Saturday, October 31, 2015

Who You Gonna Call: Ghostbusters Memories

It's Halloween again, and so this year, I decided what could be more appropriate than looking at one of the most Spooktacular franchises in entertainment history....


Who you gonna call?


So it goes without saying that the Ghostbusters franchise, is one of the most famous and popular in history. My own history with and memories of the Ghostbusters, of course, are a bit different than many people's. Like many things, I never got to watch the entire film as a child, for whatever reason. My grandmother would rent or watch on television, films that were far "scarier", that's for sure. And I really missed out, because it's a great, classic movie.




Terrifying to a kid. Awesome to an adult.




I did, however, get to see snippets of the first film, at a friends' house. The friend was watching it while my grandmother was visiting with her mom, and though I don't remember much of what I saw, what DID stand out to me, was the "Devil Dog" scene with Luis Tully (Rick Moranis' character). Him holding that goofy party for his tax clients, hearing the growl coming from his closet, spouting his classic "Ok who brought the dog?" line, and then BOOM, this gigantic demon thing bursts through the closet door, and starts chasing him though the building, and out into New York City. I clearly remember feeling really scared at that scene, and feeling really bad for Luis when he tried to get the attention of the rich yuppies at that fancy restaurant in Central Park, and they just ignored him, and then *SPOILERS* the demon attacked and possessed him. Now THAT'S the kind of scene that really leaves an impression on you as a child.

I would not actually wind up getting to see Ghostbusters or Ghostbusters II, in full, until a few years later, in my teens, after we had moved towns and my grandmother had passed on. But that isn't to say my experience with the franchise as a child was strictly limited to that one fleeting glimpse of scenes at a friend's house. No indeed, it goes much deeper and stranger than that.



Who are you gonna call.........?



So for a bit of background quasi-history on the franchise itself, it had an unintentional precursor of sorts. There was a short lived (one season) TV show back in 1975 (the same year that Aykroyd debuted on Saturday Night Live, in fact), called Ghost Busters. It was a live action show, and featured a set of goofy as fuck "paranormal investigators", by the names of Kong, Spencer, and Tracy, as pictured above. And no, the gorilla was NOT named Kong, he was named Tracy, and he also drove the group around in their broke down car. It was a purposefully silly comedy show, wherein these bumbling guys and their ape-friend, would go after various ghosts and monsters, using their trademark "ghost distruptor" (as you can see in the picture) to beat them, after inevitably getting chased around like idiots first. Now mind you, I had never seen this show as a kid, they didn't show it reruns or anything. I did not, in fact, even see much of the cartoon series spin-off of it that debuted in the 80s (more on that in a minute), but I DID inexplicably get a T-shirt of that cartoon on one of my birthdays.


Said T-shirt in action.


So, ironically, though it shared a couple of similarities with the 70s show (group of bumbling paranormal investigators, comedy, using weird technology to beat ghosts...and you know, the NAME), the creators Harold Ramis and Dan Aykroyd, claimed to have never heard of the old show when they came up with their ideas for the original 1984 movie. In fact, their original ideas were going to be wildly different, as the movie was going to star them alongside John Belushi, and it was going to feature them engaging in time travel. After Belushi died, they tweaked the concept a lot, and thankfully came up with the concept we all know and love today. That was not, however, the end of the story, nor the connection to the old show. For one thing, when it released, Ghostbusters was a runaway smash success, and it along with it's Ray Parker Jr. theme song, became easily one the single most identifiable "80s" things about the 1980s. It was SUCH a smash success, in fact, that not only did Columbia Pictures and DiC Entertainment set about producing a cartoon tie in, but it also inspired the owners of the original property to cash in the success of the movie, and make their own cartoon as well. AND, as if that weren't enough, they both debuted in early September 1986.....


The Ghost Busters.

And the REAL Ghostbusters.


So yup. There it is, two cartoons, similar concept, same year. Not only that, but the cartoon adaptation of the blockbuster movie had to change it's name to The REAL Ghostbusters specifically because of a lawsuit by Filmation over the rights to the name in the first place. The goofy revival cartoon of the 70s show, created by Filmation (the company responsible for such classic cartoons as He-Man and She-Ra, among others), featured characters who were the sons of the original crew, along with Tracy the gorilla and Ghost Buggy Jr., their talking car. It was in general even goofier than the original show it was based on, and only ran for one 65 episode syndicated season.

The REAL Ghostbusters, on the other hand, was developed by DiC Entertainment, who were responsible for many great classic cartoon series, including Heathcliff, The Littles, Inspector Gadget, and even cartoons that I have written about before, The Super Mario Bros. Super Show, The Adventures of Super Mario Bros. 3, and Captain N: The Game Master. They came up with an odd, blonde design for Egon (Harold Ramis' character), to make him look different I suppose, as all three Caucasian Ghostbusters in the film had brown hair. They also made Janine, the secretary, a redhead, and even early in the show's run, made Slimer a good ghost (not that he was ever BAD to begin with, just gross), and he became the unofficial mascot of the team. And THIS was the cartoon, birthday t-shirt of the other show notwithstanding, that I actually watched, and it was my first real exposure to the franchise.


"Do not open, until DOOMSDAY!"


The first episode of the show I actively remember seeing, and the one that stuck with me the most for many years, was an episode called "Knock, Knock", pictured above. It was about a construction crew who were working on new subway routes, and they accidentally uncover this creepy, ancient spectral door, that loudly proclaims to them "Do not open, until Doomsday!". Of course they go "well fuck you dude" (not literally), in true New Yorker fashion, and keep on working, but in doing so they accidentally cause the door to open, which releases all manner of ghostly entities, that set about possessing many people and inanimate objects, drastically altering New York city itself. The Ghostbusters, of course, have to figure out what the hell is going on, and find a way to save the day.

In general, the show, while based on the movie, and basically intending to be the continuing adventures of the Ghostbusters, often featured a lot of really out there concepts like this, and while it was meant to be a "kids' show", the writers often wrote very serious and dark storylines, sprinkled of course with humor to keep it light. The first season, in fact, was the best, even though the show would last a total of seven, from 1986-1992. It was odd though, because the show had both 13 weekly episodes, as well as 65 syndicated weekday episodes, running concurrently. The original voice cast was fantastic. A young Arsenio Hall actually originally voiced Winston Zeddemore, and veteran voice actor Frank Welker and Maurice LaMarche voiced Ray Stantz and Egon Spengler, respectively. Welker also voiced the ghost Slimer. And last but not least, Lorenzo Music, the famous voice of the old Garfield cartoons, voiced Peter Venkman (Bill Murray's character from the movie). In fact it is rumored that it was Mr. Murray himself, who eventually complained to the studio, that his character "sounded like Garfield", which prompted them to replace Music (who was awesome), with Dave Coulier of Full House fame. And no offense to Mr. Coulier, but he just did not fit. It was a terrible move, and if that rumor is true, along with him dragging his feet for decades so that a "Ghostbusters III" never actually wound up happening, even though I do love Murray as an actor, at the same time fuck 'im.


