Fans of Halloween (1978) can be forgiven for being sceptical about new additions to their beloved franchise. After a reasonable follow-up, Halloween II (1981), it was all downhill, starting with a half decent but non-canonical third instalment, Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), through a middle run of films that grew ever more ridiculous, up to a pair of Rob Zombie remakes that were the blunt unlikeable antithesis of John Carpenter’s sharp original. Even the involvement of final girl Jamie Lee Curtis was no guarantee of quality as the underwhelming Halloween: H20 (1998) and the horrendous Halloween: Resurrection (2002) demonstrated.
When Lee Curtis announced in 2017 that she was returning to the franchise that launched her career, even she seemed nonplussed. Eschewing the usual pre-film promotional espousing, Lee Curtis was in typical wry mood when discussing the Halloween franchise at press junkets, ‘Did you see Resurrection?! Halloween II wasn't great. H20 was okay. Resurrection is a piece of shit’. John Carpenters involvement was also kept to the bare minimum; the only pre-release info given was that the director had given his “seal of approval” to the new film, whatever that entailed.
But as is the case for most horror fans hungry for a new instalment in their favourite saga, Michael Myers aficionados were secretly hopeful that this time Hollywood would get it right. Hiring director David Gordon Green was a good start. With curious films such as Prince Avalanche (2013), Manglehorn (2014), and Stronger (2017) in his back catalogue fans were intrigued to see what he could do with his first horror outing. It also wasn’t lost on most fans that Carpenter’s last decent directorial effort was thirty years ago, They Live (1988). What Carpenter hadn’t lost though were his musical chops, and off the back of his excellent Lost Themes (2015) and Lost Themes II (2016) albums Carpenter and son Cody were hired to update Halloween’s soundtrack for the new instalment. Green also roped in Jeff Fradley and actor/writer Danny Mcbride to assist on the screenplay.
So just in time for Halloween 2018 Halloween (2018) hit cinema screens, and box office tills immediately began to ring. With a superb opening weekend take of $77million on a staggeringly modest budget of just $14.7million, Halloween is already a sizeable financial success. But with memories of the $115million Freddy vs Jason (2003) and the $80million Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007) made, profit alone is no marker for quality. It’s pleasing then that Green’s Halloween marries revenue with results. Halloween (2018) is easily on a par with Halloween II (1981), and could stake a good claim to being the best follow-up to Halloween (1978) yet seen.
It’s not a perfect film (spoilers ahead). At 105 minutes it’s slightly too long, particularly when compared to the taut 91 minutes of Carpenter’s original. This is particularly irksome when the superfluous scenes are so obvious; the two cops comparing their stakeout food, Laurie’s restaurant breakdown, any scene involving Allyson’s pointless-him-being-there boyfriend Cameron. The kill scenes also borrow too much from Rob Zombie’s more-is-more take on Michael Myers, with 2018 Michael stomping skulls and bashing heads against walls with manic force. Though Green was obviously responding to a post Saw (2004) / Hostel (2005) horror world, Carpenter’s Myers was chilling because of his economy of movement, not because of his large repertoire of finishing moves.
But comparisons to the 1978 original really need to be left aside. Halloween (1978) is a masterpiece, a sub-genre launching, pitch perfect scare machine almost unmatched in the horror field. Green’s film is as good a sequel nine films on from the original movie that we can reasonably hope to see.
Halloween: H20 (1998) had a good premise; twenty years on from the Haddonfield murders Laurie Strode is living under a new identity trying to get on with her life as a headmistress of a California school. The film was undone though by shoddy production (how hard was it to make a decent replica of the original mask?) and a derivative screenplay. Following on from Scream (1996), H20 saddled its script with as much knowing, post-modern dialogue as it could get away with, ‘I am seventeen years old and your overprotection and paranoia is inhibiting my growing process.’ Laurie’s intriguing struggle with post-traumatic stress was reduced to a large chardonnay or two with lunch. Halloween (2018) sidesteps these pitfalls with ease.
