Much like the blank-faced masked killer that has stalked its films for four decades now, the Halloween saga is a series that just won’t die. Since the 1978 original, it has gone from a sinister, terrifying force of evil to a meandering, shambling corpse of a horror franchise. This year’s entry discards the carcasses of a baffling *nine* sequels, reboots, and remakes, distilling the series down to nothing but John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, and it’s all the better for it. Continuing in the recent trend of legacy-honouring sequels to decades-old films and franchises like Blade Runner or Star Wars, 2018’s Halloween both worships and honours the original film of the same name and pulls the series into the modern era of horror.
In the forty years since Michael Myers first stalked the streets of Haddonfield, a lot has changed for the horror genre, and so too has Haddonfield. Myers returns after four decades of silent, motionless imprisonment, and more compellingly, Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode graces the screen once again in a surprisingly layered performance as a broken down, paranoid survivor of the intense trauma of the events of Halloween night in 1978.
The cast is bolstered by a welcome pair of additions to the Strode family: Laurie’s daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), as well as the usual spreading of inconsequential, albeit amusing, side characters and inevitable cannon fodder for Myers. The Strode family is the heart of the film as it explores how trauma, paranoia, and fear can tear apart, and eventually bring together, a family over several decades, culminating in three generations of powerful Strode women overcoming and confronting their fear.
Outside of this, the film can often feel simplistic and somewhat basic in some of its narrative tendencies. Simplicity, of course, is familiar territory for the Halloween series, and the film very much builds upon the archetypal horror movie structure established by the original, along with some clever subversions and amusing surprises along the way. Occasionally though, the story beats feel forced and contrived, particularly with one baffling plot twist that seems as if it exists solely to propel the film clumsily to its finale.
John Carpenter is once again out of the writer/director’s chair, leaving the role instead to David Gordon Green as director, joined by his comedy alumni Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley to round out the script, all of whom make a surprisingly effective transition to the horror genre. They honour Carpenter’s work with both subtle echoes of familiar story beats and with obvious but clever twists on some of the original’s most iconic shots and moments.
Carpenter does return to the franchise for the first time since 1981 in a major way, however, collaborating with his son to deliver perhaps his most thrilling and entertaining score yet, updating the timeless iconic theme of the saga alongside some of his best original composition to date.
Green brings back the long, voyeuristic steady-cam shots of the original and is clearly acutely aware of what made the film so effective, but he’s also eager to update the slasher film to today’s recently-revived horror standards. Elaborately prepared and perfectly edited set-pieces deliver thrills and the occasional genuine scare in a film packed to the brim with camp and self-awareness. The creators’ comedic backgrounds refreshingly succeed in delivering a surprisingly funny film, a first for the franchise (at least as far as deliberately funny films go).
The stakes are raised, as is the body count, and while we might lose the eerie silence of the first film’s spectacularly unsettling atmosphere, we gain a level of intensity and relentlessness that keeps the viewer entertained from start to finish. There’s never a dull moment in Halloween, delivering a crowd-pleasing blockbuster that somehow finds itself wrapped up in the horror genre. While it never proclaims itself as high art, nor is it perfect by any means, it brings a refreshing balance of terror and heart to a franchise that was sorely lacking both.
There will likely be more Halloween films, and whilst it’s somewhat fitting that the franchise, just like The Shape, should just keep resurrecting and marching relentlessly onwards, 2018’s Halloween is a fitting and touching sequel that provides enough closure that it should be the perfect bookend to horror’s longest-running franchise.
Image: Universal Pictures