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