Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Bewitched: "Trick Or Treat"

Premiered October 28, 1965.
"Mother, when I married Darrin, it was for better or for worse. Halloween is part of the worse."
-Samantha Stephens
On the morning of Halloween, Samantha Stephens (Elizabeth Montgomery) is visited by her mother Endora (Agnes Moorehead).

It's an annual tradition for witches like them to gather at the "sacred volcano" every Halloween.  Endora doesn't want her daughter to have to deal with trick or treaters' "barbaric" customs.

Samantha's husband Darrin (Dick York) is hosting a Halloween dinner for his boss Larry (David White) and an important advertising client and he needs Samantha's help that night.  Endora thinks Darrin is bigoted against witches.  Her argument is bolstered when they receive a  gift package from Darrin filled with brooms and witch hats.

We learn that the witch gear was sent by Larry as party favors (they're sold by one of their ad client's companies).  This angers Darrin, but he can't explain why without revealing that Samantha is a witch.  He tells Larry that witches hats don't fit into Samantha's "decorating scheme."

Endora blames Darrin for Samantha's unavailability and pays him a visit at the office.  She tells Darrin that she wants to take Samantha to the sacred volcano, but Darrin doesn't want his wife to participate in any "weird rites."  So Samantha will stay at home on Halloween night.

Later, when trick or treaters begin arriving at the Stephens' house...

...Endora turns into a little girl in a "gypsy" costume and joins them.

She puts a curse on Darrin...

...which causes him to grow facial hair at a rapid pace. Endora's curse on Darrin will turn him into a werewolf!  Endora is the only one who can remove the curse.  Darrin and Samantha freak out because their dinner guests are about to arrive.  Endora says she's not sure she knows how to reverse the spell.  To make matters worse for Darrin, there's a full moon in the sky!

Can the Stephenses get through an important business dinner without their guests realizing that Darrin is a werewolf?  Or will their Halloween (and Darrin's career) be ruined by Endora's witchcraft?

J.A. Morris says:
This is basically a typical episode of Bewitched (Samantha's witchery collides with Darren's job, Endora meddles in the Stephens' life, something magical happens that isn't easily fixed, someone comes close to discovering that Samantha is a witch, etc, a and hilarity ensues!).  However, in "Trick Or Treat," the witchcraft is dialed up a bit for the Halloween setting.

It's interesting to see how much gender politics have changed since 1965.  Darrin forbids Samantha from partaking in the ceremony at the volcano.  There's no discussion about it, he just says it's not happening.  This would likely (thankfully) not happen in a comedy series today.

Darrin's werewolf makeup looks pretty good, especially when you consider the limits of 1960s TV makeup budgets.  It's very reminiscent of Lon Chaney Jr.'s makeup from The Wolfman, which I'm sure was intentional.

When Endora turns into a little girl, she's played by Maureen McCormick.  Four years later, McCormick would become TV icon when she played Marsha on The Brady Bunch.

"Trick Or Treat" is no classic, but it's an enjoyable Halloween episode.  If you're a fan of Bewitched, you'll like it.  If you've never watched this series, I believe "Trick Or Treat" could serve as a good introduction to the world of Samantha, Darrin and Endora.

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 jack o'lanterns.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Halloween (2018)

Premiered October 19, 2018.

In 1963, the town of Haddonfield, Illinois was shocked when 6-year-old Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) stabbed his sister Judith to death on Halloween night.  Myers returned to Haddonfield 15 years later and murdered three teenagers.  Myers was shot and later caught by the authorities placed in Smith's Grove Sanitarium.

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) escaped Myers that night, but the traumatic experience has weighed heavily on her every day since.  Her home is a veritable fortress, stocked with dozens of guns, security cameras and secret hiding places.  She has prayed every night that Michael will escape so she can kill him.  Laurie's experience has also negatively impacted her relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer).

