Skip to main content

Wasn't it her brother who murdered all those babysitters?

Halloween
(2018)

(SPOILERS) Proof that you can keep going back to the same crumbling well and there'll still be a ready and willing (nostalgic) audience to lap up the results, at least for the first weekend. The critics seemed to like this sequel to the first movie, though, which expressly wipes out Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later – which also retconned out of existence everything aside from the first two movies. Mind you, the makers would do that, since both cover similar ground, while this Halloween ends up not being noticeably all that superior.


H20 took a slicker approach, perhaps, riding the crest of the Scream wave (Kevin Williamson wrote the story). It gave Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode some degree of autonomy, in that while she’s also trauma survivor, she’s a functioning one with a successful career (her faked death and change of name deriving from initial plans to count the earlier sequels as canon). In contrast, this Laurie has become estranged from her family and barely functions outside of her survivalist basement and fortress home. You might argue turning her into an embattled Sarah Conner-in-T2 type is a smart move that takes her away from simply being someone who needs to run away from Michael Myers again forty years later. But that only works if the picture carries an abiding intelligence, if it actually wants to treat the idea seriously. Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride and David Gordon Green's screenplay only does half the time, which rather leaves one with the feeling that they’ve resurrected her for the second time to little real avail or catharsis (such that I wouldn’t be so surprised if she gets offed in the opening act of the next one too, like clockwork).


There are moments were there that more mature movie is trying to get out. The reaction of daughter Karen (the always great Judy Greer) to her telegraphs this in particular. And if Laurie's inability to function at a meal attended by granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) and her boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold) is curiously truncated, Curtis manages to get across the necessary emotions. But you can't have it both ways. Laurie can't be both psychologically fractured and a kick-ass who knows how to deal with the bogeyman. And the way the picture treats her, she's whatever they needed Laurie to be at a given moment. 


She storms into her daughter's house waving a gun and warns her and hubby Toby Huss that the bus has crashed… and then leaves without even telling them Michael was on board and that's why they should be worried. The movie wants to be a "smart" slasher but repeatedly reverts to standard-issue, stupid-characters-doing-stupid-things slasher tropes. You could say that's homage, but it quickly becomes irritating and exasperating. As far as I could tell, Karen has never told her husband or daughter that she was trained to shoot guns by her mother and prepare for Michael's second coming, even though they know all about Michael… because the script requires it at that point. There's certainly no logical reason she wouldn't have, if she is as knowledgeable of her mother's psychological condition and the need for emotional development as she suggests; her "Gotcha" when she shoots Michael is satisfying, but doesn't seem motivated given what we've seen previously. 

 
The selection of teens ripe for offing was duly dissected twenty years back in the Screams, so setting up a new selection played straight but without the nuance to support them just tries the patience. There are odd choices here, such as how Cameron, despite being a complete shit, does not get offed for his behaviour; instead his beta-buddy Oscar (Drew Scheid) is dispatched for being a dweeby loser who comes on to Allyson. And there are daft moments like Myers not even bothering with Allyson when she escapes the police car, unless it’s because she's dressed as Clyde and it confuses Michael's gender priorities. Generally, there's nothing in these scenes to distinguish them from any other teen slasher movie, and they tend to drag on.


One might argue Jefferson Hall as an English "true-crime podcaster", is overplaying in the spirit of Donald Pleasance's inimitable ham as he pulls out Myers' mask and tries to get a rise out of him ("Say something!"), but it feels ridiculously hyperbolic (and somehow, that open courtyard was much more impressive/oppressive in the trailer). The same approach resurfaces more successfully later when Doctor Sartain (Haluk Bilginer, having a lot of fun; he knows what movie he's in, it just isn't the same one the Strode family are in) suddenly decides to stab Deputy Sheriff Will Patton (sadly wasted) in the throat to prevent him finishing off Michael, and then puts on the Shatner mask himself. It's a batshit crazy turn of events, and I was almost on board with it… but of course, he's then offed a few minutes later. I’d note too that the movie feels long at 105 minutes; there's a less-is-more with these genre entries, and unless you really have a story to tell, you end up with a whole lot of padding.


The picture is, after all, a great deal of set up just to get us to Laurie's reinforced basement (somehow, that high-walled fence and gate surrounding her house doesn’t seem to be operating later), and during these scenes any semblance of conviction that Laurie knows what she is doing rapidly deserts us, She's been getting herself ready for forty years and then shows she's pretty clueless when it comes down to it; it's almost worthy of a comedy sketch; someone will doubtless do an edit of all the ways she screws up when Michael comes visiting, not to mention that it's debatable he'd have end up there if not for her impressing herself on the scenario (he didn't seem especially into unfinished business with her, particularly since she's no longer his sister). It was apparently her plan to get him into the basement all along… which is why she randomly shoots holes at him through the kitchen floor above? What if Michael had methodically taken up the floorboards? There are so many ways her plan leaks like a sieve, it's farcical. I'm not really sure about burning him either. Maybe flooding the basement with acid? That way you could wait around and be sure nothing was left. 


Green does a decent enough job with the direction, but there's nothing very iconic here. They may as well have brought back Steve Miner. His best moment is repeating Carpenter's vanishing body trick, but from the antagonist's perspective. He also delivers a suitably queasy, "He wouldn’t, would he?" as Michael idles by a crib with a crying babe in it that ranks as the movie's sickest joke (although, AvP: Requiem went there, so it isn't beyond the bounds of the mainstream). Notably, Green gives us a whole lot of bloodiness, including a particularly hilarious/risible head stomping (imagine a pulverised pumpkin – Sartain’s skull must have been paper thin), seeming oblivious to how restrained Carpenter's picture was on that score.


