Cinema Dispatch: Halloween

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Halloween and all the images you see in this review are owned by Universal Pictures

Directed by David Gordon Green

It’s finally judgement day for the movie that certainly has a lot of hype behind it, but has left me rather skeptical.  I mean look, I love the franchise but the last three movies were two wild as heck romps through the mind of Rob Zombie and a karate match with Busta Rhymes, so even if this isn’t all that great it still has a PRETTY low bar to clear as far as making a faithful return to the original formual.  That’s not what we want though, right?  That’s not what’s been promised to us!  John Carpenter is producing, Jamie Lee Curtis is back, and they even managed to get one of the original Michael Myers actors to return to the role!  This isn’t just A Halloween sequel, this is going to be THE Halloween sequel; even more so than the one Carpenter and Debra Hill wrote!  The expectations surrounding this movie is absurdly high which means we’re either gonna see something just as great as everyone promised it would be… or we’ll have another Texas Chainsaw 3D situation where it was all hype and zero payoff.  Can Jamie Lee Curtis and company give this franchise the proper sendoff it deserves, or were we better off just letting H20 be the final entry in her story and just pretending that Resurrection didn’t exist?  Let’s find out!!

Nearly forty years after that fateful Halloween night where Michael Myers (Nick Castle and James Jude Courtney) escaped and murdered five teenagers, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is still dealing with the scars that Michael left and has spent her whole life preparing for his return.  She got a place out in the woods to turn into a survivalist fortress, learned how to use all sorts of weapons, and just sat there waiting which she proceeded to do for four decades.  Admittedly a good idea if we want to see a badass battle to the death, but not so much when it comes to her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) who spent a good chunk of her childhood with Alternate Sarah Connor and just like John she got her ass hauled off by the state to be left with parents who will help her with her homework instead of teaching her thirty ways to sever a juggler.  All that’s in the past though, right?  Well Karen is certainly STILL in Haddonfield, but despite living within a short commute of her mother she still refuses to get involved with her, and now her own daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) is in high school… just like Laurie was when Michael Myers came to town!  Well that CAN’T just be a coincidence, now can it!?  Sure enough, Michael escapes from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium just like he did in the first one and it just so happens to be Halloween night.  You’d think that if they were gonna transport him to another sanitarium that they wouldn’t do it on the anniversary of his TWO murder sprees (remember, he killed his sister on Halloween night when he was just a little boy), but I guess that wouldn’t fit in with their schedule and there was no room in the budget for another trip!  Now with Michael out in the streets of Haddonfield one more time, Laurie is determined to see him put in the ground once and for all and can finally rid herself of this nightmare that has plagued her for the last forty years!  Will Laurie be able to survive one more night against the silent killer in a goofy mask?  Was all this preparation worth the effort, or has she already lost more trying to protect everyone than she may lose tonight?  How many bad ass one liners do you think she came up with while training for this night?

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“Merry Christmas, Michael.  Wait… DAMN IT!  Forty years of practice and I STILL screwed it up!”

You know me (unless this is your first time on this site, then you probably don’t), I just can’t seem to enjoy a movie unless I find a reason to criticize it, so I wanted to get out up front that while I have a lot to say about this movie that could be considered negative, I want it to be made perfectly clear that this is an EXCEPTIONAL film in a franchise that has some seriously classic entries; yes even ones AFTER the first John Carpenter film.  It’s easily in the upper half of films in the series which admittedly sounds like damning with faint praise, but four and five are pretty damn good in my book and I REALLY love the Rob Zombie movies, flawed as they may be.  Yes, I have issues with the movie and a few of the problems I brought up in my Trailer Talk did indeed crop up in the final product, but the end result is a lot more nuanced and carefully executed than I had expected even after this started to get some seriously good buzz.

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“Where’s my Oscar, damn it!?”

What works about this movie is the clear sense of passion behind the camera, and despite this being a Blumhouse production (albeit one of their heftier budgets at around fifteen million), there’s no sense that corners were cut which is so often the case with sequels to horror films and Michael Myers comes off as LEGITIMATELY scary.  Now this is certainly in a much different category than say Halloween Resurrection or Jason Takes Manhattan where the filmmakers were just trying to capitalize on a hot brand seeing as Halloween hasn’t been relevant since Rob Zombie’s fever dream of a sequel (WHITE HORSE!!), but even then we’ve seen plenty of examples of films trying to bring back a beloved franchise with a decent amount of studio backing that still failed to connect with audiences.  That awful Nightmare on Elm Street where they wasted Jackie Earl Haley, that Thing prequel we all forgot even existed, heck I’m pretty sure they tried that like three times with Texas Chainsaw Massacre and it only KIND of worked the first time.  Sure, part of it may just be the novelty of seeing a GOOD Slasher film in theaters again as the film leans VERY heavily into its own nostalgia, but there’s a sense of grace and control in the film making that’s a good reminder that these kinds of films CAN work if given the necessary resources and talent.  It’s a retread to be sure and doesn’t have NEARLY as much enthusiasm and wild imagination as the Rob Zombie films (WHITE HORSE!!), but it’s a pretty damn polished one if nothing else!

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“I SURE HOPE THEY AREN’T IN THE ROOM BEHIND ME!  IT’D BE ESPECIALLY BAD BECAUSE THE DOOR IS ALREADY OPEN!!”

