*It is Better than Everything Else But Still Not in the Same League as the Original

Movie Review: Halloween

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3stars-1

R |

Director: David Gordon Green

by Jason Koenigsberg

One of the most anticipated movies of 2018 and certainly the most anticipated horror movie of the season has arrived. Michael Myers comes back to Haddonfield in the newest Halloween, a direct sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 classic slasher film of the same name.    This movie is a direct sequel to the original picking up forty years later after the events of the first film. It also completely ignores the events of all the Halloween sequels and starts a new timeline for the franchise (the third or fourth series of events depending on where you place the Rob Zombie Halloween films). Even the opening shot of a clock ticking at a slanted angle conveys that this is a new time period. This turns out to be a shrewd maneuver for the film because in order for this Halloween to work you needed a bunch of bad sequels over time for David Gordon Green to accomplish what he did. It needed to learn from all of the mistakes of the previous films to create what is onscreen. This is the second best Halloween of the 40-year-old franchise but still does not come close to the timelessness of John Carpenter’s original horror masterpiece. 

The opening title sequence is a nice homage to the original and a sign of things to come it uses the same orange font over black and instead of zooming in on the pumpkin burning out it shows the pumpkin in reverse from rotting to being a brightly lit jack-o-lantern. This Halloween is filled with loving references to the original. One can tell that writers David Gordon Green and Danny McBride are huge fans of the series and if the fanboys had the same access to getting a film produced they likely would have made the same sort of picture. 

One element the filmmakers added that was unique and a reference to Halloween II (1981) are the early scenes in a mental institution where interviewers for a podcast go to try and talk to Michael Myers forty years after his infamous killing spree and show him the iconic mask he used. They used white as a representation of evil in the early part of the film and then around the time Myers escapes a bus accident and puts on the clothes of a mechanic he murders, the color scheme starts to change to the more conventional black representing evil on Halloween night when he comes home to Haddonfield. Michael Myers is not the only one with a notable introduction. Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode gets quite distinguished treatment when the documentary crew visits her secluded abode. Isolated in the middle of the woods filled with security cameras and numerous locks on her doors. She is a hermit obsessed with keeping herself safe from Michael Myers if and when he gets free. At first, it seems that this Laurie Strode has such a one-track mind for forty years it is hard to imagine her ever having the time to date, get married, and have children, but the scene quickly explains how her obsession ruined her marriages and made her estranged from her daughter and granddaughter. She is aware that she is a ‘basket case’ but is willing to accept a life of seclusion as a hermit. She has a rocky backstory since we last saw her as a babysitter and is now traumatized from the night Michael Myers came home. 

This Halloween develops Jamie Lee Curtis’ character very well with her past and it also probably helps that she is the best actress in the movie and it feels as if everything leading up to the climax is building for a showdown between her and Michael Myers who has haunted her entire adult life. The same cannot be said for the rest of the characters. This is the shortcoming of having David Gordon Green and Danny McBride as the writers. They have pitiful attempts at humor as the dialogue takes place between Allyson, Laurie Strode’s granddaughter, and her friends. They all come across as annoying and make the audience almost want to root for Michael Myers to make them statistics in his body count once the inevitable happens. They also fail to develop her daughter Karen (played by terrific actress Judy Greer) as more than just a confused parent trying to shield her daughter from her crazy grandmother. She gets some meaty scenes but they are overshadowed (probably intentionally) by Jamie Lee Curtis but that makes Greer’s performance seem like a non-factor. The movie boils down to a showdown between Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode and Michael Myers. She makes a similar transition to a tough intense feminist hero like Linda Hamilton did as Sarah Connor from The Terminator (1984) to the take no prisoners woman fighting to save the future in Terminator 2 (1991). This is especially poignant with the #MeToo movement as a slasher with a strong feminist message and women fighting a man that represents the ultimate evil. 

The two British podcasters are not advanced in the story enough to come across as good, bad or three dimensional. They meet their demise rather quickly so that Michael Myers can get his mask back from them. They are two of the first kills and take place during daylight when white is still the predominant evil color. It could have worked more effectively without the humor that this film felt necessary to insert during the kills. Adding lightheartedness at inopportune times takes away from the fear and terror the audience should be experiencing and the gravity of the situation that people are actually being brutally murdered. But that is what happens when you have the guys that wrote Eastbound and Down make a Halloween film. 

