The High Five Podcast Episode 35 – A Neil Gaiman Sampler

Get into the Halloween spirit with this sampler of Neil Gaiman goodies that I think will give you a nice launchpad into his fantastic work! The best part? It’ll only take a few hours!

Link time! You can find the Neil’s Works section of his website here and read the Colleen Doran interview I did here.

I also tackled five more films in It’s All Connected 2021 to keep that moving along. I finished my Jill Schoelen mini-marathon, indulged a bit on my favorite slasher franchise, watched another John Carpenter film and then got to one wacky killer animal flick!

As always, you can email me at high5tj at gmail.com or follow me on Twitter and Instagram. Also feel free to subscribe to my YouTube Channel!

Halloween Scene: The Halloween Marathon

halloween poster I wasn’t very creative when it came to my Halloween movie marathon this year. On the 30th, I was flipping through Netflix to see what was available on Instant when I realized I should ring in one of my favorite holidays with my favorite slasher movie, Halloween. As it turned out, I was too tired to finish the film (I seem to be turning more and more into an old man with each passing day), but I did wind up watching the rest of the original, 2, 4, 5 and Curse on Halloween. I popped the discs in my computer and watched them pretty small, but with a toddler running around, it’s not like I can watch these movies on what she calls “the big TV.”

As I mentioned in my list of movies that scared me, the original Halloween still gets to me. Since I’ve reviewed all of these movies before, though, I’ll probably just drop a few highlights and things I wanted to point out. I can’t believe I didn’t point this out before, but most of the kids in Haddonfield are complete asshats and are throughout the series. I also like how you don’t get much explanation for why Michael is the way  he is or how he can do the things he does. Also, it’s crazy how much you see of Michael in this film.

One question was answered for me on this watching. I’ve always thought it was crazy how Michael could plan out his kills so well and pose them and all that. This time, I noticed that Loomis said he’d been basically planning this night for 20 years. Makes sense to me! Here’s something else to think about: while Michael was planning, do you think he knew that he couldn’t be killed or did he go in thinking he was human?

I also realized another reason why this movie is so effective: it has so many different scary elements going on. There’s Carpenter’s score, the sense of being followed in broad daylight, the primal fear of the night, the kills, all of the performances from the young women, everything about Michael from his size to his faceless appearance, the fact that Laurie’s protecting children (something I never really thought about before). Chances are pretty good, this film hits on at least one of your fears.

halloween 2 poster Halloween II, which was penned by original writers John Carpenter and Debra Hill with Rick Rosenthal directing, carries on that legacy of combining multiple fears, this time adding in new elements: the fear of hospitals, the fear of being drugged and helpless and that sense of dread that comes from knowing what Michael can do and him still being loose (if that makes sense).

One big story detail that I never really thought about much was how young Michael Myers is. Loomis says he’s 21. That’s super young! Also, while the first one felt a lot more planned out — because it was, as noted above — Michael is a lot more reactionary in this one, trying to get the one that got away. This movie also picks up on something else I thought about while watching the first movie: Michael wasn’t super secretive about being out on Halloween, so people must have seen him, right? That’s mentioned a bit in this film.

I think this is a pretty solid sequel, but it lacks a little focus when it comes to characters. First it seems like the one nurse is the focus, then it switched to the one who gets drowned/burned, then back to the blonde nurse. Laurie’s of course up for the part, but she doesn’t really do much throughout the film until the end. And, as usual, Loomis is all over the place. That plus, the fact that Rosenthal’s no Carpenter, makes this movie not quite as good as the original, but still a solid offering in my opinion.

halloween 4 poster I skipped Season Of The Witch because I watched it casually a few weeks ago and it also holds no bearing on what I like to call the main series. For what it’s worth, I still love that weird movie. Anyway, the slasher’s story continued with Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers. This one introduces Laurie Strode’s daughter Jamie who shares a strange connection with her uncle Michael who has been kept in an asylum for the ten years between 2 and 4. First and foremost it needs to be said how damn good Danielle Harris is as Jamie in this and the next film. She has a heaviness to her that doesn’t come easy for actors, especially child ones.

