I remember being about 14 years old in 2005 and discovering horror movies. It was just this bizarre, misfit freak show treasure trove of a genre and lit my imagination on fire. I'd never been introduced to any of them before, my parents weren't huge fans. It was my own thing, brand new, and there seemed to be an infinite well of weird, eerie, macabre shit I was finding brand new. For me, it fit like a glove.
I rented them every chance I got; classics like The Exorcist and Nightmare on Elm Street as well as random shit I'd find at Blockbuster, some of it crap and occasionally maybe something cool like Frailty. It was all blending together and I was absorbing knowledge and appreciation for 'em at a rapid pace. It was an exciting time. I remember it fondly. I'd watch them several at a time, just let the day bleed away.
Director: John Carpenter
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Donald Pleasance
One of the biggest discoveries around that time was the original John Carpenter Halloween film. It just blew me away for the starkness and simplicity of it. Just a guy stalking a neighborhood at night with a knife. It's not anything really more than that, and it's the scariest movie I know by my count. There's just no bullshit to it, no posturing or goofy stuff like later movies imitating it. It was just dead serious and presented unpretentiously. I liked that, even if I didn't know how to articulate it when I was a kid.
New things stand out to me every time, as they would with anything good you re-watch. This year it really struck me how creepy the voyeuristic aspects of it were, all those silent scenes of him just out of sight or just the corner of him, just breathing his weird-ass breathing under the mask, watching a girl walk around her house. How fucked is that? There's something to a fear that the person being watched doesn't even register. And it's all very mundane. This shit happens every day in some form or fashion.
But it all still holds up. It's a classic formula now, the slow build-up and then the explosion of Satanic horror and violence by the end. But it's better here than some others, mostly due to the characters. It's surprisingly enjoyable to listen to Laurie and her friends bantering. Certainly not at all just a bunch of airheaded plot-filler before the killing starts.
They're real people and the conversations are enjoyable, setting up a desire not to want these kids to die. Later on, slashers would become dime-a-dozen, made for a laugh and by people without the same attention to detail or writing quality. Amazing, the difference in quality when all you do is actively care about how your movie comes out... they barely had a budget back then, but the quality and passion shone through.
Of course it ends with the infamous cliffhanger – just Michael falling off that balcony and then when they look again, he's gone. Fucking chilling. Then all those shots of the house empty and dark with his creepy breathing over-top. Again, chilling. You'd think a huge man in a mechanic outfit and a dirty white mask, probably bleeding all over the place, wouldn't have been difficult to find, but the sequels sure made it seem like everyone on Earth just had a blind spot for the dude.
Director: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer
**MINOR SPOILERS HERE**
Flash forward 40 years and people still like the original. That's got to be a good feeling. That people enjoy your work 40 years after the fact – it's something to aspire to. And there was even a new sequel made, disregarding all the other lame ones since the first one. They even got rid of the dumb twist that Michael was actually Laurie's sister, which was a terrible plot device that removed much of the fear from the story. Overall, it's like an annoying person was wiped away from existence and replaced with a good replicate alien, like the twist in the movie The World's End.
Now we have David Gordon Green, of weird eclectic little movies like Prince Avalanche and Joe, directing, and Jamie Lee Curtis apparently remembering the original frenzy fondly enough to re-join. Weirdly, it's titled just 'Halloween,' exactly like the first one and the 2007 remake. I guess they wanted it to be like a shell game of sorts - guess which one you're gonna get!
Now Curtis's old and grizzled but still badass – hell, if anything, her improved acting chops after a decades-long career has only made the character more compelling than she was initially. The script's a lot of pulp type stuff. Michael escapes again after a bus crash transporting him to a new prison. These prison buses really fucking suck. Laurie Strode should write her congressman and get him to do something about it. Maybe that can be the next Halloween sequel – Laurie Strode versus the endless groaning bureaucracy of government insanity.
Curtis's Laurie Strode has spent the past 40 years building a fortress-like house in the woods, complete with a barbed wire fence and Home Alone-style traps. It's not really all that realistic, but then again, I guess a movie about a senior citizen wearing a Shatner mask slaying people with a knife was never going to be some kind of true-life documentary. And seriously – Michael is fucking old in this movie. Picturing him stopping between kills to change an adult diaper or take heart meds is a good way to take the edge off if you're really creeped out by the story.
There are the two journalists – or rather, podcasters, as one of them hilariously lets slip in a very 2018 way – who are hunting down a story about Michael. I'm not sure what their aim is, as they seem to know everything already. Whenever they talk to people it just seems to be reaffirming that, yes, Michael is bad and Laurie is traumatized. There's no real point to having them here except as a ham-fisted contrivance to get Michael's mask back to him after he murders them. And yes, he kills them in a gas station, which is good because anyone who is annoying is someone we should always want murdered graphically... man, slasher movies fuck us up.
There's also Laurie's family, including a daughter who's kinda stuck up and her weird husband, and a granddaughter who seems cool. I think my favorite line comes from the daughter as she's arguing with Laurie about security – she says something like “the world's a nice, happy, peaceful place and we don't need your negativity!” Really? The world's nice, happy and peaceful? Man, I wish I lived in Laurie's daughter's strange Stepford Wives alternate reality. Clearly Laurie must have fucked something up...
It starts off slow, though it picks up speed later. I wasn't interested in the two journalists. They were seemingly just there to provide exposition and little else, and it would've behooved the film to at least try to make them a little bit endearing, at least so we wouldn't be ambivalent when they died.
But Gordon Green's got a killer sense of style and the film looks cool all the time, very epic and spooky. John Carpenter's new soundtrack is wonderfully macabre, hitting like a goddamn anvil, adding loads of suspense. Michael is still fairly imposing, which I was surprised by after so long and so many inferior movies.
There's a good amount of suspense and releasing of tension, though the film can't quite match the slow-burn eerie tension of the 1978 original. But it makes up for that in sheer gleeful brutality. It's a quick-paced thrill ride once it picks up, and Michael is perhaps even more brutal than he ever was. There's one scene where he drops a bunch of human teeth he just pulled out of someone's head on the floor to taunt a victim – it's an unusual level of personality for a guy who's usually content just to lumber along like a zombie, and not a good kind of personality. My take was that he's just that pissed off from being locked up for 40 years.
The finale is careening, fiery action-packed stuff – a survival of the fittest, tooth and nail battle of horror movie filth. Some of the time, the film beautifully and hilariously inverts the original. There's one shot where Laurie, having jumped off a balcony to escape Michael, disappears the same way he did in the first one when he's looking down for her. In another scene, she attacks him with a knife from behind the way he did to her 40 years ago. It's a bit cheesy, but come on, you're telling me that isn't fun?
The ending's basically perfect for what this script was. Quick and violent. I hope they don't make another one. Just know when to fucking end something for once.
Images copyright of their original owners; I don't own them.