Thursday, November 29, 2007

'Peanut Butter' still sticks

With our first baby on the way, I've been doing some soul searching about kids movies. On one hand I'll love watching Toy Story or Willy Wonka for the first time with my child, but I'll also silently dread having to brave a Shrek movie. Of course, I'll wean the child on my (appropriate) favorites from Day 1, but there will be many times when a kids movie has to be put on. I've thought a lot about the unorthodox diet of movies that comprised much of my youth, which was usually HBO and whatever I could convince my parents to rent. I can't tell you how many memories of nameless movies from HBO I have, and most of them I'll probably never see again. But I was finally able to re-view one of those random crazy 2 p.m.-on-a-Sunday movies this week, thanks to Google Video.

Joseph B brought it to my attention that The Peanut Butter Solution was online in its entirety, which was kind of amazing since it's not on DVD anywhere. Peanut Butter was a movie I watched in fragments many times, and for quite awhile I wasn't sure if my memories of it were real or dreamed. The IMDB comments for the movie confirm that many other people felt the same way. Watching it again, I think it's holds up very well as a kids movie, and I think my kid will be the only one in the schoolyard trying to explain the art of magic paintbrushes.

Yes, magic paint brushes. And ghosts, and kids enslaved by a mad art teacher, and a kid with a lot of hair. A truly strange movie, The Peanut Butter Solution's best plot device happens early, when young Michael finds his way into a burnt out house and is mysteriously frightened to such a degree that he goes bald. Michael can't remember what it was that scared him so much, but he does know that he can't go on with his life without any hair. Luckily, a couple of hobos died and became ghosts and they want to help Michael with his problem. They know about a concoction that will regrow hair -- just don't put too much peanut butter in it. Of course, Michael does put too much peanut butter in, and soon he has Cousin It hair growing at an astonishing rate. If that's not bad enough, he soon gets kidnapped by an art teacher he didn't like who imprisons him in a factory run by enslaved children where his hair can be farmed to create magic paint brushes. Yup, this movie has it all.

Peanut Butter freaked me out as a kid, and it is genuinely creepy, considering its intended audience. The idea that something could scare you so much as to force baldness is a chilling concept for a child, and the movie sells the idea well by having it be unexplained until the end. And kidnapping, especially in the 80s when it seemed every kid was convinced their captor could be lurking behind the nearest tree, is always a gruesome concept for kids and even more so when it involves a hated teacher. The magic paintbrushes made from Michael's enchanted hair allow a person to paint a picture that they can "enter" and interact with, and the low budget effects do a good job of portraying this concept. Unfortunately, when the culprit of Michael's fright is revealed at the end, it's an unquestioned letdown -- probably due to an equal lack of writing creativity and budget constraints.

Released in 1985, the Canadian production of The Peanut Butter Solution was the second in director Rock Demers' Tales for All series, and by far the most popular. Apparently, Demers was an influential figure in Quebec's emerging film industry in the 1970s:

Throughout the 1970s, Quebec quietly established itself as the centre of production for Canadian children's films. The success of 1970's The Christmas Martian spawned such venerable kiddie fare as Jacob Two Two Meets the Hooded Fang (1972) and Mystery of the Million Dollar Hockey Puck (1976), but it wasn't until the 1980s that the industry became one of the cornerstones of Canadian b-film production, thanks primarily to the efforts of one man? Rock Demers.
No offense to my Canadian readers, but that paragraph reads like something out of a Christopher Guest script. The Christmas Martian? Jacob Two Two Meets the Hooded Fang? Wow. The Peanut Butter Solution sounds pretty normal compared to those titles. Another bit of trivia: this movie featured the English language debut of one Celine Dion! So if you have 90 minutes to spare, click below and enjoy this odd Canadian 80s kids flick.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Walk Silently and Carry a Big Whatever-the-Hell-That-Thing-is

No Country for Old Men is the most quietly ferocious movie you'll ever see. I can't stop thinking about the brilliant sound design choices by Joel and Ethan Coen that lift the movie from a simple genre exercise into another level of terror and excitement. In the same way Ennio Morricone fashioned a theme out of creaks, drips and cracks for the opening of Once Upon a Time in the West, here we have an entire "score" made out of footsteps, desert wind, breezes through an open window, distant passing trains and simply the sound a man makes when he's contemplating what his next action will be that won't result in his death. All these sounds are heightened because no note (whether dialog or effects) goes wasted, wrapping the viewer in silence and putting us in the same mindset as the characters, where fate seems to be waiting behind the corner.

