HALLOWEEN ***** USA 1978 Dir: John Carpenter. 91 mins
Those who got their knickers knotted by Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN remake duo have a short memory: John Carpenter’s original film is a scare machine precision-tooled from elements of earlier genre works. Its legendary opening alone (contrary to popular belief, the only time in the film in which we witness events through the eyes of Michael Myers) riffs on the subjective first scenes of PEEPING TOM and BLOOD AND LACE, while his debt to Argento’s DEEP RED and Bob Clark’s BLACK CHRISTMAS are both obvious. From the marvellously grim tableau that ends the prologue – suburban parents staring in disbelief at their knife-wielding child – the film is, of course, strong enough to survive its own endless cycle of sequels, imitations and rereleases. Whereas its own sequels were content to reinvent Michael Myers as a killer with a contrived family grudge, Carpenter establishes the character as a random, indestructible force of evil, his identity blurred into that of the fictional, all-purpose childhood monster “The Boogeyman” (a transformation reinforced by the final dialogue exchange). As the “inhumanly patient” Myers flees incarceration fifteen years after becoming infamous in his home town of Haddonfield, long-term psychiatrist Donald Pleasence (playing it with a canny combination of vulnerability, genuine fear and implied menace) faces up to his own professional failure and the realisation that, ultimately, Myers represents a force no one can contain. Myers stalks and / or kills some of the most endearing and empathetic characters in the slasher canon, notably sardonic smart-ass Nancy Loomis and jumpy yet perceptive wallflower Jamie Lee Curtis, whose loneliness allows her time to watch (just as Myers does) and acknowledge the threat facing her idyllic suburban existence. More than any of the sequels, this film portrays Myers as a potentially supernatural entity (often represented via a shadow on the wall or a ghostly face in the window) who enjoys scaring people more than killing them, relishing the chance to don a ghostly sheet and admiring his handiwork after one murder, like an artist operating at the peak of his powers. The script by Carpenter and Debra Hill is unusually witty: “Maybe someone around here gave him lessons” notes Pleasance wryly, highlighting the implausibility of Myers driving home after his escape. It also cleverly segues from the proliferation of wide tracking shots of open, sunlit spaces in the first half to the darkness-swamped, mounting claustrophobia of the final half hour, which evolves into a breathlessly tense, extended chase, trapping our trend-setting heroine (Curtis balancing near-hysteria and determined resilience as she fashions weapons out of everyday domestic objects) in a series of confined spaces. It’s comfortably familiar to genre fans these days, but HALLOWEEN deserves every bit of its lofty reputation as a holy slasher text.
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HALLOWEEN II *** USA 1981 Dir: Rick Rosenthal. 92 mins
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HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH ***** USA 1983 Dir: Tommy Lee Wallace. 99 mins
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HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS **** USA 1988 Dir: Dwight H Little. 88 mins
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HALLOWEEN 5 *** USA 1989 Dir: Dominique Othenin-Girard. 97 mins
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HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS ** USA 1995 Dir: Joe Chappelle. 85 mins
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HALLOWEEN 6: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (PRODUCER’S CUT) ***
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HALLOWEEN H20 **** USA 1998 Dir: Steve Miner. 83 mins
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HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION * USA 2002 Dir: Rick Rosenthal. 94 mins
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HALLOWEEN **** USA 2007 Dir: Rob Zombie. 109 mins
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HALLOWEEN II **** USA 2009 Dir: Rob Zombie. 101 mins
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HALLOWEEN **** USA 2018 Dir: David Gordon Green. 105 mins
The third movie in the HALLOWEEN franchise to bear the title “Halloween”, this exists in a timeline where all the preceding sequels / “reboots” do not exist, including the last incarnation of Laurie Strode as an alcoholic teacher / mom in Steve Miner’s HALLOWEEN H20, which wiped everything after the 1981 HALLOWEEN II. (In any case, this version of adult Laurie was killed at the start of series low-point HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION). This popular 40th anniversary sequel to Carpenter’s film swiftly (and wisely) disposes of the Laurie-Michael family connection introduced by HALLOWEEN II, restoring him to the random killer of the 1978 movie. When the narrative suits, elements of the ignored sequels are appropriated, including an eerily off-camera reworking of Michael’s gory escape-in-transit from HALLOWEEN 4. This Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is an agoraphobic recluse in an elaborately fortified compound, having suffered two failed marriages and a daughter (Judy Greer) of whom she lost custody when the girl was 12. Before we reunite with 2018 Laurie, a tense build-up establishes a pair of British podcasters confronting Michael (returning “Shape” Nick Castle) at the asylum, while Haluk Bilginer is the obsessive psychiatrist who took over Michael’s care following the death of Dr Loomis, and whose character provides this film with its most ill-judged moment. Leading a likeable new batch of mostly doomed Haddonfield teens, Andi Matichak makes her feature debut (just as Curtis did in 1978) as Laurie’s granddaughter.
