(By Mark Gonzales) It has been forty years since the original Halloween introduced us to the unflinching face of Michael Myers and the hearty survivor that is Laurie Strode. Under the direction of David Gordon Green (Prince Avalanche) and the writing of Green, Danny McBride (Vice Principals), and Jeff Fradley (also of Vice Principals) we get to see what has became of Michael and Laurie (with Jamie Lee Curtis returning as the titular character). Turns out, things haven't been great for either of them...
...Michael has been locked in a mental institute for four decades while Laurie has never managed to get over the events of that night. Now, Michael is being transferred to a less nice hospital while Laurie is learning that Michael's best chance at an escape is during his state mandated move. It's all bad news for the characters but great news for the audience as the expected happens during Michael's transfer.
From there, the film is filled with chills, thrills, and kills that will satisfy die hard Halloween fans and new viewers alike.
This latest entry in the Halloween series ignores all the other sequels in the franchise, including the well-regarded Halloween II, and picks up forty years after the events of the first film. While many fans would have preferred to keep Halloween II in the timeline, the decision to cut out all story elements after the last frames of the original film makes sense for this new entry. By all accounts, the filmmakers' goal was to scrap the Laurie - Michael family connection introduced in the second film (don't yell at me, I know this plot element was first introduced in the TV edit of Halloween but let us not spend too much time dissecting TV edits for these films). This change to the Myers lore is an improvement. Part of the thrill of the original was the randomness of Michael's motivation to stalk Laurie and co. The tragedy of the original film is that Laurie and her friends would have survived the night had she not dropped off the keys to the Myer's home, been seen by Michael, and reminded him of his sister. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time and that was enough to spark Michael's obsession.
Perhaps the greatest benefit offered by scrapping the continuity established by the previous films comes in not having to explain away the events of the other movies. H20 famously worked around this by saying the events of the 4th, 5th, and 6th films did happen but Laurie faked her death at some point in the past so anything about her dying didn't actually occur. The effort of offering an explanation would get in the way of story telling and eat up valuable screen time. Ignoring it is the best possible solution.
While the film ignores the continuity of the previous films, it does not ignore their overall existence. This movie is packed with subtle (sometimes not so subtle) nods to the Halloween sequels. While purists might groan at some of these references, I found myself delighted by most of them. These call backs are not mere fan service; rather, they are in support of the plot as a whole. Without giving much (if anything) away, let me just say that a reveal of Laurie near the end of the film manages to be a subtle nod towards shots from two previous films, a rousing character moment, and an exciting reveal. Not all the callbacks are as effective as this but they do all serve a greater purpose than merely to say, "Remember when this thing happened in a movie 35 years ago?"
Much has been written about John Carpenter's return to the world of Halloween and what his involvement amounted to in regards to this film. I won't go into detail about the rumors or spend time speculating but I will mention his music. John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter (his son), and Daniel Davies wrote the music for this film and it is spectacular. If you are a lover of Carpenter's music this can be seen as nothing short of a return to form. The music is scary, evocative, and in several chase sequences, even manages to steal some of the attention from the on-screen action.
This isn't to suggest that the action sequences in this film are anything less than extraordinary. This film's scenes of terror and violence are on par with the best of the series. While much of the effectiveness of the film's violence is due to Green's directing and the impressive cinematography by Michael Simmonds (Nerve), the main reason that it works so well is that Michael Myers is absolutely terrifying in this film. While Rob Zombie's Michael was too large to be realistically scary, this film's version of "The Shape" is a reality grounded terror. He is exactly what you would expect an escaped mental patient turned spree killer to be--horrifying, deadly, and relentless.
The importance of Michael Myers' design in this film cannot be understated. In the past forty years we have seen many incarnations of the Michael Myers mask. From the iconic original mask to the bizarrely narrow and thin masks of the 4th and 5th films, a bad version of the mask can completely deflate the tension of these films. I'm happy to report that this film does not suffer from poor design in any aspect--especially not in the design of the mask. Michael's mask is suitably dirty and scared after forty years in an evidence locker. Of course, in reality, the mask would probably be in greater disrepair (if the DA even managed to keep the mask from being destroyed.) But, for the aesthetic purposes of this film, Michael's mask is just the right amount of aged. When he finally puts the mask back on, the audience is simultaneously scared, enthralled, and excited. A badly designed mask would have robbed the film of this, one of its most powerful scenes.
Plenty of movies that you see this year will be scary. Many will be well made. And several will even be creatively new. What separates Halloween from other films that you will see this year is that it is thematically solid. While the plot of the film is, "Michael wants to kill people. People would prefer to not be killed by Michael and act to prevent this," the movie itself is about something much more interesting. This film is about how coming into contact with evil effects people. Every single character in the film is driven by their responses to Michael's murderous night in 1978. Some characters are haunted by that night, some are obsessed, some distance themselves from it, and some let it destroy them.
While watching the characters react to their obsessions, one cannot help but to consider that the film is also about the audience's fascination with Michael, the Slasher genre at large, and even True Crime documentaries. Do we love these films because we want to identify with the victims or with the killer? How important is the safety of knowing that they are stories of terrible things happening to other people? The film manages to subtly examine these questions and more while not offering a direct answer. The filmmakers leave it to you to answer these questions. I myself am still puzzling over the many mysteries of the human soul that this film managed to raise.
Halloween is the Slasher sequel we have been waiting decades for--smart, entertaining, and terrifying. Nobody is more surprised than I to say that I genuinely hope that the team behind the stoner comedies Pineapple Express and Your Highness will continue to make horror films that make us scream, think, and cheer for years to come.
By Mark Gonzales