Thoughts on the 2018 Halloween

I’m a feverish John Carpenter fan, and I’ve spent the last two years going through his filmography at Black Gate. But I am not a Halloween fan—the Halloween franchise, that is. I love Carpenter’s 1978 Halloween, although it wouldn’t make my top five of his films. (Serious competition at the peak of that pyramid.) I don’t have much interest or patience for the many sequels/reboots/remakes done over the past four decades. Except for Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the one sequel without the iconic masked killer. That movie is so weird and baffling, yet also so infused with the spirit of the holiday (more so than the original), that it has a special place in the season for me. It’s by no means good, but Carpenter was still involved and it’s not just another slasher.

Despite my apathy for the Halloween franchise, I was looking forward to Halloween ’18, the third movie to just call itself Halloween and yet another timeline reboot. Like Halloween H20, the twentieth-anniversary installment, this fortieth-anniversary installment is poised as a direct sequel to the earliest films. However, Halloween ’18 goes H20 one better, since it also ignores Halloween II (1981), the movie that started the trend of over-complicating the franchise and its main figure, the masked killer known as “The Shape.” (Or, boringly, Michael Myers. I’m not calling him that. He’s always the Shape to me.)

To create a continuing franchise from this property meant inventing justifications for why the Shape keeps running around trying to kill Laurie Strode or her family—or anyone, really. Halloween II made the Shape into Laurie’s brother. Then all this druidic crackpottery happened as the series progressed to the confused sixth movie. It got so out of control that H20 jettisoned it all—but still kept Laurie as the Shape’s sister. Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake and its 2009 sequel, also confusingly titled Halloween II, started the series over, but decided to provide the Shape with psychological motivation and background that undermined what made the killer scary in the first place: he’s motivationless evil rising from suburbia sans explanation. The Shape isn’t a character, he’s a plot device, like the shark from Jaws.

Seeing the Shape returned to the most basic iteration, with the sororal angle finally tossed out, was what interested me most about Halloween ’18 when it was announced. There was also a strong cast and creative team in place, folks who seemed likely to aim to deliver a quality product rather than just a product. Carpenter was even coming back to do the music and executive produce. So that was all nice.

And how is it? It’s … pretty good. It’s a Halloween movie. A good version of one, arguably the best of the sequels. It isn’t a spectacular re-imagining or a groundbreaking new chapter in horror. It’s not Get Out, or Hereditary, or The Witch. We got a quality old-school slasher flick with strong performances and a crowd-pleasing attitude. I don’t need more than that, but then I’m also not a franchise fan.

The Shape is as he should be, essentially a mobile knife. This is the best the killer has worked since he stabbed his first victims in ’78. We have characters like two British podcasters and a psychiatrist who has taken over the Loomis role who want to delve into what drives the Shape to murder. But Laurie Strode (Jamie Leigh Curtis, being awesome) lays it out: he’s a madman who kills and kills and kills. Don’t try to explain it, just destroy it. A recording of the deceased Dr. Loomis argues for execution and then incineration of the corpse. This is a movie monster, not a complex figure like Norman Bates. Find a way to escape it or kill it.

The best sequence in the film is when director David Gordon Green lets the camera follow the Shape once he’s free on the streets of Haddonfield in the middle of the stream of Halloween trick-or-treaters. He moves unnoticed (just somebody else wearing a mask) in and out of homes, picking up improvised weapons and murdering people he comes across. The long tracking shot, which might be composed of separate shots and digitally stitched together, homages the famous opening of Halloween ’78, but it’s also a strong statement of the inscrutable evil of the Shape. He doesn’t care who he kills; there’s no target. He just wants to murder whomever, and in the bluntest and most efficient manner possible. No weapon? Just slam a poor bastard’s head against the wall repeatedly. Or choke. Choking works.

The film still needs Laurie Strode around, and trying to juggle in why she and her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) become targets of the Shape when there’s no reason for it requires some story stretching. Moving the Shape around to ensure he targets the characters audiences care about does require various plot sleight-of-hand, but the movie is slick and well-made enough to keep manipulation from turning too obtrusive. There’s a major plot surprise going into the final third that at first looks like it may re-contextualize the entire movie. Instead, it’s a quick trick to push the film along into the finale so it can remain standard Halloween fare, only with a Sarah Connor-ized version of Laurie Strode going up against the Shape in trap-laden house. So again, Halloween ’18 isn’t shaking things up too much; it wants the core audience to experience some of the old thrills.

Jamie Leigh Curtis will receive most of the attention for her performance, and she deserves it. Her elderly Laurie is convincingly a survivor of trauma who’s reacted in an understandable way. But Judy Greer as her daughter, now realizing the mother she thought was nuts for most of her life may have been on to something, is the big surprise. Greer is an excellent actress, but she’s often sidelined in blockbuster movies as “The Mom” or “The Ex-Wife” (Jurassic World and Ant-Man). She’s mom-ing it up again, but this time with the opportunity to use a few different tools in her acting arsenal. And she uses them: Greer is sensational during the finale and has one of the best cheer moments.

Halloween ’18 will make huge amounts of money, and a weekend haul of more than $70 million is likely based on the last night’s late screenings. (My audience was full, and even though I live in a sedate suburban neighborhood, the crowd vocally enjoyed the show.) This means there will certainly be more Halloween films. Which is too bad, because Halloween ’18 feels like it’s the end. The premise can’t be stretched further—they already did that—and now we’re at a point where filmmakers can put down the knife and the Shatner mask and proclaim, “That’s all we need to say.”