John Carpenter’s 1978 film Halloween is an institution, but the many sequels, reboot and a sequel to the reboot that followed are proof, if any is needed, that lightning doesn’t always strike twice. Spare a thought, then, for the brave souls remaking the horror classic for a whole new generation of fans already suspicious of pretenders to the throne.
Wisely, David Gordon Green’s Halloween dismisses every subsequent film, choosing instead to pick up 40 years after the events of the original movie. Final Girl Laurie Strode is re-imagined as a wild-haired Doomsday prepper, holed up in an isolated compound and polishing her guns, in wait for when Michael Myers inevitably returns to Haddonfield.
The killer himself was captured and locked away that same fateful Halloween night, viewers learn, communicated via a duo of opportunistic British podcasters who hilariously describe themselves as investigative journalists. Myers has been in a mental asylum, or “rehab facility” ever since, refusing to offer anything by way of an explanation.
Myers is being studied, even used one might say, by a student of Dr. Loomis. This man, Dr. Sartain — which sounds a bit too much like “Satan,” to be fair — does a fairly convincing impression of Loomis and is even told at one point in the film, “you’re the new Loomis” (this Halloween is full of jokes). The dumb, opportunistic Brits arrive on site to question Myers and are told by his doctor that the killer was watching them as they arrived. Also, duh, he doesn’t talk, so good luck with that interview.
It’s here where the film kicks off proper, via those credits, that score, and a cleverly regenerating pumpkin utilized as a metaphor for the rebirth of the franchise (they hope). It’s difficult not to get swept up in the nostalgia for Carpenter’s near-perfect movie, but Green and his screenwriting partners Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, all of whom are more well-known for comedy than horror, aren’t interested in simply recreating what’s come before.
Their Halloween is incredibly detail-orientated, very exact, with not a second of screen-time wasted. There’s a sense, even while watching it, that a re-watch will be immediately necessary just to catch all the little things spliced in here and there. Green, McBride and Fradley have plenty to say about the modern obsession with psychos, with the Brits even suggesting Laurie meet with Michael to sort her issues out.
This Laurie isn’t taking any prisoners, and when the podcasters suggests that Myers is nothing compared to today’s killers, her face cracks into a smile that says “if only you knew how much danger you were really in.” Much like modern horror audiences, these people assume Myers isn’t scary anymore because he’s so old school, or ’cause he only murdered five people. Green sets out to prove them, and the audience, to be quite wrong.
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The Carpenter call-backs are well-judged, rather than being Marvel smug or signposted to death (a reference to “the babysitter murders,” the original title for Halloween, flits by without much fanfare). One of the most clever nods sees Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson, turning her head to gaze out the classroom window and finding Laurie standing there, watching her, rather than Michael as anticipated.
Returning star Jamie Lee Curtis is wonderful as the damaged Final Girl, a trauma victim who’s lost everything she cared about while waiting decades for the bogeyman to come back and finish her off. As her daughter, Judy Greer is an impatient but empathetic presence, while newcomer Andi Matichak proves her strength while still paying homage to her onscreen grandmother’s good girl bona fides.
Halloween‘s kids all look like kids, once again paying homage to the original movie, while the long-suffering adults are just as developed, from Greer’s well-meaning husband to the new Loomis and a cowboy-hat wearing sheriff who deadpans, “what are we gonna do, cancel Halloween!?,” Jaws-mayor-style, when Michael’s escape is revealed.
The comedic elements are smartly interspersed and sparsely used, without a self-referential pat on the back in sight. A terrified kid’s insistence to his babysitter to send her boyfriend into danger makes for an instantly quotable line (“Send Dave first!” — put it on a T-shirt), while a love-struck teenager’s drunken lament to a lurking Michael about not being able to get the one girl he wants is hilariously terrifying.
Comedy and horror are intrinsically interlinked, given it’s just as difficult to make someone laugh as it is to make them scream, so it’s great to see both living in harmony here. Neither takes away from the other, either. Halloween might be funny, but it’s also the nastiest, most violent entry in the series yet. The gas station toilet sequence, hinted at in the trailer, is cruel, intense and seems to last forever.
A bloodcurdling tracking shot, also teased in early marketing materials, is brilliantly gnarly, while a sequence that finds Allyson stranded in the backseat of a police car with Michael is horrifyingly claustrophobic. Halloween is loaded with great set-pieces, each more inventive and nastier than the last. The tension is carefully and expertly established, held until it’s at stomach-cramping levels.
The kills are properly squelchy (a head stomp is particularly gruesome), emphasizing the importance of good sound design, while the score (by Carpenter and his son, Cody) is reliably brilliant, plaintive and sad at times, allowing hints of that great JC death-wave at others, and solidifying its modernity amidst the escalating carnage.
Halloween is violent and bloody but never exploitative. This is assuredly Laurie’s story, not Michael’s. It’s about her reclaiming the narrative, about what happened to her once Halloween was over — which is something, as Curtis herself attests, that’s rarely dealt with in horror movies. As the movie develops, three generations of Strode women unite to defeat the bogeyman in a cleverly topical moment of #MeToo defiance.
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Michael may not be the lead, but his presence has never been felt deeper. After turning up as a hulking wrestler (Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Halloween 2), twinning with Busta Rhymes (Halloween: Resurrection), and as the subject of a million memes (the Ariescope Halloween short about him learning to drive — he still can, by the way — is a standout), Michael Myers is finally scary again.
Once again played by Nick Castle (along with James Jude Courtney), who himself was originally cast by default, The Shape is shot hiding behind a tree, barely turning his head in the asylum’s courtyard, and hulking on a bus before he finally picks up his mask and stands up proudly to face the camera all his glory. The performances are strong across the board, but the indelible presence of The Shape cannot be overstated.
Halloween 2018 is an all-timer in the making. Shot beautifully, well-performed and effectively scored and edited, it makes a case for Michael Myers as the Horror Icon to fear while simultaneously giving the ultimate Final Girl her moment of reckoning, 40 years after her life was destroyed. Horror fans can rest easy, while newcomers will be delighted by this nasty new modern take. A triumph.
Joey Keogh (@JoeyLDG) is a writer from Dublin, Ireland with an unhealthy appetite for horror movies and Judge Judy. In stark contrast with every other Irish person ever, she’s straight edge. Hello to Jason Isaacs.