Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The Halloween List: Blumhouse's Halloween (2018), the Best Since John Carpenter's Original

This is the best made of the Halloween sequels. Halloween 2 in 1981 attempted to tell what happened immediately after the original film, and Halloween H20 attempted a soft reboot to address the kind of trauma Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) was still processing. Both were equally unsatisfying in trying to expand on the simplicity of the original.Blumhouse's Halloween surpasses them by naturally playing with the archetypes of the original. Laurie has grown into the new Dr. Loomis, a reclusive gun nut waiting for the night her attacker might return, and has left a failed family in her wake. That gives us a cast with their own suburban lives to be turned upside on another fateful Halloween night.

Curtis has transformed Strode in the new Dr. Loomis. You can feel the lack of Donald Pleasence, who carried more of the Halloween franchise than any other person involved for years until his death in 1995. There is no replacing Pleasence, but there is Curtis honing her craft to create a character as manic and invested in the evil of Michael Myers, while also being vulnerable in a way Pleasence's Loomis couldn't be. 
Her Laurie Strode is now a mother and grandmother, an absent figure in a family that's kept her at a distance because of her exhausting paranoia. But Laurie wants a bond with them, particularly with a granddaughter who is about to graduate high school. It's a believable yearning for connection that gives her a natural fear that Michael will come after the family that doesn't trust her. She is as estranged from the cast as Dr. Loomis was forty years ago.

Blumhouse's Halloween is a busy movie, packed with as many kills as you could ask a Slasher movie to provide. There may even be too many, and the movie will drag in the middle of people who aren't in for Michael's spree. The highlight is a single tracking shot where he essentially goes Trick-or-Treating for murder, and the tension lies in whether someone will catch on and clue the neighborhood in, and who Michael will spare. Without spoiling it, the spree is so overwhelming, touching minor and major characters in the Strode family, that by the end it feels like anyone could go. 

I came to appreciate the smaller twists in characters. The first babysitter we meet is both enthusiastically sexual with her boyfriend and has a great rapport with her kids; there's no reducing her to a bimbo that we shouldn't care about. Dr. Sartain is Michael's new therapist, and brings an enthusiastic, almost fandom-like quality to what you'd expect would be an ominous role. Even our duo cops, who spend their introduction bickering about sandwich for a solid minute of screen time, come across as well-meaning dorks. Altogether touches like this humanize the broad cast and give Blumhouse's Halloween a universe that feels fun to hang out in, lightening things up between Michael's attacks and the Strode family's drama.

By creating that larger, more colorful cast, and by slaughtering so many of them, Blumhouse's Halloween gives up the same opportunity that Halloween 2 and H20 gave up. John Carpenter's original Halloween centered on one girl, and her closest friends were targeted, leaving us the opportunity to see how it affected her life going forward. Blumhouse's Halloween slaughters so many people with so little focus that no sequel could feasibly contemplate the damage it's caused. There will be too many shattered families, not that this movie gives a hint that it cares about the families of the dead. An intimate look into a (likely offscreen) relative of any of the slain here will feel trivial in the wake of all the people who should be grieving. By the time the original Halloween ended, all of the deaths were meaningful to Laurie, and suggestive of Michael having some strange psychology. This time it's more like Halloween 2 again. They've lost the mystery of Michael by letting him go scattershot, and ultimately it doesn't build up to anyone having as meaningful a relationship with the victims or carnage as Laurie had in the original. Instead, Laurie's pain from forty years ago is still paramount, which is a lost opportunity for a revival film.

There's another star that returns for this movie, and it keeps more things fresh than any actor. As much as I enjoy Jamie Lee Curtis, my favorite part was the music. John Carpenter is back and delivers an excellent score. When things need to shock or shake you, Carpenter's music does more than all the lighting and camera tricks. Despite using the same synth tools of the 1978 Halloween, it doesn't sound dated. This is a modern Horror movie mining retro for power, and the music works even better than the iconic mask at setting a mood.

Everything comes together to deliver one of the most exciting and creative Slasher final acts in decades. Three generations of Strodes - the manic Laurie, her skeptical daughter, and her granddaughter who has no idea what is befalling them - come into the face of a very different home invasion. It's damnably clever with its reversals of iconic shots and scares from Carpenter's original film without cheapening the trauma that would follow someone out of that original experience. By sheer accident, it winds up vying for the most perilous home invasion finale with this year's A Quiet Place.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers holds a special place in my heart, but it wasn't as technically sound as this. Blumhouse has faithfully revived a classic series. It ends jarringly in a way that you can easily see getting its own 1981-style Halloween 2 sequel, to unpack everything that's just happened on this bloody night. But in coming to such a concussive close, it might be even better if this is the end.


  1. I liked it, too, John, for many of the reasons you wrote about. This is a great review.

  2. Not for me - though I thoroughly enjoyed reading your take on it.

  3. I haven't seen it but it got great reviews. Glad it ignores all the other sequels. Especially the third one.


Counter est. March 2, 2008