In Association with Month of Horror
Since I know you all wouldn’t have clicked on today’s Month of Horror post of which this review is officially a part of, I figured Halloween should get its regular theatrical movie review post.
To start it off, I hate this damn naming convention of naming your sequel the same thing as your previous installment. Even Final Destination pretended to try by dropping the “The” in the title. But nope, we have this fucking title that from now on we have to immediately clarify to mean the new one or more likely just call it Halloween 2018. I’d be fine if it were a remake (you know, like the last time when they remade it eleven years ago) since that would at least indicate a new start. Instead, this is yet another sequel that pretends a bunch of the sequels never happened.
SPOILERS AHEAD FOR A BUNCH OF OLD HALLOWEEN FILMS
The original Halloween (from now I’m not even going to bother to clarify, when I refer to Halloween, I mean the original) may not have been the first slasher, but it is the definitive classic in the genre and the one that codified many of its attributes and launched it into the mainstream. John Carpenter’s direction (filled with first person shots from the slasher’s point of view as influenced by such films as Black Christmas) and score are fantastic and instantly iconic. Jamie Lee Curtis’s “final girl” Laurie Strode became the one all others are compared to and Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis added a steady, veteran presence to it. The film was made on a tight, low budget, but didn’t look it.
It would be Michael Myers (or The Shape as he known in the credits), the silent killer in a modified $1.98 Captain Kirk mask played by Nick Castle who would really capture the audience’s imagination. His backstory was established quickly and yet there’s never given any reason why he does what he does. He’s a true unkillable force of evil throughout the film. The film went heavy on suspense and light on the blood and is one of the all-time great horror classics. It also made $70 million in theaters which puts it in the top ten in 1970s horror grosses.
John Carpenter would return to co-write the sequel alongside Debra Hill with whom he had also written the original. First time director Rick Rosenthal (who would later helm the solid Sean Penn film Bad Boys and the Buffy episode “Normal Again”) would take over as director and he delivered Halloween II, a very good if large step down from the original. While keeping much of Carpenter’s same style, it also ramped up the violence and alienated critics. It also wrapped up the story by killing Michael Myers (now played by Dick Warlock) seemingly once and for all.
Carpenter had intended for his series to be an anthology; the series name Halloween does after all conjure ideas far more broad than just one specific killer. Halloween III: Season of the Witch would embrace this, going on to feature no Michael Myers, Laurie Strode, Dr. Loomis, or any meaningful connection to the series as a whole. It abandoned the slasher genre for a supernatural/sci-fi horror theme. It would also be written and directed by Halloween art director and production designer Tommy Lee Wallace (later director of the It miniseries) and gain neither positive remarks from critics or fans. Since then, it’s gained a cult following of defenders, but the film is done in not by a lack of Michael Myers, but by poor acting, a silly script, and a mess in tone.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers saw exactly what the title promises, a return for the series to the story of the first two films. While Michael (George P. Wilbur) was pretty obviously killed when he last showed up, this film fudges it by saying he had just been taking a very long nap. Since Jamie Lee Curtis had become a major star in the interim, she declined to return and was killed off off-screen. Also gone are Carpenter and Hill as producers and Carpenter as composer. Dwight H. Little (the decent Brandon Lee movie Rapid Fire and horrible Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid) would direct from an Alan B. McElroy script (the creator of the Wrong Turn series). It’s a passable movie, introducing Danielle Harris’s Jamie Lloyd as the new series lead alongside a returning Donald Pleasance, but the story felt tacked on (because it was).
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers now directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard (the even more useless Omen IV: The Awakening) continued the series’ constant downward slide. It failed to continue on from the story set up by the previous installment despite returning Danielle Harris (though once again we got a new Michael in Don Shanks). Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers was just an embarrassing end for the original run of the franchise and an even sadder way to end Donald Pleasance’s career. Introducing some cult nonsense (and Paul Rudd!) and just overall feeling well past its sell by date, Joe Chappelle (Word, bitch, Phantoms like a motherfucker), it lacks any sort of appeal whatsoever.
With the sixth installment’s failure and the slasher film’s popularity seeming dead in 1995, the franchise seemed dead. The following year, however, Scream would resurrect the genre’s popularity. As a result, the writer of that film (Kevin Williamson) was brought on to helm the latest Halloween film. While he would not ultimately be credited, his fingerprints are all over the tone of the film and he was responsible for bringing back Laurie Strode from the dead. It was director Steve Miner (a horror vet known for the first two Friday the 13th sequels, House, and Warlock) however who had the idea to retcon the past four films and turn the series into a soft reboot. No word on who came up with the extraordinary terrible title Halloween H20: 20 Years Later which most charitably could be read as “Halloween Halloween 20: 20 Years Later”, but in practicality it made the film look like it was called Halloween H2O. Halloween Water turned out decent enough and was an upgrade on the past two or three installments, but more importantly it was financially successful.
