When you’re tasked with resurrecting a franchise that has been beaten down with crappy sequel after crappy sequel, sometimes all you can do is bow down and pay homage to the original. Because as science has proven to us, nostalgia is mentally rewarding, and when originality seems to be a scarcity, just fall back on what worked in the first place. One need only look at Star Wars: The Force Awakens as evidence of this. And if there’s anything its sequel, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, taught us, it’s that fans don’t want to have their perceptions of classic franchises tampered with, at least not tonally. It happened last year, and it happened in 2007 and 2009 when Rob Zombie decided to put his own metal spin on Michael Myers with Halloween and Halloween II. Well, lesson learned, as Blumhouse is eager to get the franchise back on track with this year’s Halloween by making it a direct sequel to the original 1978 Halloween and disregarding all those crappy sequels. Same thing almost happened with Alien, but now that the film in question here has made a killing at the box office, expect those guys to reconvene. I digress, however, as even though this new one proves any subsequent films can never measure up to the original, even as it grovels at its feet, it’s actually pretty good. Personally I’ve been on a anticipation roller coaster the last couple of years, thrilled that it would be helmed by David Gordon Green – typically a comedy director, but with just the right visual sensibilities to transition to horror – and then skeptical that they’d be discarding roughly nine-hours-worth of lore, particularly Laurie and Michael’s familial relationship. Well, turns out my fears were for naught, as Green and cowriter Danny McBride (I know, right?) are able to find a story worth telling regardless. Having said that, there are a few glaring narrative plotholes and unnecessary plot devices that keep it from being cohesive – which I’ll abstain from mentioning to avoid spoilers – but it’s so tautly directed, particularly at the climax, that one can’t help but revel in the franchise getting an actually good sequel in, well, ever. And while if you’re a fan of the franchise this will be less of a movie to you and more of an extended masturbation session, it can’t be denied the level of devotion and love for the genre that was put into it, as it may just be the best slasher movie of the decade (maybe, maybe), however much that’s worth notwithstanding. Oh, and Jamie Lee Curtis kicks ass.
Taking place forty years after the original film, Halloween centers on a PTSD-afflicted and alcoholic Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) as she in the years since has become estranged from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) due to her growing paranoia that serial killer Michael Myers (Nick Castle) would return to finish the job. And while she’s grown accustomed to being scoffed at, her fears are confirmed when a bus crash during Michael’s transfer to another facility facilitates his escape. On Halloween night, Laurie must wrangle her family together and bring them to safety before Michael can wipe out her lineage once and for all.
So first thing you need to know going into this one is that Laurie and Michael are no longer siblings, since that plot point was established in the first Halloween II and everything featured in that film and afterwards has been retconned. Now, while that might be at the crux of why Michael is so obsessed with killing Laurie, this film isn’t worried about being detached from it. Sure, you can question why Michael would still be fixating on her after so many years if that’s not the case, but they sure do an excellent job at emphasizing the banality of his evil, that his motive for killing doesn’t need a whole lot of explanation. One of the tired tropes reboots have faced in recent years is making the original villains the heroes of the new incarnation when in the face of a greater threat, if only due to their iconicity and popularity with audiences. They did it with the T-Rex in Jurassic World, they did it with Magneto in X-Men: First Class, and they did it with the Predator in The Predator. Thankfully, that’s not the case here, as, granted, there’s not really a villain you could replace him with in the context of the story. But, more importantly, and what I’m getting at, is that they don’t sympathize with him. Most of the time with slasher killers, filmmakers eventually begin to realize that they’re the actual stars, and that the audience is actually rooting for them to kill the protagonists, instead of the other way around. Well, the reversal of the reversal is the case here, as the real hero is Laurie Strode, whose corner the audience is always in, and Michael Myers is the hands-down villain, who will kill likable and dislikable characters alike. They take great effort to make him menacing and legitimately scary, a venture that undoubtedly works out for the best.
That isn’t to say though that they don’t betray his character at least a little bit. Traditionally, Michael Myers has always been a methodical killer, meaning he doesn’t go out of his way to be creative and ostentatious like his counterparts in Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger. Instead, he relies on his brute strength and trusty kitchen knife to do the trick, often resorting to strangling his victims before snapping their necks. And while there is a lot of that here, there is a bit of an over-reliance on gore to generate the proper chills. Namely, Michael has never been in the business of making his victims splatter their guts; if I wanted that from him, I’d just watch Hatchet. Having said that, his mere presence in scenes is often enough to elicit scares, and David Gordon Green does well to use the right kind of atmosphere to put viewers on edge. In fact, he’s almost scarier when he’s walking around before kills than actually during kills. That’s always been the bread and butter of the franchise, in that he’s strong, slow, and silent.