The first third of Halloween is a grounded-in-reality study in to Michael’s fate and Laurie’s seclusion forty years after they met on 31st October 1978. Myers remains a myth, wisely kept anonymous by Green with only a tantalising glimpse at the back of his greying, receding hair topped head. The sixty-one year old killer still stands as an intimidating frame though, chained in his asylum prison courtyard. Laurie, estranged from her daughter and granddaughter, lives as a survivalist, secluded in a woodland hideaway custom built to house traps, floodlights and a secret below ground panic-room cellar. The conduit for the next chapter in their combined story is two English reporters visiting the pair to dig up more insight on the Haddonfield murders.
What quickly becomes apparent is that all plot points outside of Halloween (1978) have been dismissed, as recapped by Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson to her friends on the way to school. Michael is no longer Laurie’s older brother, Loomis never blew Michael up at the Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, and the ‘Curse of Thorn’ remains just a shit idea on a mid-nineties scriptwriter’s notepad. Cleverly, one of Allyson’s friends queries why her grandma is still fixated on something that happened four decades ago, particularly in the face of larger scale violent tragedies that are almost part of everyday life in contemporary America. It’s a valid question, summarily and violently answered once Michael escapes from the security bus transferring him to another mental asylum. Lee Curtis is on fantastic form here; there’s just enough of the 1978 Laurie left to be recognisable between the intervening years of trauma and depression. The gaps in her personality, what should have been the adult Laurie who had a family and a husband, have been filled rather fittingly by the personality of Dr. Sam Loomis, the revolver toting Myers expert out to protect the weak and to put an end to Michael once and for all.
Lee Curtis is helped immensely by a supporting cast that, much like Carpenter’s original, create sympathetic and likeable characters in a short amount of run time. The biggest crime in Rob Zombie’s two remakes were that the heroes and heroines were all deeply unlikeable characters; by the time his Michael caught up with them you didn’t care who lived or died. Green does well not to repeat this mistake. Judy Greer and Andi Matichak as Laurie’s daughter Karen and granddaughter Allyson are both as equally likeable as Laurie was all those years ago. The same goes for Will Patton’s Deputy Hawkins (revealed as the arresting officer in Michael’s eventual capture in 1978) and Allyson’s best friend Vicky (Virginia Gardner), good hearted but rounded characters you instantly care for.
When Michael gets free the scares start proper, but falling back on the tropes of twenty-first century horror Green opts for the current predilection for ‘cattle prod’ jolts, soundtrack stings and objects/people darting in to frame to give the audience a quick ‘boo’ surprise. It works for the most part but longer periods of sustained atmosphere and more drawn out build-ups to the eventual killings worked wonders for Carpenter; it would have been nice to see Green replicate that style rather than relent to the apparent want of modern audiences for a frenetic paced horror film where you’re throwing your popcorn up in the air every ten minutes.
When Green does allow himself a moment to craft some atmosphere he does incredibly well. Small moments of suspense come thick and fast, some of them now standing as top scary scenes in the whole Halloween franchise, such as drunk Oscar confronting Michael in the face of intermittent security lights or Michael stalking freely along the Haddonfield streets packed with trick or treaters. The chance to see Michael unleash his knife at a high school dance full of teens in Halloween fancy dress is an opportunity missed though.
The biggest treat for Halloween fans is the goldmine of Easter eggs that litter the film. Whereas H20 shoved these tributes in to the script in an obvious and distracting way (see the Psycho (1960) soundtrack motif that heralds Janet Leigh’s appearance) Green makes sure his Halloween treats are fully integrated in to the film. Nick Castle, the original Michael, returns to lend the ‘Shape’ his distinctive stride, and Halloween (1978) favourite PJ Soles cameos as a school teacher. Allyson’s boyfriend Cameron is the son of Lonnie from the original film. Vicky takes on babysitting duties, a’la Nancy Kyes/Annie from 1978, wearing the same colour combo as Annie and with the requisite bowl of popcorn accompanying a scary movie on TV (she also babysits Jibrail Nantambu as Julian, the funniest babysat child seen on screen, almost stealing the film with some hilarious line delivery, ‘Oh shit! ... you go up there Dave you gon' die’).