Laurie has a better relationship with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who is looking forward to attending a Halloween dance with her boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold) and their friend Oscar. (Drew Scheid)

Myers has spent the last 40 years incarcerated in sanitarium.  He's being treated by Dr. Ranir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), who took over when Michael's previous doctor Sam Loomis died.  On October 30, Myers and other inmates are scheduled to be transported by bus to a maximum security prison and Sartain accompanies them.  However, Myers escapes from the bus and heads to Haddonfield.

While police pursue Michael, with help from Laurie and Dr. Sartain, Myers goes on another Halloween killing spree.  Laurie and Karen are worried about Allyson when they are unable to contact her (due to her cellphone being dropped in a punch bowl by Cameron).  When they suspect Michael will target Allyson, Laurie and the police decide the safest place for their family is Laurie's fortified house.

It will all culminate in a Halloween duel to the death between Laurie and Michael!  Will Laurie finally exact revenge on the man who has haunted her for four decades?  Or will Michael finally take down the only one who survived his 1978 attack?

J.A. Morris says:
When I reviewed the original 1978 Halloween movie here, I mentioned that it wasn't very good, but it was the best slasher film I could think of.  I have a similar opinion of this sequel.  It should be noted that this film ignores any of the other sequels.  This is fine with me because Halloween II (1981) was bad.

Jamie Lee Curtis is the best thing about this movie.  It's understandable that an encounter with a serial killer could turn a survivor into a one-woman army and adversely impact her relationships.  Curtis' scenes with Judy Greer are good too, they make the mother-daughter dynamic feel realistic (even though Curtis is a bit too young to be Greer's mother).

Director David Gordon Green and his co-screenwriter Danny McBride give us just enough call-backs and references to the original film.  John Carpenter's Halloween theme music still sounds great in a movie theater and the new music Carpenter and his team created blends nicely with his classic tunes.

However, it's still a slasher movie with slasher movie cliches.  Michael Myers (who would be 61 years old at this point) is still inexplicably nigh-invulnerable.  He takes multiple gunshots, gets hit head-on by a fast-moving car, is stabbed yet remains as strong and dangerous as ever.  I guess we're supposed to believe that his desire to kill gives Myers an "adrenaline rush" that enables him to survive?  It strains credulity.

Also, at the end of the 1978 movie, Myers disappears after being shot.  How was he apprehended?  Why was he not placed in a maximum security facility at that point, rather than 40 years later?  It would've been nice to at least have some exposition that answered those questions.

Donald Pleasence brought a lot to the Halloween franchise with his portrayal or Dr. Loomis.  It's not the fault of the filmmakers that Pleasence isn't around (they can't raise actors from the dead!), but his absence reminds you how important Loomis was.  Haluk Bilginer does his best as Loomis' replacement, Dr. Surtain, but the character isn't very well defined.

Halloween is a decent sequel that (hopefully) closes the book  on this franchise (for a few years, at least) and it's worth seeing for Curtis' performance.  I'm giving it the same rating I gave the original.

J.A. Morris' rating:

2 jack o'lanterns.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween

Premiered October 12, 2018.

Kathy Quinn (Wendi McLendon-Covey) lives in Wardenclyffe, NY with her children Sonny (Jeremy Ray Taylor) and Sarah (Madison Iseman).  Sarah wants to be a writer but is experiencing writer’s block regarding her college application essay. 

Sonny’s best friend Sam’s (Caleel Harris) parents are leaving town, so Sam goes to stay with the Quinn family.  All of the kids are excited about Halloween, which is a few days away.

Sam and Sonny are middle school outcasts trying to jumpstart a freelance junk collection business.  They go to clean out a creepy abandoned house and find a trunk containing a ventriloquist dummy (Mick Wingert) and a book. 

The dummy has a card says its name is Slappy and has additional text that looks suspiciously like a magic incantation.   Naturally, Sam reads the card aloud.

