Halloween (2018)

OCTOBER 17, 2018

GENRE: SLASHER
THEATRICAL (PRESS SCREENING)

For a while there, it looked like I may never get to use my "Halloween Series" tag on this site again unless it was for yet another re-release of one of the films on Blu-ray that inspired me to write something. Multiple incarnations of a new entry in the series fell apart (one just a few weeks before shooting), Dimension seemed to be having problems getting ANYTHING done, and the other "old guard" franchises like Freddy and Leatherface were either on ice or barely getting released, so it just seemed like no one would want to bother. But through some combination of miracles and presumably a healthy number of zeroes on a paycheck, the series was revived by Blumhouse, and they even managed to get Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter on board. Two years and change after it was announced, Halloween (hereafter "H40" so as not to confuse with the same-named original) is now here, and thanks to a few festival and test screenings a lot of info and spoilers are out there, leaving only one question: Was BC, bastion of Halloween continuity and nitpickiest asshole on the planet, satisfied?

As a matter of fact, I was.

This will be a long review, as per tradition, so I just wanted to get that out of the way so you could move on, especially if you've managed to avoid any major spoilers or plot information. I won't get into specifics, but I will be talking about spoiler-y things in general later, so maybe wait to read the rest now that you know it's passed my smell test. It's not a perfect film - there are two blunders at a crucial time in the narrative, and it seems some character beats got left on the cutting room floor (at 105 minutes, I can't exactly blame them for trying to trim wherever they could), but it gets all the important things right: Jamie is at the top of her game (far better than she was in H20), it has a terrific, crowd-pleasing finale, and (most importantly?) the Carpenter score is PERFECT. Yes, some hardcore fans may bristle at the "none of the sequels happened" slate-wiping approach, but if you'd rather make John Carpenter sit down to write music for a scene where a Druid cult talks to Busta Rhymes just to ensure every previous movie got its due, I'm not sure anything can ever make you happy in life.

Might as well start with that approach. The biggest hurdle this movie has to overcome is getting the fans to forget everything else that's happened, including/especially the whole "Michael is Laurie's sister" thing. For many fans (including this one), this has always been the case, either from seeing a sequel first or just hearing about it - it's horror's version of "Darth Vader is Luke's father", i.e. common knowledge to people who haven't even seen the films. And the film does a pretty good job of establishing the non-existence of those other films (better than H20 did, for sure - fans have made attempts to explain how 4-6 could have still happened in H20's timeline, and even though they're wrong, it's at least somewhat possible. This time? Not a chance in hell), as well as waving away the sibling idea through dialogue ("Just something people made up") - but then engineers a plot that sends Michael to Laurie's front door.

So it's kind of a "having cake and eating it too" thing; they want to restore Myers to the "boogeyman" who kills at random, but they also want to give people a showdown between him and his most famous target. To be fair, he does seem fairly content wandering around Haddonfield and murdering folks and only crosses paths with Laurie because she's obsessed and hunting him down... for the first 75 minutes or so. But then there's a plot twist (which I'll get into later) and it's hard to forget he's back to being a random murderer, as he literally drives to Laurie's house when he could have just returned to town and found more people to kill there (Laurie, understandably, lives in isolation outside of town). They're not related anymore, and he sure as hell doesn't work for a Druid cult, but it sure seems like he wants to finish her off in particular.

Speaking of Laurie, the other thing we have to just kind of shrug off is... you know, H20. I don't love that film, but despite the fact that this film is superior in every way, the "I've waited forty years..." stuff never quite lands with the impact it should, because we know it's only been 16 years (since Resurrection), and we've already seen a damaged Laurie have her reunion with the guy in the white mask, which steals a lot of H40's thunder. If you are indeed the ideal audience member for this movie, i.e. one who saw the original and none of the other sequels (and stayed oblivious to the sibling twist), I am eternally jealous of you, because I never managed to fully shake/ignore my memories of those films*, even though many of them were inferior. When Jamie first sees Michael again in this film, as he's being transferred (as always, they transfer this guy on literally the worst night of the year to do so, Halloween Eve), she breaks down and cries, and you want to feel that forty years of buildup that Laurie is feeling - but I'm just like "Well at least she knows it's not a paramedic wearing his mask this time."