Director Green and co-writer Danny McBride are enormously reverential of the original film without indulging in nudge-nudge fanboy in-jokes. The shifting power balance between Laurie (now as single minded in her mission as her adversary) and Michael is cleverly visualised by ingenious recreations of key set pieces from the original in which the roles are reversed. It’s brutality is closer to the Rob Zombie entries than other HALLOWEENs, but an audacious single take in which Michael murders Haddonfield residents, unnoticed amidst the Halloween festivities, is among the scariest set pieces in the franchise. Heavily touted by the marketing, the climax at Laurie’s compound offers three final girls battling an ageing manifestation of the traditional masculine boogeyman, like an inter-generational, #MeToo-era version of the finale of SLUMBER PARTY MASSACRE. Stripped of the glamour, wit and charisma that makes her so much fun on the talk show circuit, Curtis superbly essays a tough, unsentimental, ostracised Laurie. Short, painful scenes highlight the chasm between her and her family, while hinting at the hell she has endured between movies. This is a woman who has (tragically) spent her adult life waiting to confront the one thing that shaped (and ruined) her existence. It is the culmination of Jamie Lee’s so-called “scream queen” career and, with John Carpenter on board (with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies) to score his first HALLOWEEN film since 1983, this truly becomes The Night He (And She) Came Home.
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HALLOWEEN KILLS **** USA 2021 Dir: David Gordon Green. 104 mins
The middle part of the Blumhouse trilogy, again co-written by David Gordon Green and Danny McBride and scored by John Carpenter & his crew, is a more brutal and interesting film than its (effectively suspenseful) 2018 predecessor and winds up as the “Make Haddonfield Great Again” HALLOWEEN film for post-Trump America.
It doesn’t waste time explaining why or how Michael Myers escaped the inferno finale of the earlier film and is keen to return to the franchise’s roots via the cinematic equivalent of a class reunion. Returning to the fold are Nancy Stephens (also revived and slaughtered in the alternate timeline anniversary sequel HALLOWEEN H20), Charles Cyphers and Kyle Richards to reprise their 1978 HALLOWEEN roles, while Anthony Michael Hall portrays the grown up version of the Tommy Doyle seen in the Carpenter film rather than the one essayed by Paul Rudd in the other alternate timeline occupied by HALLOWEEN: CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS. Even a character as minor as Lonnie, one of the kids spooked by Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis in 1978, shows up, alongside strategically placed Silver Shamrock masks.
Like both previous incarnations of “HALLOWEEN II” (1981 / 2009), this resumes the plot on the same night as its precursor, with a wounded, albeit defiant, Laurie recuperating in hospital. A diverting opening flashback to 1978 conveys the backstory of Sheriff Will Patton and allows for (via clever prosthetics and a vocal impersonation) a guest appearance from the long-dead Pleasence / Loomis. McBride’s comic background is reflected in the broad depiction of bratty trick or treaters, sweary old people and a loveable gay couple, while Myers transitions into a brutal juggernaut closer to the Rob Zombie’s incarnation, resulting in the nastiest violence of the non-Zombie movies, including a spectacular firefighter massacre and the heartless killing of one of the 2018 film’s most likable characters.
Curtis, although again working with limited screentime due to the abundance of characters, has a better showcase here than in the earlier film, and provides a superb, shivery climactic voiceover reviving the notion of Michael as something beyond human and the supernatural – suggesting fascinating avenues for the next film to explore. There’s also a delightful chemistry between her and Patton’s low-key, amiable authority figure.