As much as this movie manages to pull off being a slasher film, it also succeeds at being the conclusion of the Halloween story… at least for the most part.  Jamie Lee Curtis gives a fantastic performance here in the SECOND time she’s brought closure to this character, though unlike H20 it’s not taking place in the middle of a rather mediocre teen horror film.  Sure, the teenagers ARE here but they feel rather perfunctory as if the film NEEDED a babysitter to be a Halloween film (they don’t) but at least the film seems to be aware that their presence isn’t strictly necessary and that Laurie and her family are what’s driving the emotional stakes here.  Frankly, I’d have been happy just to have a movie (or maybe even a mini-series) about the Strode family and how dysfunctional they are due to Michael Myers, but what we have here is solid material with Judy Greer and Andi Matichak pulling their weight alongside a titan of the genre like Jamie Lee Curits.  Michael himself on the other hand is… fine, but the movie feels like it’s not quite sure where to take him and how far they can “break the established rules” here which is pretty much the only time the lack of guts abandon found in the Rob Zombie films (WHITE HORSE!!) feels like a bit of a detriment.  That movie wasn’t afraid to completely abandon the mystique of the character to give us something wholly original, and really if this IS gonna be THE LAST TIME, do something new with him.  It’s great seeing the old mask, it’s great to see the actors perfectly recreate that sense of slow but extraordinary power that he possesses, but he never comes off as anything more than what we’ve seen of him already which feels like a bit of a waste considering how well they gave Laurie Strode her swansong.

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“Really?  The closet?  How retro.”

Since we’re on the topic, where the film starts to falter for me is mostly in the things that AREN’T in the movie.  We’ve completely wiped out the continuity (all four billion different directions the series went through) and even cut out one of the most important elements of the first two films; the fact that Laurie Strode is Michael Myers sister.  I feel like that was a mistake as this feels like the PERFECT end of a trilogy that started with the first film, but it feels like we’re still missing something in between.  In so aggressively paring the movie down to its core elements, there’s much more that needs to be filled in and there just isn’t enough time for it all to feel as fleshed out as it needs to.  Now sure, even if they SAY the other movies are no longer canon, that doesn’t change the fact that most people are gonna go into this knowing at least something about the franchise even if all they know is that they’ve been making movies about this guy for the last forty years, so maybe I’m being a bit too narrow minded in expecting them to backfill four decades of story into one film.  That said, the thing about the first film is that it was SUPPOSED to be a one off, and so Michael Myers didn’t need a reason to kill.  He was THE SHAPE for a reason, because he’s a blank slate that exists to stoke fear in the audience.  Now when it became clear they had a monster hit on their hands along with an iconic villain, they set about giving him motivation which is when they added the references to Laurie being his sister in the TV cut of the movie and they made a big deal of it in part two, but without that motivation this version of Michael Myers feels a bit more aimless than he should.  Now this movie, to its IMMENSE credit, actually finds a work around for this issue so that the events don’t feel as contrived as they could have, but it still feels like a fix to something they broke in the first place.  This is why I feel that something is missing as if there was a new Part Two that we should have between the first one and this.  The movie is kind of fighting against itself trying to thread the needle between MICHAEL MYERS AND LAURIE STRODE ARE CONNECTED and MICHAEL MYERS IS JUST A MURDERER AND NOTHING MORE, and while it works a lot more than it doesn’t (which is probably the most interesting and surprising aspect of this movie), I still feel like a slightly better movie could have been made if there was a bit more context between this movie and the original.

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“So… why didn’t you move out of Haddonfield?”     “There is a VERY good reason for that.”     “And that reason is…?”     “A very good one.”

Other than that, the only genuinely sour note in the movie is Haluk Bilginer as the Doctor Loomis replacement (Doctor Sartain), and that’s not just me being snarky!  Jamie Lee Curtis LITERALLY calls him that in the movie so they’re clearly hanging a lampshade on the character, but he just doesn’t work.  In a movie trying THIS hard to be more high-minded and serious, he comes off as a complete cartoon character and his eventual role in the plot is downright ludicrous.  In fact, let’s go even further with that.  Pretty much EVERYTHING involving Smith’s Grove Sanitarium feels like it’s from a completely different movie.  That scene in the trailer where the dude whips out the mask and everyone loses their mind is even more ridiculous in the movie itself and, while I don’t necessarily agree that Halloween created any real stigma against those with mental illnesses, the rather crass way that Smith’s Grove and its residents are portrayed here hardly make a solid case against those claims.

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If these guys were any cheesier it’d have been directed by Tim Burton.

Sometimes I criticize a movie because I loathe it, and other times because I want it to be the best damn film it can be, and this movie is certainly in the latter category.  Is it the best Halloween movie or even the SECOND best after the first one?  Eh… that’s a tough call because of how many different directions the franchise took, but as far as the ones that hew most closely to the original film (two, four, five, six, and arguably H20), this might be the best of that bunch.  I wanted more from this movie than what we ultimately got, but the world rarely works the way I want it to and if this is the last one we’re gonna get with Jamie Lee Curtis, then it’s a hell of a good one to end with and I do recommend you all go see it if you’re in the mood for something spooky.  Now all we have to worry about is this movie making TOO much money and we get a Halloween 2 (no, not that one OR that one).  Remember what they did with Jamie Lee Curtis in the sequel to H20?  PLEASE don’t let that happen again!!

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