Released: 25th October
Seen: 31st October
In 1978, an unknown director named John Carpenter was given the chance to make a movie about a man in a mask who stalks babysitters. He worked with Debra Hill, who he had worked with on the film Assault on Precinct 13, and together they created Halloween. The original movie not only launched the career of Jamie Lee Curtis but it also created one of the longest running franchises in horror movie history and, effectively, created the slasher genre. Yes, there were films before Halloween that we now count as slashers, but Halloween popularised it and created a very basic formula that dominated the horror landscape for decades. If you see a horror film today, the odds are good that someone at some point will cite the original Halloween as an inspiration. It’s also a series with a timeline so confusing that it can really be impossible to follow. Say what you will about series like Nightmare on Elm Street or Friday the 13th, those series were relatively good at keeping a consistent story between films. Halloween has had several story changes, major plots dropped, main characters die only to come back in the next film, a full-fledged reboot and even a departure to tell a story about witches. Hell, even THIS film is confusing enough since it shares an identical title with two other films in this franchise. It’s confusing, so let me try and ease that confusion.
Here’s the good news, you only need to know what happened in the first movie to understand what’s going on here. If you have the entire series memorised then you’re going to get some tiny easter eggs but story-wise, this movie acts as though the only film in the franchise is the original. They hammer this in at one point in the movie by using footage from the original film in a flashback. The story starts 40 years after that horrific night in the 70’s, Michael was captured shortly after he was shot six times by Sam Loomis. Since then he’s been stuck in a mental institution, silently still in his cell with only the occasional trip to the courtyard where he can stand in a yellow square and get some air. For some very stupid reasons, Michael is to be transferred by bus with a batch of other mental patients. Because he is Michael Myers, and six bullets to the chest didn’t stop him, he obviously finds a way to break out and head back to Haddonfield to finish what he started back in 78. Unluckily for Michael, Laurie Strode is waiting patiently for him and she’s determined that she’s going to end him once and for all.
This might possibly be the most brutal that Michael has been in a long time. Sure, he’s always been willing to kill dogs or kids (Hell, parts 4 & 5 literally revolve around him chasing one specific child. Michael is an equal-opportunity serial killer) but he’s never been this shockingly brutally violent. This is a Michael Myers that’s clearly been waiting a long time and has some serious pent-up rage. He will kill anything and anyone that is between him and where he wants to go, or even just someone who he spots along the way who just looks vulnerable. If he doesn’t have a weapon, he’s more than happy to just slam heads against walls and snap necks. This film is so much more gory than the original that it’s actually stunning just what they got away with here. There are so many moments in this film that just make your jaw drop, including a scene in a bathroom that is just disturbing from start to finish. It’s part of the masterful buildup-payoff that the original did so well, this one does it too and the payoff is a visual shock that’s going to linger for a while.
The great thing about this film is that it’s clearly made by people who genuinely loved the original. You can tell with the other sequels that they were made mostly because the film before did great at the box office, but this one is clearly made with love and attention to detail. The opening credits alone will make any fan of the original sit up and take notice. There are some genuinely great callbacks that really work to either increase the tension or to give the audience a moment of joyful recognition, but there are times when they don’t go far enough with them. There’s a glorious scene where Michael goes from house to house and murders at least two people, it’s shocking and just shows how he has no real plan other than to get a big body count (In a slasher movie, that’s an acceptable motive) and for a while it looked like they were going to do it in one long take, but they ended up doing it in two. Sure, that might seem a little nitpicky but one of the big things about Halloween was that it wasn’t afraid to really push what could be shown in a single take, the opening of the original film is iconic because it’s a genuinely haunting POV shot that lasts an uncomfortably long time. It feels like this film pushes to hit those high points and just barely misses. It still has a really great visual style that works, but the original was much better at this and that comparison is hard to ignore when this is meant to be a direct follow up to that original.
Just barely missing the high points of the original Halloween is understandable, the original is a classic for a reason and the chances of any film meeting those impossibly high standards are none, but this is easily the best sequel that the series has had. Not only is this a much more fascinating continuation of the story, having us not only see how Michael got more violent during captivity but actually exploring the PTSD that Laurie would be suffering from the traumatic event that she went through. This isn’t H20 I’ve-moved-on-but-not-really Laurie, this is “I’m going to kill him if it’s the last thing I do” Laurie and it’s incredible. The undeniable shining light of this film is Jamie’s incredible performance where she shows us all the raw hurt and torment that Laurie’s been suffering with for decades and it’s genuinely great to see.
What’s a little less great is just how much blunt exposition we have to sit through. I understand that some exposition is required, it needs to be spelled out that this film followed the original and that the “Michael and Laurie are siblings” thing needed to be squashed, but there are points where the exposition gets to be grating. I don’t need Laurie to meticulously describe what the purpose of every gun is, especially when none of the explanations matters in the long run. I don’t need a character to read me a 5-word sign that’s on camera, I really don’t need to have Laurie Strode’s daughter look directly into the camera and tell me, explicitly, why she and her mother are having problems. Problems that I already know about. I don’t need to have my hand held through simple things and for Halloween of all series to do that is a little exhausting. I was totally fine with them having the podcasters fill in the blanks between the last film and this one, it helped fill in gaps but there is a difference between filling in gaps and treating the audience like a child and there are moments where this film falls into the latter category.
This film is a fun fright-fest filled with some great setpieces and stellar performances by an amazing cast. There are moments when it stumbles and the ending is obviously leaving things open for a sequel (One that they were always obviously going to make if this did well at the Box Office and currently it’s the highest grossing slasher film of all time, so we’re getting a sequel) but it’s a joyfully frightening experience that breathes new life into a franchise that was long ago assumed to be impossible to salvage. Here’s hoping that next time they can iron out the bumps and make another perfect Halloween.