Forty years ago, a talented young director named John Carpenter made an inventive indie horror film for very little money. It was called Halloween. Using inventive camera techniques, superior tension building and a solid performance from then unknown actress Jamie Lee Curtis, the film went on to be a gargantuan hit. More than that, it helped change the face of contemporary cinema, ushering in an era of a new subgenre, the “slasher film”.
Halloween spawned seven (!) sequels of varying quality and was then remade by director Rob Zombie and that remake itself spawned one (staggeringly ill advised) sequel. Halloween (2018) is the eleventh movie in the series, but chooses to ignore all of the films since the 1978 original. In all honesty, that’s a pretty good policy. Not that there haven’t been some decent flicks in the franchise – Halloween II (1981) is a lot of fun, Halloween H20 (1998) is worth a look and Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1984) is a bonkers standalone entry so bizarre it’s worth watching at least once – but the various continuities and character arcs are byzantine and often contradictory so a soft reboot/sequel was probably the best idea.
Halloween (2018) is set 40 years to the day (more or less) since the original film. Haddonfield has all but forgotten the so-called “babysitter murders” and why not? Michael Myers (Nick Castle) hacked and slashed a mere handful of young people, fewer than die in one of America’s semi-regular school shootings. As one character ponders, is Myers that much of a big deal anymore? This meta commentary is cleverly woven through three generations of Strode. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has become a reclusive gun nut with PTSD, waiting for the day when Michael will return. Karen (Judy Greer) is Laurie’s daughter, who loves her mum but can’t quite forgive her for an awful, paranoid upbringing. Allyson (Andi Matichak), Karen’s daughter and Laurie’s granddaughter, is coming of age and fascinated by her unconventional nan. These three characters represent the heart and soul of Halloween, and add a core of pathos to the proceedings. This is a smart move, because during the sections where we follow Michael himself the film takes on a dispassionate, almost clinical tone – which serves to illustrate the iconic antagonist’s shark-like need to stalk and kill without remorse or mercy.
You’ll notice we’ve avoided much in the way of story spoilers. There’s a reason for that, Halloween is a slasher movie therefore there’s not much story to spoil. That’s not a dig, one of the best elements of the 1978 original was the elegant simplicity of the narrative. This 2018 version isn’t quite as stripped back, but it’s very much a case of a premise reaching its inevitable conclusion. Michael Myers escapes, heads into Haddonfield and takes care of some unfinished business. What sets Halloween apart from lesser entries in the franchise is solid characterisation, decent suspense and an all-time great performance from Jamie Lee Curtis. She manages to evoke vulnerability and strength, giving us a damaged but capable version of the sensible teenager we met back in the late 1970s. Make no mistake this is Curtis’s best performance, and a stellar addition to a franchise that was all but dead. Nick Castle is also wonderful as the iconic Myers/Shape and director David Gordon Green really knows how to frame the lanky brute to squeeze every ounce of tension out of the scenes where he hunts his suburban prey.
Ultimately, Halloween (2018) breathes new life into a much-abused franchise. It’s not the equal of the frequently imitated original, but it’s one of the better sequels and a lovely, affectionate companion piece to that iconic classic. Jamie Lee Curtis offers a standout performance, David Gordon Green brings the tension and a reworking of John Carpenter’s score (by John Carpenter himself!) infuses the proceedings with a sense of familiar-but-agreeable menace. Halloween proves the boogeyman never truly dies, but rather follows you through the years, in the dark, staring at you with those black eyes, those devil’s eyes…
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