The sequence that best exemplifies this method is when Llewelyn checks into the second hotel, and tries to assess his possibly fatal situation inside his room. He hears something strange from the front desk, then tries to phone the manager -- with no answer. The next two minutes are nearly silent, save for a couple remote footsteps and Llewelyn's fear of what might be outside his door. There's no dialog, but it's one of the most exciting moments of the movie, as we wait for the action to shift toward Llewelyn or Chigurh at any moment. The masterful sequence one-ups itself as the action shifts outside, with Llewelyn commandeering a man's truck as bullets from Chigurh's suppressed pistol attack the vehicle like hellfire from some unearthly beast. The sound design on the gunfire is unlike anything else I've ever heard -- you can almost hear the bullets zipping through the air, and it's never clear where they're coming from. The exhilarating battle continues on the deserted street (with the adversaries still never seeing one another) much like it began, with both men waiting for the other to make a move.

No Country For Old Men is essentially about a satchel full of MacGuffin, the quest of two men to extend their lives for one more day, and an aging sheriff dealing with the fear of where his road may end. Like many Coen Bros. characters, the three men are very precise in what they say and do. These are the kind of resourceful men who use items such as tent poles, cotton balls, wire hangers and their confidence to extraordinary effect. And of course there's the little matter of a high-powered captive bolt pistol. This kind of device could only be utilized so efficiently by a man such as Chigurh, whose drive requires only the most clean, horrifying and consistent methods. When we first see him use the weapon, he appears almost giddy at introducing another person to its quiet terror, confident that his victim won't struggle because he doesn't know what the hell it is. Has there been a weapon so befitting a movie villain since Leatherface started up his chainsaw?

As to be expected from the Coen Bros, the characters are charmingly foolish, but with more than enough wits to make you believe in them. Llewelyn is not a smart man, but he's definitely cut from a different cloth than other Texan trailerpark folk. He brings trouble on himself more than once, but he never flinches when searching for the next rabbit hole that will lead him to daylight. Chigurh is a psychopath, but he's also a self-aware psychopath, and his confidence can often betray him (such as when he's squaring off against a bull-headed trailer park manager). Sheriff Bell always wears the face of the law, but he's obviously terrified of what he's up against. And you can always count on the Coen Bros. to pepper their films with odd, one-off characters who wouldn't show up in any other movie (Llewelyn's encounter with the teenagers on the bridge? Fantastic!), and they're always able to remind you never to try and take some world-encompassing message from what you're seeing.

After the second act, I knew the movie would produce an abrupt and divisive ending ala Miller's Crossing or Barton Fink, since it seemed the Coens were giving us another story that had no intentions of wrapping up nicely. I wasn't quite sure of it right after I left the theater, but it made more sense once I realized that Bell never saw Chigurh, but knew without a doubt he was still at large. To know that an invisible terror was capable of re-entering your life at any time is truly the stuff of nightmares, particularly the one Bell describes in the final shot.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Paradox of the Ghostbusters

I was witness to a rare event this weekend: a child of the 80s seeing Ghostbusters for the first time. Actually, it's not really his fault -- he was raised in a pentecostal household, so it's my job as his friend to introduce him to some of the movies he missed out on. It's possible that I've seen Ghostbusters more than any other movie. Growing up, I watched it every time it came on HBO, and many more subsequent times after learning where the "record" button was on our VCR. I obviously know the movie backwards and forwards, but there's a few elements that have intrigued me during my last couple viewings.

