Give a horror movie franchise enough instalments and it will be dragged into an endless loop: Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, Saw, Hellraiser – name your franchise, and sooner or later Hollywood will creep around again and give the old successes another sequel, remake, or re-imagining.
This seems perfectly true for Halloween, the first big success in the ‘slasher’ tradition of horror cinema, which has boasted 11 films to date with another two on the way. It has been rebooted twice: firstly with Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake of the 1978 original, and again in 2018 with David Gordon Green’s Halloween – which ignores every film since John Carpenter’s original and provides a fresh direct sequel to that instead. It is the 2018 edition I recently watched, and I have quite a few thoughts about it.
Forty years since Michael Myers murdered five people and stalked Laurie Rhodes (Jamie Lee Curtis), the psychopathic killer escapes captivity during a prisoner transfer to begin murdering once again.
There is really not a lot of complexity to this new Halloween, which seems mostly appropriate since there is not very much complexity to the Halloween franchise at all. Its villain wears a boiler suit and a rubber mask and stabs people to death. There is little personality to it, because when created it had no need for it. Halloween (1978) kickstarted an entire movement in horror, and it was up to subsequent film series to innovate in character to separate themselves from the field. Friday the 13th‘s Jason Voorhees is angrier, while A Nightmare on Elm Street‘s Freddy Krueger is funnier, and Scream‘s ‘ghostface’ killers are ironic and metatextual. By contrast Michael simply stalks and kills like a wind-up toy. It is the simplicty that sells it. He never stops or quits; he just murders people. For new viewers, he is likely very effective. For those of us onto our 11th trip around the merry-go-round, it is – despite the reboot and refresh – overly familiar.
The 2018 Halloween aims to revive things by bringing back its original heroine Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), now 40 years older and permanently scarred by her experiences. It provides Curtis with a fantastic opportunity to revisit and rework an old character, and gives the new film an interesting angle of having a mature woman be the killer’s target rather than the succession of teens and twentysomethings typically used in the genre. It is an approach that delivers some great material, and Curtis really goes all out in this film. It seems odd, however, that the wide praise laid upon the film for this take ignores its lack of originality. We have been here 20 years ago with Steve Miner’s sequel Halloween H20, in which a Laurie in her 40s is stalked by a returned Michael. Green’s attempt is far bleaker and more faithful to the first film, but it is still remixing old material over making anything new.
I am never sure of what to make of new sequels that ignore and over-write old ones. This film certainly benefits greatly from directly following from Carpenter’s original. It gets a streamlined story, and a simpler sense of continuity. At the same time Michael’s story was continued through the fourth-through-eighth films, and a paying audience saw each of them. Can a serial narrative really just change tracks and erase several decades’ worth of work? Technically, of course it can, but whenever it happens it still feels weirdly disrespectful to past film crews and their audiences.
Take Halloween (2018) for what it is: a faithful and effective slasher movie that honours and respects its source. It does re-invent any wheels. It does not particularly innovate. Instead it provides an authentic horror experience that knows its genre well and fulfils its exact audience obligation. It is perhaps a little inconsistent on a technical level, and definitely suffers from a bit of wobbly editing, but all in all it restores the effectiveness of Michael Myers for a new set of fans. Where to go next is the question: production company Blumhouse has committed to two sequels to come in 2021 and 2022. Providing more of the same is not a serious option. Having revived the original blueprint, it is up to Green and co-writer/producer Danny McBride to work out where to take these characters next.