Anyway, this film continues a few of the themes I’ve noticed. The kids in this movie are even worse than the ones in the original. They straight-up make fun of Jamie for having a dead mom. Even worse, one of the kids sullies his MASK costume by being a total jerkwad. This film also expands on the parties involved in the Michael Myers threat. In the first one it was Loomis, teenagers and eventually the cops. With the second the teens were swapped out for hospital employees. In this one you get the hick-ish lynch mob as well. Plus, since we’re dealing with a story that takes place 10 years after the original, there’s people who have lived with that initial tragedy. I think there’s an interesting commentary here about how we bury our past to the point where it can come back and stab us with a shotgun.

Another more esoteric thing that came to mind while watching these movies is that they’re as much about regular people trying to comprehend the idea of an unkillable man as they are about the man himself. In the real world you can write certain things off as tricks of the light or your mind playing tricks on you, but in these movies, some of the characters discover that those things might also be Myers. They also have to deal with the insanity that comes from experiencing these things. In Loomis’ case, these recurring meet-ups have clearly played with his sanity.

Halloween 5 poster

Halloween 5 picks up where 4 left off, showing how Michael survived the end of the previous film and catching us up on Jamie since she stabbed her step mom. She’s not speaking now, which leads to some super creepy and sad moments, but now shares an even stronger connection with her recently revived uncle.

I actually don’t have too much to add to my initial review of this film. Harris is still awesome as Jamie. Michael’s still scary. Loomis is still increasingly crazy. One element of this film that really stood out to me this time around was how dangerous it felt. In addition to terrorizing a child, Michael kills Rachel, a character you would think was off limits.

While watching this movie I realized that one of the great things about the Halloween series is that the sequels are so easily distinguishable. After a while the Friday The 13th films get really confusing, same with the Nightmare movies, but each Halloween flick is different enough that they’re pretty easy to keep straight.

Halloween-The-Curse-of-Michael-Myers-movie-poster

The first time I went through and watched the sequels, I was surprised with how much I liked 4 and 5, and wound up not liking Curse. Much like my recent re-watching of Jason Goes To Hell, though, I found myself liking this film a lot more the second time around. I think a big part of that is knowing that it’s not super great and having lower expectations. Paul Rudd is stellar in this film, bringing a crawling intensity to his portrayal of an older Tommy Doyle. I will say that this film tries a little too hard to make connections to the previous films though. Jamie (not Harris) is in the beginning, her baby is a major part of the story, then you’ve got the Strodes inexplicably living in the Myers house (was her dad unable to sell it and just had to move in?). I think there’s a real tragic story behind Mr. Strode’s decent into assholery.

Even though this isn’t a great movie and I didn’t see it until much later, I feel like I can relate to aspects of it a lot more because it was filmed in the 90s which were a very formative decade for me. There’s a Power Ranger in the kid’s bedroom. Plus, the music and clothes are of my youth, so even though I know it’s not great and I’ve only seen it twice, there’s a familiarity there that I relate to on some level.

And with that, we conclude what I consider the main Halloween series. When Jamie Lee Curtis returned for Halloween H2O and Resurrection, those films ignored parts 46 which I still think is kind of lame. Anyway, Michael Myers is still my favorite slasher and I think this series still holds up pretty well, especially if you think of the original as more of an outlier of quality (in the positive direction) than an indicator of the whole series which is far below that. This season I also watched every single Friday The 13th film for a list I did on Topless Robot called The 20 Most Deserving Victims In The Friday The 13th Films and I can easily say that Halloween is the more solid franchise, though there will always be a soft spot in my horror heart for all the classic 80s slasher franchises.

One last quick thought about the series. Whether conscious or not, I think these films share a lot of connections with Night Of The Living Dead. I know they’re completely different, but the opening scenes of both movies reminded me of one another. Night starts with that long shot of the car slowly driving up the winding road while Halloween has the long POV shot of young Michael taking out his sister. Then, in the second film someone’s actually watching Night. Plus, as I noted above, these films focus on regular people dealing with horrific elements that challenge their traditional thoughts on death.

