When it comes to slasher movies, the gold standard is undoubtedly John Carpenter’s Halloween, something other legends and veterans in the scary movie industry openly attest to. Back in 1978, no one could predict that an independent film about a masked serial killer going after babysitters on All Hallow’s Eve would thrust itself into the proverbial stratosphere the way Halloween did and continues to with endless sequels, remakes, comic books, action figures, countless conventions and so on. It’s the franchise that keeps giving. So what better way to celebrate its 40th anniversary than for someone like independent auteur David Gordon Green (from the likes of George Washington and All the Real Girls to Pineapple Express and Stronger) to make a sequel that has some bold ideas about what direction thing should have gone in the first place? It’s a gamble that worked as he’s paid homage with one of the darkest and undoubtedly the most ambitious entry in the series to date.
The fortieth anniversary of the original Babysitter Murders approaches and documentarian bloggers Aaron (Jefferson Hall, Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Dana (newcomer Rhian Rees) have arrived from overseas to attempt understanding, much like everyone else since the beginning, the mystery of Michael Myers, believing such answers are hidden in Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, where the remorseless killer has resided in silent patience since his capture… hours after first attacking his hometown of Haddonfield, IL back in 1978? If that doesn’t sound right, you’re not losing it. The already shaky continuity has been completely altered and reset by Mr. Green and cowriters Danny McBride (showing a real talent for horror with his writing here and supporting role in last year’s Alien: Covenant) and Jeff Fradley (HBO’s “Vice Principals”) and a lifetime of controversial and despised sequels and Rob Zombie directed remakes are now dust in the blustery winds; meaning no more Jamie Lloyd (or John Tate), no more Thorn curses and cults, no more Tina (Wendy Caplan) making Halloween 5 one of the most despised sequels in existence and no more Busta Rhymes kung fu-ing the Shape to “death” in the incinerating Myers garage. This also means, much to the delight of a portion of the Internet and “Cinema Snob” Brad Jones, that football star Ben Tramer wasn’t horrifically run over and incinerated in (the original) Halloween II, but this one has no intention of answering whatever happened to him. As for those pesky Silver Shamrock masks from Halloween III: Season of the Witch, they make a pretty cheeky cameo – and thankfully, that obnoxiously catchy theme doesn’t accompany them.
So to clarify, the timeline’s been completely reset and Michael (played briefly by original Shape Nick Castle before actor/stuntman James Jude Courtney takes over for the remainder and doing Mr. Castle’s legacy proud) was returned to Smith’s Grove after his attempt to kill one specific babysitter. His new therapist Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer of 2014’s Palme d’Or winner Winter Sleep) has struggled since taking Michael’s case over from the late Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) to understand that great enigma: “why?”. In the first of many sequences that stand alongside the original in terms of how far the most excruciating tension can be dragged out, the two filmmaker sleuths meet the “man” himself in a courtyard designed like a chessboard, where everyone – from patient to guard to medical practitioner – is positioned like the expendable pawn piece they subconsciously know they are on the Myers board. Desperate to provoke any answer from him, names are thrown out and a familiar mask is openly dangled, but nothing – for now. We know this is a game that was lost long before those challenging Michael stepped onto the playing field and what the losers will pay when the victor comes calling for his trophy – his mask – will no doubt be messy. But let’s not get too far ahead yet.
And then there’s Laurie Strode (the scream queen herself, the incomparable Jamie Lee Curtis) herself. The last time Ms. Curts came out of horror movie retirement to fight the Shape was in the opening sequence of 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection and that appearance was one that left many fans, to put it mildly, “disappointed.” This current retooling of Laurie is a total 180 from what Ms. Curtis did when reunited with her iconic career maker four years prior to Resurrection, though, like Halloween H20, she’s struggled with alcoholism and a deeply fractured relationship with daughter Karen (Judy Greer, finally given a chance to flex her acting muscles after half a decade of thankless roles in the Ant-Man movies and Jurassic World). The shadow of the Shape’s influence has hovered over Laurie and every facet of her life since that first encounter, but unlike Halloween H20 Laurie, she hasn’t hidden comfortably behind the gates of a secluded private school and acted when there was nothing left in the wake. She’s seen the face of pure evil and adapted as a hardcore survivalist deep in the woods outside of town and prepared extensively for the inevitable reunion, even at the expense of two marriages and any hope of, what others would consider to be, a normal life. All justifiable sacrifices to her, as Laurie knows there’s no life for her – or her family – until evil’s personification is sent to Hell, preferably by her hand. And boy, does Ms. Curtis sell the hell out of every minute in her finest hour as an actress since switching bodies with Lindsay Lohan. Future filmmakers should take note: the evolution of Laurie Strode from that Halloween to this Halloween is the proper way to evolve your protagonist.
