Wednesday, October 31, 2018

40 Years of Halloween - Halloween (2018)

The original Michael Myers returns. Again.

The producers behind The Weinstein Company and Dimension Films ran into some serious trouble in the last year or so, but the companies they were running were having issues long before that. Evidence of that could be seen way back at the end of 2009, when they couldn't put together a budget high enough for director Patrick Lussier to make a 3D sequel to Rob Zombie's Halloween remake and Halloween II. Soon they were knocking out extremely low budget sequels to the Children of the Corn and Hellraiser franchises just so they could hold on to the rights to those properties while hoping to do higher budgeted reboots. Reboots they could never get off the ground.

About six years after the Halloween 3D project collapsed, Dimension announced that a new sequel in the Halloween franchise, to be titled Halloween Returns and directed by Marcus Dunstan from a screenplay he wrote with Patrick Melton (Dunstan and Melton are the duo who wrote the Feast trilogy, several Saw sequels, and Piranha 3DD). This project was described as a "recalibration" of the series. It was said that it would be disregarding Zombie's films and tying back to the events of John Carpenter's original 1978 Halloween and 1981's Halloween II... But that wasn't quite accurate, because the story Dunstan and Melton crafted wasn't true to those films, either. They were going to change characters and details of events. Halloween Returns was supposed to go into production in July of 2015, but again Dimension couldn't keep a high profile project on track. And they ran out of time. In December of 2015, they lost the rights to the Halloween franchise, which they had controlled since 1995's Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers.

The Halloween rights reverted to Miramax, a company the producers in charge of The Weinstein Company and Dimension had founded but were no longer involved with. Teaming with Trancas International Films, the company that was run by original Halloween producer Moustapha Akkad and is now run by his son Malek Akkad, Miramax brought in one of the biggest names working in the horror genre today to help figure out how to proceed. That name is Jason Blum, the guy behind Blumhouse Productions, the company that has had a hand in such hits as Insidious, Sinister, The Purge, Happy Death Day, and many more. I don't think anyone would have guessed the directing and writing team they ended up going with: David Gordon Green, who had never directed a horror film before (although he was attached to a remake of Suspiria for a while), would direct from a script he wrote with Danny McBride, an actor primarily known for his work in comedies (he did turn up in Alien: Covenant last year), and Jeff Fradley, a writer they worked with on the HBO comedy series Vice Principals.

It's not likely many people would be guessing that their movie would end up starring original Halloween heroine Jamie Lee Curtis, either. After starring in Halloween and Halloween II (where she was mostly required to just lie in a hospital bed), Curtis did return to the franchise for the 20th anniversary film Halloween H20 and was contractually obligated to appear in that film's follow-up Halloween: Resurrection, but after that she seemed to be very done with the series. But Green, McBride, and Fradley won her over and convinced her that their story was worth coming back for. Jake Gyllenhaal had a hand in convincing her, too. Gyllenhaal is Curtis's "unofficial godson", and he had just worked with Green on the drama Stronger, so he was able to vouch for the director.

In a way, the new Halloween turned into the project Curtis had hoped H20 would be. She wanted to work with Carpenter and Halloween producer Debra Hill again on that film, and while Hill has sadly passed away, Blumhouse did get Carpenter involved with their film. Not only did Carpenter serve as executive producer and act as a sounding board for ideas, he even composed the score with his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies. Halloween 2018 also earns some extra points over H20 with the fact that the story was built around the idea of bringing Curtis's character Laurie Strode back, while for H20 an existing Laurie-less script was rewritten to put her in the lead.

H20 had ignored the events of the sequels Curtis didn't play Laurie Strode in. Halloween 4, 5, and 6 (and, of course, the unique Halloween III: Season of the Witch) were wiped from the timeline. Green and his collaborators took the same approach to their Halloween, but went a step further: not only did they ignore the events of 3, 4, 5, 6, H20, and Resurrection (they really had to ignore Resurrection, since Laurie was killed off in it), they even did something quite controversial. They ignored Halloween II. That didn't sit well with a lot of fans, as part 2 is a pretty popular entry in the series. It was a decision I was happy about, as I really dislike the revelation in Halloween II that Laurie Strode is the long-lost sister of slasher Michael Myers. In the first Halloween, it seemed like he had just chosen to stalk her at random, but Carpenter tossed this motivation into the sequel just because he didn't know how else to fill out the story. That "Michael Myers wants to kill his family" idea has been holding the franchise back for more than thirty-five years, and now it has finally been ditched.