It's easy to see why Ghostbusters was one of the decade's biggest hits, as it successfully combined the genres of comedy, sci-fi, horror and adventure. None of these genres really overshadows the other, as a well-crafted paranormal story is always building in the background as the jokes on the screen keep coming from the right and the left. The Gozer/Zuul plot is the stuff of childhood nightmares, and by the end you want to know more about these Sumerian gods and just what the hell they had in store for New York City -- nevermind the goddamned marshmallow parade. Ghostbusters leaves a lot on the table, and that's a good thing because the plot carries so many possible pathways and terror that it's never stretched thin. But what got me thinking during this last viewing were two lines that could have pushed the movie in another direction, especially if it was straight sci-fi/horror and not comedy.

Let's say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of psychokinetic energy in the New York area. Based on this morning's reading, it would be a Twinkie thirty-five feet long, weighing approximately six hundred pounds.

Egon is projecting huge paranormal activity on the horizon. While he has lots of scary data, Egon doesn't arrive at the conclusion his numbers should point to. From the outside, it appears that the number of ghosts in New York increases with the amount that the Ghosbusters catch, that no matter how many they contain there will always be that many more throughout the city. Emphasizing this point is that in the early stages of the film the ghosts are few to none, and it stays that way after they open business. Also, when all the spirits are freed by shutting down the containment grid, the city is obviously terrorized like never before. Whether it's the act of containing these spirits in a central location, or merely the psychological hysteria in the public that comes with knowing ghosts actually exist -- the Ghostbusters are the true public enemy by contributing to the city's ghost population.

Wait for the sign! Then our prisoners will be released!

Lewis, while possessed as Vinz Klothar, forecasts the chaos that will result when the containment field is shut down. So the question is, without the Ghostbusters, would the terror dogs and Gozer have been awakened/summoned? Are the Ghostbusters an unwilling participant in a paranormal apocalypse by harboring their collection of spirits? Or, was their enterprise merely one of the final steps of a plot set in motion thousands of years ago in Sumeria -- with Ivo Shankor and his interdimensional gateway of a skyscraper being yet another Earthly pawn?

Questions like these have to be asked because they are not touched on at all in the movie. Since its intentions are fairly light, the battle with Gozer ends with a parade. With a more serious tone, Ghostbusters may have ended with the team reflecting on their role in Gozer's summoning, and perhaps deciding to hang their proton packs up for good in the interest of mankind. As it is, the Ghostbusters never feel any weight of responsibility after the events in Dana's apartment building or speak of any closure with Egon's Twinkie data. The sequel brings down this way of thinking, as the paranormal activity in the city obviously continues after Gozer is turned back. It's a tribute to the movie that even with a comedic tone, Ghostbusters manages to weave such an involving and complex ghost story.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Good reads, bad radio

I've been out of action lately while tending to a pregnant wife and a kitchen in disrepair, but I'm back in the lineup beginning this week. While I've been behind in my writing, I've kept up in my reading, and have these gems to pass along:

-- Good gracious, have you seen what Chris Stangl is up to now? Chris presents The Ballad of the Hermeneutic Circle: An Essay on the State of Film Blogging, 2007 -- it's a richly illustrated comic starring the author and many key film issues of the year. The 15-page adventure comes at you in one page installments. Wow!

-- Alan at Burbanked has never been one to be confined by traditional blogging, but now he's really broken out of his template. Again re-working his site, Burbanked now takes advantage of every line of HTML to give you an overflowing page of info and humor. My Action Figure Mood Indicator is set at Stunned.

-- If you're not caught up with Thom Ryan's ambitious Film of the Year, don't ask for sympathy -- just head over there and read his 1941 entry for Citizen Kane. And if anyone over there gives you trouble, "have your man call him ... an anarchist!"

