Category Archives: 1990s

Leprechaun 3 (1995)

*. Reviewers were quick and by my rough reckoning universal in panning this third instalment in the undistinguished Leprechaun franchise. Indeed, they really put the critical boots to it. But I wonder what they could have been expecting. The first two movies hadn’t been good. This was the first of the series to get a direct-to-video release, which was a pretty clear heads-up that they didn’t think they had anything special to offer. So as not-good as Leprechaun 3 is I don’t see how anyone could have been disappointed enough to hate it.
*. The alternative title, Leprechaun 3: In Vegas, tells you all you need to know about the plot. Yes, once again the little fellow is after his gold and willing to do anything to get it. Except for some reason he doesn’t talk about his gold this time. Instead he keeps referring to his shillings. Did they actually mint gold shillings? I don’t think these are British coins he’s after, but I still wonder.
*. There are other changes in store as well. I mentioned in my notes on Leprechaun 2 how the leprechaun folklore is kind of vague, allowing for a lot of freestyle improvisations that may not have any basis in whatever record is being kept of these things. In this movie a handy CD-ROM (go ’90s!) lets us in on some relevant background like the fact that leprechauns really like potatoes, which is odd since potatoes an Old World crop and the leprechauns in these movies are either 600 or 1,000 years old. Then there’s a medallion introduced that the Leprechaun is afraid of for some unspecified reason (in the first film it had been a four-leaf clover). And finally it also turns out that if you get bitten by a leprechaun you turn into one. Or at least some people do. Good to know.
*. Given the quality of the first two movies I think your expectations should be kept low, as mine definitely were. And so I wasn’t disappointed by Leprechaun 3 at all. In most respects I think it’s better than Leprechaun 2. I say this for two main reasons, one general the other specific.
*. To begin with the general: a lot more is made in this movie of one of the coins being able to grant whoever has it a single wish. Since we’re in Vegas here that’s perfectly fitting, as this is a town that’s all about dreaming big, and then having those dreams blow up in one’s face. So time and again people get what they wish for only to have the rug pulled out from under their feet. Except for the final victim, whose wish never seems to have been granted at all. Either I missed something there or the writer/director had just grown tired of the idea.
*. The more particular point follows from this. There are a few decent kills that are, though crudely produced, at least imaginative. A sleazy casino owner is electrocuted by a sexbot that comes out of his TV. A woman who wants a makeover gets an extreme version leading to explosive results. A magician falls victim to one of his own tricks gone wrong.
*. This is all to the good, and I’d add that the cast are above average for this tier of entertainment as well. Warwick Davis considered this to be his favourite of the Leprechaun films and he does look like he’s having fun. Caroline Williams does a nice turn as the player with low self-esteem. Lee Armstrong is easy to watch bouncing around in her sexy magician’s-assistant costume. John Gatins and John DeMita are expendable, but manage to stay just this side of being awkward and annoying.
*. So it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. In fact, I’d say it was quite a bit better. But of course it’s not a good movie. As you could say at pretty much any time with this franchise, this should have been the end. Alas, what happened in Vegas wasn’t going to stay in Vegas. Next stop: the final frontier!

Leprechaun 2 (1994)

