Harsh Texture

Halloween 2018

Retconning away all the previous sequels, 2018's Halloween exists as a direct continuation of the 1976 original. Michael Myers has spent the ensuing decades following his muder spree back under supervision of a mental hospital. Meanwhile Laurie Strode has prepared tirelessly for his return, to the detriment of her family. Another botched prisoner transfer sets Michael loose once again...

After that stunning first entry, the Halloween franchise was fairly content to mold itself into whatever horror films were at the moment. After John Carpenter severed his remaining ties to the films following the unfortunate failure of Season of the Witch, this series contented itself to lumber three steps behind the latest trends.

The second entry was a pure slasher. Parts 4 through 6 were pure cash grab, little more than fodder for the video stores. In the late nineties Dimension films acquired the rights. Halloween was recast in the mold of Scream, self-aware with a pop-culture sheen. The budget returned but Michael Myers was ill suited for an era of meta humor.

It’s strange how little the sequels pulled from the original. They found use for Michael and Dr. Loomis, occasionally Laurie Strode. Gone was the world building and the genuine interest in minor characters. Gone were Dean Cundy’s spare yet evocative compositions (every other Halloween movie looked like shit). Gone too was the pacing.

Yet all the worse qualities of the sequels fed off each other. This led eventually to the polarizing Rob Zombie entries where Michael could only be portrayed by a hulking giant given the acts he was capable of. As Halloween again reinvented itself for the era of torture-porn.

The regard for horror films in general has shifted over this period. Now the best are regarded simply as great filmmaking. No longer just for the “cult”. The notable genre entries are perennial fodder for revival screenings in arthouses and mainstream cinemas. I can’t say the same for their critically lauded contemporaries. Out of Africa, Chariots of Fire, Ghandi, Kramer vs Kramer--these films simply didn’t stand the test of time and now look like cautionary tales against bloat and self-seriousness. Meanwhile Evil Dead 2, Videodrome, The Thing, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and yes Halloween inspire annual reassessments and reevaluations. Halloween 2018 arrives amidst a crop of horror films--Mandy, Suspiria--that intend to be taken seriously while sacrificing none of their genre touchstones.

In this Halloween Michael Myers is reassessed as a perfect monster for the Trump era. On one side are his very real victims, but time and again at crucial moments the authorities and the elites side with Myers. The podcast “journalists” are clearly more interested in Michael’s motives than Laurie’s resultant trauma. The police officer who stopped Dr Loomis from killing Michael in 78 probably grasped at the time that Haddonfield, and yes Laurie, would need to reckon with this terror again. Despite this he gave the benefit of the doubt to a known murderer.

Michael Myers then is the pure horror of unassailable white male privilege. Previous entries in the franchise started to look to worshipfully at Myers. His presence inspired death cults and sacrifices. Here other characters covet what he represents. In his murder sprees observers see the ultimate freedom, the ultimate power dynamic. They don’t just want to protect Myers, they want to be him.

Michael Myers himself is thankfully just as inscrutable as ever. We can look at his actions, the random killing, the posing of his victim’s bodies. Sometimes he works quickly and efficiently, other times he’ll build up suspense. We’re no closer as to figuring out why. Halloween gives back Myer’s physical face and retains the scars delivered by Laurie and Loomis but these glimpses to the man are just as much a blank slate as when he’s under the mask.

Halloween threw away the chronology from all the previous sequels. Many read this as a repudiation of those films, but that’s the furthest from the truth. The filmmakers go out of there way to include nods to each of the sequels some subtle (Myer’s wrinkled mask a tip of the hat to Rob Zombie’s reboot) and some overt (calling out Halloween II’s reveal that Laurie and Michael were related). Many of the plot points here, including the big twist, were presaged by those sequels so in effect this entry plays like a collection of their best ideas. The filmmakers hold the whole franchise in high regard but wanted to move freely of the accumulated mythology.

You can compare this to Halloween H20. The Laurie Strode there was very similar to the one we see here. Lingering mental trauma from her encounters with Myers, the scars pushing away her family. H20 had to juggle the family relation and the legacy of Samhain.

There’s still a lot left unmined from the original Halloween. Incredible for a film that kicked off a popular genre and included explicit remakes. All the slasher films that followed didn’t bother to explore the sexual repression that Debra Hill and John Carpenter laced into Laurie Strode and implied as an equal-and-opposite to the horror represented by The Shape. This sequel once again rewards chastity above all other virtues in young women. Sadly Dean Cundy’s masterful cinematography was never seen as a core component of the success of the first feature. Here the cinematography is quite fine, shot very well with inky digital cameras. Cinematographer Michael Simmonds stays earth-bound, and never veers into the impressionism that Cundy conjured. That means none of the shots of Michael Myers or Laurie Strode from this feature crossover into something iconic.

John Carpenter returns too, not as director but instead providing the score. As a musician, Carpenter has two distinct periods: when he could only afford to use synthesizers and later when he started living out his rock ambitions with electric guitar flourishes. His early period is rightfully lauded as spare and effective; his guitar heroics meanwhile serve as enjoyable cheese. Carpenter’s score here melds both worlds, dolloping plenty of guitar flourishes over the hallowed original theme.

Published: April 27, 2019, 7:39 p.m.
Updated: May 11, 2019, 2:21 p.m.