Round 4: Life/Death/Resurrection…
Halloween 4 starts with the series’ second best opening sequence: rural landscapes and farmlands scattered with handmade Halloween decorations under the pumpkin-orange glow of the credits. The icy winds signal the return of fall and soon-to-be winter. Alan Howarth’s take on the theme is fantastic. He stripped away the baroque, gothic tone of Halloween 2 to get back to something that feels both very familiar and entirely new. The first time we hear the infamous title score isn’t until five or six minutes into the film so once it finally does kick in, it officially feels like Halloween again.
All of this harkens back to the simplicity that made the original Halloween a mercilessly lean thriller. That simplicity is immediately befuddled when the audience realizes the amount of cleanup this entry has after Halloween 2. It sweeps Laurie under the rug and makes her daughter Jamie (a fun little homage) and her foster sister Rachael the main characters. Donald Pleasence reprises his iconic role as the yin to Michael’s yang. It’s these two character pairings that make for some of the most compelling scenes. Rachael reluctantly takes on the maternal role to Jamie, and Loomis struggles to comprehend and hunt down his great, white whale. These relationships are the main reason the film works as well as it does. It’s also the driving force behind the gut-wrenching climax as these seemingly solid relationships and roles absolutely shatter.
Very much a product of its time, the film continually dips into what can only be described as an exciting 80s action film with more explosions and gunfire than almost all other Halloween films combined. A great understated moment when Loomis finally sees a conscious-Michael for the first time at a diner is only cheapened when it ends just short of Loomis jumping through the air in slow-motion shooting his gun with a wall of flames behind him. Between the gun-toting hillbillies, the state troopers, and Sheriff Meeker, Halloween 4 feels a little too John Woo and not enough John Carpenter. Michael feels less like a force of nature and more like an awkwardly-moving man wearing a mask (by far the worst mask in the series, by the way.) The story concerns itself with showing how Michael pulls off certain things. It shows him hiding in the backseat of a police car to find his way to the sheriff’s house. It shows Michael killing poor Bucky, the unlucky power-plant worker in order to cut the town’s power. None of that matters. Do I need to see Michael cutting phone lines? No. It commits the cardinal sin of horror of explaining your monster.
Up until this past year, Halloween 4 was usually shown here in Austin every October with a fantastic pre-show love letter to the film by author Owen Egerton. He embraces all the things that I believe ultimately water town the Halloween “tone.” It simply comes down to a matter of preference, and I would guess those who prefer Aliens to Alien, also enjoy the film quite a bit. Halloween 4 is a fun, layered story, that is more concerned with showing an exciting story than actually scaring its audience. I’ve always considered Halloween 4 the most uneven sequel while many fans laud it as the series’ strongest. The film may have some extraordinary elements that work extremely well, but the detracting tone really tears the film apart at its seams.
Forget about the laughable fact that Friday the 13th Part 4 was billed as “The Final Chapter.” Forget about the fact that the next sequel was put into immediate production to be released the next year. Forget about the awful disco-tinted taste that Friday 3 left in your mouth because Friday 4 is the sequel that finally feels fully baked.
Tonally, Friday 4 couldn’t be more different than its predecessor. Whereas Friday 3 deservingly poked a lot of fun at itself, director Joseph Zito decided to wander down a much grimmer path. Starting with the stylistically stark opening credits and then immediately shining a glaring spotlight (literally) on the aftermath of Part 3 during a long, bloody and muddy tracking shot, the break they were making with the previous entry couldn’t be clearer. Zito established a strong sense of claustrophobia by shooting the night scenes with minimal lighting setups – again contrasting with Part 3 and its approach. The darkness itself is as much of an antagonist as Jason, with each character always in danger of being swallowed whole. Aided by the opening montage of his previous exploits, Jason reaches a mythic-like status that’s analogous to a 1980’s Universal monster like Dracula or Frankenstein’s monster. The hard-to-kill backwoods mutant has finally given way to the unstoppable monster.
Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter focuses on the Jarvis family (yes, family!) who live in the woods near Crystal Lake. (Their real estate agent must’ve been a hell of a salesman.) It’s an inclusion that injects some much needed life into a cyclical plot that was already, even this early in the series, becoming stale. However, no Friday film would ever be greenlit without the obligatory care-free teenagers on a weekend getaway filled with swimming, sex and pot. Those rapscallions rent the cabin next door to our protagonist’s home. The moments that stand out are exclusively centered around the Jarvis’ including: a pre-pubescent Tommy (Corey Feldman) seeing a girl undressing next door, the mother and daughter talking while out on a morning run and the family’s dinnertime banter. The compulsory inclusion of disposable teens satisfies what the series has based itself upon, but the surprisingly authentic family element ups the much needed stakes that the series, up until this point, had been severely lacking.
This entry has a lot going for it: blonde Crispin Glover, Corey Feldman, Crispin Glover dancing, and the return of Tom Savini to kill off his monster he created four years earlier. The character of Tommy is a veritable love letter to Savini himself as a SPFX pioneer. Both Savini and director Joseph Zito say that they were working under the genuine assumption that this would be the last film. Like Halloween 4, Friday 4 incorporates the idea of passing the evil/ insanity on to the next generation. Little Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) dresses up like a clown when Michael was just six years old and little Tommy shaves his head to look like Jason did when he was a child. In a great bookend to Friday’s “Final Chapter,” the murder of his mother was Jason’s homicidal catalyst, and Tommy’s mother’s murder looks to be his.
Nightmare 4, like Friday 4, is the series finally congealing into a fully-baked treat. “The Dream Master” is a twisted carnival with Freddy Krueger officially taking the reigns as ringmaster. The first thing that truly stands out about the film is its sheer lavishness. Aided by a substantially higher budget, the scope of the film’s fantastical aspects explode onscreen. Taking full advantage of the endless possibilities that dream storylines offer, the filmmakers open on the infamous Elm Street house with more set decoration than you can shake a stick at. The idyllic afternoon transforms into a tumultuous thunderstorm within seconds. Inside the house, our returning heroine from Part 3, Kristen (this time portrayed by Tuesday Knight), finds that Freddy is still, in fact, dead. Or, dormant, rather. But, once Freddy’s grave is desecrated with flaming dog piss, he’s back, baby. (Wait. What?)
Since any given set of Nightmare characters seem played out after just one film (sans Nancy), Nightmare 4 quickly dispatches of any surviving characters from its predecessor. The role of Freddy’s adversary slowly but surely falls on newcomer Alice’s shoulders. Her character mirrors that of Nancy Thompson in that she’s a timid girl with an alcoholic parent who’s forced to face Freddy when her friends start dropping like flies. I’d be curious to see where the series would’ve gone had Patricia Arquette returned and the character of Kristen had possibly remained the heroine.
Renny Harlin (who would later famously direct the likes of Die Hard 2 and The Long Kiss Goodnight) made an indelible mark on the film. It feels like a fast-paced, extremely well-choreographed comic strip come to life with each extravagant set piece melding into the next. The movie theater scene in which Alice is sucked into the screen stands out as one of the series’ best sequences.
However, with more stylized action and characters, it inherently diminishes the audience’s ability to suspend their disbelief. It may be more “entertaining,” but in the end it feels like a carnival: a lot of lights, cotton candy and showmanship with little “substance.” Freddy was once a horribly burned child molester/murderer and, in a strange turn of events, is now the anti-hero of the story. The moment that Freddy puts on his sunglasses in the film, he officially becomes a cereal-box monster along with the likes of Count Chocula and Franken-berry. He’s relegated to dispatching teens in ironic ways and handing out lazy one liners. Like the film itself, he’s now easily digestible. The series is less about expunging teenage anxieties, and more about giving teens an escapist rollercoaster ride.
Is Nightmare 4 fun? Absolutely. It’s one of the best orchestrated sequels of the series. Likewise, Halloween 4 is an exciting story with some great characters. But, when you cut away the fat of these two sequels are they truly horror movies? Not in the slightest.
WINNER: Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter
Coming soon… Round 5: Hackneyed Slashings (A Nightmare On Elm Street 5: The Dream Child, Friday the 13th: A New Beginning and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers)