Thursday, October 25, 2018

More Of The Night HE Came Home

With the release of Halloween (2018), the various makers of the many assorted sequels and reboots to John Carpenter's 1978 Halloween are now officially 9 and 0 when it comes to successfully matching the singular, elusive magic of the original (for the purposes of keeping this Myers-centric, we're leaving Halloween III: Season of the Witch out of the discussion). That is not to say the new movie isn't good or that none of the other films in the franchise have been devoid of merit either, only that all of them have tried, in their own ways, to do what Carpenter did and yet all of them have fallen short of achieving that specific goal. That doesn't mean it hasn't frequently been fun and intriguing (if sometimes frustrating) to watch them try.

If anything, seeing how so many filmmakers have struggled to replicate what seems like such a basic model is what makes these films fascinating and it only increases the impenetrable mystique of the original. The whole reason that Carpenter's Halloween spawned a whole sub-genre was, besides the enormous amount of money that it made, was that it seemed so damned easy to copy.

Hellraiser (1987), for example, was a hit but yet you never saw a wave of Hellraiser clones afterwards because who the hell knows how to make more of those? Even making actual sequels to Hellraiser was a difficult task, never mind unrelated copycats. But with Halloween, everybody looks at it and says "Oh, I can do that!" only to find out that they really can't. Halloween seems like the simplest of movies to make endless copies of as Carpenter put the perfect blueprint for the slasher film right there for all to see. And yet it's proved impossible.

It's like a chef who walks you slowly through their recipe, step by step, listing every ingredient and showing you exactly how they created their dish, down to the last pinch of salt, and yet whenever someone else tries to recreate it for themselves, the taste is always noticeably off. Why is that?

Well, I think one big issue is that when people make a Halloween movie, what they're really doing is making a Friday the 13th movie - or at least a movie that attempts to split the difference between the two franchises.

Beginning with Halloween II, the thinking became that Halloween would have to get with the times. What worked in 1978 was already considered passé and Halloween had to play catch up with the slasher competition in order to remain relevant.

To put it simply, Halloween was a movie that said less was more. Friday the 13th said nah, More is more and that's what's become the accepted wisdom. The outrageous sleeping bag kill from Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood (1987), for example, would not be out of place in the new Halloween (or in any other Halloween besides the original, for that matter) whereas any of the original Halloween's kills would be very out of place in any Friday film.

Another aspect of the original Halloween that separated it, and the character of Michael Myers, from all the imitators to come but was lost in the other Halloween's was the fact that Michael is playing a game in the first film. He may be evil and he may have the devil's eyes but yet there is a child-like element to him and to his pursuit of his victims in the first film.

The way that he follows people, stalking his victims, always risking being seen (like when he accidentally knocks over the flower pot and quickly moves away before Annie spots him) and sometimes allowing himself to be seen, as part of the game (like when Michael stands in plain view by the hedges when Laurie is walking towards him). As the night goes on, he could kill Annie and Lynda and Bob - and even Laurie - at any time but he chooses to prolong the game he's playing.

He waits, he watches, he chooses just the right time to surprise his victims. Like a child, he hides and then pops out. He hides in the back seat of Annie's car. He waits for Bob to open a closet door so he can spring out like a jack in the box. He puts a sheet over himself to disguise himself when he enters the bedroom to kill Lynda (the fact that Michael doesn't just put a sheet over himself but also takes the goofy step of putting Bob's glasses on in order to "complete" his disguise is a clear sign that this is something that is playful to him).

In line with that, Michael's indestructible nature is also portrayed differently in the original. In Halloween, it's akin to when kids play cowboys and Indians or cops and robbers and one kid will pretend to shoot another and the other kid will fall down and "play dead."

In the first film, Michael can't really be hurt but he pretends to be. Whether he's jabbed in the neck with a knitting needle or stabbed or shot point blank, he goes down the same way every time - flat on his back, unmoving.

