The time of ghosts and goblins is upon us! Booooooooooogens! What’s the best way to observe this time of year — this season where the barrier between the land of the living and the dead is thinnest? Why a trip to the sin-ema for a fresh batch of Halloween movies, of course!

That’s right, it is time for a very special edition of Short Take Reviews. For your thrills and chills, I braved the darkness of the local multiplex to take in the latest Hollywood offerings. These Halloween movies are sure to make you and yours scream. But will it be with delight or disgust?

Step inside my haunted review palace. I will regale you of tales from Halloween movies both frightfully good and terrifyingly bad. (And remember, HELL FEST is still out there being a perfectly decent slasher film if you need that itch scratched.) And please, try not to scream too loudly. Even during the season of Halloween movies, there is no talking in the theatre.

Halloween Movies Short Take: GOOSEBUMPS 2: HAUNTED HALLOWEEN

HALLOWEEN MOVIES: Goosebumps Assemble!
Jack Black, far right, drops knowledge. From left, Wendi McLendon-Covey, Madison Iseman, Jeremy Ray Taylor, and Caleel Harris listen closely in GOOSEBUMPS 2: HAUNTED HALLOWEEN. (Courtesy of Sony Pictures)

It is perhaps not a surprise to declare GOOSEBUMPS 2 is mostly for children. Built predominantly for the under 12 set who likes an occasional scare, it knows where its bread is buttered. After all, it is sort of based on the book series where each installment read about 18 pages.

However, the first installment managed a truly “for all ages” tone with a heaping dose of metafiction. I, therefore, had high hopes for this. Alas…

Jack Black’s persnickety R.L. Stine barely has a cameo. It is a shame as this movie could really use his energy. He does, though, provide the voice, once again, of Slappy, the magical and evil ventriloquist dummy.

The kid characters are likable. It is good to see at least one person of color — although it is literally just one person of color — in the main cast. They are game and, in the early scenes, do a good job of feeling authentic. However, as the monsters proliferate, the film grows increasingly disinterested in character. Instead, like too many kid-oriented Halloween movies, it becomes infatuated with a sort of candy-colored, barely controlled chaos.

Again, though, I do think the under 9 set will dig on it for sure, the under 12 possibly.

Halloween Movies Short Take: GOSNELL: THE TRIAL OF AMERICA’s BIGGEST SERIAL KILLER

HALLOWEEN MOVIES: This movie is sham built on a lie smothered in self-deception
Dean Cain walks tough in a scene from GOSNELL: THE TRIAL OF AMERICA’S BIGGEST SERIAL KILLER. (Courtesy of GVN Releasing)

This is a bit of an odd fit for an article on Halloween movies. Still, it involves, sort of, a serial killer so I think it works. Plus, I cannot bring myself to give it a full review.

A big hint for the possible quality of this movie is found in its subtitle. Gary Ridgway, the Green River Killer, confessed to 71 murders. He was suspected committing somewhere north of 20 more. Ted Bundy was only convicted of 36 murders but is suspected of killing over one hundred individuals.

Kermit Gosnell, on the other hand, was charged with eight murders. He ended up convicted of three plus an additional count of involuntary manslaughter. If you have a familiarity with the concept of math, you’ll note that such a record places him nowhere near Ridgway or Bundy’s convictions. If we count everything police suspected either of them of, Gosnell barely registers.

However, Gosnell performed abortions. Therefore, despite abortions being legal, the makers of this movie evidently considered each of his legal surgeries murders as well.

Make no mistake, Gosnell was a terrible doctor, judging by formal complaints, for about two decades. Additionally, he DEFINITELY had become a criminal by the time he was discovered. An interesting movie about a man abusing his power could have been made about him. However, that was never the goal of these filmmakers.

They had an axe to grind. So they preferred to spend time tying themselves into knots justifying that perspective with an amateurish movie than really try to tell the story well and honestly.

But hey, Dean Cain is in it if that’s your thing.

Halloween Movies Short Take: THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK INSIDE ITS WALLS

HALLOWEEN MOVIES: House with clock
Cate Blanchett controls the universe — as it should be — in a moment from THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK INSIDE ITS WALL. (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Speaking of Jack Black, if you feel Black-deprived by GOOSEBUMPS 2 — and you should — THE HOUSE WITH A CLOCK INSIDE ITS WALLS has you covered. So I recommend it for its fun by not scenery chewing Black alone. Adding in he and Cate Blanchett cracking on each other as two old magic wielding friends really lands the proverbial plane.

Beyond that, though, it does what I wished GOOSEBUMPS 2 had done but failed at — a true all-ages spook flick. You know, one of those Halloween movies that the whole family can enjoy. It is not particularly scary but has a great eerie atmosphere. Kyle MacLachlan as an ally turned enemy is nicely inhuman not just in makeup but also in presentation. He seems to delight in being as cold as possible except when making out with his wife.

While I recommend it, I do recognize that aspects of the movie feel half-done. This is especially noticeable concerning the lead character’s attempts at friendship. The movie ends just as both of those smaller storylines seem to just be gaining narrative shape.

Nonetheless, I’m not lying when I declare this far and away my favorite Eli Roth directing effort, but please bear in mind I haven’t really liked a Roth movie in some time, if ever.

Halloween Movies Short Take: LIZZIE

HALLOWEEN MOVIES: LIZZIE
Chloe Sevigny has made quite the mess of things in Lizzie. (Courtesy of Roadside Attractions)

Casting LIZZIE — a telling of how the Borden Ax Murders might have gone — as a gothic horror film makes a certain amount of sense. Given the time period, the nature of Massachusetts society at the time, and the crime, the style feels like a pretty excellent fit.

