The theme of the just-released trailer for HALLOWEEN 2018 is doing things right. The franchise has been through many twists and turns over the years, and is something of a choose-your-own-adventure in terms of starting and stopping points, including often ignoring various entries in favor of kick-starting new approaches. For newcomers, it could be a confusing web of twisted, often puzzling, storylines, but once you are settled in, and buy into, the Haddonfield universe, you find a thrilling variety show of creative interpretations of the source material so wildly meandering that it has not yet had a chance to feel stale. Despite that diversity, there has been a consistent cry from the fanbase over the years for a “true return” to the elements in John Carpenter’s immortal original film. In what we have been presented with thus far, I see HALLOWEEN 2018 as having the potential to deliver those sought after goods.
Before diving into David Gordon Green’s upcoming entry, we have to step back and consider what has come before. As noted, there have been a number of restarts to the franchise over the years. As I see them, here are the various series-within-the-series:
1. H78 + HII (1981)
2. HIII (standing alone, ignores H78 and HII)
3. H4 + H5 + H6 (the “Jamie Lloyd trilogy”, ignores HIII)
4. H20 + RESSURECTION (the “Laurie Strode’s revenge” duo, ignores III-6)
5. H78 + HII (1981) + H20 + RESURRECTION (the “full Laurie Strode” quadrilogy that ignores III-6)
6. H78 + HII (1981) + H4 + H5 + H6 + H20 + RESURRECTION (the “full Michael Myers” series, ignores III)
7. Rob Zombie’s HALLOWEEN (2007) + HALLOWEEN 2 (2009) (reboot)
Have that straight? On top of all that, there are various versions available of most of the films. H78 has a television cut that pulls forward elements introduced in its sequel, and the small screen version of HII (1981) also has additional material not seen in theatres. H6 has a theatrical and a “producer’s cut” with differing storylines and conclusions, and both of Rob Zombie’s films are available in theatrical and unrated “director’s cut” versions. When you add all that up, this franchise boasts FIFTEEN different takes on the tale, and that isn’t counting trimmed (and unavailable) censored television versions of most all.
There are few through-lines, aside from Michael Myers/The Shape being at the heart of all but one film. The one transformative element most often discussed among fans is the establishment of the family connection between Michael and Laurie in Rick Rosenthal’s HALLOWEEN II (1981). With this, The Shape/Michael went from a motive-less madman in the original to being explained as a brother hell bent on family destruction, a path the remaining entries (save for the Myers-less III) couldn’t seem to veer away from.
So what do fans consider so special about H78? What element(s) are they mourning being absent or in short offering in the sequels? In my travels over the years, talking with scores of devotees, a major one is the mystery around Myers’ ambiguous motive, or lack of motive. A big part of what transitioned Michael Myers to The Shape in the first film was the loss of the man. The loss of the humanity. He became a specter haunting the corners of the frame in shadow, his visage a blank slate of white, perfect for viewers to project their own fears onto. Perfectly void of reason, which made him terrifyingly unpredictable.
Of course there are countless reasons why the first movie is brilliant, and it is easy to see why scores of imitators made pilgrimages to this territory in knock-off after knock-off. In addition to being keenly directed, shot, and performed, it was a simple formula that appealed to most everyone. No oceans necessary to be shark bait. No possession or demons involved. Nothing from another planet, and no nuclear mishap. This was the story of some friends being besieged by a man. It put the monster in suburbia, invading the spaces we hold most precious, injecting dread into the normally safe confines of our homes.
It has often been argued that introducing the fact that Michael was Laurie’s brother in HII (1981) re-humanized The Shape back into Michael the man, and in giving him clear motive, took him down some notches into the realm of familial murderer, not unfamiliar to anyone paying regular attention to the nightly news. The veil had been lifted, introducing a plot point so powerful that it remained unshakable. While the sequels are all tremendously fun in their own ways, fans often mourn the family tie, wondering what adventurous roads the series could have traveled if free from that anchor.