Stay Puft is not pleased....
.


The firing of Lorenzo Music also accompanied major changes for the cartoon in general, as the studio execs, in their infinite wisdom, decided that the incredible, semi-serious-with-strong-storyelling format of the show, which both kids AND adult fans of the movie adored, and made the show super popular in the first place, needed to go. They felt the show needed to be more "kid friendly", and that since kids loved the Slimer character, he needed to be a bigger part of the show, and that the writers needed to tone down the serious and scary elements in their stories as well. What all this meant, ultimately, was that the show started going way downhill, even though it would last for years.

The hilarious relationship between Music's Peter Venkman and Slimer, which was constant bickering and him getting furious at Slimer eating his food, or sliming him, etc., disappeared without explanation, as Coulier's Peter suddenly was best friends with Slimer. In the meantime, Slimer himself also inexplicably grew a "tail", and even though in the first season he spoke gibberish except for certain random words, he suddenly gained the ability to talk just fine. In season three, Janine's voice actor also left along with Music, and was replaced by someone who magically no longer had her trademark "New Yawk" accent. Arsenio left to do his famous The Arsenio Hall Show, and was replaced, though his replacement wasn't as jarring. And the quality of the show's stories devolved. There were still some good episodes, but it just wasn't the same, and the show eventually even got re-titled "Slimer and the Real Ghostbusters", and Slimer got his own pointless solo episodes.

BUT, thankfully, there were a grand total of 78 season one episodes between weekly and syndication, so there's plenty of good to go around before it started changing. One of the great things about the show, was the often humorous episode titles. Some of the better ones included "The Collect Call of Cthulu", "Ragnarok and Roll", and "Apocalypse - What Now?". The show also had several recurring ghosts or "baddies". One of them as you can see above, was the Stay Puft Marshmallow man, from the movie. On it's face, this is somewhat inexplicable, as that was simply the chosen form of Gozer the Destructor, but in the show they made up that Stay Puft existed as his own ghostly entity, and he even wound up being kind of a nice guy in certain episodes. Other cool recurring villains included Samhain, a powerful ghost who wanted to make it forever Halloween, the Sandman, who put the world to sleep and caused people's dreams to come to life, and the Boogeyman, who of course haunted and terrified children. Here are some glimpses of said characters.



Samhain.

The Sandman.

The Boogeyman.


The show ran long enough, that it actually even eventually incorporated certain elements from the second movie. For one thing, Luis Tully, who had been more of a minor character in the first film, but in the second joined the Ghostbusters' staff as their lawyer and accountant, started making appearances. The show also at one point referenced "Viggo the Carpathian", the villain of the second film, and treated the events of that second film as show canon. It's really a shame that studio folks had to step in and change/ruin the show, because those first nearly 80 episodes were fantastic, and for that early run of it, it is seriously one of the most well done animated series ever made, and certainly in my own Top 5 of all time.

But of course my experiences with Ghostbusters were not JUST about the cartoon, even though that was my major source of exposure. No, interestingly enough, though again I had not fully seen the movies they were based on, because I was frequently able to rent games from our local "All the Best Video", at some point I mysteriously chose to rent not just the game based on the first film, but the second as well. And I actually somehow managed to hit a rare spot in our renting, where I rented them back to back in pretty short order. Unfortunately for yours truly, I was bit not once but twice, as I quickly learned that not all licensed games are created equal.



The first Ghostbusters on NES. Those goddamn stairs....

Ghostbusters II on NES. That whole goddamn game....



So, as it turned out, both games? Pretty fucking bad. In fact two of the worst games I've ever played, and certainly two of the worst I ever rented as a kid. Now mind you, I had a pretty decent amount of luck when it came to renting games back then, because somehow I managed, with "Defenders of Dynatron City" not withstanding, to mostly rent games that WEREN'T total piles of garbage. But as I said before, not so with Ghostbusters. Lighting struck twice that time for me, and it was painful. The first game seems to have the makings of an OKAY game at first, as you travel around a map responding to ghost attacks. You go to little buildings or whatever, and trap ghosts. You also have to drive super annoying street stages though, where you have to, among other things, avoid hitting other cars, and running out of gas. Super fun, right? You eventually have to go to the apartment building from the movie, and climb up ALL THOSE GODDAMN STAIRS, at SUPER DUPER SLOW speed, all while ghosts pretty much non-stop try to kill you. IF you can make it to the top of the building, then you have to fight Gozer in a super hard final boss fight. Basically, the ONLY good thing about that game, is its sweet NES chiptune version of the Ghostbusters theme song.

As for Ghostbusters II? Well after the first was a stinker, I must have seen the back of the second game's box, and I saw what looked like typical NES side-scroller levels, and MUST have figured "Oh, well this one HAS to be better". Except it's actually kind of worse. It is indeed side-scrolling. But even though both games were produced by Activision, a company who back then was known for GOOD games (and not whoring out annual releases of franchises), both games played like complete shit. The second especially, had awful controls. You used a "slime gun" instead of your proton packs, to fight ghosts, and the game featured really shitty street levels where you had to drive Ecto 1 and avoid ghosts and things. In general it was very un-fun, and while I played the first enough to at least GET to the Gozer building, I did not get very far in the second at all, before eventually just giving up.



They're ready to believe you.


So finally moving on to the "main event", if you will, the movies themselves. I finally got to see both films in my teens, and it goes without saying that they immediately became two of my favorites. I have heard various people deride the second film, but I will say that for me, while it certainly was not a NECESSARY sequel, it is a good one, and I'm glad it happened. For me, the second film is more about seeing these guys' continuing adventures, and it tells a good enough story, and doesn't just rely on rehashed gags from the first film, that it's a very nice companion piece, and it's very entertaining in it's own right.



That's one hell of a marshmallow. 

But the Ghostbusters know how to handle their business.



