But a few short years ago, a reinvigoration of the Halloween franchise seemed like one of those obviously awful mistakes Hollywood just can’t stop itself from making. After all, out of ten Halloween films, only one is excellent – John Carpenter’s lean, uncompromising original – only three are interesting – Halloween III, the unfairly maligned sequel that ditched its masked killer Michael Myers altogether, and Rob Zombie’s two sort-of remakes, strange, oversaturated films long-awaiting a critical reappraisal – and the rest are outright garbage.
Moreover, resetting the table seemed like a dangerous move. The series had already tried to reinvent itself, messily, at least four times, each go-over with ever diminishing results. And anyway, the history of late-in-the-game franchise restarts is not a happy one: how many recent horror remakes have managed to capture the initial power of the series they set out to bring back to life?
Watch the Halloween trailer here:
All of which makes the ensuing Halloween sorta-remake all that rarer a beast. Directed by David Gordon Green, starring Jamie Lee Curtis herself, and given the nod of approval by Carpenter, Halloween is a remarkable achievement: a thrilling, cathartic film in its own right, and the first obviously brilliant successor to Carpenter’s original vision.
The secret is Halloween’s simplicity. Rather than the muddled, backstory-saggy killer he became, Michael Myers has been returned here to his original form: a remorseless, unknowable force of evil. No longer the brother of Laurie Strode (Curtis, in the finest performance of her career) thanks to a nifty bit of retconning, Myers is an enigma once more – a remorseless, impassive figure who examines his frightened victims with all the detached curiosity of a taxidermist.
That also means that, for the first time in decades, Myers is genuinely terrifying again. An early kill that involves the sprinkling of bloody human teeth and a later one featuring a helpless teen goring themselves on the barbed tips of an iron gate are tied for the film’s grottiest moments, but, much like Carpenter’s original, this is no blood and guts-fest. Gordon Green understands that Halloween has always been about the gradual build-up of tension, not its messy release, and he films Myers as though he’s a shark moving through cold water, in long, sustained takes.
Watch another Halloween trailer here:
Not to confuse Halloween for one of the drier, more academic “elevated horror” films that critics are drawn to like catnip these days. No, Gordon Green and his co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley understand they have the room to be a little ridiculous now and then: some of the barked quips towards the film’s third act have all the gleeful cheesiness of action movie one liners, and there’s one gag that involves some ‘unique’ pumpkin carving that’s downright ludicrous. But these splashes of absurdism are carefully controlled – respite from the film’s tougher examination of grief, guilt and trauma.
As much as Myers has been changed, so too has Laurie. She’s steely, sure, as she was in the messy Halloween H20, but underneath all that John Wayne swagger lies a lifetime of hurt and pain. Myers has left her paranoid and twitchy: her house is decked out with an arsenal of weapons befitting a small militia, and even low-key family gatherings are disrupted by her penchant for lowering the mood.
This, then, is another of Gordon Green’s masterstrokes: he takes Laurie’s pain seriously. Myers has robbed her of so much: of her youth; of her family; of her romantic potential. And more than that, her grief has multiplied, affecting her resentful, torn daughter (Judy Greer, long overdue major film roles like this one), and cloaking even her granddaughter in a shroud of pain and confusion. None of the Strode women are free from the spectre of Michael Myers. And their struggle against him – an individual and collective one – is what elevates Halloween to a new realm of excellence entirely.
Myers has robbed Laurie of so much.
Against all odds, Halloween isn’t just a fresh new start for a franchise in desperate need of a facelift, although it is most certainly that. Halloween is a stunning achievement in its own right: a cathartic, trembling examination of guilt, and trauma, and the ways that we can, against all of the odds, make our way through the darkness, and back towards the light.