Halloween (Universal Pictures, R)

John Carpenter’s 1978 film Halloween may have spawned a decidedly mixed bag of spinoffs and imitations, but if you watch the original film with an open mind, you will be impressed by how well it works. I’m not choosing my verbs casually, because an effective horror film is like a machine that produces effects in the viewer, and all the arty concepts in the world can’t save it if it doesn’t produce those effects. David Gordon Green made the wise choice to return to the roots of the Halloween franchise with his 2018 film Halloween, which retains some continuity with the original while upping the gore quotient. It also features a grown-up Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), now a survivalist grandma (forty years have passed within the film universe, just as they have in the real world) whose abiding obsession is to even the score with the man who ruined her life.

That would be Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney, with a cameo appearance by the original Michael Myers, Nick Castle). When we first meet Michael, he’s in an insane asylum, where two British journalists (Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall) are paying him a visit in the hopes of gather material for their podcast. His new physician, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), a.k.a. “the new Loomis,” inexplicably discusses Michael’s case with them (hasn’t he heard of HIPAA?), the first of many improbabilities you will have to overlook if you intend to enjoy this movie. On the plus side, the two reporters’ encounter with Myers is one of many visually striking scenes in the film, taking place on a red and white checked courtyard in which prisoners are chained to what appear to be anvils (the courtyard is actually a location at the Military Magnet Academy in Charleston, S.C., where much of the film was shot).

There wouldn’t be much of a film if Michael didn’t escape and come after Laurie and her family, which now includes a grown daughter (Judy Greer) and high school aged granddaughter (Andi Matichak). Michael is still an implacable killing machine (someone in the film describes him in terms similar to those used by Richard Dreyfuss to describe the shark in Jaws—all he does is keep moving and kill), who is all the more frightening because there’s no way to make sense of his behavior in normal human terms. Laurie, on the other hand, is no longer an innocent high school girl. Instead, she suffers from PTSD and alcoholism and is estranged from her family, particularly her daughter, who was removed from her home by the state at age 12.

Karen is remarkably unsympathetic toward her mother, whom she views as paranoid and an unpleasant intrusion into her family’s perfect small-town life. However, when the much more serious intrusion of Michael Myers rampages through the formerly peaceful streets of Haddonfield, killing people more or less at random (not just teens having sex, in other words), Karen gets a bit of a taste of what made her mother the way she is.

Halloween incorporates some of John Carpenter’s original music, and is full of the kinds of visual flourishes that characterized the original film, like creatively carved pumpkins and a doll’s house in Laurie’s fortress of a home . It also includes plenty of jump scares (well, it is a Blumhouse production, after all) and a whole lot more graphic violence than Carpenter included in his 1978 film. On the down side, the editing is sometimes erratic, particularly in the climactic sequence, and Michael Myers seems to have more lives than a cat. Still, these are forgivable quibbles a in a film that delivers for the most part exactly what an audience comes to a Halloween movie to see. | Sarah Boslaugh

One comment

  1. I’m a huge fan of this franchise and have been looking forward to seeing this film for months. I found it to be among the best of the sequel bunch, just behind H2O, IV and II, in that order. Of course, seeing Jamie Lee back in the role was a pleasure. I preferred her damaged but determine H2O character arch over her damaged but determined 2018 take on the same PTSD-driven neuroses. I’d like more Ripley, and less Eileen Brennan’s Jeepers Creepers cat lady. That notwithstanding, the movie provided plenty of scares, some appreciated tips of the hat, the right amount of slasher gore without being Rob Zombie grotesque and a strong, satisfying third act. So I’d say it’s certainly worth seeing, but maybe not worth all the hype.

    But what I really found interesting – and here come the spoilers – was the way the movie pushed the gender buttons. Interesting buttons to push in the era we’re hopefully surviving. How often do you see a slasher flick, and come away with an in-depth discussion about the male/female roles in modern American society. It goes without saying that this was a celebration of the strength of women, with three generations of Strodes banding together to do battle with – and of course ultimately prevailing over – pure evil. Women rock! An obvious under current – no, rip current – through the film. But keep a close eye on the guys and the thoroughly interesting way the three male writers and director chose to develop them. The husband/father character is perfectly nice, but spinelessly benign and ineffective (making one of the more boneheaded slasher film mistakes in the third act). Typical, and by itself, not noteworthy. But add dad to the rest of the males in the movie and a gender-bending, masculinity-minimizing theme emerges. Maybe to make the women appear even stronger, or maybe to signal the decline of the manly-man mandate that used to corse through the veins of the America male. Take, for example, the boy begrudgingly riding with his dad in a pickup truck heading out to do some hunting. The boy would rather be at dance class. Dance, you see, speaks to his heart. I assumed he’d survive. He’s a gentle soul who likes dance. And when was the last time a slasher film killed a 12 year old. On screen. I was wrong. Then there’s boyfriend #1. He and Laurie’s granddaughter go to a costume party as Bonnie & Clyde, with a twist they don’t want to reveal to her parents. She’s going as Clyde, and he’s going as Bonnie – skirt, scarf, hat, the works. It serves the plot not at all, but it certainly assists in the deconstruction of the movie’s gender roles. Finally, as far as I noticed, there’s boyfriend #2. Blink-and-you’ll miss-him Dave, the kid that blew up the pumpkin with the firecracker and later pops in on his girlfriend while she’s babysitting the movie’s only black character (A: one social discourse at a time, and B: he steals the show!). Anyway, Dave’s character is interesting not because the guy runs when the going gets tough – which he does, though he doesn’t get far – but because of a curious bit of casting that seems to fit the film makers’ narrative. Dave, you see, is played by Miles Robbins – son of actors Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon – who has a penchant for walking the red carpet in a dress. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Turns out, the guy just doesn’t like ties, doesn’t care about society’s self-imposed gender roles and finds dresses pretty comfortable.

    Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I am reading too much into it. Maybe this is a movie just about strong women, and not at all about the deconstruction of men. Or maybe the most pivotal character in this new Halloween isn’t Laurie or Michael. But instead, boyfriend #2.

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