The original film, of course, is an absolute classic, hence the reason it made it into my own personal Top Five favorite movies of all time. The second I would say that I like just about as much, but there's just something about the first one that gives it the edge. For those unaware, the brief rundown is that the Ghostbusters are a bunch of kooky scientist/teachers at Columbia University in New York City. Among other things, they study paranormal phenomenon, which leads them to the discovery that ghosts have a somewhat constant ectoplasmic energy make-up, which they could develop technology to trap and contain. They wind up getting kicked out of the university, but that's just dandy, because they decide to make a stab at the big time by starting up their own "Paranormal Investigations and Eliminations" business, and thus the Ghostbusters are born. They are eventually joined by Winston, a regular Joe off the street who answers their help-wanted add, as they are getting swamped with so many ghost cases. He is the "straight man" to their nerdy scientist characters, and in a way kind of like the analog for the audience, the guy that the audience can relate to, being along for the ride.

They eventually discover that they've been so busy, because tons of ectoplasmic energy is being drawn to the apartment building that Dana Barrett and Luis Tulley (Sigourney Weaver and Rick Moranis) both live in, because it was built by a cult in the early 1900s as a conduit to bring the extra-dimensional Sumerian god of destruction, Gozer the Gozerian, into this world to wipe it clean. All in all, a great plot, and a fun ride throughout, with so many iconic scenes and memorable, highly quotable lines, it's kind of ridiculous. Ghostbusters, at it's heart, IS "The 80s".



Too Hot to Handle, Too Cold to Hold...


So in 1989, five years after the original, even though they had to drag Bill Murray into agreeing to do it, Ghostbusters II was born. And despite the opinions of some, as I said, it's a good sequel and a great movie. At the outset of this film, the Ghostbusters are no more, as at some point after the events of the first film, because of the massive destruction caused by Gozer, even though they literally saved the city and the whole world, people decide to blame, and thus summarily sue the living shit out of the poor guys. They go broke and are legally barred from any more ghostbusting activities, which luckily for New York City, things seem to be pretty quiet five years later. However, shit's starting to go down again, and it turns out to be caused by a flowing river of pink, ectoplasmic "mood slime" that is flowing under the city streets, feeding off of the mass amounts of negative energy that New Yorkers emit. The "Big Bad" this time around, utilizing that slime to build up his power, is an ancient sorcerer named Vigo the Carpathian, whose ghost is haunting a painting of himself, and is trying to find a baby so that he might possess it and thus be "reborn" to reign terror once more.
 


"Man, something sure smells like....sh-!"

He's just suffering from Carpathian Kitten Loss.


Now, lemme tell ya, Vigo is a hell of a guy. For one thing, in his heyday, he was the self-proclaimed Scourge of Carpathia, and the Sorrow of Moldavia. He also claims that "On a mountain of skulls, in the castle of pain, I sat on a throne of blood!" I mean, that's some serious shit. You don't just say those things unless you mean, them, right? And trust me, Vigo meant every word. He's not quite the world-ending deity that Gozer was, but he's still a pretty powerful dude for a dead, disembodied spirit. In fact, I'd love to see the two go at it, though my money might be on Gozer. Thing is, while Gozer is the embodiment of destruction, in his own way, Vigo is the embodiment of evil itself, and I'd wager he's a hell of a lot meaner. Gozer wasn't really cruel, it just wanted to smash stuff.  Either way, if nothing else, Vigo is certainly an entertaining villain, and unlike Gozer, who is mentioned but *SPOILERS* not seen until the very end of the first film, Vigo has a steady presence throughout, as his haunted painting is sitting in the museum where Dana Barrett works, and he possesses her goofy boss Janosz (pronounced "Yanosh", portrayed by the great Peter MacNicol) to try and kidnap her baby.

While the first movie is more iconic and well known, the second features some truly great scenes, such as the entire courthouse scene where the Ghostbusters are being prosecuted for causing the entire city to lose power. Or the subway scene when Ray, Egon and Winston go searching for the river of slime, and run into some ghosts along the way. And especially *SPOILERS* nerdy ass Luis Tully finally having his moment, when he himself suits up as a Ghostbusters to try and go help the guys in their battle against Vigo. It even has a suitably epic (and funny) climax the story. Another thing that needs to be mentioned, for both films, are the soundtracks. Not merely Ray Parker Jr's hit classic. The first film's soundtrack was VERY much "mid-80s", as it heavily featured the kind of pop and new wave sounding stuff of that era. And the second film sounded VERY "late-80s", as rap was beginning to get very popular in the mainstream, and thus the soundtrack heavily featured songs by the likes of Bobby Brown, Doug E. Fresh and Run DMC. Back to the film though, I would say if you've never seen Ghostbusters II (or the first for that matter), you definitely need to.


Still iconic to this day.


All in all, the Ghostbusters franchise is iconic and as famous and successful as it is for a reason. The original films were incredibly well written, with great chemistry between the main characters. Director Ivan Reitman did a truly fantastic job with both, and would go on to other great success. Now there were later developments with the franchise, not all of which I was a huge fan of. Such as the late 90s cartoon entitled The Extreme Ghostbusters (because everything in the 90s had to be EXTREME). It featured Egon leading a new generation of young Ghostbusters, and all in all, at least to me, it just wasn't all that good. They did however, make a video game in 2009 that somewhat acted as a "third story", picking up a few years after the events of the second movie. They even got the original cast back, or at least the four Ghostbusters themselves. That was kinda neat, and it was a fairly fun game, but I would have rather Bill Murray had actually agreed to do a third movie instead of that game. But I digress.

And of course, speaking of movies, they are now coming out with a new "reboot" film, just entitled Ghostbusters again, and starring an all-female cast, for no other reason than the fact that the producer and director thought that would be a "cool idea". The group is even going to have a male secretary (get it?). I personally have no interest in it, because for one, I'm progressively more and more tired of this unending cavalcade of Hollywood remakes, reboots and sequels that don't ever need to happen. But for another thing, I also just don't like the fact that they are making a new film of ANY sort, now that co-creator Harold Ramis passed away. It irks me that Bill Murray single-handedly kept a third film from ever happening while Ramis was alive, but as soon as Ramis dies, he suddenly is all for the idea of a new film, and is even going to have a cameo in it. I think that's rather quaint, and also very disrespectful. I don't think they should ever do another movie now that Ramis is dead, and Rick Moranis apparently agrees with me, as he refuses to have anything to do with this new movie.

