The legacy of the Halloween franchise has reached proportions almost as mythic as its antagonist Michael Meyers himself. The original film, which turns 40 this year, by all intents and purposes defined the next few decades of slasher films and spawned a muddied legacy of sequels, knockoffs, and parodies. And yet, that original film remains sacred in the horror community, with the understanding that a reboot would need to overcome absurd odds to be respected as much as its predecessor. And to be honest? They nearly pulled it off.
When writing this new Halloween film, Danny McBride and David Gordon Green made a decision that could prove controversial, but definitely worked out in their favor. Rather than trying to work in a confusing and frustrating canon that results from four decades of increasingly ridiculous sequels, they decided to throw all of that out, and instead just make a direct sequel to the 1978 film. It’s been forty years and Jamie Lee Curtis’ classic scream queen Laurie Strode has lived in the shadow of what happened to her that Halloween night. Her PTSD has manifested in agoraphobia, paranoia, and, most importantly, an unrelenting desire to kill Michael Meyers, the serial killer who murdered her friends and terrorized her community. She gets that chance when Michael Meyers escapes from prison the same night that her granddaughter is attending the Halloween dance. This setup is very intelligent and lends to a wild film that is simultaneously frightening and intense while still having the blockbuster fun quality that gives the longtime fans the moments they crave.
David Gordon Green is a director who really likes to try anything. He’s made a whole slew of films over the years, most of which have been pretty good, crossing several different genres. This is his first dip into horror, which might not be what you want for a veteran franchise such as this, but he accomplishes some decent scares. He achieves a grand sense of tension that is usually lacking from sequels this far down the line in iconic horror franchises. There’s a great sequence with some automatic lights and the film’s climax is terrific but other than that most of the scares are kind of face value and not especially inventive. Jamie Lee Curtis really gives this performance her all, which is powerful to see, considering this is the role that gave her her career. She delivers some stellar pathos and is given the opportunity to be the, for lack of a better word, badass we all want her to be. Judy Greer is great, as always, and helps bridge the gap between Curtis and her granddaughter, who is played terrifically by newcomer Andi Matichak in a role that will hopefully be as star-making as it was for Jamie.
Halloween had another hurdle beyond just living up to its predecessor. Horror movies are different now. This decade has paved the way for some incredible films that have redefined the genre. Films like The VVitch, Annihilation, or Hereditary have proved once and for all that horror can be art. It can have powerful messages about human nature or serve as vessels for inventive political allegories. But, upon watching this new film, I was reminded of something I had forgotten. Horror doesn’t have to be art. It can just be fun. We need slashers. They have an iconic legacy in Hollywood that has amounted to some truly memorable times at the movie theater for multiple generations. There’s something almost gleeful about watching a film with characters in it you know are only introduced to be brutally murdered a few scenes later. You want to see what kind of inventive ways the filmmakers have of dismembering some teenagers. It’s a popcorn film, the kind you watch at a slumber party when you’re just a little too young. We have John Carpenter and Wes Craven to thank for this genre, but we need more young talents to invent some new icons to enchant us in the way Michael or Freddy did. All I’m saying is if we get less Insidious films and more Halloweens, I will be a happy man.