The original Halloween ended with Myers' psychiatrist Doctor Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence) saving Laurie's life by shooting Myers six times, knocking him backward off a second floor balcony. But when Loomis looked over the edge of the balcony, he saw that Myers had disappeared into the night. According to Halloween 2018, Myers didn't get far. Loomis caught up to the killer and was about to finish him when he was stopped by a young police officer named Frank Hawkins. Myers was apprehended and sent back to Smith's Grove Sanitarium, where Loomis's advice that he be executed by lethal injection and his body incinerated was ignored.

Green had planned to shoot a very elaborate opening scene that would take us right back into the ending of the first Halloween, with 1978 Laurie Strode and Doctor Loomis being brought back to the screen through a combination of body doubles and digital face replacement. If that scene had been shot, Green was planning to have Myers kill Loomis, but Carpenter stepped in and suggested that he scrap the scene. Not only was it an unnecessary expenditure, it would also risk angering the fans by killing off Loomis in that way. So that scene was never shot. I agree with Carpenter, it didn't need to be in there.

Instead, the film opens a day or two before Halloween with podcasters Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) and Dana Haines (Rhian Rees) showing up at Smith's Grove Sanitarium in hopes of interviewing Myers before he's transferred to a facility called Glass Hill, a place Myers' new psychiatrist Doctor Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) describes as "the pit of Hell". Sartain has been studying Myers for years, considering him his life's obsession. He's desperate to understand the mind of evil. He was a student of Loomis's, and when Loomis passed away he asked to be assigned to Myers. Myers has been seen by over fifty psychiatrists, but none have been able to get through to him.

Aaron and Dana aren't able to get anything out of Myers, of course. Walking out to where Myers is chained up for some fresh air in a checkerboard courtyard, there get no acknowledgment from him and Green films him from behind so we can't see his face, just his balding head and grey beard. From his tote bag, Aaron pulls out an item he borrowed from the Attorney General's office. The mask Myers wore in 1978, now cracked, wrinkled, and rotting. Myers only shifts slightly when the mask is brought out. It's the other patients in the courtyard who have over-the-top reactions to it.

Cut to a great title sequence, which is very similar to the original film's title sequence, where the camera pushed in on a jack-o-lantern while credits appeared beside it. Here the pumpkin starts off rotten and collapsed, but gradually regenerates as the camera pushes in on it.

Aaron and Dana are also the way we're re-introduced to Laurie Strode, as they seek her out for an interview after getting nothing from Michael Myers. Twenty years after enduring the events of both Halloween and Halloween II, the Laurie Strode of Halloween H20 was able to put on an act of normalcy for the outside world. She was the headmistress at a boarding school, she shared a stylish short haircut with Jamie Lee Curtis, she seemed like a regular teacher. She kept her alcohol problem, nightmares, and medications behind the closed door of her own home. Forty years after enduring the events of the first Halloween, this Laurie Strode is more noticeably damaged. The decades have been rough on her, as she has dedicated her life to being prepared for the return of Michael Myers. The H20 Laurie had some degree of hope that Michael Myers might be dead, even if his body was never found. This Laurie knows Myers is still out there, and she's certain he'll be escaping from the mental hospital again to come back to his hometown of Haddonfield someday. Curtis wears a shoulder-length grey wig and glasses to play this Laurie, who lives in a house with a heavy duty security system. An electronic gate, alarms, surveillance cameras, large lights on the roof. She has a collection of guns, and a shooting range on her property where she uses mannequins for target practice. Her house even has a hidden room: a basement under the kitchen island, which can be moved with a remote control. This Laurie has been through two failed marriages and has a rocky relationship with her adult daughter Karen (Judy Greer), who she lost custody of when the girl was 12. Up to that point, Laurie had been raising Karen to be a survivalist as well, teaching her how to shoot and fight. Trying to make sure Karen was "prepared for the horrors of this world". Karen was also around when Laurie made that hidden basement, and she has nightmares about it.

Laurie doesn't talk to Aaron and Dana for long, and only does so because they promise to give her $3000, which she wants to give to Karen's teenage daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), who has been trying to connect with her grandmother even though her mom isn't comfortable with the idea. Laurie comes to see Allyson at her school, with Allyson first spotting her through a classroom window while the teacher (a vocal cameo by original Halloween co-star P.J. Soles) is talking about fate, a callback to the classroom scene where Laurie spots Myers outside her school while the teacher is discussing fate. Allyson wants Laurie to get over Michael Myers and move on for the good of their family.

It will be tough for Laurie to move on right now, since Michael Myers manages to escape during the transfer to Glass Hill. The transfer bus is found crashed on the side of the road, the patients wandering around in the night... Reminiscent of the Smith's Grove escape scene in the first movie. This Halloween is packed with callbacks, even to sequels that didn't happen in its timeline. The hospital from Halloween II, the Silver Shamrock masks from Halloween III, the high school sports team mentioned on a sign in Halloween 4, all of those things get a nod in this film.

