Halloween Kills: Rapid Reactions

Just finished watching Halloween Kills on Peacock. Some immediate thoughts:

*I knew going in that the film would pick up right after the events of 2018’s Halloween. What I wasn’t expecting, and became fascinated by, was an early flashback to 1978 that picks up with the ending of the franchise originator. Events are considered from different angles, and holes in the storyline are filled in in quite interesting fashion.

*There are a lot of connections to Halloween history here, from the featuring of older versions of characters such as Tommy Doyle, Lindsey Wallace, and Leigh Brackett, to the importation of the iconic masks from Halloween III: Season of the WitchDr. Loomis also makes welcomed appearance here (woven so organically into the scene, you have no trouble believing that’s Donald Pleasance up there on the screen).

*Michael’s escape from the inferno that Laurie left him trapped in at the end of the previous film involves a bloody rampage through the first responders to the blaze. I-camera presentation of the slaughter through the viewpoint of a downed fireman’s face-shield creates a neat variation on the masked vantage point (young Michael’s murder of his sister Judith) in the first Halloween.

*Like its immediate predecessor, Halloween Kills offers some fine moments of comic relief, here in the form of a gay couple (the current occupants of the Myers house) who square off against a bratty pack of trick-or-treaters.

*Halloween Kills is a film very much about Haddonfield and Michael’s long-term effect on the community. That these people who have been victimized and terrorized by Michael’s evil assaults for so long would take to the streets seeking cathartic carnage just felt terrifically plausible. It also seemed a perfect reflection of the way Americans hasten to act these days. Of course, the vigilantes are overly rambunctious, and the situation soon goes sideways in spectacularly tragic fashion, but the emphasis here is on the psycho killer’s damaging legacy rather than on trumping up the grossly-outnumbered Michael by making the Haddonfield populace seem monstrous in their own right. All told, one of the best angry-mob scenes ever filmed for a horror flick.

*I’ll admit, I suffer from Jamie Lee fatigue, and wasn’t all that eager for another faceoff between her Laurie Strode character and Michael. But the film does a clever job of undercutting expectation and deemphasizing the connection between the two long-time nemeses. By decentering Laurie here, the film makes the scenes she does appear in that much more compelling.

*The commitment to telling a uniquely-angled story instead of rehashing a stale formula makes this one of the most satisfying entries in the entire Halloween series, and one of the smartest slasher films to be released in a long, long time. I wasn’t blown away by the 2018 movie, but Halloween Kills is aptly titled. When it comes to serving up entertaining horror fare, this film positively kills it.

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#17

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

17. “Dead Celebs” (1992)

A perfect example of Partridge’s ability to meld the genres of horror and dark crime. Ray Meleski and Cardell Word are a pair of movie-industry aspirants and memorabilia collectors/dealers who arrange for some illicit business with a whacked-out Hollywood producer of horror movies (destined to be played by Dennis Hopper if this story were ever filmed). The deal involves the delivery of a capital Bela Lugosi memento, but Ray (who also appears in the collection’s title story) gets his head all turned around when he shows up at the producer’s home and finds a bizarre costume party in progress. Every attendee is dressed as a dead celebrity (there’s Elvis, Marilyn Monroe, James Dean, JFK, and John Dillinger, but the blue-skinned, seaweed-sashed, dead-crab-coiffed Natalie Wood surely takes first prize). Double-crosses, dire twists, and grisly discoveries abound, amazingly so for a story this short. The subject matter of “Dead Celebs” might not be the most tasteful, but this is one delectable piece of horror noir.

 

Autumn Lauds Anniversary

Back on 10/14/14, I published my collection Autumn Lauds: Poems for the Halloween Season. In honor of today’s seventh anniversary, here’s another selection from the book:

 

Hardly Martha Stewart

By Joe Nazare

 

A jack-o’-lantern avalanche at the foot of the front steps;
Licorice whips and chains dangling from the threshold;
The Dead-Headless Horseman draped in a tie-dye shirt;
Hitchcockian flocks perched atop cabinets and curtain rods;
A human-hand candelabra, its five waxen fingertips flickering;
Pitchforks and straight rakes in a barrel labeled VILLAGE DEFENSE;
Tabled trays of sand-witches topped with conical black hats.

And pallid Alexandra the “ghostess” for the evening.

The party guests all delighted at her macabre décor,
Remarking upon their new neighbor’s ingenuity,
Her wonderfully morbid wit and punny ways.
No one realized that Alexandra was actually a literalist,
At least not until drinks were served and the presumed straw
Periscoping from each mug full of her Spider Cider
Proved to be both thick-bristled and twitchy.

 

For more on/of Autumn Laudscheck out my website’s dedicated page, this post from last year, and the Look Inside feature on Amazon.