*. Not all bad. A step down from Leprechaun, to be sure, but not a complete piece of crap. There are actually a few interesting ideas here.
*. They wanted Jennifer Aniston back, and offered her the princely sum of $25,000, but she was already working on Friends so that ship had sailed. I guess Ken Olandt was busy too, so instead we have Shevonne Durkin as Bridget and Charlie Heath as Cody. They’re not A-listers, which means they fit in pretty well here.
*. Warwick Davis did come back, but is he the same leprechaun as in the original movie? He’d said there that he was 600 years old, but here he’s celebrating a wedding that apparently occurs only once every thousand years. So while he’s a leprechaun he may not be the leprechaun. If that even matters.
*. The plot is just a bit of stupidity about the Leprechaun (I’ll capitalize it here, as I don’t think he has a name) marrying a girl if she sneezes three times. I don’t know if that’s real leprechaun lore or if they just made it up. There seems to be a lot of leprechaun lore that’s new here. Instead of his weakness being four-leaf clovers he’s now undone by iron. But like I say, maybe this is a different leprechaun.
*. I mentioned some interesting ideas. Unfortunately they’re left underdeveloped. There’s a good kill when the jerky guy thinks he’s going to kiss Bridget but instead he’s kissing a pair of lawnmowers. Alas, we never actually get to see the big mulch, or even its aftermath. But the concept was neat. There’s also what seems to be a convention of little people in a bar on St. Patrick’s Day that nothing is done with. Again, it’s a good idea but it doesn’t pay off. The only thing it leads to is a shoehorned reference to Freaks.
*. Otherwise this is pretty much a dull second chapter, typical of most cheap horror franchises. It was the last of the series to get a theatrical release but still looks like a straight-to-video title. The Leprechaun’s home, for example, should have been more of a fun house. Instead it’s just a really boring set.
*. Given the Leprechaun’s character as a magical trickster it’s a shame that after two movies he had yet to crack a single good line (or rhyme), and there’d been almost none of the Nightmare on Elm Street-style surrealism you’d expect. A tiny hand coming out of a phone is the only example here, and that’s just stealing straight from Freddy.
*. So, as with the first film, not as bad as it might have been but still failing to live up to the character’s potential. As the luck of the Irish would have it though, he’d be given many more kicks at the can.

Leprechaun (1993)

*. I have one distinct recollection of seeing this movie on its theatrical release nearly 30 years ago. There’s a scene where the Leprechaun (Warwick Davis) drives a tiny electric car into a pick-up truck and knocks it on its side so that it rolls all the way over and back up again. A guy sitting somewhere behind me in the cinema yelled in exasperation “Oh please! Be real!
*. I can understand what he was objecting to, but it’s a tricky point. I mean, this is a 600-year-old leprechaun with various supernatural powers, including teleportation and incredible strength (he tears the door off a police cruiser with his bare hands). So what does it mean for such a movie to “be real”?
*. I think it just meant that, while the Leprechaun has magical powers, the laws of physics still apply in most situations, and that if he’s going to use a mechanical tool, the toy car in this case, to achieve a certain result it has to be able to achieve that result on its own. Now obviously such a car would simply bounce off a truck, not send it into a roll, which was in turn offending these rules.
*. The bigger takeaway, however, is that by this point in the movie the audience had already given up on Leprechaun. It was obviously a Very Stupid Movie that was meant to be heckled. And coming out of the cineplex I think we all agreed it was just terrible. I wasn’t eager to renew my acquaintance with the little man in green. But, on this the first time I’ve been back to take a second look, to my surprise I rather sort of liked it. It’s still a terrible movie, to be sure, but it seemed like a harmless bit of fun.
*. It didn’t start out that way. Apparently writer-director Mark Jones had just wanted to do a horror film but Davis lobbied for more humour. Then some parts had to be re-shot to make it gorier for the target audience. The result is a bit of a tonal mess, but there were a number of movies occupying the same ground at the time. Jones admits being influenced by Critters and I was thinking of Arachnophobia while watching it. Not really funny or scary then, but at least something different than the usual slasher murder rally.
*. You can tell it’s not the usual slasher right away because these are all sympathetic characters. We don’t immediately want to see any of them get killed. And indeed all of the major characters will survive (the movie has a total body count of only four, which is a tally you’d expect Jason to hit in a pre-credit sequence). It’s harder than Disney, but it’s not hard.
*. After a long intro/credit sequence it’s ten years later and we kick things off with . . . an overhead/aerial car shot! I’ve wondered before about where this became obligatory in horror movies. I also wonder if directors are even conscious of borrowing it (from The Shining?), or if it’s just become a reflex.
*. Introducing Jennifer Aniston, who would be embarrassed by it in later years. I don’t know why. Everyone gets their start somewhere. Scarlett Johansson got her break in Eight Legged Freaks. Charlize Theron? Children of the Corn III: Urban Harvest. Which is the same discount franchise that introduced us to Naomi  Watts in The Gathering. Leonardo DiCaprio’s debut was Critters 3. These things happen. I mean, Ken Olandt co-stars as Nathan here, a more buff version of Kevin Bacon wearing a wifebeater and a tool belt. I even thought he was Kevin Bacon the first time I saw him. And what was one of Kevin Bacon’s first roles? A soon-to-be-corpse in Friday the 13th. You see? Everyone starts somewhere.
*. OK, being critical I have to say there isn’t a single funny line or good kill in the entire movie. But Aniston is watchable and the evil little guy is amusing with his obsessions over his gold on the one hand and shining everyone’s shoes on the other. This was a character with a lot of potential: a trickster with a bag of gold and a heart of pitch. Unfortunately he doesn’t get a lot of help here from the script, relegated to repeating the same dull catch phrases, and not sounding terribly Irish either. What’s even more depressing is that his potential would largely continue to go unrealized for another seven movies (as of this counting). And all he ever wanted was his gold!

