Halloween (2018) Halloween (2018) ***

     As of October 2022, when its latest three-picture convolution came to an end, the Halloween series had a continuity as fucked up and bewildering as any long-running franchise on Earth. Even if we ignore Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which takes place in its own little pocket universe not obviously connected to any of the other films, we’ve got two continuity rewinds, a remake, and a sequel to the remake to keep straight, on top of the main sequence formed by Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. The situation is actually more confusing even than that makes it sound, however. Halloween and Halloween II each played broadcast television in two-hour timeslots, despite losing significant amounts of footage to network censorship. In order to make up the difference, John Carpenter, Irwin Yablans, and Moustapha Akkad released practically every usable scrap of film from either movie’s cutting room floor, so that the TV edits differ in countless small but sometimes significant ways from the more familiar theatrical versions. (In Halloween II, the changes go so far as to affect who lives and who dies among the supporting characters!) Then there are the preview and general-release cuts of The Curse of Michael Myers, which are so drastically unlike each other that I felt compelled to review them as two separate works. By switching alternate cuts in and out in different combinations, one can create nine possible variants of the main sequence, four possible variants of the late-90’s retcon culminating in Halloween: Resurrection, and even two possible variants of the new retcon concluding with this year’s Halloween Ends. Factor in the Halloween Zombieverse (in which there are important differences between the producers’ and director’s cuts of both films) and Season of the Witch (which the 2018 Halloween might tenuously be argued to incorporate by reference, thanks to the masks we see on a trio of trick-or-treaters at one point), and that’s… way too many. Just way, way too many.

     In any case, although the natural conclusion to draw from the title of 2018’s Halloween is that it’s yet a second remake, this is actually a do-over of sorts for Halloween H20. It turns back the calendar even further than that film, however, disregarding all of the preceding sequels, and accepting only the original Halloween as canonical. Because making a sequel called just Halloween to a movie already called Halloween isn’t confusing at all, right? But this film also makes a second, much stealthier adjustment to the story as we have hitherto understood it: it posits that Michael Myers (played by both Nick Castle, the originator of the role, and James Jude Courtney, from Access Denied and Philadelphia Experiment 2, although I’m not at all clear on the division of labor between the two actors) was recaptured sometime after his disappearance from the Strode family’s backyard, and has remained confined at Smith’s Grove Sanitarium ever since. Old Dr. Samuel Loomis is still dead in this timeline, though, so Myers is now under the care of a certain Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), a psychiatrist whose fascination with both his patient and his predecessor often bears a disturbing resemblance to fandom.

     That’s where things stand on the day late in October of 2018 when British true-crime podcasters Dana Haines (Nope’s Rhian Rees) and Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall, of Skin Walker and The Disappeared) show up at the asylum hoping to interview Myers for their forthcoming episode on the 40th anniversary of the Halloween Babysitter Murders. Myers is no more cooperative with them than he has ever been with Dr. Sartain (or Dr. Loomis, for that matter), never changing posture or expression, and uttering not a single word even in response to provocations like Korey pulling out the mask he wore on that long-ago Halloween and waving it at him. Defeated, the podcasters drive off to try their luck with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the ex-babysitter who alone among her peers faced down Myers and lived. Laurie, immediately taking the pair for the ghouls they are, is little more inclined to assist them than Michael was, although the $3000 that Dana offers her for an interview does at least persuade her to allow them inside the perimeter fence of the one-woman survivalist compound that she calls home. Even then, she doesn’t talk long before deciding that Haines and Korey can go fuck themselves after all— just long enough for their conversation to establish for us that Laurie has spent the past four decades obsessively preparing for a rematch with Myers, despite having no rational basis on which to expect such a thing, and at immense personal cost.