But like I said, this approach is preferable to the alternative of saying those movies DID exist, and trying to find a way to explain how it can all work is best left to fans with nothing better to do. For whatever split personality vibes you might get from it, the simplicity of the film is what makes it work as well as it does, and we get to spend more time with Laurie as a human being than as the guide through forty years of conflicting sequels. And it helps demystify Michael, helping us think of him as an everyday real world killer as opposed to a supernatural maniac like Jason or Freddy. Our entry point to the story are the two people behind a true crime podcast, and one of them makes a plea to Laurie for her to go to Smith's Grove (we are led to believe she never has done this) and confront Michael, and say the things that she's been bottling up for the past four decades. She doesn't get to do that, but it got me thinking of how in a normal world, if someone were to survive an attack, they'd likely have to sit in a courtroom with that person and perhaps get some things off their chest there. By removing all the Druid silliness, it's possible to think about that happening, and it becomes a really effective moment. We all laughed in Halloween 5 when they put Myers (with his mask!) in a jail cell, but this version, who has only killed five people and survived a few gunshots (and a needle stabbing - I love that the mask has the hole in it), it doesn't seem strange at all - a character even points out that there are plenty of worse people out there in the here and now (any shooting spree perp you remember killed far more people, for example). It's hard to put aside Laurie's history as we've seen it over the years, but for whatever reason I quickly bought into the idea that this Myers is just another guy who went on one (1) killing spree and got locked up after.

And on that note, one of the things the movie never quite cracks is explaining how Myers got captured in 1978. Originally there was a plan to open the film then and show it (with some minor retconning of the original ending), but it was scrapped at some point, leaving only vague lines of dialogue here and there to sell the idea. Again, Halloween II didn't happen either, so there was no explosion - he was just GONE at the end of the original, and presumably didn't walk back into Smith's Grove himself. But through scattered lines of dialogue it seems he was apprehended shortly after going out the window, with one of the arresting officers being Hawkins, who is played by Will Patton in the film. He's a new character that's kind of treated as a fan favorite coming back to the fold (hell, he even gets a better introduction than Laurie), and even when the film is closer to the end than the beginning they feel the need to remind us that Hawkins was there that night. You gotta love a movie that not only tells us that six other films never happened, but seemingly made one up in between. Not that I want them to change the original's ending, but I wish they did have that flashback or something to not only reinforce the fact that Halloween II's events never happened (explosion aside, it's an easier launching off point since he was at least down for the count, not MIA) but to spare us the awkward dialogue later.

That said, Hawkins is a terrific new character; he's not a sheriff but he fills the Brackett/Meeker role admirably, without coming off as a pale retread of either. He's introduced playing a pinball game, clearly establishing the small-town boredom a veteran cop in that situation must be feeling, but he also knows not to dismiss the idea of Michael Myers running loose in the city. These films have never really found a way to make up for Dr. Loomis' absence in the wake of Donald Pleasence's death, but having a quirky character actor like Patton (who I've loved for over 20 years and was ecstatic to hear that he was cast in a Halloween film) chasing Myers through the town, sometimes alongside a crazed Laurie Strode, is about the best consolation option I can imagine. The "new Loomis", per Laurie, is Dr. Sartain, who we're told was a student of Loomis' (who has now just passed away, presumably of old age) and picked up where he left off in trying to reach Michael. Due to an injury he suffers during Michael's inevitable escape he is sidelined for a good chunk of the narrative, which is for the best since once he wakes up and joins the hunt it's hard not to think about the real Loomis.

OK here's the somewhat spoiler-y paragraph, so skip this one for sure if you want to be unsullied! Sartain is also involved in one of those aforementioned blunders; I'll refrain from getting into it but you'll know exactly what I'm talking about when it happens. In addition to being wholly unnecessary, it will also likely remind you of a bad call in one of the other sequels, which baffled me to no end - they were trying so hard and mostly succeeding in getting us to forget about those, why risk giving us the unpleasant flashback? Especially at the point it occurs in the film, which is roughly the end of act two. Some breathless editing aside, the film is working like gangbusters until then, and while this minor subplot is thankfully done and over with about ten minutes later (and, while not spelled out, we can assume explains something a little hokey in the film's setup), it's a shame that they have to kind of work to get us back on board when they were so close to finishing up with a home run. If the movie's a hit (and tracking suggests it very much will be), I hope they just agree once and for all that there's only one Loomis and we don't need any attempt at a substitute.

