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Jamie Lee Curtis is Scary Tough

Jamie Lee Curtis
Jamie Lee Curtis
Universal Pictures
 106 Minutes
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer   

As happens with many successful, innovative movies, John Carpenter’s Halloween has gone through numerous iterations over the 40 years since its release, with nine different films based in some way on the original. The primal force-of-nature villain, Michael Myers, has died and been brought back to life more times than even the longest-lived soap opera character and has dispensed with dozens of hapless victims along the way. I for one thought that the franchise had exhausted every possible creative opportunity, but, somehow, I was proved wrong. Thanks to some new faces behind the camera and two very familiar faces in front of it, the franchise lives on in a better than expected sequel that bears the same Halloween name as the original.


The new movie takes place exactly 40 years after the original and wipes out all the films and events that occurred in the interim. In this version of the Halloween universe, Michael Myers was captured on the night he terrorized Haddonfield, IL, and has been in a mental institution ever since. He is now under the care of Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), who insists that Michael can provide valuable research information into the nature of absolute evil. As part of the research, Sartain periodically waves Michael’s trademark mask in his face and keeps it around, just in case Michael might need it again someday. However, for some reason, the authorities decide to transport Michael and a busload of other prisoners (who resemble Jack Nicholson’s supporting cast in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest) on the night of October 30 to a maximum security facility. Not surprisingly, the bus crashes and Michael escapes, leaving several dead bodies behind.


While Michael has been whiling away the years in his cell, his last would-be victim, former babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), has also had a tough time keeping her mental balance. She had a daughter, Karen (who grows up to be Judy Greer), but Laurie’s eccentric child-rearing techniques, which included lots of firearm training, led to the state removing Karen from her custody. Since then, Laurie has lived in her heavily fortified cabin in the woods and periodically showed up in town, warning people that Michael may return.


Of course, when Laurie hears about Michael’s escape, she tries to warn Karen, her husband Ray (Toby Huss), and daughter Allison (Andi Matichak), even interrupting them at a restaurant where they are entertaining Allison’s new boyfriend, but no one takes her seriously. In fact, in one of the film’s more ingenious touches, most of Haddonfield’s young folk treat Michael Myers as somewhat of an urban legend who only killed a couple of people and hence isn’t in the same league with modern serial killers.


However, on his way to Haddonfield, Michael seemingly overhears his critics and tries to make up for lost time, and, as a result, Halloween’s body count rapidly surpasses that of the original film. Among the victims are a couple of reporters who came to Haddonfield to do a podcast documentary feature on Michael and Laurie and, in a stroke of good luck for Michael, took his mask with them to use as an exhibit in their never-to-be-seen broadcast. Now, after liberating his mask from the reporters he murdered, Michael returns to Haddonfield, where he soon acquires a very large butcher knife from the kitchen of one of his newest victims and wreaks the same sort of havoc that he did 40 years earlier.


Although John Carpenter receives an executive producer credit for this new version of Halloween, the primary creative influences for the movie seem to be two men with no real association with horror films in the past, David Gordon Green, the director, and Danny McBride, who co-wrote the script with Green and Jeff Fradley. Although Green and McBride are well known for the work in comedy, they treat the material here reasonably seriously. Halloween does contain some dark humor, it has very little of the outright comedy that was present in films like Get Out. Green and McBride did recognize the inherent comic potential in some scenes like those in which characters behave in an exaggeratedly boorish manner as an obvious prelude to their imminent demises. However, they wisely involve Laurie in the pursuit of Michael, and she proves to be a veritable force of nature once she confronts the killer.


It’s that quality of Laurie’s, perfectly captured by Jamie Lee Curtis, that turns Halloween into a film that’s much closer to The Terminator than to traditional horror films. In fact, Green borrows the imagery from the original movie of the lurking Michael Myers staring through a schoolroom window at Laurie and transforms it in a scene of the adult Laurie adopting Michael’s posture and stance as she stares at Allison through that same window. Of course, Michael hasn’t changed in the intervening 50 years either, either. In the scenes before he reacquires his mask, he is shot from behind, so that the audience never sees his presumably aged face, while in later scenes, Green adopts many of John Carpenter’s camera angles from the earlier film to convey the same menace. (Michael is played by the original Michael, Nick Castle, in one scene, and by James Jude Courtney in the rest of the film.)


For the most part, the new Halloween isn’t all that scary or all that gory, either. Many of Michael’s kills occur off camera, with surprisingly little blood and gore on display. And his hulking, straightforward, force-of-nature manner is frightening in the same way that seeing a shark coming at a person is scary. Perhaps the best scene in the film occurs when Michael ambushes one of the aforementioned reporters in a gas station restroom, trapping the helpless woman in a toilet stall. Her futile attempts to escape are genuinely frightening and bring to mind everything people find disgusting or scary about gas station restrooms.


Where Halloween does succeed is as a suspense action film. From the first appearance of Laurie, who looks more than ready to go into battle, the audience anticipates the eventual final showdown, which comes when she lures Michael to her lair. In preparation for this night, she loaded the place with booby traps and plenty of weaponry as she prepared for the encounter, and almost everything she has hidden comes into play. And it’s not just Laurie taking on Michael, either. Karen and Alison also get involved in the battle. Overall, the last 20 minutes of Halloween contains some very suspenseful scenes leading into highly satisfying action moments.


Green and McBride are never quite able to overcome the inherent deficiencies of their story’s setup, and the result is a screenplay that adheres a bit too closely to horror film convention. Laurie is an acceptable Quint to Michael’s shark, but the other characters in the film vary between one and two dimensions. It may be 2018, instead of 1978, but the punishment for teen sexual desire still remains the same in some cases, especially when the character is an obnoxious jerk to begin with. The most significant loss from the original movie is the absence of Donald Pleasence as Michael’s original therapist, Dr. Loomis, whose understated (yet accurate) prognostications of doom are replaced here by an overly hammy, substitute who calls attention to himself in every scene in which he appears. Even worse are the two reporters, who are more idiotic than they are annoying and whose deaths practically brought cheers from the audience.


The biggest cheers, however, in Halloween are for Jamie Lee Curtis, who shows she still has it after 40 years and turns this movie from what might have been just a rehash of the original film into a highly entertaining sequel. Actually, the original Halloween was supposed to be self-contained, with Michael very dead at the end, but the usual Hollywood magic (in other words, the desire to cash in on that film’s success with a sequel) led to his resurrection. Yet, throughout all the follow-up films over 40 years, Michael Myers retained his single-minded mystique, making him an iconic horror villain like no other. The new Halloween finally gives him the worthiest adversary of all, and the result, despite its flaws, is the worthiest sequel of all.

In this clip, Michael Myers arrives in Haddonfield.

Read other reviews of Halloween: 

Halloween (2018) on IMDb