This October, one of the longest-running horror franchises of all time finally comes full-circle in Halloween, David Gordon Green’s spiritual successor to John Carpenter’s iconic and massively influential 1978 classic of the same name. After 40 years of sequels, ret-cons, and reboots, Green gives the series an ample reset as if the not-particularly-adored previous 9 films never happened, offering fans of the original classic a nostalgia-filled scare-fest packed with thrills, chills, franchise callbacks, and a welcome return for a spry-as-ever Jamie Lee Curtis.
Released just prior to Halloween in 1978, legendary horror director John Carpenter’s seminal classic had a simple recipe: psychotic killer meets plush, modern suburbia, and audiences loved it. Though the premise was rather straightforward, there was actually a lot going on under the surface, such as pulling back the curtain on the sanitized American dream, depicting teenagers of the time as pot-smoking rebels who used babysitting gigs as excuses to hook up, and were consequently butchered. Appropriately, it was the tight-laced heroine who saved the day.
The film set the template for the slasher genre that populated the latter-half of the 20th century, and is partially responsible for the ubiquitous horror tropes we have today involving the desecration of reckless teenagers. But like most surprise horror blockbusters, the film also served as the unwitting launching pad for a massive franchise of inferior sequels and remakes levying low budgets and exploitation to sell tickets to generations of teenagers to come. Rob Zombie tried to bring new life to the franchise back in 2007, but was accused of focusing too much on gore.
Flashforward to 2018, and one of horror’s hallmark properties finally heralds a sequel that earns its namesake. It’s rather standard fare, but it’s a long time coming considering it’s the 11th entry in this infinite series. We open on a sanitarium where an aging Michael Myers (Nick Castle) has been housed for the last forty years. Ignoring even Halloween II, the film assumes Myers was caught after being shot six times by his psychiatrist Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance). A pair of true crime podcasters have arrived to dig deeper into the psyche of the psychopath than ever before.
They’ve brought with them an olive branch: Myers’ stolen Halloween mask from evidence. Shackled by ankle in a square painted around him lest anyone get too close, Myers remains as emotionless and void as ever, refraining from exhibiting reaction. Green refuses to show his face as the horde of insane criminals surrounding him begins to wail and scream. It’s a harrowing opening that cuts to an old-school credits sequence set to Carpenter’s celebrated theme music, over-the-top and blistering enough to match the delightfully cartoonish content to follow.
In the years since Laurie’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) fateful Halloween encounter, she has never stopped battling the psychological abuse, at the expense of her personal relationships. The experience transformed her into a paranoid warrior, fortifying her home in the middle of nowhere with traps and artillery, and projecting her fear and instability onto her daughter (Judy Greer). She has a granddaughter now, Allyson (Andi Matichak), who is in high school and laments the situation with her grandmother. Meanwhile, Michael Myers escapes and returns home.
The approach here is abundant in potential for exploring the generational effects of intense personal trauma, but Green isn’t as interested in fascinating character dynamics here as he is in building the foundation for a riveting final confrontation between Laurie and Michael. The loss in an opportunity for subtlety and a layered performance from Jamie Lee Curtis, which frankly, she probably isn’t up for, is made up for by a chance for the actress to chew up the scenery as a rabid agoraphobic hungry for revenge and a chance to justify a lifetime of anxious behavior.
For fans who have been long looking forward to a deserving return, it’s a treat that delivers on all that it promises. As a horror film, it’s not on the same level of spine-tingling suspense that Carpenter demonstrated so well, relying more on sudden eruptions of violence and gruesome imagery rather than functional atmospherics or tension. The script by David Gordon Green, Jeff Fradley, and Danny McBride, certainly signifies their experience in the comedy genre, as there is an unexpected emphasis on gags and one-liners to offset the madness, and effectively so.
A nerdy teenage outcast played by Drew Scheid and a sass-talking little boy being babysat ensure that many viewers will leave the theater remembering the jokes over the murders, as some of this content is downright hilarious. Comparably, some of Laurie’s impulsive antics around her family members hit just the right note of excess to entertain rather than to aggravate. With an explosive, crowd-pleasing climax that I guarantee will give you your money’s worth, the film is almost more of bloody actioner than a genuine horror flick, but you likely won’t be disappointed.
Going along with the laughs and moments of searing excitement, long-time fans of the franchise will be pleased to spot historical nods such as Allyson’s boyfriend being the son of Lonnie from the original, or the granddaughter shaking off speculation of Laurie and Michael being long-lost siblings as just a rumor. As an addition to the genre, 2018’s Halloween is rather underwhelming as a horror film or on a storytelling basis, but as a tribute to devotees who kept this long-running franchise afloat over the last 40 years, it’s the first sequel in the series worthy to bear its name.