But anyway, no sense ending a celebration of such a great franchise, not to mention a celebration of Halloween itself, on a downer note like that. I would highly HIGHLY recommend watching the original two movies, and the animated REAL Ghostbusters series, if you can. It's all great stuff, and well worth experiencing. This is a franchise that is beloved and celebrated year after year by millions of fans all over the world, and that's pretty awesome.

So to all of you out there, Happy Halloween. And if something strange starts happening in YOUR neighborhood....well.....you know who to call.










Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Unnecessary Sequels: Halloween

Back again for another Halloween edition of this series, and this time, I attack the big fish......


Last year, I decided to do a Halloween entry into this "Unnecessary Sequels" series, because there certainly are a ton of horror/scary type movies that have gotten far too many shit-tacular sequels. But last time, I tackled something a bit more obscure, in the form of 80s cult hit Fright Night. This year, however, I thought I'd go for the jugular, and set myself up for some potential controversy, by attacking one of the biggest horror franchises in movie history, and one appropriately named to this time of year: Halloween. But what's that? How could I possibly say that the Halloween series is made up of a bunch of absolutely unnecessary sequels? Well....just wait and find out.


Still an iconic poster.

Film: Halloween
Year: 1978
Director: John Carpenter
Unnecessary Sequels: Halloween II (1981), Halloween 4 (1988), Halloween 5 (1989), Halloween 6 (1995), Halloween H20 (1998), Halloween: Resurrection (2002)


So I should start off by stating that I am not, as I may have mentioned in the past, a big fan of so-called "slasher" films. I like some modern horror, even (depending on the context) gorier films. A perfect example, is another film from this same director that I'll get around to talking about one day, in 1982's The Thing, which especially for it's time was super gory. However, the gore wasn't really the selling point of the film, and it was within a context that the monster of the movie was a gross, shape-shifting alien, so even though it easily could have been distracting and unnecessary, it fit the context of the story the movie was trying to tell, and the movie itself, was otherwise excellent, with an incredibly tangible sense of dread and tension that builds throughout the film. In point of fact, I would call John Carpenter's The Thing my favorite modern horror film (meaning not classic, circa 20s-60s era).

It also just so happens that John Carpenter himself is one of my top favorite directors of all time, as I like not ALL, but most of his films. A couple of his movies, such as Escape From New York, The Thing, and most especially Big Trouble in Little China, are some of my favorites, easily being in the Top 50 (Big Trouble itself making into my personal Top 5). But while I do not love "slasher" films, and it's most certainly not one of my favorite Carpenter works, his 1978 classic Halloween is a movie that I own, and appreciate. In fact, while there were many "killer on the loose with a knife" style films dating back decades in Hollywood, the argument can absolutely be made that Halloween was the movie that really kicked off (for better or for worse) the modern "slasher" genre, as almost all such films that followed it emulated it heavily.



An actress that Carpenter helped make a star, Jamie Lee Curtis.


Before his 1978 breakthrough, John Carpenter had only modest success with his first couple of films, still basically struggling and trying to make it in Hollywood. But with Halloween, which was independently produced on the paltry budget of around $300,000, not only did he accidentally help innovate an entire sub-genre of movies, but he also made both his own career, and the careers of several of the people involved in the movie, such as actress Jamie Lee Curtis, co-writer and producer Debra Hill, and the original man behind the mask, Nick Castle, who himself went on to have a successful career as a screenwriter and director. What Halloween accomplished, was managing to take that paltry budget, and limited promotion (though they did try to sell the fact that Jamie Lee Curtis was the daughter of Janet Leigh, who herself starred in Alfred Hitchcock's famous thriller Psycho), was nothing short of going on to be recognized for decades to come as the most financially successful independent film ever made.

How it accomplished such a feat, in part, is what also sets it apart from other "slasher" films that would follow in it's footsteps. That being, it was very minimalist, and light on gore. Granted, that certainly had at least something to do with the very limited budget of the film. But it was also a stylistic choice by Carpenter that he employed on most of his early films (until The Thing, in fact), where "less was more" and he typically pushed concepts and building tension over "showing too much". With Halloween, the antagonist, the deranged killer Michael Myers, who was originally only credited as "The Shape", is barely seen, and there are many POV (Point of View) shots that show the audience nothing more than the limited view from inside Michael's own creepy mask-holes. The film is built on a similar foundation to The Thing, in that the entire film succeeds in building this ever-mounting sense of dread and tension. Because you see the "monster" of the film only sparingly until the end, it adds to and enhances both the sense of terror, but also of mystery. In the original film, you not only see very little of Myers, but you also learn very little of him, giving him an incredible mystique.


The iconic visage.


The original film's ending is one of the most memorable and creepy in horror film history, as Dr. Loomis (portrayed by veteran actor Donald Pleasance), Michael's psychiatrist from the asylum, shows up in the nick of time to stop him. He shoots him six times, and Michael falls out of the second story balcony, presumably to his death. But when the audience gets to see over the balcony to the street below, there is no sign of Michael anywhere, he's just gone. And that is how the movie ends. If you ask me, it was one of the single most chilling and effective horror endings of all time, BECAUSE of how mysterious and open-ended it was. And if you ask me, it should have remained that way...



Far less cool looking.


So, I'm going to go in a slightly different direction with this than I do in all of my other "Unnecessary Sequel" entries. The main concept of this series has always been movies that were great stand-alone films, that got sequels that were unneeded and unwarranted, only done as Hollywood cash-ins, and are generally terrible and would have been better off never having happened. In some cases the needless sequels are so bad that they actually manage to somewhat tarnish or taint the original films. With Halloween, on the other hand, while the argument can totally be made that the original film was effective as it was, and shouldn't have had any sequels at all, I'm here this time to make a different argument.

When the first film was a run-away smash hit, Hollywood does what it often does in such cases. They like money, they see something that made a lot of money, and they want more of that to happen, because they want more money. So Hollywood pushed for there to be a sequel to Halloween, and though John Carpenter refused to direct it himself, because he didn't want to do the same thing over again, he did unfortunately agree to co-write and produce it once again with Debra Hill. I say unfortunately, because they made what I consider to be the key mistake of deciding to continue the same story of the first film.



Donald Pleasance was a badass as Dr. Loomis.


Not wanting to direct, Carpenter picked Rick Rosenthal to take the reigns, and he ambitiously set about to try and set the film as taking place in the very same night, directly after the events of the first movie. While a novel and ambitious concept, one that they pulled off decently well from a filmmaking standpoint, especially when you stop to consider that the sequel was made three years after the original, I still think that it was a mistake to make a second film focusing on Michael Myers, for multiple reasons.

