As a horror film, the original “Halloween” by John Carpenter deeply affected me. It had a simplicity. It was primal and very effective. There was a moody primitivism to the film. The camera observed and lingered with a slow and almost slumberous motion. The camera was often still, then abruptly it would drift here and there, picking up the minute details of a small town on Halloween: a band of Trick or Treaters, a witch holding her bag out for candy, small toddlers shrieking either in fear or glee; it was hard to make a distinction. Though these were sundry occurrences, there was a macabre nostalgia to the events. Coupled with the lethargic slowness of the camera, all things visible seemed askew. The pumpkins were too bright, the windows too clear, the flutter of a pirate’s bandanna too red like blood.
These sights, were to me, scary enough. No matter that a tall dark-uniformed man was on the loose known as the Boogeyman, The Shape or Michael (Nick Castle), armed with an over-large butcher knife that seemed like the lethal part of a Jack O Lantern’s smile.
Then there was the music, John Carpenter’s own creation: a simple rhythmic, escalating keyboard progression, perhaps with hints of “Jaws” and The Exorcist’s Tubular Bells. Infallibly basic, signaling a tingle of the hands and a narrowing of a noose. The sound of an electric shock.
Now 40 years have passed and Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is hiding out in Haddonfield in a steel fenced house, having survived a rather terrifying attack by the man in the mask. She has many issues, but anyone would.
Part of the interest in this sequel is in seeing how the new director David Gordon Green (Pineapple Express) will handle such an iconic frightening villain. Smartly, the story is more about Laurie Strode as a survivor of horrific violence than it is about The Shape.
Few believe or tolerate Laurie’s claims that Michael is still a threat. She has journalists at her fence wanting her to meet Him. Her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) avoids her, thinking she is overly self-absorbed. Only Laurie’s grand-daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) is open to her.
Devotees of the original cult classic will find much to smirk at: the high school is much the same. The teacher still drones on about the nature of fate. Kids stride recklessly on the tree lined sidewalk just as they did in 1978 as if to tempt The Mask, while the pumpkins once traditionally done 40 years ago are now deflated, obese, or carved crazily with deformed features. To complicate matters there is an eerie psychiatrist, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) who is obsessed with Michael a little too much.
This next chapter excellently subverts the original. In school, Allyson looks through the classroom window in a shot that mimics the first chapter, but instead of seeing The Shape, she sees her grandmother. In another echo of the initial film, Laurie falls from the roof and tumbles to the ground. But when Michael looks over the balcony, Laurie has vanished. The message is clear. By fighting the monster and surviving, she has become a bit of the monster. One can also interpret these scenes in another way: Laurie is using her own survivor magic against her tormentor. Such is Michael’s just desserts.
The Boogeyman himself is still crazy after all these years with only one thing on his mind. In contrast to his earlier years, he feels a bit more static and still. At one point, he even takes on a formless suit in a closet and hangs immobile.
All the better to scare us.
This is Curtis’s film and she does well and plays it straight and meaningful with a role that was once superficial and light. Her trauma can easily be understood in our current world of fear and worry. Her anxiety is tangible in the Madmen realm of hate-crimes and MeToo. Laurie’s face is a scrimshaw puzzle of determination beyond fear. There is also something absurdist in her store of weapons, her iron gates and her thick steel walls. How much after all, does it take to kill this man? But that is the point.
This is what trauma does.
David Gordon Green’s “Halloween” is a fitting bookend to the original with much of the same spirit, as if seen from a slicker and glibber perspective. Where in a 1978 Haddonfield, kids would scramble in terror from The Shape, now they hardly look up from their smartphones. At such times, even this being looks bereft. Despite his terrifying presence, Michael is no match for our digital attentions and his horror is now almost quaint.
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