Your Friends & Neighbors (1998)

*. At the end of Neil LaBute’s first film a man is shouting at a woman but she (and we) can’t hear anything because she’s deaf and the soundtrack has gone blank. At the beginning of Your Friends & Neighbors, LaBute’s next movie, this is reversed: we hear a man’s voice talking (we think) to a woman but we can’t see anything because there’s just a black screen.
*. As it turns out, the dirty talk we’re hearing is a man talking to himself. This nicely introduces one of the themes that dominates Your Friends & Neighbours: verbose isolation.
*. We’re used to this going the other way. A strong relationship, the cliché goes, is built on good communication. And on balance I think that’s true. But LaBute puts forward a contrary position. People, especially people in relationships, shouldn’t talk so much, and they should probably avoid being too truthful. Openness and communication really aren’t in anyone’s best interest.
*. And this isn’t just the usual case of men not understanding women, and vice versa. LaBute’s reputation as a misogynist is overblown. His male characters are his most loathsome, as Cary (Jason Patric) demonstrates for us here. But even Terri and Cherri (Catherine Keener and Nastassja Kinski) fall into a silence that, while unhappy, is possibly sustaining. I like the touch of Terri’s mask at the end. She’s blocked out everything.
*. LaBute began as a playwright, something you’d know just a few minutes into Your Friends & Neighbours. It has that sort of shape and talkiness to it. The same sets are returned to again and again and none of the characters seem to do any kind of work (the two female leads are both writers . . . of something). What people do when they get together is have scenes.
*. A sort of Carnal Knowledge 2.0, except I doubt it will age as well. Or perhaps, now that it’s just over twenty years old, we can say that it hasn’t aged as well. I still find something interesting in Carnal Knowledge while much of this movie seems entirely outside my experience and understanding.
*. But I don’t know if it’s the talk itself that has dated as much as the tone. Take Ben Stiller playing Jerry (all the names rhyme, but they’re never used in the film itself so that’s just a joke for the end credits). This was before Stiller was well known as a comic and watching the movie today you expect him to start playing it up. But even without hindsight, and despite being marketed as a comedy, it feels strange that there’s nothing very funny going on, even when Jerry gets dressed up in Restoration fashion.
*. It’s a very quiet movie. I had to turn the volume up just to realize that people were talking . . .  and I was watching with subtitles! The only character who loses his shit and starts to yell is Patric’s Cary, and he’s a psychopath. When Jerry asks Terri to “please be quiet” in the restaurant she’s hardly raised her voice.
*. It’s a hard movie to enjoy, being about a bunch of unlikeable people engaging in various forms of self-destructive behaviour. In so far as there is a message it may be that nice guys finish last. Poor Barry (Aaron Eckhart) is left masturbating, unsuccessfully, after his wife leaves him for Cary. Though in this she is the even bigger loser. Terri is the only character I found all that interesting, though not sympathetic.
*. Well, no one said you have to like the characters in a movie. But Your Friends & Neighbors, being so script-driven, needed to be livelier in this department, and/or go somewhere unexpected. I didn’t think it was either, and since it’s too long for a sketch it ends up as a big shrug.

