“HALLOWEEN and a New Legacy of Horror”
Master of Horror John Carpenter returns to the franchise that made him an International celebrity with the release of HALLOWEEN (2018) but instead of writing and & directing this latest sequel he is an Executive Producer and provides the score (with his new collaborators Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies). There is this idea that there is a need or “want” by audiences that the franchise needs to go “old school” and back to basics so returning with Carpenter is star Jamie Lee Curtis and Nick Castle (as Laurie Strode and The Shape, respectfully). Helping to get back to this old school vibe are Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley, and David Gordon Green as the screenwriters and Green who directs. Green made a name for himself with his debut feature George Washington (2000) but is better known for his comedies Pineapple Express (2008), Your Highness (2011), and The Sitter (2011); he soon moved on to the more interesting films Joe (2013), Our Brand is Crisis (2015), and Stronger (2017). McBride is more known for Eastbound & Down but has shown his horror film creed with Alien: Covenant (2017).
I only mention McBride and Green as they are the key people responsible for putting this film together along with uber producer Jason Blum who came aboard to shepherd the film in a direction for a new era and audience (along with producers Malek Akkad and Bill Block). As much as I want to say I love the idea of film-makers, in hindsight, claiming that some films/sequels/remakes/re-imaginings/etc. stray too far from the source material, there is no denying that a lot of time has passed from the Carpenter ’78 Original to the more recent Rob Zombie directed Halloween II (2009) and audiences from the ‘70s are completely different from those of the ‘00s. Blum and company claim that there was a need to return to that ‘70s mentality of horror film that they believe audiences want instead of the more current crop of darker horror film that has a lot of gore and relies less on suspense and subtly. Franchise films like Insidious, The Purge, Final Destination, Hostel, Saw, and Sinister have replaced the slasher films of the ‘80s and ‘90s which have continuously upped the ante on horror and gore and become huge Box Office draws. Smaller and sometimes more critically adored films like It Follows, The Babadook, and Oculus have been critical darlings that relied more on atmosphere and mood (and less on gore) have rarely been huge Box Office draws leaving the impression that the more low-key style horror films no longer have a place with mainstream audiences.
So, how do you craft a remake/re-imagining of a beloved classic film that retains the atmosphere of the original while also appealing to modern day audiences who flocked to see the remake of Stephen King’s It (2017) and not the remake of Poltergeist (2015)? That was the goal of the film-makers behind the ’18 Halloween. Bringing Carpenter, Curtis, and Castle back was a great marketing gimmick to start but would the resultant film be what audiences really wanted?
Rob Zombie’s very divisive two Halloween films ’07 and ’09 was a means to ground the franchise in a “Zombie-colored” real world in which The Shape was less a Boogieman and more a human being by the name of Michael Myers, a misunderstood and abused child from a broken family that becomes a relentless serial killer. Gone is the mystique of Carpenter’s faceless killer that was given no meaning or method to his madness; Zombie wanted to present a killer you could understand and empathize with just as much as the heroine Laurie Strode (played in his films by Scout Taylor-Compton). The ‘00s was a time in which the faceless serial killer was passé replaced by the Dexter Morgan and Hannibal Lectors. Zombie’s films were loathed by some but cherished by others due to his style and his need to create a Michael Myers who wasn’t simply “evil” by nature but was raised that way. These films went against everything from the previous seven sequels but then again this wasn’t the first time the franchise was rebooted.
After a less than satisfying part V: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) and part 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) the franchise was again rebooted to dismiss all sequels except for Part II. For Halloween: H20 (1998), Curtis returns to reboot the franchise in one of the most satisfying of all the sequels in which Laurie Strode has changed her name to hide away from her past. This film was extremely well liked by both fans and critics as it presented a more three-dimensional heroine than had ever been presented in a Halloween film while also appealing to modern audiences with slick visuals and a young and attractive cast with seasoned professionals and comic wit. These achievements were short lived as Part VII: Resurrection (2002) became one of the most hated sequels in the franchise.
This all being said, the Halloween franchise as a whole was rebooted three times before McBride & Green, Carpenter & Curtis & Castle, and Blum decided it was time to once again break the mold and revisit the iconic franchise by making a sequel that directly takes place after the original film and ignoring all of the past 40 years’ worth of continuity and story. This new story had to appeal to fans of the franchise who had seen all the previous films (or at least some of them) in addition to those who had never seen a Halloween film. Laurie Strode is a woman suffering from PTSD after the events in the ’78 Original film and been preparing for The Shape’s escape from a mental institution for forty years. She has a daughter whom she has alienated and a grand-daughter who barely knows her, and her world comes crashing down upon her when a bus carrying The Shape and other mental patients crashes releasing The Shape to menace Haddonfield once again.
I will try not to reveal to many details of the film for those who have not seen the film but despite being a well-done slasher film there is nothing remarkably new or intriguing in this latest sequel that takes the best bits of all the sequels and mashes then together in this “best of” film. Curtis does her very best to keep the film together but Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) is no Dr. Loomis and Will Patton is slumming as Officer Hawkins, who is trying to capture The Shape once he realizes that he has a serial killer in his town. The bumbling cops from the abysmal Part V seem to still be working in Haddonfield now in this new film where there is an extended scene of cop banter that is completely out of place. There is a child that believes in the Boogieman and a babysitter, but their scenes are so short and haphazard that you wonder the logic of why they are even in the film other than to have an homage to the ’78 Original and Part IV. Curtis’ character pulls a lot from H20 and there are several nods to that film but there are a few details about the ’18 film that just had me feeling empty about the entire film.
H20 already presented Laurie Strode as a woman with PTSD but one that for the most part has moved on with her life unlike the ’18 film which presents her as a survivalist with a fortified home and a menagerie of guns. Unfortunately, for the forty years of preparing for the eventual arrival of Michael Myers she’s a horrible shot and she never logically responds to the presence of Myers like you think someone who is obsessed with killing him would be. She acts and reacts more for plot than logic. Strode’s daughter Karen and granddaughter Alysson (Judy Greer and Andi Matichak, respectfully) are the best story point of the entire film that is squandered in clichés and bad memories of The Curse of Michael Myers. I love the fact that this film wanted to present three generations of women effected by the trauma of Myers but there are too many bad decisions and character points that just seem to be there for plot rather than character. Some of these same relationship issues were developed in Part VI and the Strode family in that film. The ’18 film had a great opportunity to present three great women characters from different generations, but they ended up coming across as cyphers for Laurie’s familial problems rather than genuine character moments.
My next fault with the film, and this is a big one, is the presentation of Myers. From the trailer and the vocal aspirations of the film-makers you’d be in the belief that the idea of this film is to go back to the basics of Carpenter’s film regarding how Myers was presented as a Boogieman/The Shape. Instead, this film rehashes the brutality of the Zombie films without the since of fun or style. Myers kills everything in his path with complete disregard and it is only by happenstance that he ultimately finds his way to Laurie’s fortified home in the final act. It never seems like he has any purpose other than to kill-kill-kill which is unlike the ’78 Original or even Zombie’s film. For gore fans there are plenty of deaths to add to Myers body-count but to fans of the suspense filled original it’s a bit of the same from previous films except less creative as there are many nods to deaths from previous sequels.
There are various other faults I have with the film but the final element that I’ll discuss is simply that the film lacks any real suspense and when the characters are as hollow and uninteresting as presented her even the high body-count can’t masque what a mediocre film the final product actually is. Now, I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me especially considering that the film has grossed over $250 million worldwide on a $10 million production budget but I believe this is more serendipity than anything else due to the involvement of so many people from the ’78 Original.
Now, to put this all in perspective, I must also add that I saw the far superior Suspiria (2018) the night before and the Korean language Rampant (2018) on the same day as I saw Halloween and both films were shining examples of character based horror films that had style and presented either creepy and unnerving atmosphere (Suspiria) and or action-suspense-zombie-demon horror (Rampant). Both took clichés and standard horror conventions and presented them in new and surprising ways whereas Halloween ’18 presented the exact same thing that I’d seen before countless times.
I’ll concede that I may be a little biased since I didn’t think there needed to be another Halloween reboot especially with Curtis rebooting her own franchise, again, but the trailer did give me hope that the film would have at least been interesting having Carpenter, Curtis, and Castle involved but the only real thing of brilliance in the film is the musical score from Carpenter (and his collaborators). The score wasn’t a retread of what came before but an evolution and attribute this to Carpenter and his team as he has found new life in his musical career having produced over the years the amazing Lost Themes I and II not to mention the Anthology album. The music is the true highlight of the film!
Carpenter’s film career may have stalled after the release of The Ward (2010), which didn’t even get a large Theatrical release, but his music career has been nothing short of brilliant and I’m ecstatic that he’s producing better music now than he has in years.
Halloween ’18 is a monumental success story that has resurrected a fairly forgotten franchise (except for hard-core horror fans) for general audiences and there will definitely be another film which the customary result of many of producer Blum’s films has been (The Purge, Paranormal Activity, Sinister, Unfriended, etc.). Even though I’m no fan of the film, I am more than happy to admit that the greatest result of the success of the film is that there is a renewed interest in everything “John Carpenter” and I hope that He becomes a new contributor to the expanding horror world of Blumehouse Productions as they continue to allow visionary film-makers to present their visions without studio interference which is the one thing we can all be thankful for.