A NOT SO BRIEF HISTORY OF HALLOWEEN’S BLOATED MYTHOLOGY
Forty years ago John Carpenter, a first time director with a shoe-string budget, no-name actors, and less than a month to work with invented the slasher genre. He was twenty-nine years old and not only directed Halloween, but also co-wrote the film and composed the now-iconic piano melody that drives the on-screen horror. He was twenty-nine years old! Carpenter went on to make films such as Big Trouble in Little China, Escape from New York and the sublime remake of The Thing (ten top all-timer for me). His movies have reached cult-classic status but it’s his very first that everyone knows. It’s his first that actually made big money (it was, for a long time, the highest-grossing independent movie ever made). It’s his first that keeps being revisited.
Halloween was a simple movie about an escaped mad man who returns to the town of his youth (where, at age six, he committed his first murder) and seemingly-randomly targets a high school girl and her friends on Halloween night. Spoiler alert: everyone dies except for the sole survivor, nerdy square Laurie Strode. Michael is gunned down in the film’s climax, falls out a second-story window, lands with a thud and…disappears.
What should have been an open-and-shut little murder movie became, despite savage reviews, a box office phenomenon. A sequel was inevitable and three years later it was released. Carpenter and original co-writer Debra Hill wrote the movie and added the twist that Laurie was actually Michael’s other sister. At the end of the film, once again, Michael seems well and truly dead. But after a failed attempt to turn the franchise into an anthology series of unrelated plots, Michael returned in Halloween 4, released ten years after the original. There’s been no stopping him ever since. Halloween 4 was followed by Halloween 5 (1989) which was followed by The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) and then finally Halloween H20, released in 1998 on the franchise’s twentieth anniversary. That movie saw the return of Laurie Strode and a climax centered around ending their feud once and for all. The movie ends with Laurie taking off Michael’s head with an axe, once more leading us to think he was finally dead.
Of course he came back in a movie called “Halloween: Resurrection.”
It too ended with you thinking Michael was dead only for him to awaken once more in the last shot of the film. At this point, however, the franchise was all but dead. H20 had a nice little box office take of 90mm on a 17mm budget, but the follow-up only brought in about 35mm. Still, after twenty+ years of this, Hollywood wasn’t stopping. Twenty+ years of the Michael Myers myth was told and then Rob Zombie(?!) decided to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch. The first of Zombie’s two Halloween movies had modest box office success but the follow-up bombed. Fans rejected the new mythology which put a heavy emphasis on Michael’s relationship with his mother.
After the failure of the Rob Zombie sequel, plans for a third film fizzled and for a while, the franchise was shelved. Current horror movie godfather Jason Blum picked up the rights, brought John Carpenter back on board and decided to do another one, this time doing it right.
The result is a movie that does everything the previous six sequels and two remakes tried to do—give depth to Michael Myers and Laurie Strode—without succumbing to the failures of the previous movies, whose backstories and expanded canon entries all felt hackneyed.
In just one movie, Halloween (2018) offers up everything you ever needed in a Halloween (1978) sequel, to the point where the franchise could end for good and it would end with true closure. How does it do it? It does it by revealing no secrets while also answering all the questions that really matter. I mean really, what questions would you have coming out of Halloween (1978)? I suppose a lot of people would want to know why Michael Myers did what he did. A lot of people would probably want to know how Michael Myers was so seemingly-invincible.
The movie says nuts to all that, though.
The movie even raises a question I had never considered until now: Does Michael Myers talk and if so what would he say? The movie teases that idea from the very first scene, where a pair of true crime podcasters are told of Michael “he can talk…he just chooses not to.” Later in the movie a character practically begs him to speak. Even at the end, there’s a moment where the camera holds on him and you think “is he about to say something?”
No. He’s not, because that question, like the ones about his supernatural abilities or his psychopathic motives, is not really important.
