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Notes from the back row

Holiday horrors revisited



Okay, this week at the theatres — Mr. Bean’s Holiday. I’d rather piss on an electric fence than see, or recommend, that crap. Real English humour can be among the funniest in the world. This idiot and his bumbling pratfalls are about as funny as late-stage intestinal cancer (hint: you excrete a lot of blood).

Also opening Friday, The Nanny Diaries. Scarlett Johannson, usually a sure thing, doesn’t shine in this wanna-be Devil Wears Prada look at classism in the Big Apple. Based on the bestselling novel of the same name, this picture lacks most of the book’s social poignancy and thematic punch. And Johannson, usually my second favorite to Angelina, doesn’t pack her usual potency either.

Speaking of punching and cocks, who’s up for another Jet Li action flick? War, also starring Jason Stratham, is just that. No advance screenings of this one so your guess is as good as mine but I’d say expect more of the same revenge/triad/yakuza/blood and testosterone stuff Steven Seagal was doing 15 years ago. Also known as a good way to shoot 90 minutes in the head on a rainy afternoon.

Now, with the theatre out of the way, let’s focus on what’s really important — Halloween. Not the holiday, the movie. And not the Rob Zombie remake that’s dropping Aug. 31 either, that’s next week. This week let’s take it back to 1978 and delve into the original, sort of set the stage for what’s to come.

Shot in 20 days, on a budget of $325,000 John Carpenter’s Halloween grossed around $55 million worldwide, making it one of the most profitable independent films ever made. You know the plot — Michael Myers murders his sister when he’s six years old, gets locked up, escapes 15 years later (to the day) and comes home to terrorize a few babysitters in his old hometown while asylum buddy Dr. Loomis attempts to warn everyone that Myers is pure evil, the boogie man is coming.

While it didn’t invent the slasher genre, as often claimed, (see Psycho in 1960 and especially Black Christmas (1974) Halloween certainly popularized it and instigated many of the horror movie clichés, such as how the promiscuous kids die first and the old, “I’ll be right back” (yeah right).

These days everyone is touting the one-shot camera work in Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men but check out the first shot of Halloween — a four minute POV shot around and throughout a house and includes a wickedly B-grade topless death scene (okay it’s actually two shots expertly spliced together, but whatever).

Besides all the brilliant camerawork the music, composed in 5/4 time by Carpenter himself, is definitely classic and Halloween was the big screen debut of scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis. Apparently she got the job because her mom, Janet Leigh, starred in Psycho and that was enough, film directors are geeky that way. Jamie Lee reprised this last-woman-standing role three times in 1980 for The Fog, Terror Train, and Prom Night before coming “home” in 1981 for Halloween II. See also 1998’s Halloween H20 and 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection.

But what’s so great about Halloween ? As a horror flick it’s drastically non-gory, especially by today’s gore-porn standards, but it’s still tense and scary as hell. Michael Myers, from the blank, everyman-style of his mask, to the creepy, calm grace with which actor Nick Castle glides him around the neighbourhood, is truly evil incarnate. The camera, cast, costumes — everything builds terror and suspense and when we see death through Michael Myers’s eyes, it scares the bejeezus out of us. Turn off all the lights and rent Halloween tonight because next week, courtesy of Rob Zombie, the boogieman is coming back…

AT VILLAGE 8 Aug. 24-30: Mr. Bean’s Holiday; Nanny Diaries; War; Superbad; Bourne Ultimatum; Hairspray; Rush Hour 3; Stardust; Simpsons; Invasion.

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