After an altercation with the local bully Tommy Madigan (Peyton Wich) and his minions in which the book they found is stolen, the boys go back to Sonny's house and learn that Slappy has come to life, a fact which they decide not to share with Sonny’s mom or big sister.  Slappy seems to want to be helpful, completing  the boys’ homework, magically folding laundry and making clandestine improvements to Sonny’s with his science project, a miniature version of the town’s Tesla Tower. 

The next day during science class, Slappy's "improvements" to the Tesla Tower cause it to zap students and blast a hole in a classroom wall.   School gets closed for the day and when Sarah, Sonny and Sam arrive home, they find Slappy sitting on Kathy's lap.  She informs them they're grounded on Halloween night due to the Tesla Tower incident.

The boys come clean to Sarah about Slappy’s creepy involvement in the day’s events and they decide to get rid of the troublesome dummy in a nearby river.  Their problems seem to be over, until Slappy reappears out of nowhere and attacks Sarah's car.  Unfortunately for them, their troubles are just beginning.

The kids conduct some research and learn that famed horror author R.L. Stein (Jack Black) lived in Wardenclyffe when he was younger and during that time wrote an unpublished book called “Haunted Halloween.”  It’s is the book Sonny and Sam found.  The plot of this book parallels what they’ve experienced so far.  Slappy wants to create a family and since the Quinns plus Sam have made it pretty clear they’re not interested in being a part of his plans, he uses his powers to bring a drugstore full of Halloween candy, costumes and decorations to life!

Slappy’s plan seems to be working well --  jack o’lanterns, costumes and other Halloween decor are wreaking havoc all over town.   He sets up camp in the real Tesla Tower to boost the signal of his powers,  turns a hapless store clerk into a real monster and succeeds in capturing Sarah and Sonny’s mom to make her another pawn in his Halloween takeover.

Sarah, Sam and Sonny realize they’re the only ones who can stop Slappy’s malevolent mischief.  With the help of an unlikely ally in the form of their Halloween enthusiast neighbor, Mr. Chu (Ken Jeong), they must retrieve the book to stop Slappy’s Halloween monstrosities. 

Will the kids be successful in their quest or will Slappy and his new family succeed in making Halloween mischief a malevolent reality?

J.A. Morris says:
I am much older than the intended demographic for Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween.  However, it's a fun Halloween movie with a decent cast and lots of holiday imagery.  Halloween films also need plenty of frights and good villains and Slappy provides both. 

Sarah, Sonny and Sam carry the film and they're played by likable young actors.  Wendi McLendon-Covey (best known for playing Beverly on The Goldbergs) does a nice job in the only major adult role and also gets to deliver some funny lines.  Ken Jeong also has some entertaining scenes as Mr. Chu. 

People who saw the first Goosebumps movie will recall that Jack Black had a major role playing R.L. Stine.  In the sequel, Black's role is basically a glorified cameo near the end of the film, but his presence adds some gravitas to the movie. 

J.A. Morris' rating:
I wouldn't call Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween a "future classic," but it's an entertaining "family' film and I'm always excited to see a new (good) movie that takes place on Halloween.  It's recommended for Halloween fans of all ages, highly recommended for fans of R.L. Stine's books.

3 jack o'lanterns.  

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Parks and Recreation: "Greg Pikitis"

Premiered October 29, 2009.
"Every Halloween, someone defaces the statue of Mayor Percy in Ramsett Park.  And I know it's Greg Pikitis, but I've never been able to prove it.  He's like an invisible, adolescent, James Bond, super-criminal mastermind.  Or maybe someone else is doing it.  But I really feel it's this kid!"
-Leslie Knope

It's Halloween in Pawnee, Indiana and Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), Pawnee's Deputy Director of the Parks and Recreation Department, is preparing to deal with Halloween pranksters.  

Every year, Pawnee High student Greg Pikitis (Cody Klop) defaces the town's statue of Mayor William Percy with toilet paper.  Knope considers Pikitis to be her arch nemesis but has been unable to catch him in the act and is determined to catch Pikitis on Halloween night.