Emma (1996)

*. This made-for-TV version of Emma (it was first shown on ITV) came out the same year as the Gwyneth Paltrow adaptation and reviewers were inevitably forced into making comparisons. Many preferred this film, as I do, but for different reasons than I’d give.
*. It’s unfortunate, but the most obvious point of comparison is in judging Paltrow alongside Kate Beckinsale. I’d give Beckinsale the nod for being a little more natural, but I’m not a huge fan of either performance (I prefer Alicia Silverstone in Clueless, to be honest). What turns me in favour of this version is more the supporting cast and the quality of the adaptation by veteran page-to-screen man Andrew Davies.
*. Even though he’s cast against type, I think Mark Strong is great as Mr. Knightley. He has an edge to him, which adds something to his feelings for Emma. We have the sense that there’s more than just romance in the air. Olivia Williams is also very good as Jane Fairfax, in a part with few lines that has to be played almost entirely in looks and glances. And finally I’d take Samantha Morton over Toni Collette as Harriet, but here mainly because I didn’t think Collette fit the part at all.
*. The directorial decisions also work out for the best. I like the way Emma’s imaginings are dramatized. Her imagination or fancy is what gets Emma in so much trouble, so going this route puts them more directly in play. It also gives us more a sense of her inner life, and how it shapes the mistakes she makes.
*. I also like little touches such as the way, in her big social blunder at the picnic, we see Mr. Knightley staring daggers at Emma from behind Miss Bates in a two shot. That’s a lot better than cutting to him, as the Paltrow film does.
*. The film begins with some locals stealing from the Hartfield hen house, a minor incident that only appears at the end of the book (where it’s turkeys, actually). I think it odd that Davies (and director Diarmuid Lawrence) played the class card so early, but there’s nothing wrong with it. Throughout the movie there are little nods in this same direction — lots of doffing caps and tugging forelocks, not to mention the servants having to haul all that luggage up Box Hill — but these are no more intrusive than the similar notes struck in Tony Richardson’s Tom Jones. At some point anyone making a movie out of such material has to decide how they’re going to present the antique social order of centuries-old fiction. And this seems fair enough here, without getting too obtrusive.
*. Emma is the perfect romantic plot, and if there’s nothing in this production that jumps out at you I think it’s also fair to say that it doesn’t put a foot wrong. A professional, responsible adaptation that can certainly be enjoyed, but in the end I found it still left me wanting to go back to Austen.

Emma (1996)