Karen, much like Dr. Sartain with his infamous patient, has spent her life trying to understand what could break a woman so deeply and has emerged deeply resentful towards her mother for it; after all, it’s not like every woman dreams of knowing how to properly load the right firearm or hit every piece of target practice’s bullseye. As for Karen’s own daughter Allyson (newcomer Andi Matichak, making as impressionable a debut as Ms. Curtis did forty years back), she’s caught in her own tug of war between the two generations of Strode women. Everyone knows who she’s descended from and it’s a humiliating legacy no one can tolerate, least of all her. Who wouldn’t want an escape from the almost daily ritual of clarifying that their grandmother wasn’t some long lost Myers sister? Even without the horror elements, this is a great family drama about three generations of women coming to terms with the ugliness of trauma, victimhood and the legacy both leave behind, something that others have noted is a powerful commentary in the #MeToo era that’s forcing Hollywood and others to reevaluate its own history, and learning to trump the darkness at their doorstep. This family drama just happens to be accompanied by a heavy bodycount, as most sequels tend to do.
Before long, a bus accident occurs when as a number of patients are transferred from Smith’s Grove and isn’t long until the Shape is reunited with his mask, carrying a really big, sharp kitchen knife again and roaming the streets of Haddonfield once more to make mincemeat of the townspeople. His return is a brilliant one-take sequence following him from several houses as he experiments with the effects hammers and knives have on people. Eventually, sights are set on Allyson and her friends (including Virginia Gardener of Hulu’s “Runaways” and Miles Robbins of Blockers), and Grandmama Bear, the town sheriff (Will Patton) and “the new Loomis,” as Laurie so pointedly says to Dr. Sartain at one point, come to the rescue. And with the arsenal she keeps both on hand and stored at home, especially once the third act kicks into action that brings all survivors and the monster together, the reunion might be the time to actually be scared for Michael than of him. And give the nasty tricks and treats he’s caused Haddonfield residents before, that’s saying something.
Despite saying he should be scared of Laurie and her wrath, this is still a Michael Myers who, even after forty years, you’re paralyzed by fear with the moment he enters the scene. From the first kills, it’s deathly clear no one that crosses his path is safe (and not even age will provide a shield) and he’s picked up some nastier methods in the time between 1978 and 2018. Unlike some of the sequels (I’m looking at you, theatrical cut of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers!), Halloween locks down from the start exactly why the Shape has haunted many’s nightmares both on and off screen. Part of why Michael is so terrifying again is because, with the backstory scrubbed away, so much of the mystique behind the mask is reestablished. He’s no longer the mad brother out to reenact his crime with his surviving sister or influenced by supernatural forces, he’s simply a man who became the embodiment of raw evil for no reason and targeted one unfortunate person who happened upon his path just because. And then there’s also the way cinematographer Michael Simmonds (Paranormal Activity 2) uses light and the Cinemascope imagery to make his presence further felt. In another sequence, one unfortunate victim finds his poor self confronted by the killer’s silhouette with only outdoor motion sensor lights doing so much and so little to aide his survival.
Not only is Halloween one of the most unsettling, thrilling and entertaining horror films of the year, it’s just a great film period and that’s thanks to the pedigree Mr. Green brings to this beautiful union of his humanistic aesthetic with Mr. Carpenter’s legend and Ms. Curtis’s vulnerable badassery. You genuinely care for the characters and dread what lies ahead for them, something none of the sequels got completely right or even bothered to attempt. And not only does Mr. Green do a great job building on what Mr. Carpenter started, Mr. Carpenter himself is personally involved with the film as both an executive producer and, alongside son Cody and recent collaborator Daniel Davies on the “Lost Themes” albums, bringing his iconic synth score into the 21st century with a modern touch. The general franchise has seen great composers like Alan Howarth and John Ottman bring their touch and ideas to the music with success, but no one can do the music of Halloween like Mr. Carpenter and his score is certainly in the running for one of the year’s best. The whole experience – from reunion to tribute to expansion – is much like your favorite haunted house to visit at the amusement park. It’s gotten a fresh coat of paint and added a little panache to the proceedings and even thrown in some clever reworkings of some of the sequels’ better moments and chilling homages to the first’s most iconic scares, but everyone working on it knows exactly why it was your favorite place to visit and not only have honored that memory, but expanded on it in a way others could only imitate. And that’s the best kind of praise you can give to Halloween, especially this holiday season.
* Halloween opens nationwide this weekend courtesy of Universal Pictures/Miramax Films/Blumhouse Productions
The post Hush Hush, Hush, Here Comes the Boogeyman… A Worthy “Halloween” Forty Years Later appeared first on Age of The Nerd.