Welcome to a Halloween special gues column of A Brew To A Kill, hosted by myself, Christopher Melkus, in collaboration with Jeremy. Let me just give a heart-felt thank you to Jeremy for letting me take over his beloved column this season. Originally this was intended as a collaborative piece but things fell through and what you’re getting is my discussion of the merits of beer and horror movies. Don’t be too disappointed.
Halloween means a lot to me and I’d imagine it means a lot to the other writers of Destroy The Brain. Halloween means more than just costumes and jack o’ lanterns to us. It means horror movies, mostly. The holy grail of Halloween horror movies is, of course, Halloween and, perhaps less so, its sequels. There’s always discussion around this time of year as to whether those sequels are worth a watch. Obviously, Halloween II is an essential, but Halloween III is notoriously controversial for having nothing to do with Michael Myers, the iconic killer of the Halloween series. This sometimes gets in the way of a more interesting discussion of whether it is, in fact, a horror movie worth watching in the limited space that this season provides. It’s been generally established that Halloween IV and Halloween V are so lackluster as to be relegated to bargain bins, but the sixth film in the series, Halloween H20, has received its fair share of attention for being a well-executed finale to the series, though Halloween: Resurrection undermined that with zero grace or dignity. Having not seen ANY of these sequels, I took it upon myself to evaluate their quality.
But it wasn’t the gap in my Halloween-themed horror movie experience that motivated me to do this column. Instead, it was a beer. Here in Saint Louis, there is a thriving grocery store market, split into the Big Three: Schnucks, Shop & Save and Dierbergs. Schnucks is considered the best known of the three and has deep roots in Saint Louis itself. So much so that local brewery 4 Hands has teamed up with Schnucks to celebrate the grocery market’s 75th anniversary with an exclusive, limited-run series of beers. Though it would be remiss of me to mention that Schlafly also collaborated with Schnucks on an exclusive IPA, which I’ll add is one of the better beers Schlafly has made. But I digress: after the last three top-quality collaboration beers that 4 Hands produced in collaboration with Schnucks, I was thrilled to hear that there would be a pumpkin beer in the series, to be released on Halloween! As soon as I discovered this, I knew this column had to happen. So I tracked down blu-rays of Halloween III: Season Of The Witch and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, watched them, and am currently drinking a glass of Ill Repute as I write this. So, let’s talk about this beer.
The 75th anniversary collaboration series from 4 Hands and Schnucks has, so far, been spot on with every style they’ve brewed, from a spice-laden baltic porter to a delicately balanced farmhouse ale, both remarkably high gravity without sacrificing flavor. Their pumpkin beer, Ill Repute, is a porter, and on first taste I assumed this was a riff on the Bear Mace baltic porter they released at the beginning of the year. Unlike that beer, Ill Repute’s flavors are more subtle, with the creamy vanilla foaminess of a porter making it approachable. Lurking within that creaminess is the mild nuttiness of the pumpkin, making this a different affair entirely from the other local pumpkin beers, like O’Fallon’s desserty pumpkin beer or Schlafly’s sweet ale. Red Hook has a pumpkin porter but, while being the same style as Ill Repute, has stronger maple notes. For a beer with such a menacing name, Ill Repute has a polite, refined flavor. But a few more sips and you realize how the beer’s smooth finish disguises a hefty punch, the intensity of the high gravity brew lagging behind like the trick or treater with the big, heavy pillowcase full of candy. As it comes in a 22oz bomber, even the most enthusiastic beer fanatic would be in trouble if they enjoyed more than a pair of these in one sitting. By not attempting to compete in the imperial stout category that is dominated locally by Ste Genevieve’s Crown Valley and their Pumpkin Smash and elsewhere by Southern Tier’s Warlock, 4 Hands not only stands out but demonstrates how exciting these limited releases can be.
