REVIEW: Halloween teaches an old slasher new scares
Disclaimer: “Halloween” is an R-rated film. It features lots of violence and bloody images, language and brief drug use. It also features some nudity in footage taken from the 1978 original.
The Return of Michael Myers
The Halloween franchise has an incredibly long and storied history. John Carpenter’s 1978 original was a benchmark film for horror and low-budget filmmaking. It was a showcase of suspense building and violence unlike anything seen in years. Film critic Roger Ebert praised the film, calling it “an absolutely merciless thriller,” and compared it to Alfred Hitchcock’s classic “Psycho” (1960).
The original “Halloween” has inspired generations of filmmakers and remains one of the best films of the genre to this day. It also formed the “slasher” sub-genre that dominated the 1980s horror scene. The low budget/big return formula for these films led to an abundance of sequels, and their knife-wielding villains have become some of the most iconic characters of all time.
While I have professed to not being a horror fan, I have developed a soft spot for slashers. The simplicity of them is visceral and thrilling when they work and delightfully silly when they don’t, both of which I enjoy in equal measure. The Friday the 13th franchise is a personal favorite, and none of those movies are truly any good.
This latest episode is the 11th film in the Halloween franchise. As is the case with many of the classic slasher franchises, Halloween suffered from a sharp decrease in quality in favor of quantity, eventually leading to a gritty reboot in the 2000s that is largely rejected by fans. This new entry looks to return the franchise to its roots by ignoring the decades of sequels and serves as a direct follow-up to the ’78 original. Luckily, this decision largely pays off.
H40: 40 Years Later
“Halloween” (2018) picks up 40 years after the events of John Carpenter’s 1978 original, also titled “Halloween” (yes, that is confusing). Michael Myers has been incarcerated in a sanitarium after murdering five people in his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois, as depicted in the first film. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee-Curtis), who survived his attack four decades prior, has devoted her life to preparing for Michael’s return. Her obsession has isolated her from her family and the outside world.
When a prisoner transport goes wrong just before Halloween, Michael escapes and heads back to Haddonfield to finish what he started. Laurie now must protect her family while seeking the revenge she has waited 40 years for.
Predator vs. Predator
“Halloween” (2018) is at its best when it is focused on the conflict between Laurie and Michael. The strange drive they have toward each other is the central thread that keeps the film together. The predator/prey relationship is constantly being challenged as each seeks to destroy the other.
If there’s any one thing to take away from this film, it’s that Jamie Lee Curtis is awesome. Curtis returns to her career-starting role as the babysitter that got away for her fifth outing as the character.
In this timeline, Laurie is a jaded, damaged woman who has not been able to move on from the traumatizing events she endured. This has led her to isolation and paranoia. Her actions have had serious consequences, specifically in regards to how she has driven her family away.
While it does weigh heavily on her, she feels confident she made the right decisions. Her internal struggle of trying to be both protector and avenger makes for a much more compelling conflict, where tension is derived from feeling concern about a character you actually care about.
On the other side of the coin, Michael Myers is back in terrifying form. His giant shape and iconic mask are back and looking great. But it’s the way he acts, his curious little head tilts, the way he stands perfectly still until marching forward with heavy, determined feet, that reaffirms him as the unstoppable force of pure evil that stalks the streets on Halloween night.
He is impossible to feel empathy for, and that void is filled by absolute terror.
New Direction, Old Trappings
Director David Gordon Green was an interesting choice for this movie, to say the least. He is primarily known for his comedies and smaller dramatic films such as “Pineapple Express” (2008) and “Prince Avalanche” (2013). He and his “Vice Principals” collaborator Danny McBride (“Eastbound and Down,” “Pineapple Express”) wrote the screenplay and are responsible for bringing this new version to life.
Overall, they manage to capture a lot of what made John Carpenter’s original so thrilling. For one, they brought back Carpenter himself to work on the score. Carpenter’s original work is iconic and works so well at raising the tension and building dread, and it’s great to hear it updated and used so effectively once again.
Green and company also worked really hard to make it fit aesthetically with the original. They successfully imitate the way the camera moves and replicate specific shots, including a classroom shot early on that made me very happy. Unfortunately, this is also where Green’s inexperience with the horror genre shows.
In the original, almost every frame is filled with tension because it evokes a feeling that there’s constantly a threat just off screen. In this new one, we spend too much time following Michael at the beginning. This focus, rather than his signature disappearing act, removes some of the suspense as he dispatches characters we have little to no attachment to.
Speaking of characters with little attachment, it is somewhat frustrating that the movie feels the need to fall back on the classic slasher trope of picking off naughty teens. It’s a throwback, but an unnecessary one given that the real meat of the film comes from the Laurie/Michael conflict. The side plot of Laurie’s granddaughter feels all too typical, and it doesn’t help that she’s not a very interesting character.
There are also a handful of instances where great scenes of tension are broken by a comedic moment. These moments feel out of place and are something that have been cropping up in recent movies more and more frequently.
Finally, while many of the homages to the original added to the atmosphere and consistency of the film, some did feel obtrusive and overindulgent in nostalgic fantasy.
Fortunately, the cons of the film are easily outweighed by the pros, and most only persist in the first half of the film. Green and company have made an intense, grizzly film experience that earns its place as a really solid horror movie, perhaps as the re-ignition point for the dormant slasher genre.
The intriguing setup and compelling conflict pay off in a thrilling final act that had me shaking in my seat. The film is twisted fun and left me wanting more.
While definitely not for everyone, fans of horror and especially of slashers should find “Halloween” to be an immensely satisfying experience and a worthy follow-up to the original.
Rated R for horror violence and bloody images, language, brief drug use and nudity.
Runtime: 1hr 46min