I’ll readily admit I don’t love the 1978 Halloween; I enjoy Pleasance lurking around in the bushes scaring people, and it does what it does effectively enough, a relentless, minimalist affair that succeeds largely on the basis of that Panaglide camerawork and Carpenter's insistent score. This is just too choppy to really flow or engage, however. And the Shape in that movie is a force; here, despite the intent to renege on Rob Zombie's white trash iteration, there's too much flirtation with showing him as an old guy. We may not see him directly, but there are far too many shots of his face as a reminder he is just a human (and is now the kind of monster who extracts teeth and then taunts his next victim with them? I suppose he's known for pulling the odd elaborate sheet trick).


I found myself continually wishing Halloween would make a detour into something more interesting, even if it was just giving us a flashback to how exactly Michael broke out of the bus, and that was down to Sartain (I’ve seen it suggested Laurie might have caused the crash, which would have been a great twist). There were, scarcely conceivably, eighty drafts of the screenplay, and you have to wonder, this is the best you could come up with?


It's nice to see Curtis as an ostensible lead again, but Green et al have failed to justify this retcon; when it's silly, it isn't sufficiently fun with it – they show a clip of Repo Man at one point, which just reminds you how much fun you could be having – and when it's serious, it doesn't have the brains to take the series to a place that warrants expunging its prior history. Carpenter's still got it when it comes to doing the score, though. For the sequel – McBride and Green initially intended to pitch two films to be shot back-to-back – they should definitely bring back babysat kid Julian (Jibrail Nantambu), who gets all the best lines and is easily the most believable character. What the series really needs is for Busta Rhymes to be retconned back into the proceedings, though.


Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

I'm reliable, I'm a very good listener, and I'm extremely funny.

Terminator: Dark Fate (2019)
(SPOILERS) When I wrote my 23 to see in 2019, I speculated that James Cameron might be purposefully giving his hand-me-downs to lesser talents because he hubristically didn’t want anyone making a movie that was within a spit of the proficiency we’ve come to expect from him. Certainly, Robert Rodriguez and Tim Miller are leagues beneath Kathryn Bigelow, Jimbo’s former spouse and director of his Strange Days screenplay. Miller’s no slouch when it comes to action – which is what these movies are all about, let’s face it – but neither is he a craftsman, so all those reviews attesting that Terminator: Dark Fate is the best in the franchise since Terminator 2: Judgment Day may be right, but there’s a considerable gulf between the first sequel (which I’m not that big a fan of) and this retcon sequel to that sequel.

This is very cruel, Oskar. You're giving them hope. You shouldn't do that.

Schindler’s List (1993)
(SPOILERS) Such is the status of Schindler’s List, it all but defies criticism; it’s the worthiest of all the many worthy Best Picture Oscar winners, a film noble of purpose and sensitive in the treatment and depiction of the Holocaust as the backdrop to one man’s redemption. There is much to admire in Steven Spielberg’s film. But it is still a Steven Spielberg film. From a director whose driving impulse is the manufacture of popcorn entertainments, not intellectual introspection. Which means it’s a film that, for all its commendable features, is made to manipulate its audience in the manner of any of his “lesser” genre offerings. One’s mileage doubtless varies on this, but for me there are times during this, his crowning achievement, where the berg gets in the way of telling the most respectful version of this story by simple dint of being the berg. But then, to a great or lesser extent, this is true of almost all, if not all, his prestige pictures.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

This dog is my Patty Hearst.

Seven Psychopaths (2012)
Martin McDonagh’s In Bruges is one of my favourite films of the past decade, hilarious and profound in equal measure. His follow-up may lack Bruges’ emotional through line, and thus its resonance, but in its own way Seven Psychopaths is just as perfectly formed.

We’re Americans. We read your emails.

Domino (2019)
(SPOILERS) Brian De Palma essentially appears to have disowned his unhappy latest motion picture experience (“I never experienced such a horrible movie set”). He opined that he came in on a script that wasn’t of his own devising (by Petter Skavlan of Kon-Tiki) and did his failing best to apply his unique vision to it. And you can see that vision, occasionally, but more than that you can see unaccustomed cheapness and lacklustre material that likely wouldn’t play no matter how much cash was thrown at it.

There’s nothing stock about a stock car.

Days of Thunder (1990)
(SPOILERS) The summer of 1990 was beset with box office underperformers. Sure-thing sequels – Another 48Hrs, Robocop 2, Gremlins 2: The New Batch, The Exorcist III, even Back to the Future Part III – either belly flopped or failed to hit the hoped for highs, while franchise hopefuls – Dick Tracy, Arachnophobia – most certainly did not ascend to the stratospheric levels of the previous year’s Batman. Even the big hitters, Total Recall and Die Hard 2: Die Harder, were somewhat offset by costing a fortune in the first place. Price-tag-wise, Days of Thunder, a thematic sequel to the phenomenon that was Top Gun, was in their category. Business-wise, it was definitely in the former. Tom Cruise didn’t quite suffer his first misfire since Legend – he’d made charmed choices ever since playing Maverick – but it was a close-run thing.

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

My dear, sweet brother Numsie!

The Golden Child (1986)
Post-Beverly Hills Cop, Eddie Murphy could have filmed himself washing the dishes and it would have been a huge hit. Which might not have been a bad idea, since he chose to make this misconceived stinker.