     Foremost among the things that Laurie has sacrificed to her lifelong obsession is her relationship with her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer, from Cursed and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes). Karen had the kind of childhood that one normally associates with the kids of far-right militia leaders in the wilds of Idaho. While other girls her age played with dress-up dolls, went to summer camp, and tried out for little-league field hockey, she learned marksmanship, martial arts, and improvised booby traps. Only instead of prepping for the Tribulation or the Coming Race War or whatever, her studies in preemptive homicide were predicated on the assumption that one particular psycho in one particular loony bin would get out one day and drop by for an uninvited visit. Laurie lost custody of Karen when the girl was twelve years old, and although it would be an exaggeration to call the two of them estranged today, it wouldn’t be a very big exaggeration. Karen sees as little of her mom as she can manage, and together with her husband, Ray (Toby Huss, of The Occupants and Cowboys and Aliens), does her best to limit Laurie’s influence over their own daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak, from Son and Assimilate). Allyson, for her part, doesn’t see what the big deal is. Sure, Grandmother is somewhat eccentric and could stand to get out of the house a little more, but if Allyson had to say which one of her female elders was crazy, she’d probably pick Mom instead. She certainly goes far enough out of her way to make sure Laurie comes out to dinner with her, her parents, and her boyfriend, Cameron Elam (Dylan Arnold), to celebrate some recent academic triumph of hers, defying her mother’s efforts to the contrary.

     As it happens, Laurie was already psyching herself up to emerge from her lair that evening, even before she got Allyson’s invitation. Unsurprisingly, she follows developments in Myers’s case as closely as possible for an outsider unrelated to him (Halloween explicitly repudiates the first sequel’s foolishness about Laurie and Michael being long-separated siblings), and it recently came to her attention that after 40 years of placid confinement, Michael had been deemed a sufficiently small risk to be transferred to a lower-security facility than Smith’s Grove. Needless to say, Laurie does not share that assessment, and she’s taken it upon herself to monitor the situation from across the street as Myers, together with several other inmates, is loaded onto a bus for transport to the other asylum. Nothing out of the ordinary happens during Laurie’s pre-dinner vigil, but the confrontation still distresses her sufficiently to trigger an alarming breakdown at the restaurant afterward. Karen doesn’t know the direct cause, of course, but she nevertheless did tell Allyson that something like this was likely to happen.

     It’s ironic, then, that Laurie transforms into an unshakable tower of strength the following morning— October 31st— when the TV news reports that Myers went berserk on the drive to his new home, massacred his guards, and disappeared into the night after killing a pair of passing motorists for their vehicle. Karen and Ray both think she’s talking crazy when she rushes over to round up them and Allyson to take shelter at her place, but they might feel differently if they could talk to Deputy Hawkins (Will Patton, from Cold Heaven and The Puppet Masters). Hawkins had been fresh out of the academy when Myers cut his previous bloody swath through Haddonfield, and he takes the prospect of another one very seriously indeed when Dr. Sartain explains to him what happened last night on the bus from Smith’s Grove. And the two British podcasters will certainly feel differently when Myers tracks them down to reclaim his old mask, as will Allyson’s friends, Vicky (Virginia Gardner, of Project Almanac and Tell Me How I Die), Dave (Daniel Isn’t Real’s Miles Robbins), and Oscar (Drew Scheid, from Unhuman and Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween), when Michael butchers them one by one over the course of Halloween Night. Inevitably, as the reality of Michael’s new rampage sets in across Haddonfield, the whole Strode family hunkers down at Grandmother’s house. And just as inevitably, Myers eventually comes calling to reopen his unfinished business with Laurie. However, the sharp-eyed might sense how the balance of power between the main antagonists has shifted from the way director David Gordon Green keeps offering up visual quotes from the original Halloween that put Laurie in postures and positions occupied by Michael the first time around.

     I went to see Halloween in the theater during its debut four years ago, but skipped reviewing it on the grounds that I still had too many previous franchise entries to cover. You all know by now how I am about doing things in order. I was very impressed at the time, but revisiting the film now, in its complete context, I find my opinion of it somewhat diminished. That’s because so many of the things that I like about Halloween turn out to have been done before, and frequently better, by Halloween H20, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, or both. For that matter, a couple had already been done worse by Halloween: Resurrection! And even in those cases where I clearly prefer Halloween’s take on a given idea, the mere fact that some other film in the series got there first deflates my enthusiasm a bit. Meanwhile, the few genuinely new things that this movie attempts don’t get enough attention to realize their potential, because they’re ultimately just distracting curlicues on the story that Green and screenwriter Jeff Fradley are mainly trying to tell.