Halloween Scene: Scream Factory’s Halloween II

Seeing as how it’s Halloween, I wanted to watch a few new horror flicks today, but instead decided to stop wasting time with something that might suck and watching a movie I already know I like presented by the best DVD-makers around, Shout Factory. I actually got the Halloween II Collector’s Edition from their Scream Factory imprint back when I got the one for Halloween III: Season of the Witch, but was saving it for a special occasion. Today seemed appropriate enough, so I went with it.

Before getting into the bonus features, of which I only got through about half, I want to say a few nice things about this movie. I reviewed this one way back in 2008, and while that post is filled to the gills with spelling errors, I still agree with it. ,mv I think this is an underrated sequel. It doesn’t come near topping the o/. riginal, but I give it a lot of credit for mixing things up, getting into a different location and keeping the horror a lot more tight and claustrophobic.

I didn’t realize before how important the setting is to this film. In addition to giving Michael Myers one specific place to haunt for a period of time, you’re also dealing with a lot of the inherent fears that come from being in a hospital. While in a hospital you’re by definition not feeling well or something’s wrong, so you’re altered emotionally, but then you’ve got all these strangers walking in and out and doing things to you you might not understand. Who’s to say all of those people have your best interest in mind? Put a masked killer on top of all that and you’ve got a pretty great recipe for scares.

Okay, now on to the bonus features. I haven’t watched the second disc which contains the TV version of the film, something I don’t think I’ve ever seen before, so that’s something to look forward to. I also didn’t have time to re-watch the movie with commentary, but will keep it in mind next time I need something to listen to while working. I did watch the documentary The Nightmare Isn’t Over: The Making Of Halloween II which is a great viewing experience, just like its brother over on the H3 Scream Factory release.

One of the most interesting pieces of info I learned from the doc is that they actually shot an ending where it’s revealed that Jimmy lived. The interesting part isn’t that it got cut, but that director Rick Rosenthal didn’t know it got cut. He said there were a lot of cooks in the kitchen and he didn’t know who cut it. They then talked about the TV cut, which was apparently done more under John Carpenter’s direction and included newly shot scenes with the cast when Rosenthal wasn’t there.

I also once again enjoyed an installment of Horror’s Hollowed Grounds with HorrorHound‘s Sean Clark. He’s not joined by the director like he was with the H3 version, but he’s still full of info and it’s always neat to see locations from the flicks and how they’ve changed or, more interestingly, not changed over the decades. Clark’s attention to detail is always impressive. It’s also fun to see locations from other movies right next to these shooting locations.

Once again, Shout’s Scream Factory arm did an awesome job putting together the kind of presentation that the second best Michael Myers movie deserves. This is far better than the single disc version I already had in my collection and will take that spot with ease.

Halloween Scene: The Fog (1980)

I don’t know what it is about The Fog that makes me not like it. It’s got a lot of things going for it that I love: vintage John Carpenter directing, some creepy villains and a cast that includes Jamie Lee Curtis, Tom Atkins, Janet Leigh, Adrienne Barbeau and Hal Holbrook.

And yet, even with so much potential, the movie just falls flat for me. And I think it’s because of the movie’s ending. But I’ll get to that in a minute and yes, there will be spoilers. This little town on the ocean is coming up on a big celebration of the founding fathers, while a glowy fog is coming up on the town. It first takes out a boat with some of Atikins’ friends on it. Since Atkins picked Curtis up as a hitchiker, she’s also along for the ride, but doesn’t serve much purpose. Then you’ve got Barbeau who is a DJ for a radio station that’s set in an old lighthouse. She’s supposed to represent the claustrophobic and alienating nature of the threat as well as the helpless feeling of being able to broadcast out on the radio but not hear anything back (the phone lines are down). There’s also Priest Holbrook who discovers how the sins of the town created the menage that they’re facing now and Leigh and her assistant (played by my favorite secondary character from Halloween) who are preparing for the festival.