HALLOWEEN 2018 takes us there. As clearly stated early in the trailer, the concept of Laurie being Michael’s sister is nothing more than a myth. *POOF* family thread gone.
When I have had conversations with Carpenter about HALLOWEEN and his involvement, he has stated he has been asked numerous times to return to the fray after III (the last entry he was directly involved with, serving as producer, co-writer, and composer), but has declined. He has insisted it would be a “lose-lose” situation, considering the looming legacy of his original. It would take something monumental to bring him back. Apparently the combination of the H18 script by Green and Danny McBride and the involvement of genre powerhouse Blumhouse was enough to convince him.
As the H18 announcements started to roll out, it became increasingly clear the team behind the eleventh HALLOWEEN were making great effort to bring credibility and fan satisfaction along with them. Carpenter as producer was big, Carpenter as composer was even bigger, Nick Castle coming in to do some Shape work was unbelievable, and the addition of Jamie Lee Curtis was probably the biggest shock.
And what of Jamie Lee’s involvement? Haven’t we been here before? H20 was her return to HALLOWEEN after many years in more mainstream cinema. In that film, Jamie’s Laurie was living a manufactured life in a new state, with a new name, drowning her sorrows over her predator brother in copious amounts of wine. It was thrilling to have Curtis back in the series, and the moment where she and Michael come face-to-face in the portal window of that door remains one of the most legitimately powerful, goosebump-inducing moments in horror cinema. She cast her fears aside and faced him, and over the course of the film and RESURRECTION, the direct sequel, she stood her ground, never flinching.
The H18 trailer clearly shows a prepared Laurie, her home and surrounding woods peppered with security cameras and satellite dishes, and including a shooting range. She talks of having been waiting to destroy Michael, and is presented in almost every shot with either a gun or knife in her hand. I can’t help but think this isn’t as face-value as it appears, as a strong Laurie, a prepared Laurie, is nothing new. Even when looking back at H78, you see her caught by surprise by The Shape as her friends are falling all around her, yet she manages not only to persevere through numerous attacks, but protects two children in the process. Then she twice attempts to eliminate her brother in H20 and RESURRECTION with resolute determination, and in her mind, finality.
So, before getting into Myers/The Shape, I think the most tantalizing question this new film begs is what will this story offer in terms of the Laurie/Shape dynamic and interaction that is new? The “big” moment with them has already played in H20. One would assume the eventual meeting of the two will be a pivotal moment in H18, but how will it be different than what we have already seen? Is Laurie hunting Michael? Is she the cause of the bus crash and is that her approaching the bus with the shotgun? This film will be the fifth time we have seen the two tangle, so one wonders what new ground will be covered.
Since the family element is removed here, and no sequels are to be taken into consideration, we are challenged with approaching this film as though it is the only HALLOWEEN film post-H78. No small feat for an audience of veterans having spent most, if not all, of their lives with the original and nine movies that followed. Michael/The Shape is presumably once again motiveless, short of being a creature of habit who returns to the place he loves (home) and to doing what he has always done when he had freedom (hunt). Laurie would presumably be simply motived by revenge for what happened to her and her friends.
In some ways, it appears to be a re-telling of the original, with the possible added element of Laurie also being on the hunt. Michael has been incarcerated, he escapes, he returns to Haddonfield, he does what he always does, Laurie is there, mayhem ensues. There is no Loomis, as explained, but maybe Laurie is the new Loomis, obsessed with stopping the evil she is all too aware of. She is certainly presented in the trailer with the kind of madness we saw climaxing within Loomis at his most outrageous in H5.
And what of the 2018 Shape/Michael? It must be noted that the bulk of the action in the mask was handled by actor James Courtney, but there are some scenes featuring original Shape Nick Castle. As mentioned earlier, Castle being part of the proceedings is incredibly exciting for longtime fans, and anyone concerned about him not tackling all the Myers activity should remember his age and long absence from in front of the camera. Beyond that, Courtney had THE definitive tutor on all things Shape when he had Castle on set to coach him. His movement and behavior in the trailer suggests he is back to being the same as in H78…slow and calculated. No thumbs through foreheads are present. There is one scene showing him walking through a yard, spinning his knife into position, which is something we did not see from him in the original, so there has been an evolution of sorts. Likely in more ways than that.
