‘Tis the season.
In May 1978, a young and inexperienced group of film makers managed to pioneer one of the most groundbreaking genre films in cinema history. The magic of John Carpenter’s magnum opus lies within its simplicity.
The film’s production is something of myth amongst horror buffs and cult fans alike, and its cultural shockwave can be felt throughout the industry to this day. The modest budget of only $300,000, a rushed 20-day shooting schedule and those haunting eyes that lingered behind a cheap William Shatner party mask– it could have all gone wrong, but either by sheer luck or divine intervention Halloween cemented itself as the definitive suburban nightmare.
Forty years later, the blessing was given by the maestro, John Carpenter himself, to Eastbound and Down’s Danny McBride and David Gordon Green with both writing the film and Green directing (yes, Kenny Powers co-wrote this movie). Production of the film was championed by Jason Blum and the horror purists over at Blumhouse productions who have modern horror masterpieces such as the Insidious, Sinister, and Paranormal Activity franchises all under their belt.
Blumhouse’s involvement in projects has always struck me as not only the studio having a sincere investment in the project, but the filmmaker’s vision as well– the evolution of this is evident in their recent venture with Spike Lee’s critically acclaimed BlacKkKlansman. Described as a passion project by McBride and Green, Halloween brings back Jamie Lee Curtis in her iconic role as Laurie Strode and takes a bold stance to ignore the canon of the subsequent sequels spawned by the original’s success. Needless to say, the hype for this film was real.
After watching the film, I found myself torn. There’s a lot this film did right, but some poor writing choices in the third act of the film and a cringe-worthy love triangle which was shoehorned into the script have left me puzzled.
It’s tough for a slasher sequel to justify its existence, and luckily this film is very self-aware, which definitely works to its advantage. Before reading any further I suggest the average viewer see this film, as it is perfect seasonal entertainment, but hardcore fans of the series such as myself are bound to find gripes with it.
The film finds its feet creatively early on and maintains an atmosphere of terror reminiscent of the original. The scares are a fresh mix of new and old, and the music provides an ominous impending sense of dread and nostalgia.
The cinematography of this film is gorgeous. Several scenes come to mind, including a one-take tracking shot of Myers’ stalking an elderly grandmother into her home to obtain the knife in her kitchen, a Kurbick-esque confrontation on the checkerboard colored tiled courtyard of the mental institution that houses Myers and several other quaint scenes that paint a picture of a sleepy Midwestern town haunted by something more than evil.
The most welcomed change to the formula can be found in the evolution of Curtis’s character. Laurie Strode is different this time around– a victim of the tragedy that befell her and her group of friends that fateful night 40 years earlier. The PTSD she suffers has affected her relationships with her family and alienated her from the outside world. From a writing perspective, this couldn’t have been a smarter choice, as it both moves the genre forward and ignites a conversation that has never been more relevant than it is now in today’s social climate.
Establishing Strode as a damaged but capable heroine and watching Curtis reprise the iconic role is amazing to watch as the film plays out. Strode is far more familiar with the cat and mouse act this time around and adds some firepower into her arsenal. She lives as a hermit in her fortified compound waiting for the inevitable return of The Shape, but this time she’ll be ready.
As the body count rises and the film closes in on the inevitable showdown between Myers and Strode, some questionable writing decisions near the end held the film back from reaching its full potential. It’s lazy writing that made something fresh feel like every other cheap sequel; nothing detrimental, but enough to make you scratch your head, that’s for sure.
Don’t be completely discouraged: The showdown is every bit as awesome as a fan could hope it’d be. There’s a great decision to switch the roles of the hunter and the hunted towards the end as well– pitting Laurie as an apex predator on the hunt for Myers, ironically the role Myers traditionally finds himself in throughout the series. Not quite as ambiguous as The Sopranos, but definitely in the same vein in terms of leaving something to be desired– many, such as myself, will find the ending failing to live up to the any intense cathartic expectations the film set itself up for in the first and second acts.
Halloween still delivers on many levels. It manages to maintain a consistent vibe of impending doom throughout the 106-minute run time. McBride even manages to breathe some of his humor into the script, which adds a layer to the characters that is always welcome in a slasher (I can think of one part in particular with a boy and his babysitter that has me buckled over laughing even recounting it).
David Gordon Green’s distinct directing style gives an originality to the film that I was gravely concerned wouldn’t be there, but luckily I was wrong. A few goofy writing hiccups in the third act aside, the film feels like the true spiritual successor to John Carpenter’s classic 1978 masterpiece. I can say to you with all honestly that this is the best film in the series since the original.