In 1978, the horror genre was changed forever when John Carpenter came out with Halloween, but its legacy was followed by a series of sequels and remakes that ranged from watchable (Halloween II, Halloween: H20) to straight-up abysmal (Halloween: Resurrection). But with Carpenter returning as a producer, Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her role as Laurie Strode, and a team of writers including Danny McBride and director David Gordon Green, the Halloween franchise finally has a definitive follow-up that delivers with its suspenseful scares as strongly as it does with the story at its core.
It’s been 40 years since Laurie Strode survived a vicious attack from crazed killer Michael Myers on Halloween night. Locked up in an institution, Myers manages to escape when his bus transfer goes horribly wrong. Laurie now faces a terrifying showdown when the masked madman returns to Haddonfield, Ill. — but this time, she’s ready for him.
Forty years ago this October, John Carpenter revolutionised the horror genre with the slasher film Halloween, which has stood the test of time to this day through its haunting atmospheric horror, an unforgettable score and an intriguing mystique that surrounded the serial killer Michael Myers. What followed in the future of The Shape as a slasher icon was a descent into horror sequel purgatory with mostly less-than-stellar results: his mystique would suffer at the hands of studio interference in Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, he would lose in a fight to Busta Rhymes in Halloween: Resurrection, and he was even given a full-fledged backstory in the Rob Zombie-directed remake of Halloween in 2007.
But with John Carpenter lending a hand as producer along with the writing team of Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley and director David Gordon Green, Michael Myers returns to theaters this year in a franchise revamp that shares the same name as the 1978 classic, but de-canonizes everything that came after it with the intention of ending the franchise on a strong note. The sacrifice would prove to be worth it, because what results in 2018’s Halloween is a film that succeeds as the definitive follow-up to the original, while standing on its own through its terrific scares, weighty substance and development of strong characters.
Halloween begins on the forty-year anniversary of the Haddonfield murders, with two journalists looking to question serial killer Michael Myers (Nick Castle) in a high-security mental institution about the murders he committed. Under the care of Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), Michael refuses to speak as he has for forty years, not even saying a word when he’s shown the same William Shatner mask he wore that fateful night. The journalists also visit sole survivor Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) to get her side of the story, but they come to discover that the events have taken a toll on her psychologically and personally, to the point of straining her relationship with her daughter, and in turn, complicating the connection she has to her granddaughter Allyson (newcomer Andi Matichak).
While Laurie lives a reclusive life in a massive compound, complete with a secret basement and large gun collection, anticipating Michael’s inevitable return, the bus transferring Michael from one insane asylum to another ends up in a wreck. Sure enough, this gives The Shape enough time to not only escape the scene, but also gives him the opportunity to don the iconic mask once again, and venture back to the town of Haddonfield, Illinois for another killing spree.
Since its inception, the slasher genre has been predominantly centered around strong female leads, and Halloween delivers on that front for each heroine in their own respective ways. Curtis delivers in a powerful role reprisal that gives Laurie layers of emotional depth; every line delivery and facial expression from Curtis details that every year of weary anxiety over the world’s horrors was all out of love for her family and concern for their safety.
Meanwhile, Karen starts the film as the naïve mother reminiscent of Greer’s characters in Ant-Man and Jurassic World, but once her illusion of safety is shattered when Michael walks the streets of Haddonfield, Karen’s progression evolves her into arguably the strongest character Greer has played in recent memory. And in what has potential to be a breakthrough performance, Andi Matichak fills the role of scream queen impeccably well as Allyson lives the trauma similar to that of her grandmother’s from four decades prior, but without breaking her defensive demeanor as The Shape pursues her and her family.
But strong character development is just one of the ways that this rendition of Halloween sets itself apart from its 1978 predecessor. The eleventh film in the franchise makes sure to depict contemporary Haddonfield with a diverse set of characters while being conscious of what fears the suburban populace at this moment in time. In an early scene, Laurie warns Karen and Allyson about how dangerous the world is. From reports of mass shooters opening fire in a school full of children to predatory sexual abusers, that statement couldn’t be more true.
This is relevant because while Dr. Loomis proposed Michael Myers as the personification of evil as a whole in the original classic, here, director David Gordon Green grounds Michael as the manifestation of the evils in today’s society without making the parallels on-the-nose. Rather, they are conveyed by returning the Halloween franchise to its grounded and realistic roots in the slasher genre. Creative camerawork only adds to the horror on display as the camera follows Michael in long, unbroken takes while he enters the houses of citizens at random with ease and commits three times as many murders as he did forty years ago.
Green reinforces the realism of the story further through a clever use of the color blue to represent tragedy: the flashing lights from a police car dominate the horrific scenes in the wake of Michael’s crimes while a blue flashlight illuminates the climactic moment Laurie confronts her personal trauma. It’s also worth noting that the cinematography also plays with depth of field in such a way that will compel audiences to spend the film’s runtime looking for Michael in the background of every shot.
All that being said, the one aspect of Halloween that is most inconsistent is its sense of humor. More often than not, a frightening scene is followed by a moment of teenagers or cops on patrol engaging in witty banter. It does provide levity on occasion, but they come so suddenly that all tension felt in the previous scene is deflated on instant. But thankfully, those moments are few and far between in what is without question one of the best horror films of the year, and easily the best sequel in the Halloween franchise.
Audiences will root for Allyson, Karen and Laurie to escape, confront and defeat Michael, while fans of the horror genre will love both the kill count and the unsettling suspense of every set piece. Die-hard fans of the franchise will enjoy hearing John Carpenter’s terrifying update of his iconic score with the synthesizers of today and appreciate the callbacks to the original film that are clever without being too showy. There are no tricks to be had because Halloween has successfully resurrected the iconic status of Michael Myers, exists as one of the most socially-aware horror films to come out in years, and is a treat to be had on the big screen this Halloween season.