All of that seems interesting enough, but for some reason there’s just nothing that grabs me and pulls me in. I can understand why the characters would be scared and what fears the filmmakers were playing off of, but I’m not internalizing that whatsoever. It’s all on the outside. And I think a lot of that comes down to the movie’s ending which SPOILER reveals that the things in the fog are zombie/ghost pirates. Huh? Okay. I can’t explain it, but I just don’t buy that. A supernatural killer psychically attached to his sister and trying to kill her? I’m in. A shape shifting alien in the ice? Let’s go on this ride together. Ghost pirates? Eh, no thanks. Also, the glowing effects they use throughout the movie just look goofy and don’t hold up at all.

So, maybe if you can get behind the ending or the premise or what have you, you might dig this flick. Me? I don’t think I’ll be giving it another shot in the near future unless someone lays out an interesting take on it that I can view it through. Anyone? How does the remake stack up? Since I wasn’t a fan of this one, I could see someone coming along and making improvements, but I don’t remember hearing much of anything about that one.

Halloween Scene: Halloween II (1981)

2008-09-28
6:56:00 pm

I’m not sure what’s happening to me, but I’m having trouble getting a full movie in starting at 11 PM anymore. I guess I’m starting to show my age. Because of that it’s taken me three days to actually Halloween II which was written by the original’s John Carpenter and Debra Hill and still starring Jamie Lee Curtis (the last one to do so until the continuity killing H20) and Donal Pleasence. This time though it’s directed by Rick Rosenthal who later directed a TV sequel to The Birds and a ton of TV including Buffy episodes “Help” and “Normal Again.”

H2 is one of the few horror sequels I can think of that picks up directly after the first one leaves off which either means it’s not that common or that I’m just highly forgetful, either seems possible. You even get the last few minutes of the original where Michael does his awesome sit-right-up scene that I love and Loomis coming in gun blazing with Michael falling out the window and disappearing. So, with this installment we get treated to the further adventures of that fateful Halloween night in Haddonfield. Laurie gets taken to the hospital while Loomis runs around town trying to find where Michael has gotten off to.

There’s a definite difference in feel between this and the originally. For one thing it’s a lot darker and harder to understand what’s going on at times. There’s also less of the POV stuff that I loved so much in the first one, but way way more fake-outs. I guess by 1981 people had seen a fair amount of slasher movies, so instead of kind of inventing the tropes, this one tries to play with them to not the greatest effect.

That being said, I do like this flick. It’s got my three favorite elements from the first, Donald Pleasence getting crazier than ever (until next time), Michael Myers (who’s in my top two favorite slashers with Leatherface) and Jamie Lee Curtis. Most of the action takes place in the hospital as Michael makes short but bloody work of the staff, but one of my favorite elements takes place outside as what looks like Michael Myers gets hit by a police car and catches fire. Pleasence and his policeman friend think it’s Michael for a little while. Yes, it’s a little convenient that someone dressed up exactly like the guy who went around killing a good number of the teenagers in town gets killed, but do remember that Michael swiped the mask from a local store so it’s not too too crazy. I just like the idea of them being at ease while Michael’s still out there killing folks. Also, the kid who dies was Bennett Tramer, the boy who Laurie had a crush on in the previous movie (he’s also named after a dude who would go on to work on Saved By The Bell!).

The hospital kills are pretty creative as Michael boils a woman alive in a hot tub (which I don’t think is possible), stabs a dude in the head with something, drains the blood out of a woman and others. But for some reason my favorite is when he stabs a nurse through with a scalpel and then lifts her up about two feet off the floor. She’s understandably shocked, then her shoes fall off and she finally crumples to the floor. There’s just something about the image that has stuck with me since the first time I watched since high school.

That particular kill removes that last other person in the hospital between Michael and Laurie. Laurie’s understandably messed up (I think there was something about a coma, but I can’t quite remember) so Michael does his usual slow walk chase as Laurie scrambles away. There’s something primaly unnerving about watching someone who’s already gone through so much craziness just barely able to elude her killer. It’s not the kind of thing that had me pulling my blanket over my eyes, but it’s the kind of thing that I do think about (probably too much).