For one thing, it somewhat helps destroy the mystique of the first film and it's ending. In Halloween II, you literally see the events that directly follow that vague and creepy ending, instead of leaving it entirely up to the viewer's imagination, effectively robbing that ending, in some respects, of it's power. On the one hand, we get to see more of Donald's Pleasance in his awesome performance as Dr. Loomis, a role in which he shined (you can honestly argue that he stole the show in every one of these movies that he was in). You also get the big reveal that Laurie Strode (Curtis) is actually Michael Myers' younger sister (him having been said to murder his older sister as a child in the first film). The thing is, while it does help make a bit more sense as to why he would come back to his hometown after escaping the asylum in the first movie, and why he would specifically be stalking and eventually trying to kill Laurie, it also caused them to have to ret-con a bit from the first movie. And ultimately, while it's a "neat" reveal, it also didn't really enhance or add that much to the original, as again, part of that film's power, IS it's vagueness and mystery. This sequel helps de-mystify a lot of that.



The bastard child of the series...


The other reason that making the first sequel about Michael Myers again was a mistake, is because it caused fans to come to expect Myers to be the villain again and again in any future installments, just the same as other similar 80s "slasher" series such as A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. The fact is, when Carpenter and Hill agreed to do a sequel in the first place, their original concept for it going forward, was that it should be an anthology series, akin to television shows like The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery. The only tying factor to the series, would be that while each movie would have a totally different setting, cast of characters and story to tell, they would always occur on Halloween, hence the series title. Not only would that have made more sense, but it would have, at least in my opinion, made the series far more interesting, and given it far more potential longevity.



HEY! That's not Michael Myers!!



This problem proved itself true when it surfaced with the third film. In 1982, Carpenter and Hill produced a third sequel, subtitled "Season of the Witch", and it wound up being a very very different film. It was, as they had originally envisioned, a completely different story, in a completely different setting, with the only tying theme being that the events occurred on Halloween night. This film instead, focused on a very esoteric plot having to do with corporate corruption and science fiction and Celtic mythology elements. It all centers around these creepy novelty Halloween costume masks, typically worn by children, and an evil corporation that makes them.

The plot itself is somewhat silly, but that's beyond the point. It's different, it's fairly interesting, and it's not just Mike running around stabbing people again. The problem they encountered, is that while it certainly wasn't a bad film, it bombed in theaters specifically because fans had come to expect Myers to be in the film, and when he wasn't anywhere to be found, many were disappointed or even angered. And as I said before, the filmmakers set themselves up for this failure when they made the second film about Myers in the first place. If they had gone with the "Season of the Witch" plot for the second film, and perhaps made a point to have a big media campaign that EXPLAINED that what they were going for with this series, was to establish a Twilight Zone type of anthology series in movie form, I'm willing to bet that may well have done a lot better, and been better received by audiences. And who knows, perhaps with success they could have come up with better and more interesting stories for future films.



Those goddamn masks.


Now Halloween III: Season of the Witch was not a great movie by any means, but it was unique, and at the very least interesting. Plus it starred Tom Adkins (who also starred in Fred Dekker's Night of the Creeps) in a solid role as Dr. Challis. It's biggest problem, I truly believe, is not that it was a bad movie, because it isn't. But that it lacked Michael Myers, and that's what fans had come to expect and want out of the series. If Carpenter and Co. had pushed for the anthology format immediately with Halloween II, I think it could have accomplished two positives. For one, it would have left the first film, and the story of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode, as a much more mysterious and powerfully chilling tale. And of course secondly, if the second film had featured a new "monster" and a whole new story, it would have established the series right off the bat as being an anthology, and fans would have expected each new film to tell a totally different story. Thus, it could have potentially been the catalyst for what may well have been a long running and really cool horror movie series, that actually had a lot more value and substance, placing it above and beyond the other "same old shit every film" horror series that spawned from it.

As it is, Halloween III sadly bombed, and the series was dropped as Carpenter and Hill were busy with other projects. The franchise would be resurrected (literally) in 1988, without John Carpenter's involvement at all, and of course they brought back Myers in multiple sequels, that did financially well and fans ate up, because that is what they had been trained to want by then: "the same old shit, in every single film". These sequels had such sterling titles as "The Return of Michael Myers", "The Revenge of Michael Myers", "The Curse of Michael Myers", "The Dance Recital of Michael Myers", and of course everyone's favorite "Michael Myers Stops by Subway to Grab a Footlong". Those last couple of titles were jokes, of course...but they might as well have literally been movies that had gotten made.



Great actors, but also status quo.


The only positive thing about any of these sequels, is that Donald Pleasance got to reprise his role as Dr. Samuel Loomis. In fact Halloween VI was his last major film role, as he died months before its release in 1995. Everything else just kind of goes the same way all of these over-long horror series go: increasingly ridiculous and crappy plots, acting, etc. They even make up that Laurie Strode had a daughter, but then dies in a car crash, so when Mike inevitably comes back from the dead again, he goes after a little kid. Yup. Later still, in 1998 they made the amazing Halloween H20, and later a 2002 sequel Halloween: Resurrection, in which they completely ret-con (retroactive continuity) those previous three films, and make it so that Laurie was in fact alive, and instead has a son. And just like most of those drawn out franchises, it just got dumber and more pointless.

Now I am well aware that there happen to be some folks out there who are huge fans of the Halloween series as a whole, and even like those later films (or at least some of them). Hence my stating that I was courting "controversy" with this article. But just the same, I will stick to my guns in my claim that this series would have been far better, and far better off, if it had been an anthology. If the first film had been the only one to feature Michael Myers, the series could have had a decent run as a theatrical take on that Twilight Zone type of concept. It wouldn't have lasted forever, nor should it have. But at the least, they would have had the potential to never really run out of story ideas, and NOT just feature the "same old shit every single film".

As my final comment, I suppose I would say that any fan of horror should, of course, see the original Carpenter-directed classic, if they haven't already, as it is very well done for it's time and budget, and it's influence on the genre is undeniable. I would also say to check out Halloween III, because if nothing else it is a very odd and unique curiosity, and also a glimpse at what possibly could have been.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Childhood Memories: Are You Afraid of the Dark?

Fitting the theme of the Halloween season, it's finally time to get around to talking about one of the coolest shows from my childhood...



Are you....?


