Halloween is considered one of the best horror movies ever released. John Carpenter was able to make it quite intense without being overly bloody. He also did things right: no more backstory than was needed and no overt reason for the killing. Because other slashers ran with the theme many assumed that it was teenagers having sex that sent him off, but it always seemed to be just because one girl yelled something at him as he drove by. In fact, it just seems that, starting with his sister Judith, he just had it in for all of Haddonfield.
Unfortunately, other than throwing some money at the films, John Carpenter really hasn't had much involvement since. In fact, Halloween was supposed to be a one-off film; it may have had an open ending, but that was the ending. It was not purposely left open for a sequel, as the next film with a Halloween title was supposed to have nothing to do with Michael Myers. The whole series was conceived as an anthology, something that got messed up with Halloween II which was largely made because the first one was financially successful. Halloween III: Season of the Witch tried to switch it back to the anthology concept, but audiences got confused. That meant we got three more films of Myers slashing his way through everything, only to find out it had something to do with ancient druid curses. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the protagonist from the first and second film, was killed offscreen sometime before the events of the fourth.
Curtis needed a paycheck, and the series needed a reboot, so everything except the first two movies was ignored for Halloween: H20, but once again the results were underwhelming, and once again Laurie was killed off, this time onscreen. Inevitably, the remake came, courtesy of Rob Zombie.
40 years after the first movie it would seem that the original movie was milked for all its worth. Then came word that Jamie Lee Curtis would be back again for another sequel, this time ignoring everything that happened after the first movie. Suddenly, maybe, there was a bit of hope that Halloween would finally get the follow-up it deserved. Maybe this time around it would be someone that had a little respect for the original film.
Surprisingly, that came in the form of David Gordon Green, director of Pineapple Express and a number of other comedy films, and a co-writer Danny McBride, also known for his comedy career. It also helps that slowly there is a movement in Hollywood realizing that maybe it is time to get back to low and modestly budgeted movies that can turn a profit while still entertaining audiences like they should.
Michael Myers (Nick Castle) is about to be moved from Smith Grove to a more high-security lockup. Before the move, podcasters Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees) interview Myers's current doctor, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), who took over Michael's care after Dr. Loomis died. The two do stories on various mass murderers, and hope to get a response out of Michael by showing him the mask he used during the murders during 1978. Predictably, Michael is rather silent on the subject.
Their next stop is Laurie Strode, who over the years has built herself a fortified home outside of Haddonfield, as she rightfully suspects that since they didn't keep Michael in the first time that there is no guarantee they will do any better going forward. Her response is also quite predictable once the questions come up about her failed marriages and the fact that her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) was removed from her care by child services at the age of 12.
Karen in fact now lives with her husband Ray (Toby Huss) in Haddonfield proper, and has a daughter of her own named Allyson (Andi Matichak). While Allyson does what she can to remain connected with her grandmother, Karen largely wants nothing to do with her, as the memories she does have of growing up in with Laurie have to do with prepping and preparedness.
The night before Halloween Michael is loaded onto a bus with other inmates to be transported to the new facility. Dr. Sartain opts to ride with him to the destination, but it doesn't make it. Instead, Michael frees himself and overpowers the bus driver, causing it to crash. Dr. Sartain is shot by a young boy whom he surprises, while Michael steals a pickup truck and heads towards home.
First stop, though, is to take care of of Aaron and Dana. After doing so he retrieves his old mask and heads into town on Halloween night, leaving a trail of bodies in his wake.
Laurie, who had herself contemplated hijacking the bus to kill Michael, is unsurprised when she hears that that it has crashed and he is loose. It is also a concern of Officer Hawkins (Will Patton), who was the responding officer when Michael was apprehended shortly after the events in 1978, and prevented Dr. Loomis from killing Michael. He is the only person besides Laurie that takes the threat of Michael seriously, and doesn't intend for things to go the same way.
