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"Halloween" in August

An Aisle Seat Entry by Andy Dursin

As every summer movie season slowly begins to turn into fall, the studios often come out and release shelf-ridden projects that were once considered to be potential blockbusters. This year that distinction firmly belongs to THE AVENGERS, which opens Friday with three possible signs of impending disaster. For starters, Warner Bros. a) bumped its original June date to August for re-shoots, b) replaced Michael Kamen's score with Joel McNeely music, and c) is refusing to let critics screen the picture in advance. Add in that every test screening result has proven to be almost unanimously poor, and, well, you have a curiosity item--and a potential turkey--to say the least. Still, with Uma Thurman in those sexy jump-suits and Sean Connery chewing the scenery, why not give this potential cult classic (or "so bad it's good" misfire) a chance?

*NEW IN THEATERS

HALLOWEEN: H20 (**): About midway through this latest sequel in the seemingly endless "Halloween" series, I began thinking--haven't we seen this movie so many times by now that there's nothing filmmakers can do to manipulate the audience into thinking that there's something scary about it?

HALLOWEEN: H20 pretends to be the first genuine sequel to John Carpenter's original "Halloween" films, and at first glance, it does add some validity to that claim by returning Jamie Lee Curtis to her original "scream queen" role as Laurie Strode, the teenager once attacked by Michael Myers in an Illinois small town and now, some 20 years later, finds herself as a single mom running a California boarding school, living under another name but also the specter of Myers.

Because the movie uses "Halloween" parts one and two as a guide* (see end of article), the legend goes that Myers, a psychotic killer bent on killing his living sister (Laurie), was burned to death in a hospital fire, even though his body was never found. Never having fully recovered from that trauma, the schoolmistress is naturally apprehensive about October 31st, though even more so this year, particularly because her son (Josh Hartnett) is now turning 17, the same age that Laurie was attacked some twenty years before.

This is a solid foundation on which to build HALLOWEEN: H20, and the movie's high budget (for this kind of film) gives the picture a slick look and a polished production feel. Yet H20 comes across as a disappointment in virtually every regard. The story, by Robert Zappa and Matt Greenberg (based on a treatment by "Scream"'s Kevin Williamson), is utterly predictable right from the get-go. Talented co-stars like Adam Arkin and "Dawson's Creek" ingenue Michelle Williams are totally wasted as the script establishes a bare minimum of stock supporting characters as lambs for the slaughter, even though it goes to great lengths to develop a mother-son dynamic in Curtis and Hartnett that is all but abandoned midway through the film. More over, the screenplay fails to give Myers, "The Shape," anything to do. The masked killer never even gets to rack up a decent body count, aside from the movie's non-scary "Scream"-like opening sequence, and the kinds of set-pieces in which John Carpenter built suspense and terror in the original film--with Myers stalking unassuming victims in comfortable suburban settings--are completely lacking here. H20 is thoroughly watchable but uninteresting all the way through.

If half of the blame goes to the script, then the rest has to be placed on the direction. Steve Miner, best known for movies like "House," "Warlock," and "Forever Young," spends the first half of his slow-moving 85-minute movie setting up an interminable amount of faux scares, dominated by endless steadicam shots showing characters going down barely lit corridors and open windows. After the first few times this device is reprised, most anxious viewers and horror buffs will be wanting the movie to get on with it, but even when it ultimately does, the rewards are hardly worth the wait. (One can only assume how short this movie would have been without those set-up scenes, however).

What surprised me the most about HALLOWEEN: H20 was that it didn't look or feel anything like a "Halloween" film. The direction and the writing both seem to have been far more influenced by the "Scream" movies than Carpenter, particularly in its tongue-in-cheek references to the earlier pictures, Miner's routine filmmaking technique, and LL Cool J's needless comic relief (the movie's uninspired one-sheet poster should have been all the evidence we needed to determine that this was a product of the "Scream" generation). That Jamie Lee Curtis returned to reprise the role that made her famous is ultimately used more as a gimmick than anything else. Furthermore, the October 31st setting isn't properly conveyed, and, subsequently, there's no Halloween atmosphere in the picture at all. Where, for example, are the changing leaves, the trick-or-treaters, the sense of the day itself? Couldn't Laurie Strode have taken off for a private school in New England, where foliage and pumpkins are more prevalent than in the bland California setting of this sequel? Finally, the incessant music by John Ottman and Marco Beltrami (who receives an "Additional Music" credit over the opening montage) tips us off to the killer's presence every time out. A few of Carpenter's trademark motifs are resurrected here and there, but the music has no sense of the simplicity that made Carpenter's homemade electronic sound so effective in the original movies.