*. Given how popular Jane Austen has always been, and how Emma is, after Pride and Prejudice, her most beloved novel, it’s odd that the teen comedy Clueless was actually its first big-screen adaptation. Even Sense and Sensibility beat it out. This movie followed quickly (both Clueless and Sense and Sensibility were released the year before), and in 2020 we had another Emma. But that still doesn’t feel like a lot. Just think of how many Draculas we’ve had, or Tarzans.
*. Where Clueless was a contemporary change-up on the source, this Emma is the traditional, Masterpiece Theatre version, complete with Empire-waists and lots of plummy accents. Coincidentally, it would receive the same treatment in a TV-movie with Kate Beckinsale playing the lead that came out the same year. So how do the different approaches measure up?
*. Normally I’m not a fan of updating the classics. I don’t usually go for Shakespeare in contemporary dress, for example. And I am a big fan of Austen’s novel as well. That said, I enjoy Clueless more than this version of Emma.
*. Though in saying why I’m nervous of falling into a trap. I find the presentation here, for all its use of lovely outdoor settings, to be airless. But Austen’s world is airless. As Charlotte Brontë put it on reading Pride and Prejudice, it’s like “a carefully-fenced, highly cultivated garden with neat borders and delicate flowers – but no glance of a bright vivid physiognomy – no open country – no fresh air – no blue hill – no bonny beck. I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen in their elegant but confined houses.” Just the kind of place Mr. Woodhouse would feel at home, and that one suspects Mr. Knightley also looks forward to in the evening of life.
*. The challenge is to show the life churning underneath the rules of social etiquette, formal address, and properly-laced attire. This I think is tolerably well done here, but I was left feeling that Gwyneth Paltrow was not the right actor for the job. She is already so languid and wan that she doesn’t give Emma the necessary spark. There is something missing from Paltrow’s eyes. She’s not totally dead, but she’s not fully alive either.
*. I’m disagreeing then with Roger Ebert, who thought Paltrow sparkled in the part. Sparkle is precisely what I thought she lacked. Nor was it just a case of Emma being repressed. She is not, after all, a rebel.
*. This brings me to a more fundamental disagreement with Ebert, when he says “Stories like this are about manners, nuance and the way that one’s natural character tugs against the strict laws of society.” I think this is mistaking Austen entirely. The point Austen is making has to do with accepting that the strict laws of society are natural, and that one only hurts oneself in opposing them. Austen is a profoundly conservative author. When Mr. Elton, offended at Emma’s thinking that he had designs on Harriet Smith, says that “everybody has their level” (a line taken directly from the book), he’s not just being a snob. He’s right, and Emma was wrong in trying to make that particular match.
*. It is, then, a very conventional production of a very conventional story. Even the necessary concessions to film, including Emma providing “Dear Diary” voiceover, fit the mold. Which is not to say that it isn’t enjoyable judged on its own terms. This may be less Masterpiece Theatre than Hallmark Presents, but romance is a perfectly valid genre and this is a well executed example. There’s something particularly sweet, almost chaste, about the idea of falling in love with and marrying your best friend. Who doesn’t wish all the best for Emma and Mr. Knightley? Even if they already have everything.

Clueless (1995)

