3.5

Horror films are fantastic affairs – they force us to sit with our demons, and reconcile with the feeling of finding comfort and joy from being terrified. John Carpenter’s original classic brought terror to the suburbs, and helped transform horror cinema for generations. But, Halloween, and its sequels and imitators, are of the slasher ilk – possibly the most predictable and rote type of horror film. By the mid-nineties, the slasher genre had become tired and exhausted, so much so that Scream helped subvert the genre, and just like Halloween, transformed the world of horror once again. Arguably, there have been seldom few great slasher films since Scream, (outside of the maybe-it’s-a-slasher, maybe-it’s-not, Final Destination series), which puts this reboot-quel of the Halloween series in a unique position. How does it make the old, new again? 

It’s been forty years since the horrific events of the first Halloween. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), now a battle ready grandmother, has crafted a Panic Room-style house in the woods, prepared for the eventual date when Michael Myers returns. Low and behold, as fate would have it, an imprisoned Michael Myers is being transferred from one high security prison to another high security prison on the exact anniversary of his killing spree. And, would you believe it, the bus he’s on crashes, allowing Michael to once again reign terror on the citizens of Haddonfield. 

Taking over directing duties from Carpenter and the pantheon of imitators is one time indie darling David Gordon Green. Joined by regular collaborators, Danny McBride, and Jeff Fradley, Green has written a slasher film that does little to flip the genre on its head. Instead, its focus is aimed at telling an effective horror film. And, sure enough, this Halloween film is darn well effective, with moments of tension and terror that leave you gripping the armrests and spilling your popcorn. Long, drawn out moments that make a second feel like a minute, allowing the tension to build until something terrible happens. The classic Halloween theme is darn well effective, especially when paired with Michael Simmonds atmospheric cinematography that utilises the pitch black of the night to chilling effect.

Slasher films have long monopolised on vulnerable women being chased and slaughtered by men. And this Halloween is no different. Granted, there’s a fair few men who fall victim to Michael’s knife in this entry, with Michael being somewhat of an equal opportunity killer. So, while David Gordon Green does a serviceable job of delivering effective frights (the quiet, LOUD, quiet, format of these kinds of films pretty much writes itself), this new entry could quite easily have been better serviced by having a woman directing the piece. Given the original film came partly from the mind of Debra Hill, it’s a shame that there is no woman behind the screen for this entry.

Sidenote on the sound design: This is an extremely atmospheric film and the work of the Sound Department is noticeable. Every stab, every slash, every geyser of blood caused from a slashed neck, rattles the speakers in a truly immersive manner. 

This entry acts more as a celebration of forty years of Halloween – and it deserves celebration, after all, how many other film franchises are able to carry on with the original cast some forty years after they first began? In turn, this celebration creeps into the frames of the film in some fairly obnoxious ways. The nods to the original, and rewriting of established lore (one throwaway line works explicitly to write every Halloween film after Halloween 2 out of existence), are cute, but they have the unshakeable feeling that David Gordon Green is sitting just outside the frame, itching to stick his head in and give you a huge wink while saying, ‘didya get that?’

Laurie Strode is a well written, weathered mother, who carries the immense weight of the fear that Myers will eventually come back to kill her and her whole family. Jamie Lee Curtis is as best as she’s ever been, and clearly relishes the chance to revisit her iconic character, albeit this time with more agency than the endless sequels ever did. There’s a brutal realisation that Laurie is a character thrust into a situation she never, ever imagined she’d find herself in. Having transformed her life to be a defensive woman, Laurie reluctantly dives into the world of protection, with her arsenal of weapons that she fears that she will one day have to use, and in turn, when she does have to use them, the realisation that she will have to face her greatest fear once again. The thing that tore her life apart all those years ago.

Jamie Lee Curtis is joined by Judy Greer who plays her daughter Karen, a character who was raised like she was an extra on Doomsday Preppers, and has become a weathered, exhausted mother of her own. Daughter to Karen is Allyson (Andi Matichak), a teen who finds herself stuck between the anxieties of her grandmother, and the efforts of her mother to try bring Laurie down to earth. There’s a quietly complex struggle that exists between these generations that unfortunately is never given the time to breath and be explored in depth.

This is mostly because Halloween is beholden to the tropes of slasher films. There’s little to shake up the format here, with the predictable escalating body count leading towards a climax that has the final girl tackling the villain head on. Because of this well worn format, surprises are few and far between, making this a basic, enjoyable ride, rather than something that’s truly transformative or memorable. Again, this film isn’t aiming to be transformative or memorable, but one can’t shake the feeling that slasher films have worn out their welcome. After forty years of reskinned tales that have casual viewers confusing silent maniac Jason for silent maniac Michael, it’s a shame that the revived original trend-setter does little to reassert its place on the bloody throne.

In the #MeToo world, a re-imagined Halloween that takes the notion of the ‘final girl’ and throws it on its head, albeit through the eyes of women who live in a world where every man is a potential predator, would have been a suitably apt one. Sure, David Gordon Green’s effort works. It’s a darn good time at the movies. But, in 2018, when reviving a major slasher icon, and bringing forty years of horror legacy back to life, just ‘working’ is not enough. There needs to be the feeling that this is something new, and unfortunately, there’s little that’s new here other than a fresh coat of paint.

I’m nitpicking – it’s great to see a solid, effective horror film, from a company that’s made their name from producing great, effective horror films (Blumhouse). It’s great to see that horror icon Michael Myers still has the power to chill and terrify. It’s great to see that Jamie Lee Curtis still has the power to command your attention and control the screen. It’s just that Halloween feels like there’s a lot left on the table. Given the extreme case of sequelitis that these slasher flicks have, and the huge success that Halloween has been in the US, it’s inevitable that there’ll be another one trundling along quietly in the night in a few years time. (More on that in spoilers on the next page.) I just hope that for the next one, Jason Blum takes his recent realisation that there are in fact many women who want to direct horror films, and allows them the chance to reinvent the misogynistic slasher genre for the next go round.

Director: David Gordon Green
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Nick Castle
Writers: David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley (Based on characters created by John Carpenter & Debra Hill)

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