So when I was a kid growing up in the 80s and early 90s (IE before I hit my teens), channels like Nickelodeon and Disney actually had a lot of pretty high quality programming on. Both of them, in fact, featured a lot of shows very early on, from other countries, such as You Can't Do That On Television, David the Gnome, The Raccoons, etc. In fact I'll more than likely cover more of that at a later date, as many of them really were excellent. But being the big fan of dinosaurs and monsters and the supernatural growing up, one show that became one of my absolute favorites of it's era, and that I always looked forward to every Saturday night, was the show Are You Afraid of the Dark?

A Canadian produced show, which debuted on Nick as part of their new "SNICK: Saturday Night Nick" lineup in 1992, Are You Afraid of the Dark was an instant hit. I would eagerly await every Saturday night in those early 90s years, looking forward to the next episode, and as soon as those eerie intro came on, with the spooky music, and the dark visuals showing haunted attics, creepy clown dolls, abandoned playgrounds at night, and more, always, always managed to set the mood.

It was an anthology format show, meaning that it wasn't episodic in nature, not telling a continuing story from episode to episode. In that way it was in a similar vein (and largely inspired by) such shows as Rod Serling's The Twilight Zone and Night Gallery, as well as others such as The Other Limits. In the case of Are You Afraid of the Dark?, it had a slant more towards the supernatural: stories often featured things like ghosts, cursed or enchanted objects, magic, demonic forces, monsters, other dimensions, etc.



The original "Midnight Society" lineup, along with series creator D.J. MacHale.


One way in which the show differed from other similar anthology shows of it's kind, aside from obviously targeting a younger audience, is the fact that it did not have one host, but several. The show was technically "hosted" by a group of teenagers, who called themselves "The Midnight Society", who would meet up at some unnamed spot in the woods, to light up a campfire and tell each other scary stories. The leader and founder of the group was Gary (in the glasses to the left in the picture above), but each week a different kid would sit on the stone "chair" they had set up, being the official "storyteller" for that night. And what's more, the show even set it up where each different kid had their own unique bent as to what kinds of stories they would usually tell, which fit the character's personality and interests. There actually was a bit of continuity in these "host segments" showing the kids in the woods telling stories, but the real meat of the show, was of course when the given storyteller for that night would start spinning their yarn. The show would then phase into showing the viewer the story being told, playing out like a regular tv show. The group had a bit of an established setup, wherein they would always start, after introducing the concept of their story, by saying "Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story 'The Tale of ____". And all of the episodes/stories are thus entitled "The Tale of" whatever, like for instance "The Tale of the Lonely Ghost" or "The Tale of the Dangerous Soup" or "The Tale of Watcher's Woods".



"It's VINK, with a Vuh Vuh Vuh!!"

"That's Sardo! Drop the 'Mr.', accent on the 'Doh'!"


Along with the different members of the Midnight Society trending towards certain kinds of tales, a couple of them also had recurring characters that would pop up in different stories they'd tell. Gary, the leader, has a fondness for magic, and it is often featured in his stories. As such, a recurring character in his stories, is the eccentric (and somewhat doltish) Magic Shop owner named Sardo. Not a villain, or even really a bad guy at all, he's just more interested in money than integrity most of the time, and he just wants to sell people crap from his shop, not often fully understanding what the items he sells really are or do (even though he purports to be a great magician himself). So almost without fail, the stories he features in usually see him talking some poor sap (the main character of the given story) into buying some cursed or enchanted object (or in one case a potion) from his shop, and that object inevitably always has unforeseen results or consequences for the buyer. They always wind up coming back to his shop to try and return said item, or get advice, and to his credit he does always try to help them (in his own bumbling way), though he insists "no refunds, all sales are final". The other popular recurring character, featured in the member Frank's stories, that being the enigmatic and usually sinister "Dr. Vink". In Vink's case, he is portrayed as a mysterious renaissance man of sorts, as he is many things in different stories, from a mad scientist, to a cook and restaurant owner, to a former filmmaker, etc. Unlike Sardo, who is just greedy and vain, Vink is always implicitly insane and always in the midst of some villainous type of activity (kind of). A running gag with his character, besides people always mispronouncing his name "Dr. Fink", to which he always emphatically corrects them, is that characters in the stories always at some point call him a nut-bag behind his back, but he always hears them and later corrects them by saying "...and I am NOT, a nut-bag!"

In the show's first two seasons, the Midnight Society cast consists of the kids seen in the picture earlier in the article: Gary, Kiki, Frank, David, Betty Ann, and Kristen. The lineup at first also included a somewhat prankster-ish blonde boy named Eric, who is only featured in Season 1, leaving without explanation in Season 2. The lineup would change a bit in Season 3, as David and Kristen both left, being replaced by Betty Ann's friend Sam (Samantha), and Gary's somewhat annoying little brother Tucker. Later still, in Season 5 (the final original season), Frank also leaves, being replaced by Tucker's friend "Stig". The show ended in 1996, though it was later revived in 1999, with an entirely new cast except for Tucker, who took over his brother's role as leader of the group, and this "revival" lasted two seasons of it's own, ending for good in June 2000. The show also saw it's share of notable guest stars, such as Gilbert Godfried, Will Friedle, Melissa Joan Hart, Charles S. Dutton and Bobcat Goldthwait. It also featured early career appearances by many young Canadian actors who would go on to success, such as Ryan Gosling, Neve Campbell, Hayden Christensen, Jewel Staite, Jay Baruchel, and Emily VanCamp.



One of the best stories of the bunch.
 

There are many great stories and episodes that I could talk about, but that would take forever. So instead, I'll wrap this article up by talking about both one of my favorite stories from the show, as well as the first one I remember seeing. The episode "The Tale of the Twisted Claw" was originally the test pilot episode for the show, debuting as a Halloween special in October 1990. Though the internet tells me that it only showed in Canada at that point, I clearly remember seeing this episode quite a bit earlier than the actual show, which debuted in August 1992. It was re-shown as Episode 4 of Season 1 then, but as I said, I very vividly remember seeing it beforehand, so I think it likely was shown as a Halloween special in the US as well.

