Wednesday, October 6, 2021

Halloween Watch: Halloween (2018)

Watched:  10/05/2021
Format:  Amazon
Viewing:  First
Decade:  2010's
Director:  David Gordon Greene

When I heard David Gordon Greene, Danny McBride and Jamie Lee Curtis were involved, for once, I was not skeptical of a new installment in the Halloween franchise.  

Look, I am sure seeing - and thoroughly enjoying - the original Halloween when I was fourteen means I can't really be objective about that 1978 film.  I was already roughly a fan of Curtis in 1989 when I saw it, and the movie is - for this blogger - the platonic ideal of a slasher horror film.  In many ways - after Halloween, you either up your game or what's the point?  

Like Meyers the character, the 1978 movie itself is a single-minded shark, moving forward and striking.  It's fatless meat and bone, giving just enough character to Laurie Strode and her friends to make you actually care when kitchen knives get deployed.  And, of course, we only get the crucial details about Michael.  The horrifying incident as a child that indicates how broken he is, and then Loomis letting us know:  "oh, yeah, he's bugfuck crazy.  We need to stop this maniac."  (That's his doctor.) provides a villain who simply is.

Halloween II, which we just discussed on the PodCast, sidelines Laurie Strode for half the movie (baffling.  Simply... baffling.), and then adds in unnecessary backstory and an array of victims we'd see repeated in hundreds of films over the next decades.  It's not great, and any attempt to expand on the events of that night in Haddonfield were a bad idea.  

So, if you are going to return to the first film - and you're bringing along Curtis (in her late 50's at the time of the filming) - you remember that the first movies made people care about those characters, so you damn well better do something with that.  

Curtis returned to the Halloween franchise previously in H20 and Resurrection.  I've seen about 20 minutes of H20 and need to actually watch these two films at some point, but the fact that the latest version denies their existence is an indicator of something.  

The Terminator franchise already had some particular echoes of Halloween and machine-like killers, and had also undergone similar reboots and reimaginings when Terminator: Dark Fate hit.  Both sported Final Girls plagued by unstoppable killing machines who don't say much and have a uniform, a sequel with a hospital, and the sincere treatment of those final girls in their silver periods as people who might be scarred but smarter.  And have weaponed up.  

Of course, Dark Fate was not a great movie.   I did manage to make time for it because: robots.  But after decades of disappointing sequels after T2, and my absolute excitement that we were getting Linda Hamilton back behind a machinegun, all I liked about the movie was Linda Hamilton being cool.  

Anyway - since I missed Halloween (2018) in the theater, Dark Fate absolutely colored how I thought about how this other late-date sequel.

But.  People seemed to like it, so I watched it.  And, I am happy to say - if you're gonna make a new Halloween movie that's a continuation of the original - this one's pretty @#$%ing good.  

Look, it's not perfect - but Halloween was never the Citizen Kane of horror.  It was the Halloween of horror - the thing made on the cheap* that simply works for what it is, has a terrific future-star at the middle holding the camera and selling her part like crazy, and the film understands how to get thrills as well as use an antagonist and shadows.  

In returning to Haddonfield (this time filmed in South Carolina), and with a budget from Universal under them, Halloween (2018) smartly keeps roughly the same scale, and the biggest change is not Michael, who we actually kind of see without his mask!, it's how Laurie Strode has lived since 1978, how that impacted her attempt to raise a child.  

A pair of British podcasters/ investigative journalists are digging into the Michael Meyers incident, and arrive as Michael is set for a move away from the premiere facility where he's been kept as a specimen for study (a curiosity as he hasn't spoken in decades).  A former protege of Loomis, Dr. Sartain, watches over Michael - finding him no less a fascinating subject all these years on.

Frankly - there are, once again, lots of parallels to Terminator 2.  Laurie wound up losing custody of her daughter due to the Michael Meyers Prepper lifestyle she insisted upon - but now that daughter is an adult (Judy Greer) with a child of her own (Andi Matichak).  Like Sarah Connor, Laurie Strode is now a big fan of proactive plans that involve many guns with real stopping power.  

I don't mind that the film spends the first portion sorting out the current state of Laurie's family - it remains within the concerns of the first film.  And, in introducing friends of the granddaughter gives us *some* context for what's going on.  As, of course, Michael escapes.  

Very quickly we're reminded of why Michael Meyers works as a villain/ The Shape.  He doesn't have any mechanism for maybe granting mercy.  He doesn't play with his victims.  He doesn't even torture them.  He just moves through spaces, killing everyone he passes by, if he can (I think we have one official escapee in this movie, and that kid deserves some kind of award.  He was great.).  But even behind the black eyes of the faceless mask, you can feel his fury and frustration with Laurie.   That's... kind of hard to do.

I guess it jettisons Halloween 2, which is fine, and all the clunky "Laurie Strode is actually Michael's sister" stuff that got tacked on.**   But that's just score keeping.  I'm not sure you actually have to have seen the original Halloween to get and like this movie.  Certainly can't hurt, but because the story is so simple, they explain it in a few lines.  

I don't know what I was expecting, but this was better than that.  It feels like a true sequel to the original, with marginally raised stakes, more mayhem (mostly off screen), and and a higher body count.  But all with a certain logic and continuity that makes sense.  

The horror of Michael Meyers remains firmly intact.  He is not without thought, but those thoughts aren't for you to know.  The mask is part of whatever he's doing, but not a requirement, we learn (and which makes sense).  The movie does add a twist in the form of Michael's enabler, but it's mostly just him - and the movie handles his work stunningly well.  Never lingering or making a show of it - following much of what Carpenter did, which is show us from a slightly askew angle what the victim is unaware of just before it happens.  

Laurie may not be Michael's sister, but the 40 years between meetings has made her just as ruthless in her own way, and she's done her thinking on him as much as he's done it on her, and that's the point - that's where we find the two.

If I have an overall criticism of the film - I always roll my eyes a bit at the "hoarding guns is cool" thing in movies when our protagonist does it (and certainly plays into the delusional hero fantasies of many an American).  The personal armory *does* seem like the likely scenario of a paranoiac in a place where guns are readily available.  It also means this movie ends with Michael Meyers having access to a wall of firearms, which somehow doesn't come up.  

It's possible the film could have dialed back some of Laurie's trauma.  Laurie could have had a different life while still preparing.  She didn't necessarily need to have spent every minute of 40 years preparing for the eventuality that a now 60 year old Michael Meyers would turn up and be a credible threat.  We're only seeing her now as the woman who is aware that this is the most vulnerable she's been since 1978, so maybe she did have a life going on in bits and spurts (she did mother Judy Greer somewhere along the way***).

It sure also seems like one of the first things cops might have done was send cops to Michael Meyers' old street to keep an eye out.  I'm not sure at all why that was left out as an idea.  

So, yeah, it has its issues, but... it is much better than Halloween 6.  At least it has some internal logic, and works very well as the modern catch-up to the character we once knew.

*I heard somewhere that Carpenter and Hill had a bag of "fall leaves" that they had to keep picking up after every sequence to re-use because they were filming in California and not in fall.  Imagine an Avengers film where they keep re-using leaves.

**some day I need to do a podcast discussing just the nature of sequels and the attempts to make things bigger often make things laden with tropes and unnecessary nonsense

***I admit, I was a tad confused how old everyone was supposed to be in this.  Curtis seems the right age, and biologically, the math works out, I guess?  But the Strode women must be having babies right out of high school for a teenaged grandaughter to be running around.  (Ie:  Greer was three years old when Halloween hit theaters in '78, so she must be playing someone 5 years younger than herself her, which is buyable).

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