REVIEW: Halloween

And the award for the worst film franchise titling goes to the Halloween series with now three films in its pantheon all simply titled Halloween… narrowly beating out the Predator franchise with PredatorPredators and The Predator. Well done, Hollywood, well done.

Four decades since his notorious and harrowing killing spree on Halloween night, the psychopathic Michael Myers begins his supposed final hunt for the woman who once narrowly escaped him – Laurie Strode – who turns out to be more prepared for his return than first anticipated.

In 1978, John Carpenter created a new sub-genre of horror filmmaking, inspired by Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho. The sub-genre was something new, fresh and inventive with incredible direction from Carpenter behind it to really help usher it into the spotlight of horror cinema; that sub-genre being the slasher. Now horror movies since the birth of the original Halloween have never quite entirely moved away from the mould of the slasher with many notable horror classics like Friday the 13th, Child’s Play, Scream and A Nightmare on Elm’s Street all playing into elements of the genre in both good and bad ways. Concerning the first Halloween film, I admit I have an interesting relationship with it. The first time I recall watching it was during a late night film binge session with a mate of mine when were both teenagers. After watching a couple of dramas we decided to indulge in a horror and chose Halloween. The film did not necessarily frighten us, but it did create an intensity that just built and built over the course of the film that soon became unbearable. And then, right before the film ended, the streaming service we were watching it on crashed and we never got to see the ending. So when I eventually got around to returning to the first Halloween, instead of it unnerving me, I began to enjoy it more on its 1970s cheesiness. Since watching Halloween a few more times with different people, the film has seemingly morphed from a horror into a bit of corny pleasure. And I do not mean to disrespect John Carpenter (that man is a genius) but I cannot deny the way I feel about the original Halloween. I just hoped that what the 2018 version could do would be to modernise the original and return me to that previously felt intensity I experienced watching the flick as a kid… and I am happy to say the 2018 version did its job.

halloween_05_photocredit_Ryan_Green_Universal (2)
(AccuSoft Inc. 2018)

David Gordon Green’s Halloween may not be a perfect film by any stretch, but it does what in my mind a great Halloween film should do. To think it has been four decades since the original which means there has been forty years of the Halloween franchise just descending into sh*tness with 2018 being the year that finally someone decided to go “screw it, let’s just make something good for a change”. Completely erasing all the previous Halloween films to forge a new path for the franchise beneath the Blumhouse banner, 2018’s Halloween is a smart thinking, soft reboot which really builds on the classic characters of Laurie and Michael whilst also bathing in some white-knuckled intense cinematic murder.

A few of my favourite YouTube critics such as Chris Stuckmann and Dan Murrell have seemingly expressed their disappointments towards 2018’s Halloween, for which, in both cases I respect because their opinions matter to me, however with Halloween, this may just be one of those scenarios where I cannot totally agree with them. Their negatives concerning a mishmash of tones, inability to stand side-by-side with the 1978 version, inconsistency with the characters and just a lack of real originality in general, all appear as warranted critiques, and I don’t want to challenge their opinions, but there was something within this new Halloween for which almost had me call it “great” after leaving the cinema.

The film opens with two investigative journalists seeking to interview Michael Myers before he is transported to a new, brutal prison to live out the rest of his days. The shot of a courtyard, patterned with almost invisible barriers separating said civilians from the psychopaths shackled in position just dripped of an almost surreal and hardening vision. With sounds of laughter and screaming intensifying, the scene also escalated to unbearable heights as the two hungry journalists bore down on the unflinching natural force that is Michael Myers. This is how you open a horror film – let alone a film. What Halloween did so effectively was create an atmosphere – a haunting escalation towards the inevitable reuniting of Michael and Laurie as what seemingly did not work for some, worked extremely well for me.

The first Halloween was a film that really worked to unravel a sense of immorality in 1970s youth with feminist parties obsessing for years over whether or not the film painted female protagonists in a good light. In this film, the character of Laurie Strode is almost entirely rejigged and morphed into a Sarah Conner-type mould with a hardened sense of paranoia and anguish towards the world due to an escalation of gruelling PTSD. This change of character is not only 100% believable and scarily accurate to what would happen to a person like Laurie in reality, but it also crafts a new and enthralling dynamic between one of the slasher genre’s most enthralling killer-and-victim relationships. 2018’s Halloween changes the formula in some manner to an extent that there is no hunter or hunted and instead there is only, what the Joker once said, “what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object”.

I think the best part of 2018’s Halloween is what the filmmakers did with Laurie and Michael, not just in their relationship, but in how they were single-handedly perceived. As I already noted with Laurie suffering from PTSD in this film, the narrative really leans into her hardened exterior, exploring what effects the events of the first Halloween might have had on a normal teenager. The film tears away what made Laurie so vulnerable and victimised in the original and instead replaces said characteristics with a hunger and a thirst for vengeance; Laurie devolves from the angel-like character she represented in the original to a hunter, rage-filled and prepared for another bout. That’s not to say though that Laurie does not suffer new vulnerabilities, especially in the way she handles herself around other people and struggles with her internal demons. She becomes a sociopath, a loner and a remote, isolated soul that consequently pins her as the perfect counterpart to the near inhuman predator that is Michael Myers. She literally becomes the immovable object to Michael’s unstoppable force… and by the way, this is also all incredibly performed by an amazing turn from Jamie Lee Curtis, serving as quite possibly one of the actress’s best performances in a long time.

