Michael Myers Gets A Proper Homecoming In David Gordon Green's "Halloween"

This review was originally published on September 9, 2018 at the Toronto International Film Festival.

The slasher film as we know it traces back to 1960, when Michael Powell’s “Peeping Tom” and Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho” first shook unsuspecting moviegoers. Fourteen years later, the genre experienced another red-letter year with Tobe Hooper’s bleak “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” and Bob Clark’s bleaker “Black Christmas,” each carving out its own place in movie history. But it wasn’t until 1978 that the blueprint was perfected. With an indie named “Halloween,” a young writer, director, and composer named John Carpenter cemented himself as a genre visionary, brilliantly synthesizing sight and sound into an impeccable thrill ride.

To this day Carpenter and the late Debra Hill’s story of a deranged man in a gnarled Captain Kirk mask stalking suburban babysitters ties stomachs in knots with the precision of an Eagle Scout, Carpenter’s hair-raising soundtrack undoubtedly continuing to score nightmares worldwide.

Forty years and nine mostly forgettable sequels later, another filmmaker who made his bones in independent film, David Gordon Green (“Stronger”), has been called on to return the series to its roots. Green’s take on Michael Myers treats those aforementioned sequels as mere rumor, ceding the stage to Jamie Lee Curtis in a reprisal of her crowning role. For the first time since 1981, Laurie Strode and The Shape have nothing in common but one fateful night in 1978 – a night and a trauma Laurie still can’t help but relive every time she closes her eyes.

The movie is, for better or worse, a direct sequel to a forty-year-old classic.

Mostly for better.

Although at times awkwardly paced, “Halloween” 2018 is outstanding in almost every other regard, weaving an appealing web of old and new, humor and scares, blood and age-old suspense. Dozens of shots are of the sizzle reel variety, cinematographer Michael Simmonds and his director delighting in the iconography of Michael Myers while rebuffing the unstoppable, boring killing machine he became in later sequels. (The superficial grunge of Rob Zombie’s two series entries is best left unmentioned.)

Co-written by Green, Jeff Fradley, and comedic dynamo and now horror writer Danny McBride (also Green’s college friend and longtime collaborator), the screenplay centers on Curtis’ Strode. Her fierce independent streak remains intact, but she’s also an emotionally stunted, gun-toting recluse whose daughter Karen (Judy Greer) has virtually disowned her. Laurie’s relationship with her teenage granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) is on firmer ground, but the high school senior can’t grasp her grandmother’s preoccupation with, in her mind, ancient history.

The film’s opening couldn’t be more 2018.

Two dim-witted true crime podcasters call on the long-incarcerated Myers at Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, their last opportunity to do so before the infamous serial killer is transferred to a new facility. The medical community has given up on making sense of his affliction, but would-be investigative journalists Martin (Jefferson Hall) and Dana (Rhian Rees) believe they can get a rise out of their subject with a little nostalgia. Wielding Myers’ original mask, borrowed from a friend at the Attorney General’s office, Martin gets nothing but a Sanitarium-wide freak-out from everyone but his target.

And yet, as foretold by the original film’s Dr. Sam Loomis (the late, great Donald Pleasence), there remains a silent alarm buried deep within Myers. It goes off again.

An early emphasis on familial drama between the Strode women strikes an uneasy balance for a horror film, but once the bus transporting Michael to his new facility inevitably crashes, Green and company find a major groove. The Shape’s rampage on the side of a darkened highway and his ensuing return to Haddonfield are brutal and exhilarating, his introduction into a bustling neighborhood full of trick-or-treaters yielding more than a few surprisingly gory kills.

It’s during this stretch that the film is nearly stolen by a young actor named Jibrail Nantambu. He plays Julian, a kid whose hilarious rapport with his babysitter Vicky (Virginia Gardner) has Danny McBride’s wonderful fingerprints all over it.

Throughout Michael’s new round of killings and Laurie’s determined pursuit of her Boogeyman, Green and his team proficiently juggle tone and pay homage to Carpenter’s film with the panache of genre lifers. Echoes and reversals of iconic shots from the original dot the film, functioning as extensions of the story instead of crude fan service. A new score by John Carpenter and his son Cody are a welcome side dish, with film and music laterally ramping up to a nerve-frying third act that makes earlier missteps a distant memory. Not even a harebrained subplot centered on Michael’s latest psychiatrist, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), is enough to stop the momentum.

David Gordon Green’s “Halloween” may not be perfect, but it’s exactly the rough-and-tumble twenty-first century sequel that Carpenter’s film deserves. It’s certainly the franchise’s best offering since rightful minor cult classic “Halloween III: Season Of The Witch” – the series’ only Myers-less “Halloween” film, which gets a loving nod here – and should age out as far superior to 1981’s middling “Halloween II.” Somehow, the improbable combination of Green and McBride with an impassioned-as-ever Jamie Lee Curtis in tow has finally broken the series’ long tradition of disappointment. It turns out that if you’re Michael Myers, you can go home again.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Very Good)

Release Date: October 19, 2018
Studio: Universal Pictures, Blumhouse Productions, Miramax
Director: David Gordon Green
Screenwriters: David Gordon Green, Danny McBride
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andy Matichak, Will Patton, Toby Huss, Jefferson Hall, Rhian Rees, Virginia Gardner, James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle, Jibrail Nantambu
MPAA Rating: R (for horror violence and bloody images, language, brief drug use and nudity)