Halloween review – a slasher classic you just can’t kill off | Film

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In his brilliant turn-of-the-century documentary The American Nightmare, Adam Simon located John Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween as the end point of a decade of countercultural horror movies. Starting with George Romero’s 1968 Night of the Living Dead, Simon unpicked the rebellious socio-political threads of films such as Last House on the Left, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Shivers before arriving at the more conservative inflections of Carpenter’s ruthlessly efficient modern morality tale.

A stylishly suspenseful thriller in which teenagers indulging in illicit sex and intoxication are stalked and slashed by a relentless killer, Halloween was a funhouse ride with a puritanical narrative edge. (“I didn’t mean to put an end to the sexual revolution,” Carpenter laughingly told Simon, “and for that I deeply apologise.”) Yet it also had a punky power that inspired a slew of titillating teen-terror slashers. Friday the 13th may have lifted its gory riffs from Mario Bava’s A Bay of Blood (just as Carpenter looked back to Bob Clark’s Black Christmas), but it was Halloween that paved the way for its blockbuster success.

A string of inferior sequels and reboots followed Carpenter’s low-budget hit, from Rick Rosenthal’s 1981 Halloween II (written by original screenwriters Carpenter and Debra Hill) to Rob Zombie’s dreary 2007 “reimagining” and its dispiriting follow-up. Now David Gordon Green, whose career has swerved from Terrence Malick-esque indie-hit George Washington to the stoner comedy of Pineapple Express and Your Highness, retreads familiar ground with added PTSD.

Like the 20th-anniversary outing Halloween H20, which effectively overrode instalments four to six (the superior Halloween III: Season of the Witch follows an entirely separate narrative), this latest incarnation effectively dumps the sequels and simply picks up 40 years after the events of the first film, with surprisingly sprightly results.

Former knife-wielding maniac Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney, with contributions from the original’s masked-madman Nick Castle) is now in a mental institution, serving his incarceration in silence. Meanwhile, survivor and “final-girl” archetype Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, terrific) is living in a remote home-cum-security-compound. Haunted by the murderous spectre of Myers (aka “the shape”), Laurie’s paranoia has taken its toll; she’s seen her marriages collapse, become estranged from her daughter, Karen (a sharply cast Judy Greer), who was taken away as a child, and now fears for the safety of her teenage granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). As Laurie tells the annoying podcasters who show up looking for a story: “I’m a basket case.” When Michael escapes during transfer to a maximum security prison (a nod to Halloween 4?), Laurie is hardly surprised. “He’s waited for me,” she says. “I’ve waited for him…”

Watch a trailer for Halloween.

Sharing writing credits with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, Green delivers a slickly packaged modern slasher that balances wry humour and knowing genre call-backs with moments of 18-rated gore and some efficiently executed showdowns. There are plenty of homages to the first film, from the signature floating shots that follow Michael’s killing spree to Carpenter’s insistent 5/4 semitonal score, revisited here by the maestro in collaboration with his son, Cody Carpenter, and godson Daniel Davies. But while the Shape’s iconic visage (originally a William Shatner/Captain Kirk mask) may have been elegantly aged and decomposed, the “pure evil” of Michael’s quasi-supernatural quest retains a quaintly unreconstructed retro feel.

What has changed is Curtis’s avenging angel, pitched somewhere between the reborn strength of a Terminator 2-era Sarah Connor (vests and shotguns to the fore) and the obsessive madness of Donald Pleasence’s now deceased psychiatrist Dr Loomis. While Haluk Bilginer’s Dr Sartain may be sarcastically dismissed by Laurie as “the new Loomis”, it’s Strode herself who actually wears that mantle. And, in the absence of Pleasence, she wears it well. “If the way I raised your mother means that she hates me but she’s prepared for the horrors of this world,” Laurie tells her granddaughter ominously, “I can live with that.”

Fans will enjoy the smart inversion of key scenes from the original, with cinematographer Michael Simmonds repeatedly framing Laurie and Michael as interchangeable mirror-images – hunter and hunted – intertwined. Whether or not the new Halloween is actually scary is a matter for debate; there’s nothing here as shocking as the opening act of Hereditary, or as original as Wes Craven’s New Nightmare, which brilliantly resurrected the long-moribund spectre of Freddy Krueger in 1994. Yet after four decades of diminishing returns, the fact that a guy in a mask can still take an entertaining stab at a somewhat jaded audience is oddly reassuring.

Source: The Guardian
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