When a hunter and his young son come across the crash, Myers takes the opportunity to kill them and steal their truck. The death of the son is shot much like the murder of Annie in the original film, and has the added shock value that the kid is only 12 or so.

After that, Myers visits a gas station, which Aaron and Dana also happen to stop by after visiting the grave of Judith Myers, the teenage sister Myers killed back in 1963, when he was 6 years old. How Myers was able to track them down is a mystery, but after killing a mechanic to steal a new pair of coveralls he kills Aaron and Dana to get his mask back from them. The gas station scene is another one that's reminiscent of scenes from past films: the scene where we see the dead tow truck driver in part 1, the scene where he kills the mechanic and gets a pair of coveralls in part 4, and - when Myers goes after Dana in the restroom - the rest stop scene from H20. As Dana sits on the toilet, Myers puts his hand over the top of the stall door and drops a handful of bloody teeth at her feet, teeth he collected from the cashier after smashing his jaw on the counter. That's a new one, he's never freaked people out with teeth before.

It's during the gas station scene that this Myers also demonstrates that he's capable of a level of brutality similar to that of Tyler Mane's hulking beast of a Michael Myers in Rob Zombie's Halloween remake and Halloween II. Myers is played by James Jude Courtney in this one and he's not the monster Mane was, but he can definitely bash people around and mess them up real good. He even has more leg strength than Mane's Myers - while Mane's version of the character took several stomps to crush someone's head under his boot, Courtney's Myers makes a guy's head explode like a melon with just one stomp. It's just as cool as it is over-the-top.

Courtney's performance is decent, but I was disappointed that he seems more inspired by the unnatural, robotic movements of Dick Warlock in Halloween II than he was by Nick Castle's movements in the first movie - which is especially odd because Castle came back to put on the Myers mask for a moment in this movie. There are times when I don't like how Courtney moves because it seems like he's trying too hard to copy Warlock and it doesn't work quite as well. But, he's a fine Myers overall. One of my favorite things about this film's portrayal of Myers is how often we see him observing things, taking a moment to contemplate his options before taking action.

Now back in his full costume, Myers returns to Haddonfield for another Halloween night killing spree. As originally intended, he kills completely at random, and the highlight of this film is when we see Myers strolling through a Haddonfield neighborhood during trick or treat time, going from house to house, deciding who to kill. He grabs a hammer from a garage, goes into a house, kills a woman done up like Mrs. Elrod in Halloween II, takes a knife from her kitchen, moves on to the next house... As he's leaving one house, he passes a baby crying in a crib. He acknowledges it, moves on.

I have seen some viewers try to stir up controversy over this moment and complain that it humanizes Myers, suggesting that it shows he has a conscience. I don't get that from this moment at all. For me, this is just another example of something Michael Myers has done throughout the entire series: he doesn't kill everyone he comes across, he picks and chooses his victims. He'll kill one person and pass up another. He didn't kill everyone he came in contact with in the original. He didn't kill Mrs. Elrod in Halloween II, he stole a knife from her kitchen and went to kill her next door neighbor. He stood in a nursery full of babies at the hospital in Halloween II and didn't kill a single one. He didn't kill the mother and daughter at the rest stop in Halloween H20. On and on. This is part of the character of Michael Myers. The baby was a late addition here, originally Myers was supposed to walk past a man sleeping on a couch and leave him alone. That would have been perfectly fitting for the character as well.

While Myers out there stalking through the streets of Haddonfield with no interest in or thought of her at all, Laurie is patrolling the town, hunting him. Also on patrol is the police officer we're told was also on duty in 1978, Will Patton as Frank Hawkins. Hawkins has several scenes in the movie, but despite the fact that he's the person who's apparently most responsible for Myers still being alive today he has very little impact on the events of Halloween night 2018. Hawkins is joined in his cruiser by Doctor Sartain, who Laurie amusingly refers to as "the new Loomis" when she meets him - which she does because she keeps showing up at Myers' crime scenes along with the police. Sartain is no Loomis, though.

Laurie's hunt eventually pays off - but not until after Myers has claimed more victims, among them a teenage babysitter named Vicky (Virginia Gardner), who was taking care of a very funny little boy named Julian (Jibrail Nantambu). Although Myers isn't specifically targeting any one person in this film and is not out to get Laurie and her family, it is quite a coincidence that so many victims turn out to be connected to Allyson. Vicky and her boyfriend Dave (Miles Robbins) are friends of Allyson's, and later another of Allyson's friends (one played by Drew Scheid) will be killed in the yard of a Mr. Elrod. Allyson will then have a close encounter with Myers herself, but all of this happens by chance. It's purely bad luck. Or maybe fate.

