I’m not normally a fan of horror films and rarely review them, for two reasons: First, they’re critic-proof, as their hordes of uncritical fans tend to flock to even the worst ones with no regard for reviews. And second, they often are devoid of any sense of humanity, seeking only to offer depraved imagery and the reduction of human beings to slabs of meat as entertainment.
Yet there’s something remarkable about the ones that actually have some artistic ambition and rise above the sheer ugliness of so much of the genre, and John Carpenter’s original 1978 “Halloween” is a prime example of a horror film done right. Giving viewers characters to care about, building suspense with a dreadfully brilliant sense of atmosphere and pacing, and overlaying it all with an unforgettable score, he deployed suspense to put viewers on the edge of their seats before using explosive bits of tastefully shot violence to unleash the tension.
That film inspired countless imitators, including seven official sequels and two reboots, nearly all of which were considered vastly inferior. But now, 40 years later, a new “Halloween” surpasses even the original in terms of suspense, chills, laughs and sheer quality on every level—with original star Jamie Lee Curtis returning to wreak revenge with a richly layered performance that takes her from emotional wreck to badass avenging angel.
The new edition is supposed to be a direct sequel to the original, simply ignoring the other nine films. It’s an odd choice in one respect. The original “Halloween II,” also written by Carpenter and his original co-writer Debra Hill, directly followed the ending of the first film, with killer Michael Myers continuing his rampage at a hospital where Curtis’ character Laurie Strode is being treated for injuries from earlier the same night.
But the new story finds Laurie a paranoid, PTSD-afflicted disaster who has spent the intervening decades building a booby-trapped fortress of a home in the woods outside of her hometown of Haddonfield, Illinois. She has assembled a fearsome array of guns that she has mastered, and alienated her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) along the way by subjecting her to a childhood filled with fear as she trained her to also be ready to kill Myers if the chance ever arose.
Karen and her own daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) have long scoffed at Laurie’s fears, but the menace Laurie’s been waiting for is finally unleashed when Myers is transferred to a new prison and winds up escaping by killing the driver on his transfer bus. He heads back to Haddonfield in search of Laurie on Halloween night, with the town overrun by costumed kids out trick or treating and a sheriff who’s woefully unprepared for a fresh rampage — leaving Laurie as the only hope for the town to take Myers down.
What follows is a perfectly pitched battle of blood, guts and wits that is relentlessly entertaining. Kudos must be given to director David Gordon Green, who also co-wrote the film with frequent collaborators Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley. The three have mostly made their mark in outrageous comedies, some of which hit (HBO series “East Bound and Down” and “Vice Principals”) and some didn’t (Green’s films “The Sitter,” “Snow Angels” and “Your Highness” are on my all-time worst list).
But somehow they were given the reins of this film and did an improbably great job with it. While the gore is at a higher level than the original “Halloween,” since films have gotten progressively more graphic over the years, most of the killings here use smart editing to leave a lot to the viewers’ imagination, with the bloodshed revealed mostly after each killing. Thus, in all but its most violent scene, the film keeps things at a level of fun scares rather than unpleasant ugliness.
One other advantage the new “Halloween” has over the original is that it’s being released in the age of the #Metoo movement. Curtis’ Laurie Strode was already a smart and resourceful fighter as a teenager, surviving even as three of her friends were slaughtered, but when it’s time to unleash hell here, she rivals Linda Hamilton’s Sarah Connor from “The Terminator” as a full-on female warrior.
Seeing her punch, kick and wield all manner of weapons in the epic battle against her tormentor provides a cathartic kick for the audience. With this film expected to be a monster hit, here’s hoping that Curtis gets plenty of other opportunities and is just one of many underemployed veteran actresses who can get another chance to show the world what they have to offer.
“Halloween” Grade: A