The treats don’t stop there. Green crams in more visual call-backs than any horror fan will be able to count in a single viewing. Not only are there numerous Halloween (1978) homages, such as the excellent pumpkin-in-reverse retro opening credits, Laurie appearing across the street as Allyson stares out of her classroom window, and the eponymous ‘Myers’ washing line, there are nods to a number of other slasher classics, such as the creepy mannequins of Tourist Trap (1979), the back-of-the-police cruiser trap of Scream 2 (1997), and the woodland cabin attack featured in so many Friday the 13th sequels. Further still, Green reimagines whole scenes from the original two films, such as Dr. Loomis and Nurse Chambers discovering the escaped patients of Smith’s Grove, recreated here as a father and son stumbling upon the crashed transfer bus, and the fiery end to Halloween II given a fresh twist during the film’s climax. Considering so much of the film is heavily influenced by what has gone before its remarkable that so much of it feels fresh, albeit with the caveat that Green doesn’t really break outside of the boundaries of a traditional slasher film.
The biggest tribute of all those in Halloween (2018) is Carpenter’s updated soundtrack. Green had the template for how to visually revive the 1978 film, but aurally he left things to the master, and Carpenter didn’t disappoint. His modernized soundtrack not only renews all of the classic themes in stunning fashion, it also adds two new central themes, positioned masterfully in the movie’s second half to let the viewer know events have moved on to even more serious territory than we found ourselves in back in 1978. All round it’s the best horror soundtrack heard for years.
So well incorporated are these tributes, visual and aural, that its jarring when one arrives that is so forced, the only real standout being Laurie’s on-the-nose greeting to Dr. Ranbir Sartain, ‘So you’re the new Loomis’. Sartain is the biggest misstep in the entire film. Green tries desperately to paint him as the red herring, but it’s clear to anyone with even a passing interest in horror films that he’s on Michael’s side. Even Laurie’s line can’t save the plot twist, and a tape playback of the original Dr. Loomis (ingeniously created with a spot-on Donald Pleasence soundalike) adds a chilling forewarning and highlights that Sartain isn’t fit to hold Loomis’ beige raincoat. Most annoyingly, it’s clear that Michael doesn’t need any help to make him terrifying or to achieve his violent aims; he’s a force of nature on his own without any medical profession acolytes.
Sartain isn’t enough of a problem to derail the film though and Halloween ends with a frantic, nerve shredding climax. The only bum note is Laurie’s failure to watch Michael perish; for all her protestations that she must be the one to end him, she still doesn’t put a bullet between his eyes and instead wanders off while the fiery remains of her woodland house are left to cook Myers to a crisp (or not as these things tend to go in horror-sequel-land). After forty years one would think that she’d at least hang around to give his charred corpse a kick. Stranger still is the parting shot of Allyson’s hand, gripping the traditional Myers kitchen knife in a manner very much reminiscent of quiet girl turned killer Jamie in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988).
Though Laurie’s reluctance to see Michael off for good seems like a contrivance at odds with her character, written in specifically to bait yet another sequel, its fully in keeping with Carpenter’s original; when Dr. Loomis looked over the Doyle’s bedroom balcony to see an empty Michael shaped hole on their lawn, audiences around the world immediately thought ‘sequel’, even before the merry-go-round of slasher instalments was a recognised cinematic idiom.
At sixty-one Myers can’t have many more stalking years ahead of him, no matter how long he’s had to build a prison sculpted physique. But if Green is going to return for a new part two (and given the box office take so far it’s likely) he’d do well to take another cue from Carpenter. Talked in to coming up with a script idea for a follow-up to his 1978 smash hit, Carpenter famously chugged some beers and sat at his typewriter one evening to undertake what he saw as a thankless task. It was an inspired choice though, setting Halloween II at the very moment the first film ended, following Michael as he dragged himself out of the Doyle’s backyard and continued his Haddonfield killing spree. If Green wants to start his own Halloween II by having retirement age Michael kick out a basement window in Laurie’s fire-wrecked home, that would be alright with me. Providing Green gets his full cast back and Carpenter is willing to dust off his synthesisers one last time, it should make for another cracking 31st of October and another thrilling night when he comes home.