In none of those cases is he the least bit injured. He's just trying to fool Laurie, and then Loomis, into momentarily thinking that they "got him" only so he can surprise them by getting up again. In all the films that followed, his unkillable nature becomes more of a robotic thing. When he gets put down, he's really down, no "fooling" about it. The underlying sense of mischief is gone.

But having talked about how the other Halloweens have strayed from the spirit of the original, how is the new film on its own terms? Well, it's a mixed bag but I give it favorable marks. It's just a solid slasher film. There's no back story, no mythology for Michael, no Druid cults, no celestial constellations to guide Michael, and no Busta Rhymes.

I'd say it sits well along side the other anniversary entries - 1988's Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and 1998's Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later - as being a well-meant, game attempt at getting the franchise back on track.

Of those three, 4 is still my favorite. Aside from the fact they had to work with the unfortunate familial element from II, director Dwight H. Little and scripter Alan B. McElroy simply got Michael and got the Halloween vibe just a bit better than anyone else has. That film wasn't perfect, but it was the closest I think I'll ever get to what I really want out of a Halloween sequel. And it had Loomis, an aspect of the series that was so essential to Halloween that any Halloween without it is playing at an automatic disadvantage. No disrespect to Jamie Lee Curtis but Donald Pleasence was, to me, the real glue that held Halloween together. When he passed, he left a void in the series that has yet to be filled. And, well...that's that.

With this latest film, though, you've got an absolutely fantastic soundtrack, courtesy of Carpenter, his son Cody and godson Daniel Davies, that expertly, effortlessly resurrects the classic Halloween sound while also bringing in surprising new layers. You've got Jamie Lee Curtis, giving it her all forty years after the original, and you've got Michael Myers stripped of the barnacles that have clustered onto the character over the years. To my mind, just with all that you've already got yourself a worthwhile entry in the series. And that's what Halloween (2018) is.

So what's not so good about it? What keeps it from being a real gem rather than just a fun slasher pic? Well, first of all let me say that while I applaud the idea of finally freeing the franchise from Michael and Laurie's sibling attachment, I also feel that this movie's Laurie Strode desperately needs II as part of her history to make her story here work. In a weird way, the Laurie of H20 (all references to Michael as her brother aside) is the one that could have believably only endured the events of the original and be living the life she was.

She was a woman still haunted by her experience but yet had compartmentalized it enough where she could function and be a successful adult. The Laurie of 2018's Halloween, however, seems like far too much of a mess to have only lived through what she did in the first one. Not to diminish her trauma but, come on. A very scary thing happened to her but I don't think it's anything that someone couldn't - if not "get over" - then just deal with in a normal fashion.

But if you say the events of II happened to this Laurie, well then - now you're talking! You don't build a isolated compound fortress for the sake of some random psycho who once killed a couple of your friends and tried to put you down too, even as traumatic as that is.

But if you're talking about your psycho brother who wanted you dead so bad that he killed your friends, then slaughtered his way through a hospital staff and then, even after being blown up and engulfed in flames from head to toe, was STILL COMING AT YOU - yeah, that's a guy you're going to spend the rest of your life believing that as long as he's breathing you're not safe. You'd be right to think "I'm probably not done with this guy. Dude's determined. Better be ready for Round Two."

So, as much as II had some unwanted baggage attached to it, for the Laurie of this movie to be what director David Gordon Green and his co-scripters Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley wanted her to be, she really needed to have the events of that movie as part of her story.

But, they aren't and she doesn't and so you just have to go with it. But yet it does create a plausibility problem (outside of wondering how the hell Laurie could have realistically afforded to build her tricked-out fortress and her stockpile of weapons - but on that count, whatever. I don't even know how most TV characters can possibly afford to live in the kinds of houses and apartments they do so I can let Laurie's situation slide). I feel like everyone involved in this movie had a last act in place they knew was killer and just wanted to do whatever it took to get that last twenty minutes or so on screen but unfortunately everything leading up to it is just a little undercooked.

