January 23, 2020

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Wiping the slate

Fans of Halloween finally receive a treat after four decades of lousy sequels

With the exception of foot and handprints in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, not much is set in stone in Hollywood.

MOVIE REVIEW

Halloween
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Judy Greer
Grant Park, Kildonan Place, McGillivray, Polo Park, St. Vital, Towne
14A
106 minutes
★★★★ stars out of five

OTHER VOICES

Halloween
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis and Judy Greer
Grant Park, Kildonan Place, McGillivray, Polo Park, St. Vital, Towne
14A
106 minutes
★★★★ stars out of five

OTHER VOICES

There’s more here than graphic gore and shocks. This is also the story of the multigenerational effects of trauma.

— Soren Anderson, Seattle Times

[It] faithfully adopted much of what so resonated in Carpenter’s genre-creating film — the stoic killer, the gruesome executions, the suburban nightmares — what makes his Halloween such a thrill is how it deviates from its long-ago predecessor.

— Jake Coyle, The Associated Press

There’s one key difference between the two Halloweens: This original was deadly serious; this would-be sequel is filled with comic winks and nods.

— Mara Reinstein, Us Weekly

The acting and violence are appropriately impressive, but a choppy screenplay, a lack of real-world logic and mixed messages render this less of an update and more of a glorified fanfiction.

— Scott Mendelson, Forbes

The movie mostly works because it’s so fundamental, and funny too: Michael still never speaks; his mask and his slow, deadly, deliberate walk say everything they need to.

— Leah Greenblatt, Entertainment Weekly

The movie would be a harmless, discardable remix of standard horror notes if not for Curtis, who charges through the movie as if she never stopped running four decades back.

— Eric Kohn, indieWire

Take the Halloween franchise. After John Carpenter’s relentless thriller hit big in 1978, the original film has been subject to the usual sequels and reboots. The sequels followed the usual sequel-ly path of diminishing returns, descending ever deeper into the swamp of Friday the 13th-like slice-and-dice exploitation. Rob Zombie’s savage 2007 reboot took pains to tell Michael Myers’ back story, a choice that was generally decried by critics (and notably Carpenter himself) for removing the bogeyman mystique from the killer.

The general consensus is that none of the films that came after matched Carpenter’s relatively elegant original.

Along comes David Gordon Green, who in 2002 announced himself as a promising indie filmmaker (George Washington) who has since diversified into comedy (Pineapple Express) and docudrama (Stronger). Green and writing partners Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley proceed with a truly fresh approach to the material by making a direct 40-years-later sequel to Carpenter’s original.

The film boldly dispenses with all the plot points that watered down the Halloween punchbowl. Laurie Strode is not Michael Myers’ sister (as revealed in 1981’s Halloween II). Michael Myers’ homicidal tendencies are not the result of brain-altering microchips implanted into his mask by a crazed Celtic warlock (something you might infer from Halloween III: Season of the Witch).

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) prepares to confront Michael Myers (Jim Courtney) in Halloween.

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) prepares to confront Michael Myers (Jim Courtney) in Halloween.

No, we are back in a world where the wounded Michael Myers of the first film was simply taken back to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium to resume his life of stewing in ominous silence.

Back in Haddonfield, we find Laurie Strode has never recovered from her first encounter with Michael. She lives the life of a survivalist with a gun under every pillow, adept in self-defence and panic-room construction, steeping her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) in paranoia at the inevitable prospect of a return visit by the cold, implacable killer in the modified William Shatner mask.

That horror does indeed repeat itself when Michael escapes in a Halloween night prison transfer that goes wrong under the dubious supervision of Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), the manic psychiatrist who inherited Michael’s case file from the late Dr. Loomis (originally portrayed by the great Donald Pleasance).

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) tries to protect her daughter Karen (Judy Greer).</p></p>

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) tries to protect her daughter Karen (Judy Greer).

Michael is once again Haddonfield-bound. Laurie gears up for a confrontation, but her anticipated showdown is complicated by messy family dynamics, including the fact Laurie’s own granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) is suddenly at risk while attending a high school costume party.

Green hasn’t really delved into the horror genre before, but one can’t help assuming his past accomplishments serve him well. As in Stronger, his movie about Boston Marathon bombing survivor Jeff Bauman, Green is sensitive to the trauma Laurie suffered and portrays it with compassion, abetted by Curtis’s strong, nuanced work. Green’s comedy chops (Pineapple Express) allows for an occasionally playful — but never spoofy — tone when it comes to sly callbacks to Carpenter’s original.

Curtis comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers.

Curtis comes to her final confrontation with Michael Myers.

As for the horror elements, Green simply emulates Carpenter’s urgent, linear pacing and his fierce economy.

While Carpenter’s movie was comparatively economic with its gore, Green feels obligated to elevate the body count and make more explicit the violence.

So yes, the film was made with an understanding that audience expectations have changed since 1978. Still, the film hews admirably close to the edgy thrills of the original.

Finally, we have a Halloween movie worth taking in this year.

And the title should be especially easy to remember.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Masked killer Michael Myers (Jim Courtney) in Halloween.

Masked killer Michael Myers (Jim Courtney) in Halloween.

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

Read full biography

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