     The foremost example of the latter phenomenon concerns Dana Haines and Aaron Korey, the podcasters. It’s an interesting and potentially resonant idea to have them stir up the hornet’s nest by coming to interview Michael Myers in the asylum, pointing toward the pitfalls of treating grisly, real-life tragedy as fodder for entertainment. But if that’s what Fradley and Green wanted to do, then it really needed to be the central theme of the movie, rather than a detour from it. Beyond that, the present filmmakers’ take on Laurie Strode’s past and present is seriously at odds with such a thing. Haines and Korey, twerps that they are, simply haven’t got it in them to re-victimize Fradley and Green’s version of Laurie, whose closest cousin among the pop-culture icons of recent decades is one of the more mournful and melancholy interpretations of John Rambo. For all her inability to function in normal life, this Laurie has made herself as invincible as Michael himself in any situation that activates the fight-or-flight response. And because the podcasters are Michael’s first victims within the Haddonfield town limits, they don’t live long enough to have to grapple with what they’ve unleashed, except in the crudest and most literal sense.

     Dr. Sartain is another character whose role in the story might have merited a film unto itself. Although he initially reads as a necessary but inadequate replacement for the original Halloween’s Dr. Loomis, he stands revealed in the end as something more like the Harley Quinn to Michael Myers’s Joker. All those years of trying to fathom Michael’s impenetrable psyche have driven Sartain as mad as his patient, to the extent that he’s willing to facilitate a third Halloween of murder and mayhem in Haddonfield, just for the chance to observe it up close, and perhaps finally to understand. Handled correctly, Sartain could have become a genuinely effective version of the mysterious black-clad accomplice in Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. But because he’s basically beside the point of Halloween, he understandably never gets a meaningful opportunity to do so. Indeed, intrigued though I am by the crazy shrink, and by what he almost represents, he’s so far beside the movie’s point that Halloween might have been better off without him.

     In case this somehow weren’t obvious yet, the point of Halloween, once again, is trauma, both personal and generational. And for what it’s worth, this movie does a fair enough job of handling the subject, even if it does so both less realistically than Halloween H20 and with less complexity than Halloween II. The aged Laurie of 2018 is as convincingly wounded as the grown-up Laurie of 1998, although her symptoms are more extravagant this time around. There’s much to be said, too, for making her the monster in the eyes of a daughter who’s never had to contend with the reality of Michael Myers until now. I also like how Allyson complicates the picture by having more sympathy for her outlandishly messed-up grandma than she does for her merely neurotic mom. Not only does that strike me as a plausibly adolescent position to take, but it also cues us right from the beginning to keep in mind just how many sides to the story of Laurie’s madness there can be. Speaking of which, it was another smart move to redefine the business about Laurie and Michael being siblings as a baseless rumor that arose from the Haddonfielders’ need to impose some kind of sense on what happened to their town 40 years ago. When something so atrocious occurs in a small, tight-knit community, everyone’s a victim, even the ones who only hear about it third- or fourth-hand.

     In terms of outlook, Halloween falls right about in the middle between the rise-above optimism of Halloween H20 and the bottomless despair of Halloween II. Laurie here is more completely broken than she has been in any previous Halloween sequel, to the extent that you have to wonder what kind of job she could possibly have held down during her years in the workforce. I mean, she must have done something, right? Leaving aside her day-to-day living expenses, that fortress and arsenal of hers can’t have been cheap to assemble! And now that she’s retired or on disability or whatever, she’s barely fit to go out in public at all. In a perverse sense, however, this second clash with Michael Myers is exactly what Laurie needs, because the unstoppable killer happens to be the one thing in the world that Laurie can handle. Maybe now that the long-anticipated showdown has come and gone, she can redirect that energy toward reclaiming some semblance of a normal life. Unless, of course, some jerk undoes her hard-won victory by making two more goddamned sequels…



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