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Halloween (2018)
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by Peter Sobczynski

2 stars

You know that a horror franchise has been going on for a long time when the producers announce that the next film in the series is going to deal with the numerous substandard sequels and desperate plot twists thrown in to prop up interest by doing a metaphorical clearing of the decks that eliminates all of those followups from the continuity and going back to doing a straightforward continuation to the original. You know that a horror franchise has really grown a little long in the tooth when the producers make that announcement and you realize that this is the second time in the legacy of the series where they have made just such a maneuver. That is what has happened with “Halloween,” John Carpenter’s mercilessly effective 1978 breakthrough that revolutionized the genre, made a star out of then-unknown Jamie Lee Curtis, introduced Michael Myers into the pantheon of legendary horror characters and remains one of the most stylishly made and genuinely effective horror films ever made. After becoming one of the most successful independent films ever made when it came out, it inspired an increasingly convoluted string of lackluster sequels that threw in new characters, killed off old ones who could no longer be lured back into the fold and which were utter indistinct from most of the ripoffs and retreads that it inspired in the first place. (The only good one of the bunch was “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” (1982), a standalone effort that told a completely unrelated and fairly crazy story that enraged fans when it first came out but which has gone on to become a cult favorite of its own.) Having spit the bit on all of the sequels save for the middling “Halloween II” (1981)—the series later killed her off off-screen in order to explain her absence—Jamie Lee Curtis made a grand return to the series that helped put her on the map with “Halloween: H20” (1998), a ostensibly serious-minded film meant to tie in with the 20th anniversary of the original that would ignore all of the sequels after “Halloween II” and find Laurie Strode, now a nervous wreck with a drinking problem and an uneasy relationship with her slaughter-aged child, coming face to blank face once again with the monster that didn’t kill her but did destroy her life.

The resulting film wasn’t very good, aside from Curtis’s performance, but it was a hit that revived interest in the series that was immediately squandered with the dreadful “Halloween: Resurrection” (2002), which began by killing off Curtis in an insultingly perfunctory (and contractually required) manner and somehow got worse (I seem to recall Michael getting punched in the face by Busta Rhymes at one point). Even worse, a few years later saw the release of a “Halloween” remake (2007) in which Carpenter’s elegantly conceived mythos was filtered through gore-obsessed hack Rob Zombie’s southern-fried aesthetic with dire results, the direst being the utterly useless “Halloween II” (2009). As terrible as those films were, they could not entirely destroy the hold that the relentless Michael Myers had on the collective consciousness and as the 40th anniversary of the original approached, it was announced that not only would there be a new “Halloween” film to commemorate it, it would bring both Curtis and Carpenter back into the fold, the former top lining in the role that first made her famous and the latter pulling double duty as executive producer and co-composer of the score. Even more intriguing, the film was to be directed and co-written by David Gordon Green, who has become one of the most fascinating and eclectic, not to mention prolific, American filmmakers of the last two decades thanks to films as varied as “George Washington” (2000), “Pineapple Express” (2008) and “Stronger” (2017), and he proclaimed that his film would be a true continuation of the original that would ignore every single sequel and pick up the story 40 years after the conclusion of the first one.

Under normal circumstances, the arrival of a new “Halloween” film at this point would not exactly be a point of interest but with the participation of Green, Curtis and Carpenter, I admit that I went into the screening with at least some degree of enthusiasm that the film, while almost certainly not hitting the peaks of the original, would at least turn out to be a worthy successor to the original classic. Alas, it took “Halloween” about nine minutes or so to pretty much strip me of those illusions and not much longer than that to realize that, with the exception of a few imaginatively staged sequences and one very effective performance, the film was mostly garbage—a dim-witted, shoddily plotted exercise in monotony with an amped-up body count to try to disguise the lack of suspense throughout and a weirdly jokey tone through much of it that further dilutes the tension and which makes one long for the comparative restraint of that Busta Rhymes cameo. Put it this way—if you are going to make a movie that is going to summarily erase several decades of sequels and attendant backstories in one fell swoop, you should make a film that is at least somewhat discernibly better than the ones it has erased.

As the film opens, a couple of dopey, though inexplicably well-funded, British podcasters (Jackson Hall and Rhian Rees) turn up at the asylum that has housed Michael Myers for 40 years since being captured following his infamous massacre in the small town of Haddonfield, even bringing along the mask that he wore during his rampage to see if that might inspire him to speak for the first time since he was a child. When that fails to work, they then try to pry a few words out of Michael’s would-be victim, Laurie (Curtis), while supplying the audience with a lot of backstory explaining what she has been up to over the years since the attack—convinced that Michael will return one day to try to kill her, she has developed a sense of overwhelming paranoia that helps to break up her two marriages and her relationship with her daughter (Judy Greer) and has caused her to live in a remote fortified compound complete with a shooting range, a hidden basement and dozens of bobby traps that she is convinced she will one day have to use.

Having no sense of history, the powers-that-be decide to transfer a bunch of prisoners, Michael included, to a new facility the night before Halloween. Inevitably, there is a wreck and Michael starts heading back to Haddonfield while leaving a trail of dead bodies behind (including those podcasters, allowing him to retain his mask. While he is slicing up the neighborhood while the streets are filled with trick or treaters, Laurie gets wind of what is happening and goes out in pursuit of the boogeyman that has defined her entire life. Also on the streets are Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), who has been Michael’s psychiatrist since the passing of Dr. Loomis (the character played in the original by the later Donald Pleasance) and who doesn’t seem all that stable, Officer Hawkins (Will Patton), who was the cop who arrested Michael all those years ago and feels guilty that he didn’t let Dr. Loomis simply shoot him instead, and Alyson (Andi Matichak), who is Laurie’s high-school age granddaughter who is on the streets following a bad breakup at a school dance with no idea of the terrors going on. Some—perhaps not all—of these characters converge for the grand finale at Laurie’s house, where she and Michael finally have the rematch that has been forty years in the making.

