Halloween isn’t the only horror franchise out there, but in addition to being one of the longest-running its original film also holds a bit more cachet than most. John Carpenter’s 1978 feature is a high-point in slasher cinema thanks in large part to the simple effectiveness of the script (co-written by Debra Hill) and the filmmaker’s clearly skilled craftsmanship. Seven sequels followed through 2002 before the franchise was rebooted in 2007 by Rob Zombie. None of them measure up to Carpenter’s original.
And now forty years after “the night he came home,” he’s coming home again. Halloween (2018) is a direct sequel to Halloween (1978) — yes, the titling is dumb — and while the talents involved with the film alongside the pomp surrounding its four decade later return might suggest otherwise, the resulting movie feels like nothing more than a well-produced and perfectly competent sequel. Depending on whether or not you count Season of the Witch (1982) this new entry is easily the second or third best Halloween sequel.
Forty years after Michael Myers stalked his way through Haddonfield on Halloween night the boogeyman is triggered into returning. Silly journalists visit the balding and bearded mass murderer in the sanitarium and show him the mask he wore that night in the hopes of stimulating a response. He doesn’t speak, but Michael obliges more dramatically later by violently escaping while being transferred by bus. With a trail of bodies in his wake and the mask back where it belongs, he heads home for Halloween. Michael isn’t the only one with a long memory as Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has spent four decades defined by the trauma of that night long ago. She’s twice-divorced, estranged from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), and spends an obscene amount of time shooting mannequins in her backyard in preparation for his return.
She’s a killjoy, and she’s treated accordingly. Laurie even tells Sheriff Hawkins (Will Patton) that she’s prayed every day for Michael’s escape solely so she could kill him. “Well that was a dumb thing to pray for,” he replies after Michael’s escape has left numerous people slaughtered, and it’s hard to disagree with him. Her prayers answered, she sets out to protect her family and stop Michael once and for all.
Slashers aren’t exactly what’s expected from director David Gordon Green, but he brings his skills to the genre with the same intelligent eye he’s applied to indies (George Washington, 2000) and comedies (Pineapple Express, 2008) alike. It’s a slick, attractively shot film with a couple memorable tracking shots of Michael moving through an oblivious Haddonfield and dispatching human prey. Green also doesn’t shy away from the grisly kills, and while several are captured postmortem — we miss the actual kill but come upon the body — the resulting carnage is brought to life with some fantastic practical effects work. Michael stays busy throughout racking up nearly twenty kills which is fairly impressive for someone in their sixties who still refuses to run after his targets.
The script (by Green, Danny McBride, and Jeff Fradley) is where the film’s issues arise either in neutering the thrills or simply lowering the bar. Michael returning to Haddonfield — again — lacks a punch narratively speaking, and what follows feels more than a little familiar. Characters still make dumb choices, and that includes Laurie despite her forty years of planning for this day. We even get a female character with no previous walking impairment who suddenly slips and trips when Michael’s on her tail. There are several nods to the original, from dialogue beats to closet doors bearing a striking resemblance to ones young Laurie once hid behind to a very memorable POV shot looking from a second-floor window to the ground outside, but in their rush to remind viewers about the past they neglect to move audiences forward.
There’s just not enough here to justify why anyone in the film truly cares all that much about Myers after forty years. With all the sequels removed from the conversation we’re talking about a guy who only murdered five people (his sister in 1963 and four others fifteen years later) total. That’s obviously no small thing, but it’s also hardly memorable in a world of double-digit killers, mass murderers, terrorists, and more. A new psychiatrist is working Michael’s case, and while Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) was Dr. Loomis’ student it’s a tenuous leap to his infatuation with such an underwhelming and seemingly mute mental patient. (But yes, Sartain is curiously close to Samhain…)
Laurie’s own obsession is ultimately more troubling, though, as it’s made clear that she’s continued suffering since that fateful night. We can’t tell anyone how to experience or express their trauma, but after ending the 1978 film a shaken but triumphant “final girl” we learn here that her victimization never truly ended. It’s deflating for viewers to realize our hero has been suffering this whole time, and while a smarter script may have dug deeper into that idea — or avoided it all together — it’s treated here like a setup simply so she can say “I told you so” to all her doubters. Laurie didn’t win all those years ago and has instead lived a miserable life distanced from those she should have held close. It’s not quite a betrayal on par with Alice being killed off at the start of Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) or Newt and Hicks being murdered during the opening credits of Alien 3 (1992), but it’s still more than a little dispiriting.
Most viewers will admittedly choose to see her as the bad-ass the film intends, but the sadness is overwhelming whether or not it’s acknowledged. Is it empowering knowing she’s sacrificed so much betting on the left-field possibility that he’d return? Again, they’re not siblings and she was simply part of his earlier spree, so four decades is a long time to hold onto this thought. It’s also a long time to prepare, and the script isn’t very convincing that she’s used that time as wisely as she believes.
Still, Curtis is the expected powerhouse in the role, and it’s undeniably satisfying seeing her back in the fray despite the gray hairs. Patton and Matichak are also solid in their respective roles, but the film’s biggest gift cast-wise is giving Greer more to do than simply play “wife” or “mom.” It’s a slightly meatier role and a reminder why we constantly champion her around these parts. Every bit as important is the film’s score which comes courtesy of John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter, and Daniel A. Davies. It honors the original’s iconic sounds while adding a few new beats to the mix that drive both energy and momentum.
Halloween is a perfectly fine follow-up to Halloween, and while we may have expected more from the likes of Green, McBride, and Jason Blumhouse it’s hard to be too disappointed with what we’ve gotten. It’s a solid albeit standard slasher, and that’s not a bad thing to see on the big screen.