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Halloween is more return than reinvention

Halloween is more return than reinvention

When Halloween H20 came out in 1998, it was the 20 year anniversary of the original film. I remember begging my dad to take me to the theater to see it, as Halloween had been one of the first “don’t tell your mother” films he’d rented for me as an adolescent. I remember being so pumped to see what I thought at the time to be the definitive ending to what was essentially the Laurie Strode trilogy (H1, H2, & H20). If you leave out all of the other sequels, a task which I was more than happy to do at the time, H20 capped everything off very nicely. Michael was dead, Laurie was free, and Josh Hartnett was now a star.

And then Halloween: Resurrection happened, and with it, Jamie Lee Curtis decided that since the powers that be were unhappy to let things stand as they were, she could at least do herself the favor of having her most iconic character killed off. 

And then that was the end.

And then there was a remake

And then there was a sequel to the remake

If history has shown us anything, it’s that much like the murderer at the center of the franchise, Halloween is essentially unkillable. But also like the hulking masked madman, no detail is so concrete that it cannot be reworked, expanded upon or eliminated entirely. Throughout the series (as covered by my expansive breakdown of every single entry), the rules are written, re-written, reinterpreted, abolished, restored, etc. At this point, now 11 films and 40 years deep, pretty much nothing is sacred in the world of Halloween, which is why it’s such a bold and interesting move for the latest filmmakers on the job to throw everything but the original film into the trash. 

Halloween, probably the only sequel in existence that shares the exact same title as its canonical predecessor, is our new Halloween II. It picks up 40 years after the original, effectively cutting every ounce of narrative fat from the beloved, albeit increasingly ridiculous franchise. Laurie Strode and Michael Myers are no longer brother and sister, Dr. Loomis is long dead, and in the years since that fateful October night, things haven’t really gone well for the greatest final girl in horror history. Laurie was left so traumatized by her run in with evil that she’s been unable to function normally in society. Her attempts at family life were dashed by a precarious mental state, and now she spends her time in a fortified compound, awaiting the inevitable night when Myers returns to finish the job.

Myers, at the film’s outset, has spent four wordless decades locked up in Smith’s Grove asylum. His psychiatrist has deemed him untreatable, so in a few days he will be transferred to a high security prison for the rest of his days. Why they have chosen to transfer him on Halloween remains a very dumb mystery, but I’ll allow it for the sake of “because the movie absolutely has to take place on Halloween.”

David Gordon Green, who was long set to direct the remake of Suspiria before it went to Luca Guadagnino, working from a script he co-wrote with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, clearly has an eye for the cozy, autumnal feel of Carpenter’s original film. From moment one through to the explosive denouement, Green’s Haddonfield feels like a real place filled with real people. And while he does indeed borrow from Carpenter’s cinematic toolbox, this is still very distinctly a Green film. He has brought the imagery into a modern lens, without leaning into the gaudy, aggressive modernity that Zombie tried to invoke with his tale on the material. In the same way that Pineapple Express borrows from a lifetime of crime films to create an atypical stoner comedy, Halloween is reverent to even the worst entries in the preceding franchise, while creating a film wholly its own in both style and structure.

No, Green is not reinventing the wheel here, and even though it was a bit disappointing at first to realize that this is just a handsome reworking of a movie nerd’s dream playset, I have to wonder if a brazen attempt to blaze new ground could ever have been a success. The team behind this latest attempt at turning Michael Myers into box office gold clearly know what works, but aren’t content to copy and paste. And really, with Michael Myers, less has always been more. Unlike Jason, Freddie, and Pinhead, The Shape has proven to be a difficult fit for franchising due to the necessity for ambiguity in his characterization, so it’s best to take him back to his roots — namely, that he has none. Michael Myers kills for one reason and one reason only: no reason. 

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Much more interesting, then, to focus on the one character who has yet to be given a fitting resolution in the sense that, at the end of the original film, she has merely survived. Nothing more. There’s no justice, no closure, no nothing. Laurie Strode barely escaped with her life, and that’s her only prize. What does that look like after 40 years lying in wait?

