HALLOWEEN IS HORRIFICALLY GOOD: A REVIEW BY TIM ESTILOZ

A huge opening box office weekend for the latest (and hopefully truly final)

installment in the long running Halloween franchise shows the public’s appetite for the ongoing battle between Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and serial killer Michael Myers has far from abated. That enthusiasm alone is astonishing since it’s been 40 years since John Carpenter’s genre changing slasher classic, the original “Halloween” hit movie theaters introducing us all to one of cinema’s longest on-screen conflicts between victim and predator.

At a time when theaters are filled with sub-par film sequels and reboots, it’s wonderfully refreshing to see that the 2018 “Halloween” is so delightfully frightening and original, yet borrows just enough aspects of the 1978 original to make this return a horrifyingly welcome treat.

 Wisely, co-screenwriters Danny McBride and director David Gordon Green have chosen to write a new film that assumes that the eight crappy Halloween sequels / reboots since the original (including 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection where Myers kills Laurie Strode) never existed. 

Instead, the new “Halloween” picks up in real time picking up the events exactly 40 years to the day after the events of Carpenter’s original film.

As the new film opens, two pushy and arrogantly careless true crime podcasters visit Myers at the high-security mental institution where he’s been confined and examined for the past 40- years. According to his current and all too creepily sympathetic physician, Myers has not uttered a single word during his four decades of confinement. In a foreshadowing of obvious bad things to come, these podcasters bring Myers’ original murder mask that they’ve acquired from authorities to show him in hopes of prompting him to finally speak. Of course, this stupid act comes on the eve of Myers being transferred to a high security prison where he will, supposedly, be incarcerated until he dies.

Conveniently, this transfer takes place on Halloween 40-years after the original murders

Meanwhile, Laurie Strode has never fully recovered from the trauma of Myers’ killing spree decades earlier. Angry, embittered, emotionally in tatters, she lives alone in a large, high security and booby-trapped home that she has constructed hidden deep in the woods. Strode’s emotional damage and obsession with killing Myers has created a mental prison of her own making, as each day she’s obsesses about Myers one day possibly escaping. It’s an event that she both fears and looks forward to, as she prepares by warehousing canned food, practicing with weaponry and more for a mano a’ mano face off she believes is inevitable.

Imagine Linda Hamilton’s determined Sarah Connor from the Terminator film franchise but with a horror genre twist. Grim, determined and ready for battle. That’s the Laurie Strode we see in this new 2018 “Halloween” and Jamie Lee Curtis plays it to perfection.

However, Laurie’s obsession has taken its toll on her in other ways. Her family has become all but totally estranged from her; believing her obsession with Myers is a destructive paranoia she needs to let go. Strode has experienced two failed marriages and lost her young daughter years before to authorities as she trained the young child to be prepared for the eventual return of Myers’ deadly Boogeyman.

Her now adult daughter Karen (a wonderfully effective Judy Greer) tolerates her mother, even loves her still; but bears the baggage herself of a childhood affected by her mother’s incessant obsession with Myers’ possible return. Karen resents her own childhood spent learning to fight, shoot guns, prepare booby traps and more for a killer she’s never met, only heard and read about. That in mind, Karen does her best to keep her now teenaged daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) at a distance from Grandma Laurie, who Allyson has an empathy for and a connection with. 

Eventually, the expected happens and Myers’ escapes after the prison transport truck crashes into a roadside ditch late at night. What follows next is familiar, yet wonderfully well paced and tension-filled mayhem as Michael once again returns to stalk the kid-filled streets of Haddonfield on Halloween night seeking new young victims and, of course, Laurie Strode.

Director David Gordon Green brings a skillful blend of new original elements and many homages to the original to this genuinely effective direct sequel. Be prepared that the gore and body count is much higher in this film. Those who recall how Michael disappears after a rooftop fall in the 1978 original will roar with approval on how that scene gets a nostalgic nod in this film.

Another nice touch is the scene where Michael works in deadly fashion to retrieve his original horror mask from the film opening podcasters. For the first half hour of the film, we catch slight glimpses of Myers sans his mask without ever seeing his full face of evil. Indeed, we never get to witness the evil of Myers beyond his deadly acts and his expressionless mask which only adds to the mysterious horror that lies within him.

When Myers recovers the mask, it’s only after he has walked around in broad daylight turning a mundane and ordinary gas station visit into a grand guignol of death, horror and blood. The sheer ordinariness of the surroundings in this daylight setting for such horror makes Myers even more frightful this go round.

There’s plenty in this Halloween film to please those who love the original and those who are visiting the story for the first time. The narrative gives enough exposition for all to throughly enjoy the ride. In this film, just as in the original, the film’s familiar musical score is a character of its own, creating a strong sense of danger and tension that builds to each bloody crescendo.

Naturally, Halloween contains many of the same familiar horror genre tropes and touches of genuine humor, some that originated with the 1978 original, that are expected in a typical slasher film. Yet, Green’s direction is so skillfully executed that these well worn fright tropes work to great effect here. Conversely, Halloween takes some unique risks with Myers’ first kill seen by the audience. The victim is so unexpected and so totally innocent, that one realizes that this incarnation of Myers truly takes no prisoners.

Jamie Lee Curtis, who served as an executive producer on this film, is wonderful as a frumpy and disheveled bad ass, yet thoroughly troubled, victim turned survivor determined to not let Myers escape his demise this time around. 

Judy Greer is also effective as her daughter who is dealing with her own trauma from Myers via her mother’s obsession with protection and revenge. Indeed, Greer gets a thoroughly wonderful moment of her own that’s an unexpected moment of her true tough grit during the film’s tense climax.

Rounding out the trio of women is Andi Matichak as Strode’s granddaughter who soon finds herself of potential victim of Laurie’s heretofore perceived paranoia. Matichak holds her own in this film as the one person who hasn’t completely given up on her grandmother.

 The film’s climax inside Laurie’s makeshift fortified compound is filled with genuine frights, tension and true uncertainty as to who will survive. As the three generations of Strode women combine forces to face off against the evil that has pervaded and shaped their lives over 40 years, the payoff is satisfyingly exciting.

The climax, indeed the film’s final shot, might be perceived by some as a depiction of female empowerment and strength. Perhaps so. However, it goes much deeper and is much more profound than that.

The look on the faces we see in the final shot is not only one of bittersweet and hard fought triumph and relief; but also, a tragic depiction of how a family’s decades-old trauma is one that is shared, handed down and perhaps is most definitely likely to continue in their collective shattered psyches… long after the Boogeyman is dead.

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