While it can be argued whether or not John Carpenter’s 1978 thriller Halloween was the birth-giver to the modern slasher sub-genre, one thing that is not even up for discussion is the influence the film has had on an entire generation of filmmakers and horror fans alike.
Count David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) among those under the film’s influence. His knowledge, love, and respect of the Halloween franchise allowed him to become one of the first to successfully revisit the franchise with his sequel, Halloween. What makes his return succeed where others failed, is the way in which he pays respect with brilliant little homages that remind us why we loved the original. The scenarios are familiar yet refreshing, while never outright imitating what came before. That fine line is a difficult thing to pull off in filmmaking. Just ask J.J. Abrams, who went the full imitation route with his Force Awakens. On the contrary, Halloween feels familiar and lived in, yet offers enough pleasant surprises to stand on its own to attract a new legion of followers.
Halloween is the 11th title in the franchise and resets the timeline by assuming that none of the other sequels ever existed. It picks up 40 years after the tragic events of the first film and introduces us to a pair of investigative journalists (Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall) who visit a prison for the criminally insane which has housed Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney, with a cameo by Nick Castle) ever since his reign of terror upon the sleepy little town of Haddonfield in the 1978 original.
Michael is looked after by Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) -- his new Dr. Loomis this time around, and leads our intrepid journalists to a red-checkered courtyard in the middle of the prison where they will conduct their interview. This is one of the film’s most visually striking scenes and sets a spine-tingling tone for things to come. Letting us know that the shackles attached to Michael’s wrists and ankles aren’t enough to keep the dangerous psycho at bay, he is also chained to the ground and surrounded by a yellow outline demarking the “do not enter” area.
Of course, the interview goes nowhere as Michael continues to hold to his 40-year silence since murdering his teenage sister and a slew of others who simply got in the way. Perhaps he’s just biding his time. After all, he knows the authorities will soon begin transporting all the prisoners to a new facility. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, we find out soon enough as, wouldn’t you know it, the bus transporting Michael and fellow prisoners crashes, allowing everyone on board -- including Michael -- to escape. And where do you think he is headed? You guessed it. Back to Haddonfield where he has some unfinished business.
But enough about Michael. This is Jamie Lee Curtis’ movie. Reprising her breakout role, she again plays Laurie Strode, forty years older and that much wiser, but now suffering from a bad case of PTSD that led to several divorces, alcoholism, and the estrangement from daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Laurie isn’t doing well these days, but she knows Michael is coming. And she is prepared. Laurie was always quite the badass. Even at 18 she was able to fell a giant with a single knitting needle, but she’s now eaten by paranoia and closeted in a heavily fortified house deep in the woods. Curtis is fantastic in the role, grizzled, gray and showing the wrinkles of what all those years of living on the edge can do to a person. Haunted by the past and never swayed by the distrust of family and loved ones, Laurie has prepared for this day and is ready to unleash an unholy hell when Michael returns. The matchup between the two is something for which audiences have been waiting for a long time. And it does not disappoint as Green surpasses expectations with a violent yet satisfying final confrontation.
Carpenter comes on board as executive producer of the film, and his presence is felt throughout, especially when his updated score tinkles out that iconic piano sequence. Those chills? That’s John Carpenter doing it to us once again. Also, many of Green’s little visual flourishes such as the iconic Jack-O-Lantern and a background shot of a dollhouse fashioned after the original Halloween house, show the love and respect he has for Carpenter’s vision. And still present is that NOT knowing the “why” behind Michael Myers’ motivation that brings a guttural fear of the boogeyman.
More violent, more bloody, and oftentimes more scary than the original, this Halloween is a wonderfully imagined addition to the franchise that updates, and in many ways, improves upon the original while maintaining its fun B-movie practicalities. This is exactly what we wanted in a revisit to Haddonfield. Nothing more. Nothing less.
(Released by Universal Pictures and rated “R” by MPAA.)
Review also posted at www.franksreelreviews.com.