The mask is a fantastic, aged Shatner mold, which looks excellent. Haunting in how dark it is, matching the overall tone of the film, and likely, of the years of the man behind it. Not much can be said about what he does, because we only get a few beats, but it is all classic Shape, and he looks as menacing as ever.
One of the most exciting scenes presented in the trailer is in the courtyard at the prison, where we see inmates tethered by chains to massive blocks. The ground pattern is a beautiful red and while checkerboard, which is absolutely striking, and really stands out in the overall rather dour color of everything else presented. Our first glimpse of Michael is from behind, small and neutered in shackles and bound by iron. Like when at Smith’s Grove, he is once again silenced. Still. Waiting. Clearly he is recognized as dangerous, judging by the space between the prisoners, and the care with which they are locked down.
This scene instantly reminded me of the courtyard sequence in Dario Argento’s SUSPIRIA. The wide open space, swooping camera, the dog, the striking visuals. It is truly beautiful, and something rare in the HALLOWEEN franchise. Of course Carpenter’s original has a style all its own, but the only two really stylistically bold films after that are H5 and Zombie’s H2. H5 was lit naturally, and relied on shadow, fog, and claustrophobic camera work to tell its story. The barn scene is a particular highlight, with beautiful slashes of moonlight pushing through slats in the walls. Despite what many see to be some shortcomings, the film is lovely to look at.
The most beautiful film in the run is unquestionably Zombie’s H2. Not only did the story lend itself to insanely gorgeous fantasy/dream sequences, but the entire thing is lit and staged almost like a series of paintings. Every location has a distinct color scheme and feel, everything dripping with atmosphere and dread. The opening reel alone is worth the trip. I have long championed this movie, and part of that has been a celebration of its visuals, but that is mixed with a resignation to the likelihood that the kind of style found in it was unlikely to appear again. But H18 has given me hope. If the courtyard scene is a hint at the kind of creative surprises in store for us, I am going to be thrilled with the results.
As for the concerns I have read about comedians being at the helm, I challenge the naysayers with this: comedians are likely to understand true darkness better than many of us. If you look into the lives of many in the field, you will find similarities in how they found relief from life in comedy. Respite from the darkness. Plus comedians understand rhythm. Rhythm is a crucial component of comedy, and is equally as important in an effective horror film. Who better to tackle this project?
Plus, I am excited at the prospect of fresh voices showing up to the dance. They are not arriving having worked on other genre franchises, similar films, or anything that might soften the originality with which they are approaching the material. They arrive with passionate hearts, consideration for the subject and fanbase, and with energy and openness.
It should be noted that Blumhouse has clearly taken this same approach, in bringing in so many key figures associated with the original. They have emerged, along with A24, as the preeminent contemporary horror house, and know how to (a) get the most out of what they invest, and (b) scare audiences. They love this stuff, and that is exactly what it takes to make something real and wonderful.
Overall, I see a little of a number of HALLOWEEN films in H18. I see some HII (1981), some H4, some H20, and some RZ. There are obvious nods to the discarded franchise entries, an example of which is the three kids running down the street in HIII masks. Hunting for easter eggs like this will surely be part of the fun when taking it all in.
October can’t get here soon enough. Picture it now: the lights go down, the room is dark, then you hear it…the first twinkling keys of Carpenter’s theme ringing through the theater. I encourage everyone to set their worry and judgement aside and spend time with the thrilling realization that we once again get to return to the streets, and closets, of Haddonfield. And this time, for the first time since 1978, we will be venturing into truly new territory for a series we have spent so much time with.
Misters Green and McBride, I am ready for another good scare.
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