Why is it that among the assorted pint-sized ghouls that come knocking at the front door every Halloween there aren’t more kids dressed as serial killers?
The reason I ask – apart from hoping to plant nice images of toddlers being wheeled around on trolleys à la Hannibal Lecter – is that these days the witching season is seemingly as strongly associated with dismembering sociopaths as supernatural monsters, at least in the minds of filmmakers.
Filmmakers like rookie director Andrew Wolf, whose 2007 début, Mr Halloween, boldly proclaims to personify all that is scary about the festival in the form of psychopath Bill Loomis, a character unlikely to ever be mentioned in the same breath as Freddy, Jason or Michael, though his name might conceivably crop up in a discussion of Edgar Allan Poe.
For with his Basil Fawlty-esque ‘tash and crazy receding hair, Mr Halloween could pass himself off admirably as the author of The Raven, he wasn’t too busy improving the haunted house he opens to the teenage residents of Sauquoit, New York, every October 31st.
Legend has it that Loomis uses real body parts to make his attractions so terrifying and so two friends, Jason and Michael, go to investigate. Surprise, surprise, it turns out the rumours are true, as they learn first-hand. It’s no wonder so many youths are going missing, as Mr Halloween has an insatiable blood lust, temporarily sated with guillotining, bludgeoning or good old-fashioned strangling.
The following Halloween, two of Jason’s friends, Jill and Jack, try to get to the heart and viscera of the ‘mystery’ behind Bill Loomis, seeking help from the law, only to be dismissed out of hand by bad-ass Sheriff Conrad, who strangely doesn’t seem to care half the town’s junior population is going missing at an alarming rate.
When Jill gets captured by Loomis, she finds herself in a race against time to escape the haunted house or end up as the latest attractions…
I won’t spoil the end of the film; it can do that perfectly well on its own. Along with the beginning and middle. The story is join-the-dots horror with little to say and an inordinately long running time in which not to say it.
The scariest thing about Mr Halloween isn’t the central antagonist or his inexorable pursuit of juvenile innards; it’s the amateurishness of it all. I wasn’t surprised in the least to discover the film had been made for $6,000 – half of which was spent on the catering.
In front of the camera you have a bunch of predominantly non-actors incredulously finding themselves thrust from the school production level to cinema, being nervously aware that they might not be able to pull it off. They’re not Ed Wood lousy, and, actually, Mr Halloween is quite passable as a B-grade nutcase, but one thing I ask from a horror film is the possibility of suspension of disbelief. That rare connection between viewer and scary film, where you get so sucked into what’s happening on screen that you end up cacking yourself every time a door slams.
The cast, however enthusiastic they are, sadly can’t provide that jump for me. Maybe it would have helped if they ACTUALLY SHOWED EMOTION when something nasty happens, like finding a friend’s decaying corpse or watching helplessly when a relation gets brained with a pipe.
But it’s not wholly the actors’ fault. The writers, Andrew and Cody Wolf (who plays Jason), do little for the characters, except make them at times painfully stupid and inconsistent. In fact, the whole goddamn town of Sauquoit is dumb. There are more missing persons posters than actual people and yet no-one has bothered to wonder if their surly sheriff might have conflicting interests when it comes to protecting the young, or that the FBI might be needed. Sheesh, it wouldn’t be too hard for an agent to solve the mystery of the disappearing teens. Mr Halloween isn’t shy about his activities and happily dispatches victims by the window before lumbering them around in blood-stained sheets under cover of daylight.
Then there’s the treatment of Mr Halloween’s back story and his connection to Sheriff Conrad, a ‘twist’ so well signposted you’d think it was a tourist attraction. And when I say “there is” a back story, I actually mean “there isn’t” because though a few intriguing points are raised to suggest some sort of bizarre connection involving reanimation of the dead, no further elucidation is forthcoming. It’s up to the viewer to guesswork everything out, and, to be honest, this might provide the most enjoyment to be had from this film.
While I entertained myself this way, coming to the conclusion that Loomis WAS Edgar Allan Poe in a boiler suit revived and pissed off that kids today prefer It to The Fall Of The House Of Usher, the movie played on with second-rate directing matching cheap mise-en-scène. Though there are some interesting shots and camera angles, they are executed in a way that suggests emulation rather than understanding. Particularly ham-fisted is the scene where one of the missing teen’s father is, for no apparent reason, killed by Mr Halloween. There’s no tension whatsoever in the framing or editing, and why the director reckoned an extended static close-up of an ashtray was needed as Loomis struck is anyone’s guess. Longueurs such as that pop up throughout the film.
Now, I don’t want to appear too harsh. This movie was made by a group of friends who did it for free and with good intentions. In the “Making Of” documentary – that, inexcusably, isn’t on the disc – it’s revealed that Mr Halloween actually exists, and is the same guy who appears onscreen. Turns out that the whole idea for the film stemmed from the real Bill Loomis spotting a gravestone with his name on it, which is quite charming, really. The resulting project is certainly an ambitious piece of citizen cinema and the makers should be proud that they achieved what they did with the resources available, but the film never belies its humble origins and when something gets a DVD release, the marking criteria has to be far less forgiving. The release, for instance, instantly loses points for having a killer clown on the front cover when one never appears in the film.
The DVD itself is pretty poor in extras. The fore-mentioned 30-minute “Making of” is absent (though it is on YouTube) along with the original 10-minute short that was later expanded for the film. What you get for your money is a 110-minute ropey horror put out for the Halloween season but really better suited to Christmas. I mean, that’s the time when everyone enjoys a turkey, right?
Mr Halloween is out now.