What does it mean to make a Halloween movie in 2018? The movie that birthed an entire decade of slasher films is 40 years old this year, and in those 40 years, we’ve seen a roller coaster of films carrying the franchise’s name. There was Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, the attempt to leave Michael Myers behind and turn the franchise into more of an anthology as John Carpenter originally intended. There was a slew of uninspired sequels. Halloween H2O, which brought Jamie Lee Curtis back into the fold. Rob Zombie’s two film reboot from 2007 to 2009. The movie that launched a thousand imitators had become a pale shadow of its former self.
So it’s understandable to be skeptical when Universal announced a new Halloween, set to be directed by David Gordon Green, ignore the continuity of all the films that followed the first and reintroduce Jamie Lee Curtis reprising the role of Laurie Strode. Studious Halloween historians would know that this all sounds rather familiar, as 1998’s Halloween H2O boasted the same concept 20 years out from the original. When you add in the fact that David Gordon Green has never directed a horror movie before, it’s the sort of project that seems like it could easily be doomed from the start.
To be fair, Green has shown a decent range over his career. Starting out with indie dramas (All the Real Girls, Snow Angels) before dovetailing into big studio comedies (Pineapple Express, Your Highness, The Sitter) and following that up with complex character studies (Joe, Prince Avalanche) and even a tragedy-tinged true life biopic (Stronger). So, sure, Green hasn’t directed a horror movie yet, but he’s shown more than enough willingness to stretch out his horizons. And when his new Halloween premiered at TIFF last month, it was meant with surprisingly robust approval.
The horror genre has evolved quite a bit over the last decade and a half or so. Slashers gave way to torture porn, which ran its course over the mid-2000s. Found footage took the spotlight next, and has only recently been supplanted in the eyes of many by creeping dread movies like It Follows, The Babadook or Hereditary. Green’s Halloween feels almost delightfully antiquated in that way; it’s a no nonsense return to the sort of movies that have been quaint for decades. He does throw in a modern twist, enjoyably bringing us back into the world of Haddonfield, Illinois via the recording of an investigative journalism podcast about the events of 40 years ago (think Serial meets The Last Podcast on the Left). Peddled by two super serious Brits (played by Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) who spend the majority of the first act poking the bear that’s clearly going to get its revenge sooner rather than later, they taunt Michael (Nick Castle/James Jude Courtney) with his mask and invade the privacy and heavily defensible compound of now agoraphobic shut-in Laurie Strode (Curtis). Clearly, nothing good will come of this. Clearly, nothing good does.
You know where we’re going from here. Michael escapes and starts murdering people. Strode and Frank Hawkins (Will Patton) go on the offensive. No more hiding, this monster has to die. And caught up in the middle are Laurie’s daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), and her husband Ray (Toby Huss), as well their daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak). Three whole generations of Strodes for Michael to terrorize. And that he does, but between all the killing and the stalking and the maiming and the bloodshed, there’s plenty of time to examine how Laurie’s (understandable) paranoia manifest itself on the rest of her family.
In a world where Myers hasn’t done anything for 40 years, a world where there was just one night of carnage and not a series of, let’s say, less than impressive retreads of his killing spree, you can see how Karen is pretty tired of a life of training for the inevitable return of this killing machine. A childhood spent drilling how to hide in the basement and shoot all sorts of firearms is not the sort of childhood you would force on anyone. And you can tell that Karen had no interest visiting the same fate upon her own daughter, ensuring Allyson is insulated from Laurie’s mania. That approach turns the teenage Allyson into someone not unlike how Laurie was back in 1978. It’s a wonderful bit of mirroring, and in Allyson we have this wonderful amalgam of the innocent teen final girl/scream queen with a bit of paranoid survivalism sprinkled in.
These aspects of the design are what makes this new Halloween feel as satisfying as it does. Green does fine with the horror bits (there’s a nice one shot sequence at the beginning of the rampage), but it’s clear that’s not his only interest. He leaves the most gruesome murders to the imagination, presenting only the aftermath as these still life monuments to the unceasing power of evil. Green (with co-screenwriters Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley) cares about the horror, clearly, but he has more skin in the game than that. In shielding Allyson from Laurie’s fear and defiance, Karen’s created a new Laurie to be terrified in her own way. It’s a cycle, but it’s one that can be broken by reuniting the family and confronting the shadows of their past.
Halloween doesn’t reinvent the wheel, nor should it. But it does manage to offer a way forward, to synthesize the past and the present, to show how mainstream classic slashers still have a place in a film climate that has, for the most part, left them behind. The film leaves the door open (because of course it does), but we should be perfectly happy if we don’t see Michael Myers again for some time. The story is never fully told; you can’t expect that in horror franchises. There’s always another movie, another victim, another murder. David Gordon Green’s Halloween doesn’t necessarily stand up to the absolute best the genre has to offer, but he more than holds his own, and utilizes the experience he has from working in other genres to amp up the emotional resonance to be found in between the carnage. This new Halloween is wonderfully old school, from its perfect score (much of it supplied by Carpenter himself) to its throwback credit font to its sensibilities. There’s still room in the climate for movies like this, as the leaves turn and the temperature drops. And you’d be hard pressed to find a better new movie to celebrate the holiday.