Halloween (2018) delivers the horror matriarchy we so desperately need

Halloween (2018) - poster

The first Halloween was a hard act to follow – as it’s an almost perfect horror film – but follow many films did. To date the franchise includes seven sequels (a few of them, non-sequiturs at best) and two remakes. These nine efforts have been considerably less well-regarded than the 1978 original. I watched the latest entry last night in a theater – like you should – and I believe it’s the second-best Halloween film and easily the best sequel.

I don’t know what my expectations were going into this latest film; I succumbed to temptation and watched the trailer, which I regret as it gave away a couple good scares. Halloween (2018) ignores nine Halloween films, picking up forty-plus years after the events of the first. Michael Myers (Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney), murderer of five, is about to be transferred to another high security facility after his latest decades-long incarceration. His transfer is highly anticipated by the sole survivor of his rampage, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). Laurie still lives in hometown Haddonfield where she and her friends were attacked, and her life hasn’t been an easy one. She is semi-estranged from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), son-in-law Ray (Toby Huss), and honor society granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). When the film opens, Laurie is struggling with PTSD as she anticipates Micheal’s transfer while trying to show up for her family (physically and emotionally). Her difficulties seem all the more heartbreaking as the rest of the world has all but forgotten about Myers. As one of the teens in the film says, a guy who stabbed a few people forty years ago isn’t that big a deal when compared with contemporary horrors.

 

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Michael is loaded on the bus along with several other patients and his devoted psychologist Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer). “You’re the new Dr. Loomis,” Laurie later intones to Sartain, one of many sly commentaries the film makes on its own franchise (Dr. Loomis, played most often by British actor Donald Pleasance, featured heavily in previous films). Of course, the transfer goes horrifically wrong (Halloween ’78, again), and Michael gets loose, killing and maiming several in the process. In the confusion of the aftermath, authorities look over the transport manifesto. Although Myers is not big news anymore (remember – why would he be?), his name does catch the eye of sheriff Hawkins (Will Patton), who remembers the events forty years ago. “What are we going to do, cancel Halloween?” his superior smirks. Oh honey, that is exactly what you need to do – right now!

Now before going further we need to briefly revisit the fact that Halloween (1978) was a serious horror film devoid entirely of camp, shock-splatter scenes, and egregious body count. In the forty years that have followed, the slasher film has spawned several subsets. We’ve seen satires, gore-porn, and mean-spirited psychological horrors galore. Unfortunately for horror fans, dozens of these films have been one predictable slog after another. One major factor that made the original Halloween so great, was that for about an hour of the film we watched Myers stalk, then circle, then move in on his prey. The audience was well aware he was there, but his intended victims were oblivious. Notably too, most of Myers’ stalking took place in the daytime, in the bucolic and gorgeous setting of an early Halloween. The film didn’t need to torture and slaughter piles of people because the filmmaker knew that too many bodies is likely to foment boredom, rather than terror.
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Halloween 2018 either couldn’t figure out how to create and keep this kind of high tension, or simply believed a high body count would be a better a better bet. So yes, a lot of murders pile up, and that’s a deficit for the film. Still, there’s a lot of Carpenter-esque brilliance as well. In one of the more brilliant long shots, Michael moves from house to house, murdering at will and walking in full view of the trick-or-treaters on the street. These killings make several nods to the first two films, without pandering.
Eventually, however, Michael begins to circle around Laurie and her family. Once Laurie realizes her worst nightmare has come to fruition, she responds exactly like a victim of trauma might. She chaotically but rather effectively begins rounding up her family and moving them to safety. Meanwhile Karen protests, and begins to panic as she realizes Allyson is missing. Hawkins and Sartain go hunting the for Michael on the peaceful streets (shades of Dr. Loomis), bringing about a third-act plot twist that’s a little silly but hey – remember, this is a slasher film.
Halloween is also chock-full of Easter eggs for fans of the franchise; especially for fans of the first film. My favorite nods had to be the scene of Laurie watching Allyson through the window, P.J. Soles‘ cameo as a high school teacher, a few canonical deaths and corpse stagings – and of course the absolutely brilliant moment where Michael looks over the balcony at Laurie’s prostrate form, to find her missing. The audience laughed and clapped at this, and I was delighted to see several of the appreciative fans were very young – late teens or early twenties. The legacy lives on.
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But it is the final moments of the film that really got us somewhere good. In the last act Laurie, Karen, and Allyson are holed up in Laurie’s fortress, cops and menfolk either murdered or missing (when the cops in a horror film tell you “we’ll put a squad car out front” you know those cops ain’t gonna be shit). Karen is shaken and almost paralyzed with fear; Allyson, traumatized, is in similar shape. Laurie is heavily armed, and more prepared than the other two – but also, absolutely terrified. Instead of typical horror movie fare – where these women would be shrieking and each would be methodically brutalized, tortured, or killed onscreen, the film takes a different tact. Karen hides in the safe room, listening intently to Michael’s movements upstairs. The three women try to stay quiet. Laurie repeatedly tells her daughter she loves her, shares a few final words, then leaves the safe room and methodically searches the house for the killer. There is a last-act scuffle, to be sure, but there is no shrieking, no sexualized torture or murder, and no egregious women-battering. In one of the film’s only real surprises, Karen pulls a stunt and tricks Michael – a great moment in the film.
The film’s climax shouldn’t have been a surprise, especially considering how effectively – and a times subtly – the film subverted horror tropes (major spoilers follow, here). Vicky (Virginia Gardner), the “pretty babysitter”, is not sexualized during the film nor her murder. Would-be saviors and patriarchal figures Hawkins and Ray are summarily slaughtered, after making a few tactical errors (and after not listening to women, it should to be noted). Dr. Sartain, obsessed with Michael’s motives and drives – because really, serial killer films often worship and obsess over the killer, rather than empathize with the victims – is simply squashed (who knew skulls were so pliant?). In one of the more satisfying murders, Nice Guy™ Oscar (Drew Scheid) takes advantage to try a move on Allyson – only to be discarded, stalked, and cruelly impaled. Crummy boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold) is simply ignored and left behind. Taken as a whole, the important killings aren’t chaotic, but rather careful deconstructions of what we’ve come to expect from the tired-out genre.
The last few minutes of Halloween imply a sequel, and that’s too bad. There’s no way Laurie wouldn’t have exterminated Michael with absolute precision. But so be it. The film has been a success, and I only hope the next installment doesn’t fall prey to the same tropes we’re so used to seeing in slashers. We’ve seen them often enough.


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So, I left the theater completely satisfied. Halloween is a fun horror film, a thoroughly delicious and meticulously crafted entry for fans of the original, and something different than typical slasher fare.

See it this weekend – and see it in a crowded theater!

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