Jamie Lee Curtis and David Gordon Green breathe new life in the boogeyman with the best Halloween sequel ever made.
The mission statement of David Gordon Green’s Halloween is plainly visible in the opening credits. Following a perverse cold open, in which mere mortals attempt to commune with the living manifestation of evil—our dear Michael Myers—John Carpenter’s sinister score begins. As with so many other Halloween films, including Carpenter’s 1978 masterpiece, the relentless menace of familiar synthesizers are accompanied by the image of a Jack-o-lantern, except this time it’s been smashed. After so many long All Hallows’ Eves of misuse, and after so many sequels, remakes, and retcons, there doesn’t seem to be much life left in the old pumpkin. Yet as Carpenter’s musical enmity grows, so too does the pumpkin’s face, inflating like a candlelit beach ball. By the end of the retro title cards, the smiling Jack is back. Halloween has returned to its former glory.
Hand-in-hand, this promises the two defining elements of the 2018 revival film, which 40 years later seeks to accomplish what so many other Halloween sequels have failed to do: make a proper continuation (and maybe conclusion) to the original. Like previous Halloween follow-ups, Green’s movie is filled with a nostalgia for the original slasher and only the original, but unlike previous successors, it is presented with a playful creative exuberance, which runs throughout the picture from Green’s better scare setups to his and McBride’s surprisingly amusing screenplay. It is that latter touch that allows the 2018 retelling of a 40-year-old myth about a girl being chased by a man with a knife to feel fresh, but it is the fealty to that initial terror which makes 2018’s Halloween the best take on what a “Halloween II” should be.
Indeed, this movie wipes away all previous entries, including the first Halloween II, the death of Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode in the forgotten Halloween: Resurrection, and those gruesome Rob Zombie remakes. As with 1998’s previous commemorative Michael Myers reunion, Halloween: H20, Green’s 40th anniversary film seeks to return to the source. But unlike that ‘90s relic, Green also attempts to channel so much of what made Carpenter’s original vision unnerving. Curtis is of course back as Laurie Strode, and has never looked more satisfied with playing her onscreen alter-ego than in this survivalist reinterpretation. However, Carpenter has also returned in the role of producer and composer, and even Nick Castle, the original actor who embodied “the Shape” of Michael Myers, is behind the mask once more.
In its best moments, the results are a satisfying sugar rush of slasher mayhem. Other than Zombie, Green is the only director to take Carpenter’s reins and be dubbed with the lofty title of “auteur.” While an eclectic filmmaker in sensibility, Green’s filmmaking is always sensible. The way in which he can set the mood of a prison bus lying abandoned in the full moonlight while inmates drift into shadows, or the moment in which his camera will follow Michael Myers on his gnarly killing spree, is the difference between slasher workmanship and artful craft. His set-pieces are intentionally less disturbing than the cruelty Zombie reveled in during the last two times we’ve seen Michael Myers, but that’s because Green’s movie acts as something of a rebuke to those remakes. This is not a film about trying to understand Michael Myers, the mentally ill serial killer chasing his sister; this is an alluring fable about a primal monster of myth. And, at its best moments, it’s also the fable of an equally mythologized heroine destined to slay the beast.
Set 40 years after the original, Michael Myers has remained in a state of nigh catatonic silence in the Haddonfield mental institution. For vague and inconsequential reasons, he is being moved this October to a state penitentiary, and the only people who seem to care are his psychiatrist Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), a disciple of the late great Dr. Loomis from the original movie, and a couple of podcasters (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) clearly standing in for Serial. It is this duo’s series about serial killers that lead them to poke the mass murdering bear by bringing Michael his mask from 1978. They also seek his only surviving victim, Laurie Strode.
Curtis’ Laurie has suffered grievously in the four decades since she escaped Michael Myers’ knife. Never knowing why he attacked her, for there was no motive in the original movie, she’s spent a lifetime preparing for his escape, living out in the wilderness in a fortified cabin. This has scared away her family, including adult daughter Karen (Judy Greer), who has a teenage girl of her own now named Allyson (Andi Matichak). These three generations of Strode women have all reacted very differently to the legacy of that fateful Halloween night. For Laurie, it became her purpose, for her daughter, it’s the ghost of a childhood she’d rather like to forget, and for the most well-adjusted granddaughter, it is but a legend that never seemed real. Unfortunately, after that bus crashes, it becomes very real for all three women.
There are essentially several complementary elements to Halloween (2018): the legacy of Michael Myers’ ghost on Laurie, and by extension her family, and then the more typical slasher movie exploits of granddaughter Allyson and her many teenage friends who wander about the picture like lambs to the slaughter. The former is obviously the stronger half, especially in how it ultimately buttresses the latter.
Curtis is fearsome in the role of Laurie Strode. While she’s previously reprised the part after a long absence in H20, it is here that she is given the most room to fully explore the slasher subgenre’s greatest survivor girl and add a layered texture to her horror. Living like the grande dame of the NRA, and how we might imagine Sarah Connor would spend her golden years, Laurie Strode is nothing but frazzled hair and untended nerves. Yet she always has a purpose to her mania. For starters, audiences know that Michael Myers is coming back so she is, of course, going to be proven right, but the way she can dominate the story and even appear in her family’s lives with shots evocative of how Michael Myers was framed in 1978 suggests the heroine is in control of her own story. She is as much an unstoppable force as the Shape.
It is a bit of a wonder then why, beyond genre conventions, so much time is spent on going through the motions of introducing teenagers to be killed off for much of the film’s running time. To the credit of Green and McBride’s screenplay, it is their sideways sense of humor that gives each victim an unexpected level of empathy and instant likability—kind of like if Michael Myers was dropped in the cast of Pineapple Express and started to go to work—yet it all feels a bit too eager to please the Blumhouse Production rubric, as opposed to the stronger movie its entangled in. This is also quite noticeable in the rapidfire editing that lacks much of the patience and eerie stillness that built so much dread in Carpenter’s classic.
Still, it is again those slasher sequences though where Green is allowed off the chain and crafts some of the most evocative set-pieces since 1978. Just how the camera can follow Michael on his quiet, purposeful stalk through a neighborhood, wiping out two households in a single breathtaking Steadicam shot, is the scariest slasher movie sequence in at least a decade.
In this vein, the movie builds to a highly satisfying third act, in which all its disparate elements coalesce around Laurie’s past, present, and future. It is quite remarkable how all of the best human characters in this movie (Michael is not human) are women, whose fates are tied together with each other as much as the killer chasing them. It allows the often underused Greer some wonderful material to play and creates a film about generation and culture clashes—while tying them together in sequences that include a guy’s head being crushed under Michael’s boot like a rotted pumpkin.
Halloween of 2018 does not quite have the purity and focus of the 1978 classic, but very few slasher movies do. What it does offer, however, is the best continuation of that story in the past 40 years of numerous attempts, and something fans old and new are going to devour like a particularly juicy red candy on Halloween night. At last, the boogeyman walks among us again.
Halloween premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Sept. 8 and opens in theaters on Oct. 19.
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