-- Joseph B. has some good picks for movies that freaked you out as a child. Joseph tipped me off that one of my freaky movies of old, The Peanut Butter Solution, is available to watch in its entirety on Google Video. I was able to watch it for the first time in maybe 20 years, and will have my thoughts on the matter up here later this week.

-- Stacie Ponder concluded her week-long look at the best of Amicus horror, with her take on Vault of Horror. As usual, there's no shortage of scary/funny screen grabs.


Finally, I have some original horror to share with you. The following is a 100% factual transcript from a local radio station after they posed the question "can you name three Martin Scorsese films to win a $10 lottery ticket?" (All callers were 20-something males):

Caller 1: Ummmm, no.
Caller 2: Martin who?
Caller 3: No, sorry.
Caller 4: Let's see, The Departed, The Aviator ... what was that gangs film he made -- Teams of New York?
Caller 5: (sounding confident) The Departed, The Aviator, and ... I want to say, The Godfather?

By this point I was practically kicking in my radio while trying to navigate traffic. The sixth caller finally got it right, after which one of the DJs confessed he couldn't even name one of Scorsese's movies: "Didn't he direct Dog's Day Out?" he said, presumably referring to Dog's Day Afternoon.

Like I said, horror. The horror.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Danny Roane: First Time Director

I'm usually not brave enough to watch the movies that premiere on Comedy Central, and until this week I didn't think I ever missed anything good. Andy Dick's Danny Roane: First Time Director premiered in August on the cable channel, came out last week on DVD, and is one of the funniest movies I've seen this year. It's 84 minutes of completely low-brow, low-budget, low-intelligence humor, and I was laughing the entire time.

Written and directed by Dick, it's a documentary about burnt out former sitcom star Danny Roane's attempts to make "Dead Dream," a semi-autobiographical look at the harrows of drug and alcohol addiction. After starring in the sitcom "Don't Quit Your Day Job," Roane hit rock bottom with his drinking problem, culminating in a disastrous drunken appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live. He sees directing as the logical next step, and his surreal script is set to be produced by Quad Gold Pictures, where head man Pete Kesselman (Bob Odenkirk) boasts about their last hit, Vicious Cycle 3: Killer Load, a laundromat horror flick. The fact that Odenkirk is in Danny Roane told me the movie had a chance to be good, and there are plenty of other great cameos, including Ben Stiller, Danny Trejo and Jack Black.

Since it's a mockumentary, there's very little narrative structure, and Dick is able to keep the joke pace high. Most of the time it seems Dick is just doing improv, and it usually works. Dick's brand of vulgar slapstick is divisive, but if you like him then you'll love him in this, as I can't imagine a better vehicle for his comedy. But the biggest star of Danny Roane is the movie within the movie, "Dead Dream." Originally designed to be a stark look at addiction with James Van der Beek in the lead, the movie quickly devolves into a musical based on Jim Morrison-like flashbacks. Trejo plays the Indian chief who instructs the main character to go on a spiritual quest, but as Roane points out, Trejo the Indian chief has a huge tattoo on his chest of a Mexican woman praying.

Danny Roane is often sloppy, with some uneven moments, but the best is saved for last when we get to see the finished product of "Dead Dream." It contains my favorite line of the year, when a character tries to describe how his head is feeling on drugs: "It feels like my mind is made of Hitler." This line leads to a lengthy musical scene of a bad Hitler impersonator stalking a Jewish clown through city streets. Like I said, it's 100 percent dumb, low-brow comedy, but if that's what you go for try and find Danny Roane.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Criterion covers: 10 beauties, 5 duds

The never dull Chris Stangle recently pointed out the odd similarities on the cover designs of Criterion's new release of Two Lane Blacktop and a recent Bergman set. I'm always up for any discussion about Criterion's cover designs, because they're pretty much the best in the business (in addition to the actual DVDs they contain) and almost never ordinary. I'm a self confessed cover art snob, and I'm continually fascinated about this cult that I belong to. What is it about cover art that turns normal people into cover art snobs?

