In 2013, John Carpenter’s Halloween received a 35th anniversary blu-ray release. The accompanying booklet credited the following line of dialogue to Jamie Lee Curtis’s babysitting heroine Laurie Strode: “Was it the boogeyman?” Of course, that’s a misquote. In the scene in question, Laurie admits to herself that “It WAS the boogeyman,” to which Donald Pleasence’s Doctor Loomis solemnly replies, “As a matter of fact, it was.”
As a matter of fact. With Michael Myers, the film’s masked killer, escaping - after being stabbed by knitting needles, coat hangers and his own favored butcher knife, before being shot six times and plummeting over a second floor balcony - we’re left in no doubt that Myers is a supernatural force. And as Tommy Doyle, the young boy in Laurie’s charge on that evening, warns his babysitter, “You can’t kill the boogeyman.”
Carpenter’s film is the story of a very intelligent, smart (“Boys think I’m too smart”) and well educated young woman whose belief in logic and reason is shattered by an encounter with the supernatural. By the end of the movie, Laurie Strode has come to believe that the boogeyman exists, and that he can’t be stopped, at least not by any rational means. It made sense in the 1998 sequel Halloween: H20 then that Laurie would get as far away as possible from Haddonfield, Illinois, the scene of Michael’s rampage. It’s not so easy to swallow the version of Laurie Strode presented in director David Gordon Green’s new sequel, rather annoyingly titled Halloween. Not only has Laurie remained in Haddonfield, which is just down the road from Smith’s Grove, the psychiatric institute that continues to house Michael Myers, but she’s also become a gun nut. Doesn’t she remember how Michael survived those six bullets, fired at point blank from Loomis’s pistol?
Green and his co-screenwriters Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley have taken the choice to wipe the franchise slate clean, ignoring all previous sequels to the 1978 film. The main impact of this decision is that Laurie and Michael are no longer siblings, a revelation made in the film’s first 1981 sequel. Yet everything about this sequel suggests that there’s a relationship between Laurie and Michael beyond stalker and victim. In the original, Michael chose Laurie as his victim simply because her teenage female form triggered memories of the sister he murdered in 1963. With no familial bond, it seems odd that Michael would be so obsessed with returning to murder a now fifty-something Laurie, rather than picking another random teenager who vaguely resembles his sister.
“Was it the boogeyman?” is the question this Halloween retroactively poses through its failure to take a stance on the natural or supernatural make up of its knife-wielding antagonist. We learn that Michael was captured on the night of his killing spree, but the film never fills in the blanks regarding what happened to Michael in the immediate aftermath of falling from that balcony and vanishing. Did he simply stagger around the corner and collapse, with doctors saving his life by extracting those six bullets? Or was he found strolling around nonchalantly, oblivious to his wounds? If it’s the latter, how was he subdued and taken into captivity? Or perhaps he froze, like the little boy in the clown costume who murdered his sister in 1963, taken into custody in a somnambulistic trance.
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One of the film’s disposable teenagers poses the question of why Michael is still such a big deal when mass killings are now a daily occurrence in America. Nobody gives him the obvious answer, that Michael survived bullets and blades and appears to be more than a mortal man. Does this Halloween want us to now believe Michael is no more than a mortal man? Yes and no. This film’s version of Michael often has more in common with Leatherface, the antagonist of Tobe Hooper’s The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (a film Green pays homage to in explicit fashion with his closing shot) than with “The Shape,” a beast whose defining feature is his brute strength rather than any supernatural immortality. Yet when we meet Michael first, the film suggests he possesses a sixth sense, aware that an investigating podcaster is holding the William Shatner mask he donned that fateful night behind him, without having to turn around. At other points, the film hints that the mask itself may possess some sort of power drawing both Michael and another (frankly nonsensical) supporting character to it, which is odd considering it was picked randomly from the Haddonfield hardware store Michael broke into on his original escape from Smith’s Grove.
Whether Michael is an unstoppable force or simply a man who can be taken down if you have a big enough gun is a question Green’s film wrestles with until it delivers an answer in the most uninspired fashion with a climax at Laurie’s trap-laden home that would be more at home in a Nightmare on Elm Street movie.
Green, who has spent his career in a back-and-forth between indie dramas and mainstream studio comedies, seemed an odd choice to helm a Halloween sequel, but he had been linked for years with a Suspiria remake, so he clearly has an affection for the horror genre. On the evidence of Halloween, he doesn’t however possess an understanding of what makes a horror movie, and particularly a slasher movie, work. There’s none of the slow-burning sense of dread of Carpenter’s film, and Green never creates any sequences that come close to replicating the existential terror of the final reel of Carpenter’s classic. Visually, his film has more in common with Halloweens 5 and 6, two of the worst installments of the franchise, than with the ‘78 film, with murky cinematography, an ugly handheld aesthetic and rapid cutting in the film’s more dramatic moments that makes it difficult to grasp the dynamics of what you’re watching. One of the reason’s Carpenter’s film is so terrifying is because he uses not only the vastness of the widescreen format, but by having Michael regularly appear from behind the camera, he creates an intense paranoia in the audience regarding the terror that lurks offscreen, almost as if Michael is behind the viewer. There’s nothing approaching such ingenious filmmaking on display here, with Green failing to even exploit scenarios that are teed up for a filmmaker to knock out of the park, such as a room full of mannequins and a garden equipped with a motion sensor lamp - just think what Carpenter would have done with such situations!
It’s unfair to compare a filmmaker to someone as uniquely talented as Carpenter of course, but lesser filmmakers have managed to mine substantial thrills from this scenario. The much maligned Rick Rosenthal brilliantly used the geography of Halloween II’s hospital setting, suggesting Michael might be lurking around the next corridor. In Halloween 4 and H20, Dwight H. Little and Steve Miner moved away from brooding atmosphere, but were largely successful in taking the franchise down a more manic route. Visit YouTube and you’ll find dozens of fan-made Halloween spinoffs that may be rough around the edges yet regularly suggest that the filmmakers behind them have studied what made Carpenter’s film work. Green’s film is completely devoid of anything resembling suspense, and it barely rustles up any shocks. Carpenter returns to provide this sequel with its score, but you can sense he’s uncomfortable with Green’s rhythms, and by the climax it’s descended into a cacophony of guitar riffs, a far cry from the moody, simple piano of his own film.
Aside from a clever riff on the original film’s title sequence, the best moment in this Halloween is an encounter in a restaurant between a wine-swilling Laurie, her estranged daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and her keen to connect granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). The human dynamic among the three women reminds us that this sort of intimate character interplay is what Green does best, but after that scene the film can’t find anything interesting to do with these three generations of Strode women, essentially turning a final girl into three final girls, and diluting the impact of all three in the process.
There’s a moment in which Laurie is approached by a pair of podcasters in search of an interview. She denies them access to her fortified compound until they offer her a sizable wad of cash. It feels like a cheeky meta-commentary on Curtis’s relationship with the franchise, and probably isn’t too far from the reality of how Green got the actress on board. For a long time it seemed we would be getting a Halloween movie that didn’t feature Laurie Strode, and in hindsight, the result would probably have been a more interesting movie, forcing Green and company to come with something a little more clever than simply having Michael make another Haddonfield homecoming. Whether Curtis will stay onboard remains to be seen, but we’ll no doubt get more sequels. After all, you can’t kill the boogeyman.
2 stars out of 5
Directed by: David Gordon Green; Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle, Haluk Bilginer, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner