Execrable: Tales of Halloween

Tales of Halloween (2015)
Directed by Dave Parker; Darren Lynn Bousman; Adam Gierasch; Axelle Carolyn; Lucky McKee; Paul Solet; Andrew Kasch, John Skipp; Mike Mendez; Ryan Schifrin; Neil Marshall
Written by Dave Parker; Clint Sears; Greg Commons; Axelle Carolyn; Lucky McKee; Molly Millions; Andrew Kasch, John Skipp; Mike Mendez, Dave Parker; Ryan Schifrin; Neil Marshall
Produced by Axelle Carolyn, Mike Mendez, Shaked Berenson, Patrick Ewald, Sarah Gorski, Charles Arthur Berg; Mike De Trana, Jace Anderson; Tada Chae, Michael Arter; Vanessa Menendez
Starring Adrienne Barbeau; Cameron Easton, Daniel DiMaggio, Austin Falk, Madison Iseman, Hunter Smit; Barry Bostwick, Marcus Eckert, Christophe Zajac-Denek; Casey Ruggieri, Trent Haaga, John F. Beach, Tiffany Shepis, Mia Page, Marnie McKendry, Clay Keller, Kennedy Fuselier, Sage Stewart, Bianca Rose Miller; Keir Gilchrist, Gracie Gillam, Booboo Stewart, Noah Segan; Alex Essoe, Lin Shaye; Pollyanna McIntosh, Marc Senter; Dana Gould, James Duval, Elissa Dowling; Nick Principe, Amanda Moyer, Jennifer Wenger; Sam Witwer, Jose Pablo Cantillo, Ben Woolf, John Landis; Kristina Klebe, Pat Healy
It’s a fait accompli, so any ordinance dictating that 80% of all motion pictures produced in Los Angeles county must be idiotically infantile and scored to the hacked hilt would meet with sweeping, immediate compliance and probable applause for its foregone success by Ellay’s dim and demented Board of Supervisors. Of course, such a rescript betrays a self-awareness that would forefend the unsatirical majority of those prescribed movies, as this omnibus of ten edgily adolescent chapters about a gluttonous revenant (Easton/Smit), mayhem instigated by a cartoonishly dapper demon (Bostwick), trick-or-treaters (Page, McKendry, Keller, Fuselier, Stewart, Miller) who wreak bloody vengeance on two married couples (Ruggieri, Haaga, Beach, Shepis), revenge realized by the conjuration of a timorous victim (Gilchrist), a single woman (Essoe) stalked by a story’s spirit, the psychotic downward spiral of a wretchedly childless couple (McIntosh, Senter), altercating Halloween decorators (Gould, Duval) who come to blows over their clashing bedizenments, one hulking, rural serial killer (Principe) confronted by a tiny extraterrestrial, abductors (Witwer, Cantillo) who struggle to ransom the seeming son (Woolf) of a wealthy industrialist (Landis), and a police detective (Klebe) who pursues a sentient, rampaging jack-o’-lantern. All of these demonstrate Hollywood’s inability to tickle or terrify, now that it’s overrun by unimaginative drug addicts straining to rekindle but a spark of the magic plied by American wizards like Romero, Carpenter, Raimi, et al. before their output in the ’90s declined, anticipating this dreck. For this, an embarrassment of obvious references to genre classics, lovable Barbeau’s mellow narration and cameos by Barbara Crampton, Stuart Gordon, Felissa Rose, John Landis, John Savage and Joe Dante are more dispiriting than diverting. This is almost unwatchable in toto, an example of what happens when gruesomeness and frivolity are accorded anteriority, absent substance.

Instead, watch Trilogy of Terror or V/H/S.

Mediocre: Jailbreakers

Jailbreakers (1994)
Directed by William Friedkin
Written by Debra Hill, Gigi Vorgan
Produced by Lou Arkoff, Debra Hill, Willie Kutner, Llewellyn Wells, Amy Grauman Danziger
Starring Shannen Doherty, Antonio Sabato Jr., Adrien Brody, Adrienne Barbeau, Vince Edwards, George Gerdes, Sean Whalen, Talbert Morton, Charles Napier
Just as every moon orbits a planet, so too may every bored alpha female gravitate to a charming rogue. A pretty cheerleader (Doherty) in one such instance falls far and fast for a thuggish hunk (Sabato) governing a gang of greasers in tidy postwar Fresno. Captivated by his rout of rival bikers and the prowess with which he gloms hamburgers, cars and jewelry just for her, she inflames until their brief crime spree’s curtailed by his incarceration. His escape from prison enables them to reunite at and vamoose from her sweet sixteenth birthday party, but a reaffirmed adoration for her brainish beau is dampened by the murderous escalation of his criminality. His career here years into its doldrums, Friedkin shot this installment of the trite, tawdry, televised series Rebel Highway by rote; only a few wildly transgressive moments and tense handheld shots faintly echo his past ingenuity. Doherty and Sabato share considerable charisma and chemistry, but haven’t much to do when they aren’t smooching. Brody fares better (not too many years predating his stardom) as Sabato’s leathered, lovably lanky lieutenant, as do Barbeau and Edwards, Doherty’s typically concerned parents. Fair ’50s detail was imparted to this production’s set and costume design, and further fortified by a fleet of vintage automobiles. Regrettably, Hill’s and Vorgan’s skimpy script barely fulfills a brief 71 minutes, prompting the question of whether the former might’ve crafted an absorbing story with her ex-boyfriend. Only seven years prior, Friedkin was still dissecting criminal pathology; for this, he’s as much an observer as his audience.
Instead, watch Bonnie and Clyde.

Palatable: Someone’s Watching Me!

Someone’s Watching Me! (1978)
Directed and written by John Carpenter
Produced by Richard Kobritz, Anna Cottle
Starring Lauren Hutton, David Birney, Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers, Grainger Hines
Unsolicited, progressively suggestive gifts purported as promotional items delivered by a travel agency accompanied by menacing phone calls aren’t the sorts of romantic overtures for which a television station’s glamorous program director (Hutton) might’ve hoped when she relocated from NYC to her posh luxury apartment in Los Angeles. Her composure’s corraded by a stalker surveilling her with a powerful telescope and hidden bug until she enlists the aid of her apt production manager (Barbeau) and unruffled, professorial new boyfriend (Birney) to investigate her agitator as his advances escalate to murderous intent. Helmed with Hitchcockian pizazz by Carpenter months prevenient to the Halloween shoot, this televised umpteenth homage to The Master is essentially an inverse Rear Window replete with its bright, breathy lead, impuissant police investigator (Cyphers) and wireframe animation accompanying opening credits (evocatively imitative of Saul Bass’s NXNW introduction) that dissolves to a described establishing shot. It’s as tightly and cunningly composed as any of his most renowned flicks, and Carpenter enhances his script of modest ingenuity with considerable creepy devices at a painstaking pace evidencing a prowess that’s twice regrettably negated by the brazen swells of Harry Sukman’s overbearingly timeworn score; one can’t help but wonder just how much better this could’ve been if Carpenter — also a composer who’s always appreciated the petrifying potential of silence — had time and liberty to score his scenes. His cast’s every bit as competent: in her prime, Hutton’s a combatively appealing lead whose charisma’s occasionally overshadowed by the charm of the auteur’s future spouse, and both Birney and frequent collaborator Cyphers are unobtrusively fine, if typecast. If it’s the least of Carpenter’s early pictures, this derivative teleplay still patefies the idiosyncratic quality of his craftsmanship.
Recommended for a double feature paired with When a Stranger Calls.