But what about the movies? We’ll start the comparisons by breaking down what each movie does right, and what it does wrong, beginning with the infamous Halloween III. Why infamous? Well, most would say it’s because, after the incredible success of Halloween and Halloween II, to completely ditch the Michael Myers character was puzzling. Why call it Halloween if it didn’t feature the now-iconic masked killer? But that’s not really why the film is infamous. Had it been successful at moving past the Michael Myers story and relaunched the series as something that had new stories to tell every time, we’d be going on about how great an idea it was to have a Halloween film franchise that simply featured great Halloween-themed horror. No, it’s because Halloween III was such a shockingly bad follow-up to a masterpiece (well, a masterpiece and its decent sequel). But that’s not Carpenter’s fault, really: the film is directed by a Carpenter protege with little actual talent and as a result, the film is half-assed. The main actor, Tom Atkins, is blandly unappealing with no chemistry to speak of with his romantic interest, Stacey Nelkin. It doesn’t help that despite being a mere ER doctor, the protagonist pulls of successively insane escapes throughout the film, outsmarting a malevolent corporation multiple times in preposterous ways. Said corporation is one of the few interesting aspects of the film and, buried beneath a clunky script is an intriguing attack on the amoralism of large corporations and their owners. But as the plot unwinds, the film really focuses more on the ungainly effort by the doctor to investigate the corporation and its ubiquitous Halloween masks linked to the mysterious death of one of his patients. There really isn’t much carnage in this movie, especially compared to Halloween and, disappointingly, there’s really only one notable moment of real horror. The climactic reveal isn’t frightening at all and fails to disguise how low-budget the film is. That said, Carpenter’s score is a magnificent thing and the insanity of the storyline does make it hard to quit.
Halloween H20, though, is a different beast. It’s handled by Steve Miner, who at the time of the filming, was well known for the gonzo horror flick House as well as being heavily involved in the Friday the 13th series from the first film. The film follows Laurie Strode, aka Jamie Lee Curtis, and her attempts to move on past the nightmare of the Haddonfield murders 20 years ago. Her son, played by a young Josh Hartnett, is the most important thing in her life but as Halloween approaches, the past returns to haunt her. Or hunt her, rather. By the time this film was made, the post-modern horror film SCREAM had deconstructed what Halloween had built, making the task of revisiting that film a difficult one for Miner and TV screenwriter Robert Zappia. But it’s obvious from the start that Miner and Zappia knew they needed both to homage the original film while making one that worked in the modern era, and surprisingly they pull it off. Set in a prestigious academy where Laurie Strode is headmaster under a fake name, the film deftly alternates between following Myers trail from Haddonfield to Strode’s new home and Strode’s struggle with her trauma. By balancing these elements successfully, the film is already superior to Halloween III, but it really picks up once Michael arrives, letting him once again tear down the world around Laurie. The kills are perfectly timed and the characters have just enough depth to provide genuine thrills when the killer comes after them, one at a time. The setting does lose something by being hermetically sealed inside the academy but they make do quite well with it, often managing deeply atmospheric moments that SCREAM never bothered to conjure. That being said, Josh Hartnett is just as terrible an actor as a teen as he is an adult so it’s with much relief that the film focuses mostly on Laurie. Without giving away too much of the film, it wraps up the series in a devastatingly satisfactory way, subverting what audiences would expect from yet another Halloween sequel. No, it’s not particularly original, but if you’re a fan of the Michael Myers story, Halloween H20 absolutely delivers and more, while Halloween III is simply an average if interesting horror film typical of the era it came from.
So, here’s my suggestion: it’s nearly 4 PM on Halloween night. If you live in Saint Louis, go to your nearest Schnucks, grab a bottle of Ill Repute and pull up Halloween H20 on Amazon Instant/Google Play/iTunes. Though, if you’ve never seen the original Halloween & Halloween II, you should definitely watch those first. You’ll be hard pressed to have a better time with a beer and a movie on the spookiest night of the year.