Those are the kinds of things that may not seem to be all that important, but if you're a fan of the series, you know that atmosphere is one of the main ingredients that made Carpenter's picture to be the classic that it is. Lacking those things, and also an older, more interesting male character like the late Donald Pleasance (whose presence is noticeably missing throughout this sequel), HALLOWEEN: H20 comes across as a cardboard imitation of the original, a piece of trick-or-treating candy-corn that has long since turned stale. (R, 85 mins., ** score by Ottman & Beltrami)

*One possible continuity error trivia fans might notice, particularly for a movie that claims to have only been influenced by the first two movies: it seems to me that the only place where Laurie's sibling connection with Myers was revealed was in the later sequels--parts four through six--and the TV versions of the original "Halloween," where Carpenter filmed additional footage expressly years later for NBC's broadcast. These scenes are only available on Criterion's excellent laserdisc edition, yet were not contained in any released version of the movie itself).


SOUNDTRACK CORNER: CLASSICS FROM KARLIN, SCHIFRIN & ASSORTED NEW RELEASES

Tons to plow through this week, so let's start with the newest releases. George Fenton's lovely score from EVER AFTER (London) confirms that Fenton is as capable as anyone right now when it comes to composing lyrical, uplifting fairy-tale scores. Fenton's music has always flowed in its own distinguished manner, and rarely ever sounds as if it has been cobbled together from temp-tracks. You're able to hear his "voice" in almost all of his scores. His music from the little-seen "Dangerous Beauty" earlier this year remains one of the highlights of the soundtrack world so far in Ô98, and EVER AFTER is the perfect compliment to it. At 56 minutes, Fenton's score is romantic and perfectly evokes the kind of thematic response you would associate with a "Cinderella" story. If you're looking for atonality or don't like straightforward, old-fashioned Hollywood lyricism, this isn't for you. I have yet to see the movie, but after reading the reviews and hearing Fenton's score, I'm definitely interested in checking it out. Highly recommended as a soundtrack nevertheless.

A new compilation that hits the streets this week is LALO SCHIFRIN: THE REEL LALO SCHIFRIN, the first in a new series of composer retrospectives from MCA's specialty label Hip-O Records. Produced by our friend Didier C.Deutsch, this is the first all-Schifrin compilation of original soundtrack recordings ever released, which is surprising given the composer's versatile and successful works through the years. Running 45 minutes, this CD gives you the expected (cues from "Dirty Harry" and "Cool Hand Luke," themes from "Mission Impossible" and "Mannix"), several examples of Schifrin's trademark jazz ("The Sting II," "Rollercoaster," "Voyage of the Damned,"), and a few cues of pure dramatic underscoring ("The Four Musketeers," "The Eagle Has Landed"). As an introduction to Schifrin's canon, this is a fine basic primer, yet any die-hard film music fan's appetite for more will undoubtedly be whetted by the album's 45 minute running time and representation of individual scores through just one selection from each. It'll be interesting to see what Hip-O has in store next.

There isn't any score from Michel Colombier on Flyte Tyme's HOW STELLA GOT HER GROOVE BACK album, which is a generous 66-minute compilation of (primarily) original songs from mega-hit producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis. With a formidable line-up of R&B performers, including Stevie Wonder and Shaggy, plus a soulful blend of selections perfectly suited for the hot days of August, this is one of the better all-song soundtracks out there. The highlight is the catchy ballad "Your Home Is In My Heart (Stella's Love Theme)," a nicely under-produced collaboration between Boyz II Men and Chante Moore, which should fare well on the radio in a summer bereft of any major chart-topping hits.

