Film: Halloween

Year: 2018

Director: David Gordon Green

The original Halloween was good enough to stand on its own, but the studio wanted a franchise. So, we got a sequel that not only delivered more cat-and-mouse goodness between Laurie and Michael, but upped the ante by revealing that Laurie was – gasp! – Michael’s sister. From there, later films introduced Laurie’s daughter, made Michael a cult conjured entity, emulated an episode of Dawson’s Creek (curse you, Halloween H20!), and introduced the masked maniac to the world of streaming (webcams in the Myers house, really?). Most of the sequels weren’t flat-out terrible, but they were unnecessary and completely missed the point. If only we could roll back the clock and give Hollywood the chance to make things right…

Or, I guess hiring David Gordon Green and writers Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride was the answer. They just made a film that ignores everything after the original, which isn’t a surprise in the age of ‘reboots that aren’t remakes’, but it was a shock to see John Carpenter return as an executive producer. 

And just like that, Halloween fans desperately wanted to see how this retconned take would fare.

“Thirty-eight years after the original Halloween, I’m going to help to try to make the 10th sequel the scariest of them all.” Carpenter said. “I talked about the Halloweens for a long time, the sequels – I haven’t even seen all of them […] But finally it occurred to me: Well if I’m just flapping my gums here, why don’t I try to make it as good as I can? So, you know, stop throwing rocks from the sidelines and get in there and try to do something positive.”

It was hard not to be excited, but I kept my expectations in check all the same. After all, Carpenter had ‘phoned in’ the Halloween II script while getting hammered, and he also served as producer on the disappointing Halloween H20. But as time went on, it sounded like everyone involved really wanted to give fans the sequel they’ve always deserved. 

I began to believe it once I saw the first trailer. It looked like Halloween. It sounded like Halloween. It felt like Halloween. But of course, trailers are extremely selective. 

So let’s cut to the chase. How is it? 

Let me get one nitpicky thing out of the way first: I really don’t like that they’ve named this film Halloween. It doesn’t work on a multitude of levels. This is a direct sequel to the original, so why is the follow-up to Halloween also called, you know, Halloween? Furthermore, Rob Zombie‘s take also had the same name, meaning there are now three franchise films with that title. I get they wanted to let people know that this would be a return to form, but that could have been handled through marketing alone. Then again, this film was a financial success and then some, so what do I know?

As far as the plot is concerned, things pick up nearly 40 years after the Babysitter Murders, and a couple of podcasters visit Smith’s Grove Sanitarium to interview Michael’s psychiatrist, Dr. Ranbir Sartain, a colleague of the now deceased Dr. Loomis. They then try to get Michael’s side of the story by enticing him with his mask, but the killer remains as silent as he’s been since the day he murdered his sister back in 1963. These true-crime ‘reporters’ then go to Laurie Strode’s house to not only get her take, but to see if they can convince her to meet with Michael for a heart-to-heart. But Laurie’s more interested in survival and revenge than having a chat under the guise of closure. 

Laurie has obsessively trained for Michael’s inevitable return for most her life. She became a proficient marksman and trained her daughter, Karen – who wants to keep Allyson’s (her own daughter) life as normal as possible – to be the same. This has strained their relationship beyond repair, so when Laurie learns that Michael is being transported from the sanitarium, she figures there’s nothing left to lose and sets out to put him down once and for all… but relents. It’s a decision she comes to regret, of course, because Michael escapes and everyone she’s ever loved is at risk of becoming his next victims. 

The plot is basic, but Halloween didn’t need an overly complicated story to get the job done, did it? It just needed to get back to basics, ditching all the Thorn cult nonsense while making Michael Myers human again. To that end, Halloween (2018) gets the job done to an impressive degree. Oh, and while they were at it, they tossed that ‘Laurie is Michael’s sister’ stuff out the window too. 

