Return of ‘the Shape’…
The ‘recalibration’ of the long-running horror series makes for a solid follow-up to the 1978 original.
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner, Nick Castle, and James Jude Courtney
Released by Universal Pictures
Written by Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride, and David Gordon Green
Directed by David Gordon Green
When the original Halloween film was released in 1978, written and directed by the now-legendary John Carpenter, it spawned the “golden age” of a new horror subgenre known as the “slasher” film. From 1978 until about 1984, slasher movies began appearing in theaters everywhere led by the likes of Jason Voorhees and Freddy Krueger, but even those two titans of horror likely owe their very existence to “the Shape” himself, Michael Myers.
Since the release of the original film, the Halloween series has consisted of no less than ten films between 1978 and 2009, including a series reboot which made up the ninth and tenth entries, respectively. I’ve never really heard anyone truthfully say “eleventh time’s the charm,” but when it comes to the philosophy behind the latest entry in the Halloween series, the phrase is an apt one.
The basic concept behind the 2018 Halloween film is that it’s not quite a traditional sequel, but it’s also certainly not a reboot, either. The closest movie that immediately comes to mind that takes a similar approach to continuity is 2006’s Superman Returns, in that it throws out other sequels that were released in favor of more directly connecting to one of the original movies to make a more faithful follow-up. Halloween accomplishes this much more successfully when compared with a movie like Superman Returns, though, by virtue of the fact that it actually involves people that made the original film such a success: series creator John Carpenter, and actress Jamie Lee Curtis, telling a story that takes place the full forty years after the original.
Ever since that Halloween in 1978, Michael Myers has been in captivity in an Illinois state hospital being studied relentlessly, never having uttered a word the entire time he’s been in captivity. Approaching the fortieth anniversary of his original rampage, a group of investigative journalists travel to the United States for their crime podcast and actually manage to gain access to Michael’s facility, trying to get him to say something about why he did the things that he did. They even present his original, iconic mask to him in the hospital’s yard hoping to provoke a reaction out of him.
When they fail, we return to Haddonfield, Illinois where the journalists manage to bribe the one and only Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) into a brief interview about her encounter with Michael forty years earlier. It’s here that we learn that Laurie suffers from PTSD, and that she lost custody of her daughter when Child Protective Services found that Laurie had trained her from birth to have the ability to kill Michael if he ever escaped. Laurie’s house outside of town is a fortress, packed to the gills with flood lights, firearms, stabbing weapons, and reinforcements on every point of entry.
Laurie’s now-adult daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), lives in Haddonfield with her husband and her own daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), living an estranged life away from Laurie because of her psychological issues and apparent intense paranoia. When the bus carrying Michael to a new psychiatric facility crashes and allows him to escape, it doesn’t take him long to track down the podcasters at a garage, killing them and reclaiming his mask (along with a similarly-signature car shop’s jumpsuit he claimed from yet another victim).
Michael then makes his way back to Haddonfield on the exact fortieth anniversary of his original onslaught, and begins killing citizens of the small town once more. When his escape captures Laurie’s attention, she admits that her prayers are answered: she now has an opportunity to finally settle things, once and for all, by killing the man she hates so much for destroying her promising young life.
Horror movies — and slashers, in particular — always seem to have a built-in audience regardless of how good or bad they are as pieces of cinema. Because of that, a slasher movie has to bring something genuinely meaty to the table in terms of its story and substance to break through the often loose expectations that surround films of this type. Thankfully, Halloween succeeds on that front by presenting us with a flawed vision of our main protagonist, having sacrificed a stable family life and her own peace of mind to stand at the ready in case the subject of her nightmares ever returned. The journey we go on with Laurie, and her complicated feelings toward the compulsion to put Michael down for good, make this a character study that is absolutely worth seeing.
Another thing the movie does is restore dignity to the Michael Myers character, almost as a force of nature that just can’t be stopped. What often happens with series like this, that seem to get sequel after bad sequel, is that the series is watered down so much that you’re no longer afraid of the main character like you were when first exposed to them. It happened to Freddy, it happened to Jason, it happened to Chucky, and it happened years ago to Michael. Getting things both back to the basics and expanding our look at the hearts and minds of the characters makes Halloween 2018 one of the better slasher films to ever come along, and certainly stands as a far more truthful duology by standing side-by-side with the original film to tell a complete story.
Still, if I have to knock anything about the movie, it’s that it leaves the door open just a crack for a potential follow-up, if that’s something that the filmmakers choose to explore. For what it’s worth, I sincerely hope that they’ve learned to leave well enough alone. Halloween is a return to form for the series, but if they are tempted to make yet another one in the same chronology, it may undercut a lot of the major, compelling character work that this movie flexes so effectively.
Horror movies are, arguably, more prone to being “sequelized” than even superhero movies. For the sake of the very solid story told here, though, Halloween would serve as a wonderful series finale. Here’s hoping that the temptation for yet another isn’t indulged.