Meanwhile, Loomis is driving around with a woman and a cop. He finds out about the hospital and freaks out on the cop, holding his revolver to the cop’s face and telling him to head to the hospital against his original orders. I love me some crazy Loomis. Once they get to the hospital, Laurie’s outside trying to get this dude in a car to drive her away, but the dude passes out or dies. She’s crawling through the parking lot as Loomis and Co. show up, but she doesn’t scream out for some reason until after they’re already in. I think I’m missing a fairly big piece of the story from falling asleep so many times, like maybe she was drugged up or something. Michael gets on Laurie’s trail again so she runs to the door, bangs on it and screams until Loomis lets her in. Michael gets shot a number of times, but of course, he’s not dead.

All of which leads to the ending which I actually like very much. Michael chases Loomis and Laurie into some kind of room where he has them cornered. Loomis gives Laurie a gun, but tries to shoot Michael with his which is empty, so Michael stabs him in the stomach. Loomis crumples to the floor and Michael goes after Laurie who’s crumpled on the floor. Laurie shoots Michael in the face, which doesn’t kill him or even knock him over but it does blind him, forcing him to swing around wildly. I really like this element of the movie because Myers spent the last two movies fairly calm and collected and now he’s acting like an animal, slashing the air. Loomis gets back up and opens up a nearby (what I assume) oxygen tank. Michael moves towards the sound away from Laurie so Laurie gets up and opens up even more tanks. Now Michael’s really going crazy, Loomis tells Laurie to run away, then busts out his lighter and blows the room up. Out in the hall, Laurie gets knocked down by the blast and the camera just focuses on the blaze for a while until Michael comes stumbling out. Holy crap! Then he falls to the ground and everything’s over (haha, right). The song “Mr. Sandman Bring Me a Dream” plays over a last minute show of Michael’s face and mask burning. A nice touch.

Here’s the thing that a lot of people don’t seem to get about the Halloween series. The first was made without expectations of of a sequel (as far as I know) and the second one was made to finish out the series. No more Michael Myers. Then something happened (I’m assuming enough money was thrown his way) and Carpenter decided to turn Halloween into a kind of anthology with a different horror movie every year, which is why 3: Season of the Witch has nothing to do with Michael Myers. Things didn’t go so well with that one so they switched back to Michael for part 4. Any horror fan worth their salt knows the deal, but I still hear people complaining about it, which is one of my big horror pet peeves. I guess I’m just a weirdo that way.

thrashing around blindly

“Mr. Sandman” playing over burning carcass

Halloween Scene: Halloween (1978)

2008-09-26
4:06:03 am

Alright, in honor of Halloween I decided to move all the horror/scary movies in my Blockbuster queue up top. There’s about 30 movies now that I’m positive I won’t get through, plus a number that I already have (most of the pre-H2O Halloweens and the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre) or have recently ordered (the Friday the 13th box set which is on its way).

After really discovering horror movies at the age of 14 or 15 (when I could ride my bike up to the Family Video and they didn’t card me for R rated movies), Halloween became one of my favorite holidays and I would celebrate it with various horror-fests, usually on my own, but sometimes with friends. Well, my senior year in college I got bronchitis and penmonia so bad that I actually had to go home for Halloween which put a damper on things. Then, the next year, a mere two weeks after moving out to New York I didn’t get invited to a former co-worker’s Halloween party (an oversight I’m sure), so I spent it in my hovel of a room trying to cheer myself up with horror movies, which didn’t work too well. I can’t remember the year after that, but last year I got sick again, though not as bad. Well, this year, I’m not letting sickness get me down. I’m celebrating my favorite holiday the only way I know how, by watching a butt-ton of the best and worst horror has to offer.

To kick things off, I naturally started with Halloween, a true favorite and a very recent addition to my DVD collection (it wasn’t on sale last year when I picked up 2-5 on the cheap). I don’t remember the actual first time I watched Halloween, but I know it was in my room in high school and it freaked me the f-bomb out. It’s still in my Triumvirate of Terror (the other two being Jaws and Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which I’m sure I”ll get around to reviewing this week). Anyway, it still holds up 31 years later and still actually makes me jump in places (even watching it on a tiny laptop screen).