The episode is heavily inspired by the classic W.W. Jacobs short story The Monkey's Paw. In it, best friends Dougie and Kevin pull a prank on the old woman who is rumored to be a witch, Miss Clove, by knocking on her door, and then spraying her in the face with shaving cream as soon as she answers. She reels backward, accidentally breaking her expensive vase. The boys run off, and she looks furious for a moment, but then starts laughing. The story then cuts to the boys on Halloween night, heading out to go Trick-or-Treating. After getting plenty of candy, they wander by Miss Clove's house again, and Kevin, trying to prove how brave he is, suggests they Trick-or-Treat her, as she won't know who they are. She greets them at the door very friendly-like, and though Dougie wants to get out of there, she insists that because they are the only kids to  Trick-or-Treat at her house that night, that she has a special gift for them. She presents them with what she called a "vulture's claw", though she assures them that it is carved out of wood, and enchanted. She claims it will give them each three wishes, and insists that they take it. But before they leave, she gives them the sinister warning "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it!"



The titular Claw.

On their way home, Dougie, holding the claw, says he's tired of Trick-or-Treating and wishes they could just go home. And right then, a gang of masked teenagers pop up and threaten them for their candy, sending them running for their lives. They get away and hide, and Kevin realizes that the Claw works, because they got what Dougie wished for. Later on at school, Kevin decides that he wants to use his first wish, to wish to win the 600 yard race during field day, which bully and jock Bostick apparently always wins. Against Dougie's warning, Kevin makes the wish, and the Claw again surges with power and shakes. Kevin takes part in the race, and as it is unfolding, a mysterious, sinister black dog suddenly appears out of nowhere, causing Bostick to fall and hurt his leg, allowing Kevin to get his wish and win the race. Dougie however, saw the dog appear, and though Kevin believes it is coincidence, Dougie is convinced that the wishes are bad, suggesting they just return it to Miss Clove and tell his parents what happened.



Fuckin' Kevin....ya just can't trust people named Kevin.


 Kevin, angry and acting stupid, grabs the Claw and ignorantly wishes (though he obviously didn't mean it), that Dougie would lose his folks (who were out of town for the evening). Dougie freaks out, understandably, and then they receive a phone call informing them that  Dougie's parents have been in a car accident. At this point Dougie is in shock, and holding the claw, wishes his dead grandfather were still alive, because he always knew what to do. Naturally, the Claw glows again, and they are now faced with the prospect of zombie-gramps actually showing up. And sure enough, they look outside, and a creepy old car is slowly driving up to the house, accompanied by mysterious fog. Dougie says that's his grandpa's car, and so of course both boys are petrified and shit is seriously about to hit the fan. Kevin is going to make another wish, but Dougie says they all just turn out bad, so Kevin hands it to him and tells him to make it go away. Dougie does the right thing finally, wishing that they'd never pulled that prank and caused Miss Clove to break her vase, and they're sorry. The claw suddenly disappears, but there is a knocking at the door. Still scared shitless, they open it, only to find Dougie's parents, who forgot the house key. They are alive and safe, and everything seems to be okay, even though Kevin's medal that he won from the race is now missing, because he never won the race. To end the night, the doorbell rings, and when they open the door, Miss Clove's vase is sitting on Dougie's porch, as a gift, with a note that reads "Trick or Treat".

Ultimately, a good story, though kind of "tame" by modern standards. However, when I saw this in it's original airing, or even the re-shown airing during the official Nick Season 1, it was pretty damn creepy. Most of the Are You Afraid of the Dark? stories would end with some kind of resolution and more or less happy ending, though there were also some that ending ambiguously, with a hint of still-present danger, or a limited few with an outright bad ending even. One thing to note, is that while it was a "kids show", aimed at a younger audience, the stories are still mostly really good, and it has many dark moments and deals with some often rather dark themes.



You don't really see kids' shows like this anymore.



All in all, Are You Afraid of the Dark? is a classic show, and while not AS great as, say, classic Twilight Zone or Outer Limits, the storytelling is very strong, and I think even given it's "kids's show" status, it deserves honorable mention up there with anthology shows like that. If you've never seen it, it's certainly worth a look, most especially this time of year. They have all the seasons (that I'm aware of) on DVD, as well as on iTunes and Amazon Prime, etc. There also happen to be some episodes available on Youtube.....but shhh, don't tell anyone. I'll end this article the same way they ended the episode, in the spirit of Halloween and all.

"I officially declare this meeting of the Midnight Society closed. Until next time, pleasant dreams everyone."

Monday, October 5, 2015

Forgotten Gems: Darkstalkers

The Halloween season is in full effect, and what better time for an injection of monsters....





Last year, I talked about the Ghosts n Goblins video game spin-off series, Gargoyle's Quest, and more specifically, the third game in that series, Demon's Crest. Well, talking about a game series full of ghouls and ghosts and demons is certainly fitting of the Halloween theme. But what could be even more fitting, would be a game that actually featured incarnations of the classic monster archetypes. And that game series, also made by Capcom, was called Darkstalkers. Capcom as a company became well known in the 90s for fighting games, most especially the one that is still to this day their most famous, Street Fighter II. Now Street Fighter was and is probably my favorite fighting game of all time, but when I first saw Darkstalkers in the arcade, it was amazing to me, because it was the same basic brand of awesome gameplay, but with MONSTERS in it! That meant, of course, that it instantly won me over.




Colorful cast of monster characters? Check.




So about the monsters, the cast of characters in the game is truly unique, at least among fighting games, and it happens to cover a lot of those monster archetypes I mentioned as well. You have parallels to the four major classic Universal Studios monsters, in the form of Dimitri Maximoff the vampire, Victor von Gerdenheim the Frankenstein's monster type creation, Anakaris the undead mummy, and Jon Talbain the werewolf. Hell, the name Jon Talbain is even a direct homage to the original 1940s classic The Wolf Man, whose main character (played by Lon Chaney Jr.) was Larry Talbot, son of Sir John Talbot. Other characters include the zombie punk rocker Lord Raptor, the gillman Rikuo, the ghost samurai Bishimon, the succubus Morrigan Aensland, a magical cat who can turn into a human-ish woman Felicia, and a sasquatch appropriately named....Sasquatch.



Tell me that doesn't look bad ass.


While I like most of the original cast of the first game, my favorite character by far, is the "wolf man", British werewolf character Jon Talbain. Not only do I like the concept of werewolves in general, but as you can see above, I've always personally really liked his specific werewolf design. I think it's arguably the best and coolest looking that I've ever seen. But the thing is, Talbain isn't JUST a werewolf, even though that would be enough. No, he's a werewolf, who also happens to be a good guy, and a bad ass martial artist who uses nunchaku, or "nunchucks" as a weapon.  Oh, and he also happens to have one of the coolest moves in fighting game history, on TOP of the nunchaku flurry attack he uses, appropriately called the "Beast Cannon", wherein he hurls himself like a flaming comet at his opponent, and this can be done both horizontally, as well as diagonally, even crashing down from above.