She enlists her boyfriend, policeman Dave Sanderson (Louis C.K.) to tail Pikitis and rides along in Dave's police cruiser.  Leslie also puts local slacker Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) on her payroll and tells him to monitor the statue.

Elsewhere, Leslie's friend Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) is hosting a Halloween party.  She's invited several Parks and Rec staffers, but has specifically not invited administrator Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari).  Ann's not happy when she learns someone else has invited Tom.

After watching Pikitis for hours, Leslie and Dave decide to stop by her office and find it's been TP'd and covered with graffiti!  Knope believes it must be the work of Greg Pikitis and sends Dave to bring him in. 

She persuades Dave to interrogate Pikitis and even brings in some extra muscle in the form of Andy, pretending to be an FBI agent.

Meanwhile, the party at Ann's house isn't going well.  Nobody is interacting and people are mostly just standing around looking bored. 

Tom shows up dressed as T-Pain, declares the party a disaster and says he can fix it.

Can Ann's party be saved?   Will Andy or Dave break Pikitis's nefarious Halloween prank schemes?  Will Leslie get justice?

RigbyMel says: 

I was a bit late to the party with Parks and Recreation as when it first aired, I was of the opinion that there were a few too many TV comedies copping a page from The Office with a faux documentary format and people talking directly to the camera.   But when I finally gave an episode or two a try on Netflix last summer, I found myself hooked, and watched all seven seasons in pretty rapid succession.    The show is generally rather brilliantly funny and well-written.

"Greg Pikitis" is from season 2 of the series and is the first of several holiday episodes.  I really like the Halloween teen prankster story line as well as the more typical sitcom Halloween party subplot.  Leslie's over-the-top determination to "get her man" (even if he is a teenage boy) is relatable, hilarious and a little bit scary.

Cop boyfriend Dave's deadpan reactions to her inappropriate suggestions for how to deal with the problem add to the fun as does Andy's willingness to go completely over the top to help Leslie, breaking out his Burt Macklin FBI agent alter-ego.

"Burt Macklin" meets Greg Pikitis's "mom"
Teen miscreant Greg Pikitis and his interaction with the adults is also very amusing -- he makes Andy cry(!!) --  and the mystery as to how he pulls off his crimes and outfoxes the adults adds another layer of Halloween fun to the mix.

Greg Pikitis demonstrates his "Angry Leslie" face 
Ann's party is also relatable -- we all know the awkward feeling of mixing people from two different circles of friends (in this case, Ann's colleagues from her job as a nurse and the folks from the Parks Department where she's been volunteering).

Halloween is also a time of culturally permitted inversion -- adults can dress up and act silly or even (maybe) engage in some teenage-style pranks of their own, or unctuous administrators like Tom can rescue Ann's party from a gruesome fate.    The way this episode cleverly mines several Halloween tropes makes it stand up well to repeated viewing and I've watched and enjoyed it two Octobers in a row now. 

RigbyMel's rating:

4 jack o'lanterns.

J.A. Morris says: 

I enjoyed this slightly less than my co-blogger, but it's an enjoyable holiday episode.  I've been a big fan of Poehler since her days on the Upright Citizens Brigade TV show and she's great here.  Poehler makes us feel her hatred of Pikitis is real and I found myself sympathizing with Leslie (to a point, of course). 

Jerry (Jim O'Heir) gets tangled in some fake spider webs!
Cody Klop is also great as Greg.  He plays Pikitis as a likeable rogue rather than just a bad kid. 

I'm a fan of Aubrey Plaza's trademark sarcasm.  She's funny in this episode when she expresses her disappointment in attending Ann's party while missing a "Gay Halloween party." 

While I don't condone vandalism, I think Halloween pranks can add a little fun to the occasion.  For people like myself who are too old to be pranksters, watching this episode of Parks and Recreation is the next best thing to TP-ing a statue! 

J.A. Morris' rating:

3 and a half jack o'lanterns.