Now, while I do give Green the bulk of the credit for making this one work as opposed to the nine before it, one gripe I have with his signature mark on the property is the tone. Now, if you look at his and cowriter Danny McBride’s previous collaborations, you’ll see straight comedies like Pineapple Express and Your Highness. And even though they’ve made great strides to cater to a completely different genre, I’d be remiss to leave out the fact that their more comedic sensibilities did indeed leak into the finished product here. In particular, there’s a scene about halfway through involving one of Allyson’s friends named Vicky (Virginia Gardner) as she babysits for the young Julian (Jibrail Nantambu) that doesn’t belong in the film that it’s in. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a hilarious scene, one that elicited laughter from me on multiple occasions, but seeing as it’s sandwiched between nothing but dour carnage, I can’t help but feel like Green and McBride could have restrained themselves a little more. If there’s one thing I remember about the original Halloween – and this movie is all about honoring the original Halloween – it’s that there wasn’t a whole lot of funny bits. Sure there were humorous moments akin to the happenings of ordinary, everyday life, but never did they infect the tone at large in a way that was distracting. Seriously, this is an entire scripted scene with little bearing on the events before it or after, so when it goes on and on with the jokes and stuff, I can’t help but wonder why it was left in. Except, yeah, I know why it was left in. It was left in because they need casual audiences to acclimate to the largely anachronistic style and filmmaking practices seen everywhere else. In other words, it was left in to put them at ease while it asked them to take a trip back to 1978. Still, I wish it wasn’t.
Speaking of honoring the original Halloween, this movie has the references to it up the waz-freaking-oo. Now, chances are, you’ve only seen the first film once, maybe two times, and likely won’t catch a lot of them, but they’re there. And I’m not just talking Marvel-sized easter eggs, I’m talking straight-up emulation, from entire death scenes to dialogue. And, if you haven’t pieced it together by now, I am one huge Halloween fanatic, and yes, I reveled in a lot of these references. I got the nostalgia-driven dopamine rush like you wouldn’t believe. At the same time, it was a little distracting having to think back to how much better the original film was, which is mostly saying something about just how good the original was. While I get not being able to conjure a whole lot of inspiration when the franchise has basically run its course, you’ve gotta at least stand on your own to some degree. Sure, people gravitated to Stranger Things because it reminded them of E.T. and sh*t, but they stayed because it had an original story to tell and introduced interesting characters along the way. So it just pains me to think that so many of the memorable parts of this movie are really just memorable parts of the first movie. Having said all that, however, there is one callback about midway through the climax that absolutely, one-hundred-percent works. It is sheer, perfect movie magic, and even just thinking about it now makes all the others well worth it. I’m practically biting my tongue trying not to spoil it, but you’ll know it when you see it, especially if you remember the ending to the first film.
And one of the reasons that also made the first film great was Jamie Lee Curtis. As far as this film is concerned, the same applies. In short, this could not have worked without her on board. She is as iconic as Michael Myers, and having one without the other just wouldn’t feel the same. Hell, she is the definitive Scream Queen, and she reminds you of it here. Still, one thing they don’t rehash is Laurie Strode’s characterization, as they find new avenues to explore for her character other than the usual damsel in distress cliché. In many ways, this is more her movie than it is Michael’s, and at the end of the day, the heart of the movie lies with her as not only a victim, but as a survivor. As opposed to Halloween: H2O, which took a decent if misguided stab at doing justice to her character, this Halloween put the ball squarely in her court, not as a product of the plot, but an equal conductor of it. And when we get that proper Laurie vs. Michael showdown that we’ve not only been waiting for but deserved, it does not disappoint. In fact, the ending is the best part of the movie, which is surprising since that’s allegedly what they reshot and retooled after principal photography wrapped.
In what is surely to be my longest, single review yet, there are definitely plenty of things that I loved about this new Halloween, and some things that I wasn’t too keen on. Fortunately, the former outweighed the latter, as though it’s mostly an exercise in nostalgia, it’s a damn good one. While there are some story inconsistencies that don’t fly, like a moderate twist prior to the climax that serves only as a deus ex machina, the stuff that people actually come to see in a Halloween movie are good enough to make those other elements moot. In what will surely be the biggest watershed moment in slasher cinema since 1996’s Scream, expect similarly crafted reboots of Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street to be on the horizon, despite the lame remakes that came not a decade ago. Until then, let’s just revel in the fact that Michael Myers is back and better than he’s been since 1978.
Final Score: 7/10