At this point, there have been so many Halloween movies that the series’ makers have either run out of snappy subtitles or lost track of their numbers.
This, by our count, 11th movie has thrown its hands up and just gone with the exact same title as its 40-year-old parent. It’s not simple laziness, but a marker that director David Gordon Green is trying to get back to the straightforward, un-ironic horror of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic. It captures a lot of the spirit and terror of that movie, though it’s still sometimes as silly as even its daftest sequels.
The chronology of Halloween has been re-written multiple times through the decades. If you’ve remembered any of it, you wasted your time. The slate has been wiped clean. In this story, Michael Myers, the masked killer who murdered his sister when he was six, then spent his adult life fixated on killing Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), only committed the five murders in the first movie. The other films didn’t happen. He’s not Strode’s brother. He has been locked up for years, but escapes while being moved between correctional facilities and makes a bloody beeline for Laurie.
Laurie has been waiting for this day since high school. She lives alone in a highly secure house in the woods, constantly alert for Michael’s arrival. She has trained herself to become lethal with various weapons. She tried to teach her daughter too, so the authorities took her away at age 12.
That mother-daughter relationship remains frosty (the adult daughter, Karen, is played by Judy Greer) but Laurie is trying to build a relationship with her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Maltichack). Mostly, people think Laurie is a loopy old lady – though the timeline would make her mid-fifties – who lives in the woods and is almost as crazy as the man who tried to kill her. They see she’s not so crazy when Michael starts to kill again.
David Gordon Green, whose mad CV covers weighty stuff like the Boston Marathon drama Stronger and stupid comedies like Your Highness and Pineapple Express, has a style that peculiarly fits this material. His slightly ragged rhythms mesh with Carpenter’s original work, which was cheap and rough but nailed horror pacing. He gives it Carpenter’s same flat, suburban air. His world seems like a place where nothing interesting happens, which makes it all the scarier when Michael slashes his way through the neighbourhood.
The horror scenes are quick and brutal. They’re not attempts to come up with clever new ways to kill people, or sloshing gore around to shock. Green confidently believes that a huge man with a knife appearing in the corner of your bedroom is enough to frighten the bejesus right out of you. He is correct.
The script, by Green, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, is not terribly good. The dialogue is an odd mix of speech so naturalistic as to seem unscripted and cheap kiss-off lines that seem leftover from ’80s action movies. One character is so broadly, daftly, written that they may as well be wearing a t-shirt saying ‘I AM ACTUALLY A BADDIE’ from the second they arrive. There are, though, a lot of fun, often underplayed jokes, peppered through it, not least the fact that Karen, who longs for a happier life, wears a cheerful, out-of-season Christmas jumper for most of the running time.
Curtis has always been terrific in the role of Laurie Strode, the best ‘victim’ in horror, and it’s true again here, even if the script doesn’t give us a lot beneath the warrior shell she’s forged for herself. If this is her final Halloween film, and that’s far from a safe bet, it’s a fitting goodbye. It’s not a match for her first outing, and it was never likely to be, but 40 years on it’s the closest any sequel has come.