Chief among those undercooked elements is the left-field plot mechanism, involving Michael's psychiatrist Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), that gets Michael from the streets of Haddonfield to Laurie's compound. If you've seen the movie, you already know how ridiculous this is. I honestly don't know what to say about it except to say that it needed a lot more work. As is, it brings the movie to a screeching halt just when you want it to be hitting the gas. Once everything is in place for the big final showdown, you can kind of say "Fine, whatever it took to get us here!" but it's just a clumsy turn of events that I don't think subsequent viewings will smooth over.

Speaking of events that subsequent viewings won't smooth over, I don't think I'll ever think it was ok for Will Patton's deputy sheriff to drive his police vehicle head on, with killing force, into someone who he suspects is Michael.

Yes, it actually is Michael but at the time, Patton's character is simply taking the word of a traumatized teenager that this masked figure that she's pointing out on a dark street, from the vantage point of a moving vehicle, is 100% the guy they're looking for. I feel like Patton's character really needed to seek out that extra level of identification before gunning his vehicle straight into someone who literally could be anyone. You can't have someone just say "that's him!" and immediately plow your fucking car into someone. Seriously, what the hell is up with the law enforcement in Haddonfield?

Another issue with the new Halloween would be that it has far too many characters that it doesn't know what to do with. Interesting characters will appear and then mysteriously vanish (like Omar Dorsey's Sheriff Barker). The podcasters, for instance, who get the movie's story rolling, really could have been used more. I feel like one of them should have made it to the end somehow (the guy, at least, looks like he could have believably survived Michael's assault in the gas station bathroom) to bookend the movie. Whichever one lived could have echoed Laurie's line of "It was the boogeyman" with Laurie giving the Loomis reply of "As a matter of fact, it was."

Too many characters feel like they're there for no purpose than to facilitate a plot point or to add to the body count (or both). Again, a very Friday-style slasher movie move rather than a Halloween one.

But while all these issues might hold Halloween (2018) back from greatness, it doesn't mean that it isn't fun. For anyone to be a slasher aficionado or a fan of the Halloween franchise - or both, as most fans checking out this movie would be - you have to be someone who has learned over time how to go into a movie with a set of realistic expectations. You're someone who already knows all too well what it's like to be sorely disappointed by a movie and by any measure, this is way better than what usually arrives under the Halloween banner.

Walking out of the new Halloween, all gripes aside, I was still able to say I can't wait for the next one and that hasn't been the case for me for thirty years. Everything after 4 has been a case of either "I hope they get the next one right" or "Best to let it die now" but never "I can't wait to see what they do next!" Speaking of what's next, if nothing else this movie gave Curtis a far better exit - if she wants this to be her finale - than the limp goodbye that Resurrection provided.

Whether or not Curtis returns, it's a given that this movie won't be the last Halloween and that Michael will be back. One thing I will say about further sequels is that they have to re-establish a new Loomis-type character. The suggestion that I'll put out there and hope the universe will hear is that I'd love to see Robert Englund as Michael's new psychiatrist. He's the perfect age now, he's got the perfect look with the white hair and beard. And you need someone in that kind of role that's going to have the charisma and the character actor clout of Pleasence. Even if the new role isn't Loomis per say, it has to carry that same weight. You don't necessarily want Michael to keep going after the same victim movie after movie, but you want the same guy doggedly chasing him and telling anyone who will listen that the Evil has escaped. I'm telling you, Englund should be that guy. Maybe it's just the fanboy in me that wants to see Freddy being Michael Myers' psychiatrist but can you honestly tell me that wouldn't be awesome?

Answer: No, you can't! Don't even try!

Whatever comes next for Halloween, here's hoping it'll break the trend of only the anniversary installments being the decent ones (and before anyone says "But II was good!" - no, it really wasn't). It'd sure suck to have to wait until 2028 for the next good one to come along.

For now, though, The Shape is back in fighting shape.


Jose Andrade said...

Great review, really appreciate you taking the time to do a nice write-up....even though I think Halloween II (1981) is super duper 😉...though that might be nostalgia talking

Jeff Allard said...

Nothing wrong with nostalgia! Nostalgia is what fills, like 80% of my movie collection. I know HALLOWEEN II is well liked by a lot of fans - maybe by most fans! - but I just like busting on it.