Keeping on the all-song route, TVT's soundtrack album for BLADE is a 73 minute collection of rap and hip-hop tracks, complete with the requisite "Parental Advisory-Explicit Lyrics" tag slapped on the front. Wesley Snipes himself apparently produced this album, which is another one of those "Music From and Inspired By" deals, boasting such artists as Bounty Killer and Mobb Deep, Mantronick, EPMD, and Mystikal (I could make a few comments here but will refrain from doing so). As one of TVT's press releases so eloquently states, "push and all the bullshit, label politics and egos aside, all the credit belongs to Wesley." If you like this kind of thing, by all means send him the kudos. Anyone wanting to hear Mark Isham's score, apparently, is going to have to look elsewhere--most likely the movie itself, which opens on August 21st. TVT's no-score album hits the street on August 25th.

From the R-rated to the ridiculous comes SPACE GHOST'S SURF & TURF, Rhino's second album of twisted songs and monologues from the insanely funny Cartoon Network staple "Space Ghost: Coast to Coast." Featuring such ditties as "Mashed Potatoes" and "Baloney Sandwich," this 36 minute album isn't going to appeal to anyone who hasn't seen the show, yet if you have, this CD is superior to its predecessor and is worth a listen. By far the highlight has to be "Bad Bug," a spoof of "Bad Boys," with Zorak gleefully spouting out hysterical lyrics that make this whole enterprise worth the trouble. SURF & TURF will be in-stores on August 18th.

Onto new Sonic Images CDs, the first of which is Mark Snow's score from MGM's DISTURBING BEHAVIOR, the latest entry into the teen horror genre, albeit directed here by capable "X-Files" vet David Nutter and featuring a screenplay by Scott Rosenberg ("Beautiful Girls"). The movie may have already closed, but Snow's music will likely survive the movie's underachieving box-office performance and appeal to anyone who enjoys the composer's all-synth work on the "X-Files." Curiously enough, this effort sounds more like a score from a typical "X-Files" episode, with its droning chords and electronic soundscape, than Snow's more diverse music for the "X-Files" movie, which had the budget to add orchestra to synthesizers. In a move that serious film-score collectors will applaud, John Beal's music from the film's theatrical trailer has been added onto the end of the disc. This is a nice touch that will hopefully be duplicated on other soundtracks down the road.

Also just released by Sonic Images is LITTLE BOY BLUE, a 32-minute soundtrack featuring 12 minutes of score by Stewart Copeland. Copeland's score is in keeping with much of his past film music efforts, well-utilizing synthesizers with a wordless female voice evoking a haunting atmosphere. Of course, there's only 12 minutes of score here, along with six unimpressive songs, so unless you're a Copeland completest or have seen the movie, there's little reason to invest in picking up this album.

Finally, we have saved the best for last. THE FRED KARLIN COLLECTION-VOLUME I (74:14) was lovingly produced by Robert Feigenblatt for his Reel Music label and offers three superb scores from an unsung composer who many faithful listeners have been following for decades now. Karlin's work has included such wonderful scores as "The Sterile Cuckoo" and "Baby Blue Marine" (a personal favorite of mine--check the cable listings as this has been running recently on Encore), plus equally intriguing scores for "Westworld" and "Futureworld." This CD contains three television scores by Karlin, each of them for an acclaimed TV movie. His award-winning work on "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pitman" has to be the highlight of the CD, however, with its poignant, melancholic tone and jaunty, almost-"Reivers" styled cues comprising one of Karlin's finest works. Equally generous suites from the 1979 Steven Bochco TV movie "Vampire" and the 1982 mini-series "Inside the Third Reich" both illustrate Karlin's versatile talents with full orchestra and heavier dramatic underscoring, making this release a genuine treat. Here's hoping volume two happens soon enough. (Anyone wanting to order this release should check out the usual specialty shops via our Links section, particularly Screen Archives).

NEXT WEEK--"THE AVENGERS", DVD & Laser releases, and video tidbits. Until then, send emails to dursina@worldnet.att.net. Excelsior!


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