If only they had given the thing a pulse.

Don’t get me wrong. Kristen Stewart continues her acting hot streak and this is the most depth I’ve seen Chloe Sevigny put up on screen in some time. Additionally, Jamey Sheridan, who is mostly known from his time on LAW & ORDER, gives a good villain as the Borden patriarch. Sheridan excels at villains, in my opinion, but rarely gets to do them.

However, the movie is just plodding. It is not content to make its points but rather needs to hammer them again and again, crippling the movie’s pacing.

The film also has a strange sexuality to it that feels vaguely exploitative. I do not think its sex scene between Sevigny and Stewart ever succumbs too much to male gaze, but it feels close. Given they remain clothed throughout it, this is something of an impressive feat.

Moreover, this is the most naked a depiction of this story I’ve ever seen. Nudity is not necessarily sexual, of course, and recent versions of this story have emphasized the possibility that Borden stripped to avoid bloody clothes. However, the camera does linger longer on the two women’s bodies than the moment would seem to demand.

Halloween Movies Short Take: THE NUN

HALLOWEEK MOVIES: Nun2
Taissa Farmiga hosts a vengeful spirit in a scene from THE NUN (Courtesy of Warner Bros)

Oh how far THE CONJURING franchise has fallen.

THE NUN manages an interesting tone of dread and regret early on but by the time the meat of the story — however slight it may be — kicks in the movie falls to cliché. Too many jump scares, too little character development, and a rapidly dissipating narrative structure all spell doom for my interest.

Taissa Farmiga deserves better.

Halloween Movies Short Take: HALLOWEEN (2018)

HALLOWEEN MOVIES: The Shape Mask
Jefferson Hall tries to elicit a quote from Michael Myers with the power of the mask in a scene from HALLOWEEN (2018) (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

The one true sequel! To buy this, we need to forget HALLOWEEN II — the only sequel directed by original director John Carpenter. While a pale follow-up to 78’s original, 2 did manage some strong scares and strengthened Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) a bit, making her a worthy enough rival to fuel the Myers-Strode “feud” that powers basically every sequel from then on (except the entirely unrelated HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH). Us old millennials will likely need to eliminate HALLOWEEN H20, the HALLOWEEN (2018) of 1998, from our memories as well. Despite being flawed in several ways, H20 gave the series a proper end that felt both triumphant and haunting. Strode gives up a piece of humanity to end the horror of Michael Myers just as he, seemingly, finds his own in his fear of her. Strong stuff.

But Enough About Those Movies…

HALLOWEEN (2018) proves a worthy successor despite my soft spot for H20. Much closer in tone to the original than H20, it nonetheless echoes that movies themes of a legacy of pain that must be ended by a final confrontation between Michael, Laurie, and her family. Unfortunately, despite bringing on the excellent Judy Greer as Laurie’s daughter, the movie never dives in as deep on that theme as it could have.

Additionally, it fails to give us as much of a feel for life in 2018 as the ’78 original. As many critics have noted, the original integrated you into the life and pace of the teens of Haddonfield. Here, the movie favors a quicker overview as it attempts to cover more ground. That ground includes a British true crime podcast duo, Strode’s isolationism and the family issues it wrought, and Michael’s newest psychiatrist. Like pretty much every HALLOWEEN since 4 and onward — including the abysmal Rob Zombie directed reboots – H2018 is far more interested in how adults react to the “Shape” than teens. As a result, while several teens become his victims, they have just enough depth to not feel totally like cannon fodder.

HALLOWEEN MOVIES: Strode draws down on Myers
Jamie Lee Curtis takes aim at James Jude Courtney in the foreground in HALLOWEEN (2018) (Courtesy of Universal Pictures)

Nonetheless, It is Good

What it does get right, though, it gets very right. Number one on this list is the brittle but still recognizable Strode. Curtis imbues the 57-year old Strode with a lifetime of regrets and untreated mental issues that nonetheless do not erase the genuinely good person we met back in ’78. We read the pain of unkind years in her eyes, her face, her deliberately paced walk, and her obviously trained body. Much as Strode sacrificed her “fun” for doing the right thing 40 years earlier, she sacrificed any sense of a normal life to be ready to end Michael Myers once and for all when the chance came.

As noted above, Greer sadly works with short shrift as Karen. On the other hand, when Greer finally gets to dig in, she nicely authors a daughter who rejects her mother’s hateful worldview while still fighting with the strength she inherited. Similarly, Andi Matichak as Allyson — the latest of the Strode women — is quite good while still being underserved by a movie less interested in teenagers than the original.

Finally, director David Gordon Green and composer Carpenter, along with his sons Cody and Daniel Davies, nicely find a way to match the style and sound of the original while still making it modern. The tracking shots, in particular, recapture Carpenter’s original sense of impending unstoppable doom and people’s inability to properly see danger on their doorstep.

Green also shares Carpenter’s ability to make the most unnerving skills have nothing to do with bloodshed. Here, a parked SUV on a country road plays host to the moment. No blood spilled, not a single knife pulled. Still, the way the camera keeps your eyes on it from engagement to death is both riveting and repulsive.

Let us know what you thought of these scary movies in the comments below!

One Comment

  1. […] that made no “effort beyond telling them what they want to believe,” an “amateurish movie” by producers with “an axe to grind” that “propagates multiple false myths […]

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