The slasher subculture saw its heyday in the 1980s, with franchises like Halloween, Friday the 13th, and Nightmare on Elm Street accruing scores of harebrained sequels, spawning a pattern of rinse-repeat horror franchises that rarely held a candle to the greats in terms of turnover quality. Jason eventually went to outer space. Freddy Kruger broke the fourth wall. Michael Myers was revisioned as a force for utilitarian good, destined to kill all of Laurie’s family in order to save all of civilization. To say that these sequels haven’t always been so hot is quite the understatement. In 2018, director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) – of all people – has taken the governing principles of the slasher and given it new life through a winning combination of tasteful updates, tactful homage, and gleeful bloodletting and in doing so, he may have just perfected the slasher movie.
Working from a script from Green, comedian Danny McBride, and Jeff Fradley, Halloween takes everything great about the slasher movie – the stalking, the kills, the liberality of sex, drinking, and drugs – and updates it to 2018. There’s a crispness to Green’s shots, a simple but creative flair to the string of murders, and a well-worn balance between tension and comedy. The most critical ingredient that the trio adds? Characters you actually give two shits about.
Even the perfunctory sacrificial lambs are lived-in characters. Green invests us just enough to root for secondary character’s survivals rather than cheer their inevitable demise. Take the scene-stealing Jibrail Nantambu, a wise-cracking baby-sat kid who provides the biggest tension relief valve in the entire movie. In any number of lesser movies, scenes spent with second-string sacrifices are wasteful at best and purely obnoxious at worst. Herein, I could watch an entire spin-off with Nantambu and his sardonic babysitter. And that’s the key to Halloween’s successful formula.
Returning to the franchise is the OG scream queen: Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode, now a grizzled survivalist and grandmother hell-bent on protecting her and her kin from the ever-looming threat of The Shape. This 2018 redux is, for all intents and purposes, the only Halloween sequel one ever needs. Smartly ejecting the silly chronology that reveals that Laurie is actually Michael’s adoptive sister, Halloween returns to the simple horror of a hulking monster singularly obsessed with murdering a woman he once saw in front of his house.
Michael Myers, in effect, is the perfect horror icon of the #MeToo movement. He is a brute in the dark. A mute, heavy breathing force. His gaze is his catcall. His victims, purposefully, predominantly women. Sure, some guys get their heads stomped to gummy piles of goo but since his inception as a killer, Michael has always held a grudge against women and their sexuality. It is his complicated relationship to the other gender that created him – his inhumanity born of the brutal murder of his own sister, motivated in no small part by her overt sexuality. She dies with her breasts hanging out of her nightie for a reason. And this latest Halloween sees this thread through to the bitter end.
In the years since her attack, Laurie has prepared herself and her family – including her none-too-affectionate daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and thoughtful granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) – for the eventuality of Michael’s return. And – to the surprise of no-one in the theater – on the 40th anniversary of that fated night, Michael escapes once more, loosing a reign of gory terror over the citizens of Smith Grove and hunting the victim who once escaped his icy grasp. Halloween is packed with nods to the original, Green’s reinvention a delightful display of Easter Eggs and homage that reward dedicated fans without isolating newcomers. Holding a mirror to both individual shots, iconic moments, and whole characters arcs, 2018’s Halloween is as poetic and harmonious a slasher sequel as can be imagined, Green recreating the iconography of John Carpenter’s 1978 original work in always clever, always fun ways. Using modern techniques, Green elevates the unyielding insanity of Michael – a tracking shot of him wandering from house to house, slaying randos with the casualness of a “Howdy neighbor”, upgrading his weapon as he goes is the perfect example of why this character remains so fear-inducing generations later.
What cannot be overstated is just how damn enjoyable this whole enterprise is, Green’s vision of the Boogeyman of Smith Grove a singularly entertaining realization of the promise that slashers with their audiences. This is why we’ve withstood so many failed sequels – to finally get to this version. Almost perfectly paced, Halloween hums along with a frightening grasp over its audiences’ every feeling, culminating in a showdown between two of the most iconic characters in the entire horror landscape. That their inevitable battle isn’t the absolute highlight of the film is a mark against this otherwise near-masterful installment.
CONCLUSION: This new ‘Halloween’ is killer, plain and simple; the archetypal slasher movie, perfected. Smart, funny, and with a higher body count than ever, David Gordon Green has perfected the slasher film by going back to basics – and then some – pitting an unstoppable force against a badass granny.