Laurie first spots the masked Myers when she's outside a house and he can be seen through an upstairs window. They look at each other, Myers tilts his head, Laurie raises her gun and fires. Myers' head shatters like glass. It is; Laurie was seeing his reflection and just shot a mirror. This moment where Laurie and Myers spot each other is the one in which Myers is being played by Nick Castle.

While Vicky is babysitting and her grandmother is out hunting Michael Myers, Allyson is at a school dance with her boyfriend Cameron Elam (Dylan Arnold), whose father Lonnie is referenced in the dialogue. Lonnie Elam was the main bully who picked on little Tommy Doyle in the original movie. Cameron puts on an act of being a good kid, but he's more like his dad than he lets on. He turns out to be a douche, yet he makes it through the movie unharmed because Green says there are plans for him if Green and his collaborators come back to make a sequel.

Cameron's bad behavior at the dance causes Allyson to leave early, before the dance is evacuated because the police have confirmed that Myers is in town and killing people again, and puts her on the path to her own encounter with Myers. Although Allyson is built up to be a next generation heroine, she actually doesn't have anything to do in the film's climax.

Allyson does make her way to her grandmother's house by the end of the film, and Myers ends up there as well, through a sequence of events that he's not entirely in control of. Laurie has also brought Karen and her husband / Allyson's father Ray (Toby Huss) there, to hide them safely away in her basement.

The stage has been set for a rematch between Laurie and Myers, and that rematch is packed into the last 15 minutes of the movie just like the rematch in Halloween H20 was. It even begins with a moment where Laurie and Myers are on either side of a door in both movies, but they only looked at each other through a window in the door in H20, here Myers grabs Laurie through the glass in the door and tries to kill her while he's on the other side of it.

The approach to the two different rematches is quite different, so it's up to the viewer to decide which is the better one. H20 had more direct, physical altercations between Laurie and Myers. Here it's more about tension and atmosphere as they stalk each other through Laurie's dark house. There is one moment where they fight that builds up to a great callback to the end of the original movie, and it takes place in a room with the same layout as the room at the end of the original. That's because that particular set was built for the recreation of the Halloween '78 ending that Green didn't end up filming.

For me, the ending of Halloween 2018 works much better than the ending of H20, especially since we don't have Myers acting odd here to set up a "he switched clothes with someone else" twist like H20 did. The ending in the finished film is actually a reshoot, replacing one that included Laurie and Michael having a knife fight in her yard, and I think it's probably better than the one it replaced.

Halloween 2018 works better for me than H20 did in most ways, although it certainly has its issues as well. Green and his writers could have spent more time focusing on Laurie, but she's really one member of a large ensemble here, and every person in the movie gets a little more character work than you would expect to see in something like this. Karen, Allyson, Vicky, Julian, Cameron, Allyson's friend Oscar, Sartain, Hawkins, etc., they're all given their moments, and the movie feels scattered because it wants to spend so much time with so many characters. We get a very good idea of how damaged Laurie is, but the movie could have delved into that even further.

I never expected Jamie Lee Curtis to do another Halloween movie after Halloween: Resurrection, but she came back in a major way. She delivers an incredible performance in this movie. It's not all about Laurie being tough and prepared, she has layers, and she's trying to conceal a pain that very often bubbles to the surface. Like when she witnesses Myers being put on the transfer bus and starts crying and screaming. After that, she goes to a dinner celebrating the fact that Allyson has made it into the Honor Society. For a second, Laurie seems like the schoolgirl she was when we first met her as she happily and dorkily mentions that "I was in the Honor Society, too". Within seconds, though, Myers is back on her mind and she's breaking down. I've always known Curtis has talent, but this may be the best I've ever seen her be.

The best thing about the movie is that it takes us back into the world of the original film, re-establishing the classic Michael Myers after Rob Zombie introduced a very different version of the character in his two films. As is said in the James Bond movie Skyfall, "Sometimes the old ways are the best", and that is certainly the case when it comes to the Halloween franchise and Michael Myers. Green didn't fully copy Carpenter's style like Rick Rosenthal did on Halloween II, but his film still feels very much in line with Halloween '78, and it was great to get an old school Halloween again.

Green and McBride have said they have ideas for a sequel, and at one point they even considered pitching the idea of shooting two movies back-to-back. Now that this Halloween is proving to be a huge box office success, I would be glad to see this creative team come back for a sequel - and Curtis has said that if Green directs it, she's in, too.

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