It’s been 40 years since Michael Myers last went on a violent, knife-wielding killing spree on Halloween night, murdering four teenagers in Haddonfield, Illinois. The 21-year-old psychopath had just broken free from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, where he’d spent the previous 15 years incarcerated after stabbing his sister Judith to death with a kitchen knife when he was 6, also on Halloween.
Recaptured and locked inside Smith’s Grove since 1978, the now 61-year-old Myers—a being of “pure evil” known alternatively as “the Boogeyman” and “the Shape”—is finally set to be transferred to a more secure facility. On the eve of Halloween. Doesn’t anyone ever learn?
Disregarding all seven of the previous sequels as well as two Rob Zombie-helmed reboots, David Gordon Green’s somewhat confusingly titled Halloween imagines an alternative timeline where Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis)—the babysitter who barely escaped the Shape’s wrath as he butchered her high school friends—has spent four decades preparing for his return.
Indie auteur Green’s career arc is odd, moving from Southern-set dramas like his well-regarded debut, 2000’s George Washington, to stoner comedies like Pineapple Express, then back to emotionally devastating dramas like last year’s Stronger, a look at a survivor of the Boston Marathon bombing. As such, this continuation of John Carpenter’s slasher-film original—a classic that still unsettles to this day and inspired an entire genre of imitators like the Friday the 13th series—arrives with an air of class that hasn’t been seen since October of ’78. It’s pitched as the first worthy sequel to a film that never received one, despite many attempts.
But while respectful of its source, the 2018 version never rises above homage. Not unexpectedly, it’s far better made than any of the earlier sequels Green is retconning out of existence. A minutes-long, unbroken tracking shot that follows Myers through his old neighborhood as the Shape gets his murderous groove back is impressive in its, ahem, execution. But the screenplay by Green and his comic cohorts Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride is busy as hell, saddled with more characters than it can possibly develop in under 2 hours. Most distressingly, there’s an overtone of jokey humor that feels a bit shoehorned in, undercutting the darkness of Myers’ evil misdeeds. Certainly the teenagers who met their ends in 1978 were prone to having a few laughs, but they also weren’t reciting self-aware dialogue like, “All things considered, a couple of people getting killed with a knife isn’t that bad, by today’s standards.”
True enough. And with the rise of gun culture in the 40 years since the original, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine a scenario where the shell-shocked Laurie (still played by the now-59-year-old Curtis in a role that should have been larger), who never got over the events of that Halloween night, has gone full-blown Sarah Connor, amassing a stockpile of heavy weapons in anticipation of Myers’ return. Her years of intense planning have not been without consequence, however, as evidenced by two failed marriages and an adult daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), who wants nothing to do with the woman who replaced her childhood with doomsday preparation.
None of this stops Karen’s teenage daughter Allyson (Framingham native and newcomer Andi Matichak) from trying to establish a relationship with her estranged grandmother. Of course, grandma might come in handy once the high school honor student and her friends are inevitably stalked by Haddonfield’s returning Boogeyman, who’s briefly played by the original Myers actor, 71-year-old Nick Castle. (Stunt actor James Jude Courtney plays the Shape throughout most of the film.)
Another returning antihero is Carpenter, who’s effectively retired from filmmaking. The 70-year-old now prefers spending his nights performing music with his 34-year-old son, Cody, as the two tour together playing themes that the multi-talented John composed for most of his own films. Not only did he give this project his bloody stamp of approval, but he also agreed to supply the film’s score, along with Cody and collaborator Daniel A. Davies. The results may include new renditions of old motifs, but in fresh and propulsive ways.
Sadly, Green’s film isn’t nearly as bold, as it relies too much on past formula, ribbing audiences with an endless stream of self-conscious callbacks. This new Halloween may bill itself as something new—and it certainly is timely in the #MeToo era as three generations of Strode women band together to face their male oppressor—but it’s ultimately another empty sequel that’s dependent on Carpenter’s original for its best moments.
And even this film’s main hook isn’t exactly new. Green and his co-writers have obviously taken pleasure in flipping the script, turning Laurie into a predator, with the Shape her prey. Still, longtime fans of the series will recognize this as the same path that director Steve Miner mined in 1998’s Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, a slice of crowd-pleasing cheese that also seemed to close the door on Myers for good.
But viewers know it’s nearly impossible to keep the Boogeyman down—even as he stalks his way toward Social Security. ◆
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Haluk Bilginer, Will Patton, Rhian
Rees, Jefferson Hall, Toby Huss, Virginia Gardner, Dylan Arnold, Miles Robbins, Drew Scheid, Jibrail Nantambu, James Jude Courtney and Nick Castle. Written by David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Directed by Green. At Assembly Row, Boston Common, Fenway, Seaport, South Bay and in the suburbs.