Directed by David Gordon Green. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Haluk Bilginer, Nick Castle, Virginia Gardner. 106 minutes Certificate: 18

In cinemas now from Universal Pictures.

 

Emerging almost a decade after the franchise’s last hurrah with Rob Zombie’s nihilistic HALLOWEEN II, this is the third movie in the HALLOWEEN series to bear the name “Halloween”. The series now has multiple alternate realities, with HALLOWEENs 4, 5 and 6 existing in a world where Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) died sometime after the events of the 1981 HALLOWEEN II. The stand-alone HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH unfolds in a timeline where John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) is a movie showing on TV while the hero tries to save America’s imperilled children (in a cute touch, Don Post’s masks from that movie make a cameo in this HALLOWEEN). Steve Miner’s HALLOWEEN H20, made for the 20th anniversary of the original, balanced in-jokes with a poignant portrayal of Laurie as an alcoholic, medicated teacher with a new identity and an imperilled family of her own when her masked maniac brother Michael Myers resumed his persecution. H20 ignored everything after HALLOWEEN II and its seemingly definitive end-scene closure was in turn undermined by the opening of franchise low-point HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION, in which Laurie was killed in the first ten minutes.

 

Wisely, given the dead-end gimmicks of later sequels (Michael and the Druids! The “Man In Black”! More Strode relatives in peril!), HALLOWEEN 2018 is a straight sequel to HALLOWEEN 1978, disposing of the Laurie-Michael family connection via an early dialogue exchange, and thus restoring Michael Myers as the purely random – if seemingly superhuman – killer of the Carpenter film. Elements of the sequels can be found when it suits the narrative, with Michael’s gory escape-in-transit from HALLOWEEN 4 (1988) an off-camera plot turn releasing him to terrorise Haddonfield after 40 years of incarceration at Smiths’ Grove Sanatorium. Like H20, this offers a portrait of an older, haunted Laurie Strode (with Curtis in her fifth go-round in the role) – though this time, she has long been alienated from regular society, living as an agoraphobic recluse in an elaborately fortified compound, complete with intricately constructed basement “trap” devised for the day when Michael returns. Via pithily conveyed backstory we learn of her two failed marriages and the daughter (a poignant Judy Greer) of whom she lost custody when the girl was 12 and Social Services stepped in.

Before we reunite with 2018 Laurie, the build-up creates considerable anticipation. In a pre-titles tease, a pair of British podcasters confront Myers using his original mask in a bid to get some kind of reaction. Haluk Bilginer is the obsessive psychiatrist who took over Michael’s care following the death of Dr Loomis, and is unhealthily fixated on trying to “reach” the silent maniac. The arc of this somewhat needless character provides the film with its one ill-judged moment, and Bilginer (who looks and acts the part) gets in the way of our prime interest: the fate of Laurie and her extended family. Leading a likeable new batch of mostly doomed Haddonfield teenagers, Andi Matichak makes her feature debut (just as Curtis did in 1978) as Laurie’s appealing granddaughter.

 

Fittingly for the 40th anniversary, this HALLOWEEN is enormously reverential of the original film, though it avoids nudge-nudge in-jokes and fanboy indulgences in favour of mostly understated and clever riffs. There’s a frisson of nostalgic pleasure to be had from the specific replication of the title sequence (complete with matching font), alongside the return of Nick Castle as “The Shape” and P.J. Soles in a voice cameo. Most impressively, however, are a couple of sequences in which the shift in the power balance between Laurie (now as single-minded in her mission as her adversary) and Michael is represented by ingenious recreations of key 1978 set pieces in which the roles are reversed.

 

Director David Gordon Green and co-writer Danny McBride (whose own brush with franchise horror began last year with ALIEN: COVENANT) have a background in comedy, and the script refreshingly avoids overt concessions to the cine-literate 2018 audience – instead finding most of its humour in trivial banter shared by short-lived characters, succeeding in humanising the kind of folk who would usually be interchangeable dead meat. The one concession to self-referential humour involves youthful characters noting how, “by today’s standards”, a guy killing a couple of babysitters really isn’t much of a big deal. The 1978 movie is among the mildest of the entire initial slasher cycle, emphasising pure suspense and jolts over bloody violence. This 21st century follow-up amps up the brutality, with at least one kill echoing the nastier edge Zombie brought to his duo, though it acknowledges that keeping some of the carnage off-camera heightens the impact of the kills that are graphically depicted.

 

Most importantly, it recognises everything that made Carpenter’s trail-blazer so effective: Michael is restored as an unstoppable force and a blank canvas, and Green’s command of the stalk-and-slash stuff is dynamic. An audacious single take in which Michael picks up his weapon of choice while murdering residents in their Haddonfield homes (unnoticed amidst the Halloween festivities) is among the scariest set pieces in the entire franchise. The eerie aftermath of the prison bus crash, a superb rendition of the old monster-in-the-closet routine and a sweat-inducing encounter with the killer in a gas station rest room all add up to the frightening sense of a small town under siege by something it can’t explain or reason with.

 

Heavily touted in the marketing, the climax at Laurie’s compound is the most thrilling of all the non-Carpenter Laurie-Michael face-offs. In the age of #MeToo, three final girls battle an ageing manifestation of the traditional masculine boogeyman, like an inter-generational 21st century version of the finale of SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE. Towering over all of them, of course is the ever-commanding Jamie Lee Curtis, stripped of the glamour, wit and charisma that makes her so much fun on the talk show circuit, and superbly essaying a tough, unsentimental, ostracised Laurie 40 years on. Short, painful sequences highlight the chasm between her and her next of kin, hint at the hell she has endured in between movies and highlight the core tragedy of an adult life spent waiting to confront the one thing that shaped and ruined her existence. It’s the culmination of the actor’s so-called “scream queen” career and is matched by a soundtrack that revives the expected old themes to electrifying effect. It’s the first HALLOWEEN movie since 1983 with John Carpenter on board as composer (in conjunction with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies), making this truly The Night He (And She) Came Home.

 

Steven West

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