*. Clueless stands, I think, as one of the best teen romantic comedies ever made. No, I am not a fan of teen romantic comedies. So yes, this is light praise. The thing is, there are few other teen romantic comedies I like at all. I have fond memories of Valley Girl, but it’s been decades since I’ve seen it. 10 Things I Hate About You also comes to mind. But I think I enjoy Clueless more. It’s intelligent, light on its feet, witty, and even goodhearted in an absolutely harmless sort of way.
*. So what happened? What happened to Alicia Silverstone? When I saw her first in The Crush (1993) I immediately felt I was witnessing the debut of a major talent (albeit in a not-very-good picture). Then in Clueless she became a bona fide star. But after that? Batman & Robin? Was that a career killer? After that there were mostly bit parts, not all of them in notable movies. I’d so completely lost track of her that I remember being surprised seeing her show up in The Killing of a Sacred Deer (in another marginal role).
*. But an even more remarkable disappearing act was pulled by writer-director Amy Heckerling. She’d had a hit debut directing Fast Times at Ridgemont High, and went on to have some success with crap like European VacationLook Who’s Talking, and Look Who’s Talking Too. Nothing to make you think something as good as Clueless was coming. But then, nothing that came after Clueless struck gold either. In the twenty-first century she seemed to migrate to television.
*. I find this hard to explain, because I think both Heckerling and Silverstone are very talented. They didn’t catch lightning in a bottle with Clueless. And yet there was no second act. Yes, there were a ton of Clueless spin-offs, including a TV series, but I mean career-wise for these two. I know the film business in the twenty-first century has been brutal, squeezing the indies especially hard (or really any movies that aren’t sequels or about superheroes), but still I would have thought we’d have had something more from Heckerling and Silverstone.
*. Like 10 Things I Hate About You there was a literary precedent. The Taming of the Shrew in the case of the later movie, and Jane Austen’s novel Emma here. Emma is a long novel, and adapting it presented some real challenges that I think Heckerling expertly met. I also think Silverstone pulled off the difficult task of making Cher Horowitz (Emma Woodhouse) likeable despite being a snob, “manipulative, but in a nice way” (Heckerling), and (what’s most challenging) intelligent and a ditz at the same time, without the ditziness coming across as any kind of act.
*. Some of the changes make sense. They had to do something with Austen’s Mr. Woodhouse, since such a whiny valetudinarian wouldn’t fly in the modern world. Or if he did, he’d be even more intolerable than he is in the novel. But I’m still a bit mystified at making Mr. Knightley into Emma’s sort-of step-sibling Josh (Paul Rudd, already showing the slightest shadow of his later trademark rakish stubble).
*. As I understand it, Josh is the son of one of Mr. Horowitz’s previous wives, so he’s no blood relation to Cher. But I had a hard time keeping that straight, and the whole dynamic here just felt creepy in a Woody and Soon-Yi sort of way. It’s legal, but it’s a lot closer to Kentucky (as Cher would have it) than I think our heroine would want to admit. So I’m not sure why Heckerling went this route. Why not just make Josh a neighbour? I realize there’s a connection in this respect to Emma, but in the book the step-sibling connection between Mr. Knightley and Emma is a lot clearer (and less weird).
*. In most ways it’s true to the spirit of Emma, but doesn’t address the class issues of Austen’s novel at all. Because class is a “forbidden subject” (adopting Paul Fussell’s expert phrase) in America? Though there are social cliques at the Beverly Hills high school Cher attends, everyone goes to the same parties and we assume the kids are all from wealthy families. So it’s not like Cher is on an entirely different level, as Emma is.
*. Heckerling did research by sitting in on some high school classes, but I didn’t buy Cher’s excuse to her teacher for being tardy because she was “surfing the crimson wave.” Would a teenage girl actually say that to a teacher in the ’90s, in class? It didn’t seem authentic to me.
*. Then again, this isn’t the high school I attended. Or that anyone attended, really. Heckerling admits it was a fantasy. It works though because of Silverstone and because it’s all so smooth and sweet. I can’t think of a scene that’s out of place or that slows the pace. There are laughs and smiles aplenty tossed off like wrappers from a candy bar being thrown from a car. And romance too, of the ephemeral, dreamy kind. The only cloud on the horizon is the thought of growing up and the party coming to an end.

Absolute Power (1997)