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#18

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

18. “Coyotes” (1998)

Amigo, New Mexico, is decidedly unfriendly to outsiders, as evidenced by the opening scene of this story, in which a pair of lawless border patrolmen tie an illegal immigrant to their van’s bumper and drag him to his death. But this is more than a basic tale of racial violence (I don’t want to give too much away, but will mention that the story was first published in an anthology titled The Conspiracy Files). The narrator–animal control officer Roy–is not the most forthright guy, Amigo keeps some sinister secrets, and the titular coyotes signal more than wild-animal roadkill. Throughout his career, Partridge has demonstrated a knack for depicting desert places, but his sunbaked New Mexican setting here just might be his most chilling. “Coyotes” hits the mark for X-Files-type horror, and its conclusion also features a fine echo of Poe’s “The Cask of Amontillado.”

 

Lore Report: “Ever-Present” (Episode 182)

Mention Nevada to most people and they’ll talk about the Vegas Strip–slot machines, neon signs, fake pyramids, and all-you-can-eat buffets. And sure, that’s a part of Nevada, but it’s not the entire picture. The larger story is older than the lights of Vegas, and much more dangerous than the risk of sunburn or dehydration. It’s a tale filled with big dreams, bigger losses, and more than a few disasters along the way. Yes, you may think you know Nevada, but right around the corner is something wholly unexpected and downright terrifying.

In this week’s episode of the Lore podcast, host Aaron Mahnke explores the dark history of the Silver State. In the mining boomtown of Virginia City, a hotel built over the site of a deadly mine-fire becomes the scene of a series of haunting incidents (later in the episode, Mahnke discusses some other hotel ghosts, the ominously denominated “Red Lady” and “The Stabber”). In the town of Genoa at the end of the 19th Century, a criminal strung up on the “Hanging Tree” by a mob of savage vigilantes levels a generational curse against his persecutors just prior to his lynching. These central narratives lead to a host of unnerving anecdotes (Mahnke’s last account of a cursed Genoan is an absolute goosebump-raiser). A perfectly chilling episode for the Halloween season, “Ever-Present” establishes the ghostly and Gothic as continuous threads running from America’s shadowed past.

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#19

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

19. “10/31: Bloody Mary” (2013)

Serendipity would have landed this post-apocalyptic holiday story as the 31st’s countdown post, but today also seems an apropos slotting of a piece first published in October ’13. Within the narrative, the date 10/31 has the same tragic associations as 9/11, but references a whole other order of terrorizing: one fateful Halloween, for no known reason, the monsters of lore overrun the earth. The macabre marauders include witches, werewolves, mummies, gargoyles, bat-riding goblins, and zombies, but the sentient, sirening jack-o’-lanterns might be the most seasonally sinister of all. There’s a certain Dark Tower aura here, with the title character (who has a complicated relationship with the teenage boy she mentors) forming a female version of Stephen King’s itinerant gunslinger Roland Deschain. By Partridge’s own admission (in the Author Spotlight interview appended to “10/31”), he was testing out the premise with this story, and it’s clear that he has plenty more territory to explore in this strange, Halloween-eclipsed world. A novel-length development has been in the making for over a decade now, and promises to be the ultimate dark treat when it finally drops into readers’ begging hands.

 

The Final Girl Support Group (Book Review)

The Final Girl Support Group by Grady Hendrix (Berkeley, 2021)

Grady Hendrix’s latest novel wasn’t what I expected–it was even better.

Based on the subject matter, I figured the book would go heavy on the meta, with lots of character mentions of popular horror films. The slasher references, though, are woven unobtrusively into the narrative. The real-life final girls within the world of the novel have had film franchises made of their ordeals, and these series prove to be thinly-veiled versions of genre classics such as Friday the 13th, Halloween, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Scream. There are ample parallels for readers to notice, but the postmodern playfulness never gets in the way of the story Hendrix is telling.

Secondly, given the author’s track record for publishing humor-laced horror, I cracked the covers of The Final Girl Support Group anticipating a continuous display of irreverent wit. Not that there aren’t fine comedic moments here, but Hendrix handles the figure of the final girl with admirable seriousness. His protagonist, narrator Lynette Tarkington, is still struggling with her near-death experience decades later. She’s paranoid and agoraphobic, has disconnected from others (she lives alone, save for a pepper-plant companion called Fine–short for Final Plant). Lynette is painfully aware of the trauma and trials that remain long after the physical wounds scar over:

I know what happens to those [final] girls. After the movie deals get signed, after the film franchise fails, after you realize that while everyone else was filling out college applications you were locked in a residential treatment program pretending you weren’t scared of the dark. After the talk show circuit, after your third therapist just accepts that he’s your Zoloft-dispensing machine and you won’t be making any breakthroughs on his watch, after you realize that the only interesting thing that’ll ever happen to you happened when you were sixteen, after you stop going outside, after you start browsing locksmiths the way other women browse the windows of Tiffany’s, after you’ve left town because you couldn’t deal with the “Why not you?” looks from the parents of all your dead friends, after you’ve lost everything, been through the fire, started knowing your stalkers by their first names, after all that happens you wind up where I’m going today: in a church basement in Burbank, seated with your back to the wall, trying to hold the pieces of your life together.

