It’s forty years since ‘the night HE came home’ … and, not coincidentally, twenty years since Halloween H20 Twenty Years Later. At this point, Michael Myers and the Halloween series are getting close to Spider-Man in reboots and retreads – the man in the Shatner mask has been killed off variously by Paul Rudd (or the Weinsteins), Busta Fucking Rhymes, and Rob Zombie, but never quite flatlines. H20 pulled the gambit of ignoring/sidelining a trio of lesser sequels but bringing back original series star Jamie Lee Curtis and picking up after Halloween II. This new model, from the Blumhouse shingle, is also built around Curtis’s presence but goes even further back to basics, consigning Halloween II and its ‘Michael was Laurie’s brother’ revelation to uncanonicity. As with most Godzilla relaunches, this takes the original film as a given then delivers a sequel that ignores all other activity in favour of just getting on with it – in the hope of attracting an audience who only know the 1978 Halloween and don’t give a shit about the mystery man in cowboy boots from Halloween 5.
David Gordon Green is an odd choice to direct (his varied CV that includes George Washington, Pineapple Express, Your Highness and Our Brand is Crisis) and comedian Danny McBride (who doesn’t appear) and odder choice to co-script (with Jeff Fradley and Green), but John Carpenter is back as an active participant (doing some very imaginative things with his classic Halloween themes) and the outcome is surprisingly solid, even if it’s a decent product rather than a genre-redefining work. It takes a certain arrogance to call a sequel by the same name as the film it’s following, especially when there’s already been a like-named remake … but weirdly this earns its monicker by smashing up the jigsaw pieces of Carpenter’s film and knowingly reassembling them. It doesn’t imitate Carpenter’s style – and is very sparing with trademarks like subjective camera prowling – but does feature many, many elements from the original film in new contexts. ‘You’re the new Loomis,’ an older, Granny Sarah Connor-look Laurie tells peculiar, Omar Sharif-moustached therapist Dr Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), which isn’t strictly true – if anyone’s the new Loomis, it’s Laurie, who has spent forty years preparing for Michael’s escape (so she can kill him) and ruining her relationship with her own daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). But Laurie keeps popping up in the frame in Michael’s place … outside the school, spying on Allyson … approaching a wardrobe where she believes her prey is hiding … and, in a moment that drew applause from the press show, reversing positions with Michael in a restaging of one of the key moments in Carpenter’s well-remembered climax.
For a while, it seems possible that the film will be as tricky as Psycho II in its approach to a revered classic, though there’s always an awareness that a Blumhouse holiday tentpole with an eye on its own sequels (to be revoked sixty years on) can’t afford that kind of radicalism. Which isn’t to say that there aren’t surprises. One canny tactic in horror is to tip a hand on a few plot developments as a distraction, in order to give the shocks and reversals the makers are particularly pleased with maximum impact. Here, Judy Greer seems to be stuck in her recent rut of nagging wife (now nagging daughter) irrelevances, shoved out of a protagonist’s life so they can focus on a younger, hotter actress (Matichak, ‘the new Laurie’). But Green works hard to make the relationship between Laurie and Karen feel genuine and uncomfortable – ‘this is my childhood,’ Karen says as she is hustled into a basement safe room – and to have an absolute blinder of a turnaround moment that justifies bringing in an actress of Greer’s calibre. The story is cluttered with a higher body count – early on, one doomed dickweed disses Michael’s relatively modest kill score as old hat, but this (like Halloween II, actually) finds space in the story for a bunch of extraneous characters to be gripped or stabbed to death by an older but still implacable Michael (James Jude Courtney and original actor Nick Castle share billing as ‘the Shape’). Green has a knack for making one- or two-scene characters interesting enough to give their deaths more weight than simple shock value, and is canny enough to let some people who have transgressed those Scream rules make it through the night while killing off innocents.