I know some people really liked the supernatural element that kept Myers coming back in many an October, but that, in my opinion, made Myers less frightening. By the time this character was established as a hemorrhoidal ghoul that wanted nothing more than to snuff out his family tree (I’m talking about Halloween 4 and 5, specifically), the world had already been introduced to Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger, and more. Having yet another unstoppable bogeyman was nothing special, and that’s something the crew behind this film had thankfully recognized.

“I think it’s much more horrifying to be scared by someone standing in the shadows while you’re taking the trash out as opposed to someone who can’t be killed pursuing you.” – Danny McBride

To make Michael’s mortality perfectly clear, we get brief glimpses of battle scars from his first go-round with Laurie; a scar on his neck and damage to his left eye. Further injuries are also inflicted upon him. So how is he still scary if the protagonists are able to defend themselves? Because Michael always has the element of surprise and will do things to people they’d never dream of in their worst nightmares. There are a couple of moments in this film where Michael is hidden a bit too conveniently for the sake of carnage, but many other moments are executed flawlessly. One scene in a bathroom is particularly brutal, and best of all, there’s a lengthy one-shot sequence – which you get a glimpse at in the trailer – which follows Michael down a driveway, into a garage, a house to claim a victim, and back outside again. Unlike the first Halloween, trick-or-treaters are everywhere, so because he’s wearing a mask, nobody is wise as to who he is or what he’s up to, and they don’t recognize the mask because it’s been forty years since ‘the night he came home’. 

In short, Myers gets away with murder because he’s the ultimate wolf in sheep’s clothing. 

Thankfully, Laurie is ready for him. 

I really like how her character is conveyed this time around. She’s trained herself tactically, but she’s no Rambo. Instead, that fateful evening from 1978 has left her agoraphobic, an alcoholic, and served as the catalyst for two divorces. It makes sense that this character was mentally and emotionally damaged after her encounter with Myers, and I believe it over the ‘aw gee, isn’t everything swell’ take that we got in Halloween H20. No, despite having a family, she’s kept herself focused on the night – THIS night – when Michael would return. 

“He’s waited for this night. He’s waited for me. I’ve waited for him.” -Laurie Strode

But while the studio banked on the Laurie versus Michael bout to sell tickets, the filmmakers still felt the need to line a bunch of dumb teenagers up for slaughter. Allyson conveniently serves as that generational link, and to the best that I can tell, it’s the only reason she’s in the movie. I appreciate the motivation behind giving Halloween fans what they want, but much like other sequels in the franchise, they’ve missed the point. We actually had an opportunity to get to know and care about Laurie and her friends in the original, but the kids this time around feel like an afterthought. Still, they serve their purpose and it’s great to see Michael doing what he does best. These scenes are good old fashioned Halloween fun, so this complaint is minor.

The only serious flaw in this film is Dr. Sartain. What an atrocious character, that one. Loomis’ successor has an ominous, mad scientist-like vibe, which does nothing to hide one of the biggest twists in the film. I’m sorry if this comes as a bit of a spoiler, but it needs to be said: Sartain’s job is to lull us into a false sense of security and turn our expectations on their head. This could have been a potentially welcome change of pace but the entire thing was mishandled. Halloween REALLY wants you to believe he’s the next Loomis, and even Laurie reminds us of that. But his very being is so obviously off-kilter, you can tell he’s a bad egg from the start. I won’t go into further detail, but I don’t know a single person that cared for this character or how he fit into the overall plot.

But despite such issues, Halloween (2018) feels like the first proper sequel in the entirety of the franchise. It may not have had a high bar to leap over, but that doesn’t discount the fact that it’s mostly well done. It relies a bit too much on making plays off our expectations – yes, this goes above and beyond introducing ‘the new Loomis’ – but those moments are typically harmless at worst, and produces nostalgia-fueled grins at best. I think this film would probably be a strong finisher for the series as a whole, but after its financial success at the box office – Halloween (2018) made $253.7 million dollars on an estimated budget of $10-15 million – more are sure to come. We’ll see if that ends up being a mistake within the next couple of years, but as a return to form, you can’t go wrong with this film. Perfect it may not be, but it’s, in my opinion, the best Halloween since the original. 

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