Few would question the pedigree of director John Carpenter’s 1978 horror classic Halloween.
Forty years after its release, it remains one of the most influential films in pop cinema history, one that recalibrated an entire genre. Hollywood literally spent decades trying to mimic Carpenter’s low-budget slasher, releasing reams of copycats, homages and outright rip-offs that tried to cash-in on the formula. While there were a number of worthy efforts, very few of the slasher films that followed — including, in all honesty, the nine Halloween sequels or remakes between 1981 and 2009 — were able to quite capture the minimalist elegance and lo-fi auteur style of the original.
Simply put, the first Halloween was lightning in a bottle, and it’s damned hard to catch lightning in a bottle twice.
But director David Gordon Green has now given it a heck of a try.
Green was the man behind the camera for the latest version of Halloween. Casting aside all of the previous sequels and serving as a direct follow-up to Carpenter’s original, Green’s Halloween stormed North American box offices during its Oct. 19 opening weekend, pulling in a franchise record $77 million on just a $10 million budget.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: The new Halloween is, by quite an easy margin, the best follow-up in the series. It doesn’t reach the lofty heights of the 1978 original, but it easily outpaces the other sequels or remakes, though that’s an admittedly low bar in some instances. (We’re looking at you, Halloween 5.)
The 2018 Halloween drops audiences back in fictional Haddonfield, Illinois (large portions of the movie actually were shot in Charleston) 40 years after the events of the first film. Psychotic serial killer Michael Myers is locked away in an institution, where he’s been for the last four decades since going on the killing spree depicted in the original movie.
Meanwhile, Myers’ chief victim-who-got-away, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), is held captive in a sort of prison of her own: Deeply affected by the murders of her friends, and her own near-death at Myers’ hands, all those years ago, Laurie is gripped by post-traumatic stress disorder. Her life is now driven by paranoia, and her home is something out of a doomsday prepper’s fever dream, with security cameras and panic rooms and enough guns to outfit an army. She’s convinced Myers will one day return to finish what he started 40 Halloweens ago and, after a bus transferring the killer from one institution to another crashes (of course) and he escapes, she turns out to be right.
Much of the conversation about this film will center on Curtis and her return to the role that made her a star, and for good reason. She skillfully brings a new dimension to Laurie Strode in this entry. Gone is the fresh-faced Laurie from 1978 who cowered in a closet as Michael Myers closed in. This version of Laurie is a weathered, distressed, world-weary survivor, one whose simply cannot rest until her evil antagonist is properly confronted. Curtis (an executive producer on the film) has rarely been better than she is here.
But Curtis is not the only creative force from the 1978 film who’s back for another round. Carpenter himself has returned, composing the score for the new movie with his son, Cody Carpenter, and godson, Daniel Davies. Perhaps more than any other horror franchise, the Halloween films are bolstered and buoyed by their music. Carpenter’s original Halloween theme is one of the most recognizable in film history, after all. In the latest offering, it is Carpenter and company’s score that helps tether Green’s film to the original. The music is moody, synthy, propulsive and pure John Carpenter.
The new Halloween isn’t without it’s trouble spots, to be sure. The inclusion of Haluk Bilginer’s Dr. Sartain, as a sort of stand-in for the late Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis, never quite works, and the character’s ultimate arc leaves something to be desired.
And Green’s Halloween departs perhaps most sharply from Carpenter’s original in its overt brutality. This is a violent, grim, mean film, one that is often straightforward in its depiction of on-screen carnage. Carpenter’s Halloween wasn’t a barrel of laughs, by any stretch, but the fear and tension in the 1978 movie largely came from what you didn’t see — from the things that lurk in the shadows. In Green’s version, Michael Myers’ reign of terror is often on full display, for all to see.
Still, the new Halloween pairs nicely with the 1978 version, and I recommend that viewers watch both versions within a fairly close time period, to get the full effect. Columbia residents will soon have the opportunity to see Carpenter’s original on the big screen, as it is scheduled to play at the Nickelodeon Theatre on Oct. 31.
While Green’s new offering doesn’t match the style on display in the series opener, it is a very well-done facsimile, and one that sets the pace for the future of cinematic slasher films, while at the same time celebrating Carpenter’s granddaddy of them all.