The other adults are Judy Greer and Toby Huss as Laurie's daughter and son-in-law, and to no one's surprise they are kind of sidelined. We're told that Karen (Greer) was taken away from Laurie when she was only 12 because the social service folks didn't care too much for how she was being raised (more or less the same way Sarah Connor raised John), so they're not on the best of terms as Karen thinks she's just wacko and of course will realize in the end that Laurie was right. But they don't do much beyond roll their eyes at Laurie and fret about their daughter Allyson, giving Greer yet another opportunity to make the most out of a role that, until the third act, may as well have been filled by Central Casting (see also: Jurassic World, Ant-Man, the new Apes films...). She gets one of the most crowd-pleasing moments in the franchise near the end, and Greer is one of those actresses who will always add a little flavor to her screentime (keep an eye on her at the dinner scene in particular; the focus is on Laurie but she's engaged), but I was hoping she'd get to do more throughout. The movie really could have used a one on one scene between the two women (perhaps there was one; when Karen says that Laurie came to see her earlier that day, it's unclear if she's lying), as we never quite get a glimpse of what their relationship was really like.

Luckily, we do get a bit of how Laurie is with her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), as she takes the money she got from the podcast and gives it to the girl in secret. We get the idea that these two hang out more often than Karen knows, which is lovely and sweet (likewise, later on when Laurie has a bit of a breakdown she cries on the girl's shoulder, a reversal of what you'd expect from a granddaughter/grandmother relationship). Allyson and her friends are less prominent than you'd probably expect from a slasher movie, and in fact the other blunder I mentioned (vaguely spoilerish?) is that her boyfriend kind of disappears from the story after pissing her off, without a comeuppance and/or a Brady-style redemption moment. I know it's weird to be like "We need more time with the asshole boyfriend!" (in one of the Easter Egg moments, we are told his father is Lonnie Elam, of "Get your ass away from there!" fame), but it ties into the overall issue that Allyson kind of gets marginalized for a chunk of the film, even disappearing for a bit entirely and suffering a disconnect from the rest of the proceedings when they do cut back to her, as if to say "Don't worry, she's still out there!" It's fine to see Laurie do her thing, but I almost felt kind of bad for Andi, getting to be cast as "the new Laurie Strode", essentially, and then watching the real one do all that stuff. She's practically never even in direct danger from Michael, when all is said and done - though if you ever yelled at Laurie for something she did in the first movie, the film's closing shot seems to be specifically for you, hinting that she'll get her moment down the road.

I do want to digress just for a moment here while I'm on the subject of Laurie and her relationship with Allyson and Karen - I think it's safe to say Laurie ended up going to that dance with Ben Tramer, and kept the party going in the back of his car later, if you catch my meaning. It's forty years later and Allyson is 17, so the earliest Karen could have gotten pregnant is when she was only 22 herself (factoring in both nine month periods), and even earlier if Laurie didn't go out and celebrate surviving the night by having some unprotected fun. It's one of those things no one was probably really thinking about too hard, but it's kind of amusing how everyone that came up with Laurie having a kid (the others being Jamie Lloyd and John Tate) decided that she would have them during college, if she even went at all. Girl forgets her chemistry book ONCE and it's a downhill slide into blowing off her studies forever...

Well it's been 2,600 words so maybe I should talk about the suspense and kills in this slasher movie. I'll just let you know straight up: there are perhaps a number, perhaps even too many off-screen kills in the film, so if you are the type of slasher fan who judges a film based on its death sequences first and foremost, you're going to go away displeased. Michael racks up a fairly high count (I want to say 16?) but we only actually see about half of them, which is in line with Halloween 4 but in a film that's 20 minutes longer, and without any larger scale "Michael kills x number of people in the ____" aftermath scenes like that one's police station and ambulance. I didn't mind it for the most part, but there's one in particular I feel we are really cheated out of seeing; I can't say WHO, obviously, but the character is being proactive when we last see them, and then later their corpse is found, in an awkward manner to boot, leaving us to wonder how exactly things went down and robbing us of our last moments with one of the film's more endearing characters.

But when we DO see Michael in action, oh man. It's a terrific mix of stalking and brutal violence; he gets his Dick Warlock on around the film's halfway point, making his way through a crowded Haddonfield street where residents just assume he's another trick r treater, but takes cues from (don't take the wrong way!) Tyler Mane on occasion as well, ramming heads into walls over and over and stomping on heads (hey, the man's been cooped up for 40 years, so he's got some shit to work out!). I wouldn't have minded a little more playfulness since they were going back to OG Michael (the guy who'd put a sheet on his head and knock plants over to scare people), but he's the scariest he's been since H4, easily. The climax in particular is pitch perfect; it's almost like a home invasion movie with Laurie trying to find Michael in the house, knowing he's hiding in one of her many closets - it's the first time I as an adult have been able to get tensed up watching one of these movies, and it felt GOOD. I also liked how quick and simple the kills were; David Gordon Green and Danny McBride seem to realize that "creative kills" are more of a Jason thing anyway, so his bare hands and kitchen knives serve his purposes 99% of the time, as they should. The mask looks great and new Michael actor James Jude Courtney is a good match for Nick Castle (who also returns for a key moment or two); whatever complaints the fans may have about the continuity and such, there's no way a true fan could dismiss how Michael is depicted this time around.

