The “Halloween” franchise is quite possibly the most convoluted series in film history. There are multiple timelines spanning from John Carpenter’s original 1978 genre definer. There’s the original one, spanning something like six movies with all the garish flair and cheesy mythology of any low-rent slasher flick from the 80’s, turning the stark, iconic Michael Myers into little more than a Jason Voorhees clone.
There’s the timeline that discontinues everything after the second film and culminates with “Halloween: H20” and “Halloween: Resurrection”. If memory serves, that’s the one where Busta Rhymes and Mike have a Kung Fu battle. And who could forget the absolutely brutal reboot and sequel from shock-rocker Rob Zombie?
Now, 40 years after the release of the original film, all of that is being done away with; director David Gordon Green has churned out a stripped down, direct sequel, sporting the same title as the original feature, that lives up to the hype.
Disavowing the messy continuity of most entries of the franchise is ultimately Halloween’s biggest aid. Gone are the subplots about Celtic cults and resurrections. What replaces it is a very real, haunting story about a victim and her abuser.
Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode in an absolutely rollicking performance. Even 40 years on, the events of the first film still haunt Laurie. She’s got a very clear case of PTSD from her first encounter with Michael Myers, and it’s cost her everything. She’s got strained relationships with her daughter and granddaughter; her living quarters are less a home and more a fortified compound. For years Laurie has been preparing for the eventual escape of Michael, and it’s grimly satisfying when she’s proven right.
Largely due to the actions of a pair of naïve True-Crime Podcasters, Michael Myers escapes after 40 years of confinement; predictably, his wrath immediately falls back onto his hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois. In the era of Brett Kavanaugh and the MeToo movement, this film is breathtakingly relevant.
Halloween’s opening title sequence is a direct callback to the original films; a minimalistic shot of a pumpkin next to a set of glowing orange titles, all to the beat of a haunting synth score. Rather than outright copying the originals, there’s a twist on everything. The pumpkin is rotten, and slowly rejuvenating. And while John Carpenter himself has returned to score the film, it’s slightly different too.
These callbacks remain prevalent throughout the film, and unlike many other contemporary films, are exceptionally executed. They come in the forms of anything from previously used shots or even kills from earlier films.
There’s a lot of love for the past on display here, and it’s never detrimental. A particularly iconic shot from the original is re-used towards the end of the film, and there was a shudder of excitement in the theater. The fact that the callbacks work so well is an achievement in and of itself.
Apart from one strange and somewhat pointless subplot, the film’s narrative works very well. The beauty lies in its simplicity; a crazed, evil man has broken loose from his asylum and is coming home to wreak havoc.
It’s a classic slasher through and through, and the film succeeds in embracing that. Michael himself is absolutely terrifying. He’s humanized as much as appropriate, in the time before he regains his mask, we see glimpses of
his face. He’s a fairly regular looking man in his early 60’s, which honestly makes what comes later more effective.
The kills here are a far cry from the cartoonish antics in the slashers of the 80’s and 90’s. They’re as brutal as they are plausible. There’s a moment in the film when Michael and Laurie stare each other down; despite being under a mask, Michael’s glare is absolutely seething with hatred. To me, that was the scariest thing in the entire movie.
It could be argued that “Halloween” is essentially a rehash of the first film, but it’s honestly refreshing to see something that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel. In a lot of ways, it’s like the “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” of the Horror genre; it’s a continuation of a classic story, but it still has all the same DNA as what came before it.
That being said, a lot of the fun to be had in the movie comes from turning genre conventions on their head. This can come out to hilarious or grisly effect for the characters in the story. Primarily, the film wildly finds success on two fronts; paying tribute to the original installments while also establishing itself as an old-school horror flick in a world that seems to have left them behind.