Released: October 2018
Director: David Gordon Green
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Budget: Approximately $10 to $15 million
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Haluk Bilginer, and James Jude Courtney
Forty years after surviving an attack by serial killer Michael Myers (Courtney), Laurie Strode (Curtis) has become a recluse, alienating her entire family as she prepares for Michael’s inevitable return. When Michael escapes from captivity, Laurie is forced to confront both her past and her worst fears.
In 1978, legendary director John Carpenter brought us Halloween for the first time and, with it, effectively gave birth to what became known as the slasher genre of horror movies. Make no mistake, without Halloween we may never have seen the popular portrayal of masked, silent killers stalking suburban teenagers, and the film created and popularised many other troupes of the genre for years to come.
Given Halloween’s success, it is perhaps of no surprise that a sequel soon followed. Halloween II (Rosenthal, 1981) continued the story, picking up immediately where the first film left off and introducing the idea that Michael Myers and Laurie Strode were brother and sister. Following this, a whole slew of sequels soon followed, with each one adding new dimensions to Michael’s backstory and diluting his mysterious nature. It soon reached the point where Michael’s backstory was so convoluted and confusing that the only things worth watching about the films were the kills and the consistently scene-stealing performance of Donald Pleasence as Dr. Sam Loomis.
In 2007, Rob Zombie decided to remake Carpenter’s classic; while this was met with mixed results, I actually quite enjoyed how violent and insane Zombie shot his remake and portrayed Myers. Despite earning a sequel, which was inarguably much, much worse than his remake, Zombie’s turn with the franchise effectively left it dead in the water.
Now, forty years after the original movie, Carpenter, Curtis, and many of their collaborators have returned to the franchise with a direct sequel to the 1978 original that ignores every other entry in the series. Of course, this isn’t the first time this has happened; before Zombie’s remake, Halloween H20 (Miner, 1998) ignored every entry after Halloween II and even returned Curtis to her famous role for a final showdown with her brother. As a result, this new sequel feels largely unnecessary, but does it return the franchise back to its genre-defining roots and throw further dirt onto the grave of Michael Myers?
As mentioned, Halloween takes place forty years after the end of Halloween (the 1978 one…not the 2007 one…) and slightly alters the ending of Carpenter’s original; Myers was apprehended shortly after his killing spree and has been incarcerated under the care of Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Bilginer). In all that time, Michael has not uttered a single word despite Sartain’s attempts to reach him. Two British podcasters arrive to try to learn more about Michael’s motives but are unsuccessful; they are equally unable to convince Laurie Strode to visit Michael before he is transferred.
Traumatised by her experiences decades earlier, Laurie has become a recluse who has shut herself off from the world and her family in preparation for Michael’s return; however, while her relationship with her daughter, Karen (Greer) is strained, she is much closer to the granddaughter, Allyson (Matichak). When news breaks that Michael’s transport bus has crashed and Michael has escaped, Laurie is forced to try and convince her family to return to her fortified house for safety so she, aided by Officer Frank Hawkins (Patten), can hunt Michael down and end him once and for all.
Halloween is a masterful return to form for a franchise that has, to say the least, lost its way through numerous sequels, knock-offs, and convoluted additions to the narrative. Rather than worry about any of that, the film ignores everything after Halloween II, including the Carpenter-crafted idea that Laurie and Michael are related, and returns Michael to a mysterious serial killer. Michael’s face, though clearly scarred from his many battles in 1978, is kept hidden either behind his trademark mask or though clever editing so we never truly see his face and the emphasis on character’s desperately trying to get him to speak and explain his motives keeps Michael as a mysterious, unstoppable force of nature rather than a puppet or spelling out his motivations.
Halloween closely apes Carpenter’s original, returning to many of the same themes and even recreating shots from new perspectives to bring perhaps the best and most effective sequel in the franchise, and marries this with some truly violent kills. While nowhere near the level of Zombie’s splatter-gore, this Halloween portrays Michael as being more powerful than ever, capable of twisting heads around backwards and stamping heads into mush. The kills are sudden and violent, with many taking place off screen and most of them being completely random (even more random than the kills in the original movie), which only adds to their horrific nature.
