I'd heard terrible things about Halloween 8, as if its production team had personally been sneaking into fanboys' houses at night and leaving their fridge doors open. In fact it's less awful than I'd been led to believe, but also less interesting. In what's turning out to be something of a default setting for this series, it's a superficially competent piece of filmmaking that's watchable in its way but ends up shooting itself in the foot.
The difference this time is that the mistakes made in Halloween 8 are hip, trendy and internet-style cutting edge, man. This movie is going to date so badly.
Halloween 8 is about an internet reality show. This I don't actually mind, since I've only seen a few of the other fifty trillion such films. (Note: exaggeration.) No, my problem is more specific. Horrible-quality webcam footage gives you the opportunity to do lots of interesting things, but also really stupid ones. Here they went for the latter. Webcam shots are randomly cut into the film as if this alienating lunar footage is just Camera Three. It's possible to acclimatise oneself to this, but it's still throwing away the atmospheric potential of grainy monochrome in favour of a music video approach. This is Halloween for the Attention Deficit Disorder generation. Personally I'd have loved to see scenes with the patience to go for the slow burn and stick with webcam throughout, instead of switching to and fro. No such luck. Instead the film whiplashes between one mode and another, like a novel changing its first-person narrator with every paragraph. I've seen films ruined by their writers or actors, but this is the first time I've ever seen Death By Editor.
That's only the start, though. While the film's protagonists are being hacked to death, every so often the story is put on hold so that we can catch up on some teenagers at a costume party. "Why should this be?" I hear you ask. Why, it's because they're watching the action on the internet. Goodness, what a fine idea. Casablanca might have been a masterpiece if only they'd intercut Bogart and Bergman with footage of seventeen-year-olds watching a computer screen while dressed up as characters from Pulp Fiction.
Of course you can see why the filmmakers added these scenes. They exist to head off objections of, "Why does everyone sit there watching real-life murders instead of calling the cops?" That's a comprehensible reason, yes. It's just not a good one. It's irrelevant to the drama (despite a lame effort to tie it in towards the end) and it punctures the claustrophobia of our protagonists' horrible situation. If it was so important for us to see the webcast itself, why not let our heroes find an internet terminal and watch themselves to learn about Michael's movements? That could have been self-referential and everything.
That's this film all over. It can't just shut up and let its story unfold. As a further example of Things I Never Wanted To Know, this film also teaches us that cutting away to a character shaking her booty to R&B music is a bad thing to do during gory slasher scenes.
The characters are motormouthed, throwing so much banter that the film can't breathe. Despite pages and pages of dialogue, none of them are interesting. Only one is memorable and that's because I wanted him dead. That would be Busta Rhymes, aka. "Busta Remo" or "Busta Rhymez", a founding member of those well-known songsters "Leaders of the New School". Uh-huh. Call me crazy, but I think he might not have trained as a thespian. There's evidence to suggest that the film got hacked up to try to make his fairly repellent character more cool and heroic. Doing kung-fu kicks at Michael Myers was bad enough, but I couldn't believe my eyes when he dressed up in the man's trademark boiler suit and white Shatner mask before coming face-to-face with the genuine article and unwittingly giving him a piece of his mind. Never have I seen such a "begging for death" moment committed to celluloid. Unbelievably Michael lets him live! The most evil act ever seen in a Halloween movie, that's what I call that.
In fairness, though, Mr Rhymes does have a slightly freaky smile. Another cast member who's not even meant to be creepy is blond and fair but has scary jet-black eyes. I've now run out of good things to say about these people. Particularly mediocre is the female lead, who only registers in any way whatsoever because her reluctance to participate marks her from the beginning as The Good Girl Who'll Be The Last One Left Alive. It's a good thing the script's so predictable, or else you'd never know what to look out for. Battlestar Galactica fans might recognise Katee Sackhoff, though.
Michael Myers himself is pretty much the same old same old, although it helps that he's superhuman again. (He kills one man just by gripping his head and squeezing.) If you must serve up a dumb undercooked villain, you might as well make him cartoonish. They've mysteriously dropped the family angle, despite that nephew who managed to survive Halloween 7, and so this time he's just randomly taking out passers-by. You can hardly blame him, though. There he is, peacefully hiding out in the impressively tumbledown old Myers house and eating the odd rat, when suddenly a bunch of loudmouthed camera hogs come gatecrashing. Thinking about it, I'm not sure that in American law, what he does is even illegal. If he'd just used a gun instead of a butcher's knife, the police might have given him a commendation. We also learn that he keeps fresh fennel in his kitchen. To go with his raw rat. I'm having trouble imagining Michael's home cooking here.
There are good points. One character gets a funny line to a music student. There's nudity, although for a while I thought we were going to see her tits only on grainy webcam. Um, that's it.
It also ends with a moral. You know, in case you hadn't found something sharp and poked your eyes out yet.
However all that only begins at the 15-minute mark. What comes until then in an extended pre-credits sequence that's basically an unrelated short film crudely tacked on to the beginning of this one. It's rather good! It stars Jamie Lee Curtis, this time struggling with extreme dissociative disorder in a loony bin. She'd had her problems in the last film too, but this is something else. It's startling. It's also amazing how much better this film works with no webcam footage, no rappers and a strong central character to focus on. These fifteen minutes are great stuff, with a nifty punchline to boot as Michael does something that's both unexpected and wonderfully nasty. Recommended, even if you rent the DVD just for this bit.
Despite everything I've been saying, for the most part this is blandly unremarkable fare that doesn't even achieve enough badness to be memorable. However it's easy to see why all the fanboys hated it. You'll have to look long and hard to find a film that jumps so shamelessly on every passing bandwagon, but equally I can see it gaining a cult following in years to come for precisely that reason. In ten years' time, it'll look more dated than zoot suits and bell-bottoms. Oddly, I don't know if I'd call even it a bad film. Rick Rosenthal (who also directed Halloween II) touches all the bases and doesn't embarrass himself. It looks okay. It's just that it's also no bloody good either. You'll be waiting in vain for Busta Rhymes's gory, agonising death, though.