Film reviews

Halloween – Film Review

40 years.

40 years since Michael Myers, The Shape, first terrorised the quiet town of Haddonfield on Halloween night. Although audiences didn’t know it, John Carpenter’s Halloween was the start of something special when it hit the big screen in 1978. It not only introduced us to one of the most famous killers to be put to film, but it laid the groundwork for every slasher film that followed it.

Sure, the rules it set were sometimes bent and occasionally broken, but its influence can still be felt in every masked killer horror film that has come out in the years since it made those rules.

So now, four decades, seven – not always watchable – sequels, and a much maligned reboot later, Blumhouse, one of the biggest names in modern horror, is bringing Halloween back. And expectations are high. Very high.

It’s been a long time since the kid with a penchant for masks and stabbing people found his way back to his home town, grown up, angry, and ready to take it out on any babysitter he could find. Now, having wallowed in Smith’s Grove Asylum for 40 years, an ill-fated bus trip to a new prison ends with a crash and Michael on the loose.

Carving a bloody trail towards his hometown, The Shape appears to be single-minded in his need to finish what he started all those years ago and eviscerate Laurie Strode, the babysitter that got away. Unfortunately for the near supernatural serial killer, Laurie hasn’t been idly twiddling her thumbs for all these years; she’s been preparing herself and her now three generations deep family for this day. And this upcoming fight.

Who would have thought we’d be here? Nearly ten years after the last film to don the name Halloween seemed to all but kill the chances of another, it has taken an unlikely pair to bring Micheal Myers back to the big screen where he belongs. Teaming up with Blumhouse Productions for this new entry in the series are screenwriter Danny McBride (yes, that Danny McBride – the crazed pyrotechnics technician from Tropic Thunder) and Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green. The pair come out big and bold, not only showing that they have the balls to take on a project of this magnitude, but give us an hour and forty minute, scene by scene showcase on why they are the perfect guys for the job. Because make no mistake, “soft-rebooting” Halloween may be the bravest thing to happen in horror since 1978.

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Refusing to waste its audience’s time, Halloween gets straight to the point with a trip to the soon-to-be closed down asylum where Aaron Korey and Dana Haines (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees), a pair of investigative journalists looking to resurrect the Myers myth try to interview, and subsequently taunt, our antagonist. Not to be discarded as a throw away opening, this scene gives us our first look in 40 years at Nick Castle’s The Shape and instantly shows us the man and his demeanour, without really showing us anything of the actual man as camera angles, fast edits and dirty windows disguise Myers as much as his mask has done in the past. And it’s all go from here.

For those thinking that we might get a killer we can sympathise with, a character flawed and needing nothing but a good hug, Halloween reminds you quickly that that isn’t the case. Michael’s first on-screen kill is cold and vicious and serves to show you that this might be the softer, nicer 21st century, but this killer didn’t get your memo. The film takes you to a place that many audiences would have thought off-limits until this point, as writers, producers, and the director flash you their platinum horror membership cards and show you they mean business. The Shape is nasty, he’s brutal, and he’s wholly unforgiving of anyone that gets in his way. Once freed from the shackles that held him, he’s dangerous; once he has his mask back, all bets are off.

But this isn’t just Micheal’s tale. and the parallel road that runs through Halloween is one of fear, anguish and long-term psychological scars brought on by the worst of tragedies. To say Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode is a woman on the edge is far underselling her issues here. Agoraphobic, estranged from her family, and living in a constant waking nightmare hoping to get the chance to end what she couldn’t as a teenager, Laurie has evolved from the quintessential final girl to an armed-to-the-teeth shut-in praying for redemption and revenge. We see her fears and insecurities play out with her family who refuse to believe or forgive her for her issues – even as we see her proven right – and she is lambasted for being the one trying to protect those closest to her. With her deep-seated mental wounds and knowing she’s come face-to-face with the epitome of pure evil, there is more than a little bit of Terminator 2‘s Sarah Connor here. Scream as much as you want from your seat that you know she’s right, it doesn’t matter. Laurie’s vindication comes only with the appearance of the Grim Reaper himself.

There’s no way you don’t worry for the lives of everyone on screen. Because everyone plays their role to perfection, you care for the people you’re supposed to care for and you loathe those your meant to. Dear lord am I glad to see a character or two get a gruesome, well deserved end. But one thing is for certain with this latest iteration of the hallowed slasher series: until those credits roll, no one is safe. That fact alone makes Halloween uneasy, if highly enjoyable, watching.

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The job of creating a new Halloween film isn’t one to take lightly. Four decades of films and fanbases would transform any film from its humble beginnings making it near unrecognisable from its opening day. Lore becomes legend, story becomes mythology and fans become rabidly critical of anything that dare utter its name. This is where Green, McBride and Blum have shown their pedigree though. Respect is shown where perhaps we expected none. Even as the team forcibly ret-con 30 years worth of follow-up – and remind you of it regularly – they still show their adoration for the series as fan favourites from across the series are called back and cameoed for just a touch of fan service. And these creators have done such a superb job in bringing this series back to the screen that not only do you forgive them for their cheeky nods to films they have themselves removed from the lore, you love them for them.

– “Wasn’t it her brother who murdered all those babysitters?” 
– “No. He wasn’t her brother, that’s just something that people made up to make themselves feel better.”

And of course, you can’t talk about Halloween without talking about the music. In a review where words like “legendary” have justifiably been used more than a couple of times, can a better label be given to the music synonymous with this series? Carpenter himself created the iconic score all those years ago and he returns to the studio to score the entire film for us. Bringing a slightly modern take of his original creation (much like the film does) the original master of horror has crafted a score that brings as much fresh music to the table as it does classic.

Many would tell you, rightly so, that without the Halloween theme there is no Halloween, and to listen to this score proves just that. You can give the man his mask, the knife, the bloodlust and the production line of babysitters and police to go through, but equally important is the atmospheric score that Carpenter has returned to provide. Halloween isn’t Halloween without its theme.The Shape doesn’t return without his multi-toned, orchestral accompaniment and he doesn’t hunt without his sinister musical backdrop.

It doesn’t happen very often; horror is a genre much forgotten and abused and frequently used for quick cash, but Halloween is a perfect horror experience. Heavy on scares, atmosphere and fun kills; light on plot sag and story slowdown. You can get behind our soon-to-be victims as much as you can get behind the mythical monster chasing them and you can find yourself scared for these people and holding your breath in hope of a safe escape.

Green and McBride know they owe everything to the 40 years before this and they show an unending respect for that heritage. They know that, ret-conned or not, there is no 2018 iteration of this legendary series without the sequels that provided the roadmap to get here. They know this series doesn’t continue without the twists, turns, and frankly ludicrous left field moments in the lore, and whether they and fans want to admit it or not, without Rob Zombie’s much hated vision of The Shape, this film simply can’t exist. These gentlemen know this, and they treat that legacy with the respect it deserves.

There is plenty for newcomers and die hard fans alike: glorious kills, and nostalgic throwbacks that even get an old Halloween cynic like this writer a happy tear and a wry smile.

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