It says a lot about the worthlessness of “Halloween” that when that moment finally does arrive, what could have been a landmark cinematic moment for any hardcore horror fanatic is just as shrug-inducing as everything that has preceded it. The film does have a couple of interesting ideas on hand—illustrating the countless ways in which Laurie’s life was destroyed even though she survived that horrible trauma 40 years earlier and how the residue of that trauma can end up being passed down to future generations, scarring them as well—but once it introduces them, it never bothers to follow through on any of them. We get the brief list of details of Laurie’s life via the podcasters but nothing that answers any of our questions about her—ranging from what she does/did to make a living to why she would continue to live in the same town where all that trauma occurred in the first place. The sight of the three generations of Strode women banding together in the climax to battle the source of their collective angst was presumably meant to be the payoff for the entire film but since we hardly get to know any of them as individual characters, let alone as three people with a shared history, the finale loses a lot of its potential dramatic impact. I don’t know whether Green and co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley wrote more stuff along these lines that was cut at some point or if they never bothered to flesh out their initial ideas but the end result is a storyline that is just as choppy, simple-minded and contrived as any of the crappy slasher movies that arrived in the wake of the original

A bigger problem with “Halloween” is that it simply is not very scary. Over the years, Green has shown a flair for handling a wide variety of film genres but he does not really seem to have much of a feel for horror. There are a couple of reasonably effective scare stagings here and there—the best of which are one that makes strong, if not entirely logical, use of backyard lights and a motion detector and a bit involving a closet that was unfortunately revealed in the trailers—but most of them are presented with as much indifference as Michael himself projects through his mask. Sure, they are gory enough—teeth are torn out, knives are plunged into heads and a skull is crushed underneath a steel-toed boot—but Green seems more interested in racking up the body count than in making the deaths frightening. And since, in most of the cases, the characters in question have barely been introduced before being killed off, their deaths have no impact or import—compare that to the original “Halloween,” where the killing of Laurie’s girlfriends meant something because we had been given the chance to get to known them as people first. Perhaps Green himself realized at some point that suspense and tension were not his primary qualities as a filmmaker and decided to try to disguise that shortcoming by emphasizing humor in a number of scene. Although humor and horror can work in the proper circumstances, most of the jokey stuff is not so much “funny” as it is “jarringly inappropriate”—in one of the worst examples, a babysitter (Virginia Gardner) who has demonstrated dangerous levels of a likable personality is brutally stabbed to death by Michael while her charge (Jibrail Nantambu) is reacting in a comically overstated manner that is positively cringeworthy.

“Halloween” is not the worst film in the franchise by a long shot—even if you discount the rancid Rob Zombie revivals as a grotesque sideshow, it still beats the depths of “The Curse of Michael Myers” and “Resurrection.” However, other than the frisson that inevitably comes into play when the familiar notes from Carpenter’s famously minimalist score for the original turn up here, the only worthwhile aspect of this version of “Halloween”—the one thing that doesn’t hurt too much when you think back on it later, is the performance by Jamie Lee Curtis. The part is not written especially well and the screenplay gets so sidetracked with side characters and strange people popping up just to get slaughtered that Laurie Strode often feels like a bystander in her own story here. When she does get a chance to take center stage, she works wonders with the material she has been given as she suggests both the vulnerability and fear that she has allowed to dominate her life for 40 years as well as the steely determination to ensure that no one else in her family will ever feel that way because of the actions of another. She may not be in it all that much but even when she is off-screen, Curtis is the badly bruised but still-beating heart of “Halloween,” both the film and the franchise as a while. It is just too bad that heart is surrounded by a picked-over corpse way past its shelf date.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=31799&reviewer=389
originally posted: 10/17/18 16:23:30
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2018 Fantastic Fest For more in the 2018 Fantastic Fest series, click here.

User Comments

6/20/19 The Big D. Solid (but typical) slasher rehash. Jason Voorhees would knock Michael flat with one punch! 3 stars
1/20/19 Action movie fan We be seen it all before nothing new. Dull 2 stars
1/09/19 Langano Subpar. 2 stars
10/28/18 Bob Dog Lots of promising setup that is utterly wasted - shoddy film. 1 stars
10/27/18 the giver of the law Easily the best of the entire series so far, a truly amazing film worthy of 100 viewings. 5 stars
10/27/18 The Shape The best HALLOWEEN since the original— plays like a mashup of my first two movies. 5 stars
10/26/18 morris campbell decent the original still the best rewatch it instead 3 stars
10/26/18 Haddonfield Express Jamie Lee's been promoting an awesome film. If only the film itself shared her conviction. 1 stars
10/22/18 damalc pretty much Terminator 2 4 stars
10/21/18 Louise I actually thought it was better than the 1978 original. 5 stars
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  19-Oct-2018 (R)
  DVD: 15-Jan-2019


  DVD: 15-Jan-2019

Directed by
  David Gordon Green

Written by
  David Gordon Green
  Danny McBride

  Judy Greer
  Jamie Lee Curtis

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