Jeff York

The New “Halloween” Struggles to Add to John Carpenter’s Classic

The New “Halloween” Struggles to Add to John Carpenter’s Classic
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Expectations were raised sky high with all the press and PR attached to this latest take on Halloween. The new sequel/reboot/annulment of the previous seven sequels was supposed to be the best of all of those that followed John Carpenter’s original 1978 classic. While it’s competently made and contains a full-throttled performance by star Jamie Lee Curtis, this one lacks frights and fails to add much to the saga. Worse still, its undisciplined mix of horror and comedy is utterly confounding. This outing proves one thing for sure – Hollywood should stop revisiting this exhausted material already.

The film’s problems begin before the maniacal killer Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney) even shows up. Two British investigative reporters visit the maximum-security institution for the criminally insane where Michael has been a mental patient for over 40 years. Aaron (Jefferson Hall) and Dana (Rhian Rees) are allowed to question him in a stylized prison yard setting that consists of huge red and white checkerboard squares. It seems like production design borrowed from the British TV series “The Prisoner”, not the gritty realism that Carpenter’s original trafficked in. The self-conscious artiness of it plays as ludicrous.

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Jeff Hall

As written by its director David Gordon Green, along with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, there is too much in this movie that seems wildly out of sorts just like that chess board. The tonality swings like a pendulum, one minute being vicious and haunting as Michael slaughters a housewife yet spares her crying child, the next conjuring absurdity as when two deputy sheriffs loopily argue about sandwich bread an banh mi. Such silly dialogue doesn’t fit here at all, especially considering those two cops just witnessed Michael’s slaughter firsthand.  

Why the screenwriters wove such incongruous moments into the screenplay is baffling. One scene late in the game even has one of Michael’s victims drunkenly blathering as the killer raises his knife. Are we supposed to laugh, find it ironic, side with Michael in dispatching such a dweeb? Even the parts that break new ground tend to suffocate the scares with overdone pathos. Curtis’ heroine Laurie Strode returns but is presented as a crazed grandma who’s ruined the last 40 years of her life waiting to kill off Michael. She’s wrecked two marriages and become all but estranged from her 40-something daughter Karen (Judy Greer, in a thankless part). Even if Laurie vanquishes the spree killer who terrorized her four decades ago, what joy comes in such a victory? Michael’s already destroyed most of her life.

A lot could be forgiven if the film was smarter, or at least scarier. Michael somehow commandeers a bus while it transfers him to another facility with other mental patients, but we never see how he gains the upper hand. He finds his way back home all too readily and easily handles the truck that he stole, even though he’s been incarcerated for decades. And of course, he just happens to come across the British reporters at a gas station along his route, so he makes easy victims of them in the toilet. It’s gruesome, yes, all too predictable as well, but hardly spine-tingling.

As for Laurie, she’s lying in wait, armed to the teeth with an arsenal that would make Wayne LaPierre blush. The survivalist has also booby-trapped her home to excess. Of course, when the inevitable showdown with Michael takes place in her house, Laurie stupidly forfeits most of her homecourt advantage. She fails to shoot him a number of times and even turns off the lights in every room so she’s stalking him blind. Such a move makes no sense whatsoever as it gives him the upper hand hiding in the shadows. The plot point only exists to create scares, but when they’re that cheap, why bother?

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Jamie Lee Curtis

At times, one wonders if the filmmakers truly studied Carpenter’s masterful original. If they had, they’d have realized that the reason Laurie prevailed was due to having her radar up because she was babysitting. She had to be alert and responsible. Here, everyone is told that Michael is back in town and has already slaughtered a number of folks, yet so many characters act as if it’s all a walk in the park. Dumb teens and dumb men die stupidly, and only teen granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) turns out to be as savvy as her grandma. Even so, Allyson ends up stuck in a locked back seat with Michael and fails to kill him a number of times when she could have too.

There are some clever bits throughout, but not enough of them. At one point, Michael throws Laurie out a second story window and looks down to discover she’s not on the ground. That harkens back to the iconic scene in the original film when Laurie discovered Michael wasn’t dead after his fall. John Carpenter’s synthesizer score is utilized throughout and remains insidious fun. And Will Patton and newcomer Jibrail Nantambu give good supporting performances that make you wish they were in the film longer.

The film even folds in some #MeToo sensibilities with its girl power finale finding the three generations of Rhode women fighting back against their oppressive male attacker. Still, it doesn’t erase all the oddities in tone and storytelling made up until that point. At least Rob Zombie attempted to give a ‘Manson-esque’ back story to Michael’s upbringing in his revisionist take from 2007. Nothing that earth-shattering is attempted here, and it’s not even the first time Curtis has returned to fight her nemesis.

Perhaps all this renewed interest in Carpenter’s classic will inspire some studio head in Hollywood to hire the legendary filmmaker to create something new. His 2010 thriller The Ward was criminally underrated and Carpenter deserves more opportunities. His Michael Myers villain stands tall as one of film’s all-time greatest bogeymen, but this outing has exhausted the hulking shape in that deadpan mask. Laurie Rhode shouldn’t be Michael’s slayer. Common sense, after all these lesser efforts, should be what finally does him in.

View the trailer for Halloween below:

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