Appropriately released 40 years after the original – which started the slasher horror genre – Halloween is the sequel the original always deserved, rather than the crap that followed in four decades since.
Since the events of the same night in 1978 where Michael Myers (James Jude Courtenay and Nick Castle) murdered people in Haddonfield Illinois, sole survivor Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has been preparing for his inevitable return. The killer escapes and heads back home…
Many horror fans will have been waiting for a decent sequel for 40 years, while other (younger) fans will perhaps be unaware of the pivotal role John Carpenter’s film played in cinematic horror, and the legacy it continues to hold. The irony is that horror is undoubtedly having a resurgence, and it’s befitting that the original slasher is the first and best (in a predictable pattern, I fear) to be resurrected, enhanced and given a deserving return.
It could have gone badly wrong – in fact, judging by the views of many who’ve seen all the Halloween sequels (I’ve only seen the second and (unconnected) third), plus the widely accepted turds that were Rob Zombie’s reboots, it has already gone wrong. So this film couldn’t really fail by getting Carpenter’s blessing and convincing Jamie Lee Curtis to return (again) to the role that started her career.
And it doesn’t fail, because it’s been made and devised by a few people who clearly love horror and love the original. Director David Gordon Green, and co writers Danny McBride (yes, the comedic actor) and Jeff Fradley, not only tie together the two films and a 40 year gap, but do it in a way that feels believable and realistic, at times approaching the chill of the original.
Their script features some comedy that put the constant beat of tension on the simmer, and at the same time delves into Laurie’s mental state, the impact on her family of the murders, while covering the modern need to try and establish reasons why psychopaths kill. That it manages this while incorporating thrills, kills and gore is quite impressive.
The reality of Michael Myers is not all the bullshit that came after that first film (he’s her brother/he’s the embodiment of a Celtic curse/he can’t die), but a soulless murderer. This film takes care to show glimpses of the man behind the iconic mask, reminding you that despite the infamy he is still very much only a man – and that grounded the film for me really, stupid as it might sound.
This modern day follow up gives the film a strange tone at times (you might wonder for instance what human part of Myers brain there is left is making of smartphones and so on). But this is probably because the original is so 70s that porting the character into the 21st century is quite stark – it’s an interesting new feel.
John Carpenter (alongside son Cody and fellow composer Daniel Davies) makes a triumphant return with the soundtrack, his unforgettable synth theme resurgent throughout and backed up with other impressive, more orchestrated motifs. It’s great to think that while Carpenter (on his own) made the more memorable synth soundtracks, he has now finally been given the time and funding to make something more sophisticated and rounded, without losing that unnerving, undulating edge.
Cinematography from Michael Simmonds aims to match the original but in the modern day, with our harsher, brighter lights, meaning that the unmistakable “shape” of Myers is now backlit by blazing security spotlights, or police car flashes – while the contrast between sleepy, suburban white wood houses, Laurie’s woodbound survivalist cabin and the stark medical centre mix up the settings. Another interesting element sees iconic shots and scenes from the original inverted or transposed, for clever effect.
Onto the violence – which goes further than the original. Despite that film being remembered as the original slasher, it’s surprisingly low on blood and overt violence! Here, Green elects to go for a mixture of the restrained and the gonzo, with one particular death later on incredibly violent by modern horror standards.
The important thing is that this is not at the exception of the excellently tense, unnerving creepiness, with the original more memorable for the snatches of Myers masked in broad daylight in suburbia. Here, it’s how his relentless, unstoppable force reaches new heights, whether it be armed policemen, modern security and even the odd car.
Jamie Lee Curtis dominates with a very good performance, her wearied demeanour and emotional damage painting the picture of a woman irrevocably damaged and broken by her experiences. That the film allows her to give this performance, and focus in on the impact on a survivor (something we don’t often see), is testament to the thinking that went into this follow up. She is at turns furious, broken, determined and caring, as Laurie relives the horror but steps up to stop it – survivalist style.
Judy Greer, a great actress usually given crap roles, is given a slightly more improved one here as Laurie’s daughter Karen, a tired, infuriated woman who’s lived her life in the fear that her mother feels. Greer is good at showing this anger and resignation, though when the shit hits the fan she has a couple of good, emotional scenes with Curtis.
Andi Matichak, as Laurie’s grandaughter, cares more for her “crazy” grandmother than her mother appears to, and the young actress balances her performance between a sure, confident young woman and a shocked survivor,, giving what could have been a sexist archetype more realism, bite and fury.
Alongside gruff, hangdog police sheriff Will Patton and eager (if insufferably British) podcasters Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees, one standout is Haluk Bilginer as Michael’s creepy, fixated doctor, with a performance partway between Donald Pleasance’s Loomis and something more modern in his views.
Myers or “The Shape” is played by James Jude Courtenay and (in a couple of scenes) original “Shape” Nick Castle. Both men resurrect the silent psycho chillingly, with a deliberately slow, focused march and a silent poise that is far more frightening than any speedier mass murderer on screen. They both nail his relentless nature, and evoke Castle’s strong original work with focused, tight movements that unsettle.
It may be post Halloween now, but if you’re in the mood for another good horror film, see Halloween and enjoy this horror renaissance while it lasts.