Halloween Horror: Halloween (2018)

David Gordon Green’s eponymous 2018 film, Halloween, is a satisfying horror sequel and reworking of the John Carpenter original. Of all the films in the long-running series that I’ve seen, it comes the closest to capturing the dread and fear that Carpenter’s 1978 film did. It’s also a fascinating example of what we’ve called the “diegetic reboot,” acting as both a sequel and reworking and revisiting of original material in the vein of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World. While this narrative and thematic redundancy limits its power in absolute terms, the 2018 Halloween does enough to remind us of Michael Myers’ power as a horror icon to justify its existence and satisfy as a genuinely scary horror film.

The Halloween series, including seven sequels as well as Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake with its own sequel, is as stalwart a series as exists in horror, even if none of the films that come after really hold a candle to the original. After a mostly fine if unnecessary sequel in 1981’s Halloween II and the departure from the lore of the original in 1982’s Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the series continued with the Michael Myers storyline, delving into the family connections Strode/Myers family and adding mystical mumbo jumbo, with relatively diminishing strength and effectiveness. Zombie’s remake attempted to inject the story of Michael Myers with pathos and suffering, offering a grueling and nasty twist on the tale.

David Gordon Green’s film on the other hand follows as a long-delayed sequel to the first film, ignoring the other sequels and their contributions. It removes the unnecessary idea that Michael Myers is actually Laurie’s brother and gives Laurie a new daughter and granddaughter. The most high profile comparison is Superman Returns, which acted as a sequel to the first two Superman films from 1978 (funny enough, the same year Carpenter’s Halloween debuted) and 1980, while ignoring the subsequent sequels (even though Halloween: H20 attempted something similar as well).

Set and released 40 years later, the film returns to Laurie Strode, played once again by Jamie Lee Curtis, and finds her as an aging woman haunted her whole life by the horror of one Halloween night in her youth. The trauma inflicted on Laurie has affected her relationship with her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), who limits Laurie’s contact with her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak). When Michael Myers escapes while being transferred between prison facilities, Laurie warns her daughter and family that Michael will be coming for them, but Karen and her husband dismiss her mother’s warnings.

The best parts of this new Halloween are how it recaptures some of the atavistic fears generated by Carpenter’s original film. The more we learn about Michael Myers in the sequels and remakes, the more it diminishes (or makes silly) the events of the first film. What I’ve always found most terrifying about Michael Myers is the way that he embodies a kind of “motiveless malignity,” a manifestation of pure evil, as Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) believes in the original film. In the original film and Green’s new one he’s not even called Michael Myers in the credits, but rather “The Shape,” simply a stand-in for every scary thing that hides in the dark corners of the house at night and waits outside your window. This fascination with Michael Myers is literalized in the film in the character of Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), one of Loomis’s former students, who is revealed to have arranged for Michael’s escape so he could further study him. It’s another bit of metatextual play, common in the diegetic reboot, in which the desires of the audience are mirrored in the film’s plot itself, in this case the viewers’ desires to see more Michael Myers films and our fascination with evil.

In the new Halloween, Allyson and her friends take the place of Laurie and her friends in the original, acting as the new targets for Michael Myers’ carnage, as once again a babysitter is MIchael Myers’ target. Allyson’s friend, Vicky (Virginia Gardner), is babysitting a young boy, Julian (Jibrail Nantambu), when Michael attacks Vicky and her boyfriend Dave (Miles Robbins). One particularly effective scene features Vicky searching Julian’s room for what’s scaring him. Rather than find there’s nothing to be afraid of, Michael emerges from the closet and massacres Vicky as she allows Julian to escape (his bolting from the bed with a cry of “Oh, shit!” offers one of the film’s funnier moments and is an absolutely sensible reaction). The childhood fears of going into a dark basement or of a monster in the closet seem ridiculous to adults, but Green captures some of that pure fear that Carpenter did in the original, injecting dark rooms, corners, and alleyways with malice and genuine danger. Like in Carpenter’s film, Michael’s appearance is often surprising as he emerges from spaces that seem to make little spatial sense. For instance, in the above mentioned scene, Vicky somehow misses Michael’s presence in the closet until she attempts to close the closet door. It’s a formal cheat, playing with cinema’s ability to manipulate space, used to great effect.

The film’s climax and finale, where we learn that Laurie has been training and preparing for Michael Myers’ return all these years, is a nod to the ways the film functions as a reboot and a revisiting of the original. Laurie, along with Karen and Allyson, enact a kind of women’s revenge sequence, returning Michael’s brutality upon him. Laurie is older, more cynical, and wiser; here, she functions much as Harrison Ford’s Han Solo in The Force Awakens, conveying the memory of the original film to a new generation and passing the torch. Quite literally in this case. It’s not much of a spoiler to say that this film also repeats the mysterious ending of the first, leaving the potential return of Michael Myers open and hinting at something more supernatural than merely a psychopathic killer, and setting up two announced sequels to the film that Green and his collaborates will produce.

The film has a good supporting cast, including Will Patton as the sheriff’s deputy, and the aforementioned Greer, who sells her character’s frustration with her mother and eventual reversal. Adding to the film’s quality is John Carpenter himself, who along with his son Cody and Daniel A. Davies, delivers a new soundtrack building on his original themes. The score becomes, like the original, an important component in adding to the film’s overall sense of dread and fear.

Perhaps a clean reboot would have been better. Perhaps audiences’ insistence on revisiting the well of these original films and purge them of the baggage of ill-received sequels (as the new Terminator: Dark Fate will also do this fall) is misguided. Nonetheless, this latest Halloween is effective and scary, reminding me of what I loved in the original film, while bringing the concept into the contemporary moment. It can never be as bold and groundbreaking as the original, but at least this Halloween understands what was especially great about the original film and succeeds in a number of ways in restaging it.

8 out of 10

Halloween (2018, USA)

Directed by David Gordon Green; written by David Gordon Green & Danny McBride & Jeff Fradley, based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill; starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Haluk Bilginer, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner, Dylan Arnold, Jibrail Nantambu.