Halloween (2018) Directed by David Gordon Green. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer and Andi Matichak. 40 years after terrorizing babysitter Laurie Strode and murdering her friends, incarcerated serial killer Michael Myers escapes to kill again in the small Illinois town of Haddonfield.
Mild spoilers follow.
We open with true crime podcasters Aaron Korey and Dana Haines meeting with Dr. Ranbir Sartain at Smith’s Grove Sanitarium. Sartain is a former student of Dr. Sam Loomis and the current psychiatrist of Michael Myers, aka The Shape. Ranbir speaks of his silent patient with near reverence, but he also cautions the pair about Michael’s deceptively serene manner and awareness of his surroundings. Sartain informs the podcasters that 50 psychiatrists have fruitlessly tried to analyze and communicate with Michael to understand what drives him.
The administration of Smith’s Grove has finally decided that the killer is no longer of value as a psychological research asset, so they decide to transfer him to a maximum security facility known as Glass Hill.
The prison bus to Michael’s new home leaves October 31st, so the administration has obviously never seen a Halloween movie before.
Aaron and Dana attempt to interview Haddonfield’s least favorite son on the eve of the transfer, even showing The Shape his old mask. Though they fail to get much of a rise out of him, the result is the most intense opening scene for the entire franchise. The cackling patients driven to fits of crazed laughter, Korey’s growing frustration and angry shouts, Michael’s subtle movement at the presentation of the mask. It all adds up to a single statement: this movie is not fucking around.
Afterward, the pair tracks down survivor Laurie Strode, who resides in a gated compound in the woods outside of town. She drinks too much, and her paranoia has destroyed two marriages and alienated her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak).
As a child, Karen was forced to train with firearms and learn to operate the many booby traps in Laurie’s home. Eventually, Social Services took the girl away.
What Laurie has that separates her from Terminator 2’s Sarah Connor is a layer of pathos and melancholy. She’s not just a badass killing machine, as there is more consideration given to what she lost in life and what was taken from her. There’s vulnerability and pain inside this woman. The relative innocence of her teenage existence was shattered by a plunge into horror, and the cynical woman who emerged from the ruins of that life is driven by equal measures of despair and fury.
At one point, Laurie is begrudgingly invited to a dinner celebrating Allyson’s academic success. She rudely gulps down Karen’s glass of wine and says:
“I was in the Honor Society.”
It might sound like a nothing line, but there’s a heartbreaking resonance as we recall the upbeat and scholarly Laurie of yesteryear. Nicknamed “The Girl Scout” for her reliability, preparedness and wholesome nature, that girl was too shy to ask Ben Traymer to the dance. Now she’s got a fortified bunker under her house and more guns than Rambo. Like Loomis before her, she has clarity enough to know that killing absolute evil is the only sensible course of action.
The podcasters want Laurie to meet with Myers and create a bridge to understanding why he slaughtered her friends during a tearful jailhouse reconciliation. Even if Strode were amenable, it’s a fool’s errand. Michael doesn’t emote and attempting to study the motivations of a blank void is meaningless.
The fact that he is an unknowable enigma means that closure is impossible.
Amazingly, the bus transfer doesn’t go very well. There’s the usual blood, chaos and scattered bodies as mental patients wander around in drugged stupors.
After fleeing the accident scene, does Michael head for the nearest barista and peacefully reflect on his rather dreadful life choices over a steaming mug of chamomile? Nope! He stops by the local boneyard to visit his sister Judith’s gravestone, then engages in a brutal assault on an isolated gas station. What makes this sequence so unnerving is that it takes place in broad daylight, and includes an intense beatdown in a restroom.
Although any slasher film is inherently violent, this verges on the Rob Zombie Halloween style of savage street brawling and isn’t really a tactic used by the stealthier 1978 Michael.
All this mayhem leads Michael back to his beloved mask.
The white William Shatner mask, made from a life cast of the actor for the 1975 horror film “The Devil’s Rain,” bore no expression during Michael’s first attempt at ridding the town of meddling babysitters. But the ravages of age and poor handling have given the mask a kind of dour resting bitch face, not unlike Emperor Palpatine’s grimace in “Return Of The Jedi.”
Not only will Michael kill your friends, he now seems to disapprove of them as well. His face reads disdain.
Once The Shape is comfortably encased in his usual jumpsuit and mask, the sequel’s focus shifts to Allyson and her friends as they attend a Halloween dance at the high school. The teens are written with an eye towards realism and likability, to maximize the feels when they go under the knife.
Slashers normally set up the characterizations of teen victims as paper thin targets on a firing line, but these kids aren’t shallow morons hopping in the shower after crushing beer cans on their foreheads. They successfully elicit our interest and empathy. Andi Matichak, in particular, makes Allyson work so well that I was actually dreading her possible death. She may not stick a knitting needle in Michael’s neck like her granny once did, but she makes her mark.
Laurie discovers that Michael is free, and finds an ally in Sheriff Frank Hawkins (Will Patton). Hawkins remembers the carnage of decades past, and he comes from the Loomis school of thought concerning masked serial killers strolling through town. He doesn’t even refer to Myers as a human being.
“Our first priority has got to be to hunt this thing down.”
Along with a distraught Dr. Sartain, Hawkins mobilizes Haddonfield’s police force as Michael goes house to house in a vigorous killing spree that drastically reduces the town’s population. Hammers, knives and the killer’s dementedly playful sense of humor all come into play. This murder marathon restores what the lesser Halloween sequels tragically dulled: our fear of him. Gone are the convoluted storylines about evil Druid cults and Laurie’s blood relation to her nemesis. With all that noise stripped away, it’s just you and Michael alone on the scariest night of the year.
And the lights just went out.
Free of narrative fat but packed with nuance, “Halloween” returns to the roots of what gave Carpenter’s masterpiece such lasting power: our eternal fear of the Boogeyman, the unstoppable Other who reaches out of the dark to pull us in. The new film easily blows away Halloweens 4-8 and Rob Zombie’s alternate universe remakes. It eclipses these inferior outings by simply being scarier and less concerned with overwrought mythology theatrics and half-baked motivations. Not only does it feature visual references to the original, but there are also two brilliant and meaningful moments that strongly suggest that Laurie has become something of a monster herself. In her lust to take Michael’s life, she has taken on characteristics of the masked slasher. That’s pretty heady philosophical material for a slasher movie sequel.
John Carpenter and his son Cody did the score, tweaking the classic theme with added layers. There’s one scene in particular, where Allyson is fleeing in terror through the empty streets, that features an eerie pulsating soundscape. The music is and always has been crucial to this franchise.
Michael eventually kills his way into Allyson’s orbit, leading to a standout sequence involving a motion activated security light. The girl flees to Laurie’s house of death traps, leading Michael to a confrontation 40 years in the making. The physical fight between the two opponents is made all the more gratifying for its realism. Laurie doesn’t execute roundhouse kicks or suddenly become almost superhuman.
I was one of the fans with my head in my hands when Michael got a martial arts beating from Busta Rhymes in franchise low point “Halloween: Resurrection.” Thankfully, what we get here is more brutal and fierce.