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25 Oct 2018

Honoring a Horror Classic: 'Halloween' Is Easily the Best Film in the Franchise Since the Legendary Original

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Judy Greer and Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween. Judy Greer and Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween.

Forty years after she first “dropped the knife,” Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) tangles, yet again, with the unstoppable killer Michael Myers—and this time, she’s got an arsenal and a panic room.

The original Halloween was an art film. John Carpenter put together a perfect little horror movie with an auteur’s eye, full of beautifully mapped shots, an expert use of lighting, that unforgettable score and that photogenic, painted-up William Shatner mask. It set the high-water mark for slasher films—a mark that has never been surpassed.

The new Halloween comes to us courtesy of writer-director David Gordon Green and writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley. Green is no slouch, responsible for a few highly regarded indies (George Washington, All the Real Girls) and classic comedies (Pineapple Express, banner episodes of TV’s Eastbound and Down). When it was first announced he and McBride would be working on a new Halloween, the initial, “What? Huh?” was quickly followed by “Say … this could work!” Thankfully, it works quite well.

This is the 11th film in the franchise, and the 10th to feature Myers. (Halloween III: Season of the Witch jettisoned the character.) It’s easily the second-best Halloween movie after the Carpenter original, mostly because it takes many of its cues from the 1978 offering. Also, it doesn’t hurt that the maestro himself, Carpenter, returned to rework his iconic theme and provide the film’s eerily effective score.

Forget all those chapters that have unspooled in the four decades since the original. Green even disregards the hospital-based Halloween II, which Carpenter wrote with writing partner Debra Hill. According to the new Halloween, Michael got apprehended shortly after Donald Pleasance’s Loomis emptied his revolver into him, and he’s been percolating in an insane asylum ever since.

A prologue scene features a couple of podcasters gaining access to Michael in his asylum’s courtyard, where they show him his original killing mask. This proves to be a rather bad idea, with Michael busting out of a prison transfer and returning to Haddonfield, where a reclusive, bitter and ready-to-rumble Laurie still resides. Michael promptly resumes his murderous spree, totally messing up candy day for everybody all over again.

A Halloween movie won’t work if the mask looks wonky. Green and his crew came with a good look this time out: The mask, now four decades old, has rotted out a bit, but maintains its contours and fine hair. It even has a puncture wound on the side from when ’78 Laurie put a sewing needle in Michael’s neck.

Green raises the gore quotient from the original, with some nasty head-stomping and brain splatters. It’s not easy to scare audiences who have seen it all before, but I assure you: Green and company will make you squirm and jump. The film’s best scene, a restroom slaughter, is reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Alien, when an exquisitely crying, cowering Veronica Cartwright was cornered, eventually meeting a merciless doom. It’s not for the faint of heart, and it’s proof Green knows his way around a slasher movie.

Curtis is clearly having a blast. Her hairstyle is identical to the style from her ’80s heyday, but her weapons of choice have most definitely been upgraded. Judy Greer plays her skeptical daughter, with Andi Matichak present as the third Strode generation.

Danny McBride’s writing is evident in key scenes where humor sweetens the mood and creates endearing characters—so we can feel extra-bad about them when they get dispatched. A scene in which a young boy explains to his father that weekend camping trips are fine, but dancing is his focus now, has McBride all over it. Huge credit to both Green and McBride for keeping the comic moments genuine and far from campy.

I, for one, would be totally OK if this is the last Halloween movie. It finishes on a satisfying note with a perfect final shot. However, after taking in nearly $80 million domestically on its opening weekend, something tells me we haven’t seen the last of Michael Myers.

Halloween is playing at theaters across the valley.

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