“I saw him. The Shape.”
Given that last year I ended 31 Days with the original Halloween, this seemed like a good choice for the final film of 2020’s Halloween-athon.
I was never a big fan of the Halloween series. For slasher flicks I was a Friday the 13th fan and I didn’t watch the original Carpenter film until I’d already seen dozens of films that it inspired. I was that guy who complained about how boring and typical it was – like folks who complained the Lord of the Rings movies were D&D ripoffs. I just didn’t know, or care, about the context as a teenager.
When I rewatched the film much later I was astonished how good it was, and able to appreciate it as a fine horror film in its own right, as well as the progenitor of all those dead teenagers. Michael Myers – The Shape – was genuinely frightening in that first film, the embodiment of inevitable, implacable death. Where Jason Voorhees is a freight train of murder, Michael is the boogeyman in the closet, the monster under the bed.
I didn’t enjoy the sequels so much, not that I’ve seen them all. The second film was okay, but it introduced the keystone element of the Myers mythology that I liked the least – that Laurie was Michael’s sister and that his urge to kill is a familicidal one. Most of the subsequent films (except Season of the Witch) trade on this connection. Even Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake. I preferred when he was just The Shape, an unknowable force of evil and dread, something that couldn’t be explained. The more he was explained, the less interested I was.
2018’s Halloween does away with all of that mythology. It’s an actual “Sequel to the First Film That Ignores the Previous Sequels.” It takes place 40 years after the events of the original 1978 film and as far as it’s concerned there have been no other Halloween films. That right there was enough to get me interested – as was the involvement of both Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis – but not enough to search out the film and watch it. Until now.
I rented Halloween on Amazon. It’s not available for subscribers on any service, but you can rent or purchase it at any number of online vendors. A Blu-ray is also available, with a few extras – mostly deleted scenes and the typical behind-the-scenes features.
Forty years after the events of the first Halloween film, Michael Myers is finally being transferred to a maximum security prison. He’s been institutionalized at Smith’s Grove Psychiatric Hospital, but a lack of progress in his condition and budget cuts means he has to go. His doctor, Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) allows two ‘true-crime’ podcasters (I’m sorry, “investigative journalists”) to try and interview Michael one last time. One of them, Aaron (Jefferson Hall), brings the mask Michael wore during the murders, hoping to provoke a reaction.
This moment is one of almost mythical intensity. The chessboard appearance of the exercise yard, the numerous inmates shackled to the center of their squares, the way everyone else (even the dogs) react to the reveal and presence of the mask… but not Michael. (Played in these scenes by original Shape actor Nick Castle.) I think I actually sat up in my chair. Maybe this film was going to be something special.
From there we’re reintroduced to Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), who now lives alone on her heavily fortified property, having alienated her friends and family with her paranoia and fear of Michael’s return. Her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), was even taken away by the state at the age of 12 because of Laurie’s doomsday-prepper-like way of raising her. (Which included firearms and self-defense training.) The only person that Laurie still has contact with is her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak.)
The thing with preparing for the return of Michael Myers is, you only have to be right once. And today’s the day for Laurie to be right. Michael’s prison bus crashes during the transfer (at night, of course) and he escapes, killing several people – including a father and son who happen upon the wreck – in the process. That the young boy is murdered on-screen is probably supposed to be a sort of “no one is safe!” moment for the film, letting us know that that Michael is an equal opportunity monster, but it’s so obvious that’s what the filmmakers are doing that it loses some of its impact.
There are plenty of nods to the original film, from the opening credits (with the classic pumpkin reversing its rotted state), to Michael’s signature blue jumpsuit. In general these are background easter eggs, being enjoyable tidbits for fans – like Allyson looking out the school window to see Laurie, kids wearing masks from Halloween III and a familiar looking closet in a bedroom. A couple of scenes stand out, though, including a nod to Halloween II where Michael enters the home of a curler-wearing woman and bludgeons her with a hammer before taking a knife, and a later scene in which Michael’s famous fall off the balcony and subsequent disappearance are recreated with a different character. I enjoyed most of these and they’re not presented in a distracting way.
There’s also the moment with the teenagers discussing the idea that Laurie was Michael’s sister before it gets dismissed as an urban legend. Heh.
The two podcasters visit Judith Myer’s grave (a pretty good recreation of the tombstone from the original film) where Michael sees them and follows, retrieving his mask and leaving a few more corpses in his wake. (At this point I think he’s already surpassed his kill count from the original film). It’s a little convenient, this moment where Michael and the people who have his old mask collide, and feels a little ham-handed – but it’s a frightening sequence and, really, we WANT Michael to find his mask. We WANT him to be The Shape, not some old guy in a mechanic’s overalls. The mask looks fantastically creepy and James Jude Courtney does a great job as Michael, with his movements being methodical and efficient, like a predator.
The rest of the film follows the events of October 31st as Michael murders his way through a selection of locals and Allyson’s friends. Sherrif Hawkins (played by the always awesome Will Patton) takes Michael’s doctor (“the new Loomis”) who was injured in the bus crash and Allyson to try and find Michael, which they do. Unfortunately for the Sheriff, Dr. Sartain has an unhealthy interest in seeing Michael function “in the wild.”
All roads lead to Laurie Strode, though, and the finale finds predator and prey once again engaged in a cat-and-mouse game in a dark house, though this time Laurie has had forty years to prepare – herself, her house, AND her family. If you even can prepare for the embodiment of pure evil.
I mostly enjoyed Halloween, but it still feels like a sequel, like a remake. It doesn’t live up to the promise of something new or interesting the way I thought it might in those opening scenes. It’s a good slasher flick, but even the kills feel a little old and tired and often either go on too long or resolve in expected ways. (Does anyone ever expect Karen’s husband to survive the night? I sure didn’t.) It’s way above average for a slasher flick, but it never reaches the artistic heights of the original. Which is a weird thing to say about a slasher movie, but that’s the touch Carpenter has.
The Bottom Line
The 2018 Halloween is the best of the follow-up films in the Halloween series, but it still can’t hold a candle (or jack o’ lantern) to the original. While it’s well acted, paced and contains plenty of fan-service nods to the original, the spark of uniqueness is missing. It’s a solid B horror movie, and well worth the watch, but I honestly don’t know if it was necessary. All that being said, I’m up for the sequels when they arrive. Even B horror movies are hard to come by.