The genius of the original Halloween is its minimalism. Style over substance is often the criticism directors receive when making films. But in the case of Halloween, director John Carpenter made the decision to strip away plot and character development. His focus was mood and tone.
The result was a chilling horror film about a murderous rampage on Halloween night. But it was also different. This was a story that took place in suburban any-town USA. Where simple white-picket fences and locks weren’t enough to save you from the boogeyman.
The boogeyman of this story, Michael Myers, isn’t so much a man, but a manifestation of evil. The who and why of Myers is irrelevant. He’s an indestructible force whose only purpose is death.
Halloween was released in October, 1978 to rave reviews. Made in 20 days on a shoestring budget of $300,000, Halloween would go on to gross more than $70 million worldwide. It also spawned countless sequels and created a sub-genre within horror known as the Slasher film.
But forget about the nine sequels or re-imaginings that have been released since Halloween. The new film, directed by David Gordon Green, ignores everything that came after the original.
Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode, the woman who barely survived Myers’ killing spree four decades ago. But Strode has no intention of ever being a victim again. She’s spent decades preparing and training for Myers eventual return. But at what cost?
That fateful night defines her life resulting in her estrangement from her daughter and granddaughter. Strode is now a recluse waiting for something that may never happen.
But she’ll get her chance. While being transferred to a new facility (Never a good idea in horror movies), Myers escapes with the intention of finally killing Laurie Strode.
The new Halloween exists because of nostalgia. It may also exist as a makeup for all of those awful sequels. Is it better than those films? Yes. But it still didn’t need to be made.
The minimalism and ambiguity is what makes the original work. It was revolutionary in its storytelling because it didn’t have grand ideas or underlining social commentary. It literally cut through what a traditional horror film looked like up to that point.
Ambiguity goes out the window with sequels. Now we get to know Laurie Strode and what’s happened to her since that night 40 years ago. Although I would argue we don’t really get to know her. Green only hints at ideas of trauma, PTSD and the MeToo movement. Curtis isn’t given the opportunity to explore these aspects to her character because Green’s focus is moving on from the space in between to get to the blood and guts.
Green is known more for his independent dramas and despite his inexperience in the horror genre, he manages to do a decent job of crafting tension and suspense. The highlight being a scene in a bathroom that is both brutal and terrifying. The scene ends with Myers finally putting on the iconic mask. The way Green reveals this had the hair on the back of my neck standing up.
He also pays homage to the original with a long tracking shot of Myers walking toward a shed to grab a hammer and into a woman’s home to murder her. The murder is off camera and left to the imagination. Although he does include horrifying sound effects to amp up the scene.
But there isn’t enough of this. The original relied not only on first-person perspective, but also long and lingering Steadicam shots. That type of slow movement created a sense of a ghostly voyeur stalking its prey. Carpenter’s ability to fill the frame with empty space and blend it with his eery musical score created an atmosphere that was palpable.
Green co-wrote the film with Danny McBride and they do inject some much-needed humor that was lacking in the original. One scene in particular involving a babysitter and a little boy is hilarious. But Green and McBride also have completely random scenes of humor that undercut tension at the worst moments. Do we really need a scene where police officers are talking about what they brought for lunch?
The entire film builds to an ending that is kind of disappointing. Strode has created a Home Alone-like (Or Saw for the horror fans) fortress filled with booby traps and a panic room. But Green doesn’t really know how to pull off this final scene in an inventive way. The panic room also proves to be irrelevant when characters make dumb decisions.
In the end Halloween seems to act more as an apology to those thankless sequels rather than something to stand on its own. There’s suspense here and there, but it’s mostly a forgettable slasher film to please the fanboys of the original.