When I heard there was to be a new Halloween movie, I was giddy with excitement. The original movie is, of course, both a classic and a masterpiece. There aren’t a great many horror movies that can lay claim to both accolades. Friday the 13th is a classic, but with the benefit of nearly 40 years of hindsight, it has ended up seeming decidedly average. Much like the Friday the 13th franchise (and the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise), John Carpenter’s Halloween was followed by a slew of gravely average sequels. The uncharitable might even observe that they actually got progressively worse as the series lumbered on. Certainly, none of them are classics or masterpieces. But the very first Halloween, with its simplistic 10/8 piano score and heavy use of foreground, is just that: unquestionably a masterpiece.
Watching Halloween (2018) was, therefore, quite a puzzling experience. Set four decades after the events of the original – all previous sequels should now be erased from your memory, if they hadn’t been already – we return to Haddonfield just in time for Hallowe’en. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, in fine form) continues to suffer PTSD caused by the events in 1978, and now lives in a fortress replete with armoury, shooting range and panic room. She has spent the intervening decades preparing for the return of Michael Myers (not the retconned Hallowe’en IV), and while her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), barely tolerates this enduring paranoia, Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), is a little more sympathetic. But, of course, nobody takes Laurie seriously until the body count begins to rise. And boy, does it rise.
Much of the first half of the movie is a do-over of the original, with Myers escaping from prison and carving a path through anyone who stands in his way. There was a strange moment where Myers upgrades (in true video game style) from one knife to another, and I actually found myself silently cheering. I suspect this was not what the filmmakers had in mind. But in truth, James Jude Courtney’s stiff, lumbering portrayal of Myers is the real highlight here. Oh, how Maniac Cop owes a debt to Michael Myers. I think it must be the same psychology that’s behind the constant reintroduction of Daleks in Doctor Who – it’s a familiar villain that we’re comfortable being afraid of. When Myers slips back into that mask and cocks his head to one side, that’s when it’s truly a Halloween movie. Like the moment when the fortunes of hitherto downtrodden heroes are changed and suddenly the seemingly victorious villain realises their victory is actually far from sealed, Myers donning his mask was the point at which the atmosphere in the cinema changed. It finally felt like a Halloween movie. For a bit.
Interestingly, during the third act, I was distracted from the events on the screen by the sudden musing of how Myers was credited as “The Shape” in the original movie. I pondered whether this was done because, with all the humanity drained from him, it would have been improper to credit Michael Myers. Michael Myers no longer existed. Michael Myers probably didn’t appear on screen at all. When the movie started, and we watched through the eye holes of a clown mask as Judith Myers got murdered, young Michael was already gone. In the words of Loomis, there was nothing left. It made me shiver a little. It made me shiver more than anything I saw in Halloween (2018). And really, that sums up how I feel about this movie. There’s simply none of the artistry or attention to detail that rendered the original such a masterpiece, and I was frequently distracted from this movie by thoughts of how much better the original is.
**Spoiler alert** For example, there’s a scene in which Laurie’s granddaughter, Allyson, is trapped in a police car and has to flee from Myers. Further down the road is another police car and, just beyond it, Laurie’s fortified house. We see each police car from the vantage point of the other. The road is pretty well lit. Not taking into account the speed boost afforded to Allyson by the adrenaline that must have been burning through her in that moment, I reckon she was a 30-second dash from Laurie’s house. At best. What does Allyson do? She runs off into the woods. The pitch-black woods. But that isn’t what bothered me the most. What really bothered me was that Allyson stumbles across the mannequins Laurie uses for target practice…freaks out…and then…just sort of finds her way to the house. And that’s it. No shambling pursuit through the blackness of the trees, choked by sheer claustrophobia, where the only light is the occasional glint as the moonlight catches Myers’s knife. Nothing. She runs into the woods…and then runs back out a bit later.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a terrible film. The first act is great, and there is much to enjoy here. But so many of the best scenes are spoiled in the trailer, in the end I was left feeling strangely empty. It’s like returning to eat at a restaurant where the food isn’t quite as good as you remember. I was waiting for other great scenes – but they didn’t come. The opening titles, the return of Jamie Lee Curtis, the magnificent Carpenter score…there was just so much potential. So much promise. But, for me, the promise wasn’t kept. Halloween (2018) is far and away the best sequel to the 1978 original: but being a quite-good sequel is all it can ever be.