“Death has come to your little town, Sheriff.”
This is the ominous warning of Doctor Loomis, played by the late Donald Pleasance, in the original Halloween (1978). The thing that sets David Gordon Green’s Halloween apart from the other eight sequels to and remakes of John Carpenter’s original, is that writers Green, McBride, and Fradley understand what made Michael Myers resonate so effectively with audiences in the first place. What makes Michael Myers scary is that he is totally opaque as a character. He is the embodiment of death; cold and inhuman.
In the original film, it is never explained why Michael murders his sister on Halloween night, why he goes after Laurie and her friends, why he puts on a mask, or how he survives being shot and stabbed. Even his doctor cannot breach the mind of Michael. In today’s world of franchises and prequels, it is rare for a film to leave so many questions unanswered. Had YouTube channels like CinemaSins existed in 1978, they probably would have nitpicked the life out of the original and pointed out ninety-nine plot holes. Yes there are plot holes in every film, but people today get hung up on this much too often. In fact, where many of the sequels and remakes went wrong was in their attempts to explain away the many mysteries of the titular murderer. Halloween II revealed that Laurie Strode was Michael’s estranged sister, Halloween 4 introduced a cult of Michael Myers, and the remakes spent a lot of time showing Michael’s deranged upbringing. This new film does the right thing by throwing all of this off the balcony and shooting it until its dead. The explanations and reveals are unnecessary because at his core, Michael Myers is a force of nature. He is pure evil because there is no logic for his actions. He is not motivated by revenge, he doesn’t have any connection to his victims, and he kills indiscriminately. It’s not even clear that he gets any pleasure from what he does. There’s something unsettling about this unstoppable hulk of a man hidden behind a featureless mask that enters homes in average American suburbia and kills without any motivation.
In the new film, Michael’s new doctor explains that Michael Myers can talk, but he chooses not to. This adds another layer to the creepiness. There are several points in the film where people try to get him to speak, but he never yields to anyone. Much like a powerful hurricane, he is unfettered and apathetic to his victims. To speak would make him more human. Michael gets shot, stabbed, hit by a car, and knocked down the stairs in this film, but he somehow always gets back up and never seems to show any pain. How can a supposedly human man keep moving despite all of these injuries? It seems that the powerful desire to finish what he started forty years ago is the locomotive pushing him forward and keeping him alive. He has waited patiently for the opportunity to escape and face Laurie Strode once again, which brings me to the other strong part of the film: Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance.
Laurie Strode in this film is very much like Sarah Connor in Terminator 2; she has been traumatized by the events that she survived in the first film and she has become obsessed with the return of Michael Myers, arming herself to the teeth and even ruining her relationship with her family in the process. She is physically strong, but she is emotionally vulnerable, unable to move on past her trauma. Laurie pushes away her daughter in an attempt to protect her, but she seems to have a special connection with her granddaughter, who is the only person to have some sympathy for Laurie’s plight. There are some moments where iconography from the original film is referenced in shots that replace Michael with Laurie. This portrayal of Laurie and Michael as two opposite sides of the same coin adds complexity to their relationship as victim and victimizer, bringing attention to their similar desires to finish their battle and kill each other. The three generations of women in the Strode family end up coming together for a powerful climactic battle with Michael Myers in the end of the film, which feels triumphant and empowering to the women. Michael really takes a beating, but it never devolves into slapstick. Michael stays silently formidable and intimidating until the very end.
Another notable part of the film is the haunting, brooding soundtrack by John Carpenter, his son Cody Carpenter and his godson Daniel A. Davies. It’s exciting to hear Carpenter, who directed the original film, return to the franchise for the first time since Halloween III. When the theme kicked in during the opening credits, you can bet I was grinning ear to ear, knowing that Carpenter was behind the synths and guitars I was hearing. The new theme is an update of the infamous version that everyone knows, but it’s still very much recognizable. The best new songs are “Laurie’s Theme”, which retains the melody of her theme from the original but with some alterations to reflect how she has changed, and the end credits song, “Halloween Triumphant,” which is summed up adequately by the title. It’s satisfying to see Carpenter, who heavily influenced the synth sounds of shows like Stranger Things, return to film with such a strong entry in his already formidable discography.
Having complimented what I found to be the best aspects of the film, I must acknowledge that Halloween (2018) is not a totally revolutionary new take on the slasher genre. It indulges in many of the trite generic conventions that audiences have come to expect from these films: a cast of disposable teenagers for the killer to slaughter, the victim that inexplicably slips as they try to run away, the bumbling cops, and the inevitable ending that’s not really an ending because you know that the slasher villain will never stay dead. In this sense, there aren’t too many surprises in this film. I have heard people point out that the opening credit sequence leans to heavily on nostalgia, but I argue that the image of the smashed pumpkin inflating and turning into a full jack-o-lantern is an exciting image that effectively conveys “Halloween is back, baby!”
Halloween (2018) suffers from the typical horror movie clichés, but it marks an unexpected revival of a franchise that had been beaten to death by years of awful sequels and subpar remakes. Unlike the worst entries, there is some love poured into this one, and the writers seem to be aware of what made the original film so great in the first place. Bolstered by some strong sequences and performances, as well as a memorable soundtrack, there are a lot of frights and fun to be found in Halloween (2018).