Blumhouse’s HALLOWEEN (2018) manages to make Michael Myers scary again, while serving as a love letter to final girls/women everywhere (Spoiler-free)

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Nick Castle reprises his role as The Shape in 2018’s Halloween. (Universal)

Two years ago when frequent collaborators Danny McBride and David Gordon Green announced that they were joining forces again for a Halloween franchise sequel, I squealed.  With Green’s indie-film roots combined with McBride’s dark sense of harsh humor, I felt pretty confident that their vision for a modern-day Halloween sequel would fill a void in the hearts of the franchise’s fans everywhere that craved a worthy sequel, after the countless corny and painful-to-watch ones that have notoriously tainted the Halloween franchise over the years (I’m looking especially at you, “Halloween: Resurrection”.)  However…after months and months of numerous media clickbait articles about the production of the upcoming film, with headlines that contained quotes from McBride and Jamie Lee Curtis proclaiming that this movie was “legitimately scary,” a lackluster trailer release in June, and just the annoyance of straight-up over-saturation of the film’s highly anticipated release, I grew worried.  After all, when the people who are behind a film can not stop talking about it to the press, that typically leads to disappointment and disaster. I thought, Who actually says that their own movie is ‘scary’?! Just let the damn movie speak for itself!  But now that I’ve caught one of the upcoming film’s earliest screenings at Salem Horror Fest, I can thankfully say that I was wrong for worrying so much.  Aside from a few nitpicky flaws, David Gordon Green’s Halloween is solid.

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Blumhouse VP Ryan Turek and actress Andi Matichak discuss their experience of making Halloween (my photo)

Ignoring the canon of all of the other franchise’s sequels, Halloween picks up 40 years after the events of the original John Carpenter film.  The new film opens with a somewhat wonky scene that takes place within the insane asylum that an aged Michael Myers (Nick Castle/James Jude Courtney) has remained silent in, ever since the “Babysitter Murders” that took place in 1978.  Two podcasters (a la the popular “Serial Killers” podcast) wish to speak to him and learn about the psychology of his past actions, but The Shape remains stoic.  I won’t lie, I felt slightly irritated at this sequence, but luckily it becomes integral to later events within the film.  After those opening 5-10 minutes, fans will be happy to see recognizable font within the opening credits that is very similar to the original film’s opening credits.  In fact, when each of the names of those involved were brought to screen, (especially “Score by John Carpenter” and “Produced by Malek Akkad”) cheers and applause from the audience were aplenty.

From this point forward, we get reacquainted with familiar faces, and also meet new members of the Strode family, while The Shape makes his escape from the asylum, and the unavoidable brutality on Halloween night begins.  I am pleased to say that David Gordon Green & Co. have achieved an accomplishment that hasn’t been experienced since the original 1978 movie: Michael Myers is legitimately scary again.  While he stalks the innocent victims of his hometown of Haddonfield, IL, The Shape looms within the frames during clever POV shots, that creates a claustrophobic anxiety whilst watching.  Every shot of Michael’s presence is felt with unease: from his backseat-of-a-car choking of a very young person, to an outside sequence in which he traps a victim with a fencing iron behind a well-lit backyard, The Shape manages to invoke fear that has been missing from the last four decades of franchise movies.  (You even get quick glimpses of his bum eye that you briefly see in the original film, but not much else of his elusive face.)  While the kills may have been a tad too frequent and unrealistically quick at times– you may ask yourself, How does Michael manage to squeeze in a human-jack-o-lantern style murder in a matter of a few minutes?!– there is no doubt that they are relentlessly horrific, to the point in which a couple scenes received audible gasps from the audience during my screening.  I was also impressed and pleased to see that Green knows to keep the audience members on their toes: a few kill scenes are not even shown on-screen– Green points the camera away from the violence, and instead forces you to stare at a nearby wall, while you can only hear the screams and the knife stabbings from the background.  It’s amazing how effective it is to cut away from the visuals of every gory aspect of a death scene, and instead, allow the audience to use their own imaginations.  (If they did away with a few jump scares, and plucked out a few of McBride’s humorous, but kinda unnecessary kids cursing joke-y moments in the screenplay, the film would be even more compelling than it is already, but we all know that Blumhouse has a mainstream-audience quota to fulfill.)

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The Shape stalks his unknowing prey. (Universal)

What 2018’s Halloween may lack in simplicity at times, it makes up for in its carefully inspired Easter eggs to the 1978 film, as well as to a few of the franchise’s more beloved sequels.  From scenes in which a corpse is covered in a ghost-like sheet, to Laurie falling to the ground and quickly disappearing while Michael looks on– both reminiscent of the original film– to a kitchen stabbing straight out of Halloween II, to blink-and-you’ll-miss-it shots of the masks from Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Green, McBride, Blumhouse, & Co. may not have included past sequels within the new film’s canon, but they never neglect where this narrative came from in the first place.  Fans will especially be pleased by John and son Cody Carpenter’s 2018 version of the Halloween score for the new film, which manages to still bring in some late ’70s synth to its modern approach.

Most importantly, Halloween is timely and compassionate, in an understated way that will be felt and appreciated by many women in the audience.  The recent “Me Too” era, that has brought the weight of female assault victim trauma to light in Hollywood, has translated to a meaningful character arc within our heroine, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis).  Jamie Lee Curtis’s return to the franchise as a past almost-victim with PTSD makes her ongoing pain tangible and relatable: she is stoic and strong in scenes where she is teaching her daughter and granddaughter how to defend themselves, while fragile and emotional in other scenes where she is suffering from the effects of her traumatic stress.  Sure, her character’s booby trap of weapons, cameras, and hidden rooms feels a bit over-the-top, but Curtis’s performance as an empowering woman who is prepared to battle her knowing fate against a monster of a man is inspiring and memorable.

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Halloween gives much-needed love to final girls like Laurie Strode everywhere. (Universal)

Aside from Curtis’s Laurie Strode, the supporting character portrayals also feel refreshingly fleshed-out.  For an actress who claimed to be “too scared” of most horror films before the screening I attended, Andi Matichak as Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson Strode is resourceful and likable, reminiscent of teenage Curtis in the first film.  Judy Greer is Laurie’s skeptical daughter Karen– who was taken away from Laurie at a young age and has purposefully distanced herself because of her mother’s paranoia– is not necessarily in the forefront of the film, but manages to shine during a critical climatic scene in the third act.  Impressively, even the film’s “throwaway” characters (translation: victims of Michael’s brutality) don’t feel worthy of Michael’s wrath.  The filmmakers force you to feel sympathy for them too, particularly an amiable teenager who gets caught in Michael’s crosshairs when he’s walking home from a Halloween party.

Halloween manages to throw in a minor, third act “twist” involving a Dr. Loomis-like character that made me feel frustrated initially– but stay patient, as it begins to make a bit more sense in the subsequent moments.  The edge-of-your-seat throw down of an ending is satisfying, while also leaving a little mystery and intrigue (aka space for a possible and probable sequel, based on early box office predictions.)  All and all, 2018’s Halloween will never equate to the simplistic perfection that is John Carpenter’s original indie film, however, it is most definitely a modern sequel gem that will be sure to gratify many longtime, diehard Halloween fans like myself, as well as young and new horror fans who are meeting Laurie and The Shape for the very first time.~

rating= 8 pumpkins out of 10

 

 

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