No, what this franchise has always needed in the sequel was for Laurie to become the main-character, not Michael. Instead of “the girl who lived” as she was in the first one, or “the girl who lived again, wow that’s pretty lucky” as she was in the second one, we needed a Laurie Strode who had let time and nightmares unravel her mind to the point where SHE was borderline nuts. H20 tried to offer up a “Laurie vs Michael: The Final Battle” concept, but everything was too slick in that one. Laurie really didn’t come off as someone who had suffered after twenty years.
This Laurie, whose character exists in a world where the only Halloween was the first (no “Michael is my brother,” no weird cults or numerous resurrections, etc), is a woman suffering from forty years of PTSD. She’s manic, unhinged, looking and sounding more like Sarah Connor (especially when she shows off her gun collection). It’s exactly what you’d expect from someone who suffered the way she did in 1978. I mean, of course she’d spend the rest of her life in a constant state of paranoia: A seemingly unkillable boogieman escaped once; why not twice? And when they finally face off in the film’s climax, it ends up being the best climax in the franchise, even surpassing the original, because the movie has made us believe Laurie has prepped for this and was finally ready to stand up to Michael.
I don’t care about Michael’s motives. Having him be a killer who seemed to randomly pick a group of friends and come just short of killing them all is good enough. Sometimes the less we know (or the less there is to know), the scarier it is. Likewise, Michael’s remarkable ability to catch-up to any prey, despite their running and his walking, not to mention his skill at disappearing and reappearing like he’s a freaking wizard was never something I needed to be explained. He’s the boogieman for crying out loud.
What I wanted out of this movie were character-driven answers. I wanted to know “what would the events of 1978 do to Laurie over the course of 40 years and how would she handle Michael’s sudden-freedom.” I wanted to know “would Michael see Laurie as just another would-be victim or would there be something special about her and the fact that she’s the only one he failed to kill?” This movie was always about those two; you don’t need to make them siblings to make their connection significant; the whole first movie does that for you.
There are some surprises which I will not spoil, as well as a plot twist or two that threw me for a loop but which I appreciated for its ability to drive the story forward in a surprising way. But that’s all window dressing to the strong character-driven plot at work here.
As for the technical merits of the movie: It’s expertly shot, the screenplay is sharp, the acting is excellent across the board (Jamie Lee Curtis is especially perfect), the film is beautifully scored (John Carpenter returns!), and fans of the original will be able to spot several little homages to the 1978 film that work in this movie precisely because of the way the story plays out. Too many sequel/reboot movies try to copy the original just for the sake of copying it; it’s the laziest way to score nostalgia points. This movie features a LOT of callbacks to the first, but they are in-story references, not stupid winks and nods to the audience. Laurie’s forty years of prep time have made her a little Michael Myers-esque and the movie really plays that up in some great visual cues from the 1978 original.
If I wanted to nitpick I could talk about some subplots that went nowhere, some characters that disappeared without either (A) getting killed or at least (B) getting closure, or the overly-long first act (the initial suspense gives way to patient waiting before impatient waiting kicks in before the fun finally begins). Those would be minor nitpicks and really don’t hinder the movie’s excellence.
IS THIS THE END?
Halloween the franchise is a lot like Michael Myers the unkillable boogieman. Is this the movie that finally puts the franchise to bed? Not necessarily. I have a theory on what they might do with the sequel and it involves a character who seemed like he was going to be an important one only for him to disappear near the end of act two without any formal exit. I’ll save that theory for another time, however.
Still, it’s on track to make a lot of money and reviews are stronger than ever before; critics are praising this movie in ways no Halloween film has ever had before. It will be very tempting for the studio to just “do another one” the way so many “other ones” in this franchise have been done (and sucked at). However, maybe—just maybe—this movie can provide us with something we’ve never gotten from the Halloween films to this point. Maybe—just maybe—these two characters, Michael and Laurie, can have what they’ve never had before: Closure.
And if so, what a way to go out.
9/10 – A few quibbles maybe but overall it’s the best Halloween movie since the original, which is good since it basically asks you to pretend none of the other ones happened anyway.