Also, the sound mixing was not as well crafted as it should have been and sound is vital to a horror movies success. Maybe it was the particular screening but a lot of the lines of dialogue and even the sound effects themselves seemed dull and quiet and not as loud and pronounced as they should have been. Thus making one wish they could turn up the volume in the theater, or they hired a better sound design operator. The score by John Carpenter with his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies is a nice updated reworking of the original score Carpenter composed back in 1978. It is amazing how his cheap synthesizer score made on the fly is as iconic today as the works of Bernard Herrmann for Psycho (1960) and the Academy Award-winning John Williams composition for Jaws (1975) in the pantheon of great horror movie music. 

 

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Jamie Lee Curtis fends off ‘The Shape’ in ‘Halloween’

 

The mask in this Halloween is an effective look. It makes Myers look older and more weathered since he is. The best part is the performance of Nick Castle returning as ‘The Shape’, which he played in the original and does a lot of the same moves he did in that film, obviously on purpose but they are powerful movements and gestures, showing that nobody can embody Michael Myers quite the same as the original. It is a haunting wordless performance that is difficult to pull off. The filmmakers and Nick Castle’s expertise are illustrated in the films greatest moment, a long tracking shot that follows Michael Myers when he first arrives back in Haddonfield. It was shown in the movie’s second trailer and it is even better in the context of the film. 

One of the biggest sins of the new Halloween is that it falls into the trap of being fun but is never truly scary. There are a few jump scares but that overall terrifying fear of dread that the original had in spades as you waited is nowhere to be found here. This Halloween is too busy trying to be funny (weakness again of the writers and director) or makes clever nods to the original and its sequels, which is neat but each homage takes you out of the movie and reminds you of the first one. There is a great shot of Allyson sitting in class framed and lit the exact same way as Laurie was in the first film, looking out the window while her teacher is talking offscreen (the voice of the teacher is another clever cameo) and as she looks out the window instead of seeing Michael Myers she sees her grandmother, standing in the same exact way. 

This Halloween does attempt social commentary more constructively than its character development. In this version, Michael Myers serves as a metaphor for the horrors of the real world we live in. One of the teenage characters in between his moments of spouting out unfunny nonsense does make reference to the fact that Michael Myers only killed five people, and that is not really that bad in the big picture. Sadly, it is a profound statement that in this world with mass school shootings, terrorism, and wars around the world, one guy killing five people does not exactly make for a massacre or tragedy in the news in 2018. But do not fret horror fans. Michael Myers certainly racks up a much higher kill count in this Halloween and they do not go light on the gore and violence either. The original Halloween is tame by today’s horror standards and the filmmakers knew that they had to deliver a lot more dead bodies and certainly succeed on that front. This works as a commentary on our real world and the state of horror movies in 2018. 

Surprisingly this film is also a metaphor about the struggles between three generations of women. A mother that tried to teach her daughter that the world is an evil and terrible place and she needs to protect herself and stay safe at all times, against a woman who is trying to raise her child that there is a lot of love and happiness in the world. Then the granddaughter is torn between their two philosophies and has to decide what the world is for herself. There was an impressive set design in one of the early scenes where this meeting between the three women takes place at a restaurant. The audience learns Laurie Strode has a drinking problem and they argue at a restaurant in front of a bar that is decorated with all orange and black. This scene is the best scene in the film that works on its own dramatic acting, scenery and camera shots. It does not need to rely on Michael Myers, references to the first film, or any elements of horror. 

The rest of Halloween is more references to the original, like the way Michael Myers escapes from Smith’s Grove Mental Hospital in a car and we see a bunch of mental patients walking around aimlessly on the road after a bus accident. There is a scene in a car where he surprises a driver echoing the way he dispatches one of Laurie’s friends in the first film. This Halloween is very self-aware which works for it at times and against it at times. When Laurie Strode meets his doctor right away she says “You’re the new Loomis”, referencing Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis in the 1978 film, taking away from the new actor’s performance for the sake of a nod that will make the audience smile and feel smart. All these references are good but make this Halloween less scary than it could have been since they take us out of the movie and remind viewers that this is a sequel to the original. 

This may seem like a conflicted review because there is a lot of admire about this updated version of Halloween, yet there are still enough evident flaws that take the viewer out of the action on screen. This film has its fair share of inept moments that defy logic, but they are small and this Halloween does succeed in what it set out to do and can confidently call itself the best sequel to John Carpenter’s Halloween and that is worthy of a recommendation. 

Instead of embedding the trailer here is the film’s score. It is nice to see John Carpenter involved in this franchise again for the first time in thirty-six years as a composer and executive producer.

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