in doing just that.  Halloween has a feeling about it, pure and simple, that parts one and two capture beautifully.  Few sequels in the series have captured that film with as much effectiveness and I am happy to say that Return definately feels like a brother to the original two.  Myers hasn't yet become an unkillable monster and Donald Pleasence is still slightly grounded as Dr. Loomis (it's not till part 5 that he goes off the deep end).  The film also has a delightful orange filter over it that makes everything feel like Fall, in a way that none of the other Halloween movies has ever managed.  The performances of the young leads are good and there aren't too many stupid teenagers running around to betray this as an 80s horror film.  Indeed, most of the people killed are the adults of the picture....folks who would be seen as the protectors of the kids in danger.  Elle Cornell as Rachel is a good match for the void left by Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie and Danielle Harris is dynamite as Jamie.  For a rehash of old ideas, this one packs a heck of a quality punch.  And perhaps being more of the same isn't a bad thing...the series was always better when it was simply about a man in a mask stalking people in the dark.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Singing Plant, A Daring Hero, A Sweet Girl, A Demented Dentist....

Name a classic film that's ok...I'll wait...what?  You can't think of any?  You're right I does seem like something of an oxymoron to even suggest that there are such animals.  Even ones that you think might straddle the line really fall to one side or the other.  The Rocky Horror Picture Show is most certainly more comedy in the end than tragedy (though some might argue that it's ambiguous ending is somewhat tragic) and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street is clearly more tragic than comic in it's execution, no matter how much we may giggle at moments like A Little Priest and By the Sea.  However, I do not doubt the intelligence of my readers and I know you already are assuming I'm building to something.  "What is this new comic-tragedy set to song," you ask?  Well, there-in lies my has indeed been made, but it was made 26 years ago.  WHAT????  Certainly you have heard of Frank Oz's fantastic adaptation of Howard Ashman and Alan Menken's stage version of the Roger Corman cheepie (deep breath) The Little Shop of Horrors?  Now you're thinking, "You can't trick me mister...that movie had a happy ending.  Therefore it is not tragic!"  However, more knowledgeable readers and folks who enjoy live theater may already be aware that the tale of Seymour and Audrey had a very different ending in Corman's original, the stage version, and the musical film's original finale.  Ashman and Menken constructed a brilliantly comic and campy modernization of the Faust tale when they opened "Little Shop of Horrors" on stage and had hoped that that would be the parable to see film.  Sadly, it was not to be...until now.  Today marks the release of the film on Blu-ray and for the event, Warner Bros has wisely decided to release it in both it's theatrical and a newly restored director's cut that reinserts the original (and audience-hated) dark ending to the film.  So tuck in as we watch Little Shop of Horrors finally bloom as it was intended.

"On the 23rd day in the month of September, in an early year of a decade not too long before our own, the human race suddenly encountered a deadly threat to it's very existence...and this terrifying enemy surfaced, as such enemies often do, in the seemingly most innocent and unlikely of places..."

This is how our film opens and it perfectly sets the tone of this bizare throwback to early 60s drive-in movies, bubblegum music, and old-fashioned musicals.  The setting is Skid Row, New York City...the place is Mushnik's Florist Shop, and our lead is Seymour Krelbourne, a mild-mannered assistant in old-man Mushnik's shop.  He is a wiz with flowers but a flop with his boss and his co-worker Audrey (whom he secretly loves).  However, Seymour's life is about to change as he discovers and begins to display a strange and interesting new plant that he happened to find after a total-eclipse of the sun.  The doesn't begin to really flourish until Seymour makes a chilling discovery...the plant will only eat human blood.  So as Seymour secretly feeds the plant from ever-sore fingers and allows it to grow, his success grows as well.  Soon, Seymour's meager blood-supply is not enough and the plant (which can talk and SING) begins demanding human bodies.  Seymour is suddenly journeying down a road that leads to murder, lies, and deceit.  Can he continue to feed the plant and if he doesn't, will the plant allow itself to go hungry?

Little Shop of Horrors is, today, regarded as something of a classic 80s comedy.  It's peppy tunes, fantastic performances, and extraordinary puppetry are immediately recognizable by almost everyone (particularly sassy plant Audrey II and Ellen Greene's squeaky voiced Audrey).  However, most are aware that Seymour and Audrey weren't meant to live happily ever after.  Like an issue of Tales from the Crypt, Seymour achieves success through questionable (some might even say reprehensable) acts that he commits in order to keep his plant alive and (like Frankenstein's monster) must lose something near and dear to him before he truely understands how far beyond redemption he is.  In essence, he sells his soul to the devil and has to pay at the end.  In the theatrical cut of the film, Seymour and Audrey manage to kill Audrey II and escape from Skid Row to Audrey's fantasy home in the suburbs and we, because we like them so much, conveniently forget that Seymour has murdered and mutilated without punishment.  This presents something of a moral dilemma...that it is ok to kill to support our wishes so long as a) the victims are reprehensable (Audrey's dentist boyfriend and Mushnik are rather nasty folk) and b) we can argue that, despite our actions, we are inherently good and had no choice.  I can understand this moral denial...Audrey and Seymour are nice people and deserve a much better life than the one they have and we want to see them get it.  However, it ignores the Faustian themes that control the story and point it toward it's only logical conclusion...which is how the director's cut plays out.  Seymour loses Audrey to the plant because he keeps her unaware of how dangerous and evil it is and because he is selfishly keeping it alive for his own gain and it is only then, when Patrick Martin shows him how they can easily reproduce Audrey II to sell in stores all over the world, that he realizes the horror he has allowed happen.  However, by now it is too late.  The plant is too large and strong and overpowers Seymour easily, devouring him and then allowing clones of itself to grow and take over the world.  The film ends to the tune of deleted song "Don't Feed the Plants" as hundreds of giant Audrey IIs destroy New York City.  Cheery no?  Yeah, the test audiences didn't think so either...what had worked for years on the Off-Broadway stage (the tragic ending that is) as a campy joke was now seen as deadly serious on film due to the lovability of Rick Moranis and Ellen Greene as Seymour and Audrey and the directoral effectiveness of Frank Oz.  It works so well as a tragedy that it suddenly erases all the fun we've been having since the first song...and then becomes comedy again as Godzilla-Audrey IIs destroy the world.  Audiences couldn't wrap their heads around it and hated the film, so Oz and Ashman crafted the happy ending we know today.  The original version, which is a wonderful film in a different way, can now be seen and enjoyed by everyone and I highly recommend that you check it out.  It is one of the few times where you can watch the same film you know and feel as though you are seeing something brand new...the film musical-comedy-tragedy.