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

He’s so persistent! He always gets his man.

Speed (1994) (SPOILERS) It must have been a couple of decades since I last viewed Speed all the way through, so it’s pleasing to confirm that it holds up. Sure, Jan de Bont’s debut as a director can’t compete with the work of John McTiernan, for whom he acted as cinematographer and who recommended de Bont when he passed on the picture, but he nevertheless does a more than competent work. Which makes his later turkeys all the more tragic. And Keanu and Sandra Bullock display the kind of effortless chemistry you can’t put a price tag on. And then there’s Dennis Hopper, having a great old sober-but-still-looning time.

How would Horatio Alger have handled this situation?

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998) (SPOILERS) Gilliam’s last great movie – The Zero Theorem (2013) is definitely underrated, but I don’t think it’s that underrated – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas could easily have been too much. At times it is, but in such instances, intentionally so. The combination of a visual stylist and Hunter S Thompson’s embellished, propulsive turn of phrase turns out, for the most part, to be a cosmically aligned affair, embracing the anarchic abandon of Raoul Duke and Doctor Gonzo’s Las Vegas debauch while contriving to pull back at crucial junctures in order to engender a perspective on all this hedonism. Would Alex Cox, who exited stage left, making way for the Python, have produced something interesting? I suspect, ironically, he would have diluted Thompson in favour of whatever commentary preoccupied him at the time (indeed, Johnny Depp said as much: “ Cox had this great material to work with and he took it and he added his own stuff to it ”). Plus

But everything is wonderful. We are in Paris.

Cold War (2018) (SPOILERS) Pawel Pawlikowski’s elliptical tale – you can’t discuss Cold War without saying “elliptical” at least once – of frustrated love charts a course that almost seems to be a caricature of a certain brand of self-congratulatorily tragic European cinema. It was, it seems “ loosely inspired ” by his parents (I suspect I see where the looseness comes in), but there’s a sense of calculation to the progression of this love story against an inescapable political backdrop that rather diminishes it.

To survive a war, you gotta become war.

Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985) (SPOILERS?) I’d like to say it’s mystifying that a film so bereft of merit as Rambo: First Blood Part II could have finished up the second biggest hit of 1985. It wouldn’t be as bad if it was, at minimum, a solid action movie, rather than an interminable bore. But the movie struck a chord somewhere, somehow. As much as the most successful picture of that year, Back to the Future , could be seen to suggest moviegoers do actually have really good taste, Rambo rather sends a message about how extensively regressive themes were embedding themselves in Reaganite, conservative ‘80s cinema (to be fair, this is something one can also read into Back to the Future ), be those ones of ill-conceived nostalgia or simple-minded jingoism, notional superiority and might. The difference between Stallone and Arnie movies starts right here; self-awareness. Audiences may have watched R ambo in the same way they would a Schwarzenegger picture, but I’m

You were a few blocks away? What’d you see it with, a telescope?

The Eyes of Laura Mars (1978) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s first serial-killer screenplay to get made, The Eyes of Laura Mars came out nearly three months before Halloween. You know, the movie that made the director’s name. And then some. He wasn’t best pleased with the results of The Eyes of Laura Mars, which ended up co-credited to David Zelag Goodman ( Straw Dogs , Logan’s Run ) as part of an attempt by producer Jon Peters to manufacture a star vehicle for then-belle Barbra Streisand: “ The original script was very good, I thought. But it got shat upon ”. Which isn’t sour grapes on Carpenter’s part. The finished movie bears ready evidence of such tampering, not least in the reveal of the killer (different in Carpenter’s conception). Its best features are the so-uncleanly-you-can-taste-it 70s New York milieu and the guest cast, but even as an early example of the sub-genre, it’s burdened by all the failings inherit with this kind of fare.

No matter how innocent you are, or how hard you try, they’ll find you guilty.

The Wrong Man (1956) (SPOILERS) I hate to say it, but old Truffaut called it right on this one. More often than not showing obeisance to the might of Hitchcock during his career-spanning interview, the French critic turned director was surprisingly blunt when it came to The Wrong Man . He told Hitch “ your style, which has found its perfection in the fiction area, happens to be in total conflict with the aesthetics of the documentary and that contradiction is apparent throughout the picture ”. There’s also another, connected issue with this, one Hitch acknowledged: too much fidelity to the true story upon which the film is based.

The game is rigged, and it does not reward people who play by the rules.

Hustlers (2019) (SPOILERS) Sold as a female Goodfellas – to the extent that the producers had Scorsese in mind – this strippers-and-crime tale is actually a big, glossy puff piece, closer to Todd Phillips as fashioned by Lorene Scarfia. There are some attractive performances in Hustlers, notably from Constance Wu, but for all its “progressive” women work male objectification to their advantage posturing, it’s incredibly traditional and conservative deep down.

You don’t know anything about this man, and he knows everything about you.

The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956) (SPOILERS) Hitchcock’s two-decades-later remake of his British original. It’s undoubtedly the better-known version, but as I noted in my review of the 1934 film, it is very far from the “ far superior ” production Truffaut tried to sell the director on during their interviews. Hitchcock would only be drawn – in typically quotable style – that “ the first version is the work of a talented amateur and the second was made by a professional ”. For which, read a young, creatively fired director versus one clinically going through the motions, occasionally inspired by a shot or sequence but mostly lacking the will or drive that made the first The Man Who Knew Too Much such a pleasure from beginning to end.

I don't like the way Teddy Roosevelt is looking at me.

North by Northwest (1959) (SPOILERS) North by Northwest gets a lot of attention as a progenitor of the Bond formula, but that’s giving it far too little credit. Really, it’s the first modern blockbuster, paving the way for hundreds of slipshod, loosely plotted action movies built around set pieces rather than expertly devised narratives. That it delivers, and delivers so effortlessly, is a testament to Hitchcock, to writer Ernest Lehmann, and to a cast who make the entire implausible exercise such a delight.

What do they do, sing madrigals?

The Singing Detective (2003) Icon’s remake of the 1986 BBC serial, from a screenplay by Dennis Potter himself. The Singing Detective fares less well than Icon’s later adaptation of Edge of Darkness , even though it’s probably more faithful to Potter’s original. Perhaps the fault lies in the compression of six episodes into a feature running a quarter of that time, but the noir fantasy and childhood flashbacks fail to engage, and if the hospital reality scans better, it too suffers eventually.