The night He came home…again

Halloween (USA 2018) Dir: David Gordon Green

Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle

The 1980’s saw saw the horror genre dominated by the slasher movie; cheaply produced, formulaic shockers revolving around gormless American teenagers being despatched by mysterious masked killers using inventive but increasingly contrived methods of dealing death.

John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 independent horror flick HALLOWEEN was the film that really kicked off enthusiasm for the sub genre, despite coming four years after Bob Clark’s proto slasher BLACK CHRISTMAS, the tale of an all female sorority house terrorised by a mysterious killer. Carpenter’s efficient, stripped down chiller perfected the formula in the tale of escaped mental patient Michael Myers who returns to his home town fifteen years after murdering his sister on Halloween night, intent on reliving his crime. It quickly became the most financially successful independent film on record at the time, and led to a slew of imitations as well as a series of inferior sequels, both direct and retconned, the last of which, HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION (2002)  saw the series surely reach its nadir in the scene featuring rapper Busta Rhymes karate kicking Myers through a window.

Thankfully no such incongruous nonsense intrudes on David Gordon Green’s retconned sequel for production outfit Blumhouse. Picking up the story in real time, forty years after Myers’ rampage in the first movie, the script by Green, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley wisely ignores the convoluted sequels. Which means no familial connection with Laurie Strode (Curtis), who hasn’t perished in a car accident, no Jamie Lloyd and no Thorn cult thank goodness, (the point in the series where it really jumped the proverbial shark in this reviewer’s humble opinion.)

With all that baggage out of the way (I like to think of the previous sequels as different timelines) the film is free to forge its own path, which, with a few caveats I think it does successfully. The story picks up with Michael incarcerated back in the Smiths Grove Mental Institute where he has been under close observation by the shifty looking Dr Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), a protege of the now deceased Dr Loomis. Frustrated that Sartain has made no progress with his studies of Myers, the authorities order that he be transferred to a much less ‘comfortable’ institution. In a last ditch attempt to reach Michael, Sartain allows access to two investigative journalists (Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall) putting together a podcast (how 2018!) about the 1978 murders, but they too are unable to penetrate Myers’ wall of silence.

Meanwhile, original final girl Laurie Strode lives a solitary life in a fortified compound, two failed marriages behind her and an estranged daughter and granddaughter testament to the PTSD she has suffered since her fateful encounter with ‘the Shape’ four decades earlier. When the bus transporting Myers mysteriously crashes, Laurie’s warnings are dismissed as paranoid ravings by her family, and the stage is set for history to repeat itself on Halloween night…

The essential problem with the HALLOWEEN series is the same one that bedevils all slasher movies, and that is the in built limitation of the central idea; a madman stalking a bunch of luckless victims is essentially a one film deal. If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. But money talks, and inevitable sequels follow put together by luckless directors for hire in which the only real way they can try and put a spin on the story is to explore the character and motives of the mad killer protagonist, which only serves to demystify them, thus diluting their scare factor (the recent ALIEN prequels are also guilty of this with the xenomorph.)

The new film sensibly avoids going down this route, leaving Michael as the enigmatic, relentless force of pure evil that Carpenter originally envisaged. He doesn’t want to rape, or torture. He doesn’t want money and can’t be bought off in any way. Michael Myers doesn’t seem to have or need a motive and that’s what makes him truly frightening. He’s a flesh and blood version of THE TERMINATOR.

Leaving alone any exploration of Myers’s character means that the film’s focus is instead on Curtis’ Laurie Strode and the long lasting psychological scars left on her and her family from her ordeal all those years ago. Pretty much from the first moment she is on screen, it’s clear that this is going to be Curtis’ show and she clearly relishes Laurie’s transformation into a paranoid backwoods gun lady reminiscent of T2 era Sarah Connor.

The rest of the cast portray characters that essentially exist either as inevitable victims, or to give us an insight into either of the two main protagonists. Through daughter Karen (Judy Greer) we get a glimpse of growing up under the care of the helicopter mum from hell, while exposure to Myers seems to have unbalanced Dr Sartain (in the same way as was hinted in Donald Pleasance’s manic portrayal of Dr Loomis.) Granddaughter Allyson (Matichak)  has little to do other than fend off teenage suitors and run around a lot. As a character she lacks any real depth, so it’s difficult to empathise with her, and unlike the girls in the original it never feels like she is in any real peril. This is a minor quibble though, and Matichak at least gives her all to an underwritten role that ultimately has to play second fiddle to Curtis.

Inevitably a prisoner of the constraints of its own sub genre, HALLOWEEN is part sequel, part remake and part tribute movie to the original with a plethora of nods to the 1978 film, and even a little Easter egg for fans of the underrated HALLOWEEN III SEASON OF THE WITCH in the form of the Silver Shamrock masks. But that said, this is still a solid addition to the franchise that both looks and feels like a ‘true’ sequel to John Carpenter’s original low budget masterwork, while managing to tread the fine line between celebrating its source material and wallowing in nostalgia.

As is traditional for the smasher movie, the end leaves the story wide open for a sequel, and given its more than healthy box office take, the temptation for Blumhouse will likely prove irresistible.

Let’s just hope they resist the urge to cast any rap stars in it.

https://youtu.be/ek1ePFp-nBI

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