"Beast Cannon" in action.


I also happened to really like Rikuo the merman, and Felicia the cat-woman, early on as a young teen. AS a young teen boy, I suppose part of Felicia's appeal would be obvious: that being the fact that she pretty much goes down in history as THE single most "scantily clad" female character in gaming history (just about anyway). In all fairness, while she IS very scantily clad, she's also a cat....who has no use for clothes, who can turn into a girl.....and has strips of fur that conveniently cover up all of her "sensitive spots". Ok so I thought she was hot...who can blame me? But she also happens to be an awesome character just the same, and in a game full of several aggressive or even outright evil monsters, she happens to be the genuinely nicest of the bunch. Plus one of her moves is literally kicking up dirt/kitty litter at people, and she chases balls of yarn. I mean c'mon. Her character is cool as a hot chick, granted, but in all honesty she would have been even more awesome/hilarious if they had just left her as a cat. A playable cat in a fighting game, would have been classic. But I digress.


Pretty much my two fav. characters in the series.


The two "main characters" of the game are actually, more or less, supposed to be Demitri and Morrigan, as they are the two leading members of noble families of an alternate monster realm, who are basically in it fighting for control of said realm. The basic plot of the series in general, deals with that realm, called "Makai", which basically just means "Demon World". Though (presumably) unrelated, this also carries over to the original Japanese name for Capcom's own Ghosts n Goblins series, which is "Makaimaru", which apparently roughly means "Demon World Village". Yeah....Ghosts n Goblins does have a nicer ring to it. But regardless, this demon world exists parallel to our own, and certain characters, such as Demitri for example, live instead in our world, Earth. Though in Demitri's case, he was apparently banished, and so instead lives as basically a Count Dracula type of figure on Earth. In the events of Darkstalkers, he has his chance to not only return to his homeworld, but to rule it if he wins the tournament. Meanwhile Morrigan, as the adopted daughter of the deceased demon lord Belial, is fighting to retain her father's former throne.

The main boss of the first two games, is a giant fire demon named Pyron, who just so happens to return to earth after eons of absence right at the time of the tournament, and himself wishes to control the Darkstalkers as well as finish what he apparently started thousands of years ago, which was to destroy the human world. In general, the plot isn't super great, certainly not as interesting (at least in my opinion), as the original Mortal Kombat games. But it still suffices, and is certainly more creative than the generic "lets fight to see who's the best" fighting game plot-line (even though, admittedly, that's kind of still what they're doing).



Sasquatch is also a pretty cool character..... Get it?


So the original game, Darkstalkers: The Night Warriors, released in 1994. It would go on to have two sequels, completing a kind of "trilogy" I suppose, in 1995's Night Warriors: Darkstalkers Revenge (known in Japan as Vampire Hunter) and 1997's Darkstalkers 3 (known in Japan as Vampire Savior). The sequels are good games, and add little wrinkles to the gameplay itself, though much like Street Fighter II, the additions to the roster never quite match up to the original game's cast. In Night Warriors, pretty much the entire cast from the first game returns, along with two newcomers: a Chinese undead demon hunter named Hsien-Ko, who hops around like old-school Asian style vampires/zombies, and Donovan Baine, a long-haired fighting Buddhist monk, who also happens to be a "dhampir" (a half-vampire). He also happens to wield a giant possessed blade that he uses to destroy monsters, and he is the guardian of a young psychic girl named Anita, who assists him in his quest. The third game also introduced four more new characters, while omitting poor Donovan: a weird hybrid bee-woman named Q-Bee, the clone/twin/whatever of Morrigan named Lilith, a little girl who fights monsters and sports an machine gun named B. B. Hood, and a resurrected evil demon/vampire lord named Jedah. In all honesty, Donovan is the best and only truly interesting character, at least in my opinion, out of all those new additions.

From a gameplay standpoint, Darkstalkers is nothing truly unique or special, though it does provide a step in the evolution of old school Capcom fighting games. It was preceded by 1993's Super Street Fighter II, and in early 1994 the "Turbo" edition of that game also came before it. Where those games introduced nuances like the existence of "super moves", moves that you can only perform once a special bar is full, Darkstalkers certainly refined that, and also added a somewhat more intricate combo move system and more sophisticated graphics, elements which in turn were carried on into other 1994/1995 Capcom games such as Street Fighter Alpha and X-Men: Children of the Atom. While a minor quibble, I would have to say that I think Capcom really missed out on an opportunity with the series, however. That being the aforementioned very loose connection to their Ghosts n Goblins series of games. Both games share the "Makai" Demon World, and it would have been great for them to just go ahead and make the connection explicit, and even including the characters of the knight Arthur and the demon Firebrand (or if you prefer, "Red Arrimer") in the games as playable characters. Not only would that have been a perfect fit, but it also would have been an awesome thing for the fans. But, even though that is an opportunity I really feel Capcom should have thought of, the series still stands on it's own, especially the original game.


Donovan seriously deserves his own action game. Then again....so does Jon Talbain.


I clearly remember walking into what I'm pretty sure was a Roundtable Pizza when I was about 12 or 13 years old, and first seeing the original game, thinking to myself "holy shit, this actually exists!" Already being a fighting game nut (even though I rarely got to play them at that point...you know...quarters), I was instantly smitten. I couldn't believe a game looked that good, or could have such an awesome cast of monsters. They are interesting and unique, and I feel like they've kind of fallen by the wayside, while other creations Capcom has made get overexposed. Along with the awesome GnG crossover idea, I also think that Capcom really should have made a 2D beat 'em up starring some of the characters and set in that world, in the style of older games like Final Fight or Knights of the Round. It also wouldn't kill them, even though Capcom really kind of sucks nowadays, to make some sort of 3D action game starring a few of the characters. It would be cool anyway, that is so long as they didn't find a way to mess it up.

 If you've never played these games, you can probably find the first and third entries on Playstation 1 for cheap (and can download Darkstalkers 3 on PSN). For some reason the second game was only ever ported to the Sega Saturn. However, you can also download Darkstalkers Resurrection on both Xbox 360 and Playstation 3, which is a compilation that includes the original arcade editions of both the second and third games (though oddly not the original, which would have made the package complete). Either way, it's the perfect type of game to play during this time of year.