This is Laurie’s movie, first and foremost, and she is portrayed as being very damaged from her experiences but also incredibly well prepared. Her house is rigged with flood lights, booby traps, and guns and other weapons to arm herself with against Michael but, at the same time, she’s clearly very vulnerable and afraid. In H20, Laurie was ruled by her fear and desperate to hide away, only becoming a proactive individual once Michael returned and she was forced to face him. Here, though, Laurie has been preparing her entire life to face Michael again and kill him, for better or worse.
Curtis is joined by a decent supporting cast, who are all written pretty well and naturally and appear believable. More time could perhaps have been devoted to Karen’s equally-traumatic upbringing, as this is only really touched upon, and many of Allyson’s friends are nothing more than disposable filler, but they’re fine for the most part. Sartain, however, is a poor substitute for Loomis (Laurie even outs him as “the new Loomis” at one point, which was a bit too on the nose for my tastes); even Malcolm McDowell’s Loomis wasn’t as obtrusive to the plot as this guy, who gets a whole sideplot that really never goes anywhere.
And that’s quite a problem at a few points, really. There are characters who have little impact on the plot, plot threads that are underdeveloped and just dropped or don’t go anywhere, and plot holes that go against what the film has already established (for example, Laurie’s house is all decked out and fortified but she doesn’t flood the inside with lights and instead prefers to sneak around in pitch blackness). It also doesn’t help that we have seen much of this film already from other entries in the franchise, particularly Halloween, Halloween II, and Halloween H20. While it may do a lot of things well, it doesn’t change the fact that this entry is perhaps the least necessary of all the sequels.
It’s Halloween, so there really isn’t too much to spoil; Michael escapes, goes on a killing spree, and evil is vanquished in the end (…or is it!?) The biggest change here is that Michael and Laurie are no longer brother and sister, which is apparently being heralded as a good thing but I kind of disagree. John Carpenter created this as part of his forced involvement in Halloween II and, while he has since lamented this addition and regretted it, it has been a pivotal plot point of the franchise ever since and disregarding it, and outright mocking it as Allyson does at one point, leaves a sour taste in my mouth.
Without this motivation, Michael returns to being an emotionless, remorseless killer with no objective other than to kill. However, the 1978 Halloween seemed to suggest that he had a particular fondness for killing babysitters and teenagers, especially girls, but here he just…kills everyone and anyone he comes across. Which is fine but, as I say, seems way more random than originally depicted; I always liked the idea that Michael’s attacks seemed random but were premeditated and methodical in some way, but that no longer seems the case.
The big twist of this movie is that Dr. Sartain actually turns out to be a complete nutjob; he suddenly stabs Hawkins to death in an attempt to “feel” what Michael feels when he kills and even briefly wears Michael’s mask. It was at this point that I was really worried as, for a moment, it seemed as though Sartain was going to take over as the villain of the film. Instead, he is summarily executed by Michael only a short time later; it seemed like they were in cahoots and that Sartain had been aiding Michael but, no…he just went nuts and then got killed and that as it. It was such an out-of-nowhere twist and was dropped so quickly that it really makes you question what the purpose was at all.
Sartain should have died in the bus crash as he really wasn’t integral to the plot at all; between both Laurie and Hawkins we had enough of a Loomis type of character without Sartain clogging up screen time. Perhaps if he had died in the crash instead, more time could have been spent on developing Karen’s character, which was sorely lacking; she doesn’t want anything to do with her mother because of a hard upbringing, but it was hardly abusive or traumatic.
For me, this movie was already told with Halloween H20, which is one of the stronger entries in the franchise in my view. It really allowed Laurie to gain some closure and put an end to Michael’s threat but, instead, we have to tread the same ground again only this time it’s far more ambiguous. Laurie manages to trap Michael in her basement and sets it, and her whole house, on fire, which appears to have forever killed Michael but, of course, Michael mysteriously vanishes and his body is not seen so the assumption is that he could still return for more kills. Me, though, I still love the visual of Laurie lopping his head off with an axe; it was the definitive end we needed.
Halloween is an entertaining return to form for the series; Michael returns to his murderous ways as an unstoppable force of nature and the franchise appears to be back on track, rather than being bogged down in trying to add new kinks to the narrative. It’s easily the best Halloween sequel we’ve had in a long time but, for me, seems so unnecessary that I can’t, in all honesty, rate it too high. It retreads familiar ground and, while it seems new and fresh since it’s been so long since we saw this from the franchise, it’s still the same ground we have seen before, and better in many ways, so maybe it would be better recommended for those more unfamiliar with the franchise.