Halloween: Resurrection would quickly ruin even that minor success. It brought back director Rick Rosenthal to the series, but he wasn’t able to replicate his success on the first sequel. The film gets a lot of crap for its decision to star Busta Rhymes, but he’s not that bad all things considered. In fact, the worst thing that can be said about the movie is that it doesn’t fail in any interesting ways (it’s also not as bad as The Curse of Michael Myers for what that’s worth).
That would kill the franchise (seemingly) for good and it would take five years before another attempt at a Halloween film was made in 2007. Fresh off the success of his surprisingly good sequel The Devil’s Rejects, Rob Zombie was handed the job. He then proceeded to give people what no one was asking for as he delved deeper into the birth of Michael Myers and Michael Myers as a character, the exact opposite of what made him effective in the first place. Unsurprisingly for Zombie, it was also more violent than the series was at its best, something I didn’t inherently have a problem with (it wasn’t a positive, but I was fine if that was the new direction he wanted to take it), it just wasn’t any good. Halloween II would try to expand on this last point and experiment more with the series, but it too would fail, even in the Director’s Cut some people like to defend as saving the movie.
The nine years since the last Halloween film have been the longest gap in the franchise and that time’s been for the best. Bringing in Blumhouse to produce the film and make it cheap was a great first step, both in honoring the legacy of the original and considering the track record of the studio has been so successful financially and reasonably successful from a quality standpoint. Bringing in David Gordon Green is a more unusual pick. Granted, his career has been so all over the place moving from arty dramas to stoner comedies back to indie films of varying genres to failed Oscar bait, but horror has thus far been well away from his style. Then again, he could use a win since every one of his films has failed since he broke mainstream with Pineapple Express.
Now on the 40th anniversary of the original film, we have the second effort to soft reboot the series, but this one isn’t just content with undoing the progress of 4, 5, and 6. Halloween II also falls to the chopping block and with it go Michael’s death, a number of his kills (knocking his total down to five which a character darkly jokes isn’t that much anymore), and most importantly to the movie, the controversial revelation (which Zombie ran with) that Laurie Strode is Michael Myers’s sister.
Forty years after the events of the first film, Michael Myers is now locked up in Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. Dr. Loomis is dead, and a new doctor has taken his stead though not for long as Michael is about to be transferred to a maximum-security prison where he can spend the rest of his days rotting in jail. He’s approached by a couple podcast investigative journalists who I’m pretty sure were made British in order for the audience to hate them more. They also visit Laurie Strode and find her holed up in an ultra-secure and secluded house in the woods. She’s spent her whole life preparing for the moment Michael returns and in the process lost her daughter (Judy Greer) and lost her life to this doomsday prepping.
While it would be a bold choice to just focus on Laurie grappling with her PTSD and the extent her parenting traumatized her daughter, her paranoia being proved to be all for naught, I’m pretty sure most people would have left the theater disappointed. Consequently, Michael gets free during his prison transport (prison transports in movies being about as safe as video game helicopters) and goes on a killing spree to make up for lost time. Most of the kills are kept in the shadows or offscreen so while the film does not shy away from the brutality of Michael’s actions, it does so in a way that is both visually satisfying and effective.
Besides the Strode family (of which there is also Laurie’s granddaughter and her son-in-law played by Toby Huss), the movie is also deeply invested in introducing and developing interesting side characters and vignettes. While they aren’t all created equal and there’s still plenty taken from the Discount Slasher Supply Store, I actually found myself in a situation where I was wishing I was spending my time with a number of them instead of certain major characters.
Of the leads, Jamie Lee Curtis feels the most well realized. Granted, her character would feel a bit more realistic if we had thrown in most of the events of Halloween II, the film at least discusses this and the concept of trauma affecting people differently. She’s both someone who’s let her experience get the better of her and behaves crazily and someone who cares and turns out right in the end. She’s both upset and energized to see Michael has escaped, but aside from one brief scene her concern never goes out to anyone but her and her family regardless of how many people die. “Judy Greer is underused” can be copy pasted into every review for a movie she’s in and yet here the film does give her some intriguing character beats and moments, moments that make me wish we had seen more of her and less of her daughter.
This Michael Myers just feels off. Besides the fact that they kept showing just enough of his unmasked face to make it seem silly they were so obviously holding back a view of the full face, he also doesn’t seem nearly as hulking a presence this time out. Before stepping into the movie, I noticed the length of 105 minutes (fourteen longer than the original) and while the comment was made to me that “at least it isn’t two hours like so many other movies”, there’s a reason horror films work best at a shorter length. The film isn’t especially tight. The structure of the various segments which force the plot to stop and start constantly don’t help, but there’s entirely too much in this movie.
That’s enough about the bad though because I did ultimately like the film. It may not have the visual inventiveness that Carpenter had, but Halloween 2018 is its own thing there and in a positively modernized fashion. It manages the balance between the scenes of building dread and payoff with the quick jump startles far better than most mainstream horror. The score, a collaboration between John Carpenter, his son Cody, and Daniel Davies (son of Dave and frequent collaborator with John) builds towards the classic Halloween sound as it goes on, and more than anything else, makes this a true Halloween movie. Halloween 2018 celebrates and honors the franchise with arguably the best sequel to date, even if I’m not about to rush and treat it as the new canon.