With both Hawkins and Laurie casing the town for Michael, they both find him when a domestic disturbance call comes in after he attacks Allyson's friend Vicky (Virginia Gardner) while she is babysitting. While Laurie had tried, and failed, to convince Karen that she was in danger, it takes Hawkins backing her up to finally convince her that she and her family need to join Laurie at her compound. Allyson, however, is out of touch after having her phone destroyed by her boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold) after she catches him being unfaithful.
Meanwhile, Sartain wakes up and starts giving information to the officers about Michael, and agrees to help. He accompanies Hawkins to go pick up Allyson after she has her own encounter with the killer and is assisted by neighbors. However, things don't go as planned, and Allyson finds herself pursued through the woods near her grandmother's home as she heads for safety. The rest of the family digs in, awaiting Michael's arrival and the welcome that Laurie has had prepared for him for decades.
It is nice to see the return of the old Michael Myers. He is no longer Laurie's brother (that wasn't even touched on in the original film) and he's not under some sort of curse. There is nothing supernatural about him at all. He is still a force of nature, extremely strong and resilient with a high pain tolerance, but he is still a human. There is no more backstory than there was before, because, although it is said that he can talk, he refuses to. Whatever motivates him he keeps to himself.
There are several times David Gordon Green and Danny McBride could have gone for the predictable. Instead, like Carpenter in the original, they seem to resist doing so in most circumstances. There is no explanation for a number of people that are killed, and no innate knowledge that any of the Strodes are family. The only time he does show any recognition of anyone in the town is when he sees Laurie outside of a window; it's at that point that he suddenly focuses on her rather than just doing away with everyone at the most convenient opportunity.
This is rather bloodier than the original, but there is still quite a bit of restraint. Green obviously remembered that much of what made Halloween scary was what was going on in the background rather than what was in front of our eyes. Michael really doesn't have a huge bag of tricks; it's blunt objects, knives or simply just a hands-on approach. Often we are shown the aftermath of his handiwork, with a few major exceptions that work simply because we're not being overloaded with rote killing.
Jamie Lee Curtis is great in this, and even admitted that she was wanting to do this film for something other than just a paycheck. It shows, as this Laurie Strode reacts to the world in a way you would expect someone who almost got murdered as a teenager to respond. She drinks heavily, trusts no one, and believes that while her assailant is still alive that she will never be safe. While Judy Greer's character of Karen may be a bit frustrating at times, she plays her well and, in the end, with the same steel in her as Laurie. We even get good performances from most of the "teenagers" in the film, although like most of these movies it is obvious that their high school days are behind them. In fact, Andi Matichak is older than Curtis was when she starred in the first movie.
I think that helps, as Matichak is able to give a reaction similar to that of Laurie in the first movie after her first encounter with Michael. She doesn't suddenly become a fighting machine (Karen purposely made sure Allyson was not raised the same way she was), but rather a scared girl suddenly trying to survive something she only heard about in stories from her grandmother.
I am also happy that Nick Castle is back as Myers, although he is doubled in some stunts by James Jude Courtney. While the only adult face that was seen of Michael was that of Tony Moran in the original, the fact is that Michael would be in his early 60s. He is only seen without the mask in out of focus shots or brief flashes, so it makes sense to have someone who would be around his age playing him again. Despite being imitated in the Friday the 13th movies, Michael is not Jason, although age has certainly not slowed him down.
When everything comes together we get all the elements that make a good slasher film combined with an excellent action film as well and, as can be expected from Green and McBride, a healthy dose of weird comedy moments. It is not full of CGI blood and gore shots, was made for what would be considered a pretty low budget these days, and hopefully will make a lot of money.
That said, even though they have envisioned more movies to perhaps make this its own trilogy, I hope they follow John Carpenter's wishes and make this the last one. It's the sequel the first movie always needed, and the ending to this one is quite satisfying. I would hate to see them screw up the series again. What I would rather see is more directors start pulling back to doing these lower budget films, concentrating on quality rather than just throwing every effect at the screen. Let Marvel and Star Wars do that to their content, but it's time we got back to the true joy of making movies like this one.
Time: 106 minutes
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Nick Castle
Director: David Gordon Green