Speaking of continuity, obviously they had to keep any sort of callbacks to the others to the barest minimum, so there aren't a lot. The most prominent is the Halloween III masks, which are seen in the trailer and messes with nothing since that movie existed in a different universe anyway, but there's a quick nod to Halloween II in the form of one of its briefly seen characters. And it's hard not to think about H20 (or RZ H1) during a gas station bathroom scene, but otherwise they keep their more overt winking confined to the original. I mentioned Lonnie earlier, but there's an even better deep cut for the hardcore; I won't tell you what it is, only to pay attention to radios whenever they're used (also, pay close attention to the set decor in Karen's old bedroom). And near the end, they put a spin on one of the original's iconic moments that had the crowd cheering. Indeed, one thing I noticed about this one compared to others (and other slasher movies in general) is that the crowd-pleasing moments involved the protagonists, not the villain. No one cheers for Michael the way they might for Jason, and I think it's a big part of why the movie works.

In addition to those moments and the expected screams (Green may not be known for horror, but the man can craft a jump scare), the crowd was also laughing a lot, and it was intentional. Perhaps it's not too shocking since the script was co-written by Danny McBride, but there's a lot of genuine humor here, and it's only very rarely ill-placed (a long scene between two cops rambling about Banh Mi sandwiches comes to mind). The two kid characters in particular are hilarious (don't worry, kid haters - they're not in it much; their combined time is probably still less than Lindsey's in the original), and Ray is pretty funny in that hapless dad kind of way (if Breaking Bad never happened you might see Bryan "Malcolm in the Middle" Cranston playing him). Even Laurie gets a couple of chuckles; she's no Keri Tate here, so when she sees a glass of wine she'll happily slurp it down instead of hiding it from her boyfriend. One thing that always bugged me about H20 is that Jamie Lee was basically just playing herself for the most part, but this seems more in line with the Laurie we remember, except now she has a perfectly good reason to be so cautious.

Finally, we come to the music. Oh man. If you've listened to John Carpenter's Lost Themes albums as well as the recent Anthology release (where they redid a bunch of themes, including Halloween's) you'll get a pretty good idea of what it sounds like, and it's just as good as you probably imagine. Occasionally it sounds pretty much identical to the original cues (at least to my ears, which I fully admit are not particularly musically inclined, which is why I rarely discuss music but I figure it's probably sacrilege to not even try for this particular film), but for the most part it sounds familiar enough to recognize the standard themes (though I'm not sure if the slower "Myers House" one ever showed up) but not so much that you'd get the idea Carpenter (along with his usual bandmates, his son Cody and also Daniel Davies) just collected a paycheck. It's gonna get spun a lot by fans of the series and those who just love JC's particular style independent of the films - I wish to hell I had it already so I could have it playing while I wrote this review (I went with Lost Themes for the zillionth time - most of my book was written to that, so it's fitting, heh).

To sum up: it works. No, it's not perfect, but most of what keeps it from that status (besides, you know, the fact that few films ARE) have nothing to do with what the filmmakers did or didn't do - it's just that this material is so well traveled by now, it's just hard to avoid deja vu. But that's the thing about sequels, which gets exponentially harder as the series goes on: you want to give people something new while also retaining the things that make people like it (which will vary - some folks LOVE that Laurie is Michael's sister and are upset that this movie dismisses the idea), and I don't envy anyone who gets hired to find that balance. Everyone here gave it their all, but despite what the script says the movie is still "Halloween 11", ultimately, and can't fully escape the baggage - good or bad - that's on the table with it. But under those circumstances, beyond a few editing choices I fail to see how this could have been any better than it is, and it's pretty damn good. For the first time in the nearly 30 years I've been a fan of this series, I've walked out of a theater happy with the new Halloween film I just saw. Thanks to everyone who finally made that possible.

What say you?

P.S. Someone will ask, so fine, and if there's no space between entries that means it's REALLY close: 1, 4,3, H40,2, 5, RZ H2 (d cut), H20/Curse(either cut), RZ H1,Resurrection.

*After writing this review I watched the movies back to back at the Beyond Fest screening, and it WAS easier to ignore the others without any breaks in between. I recommend a viewing of the original immediately before heading out to the theater!

1 comment:

  1. Went to a late show last night and LOVED it! Obviously the finale was my favorite part, but I really enjoyed the middle where Michael is pretty much just trick or treating, going house to house down the street!

    ReplyDelete

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