I read about DVD technology long before the first discs were released, and couldn't believe all the features they would bring home for cinephiles, but I don't think anyone predicted that DVDs would usher in a golden age for cover design. In the same way that album cover design fell by the wayside when vinyl gave way to cassettes and CDs (with their tiny canvases), the enormous value of DVDs as a product to be purchased (and not just rented) means consumers now value how their movies look from the outside. It wasn't always this way for DVDs, I remember the first cover design that really intrigued me was the Boogie Nights New Line Platinum edition. It had radically original cover art, on a slip cover that housed even more of the garish 70s design on the digipack inside. The simple jewel case long ago gave up the stranglehold on DVDs, and now we have designs on cardboard, plastic and even metal.

The Criterion Collection has always presented top quality DVDs, but it has also striven to have high class cover art -- and it hasn't always succeeded. The look of Criterion has evolved over the years, culminating this year with a homologous spine and logo treatment (the crescent "C"). Here's my list of Criterion's best covers, followed by five of their worst:

The Masterpieces

10. Days of Heaven (No. 409)

I just love this picture -- I would put it on my wall if I could. This is a great simple design, because it's an image that you would instantly recognize from Days of Heaven, even without the text. The size of the title is also perfect, avoiding being dominant over such a great image.

9. RoboCop (No. 23)

Effective understatement, for a movie that is always over the top. This cover really stands out, and the color choice is almost exactly what Verhoeven uses throughout his ugly future Detroit.

8. M (No. 30)

One of a handful of iconic shots from M, heightened further by an excellent design. Enhancing the "M" on Peter Lorre's shoulder is an easy choice, but the execution is flawless, as the effect doesn't look hokey.

7. Videodrome (No. 248)

While the cover is certainly good, it's the whole package that really grabs you: the discs are housed inside a BetaMax-like package that has "videodrome" written on the spine and "long live the new flesh" on the face. It's an awesome concept, and mine sits on the shelf sans the outer covering, as it really does look like one of Max Renn's videos.

6. The Man Who Fell to Earth

I don't care for the movie, but the cover is truly striking. It's also nicely packaged, with Walter Tevis' original novel reprinted specially for inclusion in the DVD.

5. The Naked City (No. 380)

In a perfect world that title font would really exist, and I would use it for every word I typed.

4. Robinson Crusoe on Mars (No. 404)

I know nothing about this movie, only that this cover truly rocks. If I could get this as a print (unspeakably large, of course), I would pay up to $100 for it. The colors are amazing, and the font is used perfectly.

3. Dazed and Confused (No. 336)

I originally wasn't a fan of this cover, but after holding it and exploring all the fun stuff it contained -- I was hooked. The cover is brash and makes no apologies, plus it works like the vinyl cover of Led Zeppelin III, with those holes on the front making it possible for multiple cover possibilities.

No image (or words for that matter) can adequately represent Tati's masterpiece, but this comes pretty darn close. Like the movie, it's wild with many planes of existence, and presents itself with no explanation.

1. Notorious (No. 137)

It doesn't get any better than this for me. This is just everything you would want in a DVD cover: it's bold but also understated, and plays off one of the movie's key plot points without really giving it away. It would have been easy to put Carey Grant along with Ingrid here, but the black space is very effective.

The Misfires

5. Eyes Without a Face (No. 260)

This should be a great cover, but I just can't get past the awkward use of the title -- is it supposed to look like her mouth?

4. Rebecca (No. 135)

This design is a little too ambitious for its own good. There's about five different elements gasping for attention here, and why the "A David O. Selznick Presentation"? Criterion usually omits such text, for good reason.

3. Picnic at Hanging Rock (No. 29)

They picked a great image from the movie to use, but what's with the romance novel font and size of the title? This is one DVD that's begging for one of Criterion's recent re-releases, as this one is non-anamorphic and largely extra-free. I'm sure a re-release would have a much better cover.