*. Clint Eastwood has a long and well deserved reputation for bringing his productions in on time and on budget (the two being very closely related). Even given his own professional standards, however, I was surprised to hear that Absolute Power was completed more than three weeks ahead of schedule. Three weeks! That’s incredible.
*. Unfortunately, the downside of such a streamlined production can be a mechanical film. This is certainly the feeling I got from Absolute Power. Part of that may be due to the story itself. Based on a David Baldacci novel and adapted by William Goldman, it’s a pure piece of genre hack work. Indeed, it doesn’t even seem to take its own basic premise seriously, giving us a cartoonishly evil president and a comically bumbling chief of staff (Gene Hackman and Judy Davis, respectively, both utterly wasted in their parts).
*. That we can’t believe anything so improbable isn’t the problem though. Or that it steadily becomes more improbable as the story goes along. In a pinch I suppose we could all shrug at the idea of the president’s secret service consisting of exactly two people, the same two people, on duty all the time. Harder to abide are the formulaic plot elements and their mechanical handling.
*. I’ll mention three such points in the story, in order. The film begins with Luther Whitney (Clint Eastwood), a break-and-enter art thief, sneaking into a mansion and its secret vault room. A vault room with a one-way mirror that lets him see out of it. Once in there he witnesses the rape and murder of a woman by the president of the United States. Watching this scene play out, and it takes a very long time, I thought of Hitchcock. Not because it was done in the manner of Hitchcock but because it took a Hitchcockian idea, with an innocent man being drawn into a crime through an act of voyeurism (one might also think of the scene in Blue Velvet where Kyle MacLachlan watches Isabella Rossellini being raped).
*. But thinking of Hitchcock just underlines how pedestrian and unsuspenseful this scene is. Absolutely nothing interesting is done with it, and the viewer’s only sympathy with Luther is that we are, with him, being made to just sit through a necessary bit of action in order to set the plot in motion. The idea itself isn’t new or interesting, but just the opposite, and it’s presented in a dull, unremarkable way.
*. The other two scenes are much the same. The first has a pair of snipers setting up to assassinate Luther out on the street in broad daylight during a police stakeout. Improbable? Yes. Formulaic? Yes. How many times have we seen these professional killers assembling their high-powered rifles, followed by views through the scopes with their prospective victims in the crosshairs, only to be undone at the last moment by some flaky accident? I don’t see how the fact that there are two killers working independently here changes very much, and again there is nothing creative done with the presentation.
*. Finally I’ll just mention the attempted murder of Luther’s daughter in the hospital. Again we have the conjunction of formula with improbability. I even found myself wondering how easy it really is to walk around a hospital unnoticed, going anywhere you want unquestioned, just by donning a white coat. Can anyone do this? At any hospital? Because it seems to happen a lot.
*. I think it’s the combination of scenes like this that allowed Eastwood to complete filming so quickly, but which also left critics and audiences cold. This is a movie that never ignites, and it wasn’t long before I started to feel as impatient as Eastwood must have been for it to end.

Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998)

*. Of all the modern horror franchises I think the Halloween films constitute the most chaotic.
*. On a strict accounting, Halloween H20 (usually pronounced H-2-Oh and not H-Twenty), is the seventh film in the series, and indeed the original working title was Halloween 7: The Revenge of Laurie Strode. We got here by a very long and winding road. To make a long story short, H20 picks up where Halloween II left off. Halloween III remains an aberration, while the events of Halloweens 4-6 are now assumed to have never happened. Just in case you’re keeping score.
*. My initial response here was badly mistaken. I saw the kid in the hockey mask being used for a jump scare. I saw Janet Leigh talking to Laurie about “We’ve all had bad things happen to us,” before getting into a very familiar-looking vintage car. I was thinking to myself that this was maybe a lead-up to Scream.
*. But like I say, this was badly mistaken. In fact, Scream had come out two years earlier. And at one point the kids are even watching Scream 2 in their dorm room. So this wasn’t a step moving the genre toward Scream but a way of nudging the Halloween franchise in the Scream direction.
*. Though uncredited, the story was based on a Kevin Williamson idea and he apparently worked quite a bit on the script. So I’m guessing that’s where the whole Scream vibe was coming from. Not that it’s totally unwelcome, but it does seem like a not very necessary echo. You can think of the genre as swallowing its own tail, with the Halloween franchise now ripping off the film that was ripping it off.
*. As for the movie itself, I found it strangely uninvolving. It’s not too bad once it gets going, and I didn’t mind that it took a long time to get going. Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is an interesting character, even if she’s surrounded by the usual collection of stereotypes (a list headed by her indestructible brother, who struck me as even more blank than usual). They go to the well far too often with the fake jump scares, but there are still a couple of decent scary scenes. I just found myself not caring very much about what was going on.
*. It’s not that I care very much about what’s going on in any slasher movie, but H20 left me feeling particularly out of it. Maybe it had something to do with the Scream influence I mentioned, that sense that nothing here is to be taken seriously. I don’t know. In most respects this is far above average when it comes to slasher movies, but it seems caught between different worlds. Is it an attempt at providing closure, or is it setting us up for a new beginning? Given the producer’s refusal to let Michael die, you can guess what the answer would be to that one, but it’s not clear just based on what this film presents, where the ending is quite definitive. It also seems like a step in a new direction, but it’s not as clever as later “postmodern” slashers, or as dark and violent as the various reboots that were coming down the pipe (including Rob Zombie’s Halloween).
*. As I began by saying, the Halloween franchise is a bit of a mess. The pieces don’t really fit together that well, and not just in terms of any larger narrative continuity. For what it’s worth, I’d rate H20 one of the best in the series, even if it’s also one of the least engaging.

