You can teach an old slasher new tricks
Like all slasher franchises, Halloween has had its ups and downs over the years. Sure there’s something to appreciate in even the worst of the eight original films and two Rob Zombie reboots, but it’s hard to argue that the franchise hadn’t fallen from its once-lofty heights.
You see, also like nearly all slasher franchises, Halloween started with a truly scary, genre-defining film and then sort of just blew up, and this is coming from a guy who loves bad slashers. That first movie, though. Man does it still stand up. In an age where slashers have become torture porn, the original Halloween looks pedestrian. Its body count is woefully low, almost all the violence takes place off-screen, and there is practically no blood whatsoever. And yet, it is easily one of the most chilling slasher films ever made and still strikingly disturbing despite its lack of gore and violence. John Carpenter’s direction and uncanny ability to scare you with what you’re not seeing is a masterclass in what horror should be.
David Gordon Greene’s direct sequel, also called Halloween, took all those lessons and then did something new.
Director: David Gordon Green
Release Date: October 19, 2018
Halloween is basically Halloween by way of Terminator 2 (the film knows this, paying homage on multiple occasions). Forget everything that’s happened in any sequels, spin-offs or reboots. The only film that existed in canon is the original movie and so we open with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) having spent the last 40-odd years living with PTSD and turning her home into a fort with the sole purpose of protecting herself from Michael Myers. She’s also been divorced twice and raised her only daughter to be a killer before child services took her away. Everyone, including her now estranged daughter and granddaughter, thinks she’s crazy. That is, of course, until Michael Myers escapes his prison and starts killing again.
David Gordon Green is better known for his slow burners than shock horror, but man does his skill translate over to something amazing. He directs Halloween with a style that ratchets up tension on a level only a few horror directors can muster. He also gets Michael Myers. The kills aren’t flashy and ridiculous, there’s a relatively small amount of blood, and the majority of them are over in a few seconds. Yet, they’re brutal and dark and evil and, most importantly, scary. Myers isn’t the bloody gag that endless sequels had made him, but a disturbing representation of evil presented in an unwavering horror that is downright shocking at times.
Green and Danny McBride (yes, that Danny McBride) have also put together a shockingly clever screenplay, that flips horror tropes around without turning Michael Myers into a punchline. What gets you killed this time around isn’t sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but simply being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The traditional horror tropes are flipped, as Laurie is no longer a screaming teenager, but a badass warrior. It’s more often the men who are punished for their perceived social taboos instead of the women, though the true horror of Myers’ killing in this film is that it doesn’t really matter who you are or what you do; one woman is bludgeoned to death with a hammer so Myers can take her kitchen knife.
That bludgeoning, by the way, takes place, off-screen. There’s sound, and screams, but you don’t see any blood, guts, or brains. The kill isn’t drawn out, it just happens, and then Myers, emotionless and unmoving, walks out of the house with his knife. It’s the blunt and at times shocking direction like this that allows the movie to move beyond simple slasher into a truly disturbing study of evil. There’s an undercurrent to the film of trying to understand why Michael Myers is evil, with a pair of reporters and his psychologist attempting to better know his desires. Of course, Laurie knows: he’s just fucking evil. If the movie weren’t so grounded in its direction the themes would come across as trite, but instead, it turns Myers into an actual human monster — something scarier than Freddy or Jason (both whom I love dearly in their own ways).
That isn’t to say that the movie doesn’t deliver on its slasher roots. Those simply looking to see Myers tear through a bunch of bodies are not going to be disappointed as he wracks up far more kills than he did in the first movie. The film is almost a Superman Returns-level homage to the original, though it pulls off its tributes in better ways. There are references back to the first film all over the place with small and big nods coming up in almost every scene. For fans of the franchise, there is a lot to take in, and even some reverence for the Rob Zombie films.
Where the film does start to lose some steam is in its conclusion. The inevitable and much-hyped final showdown between Michael Myers and Laurie is tense and scary at times, but also loses a lot of the momentum that the rest of the film has. Maybe it’s because this character, who is supposed to have planned for Michael Myers’ return her entire life, seems to be winging it a bit too much or maybe it’s just the absurdity of her plan, but the parts don’t seem to add up to a whole in the final third of the film. On the whole, though, the ending is good enough to not pull down the rest of the movie.
Halloween is probably one of the better slashers we’ve had in years because it’s actually scary, and it does something new. This is the slasher film fed through a modern horror lense. It takes an ’80s horror icon and puts him into a world of It Follows, Hereditary, and You’re Next. What’s striking is how much putting the slasher into that frame actually returns it to its roots. Somewhere along the line blood, guts, and gore took over when the true key to these iconic monsters wasn’t the death, but the evil around it.