2. The 39 Steps (No. 56)

Okay, the title looks cool, but why are we looking at the two main characters? It's a cop-out design, that has nothing to do with the movie. It also fails to convey any of the urgency and suspense that fills this classic. This was also put out during Criterion's habit of using small type on the spine, exacerbated this time by using a brown font against a black background, making it legible only from close range.

1. The Most Dangerous Game (No. 46)

This looks like something I would make on Photoshop, when I was still learning it in college -- complete with gimmicky typeface. Why are they green?

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Next stop: Spiritualism?

Note: This post is a contribution to the Film + Faith Blog-a-Thon at Strange Culture

In The Darjeeling Limited, Owen Wilson's character Francis proclaims he and his brothers are on a "spiritual journey" through India, like it was a package arranged by an online travel agency. In Wes Anderson's previous films, religion was almost never touched on -- save for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou's imagery of an undersea world of obvious intelligent design. With his latest film, Anderson often looks at how religion is viewed from the outside, by those who are in it as tourists.

Wilson's performance and his odd character are the driving forces of The Darjeeling Limited, and it's telling that Francis never really expounds on what spiritualism means to him, even though he goes out of his way to trumpet how "spiritual" upcoming locations are and to involve his brothers in complex spiritual rites. To Francis, "spiritual" is merely an adjective. It represents the unknown of what he may find at a temple of a religion completely foreign to him or what a strange ceremony involving peacock feathers may produce.

Francis clearly wants something big to happen between he and his brothers on their journey, but it's unclear why he chose India other than the land's spiritual qualities that baffle him. Perhaps the most spiritual moment of the trip is when the brothers find themselves at a young boy's funeral, inside a small village. Anderson focuses on the the villagers' rituals of burning the body, an image that no doubt shocked the clean cut brothers. Since they had recently attended their father's funeral, the brothers now find themselves at a more emotional event for a person they didn't know, but the effects of the native rituals are probably more profound than anything at the American ceremony.

There is a seismic rift between Francis, Peter and Jack, and Francis may know that it will take a higher power to heal it. Though he praises the spiritual qualities of the land they're traveling through, Francis doesn't appear to be very spiritual himself. But Francis seems convinced that a spiritual ceremony with peacock feathers will help the brothers find common ground -- but it only further illustrates their disconnect since Peter and Jack were unclear on their roles. The ceremony shows Francis' misunderstanding of spiritualism and faith, and how they connect.
The peacock ceremony is empty without the necessary faith, and only when the three brothers have faith in themselves and their family, at the end, does the "ritual" work for them and serves as a uniting force.

Friday, November 02, 2007

'Halloween' lessons learned

I really couldn't turn down the opportunity to see a double feature of Halloween 4 and Halloween 5 on the big screen. Showings like this don't come around very often in Boise -- the only other such offering this month was a 25th anniversary screening of Heavy Metal at the so-beautiful-they-really-should-show-better-movies-than-Heavy Metal Egyptian Theatre. And while I wasn't expecting to see two good movies, I did come away with some good lessons about the original Halloween, and the new one.

I really had no knowledge of the Halloween sequels past II. I've seen almost all the Friday the 13th sequels and a few Nightmare on Elm Streets, but didn't really know what I was in for with these two Halloweens. Actually, that's not true. A friend of mine in grade school, who saw every new horror movie that came out, told me once that Part 5 was his favorite movie of all time

The double feature was part of a national event put on by Monsters HD, I think it was broadcast by satellite or something, and the movies were prefaced by a new documentary on the two sequels. Since it consisted of 20 minutes of interviews of cast and crew trying to make the movies out to be masterpieces, there were a few highlights. Notably, Danielle Harris talking about how she and Donald Pleasence had fun "taking pictures" of each other on the set (when Harris was about 11) and how Part 4 director Dwight Little was qualified to make a Halloween movie because he celebrated Halloween in the Midwest. My experience with the other two 1980s slasher franchise sequels convinced me that I was in for a few solid entertaining hours in Haddonfield ... but as Crissy Hines once sang: "My city was gone."

4 and 5 are simply horrible movies. To say they were made "by the numbers" would be an insult to first grade arithmetic. On my way out of the theater, I kept siting examples to my viewing companion that the Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street sequels, while hardly "good," at least found ways to spice things up with each successive movie -- giving you a reason to not walk out on it. While Jason continually carved up campers as the years dragged on, we at least got to meet Corey Feldman's character, the psychic girl, and even experienced him in 3-D. Freddie Krueger had a built-in sequel mechanism, with more bad puns and nightmare imagery added to each movie -- however tiresome that became. With the Halloween sequels, all we're given is the mask, a crazy Donald Pleasence and a Haddonfield sign placed in a Salt Lake City neighborhood.

And it's one thing for a slasher movie to be bad, but does it have to be boring? When both movies arrive open their third acts, the action grinds to a screeching halt: In 4 we have all the characters sitting in a dark house waiting for suspense that never arrives, and in 5 there's literally a 10 minute scene of characters chasing stray kittens through a barn before being killed (the people, not the kittens). Worse yet, there's absolutely zero scares in either of them, not that they don't try. It seems like both directors felt Michael Myers was the reason Halloween was scary, giving us many shots of him: Michael standing in the mist, Michael on a roof, Michael floating down a creek, Michael driving a car, Michael ordering an iced Chai latte (sadly, only this last one is a lie). Of course, Michael by himself is not scary, and certainly not when he's wearing a cheap imitation of John Carpenter's mask -- it makes him look like an action figure being used for a miniature shoot. Carpenter went the Jaws route with Michael -- just giving us glimpses of him, usually in between shadows. A glimpse of Michael's face in perfect lighting can be scary, seeing Michael poorly hiding behind branches in broad daylight on a busy street is not.

After being disappointed with 4, I felt for sure 5 would be an improvement -- especially after David McReynolds' hearty 5th grade endorsement of it. Just as The Wild Bunch closed the Western era in 1969, Halloween 5 must have really slammed the door on slasher movies 20 years later. The movie is so ridiculously flawed and uninteresting that the only redeeming quality of it is that it was shot and distributed in a span of only 5 months -- beginning production in May 1989 and getting to screens that October. In that sense, it's a little understandable why it feels only half completed: why the opening 5 minutes are recycled from the previous movie, why we see Michael taken in by a hobo and his parrot who let the masked monster apparently sleep for a year until the next Halloween, why Ellie Cornell's 4 character is reduced to a few scenes of excitedly taking off her clothes and grinning at the large sweater she's going to wear like it's a birthday cake, why we're made to watch teens leave a rockin' Halloween party so they can chase kittens in a barn, and why there is an infuriatingly anonymous character who apparently plays a huge role in the film's plot.

That last part still rankles me. Who is this Man in Black who wears steel-tipped boots and a cowboy hat? What are his motives? Does he have anything to do with Michael's unexplained tattoo we see at the beginning? We'll never know for sure, especially not after the Man in Black guns down the police station and allows Michael to escape from jail (yes, Michael is dramatically arrested in 5 -- justice is finally served). Couldn't this character have been used to provide us something interesting in the movie?

And that brings me to Rob Zombie's Halloween, which I've been holding off writing a review for. I honestly really enjoyed the movie, even more so after seeing these awful sequels. Remake or sequel, it's a high quality addition to a franchise that was repeatedly dug up and buried through the 80s and even 90s. There are actual interesting elements of the movie, and its momentum peaks where it should -- in the final act. I don't mind that Zombie tried to explain Michael's past, especially because it draws no conclusions. No matter who raised Michael, there was something behind those black eyes that would eventually become pure evil, and Dr. Loomis couldn't find the answer after decades of research. I think it works perfectly as a remake, riffing on a few of Carpenter's scenes, while adding original ones, without being too obvious. Best of all, Zombie was smart enough to know how to shoot that mask.