John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic, Halloween, sits on a pedestal with only so many others of its kind. While it’s easy to lump the franchise with others like it, I have always admired the way it never bent towards the self-awareness. Not that the sequels didn’t know how to entertain, but there’s a tonal consistency of seriousness that I appreciated. But how do you make that continue to feel new? Well, after nearly a decade since Rob Zombie’s (understandably underappreciated) Halloween 2, the series is back with a twist, as Halloween has branched into a new direction.
Now, Halloween is still a slasher film featuring the imposing Michael Myers, but writer/director David Gordon Green, and co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley have come up with an interesting way of continuing the series. While frustrating for some, the idea was to scrap the various continuities established by all the other sequels and make a direct continuation from Carpenter’s original film. This idea was so intriguing that Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, and even the original Myers, Nick Castle, returned for another trip to Haddonfield on Halloween night.
There is a lot to like about that approach. Not having to deal with all the baggage that comes with keeping other sequels in mind, here’s a film that heads out on its own path, while still feeling very indebted to what Carpenter had initially gone for. The additional touches for this latest Halloween are neat, down to the use of font in the opening credits, in addition to other easter eggs, and a terrific new score by Carpenter, his son Cody Carpenter, and Daniel Davies. There’re also all the ways the film feels appropriately aged.
Set forty years after the night HE came home, we catch up with both Myers (Castle/James Jude Courtney) and Curtis’ Laurie Strode. Thanks to inciting characters Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees), the prospect of reliving that horrible Halloween night from all those years ago returns. As the two journalists attempt to put together a true crime series for their podcast, we learn that Michael Myers is alive and still kept in a mental institution, not speaking a word. Meanwhile, Laurie has spent her life becoming a survivalist, training for the day she may be attacked again, sacrificing relationships in the process. As something needs to drive this story forward (possible spoiler here), Michael escapes.
Halloween takes a smart route in a few ways to add value to the franchise. A key element was addressing the growth (or decline) of the older characters. It makes sense, given the return of Curtis and Castle, but finding a way to modernize the world of Halloween meant allowing an audience to see who Laurie, specifically, has become since her first encounter with Michael. With this entry erasing the whole sibling connection, we’re left with a character that has suffered heavily and has found her own way of coping. If this weren’t a horror movie with a required amount of thrills, I would have been happy just seeing her deal with life and family.
As it stands, we only get to spend so much time seeing the relationship between Laurie, her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Halloween knows it’s better to get in and out, as far as a satisfying horror experience (the film is just under 100 minutes), but Green/McBride/Fradley are too invested to make the characters feel throwaway. At the same time, that sort of notion ends up biting them back, as I can think of at least three crucial moments where the film has to twist itself hard to allow certain plot contrivances fit for the sake of keeping things moving. Whether or not additional scenes would have helped make this all work, it’s the kind of issue where I was too invested in what was set up to be okay with seeing the film stick to certain conventions.
All that being said, one of the best moves for this Halloween entry was to have Blumhouse Productions play as significant a role as it does. With their efforts to produce films on a minimal budget, the core idea of simplicity when it comes to the best Halloween films was kept intact. With no need to push things any further than they needed to go, Halloween could play up all the hallmarks of the series without going to extravagant lengths (A guy stalking his prey amidst unsuspecting trick-or-treaters is creepy enough). Not hurting is how talented Green is as a filmmaker, although, even with plenty of striking images, I questioned some of the editing choices in the final stretch.
Without getting into specifics, a real highlight is when Myers is back on the loose in Haddonfield during the middle stretch of the movie. While an inevitable confrontation between him and Laurie is coming, his function as the boogeyman is seen very clearly. As Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis said in the past, Michael is pure evil, and seeing extended takes of him wandering into houses and killing is terrifying.
There’s no real rhyme or reason; he just does these horrible things. Halloween has never been the most violent horror series, and even this film holds back to some degree, but there’s a level of viciousness that makes it clear that Myers is a hulking force of darkness, even without a familial connection to the final girl that got away all those years ago. Whether or not you view this as the best entry of the franchise since the original, this is the scariest Michael Myers has been in ages.
That’s really where the satisfaction lies. The Halloween franchise has always been a favorite of mine for the ways it doesn’t try to move too far out of its comfort zone and having a certain level of respect for itself (give or take an entry starring Busta Rhymes). Based on a few ways this film chooses to handle its new direction, it’s a shame that I found fault with some very deliberate choices made towards the end. Does it make it any worse than the crimes of most of the other Halloween sequels? Not really, since you have to have a certain expectation with all of this, I just wish the refreshingly new handle on this film didn’t hit so hard against the wall of standard slasher tropes to help justify the reunion angle.
If one is looking for a terrifically atmospheric horror film that takes itself seriously enough, Halloween does the job. It’s an effective sequel made by fans for fans, and will easily entertain a horror audience. Curtis makes a strong return, there’s good stuff from the other supporting players (yay Toby Huss!), and plenty of tension and jumps that feel earned. The film is no game-changer, but it matters little when you get such a vivid depiction of The Shape returning to a peaceful community and causing so much mayhem.