The strongest facet of KILLS, however, is the extension of elements introduced in the 1981 HALLOWEEN II and HALLOWEEN 4 (1988), which both suggested a grief / panic-stricken Haddonfield erupting into social unrest: locals, let down by inaction / misjudgement by the town authorities, ransacking the Myers house in the former and creating an amateurish lynch mob in the latter. Here, Hall’s Tommy Doyle exploits the growing discontent of the shaken town (and the mob mentality of Trump’s America) to appeal to the inner-vigilante in the scared townspeople. Violence begets violence and no one wins: in the year that the President enabled the storming of the Capitol Building, the most astonishing scenes of David Gordon Green’s trilogy sees this self-styled bunch of would-be avenging angels beat the shit out of Myers…to no avail whatsoever.
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HALLOWEEN ENDS **** USA 2022 Dir: David Gordon Green. 111 mins
Boldly closing the divisive trilogy with a very different study of Haddonfield PTSD after the aggressively violent, nihilistic HALLOWEEN KILLS, this “finale” offers a very different film to the popcorn-friendly Laurie vs Michael showdown promised by the marketing. It also surprisingly nods to the once-ostracised HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH more than a conventional slasher sequel. Though it ultimately fulfills its remit to deliver a definitive “End” to this particular trio, for much of its duration, it’s a character-driven, melancholic piece about grief, shared trauma and the nature of evil. Only a single kill (involving a severed tongue on a turntable) provides the kind of gonzo humour that punctuated the previous two movies. Returning director Green (in collaboration with four other credited screenwriters) gives us a lower-bodycount while rendering Michael Myers either irrelevant or a walking plot device for most of the movie.
The expectation-subverting main plot nods to the Jason-less FRIDAY THE 13TH: A NEW BEGINNING and the two-killers-for-the-price-of-one MANIAC COP 2, while reminding us that Michael had an assistant-of-sorts in the offbeat HALLOWEEN 5: a dog-kicking Man in Black whose purpose was to wipe out the town’s police force and break Myers out of jail at the end. Here, a young man named Corey (Rohan Campbell) is driven over the edge in a traumatised Haddonfield by the combination of an overbearing Mom, an ineffectual Dad and a traumatic event that provides a genuinely jolting prologue immediately declaring this HALLOWEEN sequel will not be conforming to formula. (In addition to incorporating scenes from Carpenter’s THE THING, this sequence also echoes HALLOWEEN III in its willingness to gruesomely kill a kid).
Corey is part of the overarching sickness infecting Haddonfield, and the strongest moments of ENDS vividly portray the town haunted by loss and violence, populated by people who are missing husbands, sons and daughters. In KILLS, the town found a leader and unleashed its fury with (fruitless) action – here it seems resigned to fate. A widowed survivor has given up speaking, a couple are found in their car with gunshot wounds to the head and both Laurie and Corey bear the brunt of their individual past traumas: labelled as freaks and psychos, they are an easy scapegoat for the horrors suffered by the community: she is blamed for Myers’ murder spree, he held responsible for a tragic accident.
The difference between the two is that Laurie, whose memoirs (and accompanying montages) punctuate the narrative, has found an outlet four years on and now seems able to move on. She’s living with her granddaughter (the returning Andi Matichak, still likable, still underwritten) and exorcising her scars on the page. Jamie Lee Curtis brings considerable warmth and gravitas to this more hopeful Laurie – far from the singular, embittered heroine of the 2018 film, and enjoying a gentle flirtation with Sheriff Will Patton that pays off with a marvellously understated final scene together. In another nod to HALLOWEEN 5, Michael – badly wounded from the climax of KILLS – ekes out a sparse existence in the town’s sewer tunnels, and finds unlikely solace in the damaged Corey, who, impacted by the town’s prejudice and cruelty, would seem to be disappearing down the same dark path as Haddonfield’s infamous slasher.
It’s overlong by at least 20 minutes, with baggy scenes conveying the growing bond between the bereaved Matichak and the disenfranchised Corey, but the muting of the kill-count heightens the impact of both Green’s often evocative compositions and the suitably brutal battle we’ve been waiting for at the climax. Here, too, are striking individual moments – notably a splendidly shot and scored town procession – that make this truly a cut above what we might expect from the 13th film in a 44 year old franchise- a franchise that has always found its strongest moments when risking fan irritation and diverting from the standard stalk-and-stab formula.
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Reviews by Steven West