What do you do when you have a dormant horror franchise?
It could be given a reboot, slowly go from horror to comedy, or be laid to rest.
David Gordon Green does something very different with Halloween. By taking on Michael Myers, the movie revives the series in a big way.
The new Halloween takes place exactly 40 years after the 1978 movie. It also removes all the sequels and the Rob Zombie reboot films. Gone are the Curse of Thorn, Jamie Lloyd, and the flashbacks of Michael’s youth. Nor is there any link between Myers or Laurie Strode. The film dismisses the idea of a family connection as an urban legend.
Having survived the first film, Michael Myers has been living in a mental hospital after his capture in 1978. Authorities finally heed the late Dr. Samuel Loomis’ advice and keep the prisoner under heavy guard. Aaron Korey and Dana Haines, two British podcasters, come to do a story on Michael before he gets sent to a maximum security prison. Still tall and imposing, Meyers remains mute and unemotional. As his new psychiatrist Dr. Surtain explains, Michael can speak but simply chooses not to. Aaron pushes his luck in pressing Michael about the 1978 killings, mentioning Laurie Strode, and showing him the old mask. While all the other inmates are visibly terrified, Michael is unflinching.
Meanwhile, Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is not faring well either. A brief encounter with the podcasters shows she has been dealing with the past for years. Now in her fifties, she continues to train and arm herself for the event of another confrontation with Michael. In addition, she struggles with PTSD and alcohol, which ended two marriages and has driven her family away.
Laurie’s daughter Karen (Judy Greer) doesn’t have a good relationship with her mother, who she views as unstable. This stems from her being taken away by social services as an adolescent. She refuses to reunite with her mother unless the latter moves on and gets help. The only relative whom Laurie is close to is granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who is starting to become frustrated with her obsession.
During the prison transfer, the bus goes off the road, and Michael is able to make an escape. One harrowing sequence involves a pedestrian father and son arriving on the scene and facing a horrific fate. Not long afterwards, Michael encounters the podcasters at a gas station, kills them, and recovers his mask. He then makes his way to Haddonfield, Illinois.
Meanwhile, Allyson is out at the school dance with her boyfriend Cameron. The event ends in disappointment when she catches him kissing another girl and decides to head home. What Allyson doesn’t know is that Laurie and Karen are trying to contact her about Michael being on the loose. This is rather difficult, since Cameron destroyed her phone. While the body count rises, Laurie and Sheriff Frank Hawkins (Will Patton) double down on trying to catch Michael. As various plot threads combine, we learn that Dr. Surtain has designs of his own regarding Michael.
As a director, David Gordon Green succeeds in creating a genuine feeling of dread. What’s interesting is the question of what Michael personally gets out of killing. This is a hard question to answer, as Michael remains mute and doesn’t speak. Make no mistake, there are no references to Druid cults, Satanists or cursed tattoos. Instead, Dr. Surtain theorizes that the pursuit of Laurie is what gives Michael the strength to keep going. He considers the idea of the victimizer becoming the pursued one. There is also the possibility that Michael’s mask serves as a trigger of sorts, as shown in the opening scene.
Jamie Lee Curtis is in fine form as Laurie. She manages to depict a character who’s been victimized and is willing to fight back. Some of the film’s deeper moments involve Laurie breaking down at a family outing, which also reveals she has struggled with alcohol. Now wiser and experienced, she is in the Dr. Loomis role of warning others to beware Myers. Curtis gets to perform a lot of action scenes, especially handling firearms.
James Jude Courteney is imposing and scary as Michael Myers. Tall, muscular and stoic, he is physically intense as a killer who’s picking up where he left off. This is a much older, slower take on Michael, but he’s still intimidating as he was back in 1978. All the classic features are there- the boots, the slow breathing, the quizzical head tilt, etc. It is interesting to note we see a fair amount of Michael’s face in side profile and at angles. This film also marks the return of original Myers actor Nick Castle, who provides the famous heavy breathing and appears in one scene.
Haluk Bilginer’s Dr. Surtain is an interesting addition to the film. Having taken over from Loomis, he views Michael as both a patient and a scientific specimen. Laurie even lampshades his role in the story, calling him “the new Loomis” at one point. As the film progresses, however, Surtain shows that he only wants to keep Michael alive for research, and he’ll go to extremes to make sure of that. What’s frustrating about Surtain is that he doesn’t appear to comprehend the danger he’s putting himself and others in.
The supporting case does great with the material. Will Patton brings a level of toughness and experience to the role of Frank. His character is unique in averting the cliche of police being useless, because Frank believes what Michael is truly capable of and tries to stop him. Judy Greer makes Karen a likeable and sympathetic character who holds mixed feelings about her mother. She does hold her own, especially in the third act. Andi Matichak brings a mixture of believability and uncertainty as Allyson. While most of her scenes are teen-related, she shows a sense of resolve that gets stronger as the plot progresses.
Toby Huss provides a dry, sardonic sense of humour as Allyson’s laid-back father, Ray. Miles Robbins, son of Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon, and Drew Scheid provide comic relief with their light-hearted banter and adolescent awkwardness. It’s especially saddening to see such funny characters meet a terrible fate, but this is typical of the horror genre.
Green’s direction is pretty good, and he does know how to stage action. However, more than a few comedy moments feel like scenes right out of a teen movie like Superbad. Such examples include Dave and Cameron’s hormonal confessions and foul-mouthed little Julian. These bits come up pretty frequently in the film, but they also run the risk of killing the suspense.
Halloween is also notable for the return of creator John Carpenter to the franchise. While he isn’t directing, he does serve as executive producer and provide the score, which adds to the suspense. Always a nice touch to see original crew members reuniting with the work that made them famous.
Overall, Halloween breathes new life into the series. Curtis, Greer, Matichak and Hawkins deliver strong performances. Green and his producing partners have made the Boogeyman scary again. Anything is possible at this point.