Well, she’s estranged from her family (daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter), struggles with alcohol addiction, and is generally regarded as a kook. There’s not much by way of understanding in her world, and she certainly doesn’t make it easy for those around her to try. But when it becomes clear that the architect of her trauma is back for round two, Laurie springs to life once again.

But this is only half of the film. The other half involves the story of her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), as she goes about what should be a regular Halloween night for a high schooler. These portions of the film grant us our usual bits of slasher fun in which a group of tropey youngsters are introduced and gruesomely dispatched. It’s admittedly a little humbling to find that the cookie cutter teenagers in new films are no longer designed to resonate with my old ass, but even so, this crop is fun and functional. Their dialogue ranges from cringey to hilarious, the latter occurring when it’s clear that the boys behind Eastbound and Down are having a bit of fun.

As Halloween bounces back and forth between the two narratives (before ultimately converging in a wickedly exciting third act), it forms an atypical structure for slasher flick. It’s a bit tough to roll with at first, but this isn’t a failure of the film, so much as it’s my failure to abandon preconceptions. When I said before that Green was not trying to reinvent the wheel here, I meant that in terms of the Halloween mythos, not the structure of the film in a vacuum. This new narrative shape is probably the only way that a production with such a high expectational bar could ever serve its never-ending list of masters, and its through its construction that I’m sure there is plenty of rewatch value. Frankly, I hardly feel qualified to talk about it after having only seen it once. Yes, Halloween is a slambanger of a good time at the movies, but I suspect that there is much more under the surface both thematically and in terms of cinematic know how. I’m also sure there are probably a handful of Easter eggs that even I, a dyed in the wool Halloween super fan surely missed, especially since the audience I shared it with was a bunch of chatty Kathys (one of whom BROUGHT A FUCKING BABY TO THE MOVIE).

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Jamie Lee Curtis shines once again as Laurie, and although her work in the now defunct sequels has always been exceptional, this is the first time where it became clear to me that Curtis is doing a character. More than a few times the way she moved, spoke, or gestured conjured the image of her as a young adult, swooning over Ben Tramer or comforting little Tommy Doyle about the boogeyman. And when we finally get to the storied showdown, we see the completion of a character arc which began decades ago. It’s cathartic, fun, and everything you could hope for in a celebratory “sequelboot” of a stone cold masterpiece. Alongside Curtis is Judy Greer, as Laurie’s estranged daughter Karen, who bridges the gap between the manic mental state of her mother and the suburban stability she provides for her own family. It’s a great performance from an actress who doesn’t always get a chance to shine. Here, she shines, and does so in a role that most a stereotypical slasher would treat as wholly disposable.  

No, the film is not particularly scary, but Michael Myers is just as imposing and credible of a threat as he ever was, even though his advanced age is beginning to show. In fact, it’s his age which really gives his newly depthless character a bit of humanity without undercutting the mystery of his evil. And behind that mask (which is aged realistically, complete with a hole in the neck where Laurie got him with a knitting needle so many moons ago), we get the sense that even he knows the clock is ticking, and that this opportunity to finish the job is not one he takes lightly. 

As I said before, I would like to see this again with an eye towards digging into its themes. With long slasher franchises, it’s commonplace to touch upon the cyclical nature of trauma. Usually with a final girl (or in the case of Friday the 13th’s middle chapters, a final guy), these franchises give a surface level assessment as to how damaging trauma such as that brought on by a knife-wielding maniac can be. In Halloween specifically, wherein all subsequent chapters have The Shape chasing down multiple generations of his own bloodline, the themes of trauma are much more front and center. This latest entry, however, is the first time where it feels like more is being said than just “surviving a killing spree can be difficult.” I’d like to give it its due in that department. 

As for the cinematic style (and the beautifully captured violence!) Halloween RIPS. 

All in all, Halloween delivers everything one could reasonably expect from it and then some. Welcome back to Haddonfield, Mr. Myers. I’m glad you came home one more time. 

Halloween opens in Philly theaters today.

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