Prom Night III: The Last Kiss (1990)

*. I don’t imagine there are a lot of people who miss, or for that matter even remember, the low-budget, free-wheeling horror comedies that played alongside all the slasher, dead-teenager flicks in the 1980s and ’90s. Though I suppose titles like Saturday the 14th (1981) and The Silence of the Hams (1994) were about as lasting in their own day as the Scary Movie franchise entries. And, like the Scary Movie movies, they mainly worked by sending up what had become horror clichés. But parody has a short shelf life, entangled as it is with the notoriety of whatever inspired it.
*. Which brings us to Prom Night III: The Last Kiss, another movie I think few people miss or remember or even were aware of at the time. It’s a bit different than the usual horror parody though in having its own story to tell, which does follow, loosely if more-or-less directly, from the end of Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II. It’s both part of the Prom Night franchise and a parody of the same.
*. I had very mixed feelings watching this one. This may in part be because I watched half of it before giving up, then went back and watched the rest of it months later. I started out not thinking much of it at all — aside from the terrific opening, which has Mary Lou Maloney (Courtney Taylor) doing some lingerie line-dancing in hell before cutting through her ankle shackles with a nail file — but when I finished watching it I wound up liking it, just a bit. Maybe I was in a better mood. Or at least a different mood. You really have to be in the right mood to enjoy a movie like this.
*. Taking a step back and trying to be fair minded, it’s an enjoyably creative romp. With little in the way of resources they have to make do with imagination. After Mary Lou slips her chains in hell she returns to Hamilton High and hooks up with a Ferris Bueller type named Alex (Tim Conlon), for whom she can do certain favours. Alex already has a girlfriend, Sarah (Cynthia Preston), and basically the movie comes down to these two having to fight it out over who’s going to get their man. As Mary Lou says, it’s not who you take to the prom, it’s who you go home with.
*. The kills aren’t particularly well done, but at least they’re different. A janitor is electrocuted by a jukebox. Canadian boxing legend (this was a Canadian production) George Chuvalo is stabbed to death with ice cream cones. A guidance counselor is dissolved in battery acid. A jock is speared by a football that turns into a drill. It’s all good. And the final vision of a demonic Hamilton High when Alex and Sarah go down the rabbit hole is actually pretty neat.
*. I’ve often thought that a real sign of a director’s ability is how easy they can make something difficult look, so that a display of real skill may not even be noticed. (This is something, by the way, that holds true across the arts in general.) With that said, here’s a bit from director Ron Oliver as quoted in Caelum Vatnsdal’s They Came from Within, when asked about a shot that takes us across an auditorium to a close-up of the principal cutting his own finger off: “All in one shot . . . It was my Dario Argento homage because I wanted the audience to be shocked by it — no cutaways, nothing. It just happens. But nobody ever mentioned it! Kinda makes a director feel like a putz for even bothering!”
*. I’ll confess I didn’t catch the homage to Argento either. So a belated hats off. Oliver didn’t need to make the effort of doing that in one shot, but he did anyway.
*. I began by talking about how few, if any, of these horror comedies from the period have lasted. Prom Night III has disappeared into near oblivion along with most of its peers, but I think judged alongside them it’s a bit above average. With more money it might even have been ahead of its time. I’d certainly rather watch it again than the awful 2008 franchise reset.