Opening weekend review–New Halloween movie is the ultimate holiday retro fix

Review by C.J. Bunce

Even better than seeing the original on the big screen again, writer-director David Gordon Green’s Halloween hits all the right notes to make the latest, but surely not the last, installment in the Halloween series the best sequel of the franchise.  This Halloween may be the best horror sequel so far, in any series.  Some may think that’s an easy task, yet for fans of the genre and nine previous sequels, including a similar effort 20 years ago with Halloween H20 and a reboot series by Rob Zombie, this weekend’s theatrical release will probably become the new go-to movie after the original, next year and the year after.  Horror fans knew the film worked on paper–genre-defining scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis returning again to the role that made her famous, this time showing her extensive preparation for the inevitable return of the serial killer that she barely slipped past as a teenager, contributions from co-creator John Carpenter as executive producer and composer, and Michael Myers’s return, even performed by original actor Nick Castle and a weathered 40-year-old latex mask.  The actual delivery fulfills the promise: the retro-style opening credits and Carpenter’s haunting theme prepare the audience for the suspense, thrills, and jumps over the next two hours.

Tha performances are everything:  Curtis’s Laurie Strode is tough, smart, and prepared, but she’s not perfect, a bit addled by a lifetime of fear and not physically strong enough to take on Myers, so the outcome is not entirely predictable.  Will Patton (The Mothman Prophecies, The Postman, Armageddon, Falling Skies) joins the cast as Sheriff Hawkins, an older version of the first young man to arrive at the original murder scene in 1978.  He, along with Omar Dorsey (Castle, Chuck, Starsky & Hutch) as Sheriff Barker, bring the added gravitas and nostalgic vibe from former go-to Carpenter company cast members like Peter Jason and Keith David.  Strode’s granddaughter Allyson, played by Andi Matichak (Orange is the New Black, Blue Bloods), like her grandmother, turns the horror genre upside down, as less of a victim, instead taking charge of the situation when possible.  To a lesser extent the script provides some opportunity for Ant-Man’s Judy Greer to protect her family as Laurie’s daughter and Allyson’s mother.  Rounding out the performances are a young Jibrail Nantambu as more than the stock kid stuck for Halloween night with his babysitter.

When a genre’s failings are part of what define it, even the film’s lesser components are consistent with the spirit of the original film.  A doctor and an institution that are overly interested in a 40-year-old murder that gets mocked by a group of students, along with events that occurred in sequels that are ignored this time around and dismissed as the stuff of local legend, all somehow fit the movie and the genre.  Could Carpenter himself have filled in some of the story missteps had he directed this one?  Who knows.  For the most part, Strode, Myers, and their new story follow the rulebook for the characters established 40 years ago.

Many have tried to intellectualize the attraction of 1970s-80s horror and a never-ending bombardment of sequels, but it all comes down to nostalgia for three movies proving their success with endless sequel potential: 1978’s Halloween, 1980’s Friday the 13th, and 1984’s A Nightmare on Elm Street.  Of these only John Carpenter’s Halloween really holds up, because of his unique music, his style, and his troupe of actors that appear over the course of his catalog of films, including the late Donald Pleasence (whose character is replaced in this film by a new doctor portrayed by Haluk Bilginer (The International, Lionheart).  Most importantly for the success of each new sequel is less the horror and more whether the new script and director “get it right”–Did they accurately pay homage to the original while providing a story that’s fresh, and maybe even mostly believable?  This new Halloween more than ticks the boxes.

Blink and you’ll miss P.J. Soles (Stripes, Law & Order) as the high school teacher.  In the original film her character Lynda was a victim of Myers.  Don’t forget to stick around for the end of the credits.  And watch for a will he/won’t he moment that may have you (briefly) ask whether a mass murdering movie psychopath may be able to have a “code.”  The film is appropriately Rated R, with a variety of murder sequences, and only a couple scenes of gore and brief nudity that cross over the normal violence found in the more mainstream horror franchises.  But modern slasher movie fans will probably find this movie with a much lower blood volume and terror level than they’re used to (no saws, body parts, etc.).

You won’t find a better seasonal release.  Sure to be packed with crowds for the rest of the month, Halloween is in theaters now.

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