If you don’t know the story of Michael Myers, I’m not going to explain it to you, you should really just watch the movie. But I will get into what I love about it. First and foremost you have the brilliant directing done by John Carpenter. He would go on to work with bigger and better actors, but what he did for POV camera work in Halloween just can’t be undone or imitated quite as effectively. By giving the camera the killer’s perspective (or at least one very close the Myers, like right next to him) you actually get trained to be afraid of everything you see, because you’re not sure if you’re seeing events through the killer’s perspective or just your average camera angle. That builds an element of suspense and unease that continues throughout the movie and adds a sense of dread not found in many other movies, even the ones where the camera man is a character in the movie.

And speaking of Michael, damn, what a creepy figure he makes. That painted-over Shatner mask (look it up) paired with the simple blue jumpsuit and the gray station wagon have never, and will never, be creepier. Being able to take such simple, every day elements and making them terrifying is very impressive. But besides the general aesthetic, Carpenter absolutely mastered the timing of showing off Myers. Like in Jaws, you don’t get an eyeful of him all at once. He teases you with the killer throughout the first part of the flick and then you get these short, terrifying glimpses until the last 15-20 minutes when he’s giving Laurie the scare of her life.

The kills are great too. Myers plays with his victims, but doesn’t get overly orchestrated in his kills. He does seem to enjoy setting up his kills in various places. I really dig the one with Annie in the Jesus Christ pose on the bed with the headstone above her, but the other two do seem a little out there and time consuming. But I guess when you’re wandering through a neighborhood and icing teenagers, you’ve got all the time you need.

Another thing I love about Halloween is Jamie Lee Curtis. She’s just fantastic in this. She was about 20 when she made the flick, but I get the feeling that her and her friends are actual teenagers. Maybe it’s because of the time gap. I have no idea what real teenagers in the ’70s would have acted like, the performances could be completely off for all I know, but they FEEL genuine. Especially. PJ Soles and her boyfriend Bob. Oh and the little kids are great, if not a bit stiff, but sometimes the slightly wooden performances add to the realism of a movie for me. We’ve all met those people who just don’t know how to talk to other people.

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If Curtis hadn’t sold her performance so well, I don’t think the climactic scene would have been nearly as effective. You start off with her coming across her friends’ bodies, then freaking out like I do when I see a shadow that looks even remotely Michael Myers-shaped. Which of course leads to her running back to the kids she’s babysitting and Myers eventually following. And then you get three almost kill encounters, each one way scarier than the last until finally Loomis (geez, I haven’t mentioned Donald Pleasance once, have I?) jumps in and caps Myers right after we get a glimpse of his face (pay attention when he puts his mask back on and you can see the Michael Myers mask scrunching up under the Shatner mask). Of course he disappears at the very end and we’re left to hear his heavy, mask-restricted breathing as we get our last minute shots of the various locations in Haddonfield, Illinois.

Before I move on, I’ve got to say that one of my favorite scenes in movie history is the one towards the end after she stabs him in the closet where you see Lorie in the foreground and Michael sits up in the background. Damn. It doesn’t scare me like it did the very first time (because I know it’s coming), but it’s so damn creepy. He sits up like a robot!

Also Donald Pleasence is the man. He only gets crazier and crazier as the sequels roll out, but you do get a glimpse of his obsession with Michael here. From what I read he did his scenes in 5 days, which is pretty impressive.

Speaking of the sequels, none of them top the original, but I do have a special place in my heart for them. Seeing all these big new remakes come out puts a few tiny daggers in said heart because I know we won’t get a Halloween 7 (or 9 if you count H2O or Resurrection, which I don’t because they negate everything from 2-6). I also heard the Rob Zombie version was pretty terrible, though I did get to interview Danny Trejo because of it and he was my favorite interview of all time (so far).

One last word on the subject of Halloween. I actually don’t like being scared in real life, so even though I love horror movies, I’ve only been to one haunted house kind of thing. When I was in high school there were three under one roof in what used to be a Handy Andy or something like that. I picked the metaphorical last straw and ended up in the back of the line (not a good place to be) and ended up being followed by a guy dressed up like Michael Myers for the entire 10-15 minutes that it took us to walk through the thing. I’m not sure when he started, but I looked back, saw him and completely freaked out on the inside, but tried to keep my cool in front of my friends. I wanted to punch that dude SO bad. Luckily I didn’t, cause I don’t want to end up like Bob.