The book has an ingenious hook: the women who famously withstood slasher massacres are secretly meeting in a monthly support group organized by a therapist specializing in final girls. The sextet of respective survivors understand that they are an endangered species these days (the novel is set in 2010), a realization that grows more stark when a mysterious killer starts to prey on the group members. Hendrix’s plot sweeps the reader along, presenting numerous twists and terrifying set-pieces. Lynette goes through quite a character arc, faltering many times but ultimately rising above her fears and insecurities to obtain true final girl status. By delving into Lynette’s viewpoint, Hendrix supplies the critical element most often lacking in slasher films: complex characterization.

The structure of Hendrix’s book is also noteworthy. The chapters are all cleverly titled, echoing the syntax of horror-film identifiers (e.g., The Final Girl Support Group 3-D, The Final Girl Support Group’s New Nightmare, Final Girl Vs. Final Girl, Bride of the Final Girls). Bracketing each chapter are various faux documents (therapist notes, incident reports, interview transcripts, diary entries, newspaper clippings and magazine articles) that both supplement the main narrative and explore the cultural significance of the final girl. Unfortunately, an early interpellated piece insufficiently disguises a character’s identity, spoiling some of the mystery (count yourself lucky if you happen to gloss over the clue).

But that’s the only negative note I have on this wonderful, compellingly readable book. A feminism-conscious tribute to horror’s last girls standing, The Final Girl Support Group is an instant classic destined to stand as Hendrix’s greatest literary achievement.

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#20

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

20. “The House Inside” (2003)

If the previous entry on the countdown was Partridge’s most lighthearted story, this apocalyptic piece qualifies as his bleakest. Think Toy Story by way of The Twilight Zone: a fundamental change in the sun kills off the human population, while turning plastic toys into real action figures. Assorted cowboys, Indians, and soldiers attempt to make their way from the yard to the shaded safety of the house, fighting rats and scorpions along the way, and finding a Mathesonian spider (gargantuan from the toys’ perspective) lurking inside a dollhouse in a child’s bedroom. Partridge plays masterfully with matters of scale, offering descriptions of “cat-hair tumbleweeds” and a dead boy sprawled in the yard “like a giant, pudgy mesa.” The situation also leads to some harrowing images of body horror: one hapless (and now faceless) cowboy has his “features melted slick as an eggshell,” while a sun-punished sergeant ends up glued in place from the waist down, “his bottom half smeared across the floor like the leavings of some goddamn gutter-slug.” As if the narrative weren’t dark enough already, it also presents a grim climactic twist reminiscent of Night of the Living Dead. Not a feel-good story for sure, but unquestionably a real good read.

 

Mob Scenes: Treehouse of Horror XXXII

The non-canonical status of the Treehouse of Horror episodes allows all hell to break loose–and it typically does. Last night’s 32nd(!) installment of The Simpsons‘ annual Halloween special didn’t disappoint, as it proved resplendent with mob violence.

In the first full segment, “Bong Joon-Ho’s This Side of Parasite,” the Simpsons are accosted by a group of squatters in Rainier Wolfcastle’s basement, who blame the titular family (hired on here to various house staff positions) for their lowly socioeconomic status. These angry Springfielders wield frying pans and pipes, bricks and chains (one guess as to what Crazy Cat Lady is brandishing…). Sideshow Mel’s impalement by the bone ripped from his hairdo kicks off a battle royale that spills out of the house and into the streets, and ultimately leaves Springfield’s citizenship decimated–save for the Simpsons.

Such riotous outbreak would have been satisfactory alone, but is quickly trumped by another mob scene in the ensuing segment, “Nightmare on Elm Tree.” A lightning strike animates the tree containing the Simpsons’ treehouse; it pulls up roots and runs amok through Springfield, liberating its arboreal comrades along the way. A heavily-armed street mob aims to stop the rampage, a group spurred by Homer’s wonderful war cry: “First we kill them, then we hang our hammocks!” The jokes and sight gags come fast and furious thereafter, making for an entertaining carnival of carnage as the trees saw through the would-be lumberjacks.

Treehouse of Horror XXXII‘s sampling of the Dropkick Murphys’ rollicking song “I’m Shipping Up to Boston” in the intro furnished an early hint of a massive-aggressive approach, and the rest of this fun episode certainly delivered on the unruliness.

 

Countdown: The Top 31 Norman Partridge Works of Short Fiction–#21

[For the previous countdown post, click here.]

 

21. “Tooth and Nail” (1994)

Partridge hearkens back to mid-20th-Century cinematic monster mash-ups here, even referencing films like Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man and Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. The narrative alternates sections between a not-quite-reliable viewpoint character (a bloodsucker dubbed the Lord of the Night) and a pair of California surfer dudes/bounty hunters, Jones and the Bird-Dog (the latter tracker is also a bona fide werewolf). Horror and humor go hand in hand in “Tooth and Nail,” which is filled with witty banter and sports one unforgettably sardonic quip when werewolf and vampire face off. For all of the dark appetites of its characters, this brief but highly satisfying story arguably goes down as Partridge’s most lighthearted effort.