Now to Michael Myers and this is where things get really interesting. An eternally silent character who works predominately off visuals alone, Myers is really built up in this film as the demon most of us perceive him to be rather than the human some of the films try to sell him as. For most of the first quarter of Halloween, Myers appears maskless as the filmmakers try their best to hide his face from view, really forcing audiences to detach themselves from the idea this guy is what we perceive as ‘human’. The atmosphere created when Myers arrives in shot, or quite simply borders the frame of a scene, really horrifies and creates a sense of dread. This guy is not only a remorseless killer, but he’s also a hulking William Shatner-esque figure and DAMN is that terrifying.

Halloween (and I am referring to the 2018 version) is awesome at creating moments. It really sells the death scenes on a somewhat spectacle level. There’s an almost poetic swiftness to the way Michael Myers kills in this film that is threatening in its cinematic execution and also somewhat glorifying in its depiction of a serial killer and his unrelenting heartlessness. From the brutality of a bathroom kill to the queasiness of numerous crime scene residues to a horrifying backyard sensor light sequence to an amazing one-shot tracking scene that really sells Michael Myers in all his glory, Halloween does best when it takes the more interesting elements of the disappointing Halloween sequels and modifies them, consequently executing the older concepts in a more successful modern way. And man, can I just return to that tracking shot… wow, talk about gripping in a real True Detective way. I think this one shot alone may quite possibly be the best on-screen depiction of Michael Myers in action we have ever got.

Then comes the negatives and why I hesitated originally in calling Halloween “great” and why I also continue to agree with some of the points laid out by other critics like Stuckmann and Murrell.

It’s true; I don’t think Halloween was great. I think in moments it was on the verge of being so, but at some points it did stumble. Firstly, the comedy I honestly did not have much of a problem with. Comedy actor, Danny McBride, had a hand in writing this film and its obvious most of the comedy came from him. Sure most of the humour feels slightly misplaced but never is it really unfunny or unwarranted in creating levity to the harrowing events at play. The overall tone I never felt totally derailed at any point. Halloween never really compromised its slow and intense build to the final confrontation between Laurie and Michael – but that’s it; here we have our problem. The film is all about the confrontation of Laurie and Michael, or at least the build-up to said showdown, but the characters who surround the protagonist and the antagonist never really shine in any remarkable ways.

Not to say the characters have to be incredibly written, but I do feel they had to be a bit more than what they were. The original Halloween purposely revelled in promiscuous, substance abusing teenagers with no real character but instead a caricature type mould to really set the tone of what slasher films would later become – and that’s ok! I like that this new version of Halloween moved away from the original character moulds but their twists on certain characters just never worked in full.

Laurie’s daughter, Karen, portrayed by Judy Greer, had some interesting concepts to who she was and why she was the way she was, but I feel a better actress could have elevated the stale material. Nothing against Greer, but I believe she was kind of miscast in this film. Also, her husband was useless to the plot and really appeared as nothing but dead weight. Her daughter, Allyson, portrayed by Andi Matichak, was obviously meant to play a large role in this movie but due to lacklustre acting and a character arc recycled from every female protagonist in horror films, there was never any real gravitas she impinged on the tale. I think it was cool how in a way Halloween tried building this resistance of three females from three separate generations who together could stand a chance against a monster like Michael, but never did the movie totally play with this concept or at the very least develop it to be thematically of interest.

The worst character would have to be Haluk Bilginer’s Dr. Sartain, who appears as Michael’s obsessive psychiatrist or, as Laurie puts it, the ‘new Loomis’. This guy really takes the film to dumb levels. Like it is astounding that a character like this made it to the final draft of the movie. Almost everything in this film worked for me to the point I could forgive most of the movie’s faults, but this bloke, especially in one specific scene, really grinded my gears as a nonsensical plot device who could have been used for more threatening and inventive plot points but literally existed to perform a silly twist in the movie midway through that did not make sense whatsoever.

Anyway, I really, really liked Halloween and honestly would call it one of my favourite horror films of the calendar year. No it’s not exactly on the same level as the first, but you never can really be at the same height as a film that effectively ushered in a whole new genre of filmmaking we audiences continue to binge to this day. The direction is not John Carpenter level incredibleness but the execution of certain moments, as I said, really helped to define this film as something special. With a genius revival of the original Halloween score and sequences like the tracking shot I literally just obsessed over or the moment Michael is reunited with his mask, really do just hit that same dopamine rush that Carpenter was so well versed in repetitively hitting out of the park.

Halloween may also not be solely original but the way it executes bits and pieces and really modernises the retro slasher homages in a swifter, crisper fashion, makes me still honestly have to admit how much I really enjoyed watching this film and why it deserves the watch from anyone who is considering doing so. As grizzly as it gets and as tense as it gets, never is not endearing and watchable. Now let’s just wait another forty years for a proper sequel to this… like, finally.

Halloween is a bloody… CRUSADE!!

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