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Film Reviews Review: Halloween is the killer reboot you’ve been waiting 40 years for

Masked killer Michael Myers, played by Jim Courtney, in Halloween.

RYAN GREEN/Universal Pictures

  • Halloween
  • Directed by: David Gordon Green
  • Written by: David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley
  • Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer and Andi Matichak

rating

Nineteen-seventy-eight was a bad year for babysitters. Thanks to a series of showbiz desires that lined up just right – from producer Irwin (Merchant of Menace) Yablans seeking an on-the-cheap movie featuring the word “Halloween,” to up-and-coming director John Carpenter negotiating full creative control of his third film, to a young Jamie Lee Curtis taking a wild stab with her big-screen debut – Hollywood became obsessed with how to stalk, terrify and then slay generations of young women who wanted nothing more than to earn a few bucks watching someone else’s kids for the night.

Today, Carpenter’s original Halloween is both hailed as a startling indie-film success story – made for just US$300,000, it earned US$47-million during its initial late-seventies run – and bemoaned as the slasher to birth 1,000 lesser psychopaths (both the fictional killers and their bloodthirsty producers). Yet while Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees would eventually inspire outings that were, if not exactly good, at least interesting in their gory outrageousness (A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master, the comedy-in-all-but-name Jason X), Carpenter watched for decades as his original teen-obsessed bogeyman Michael Myers was dragged through increasingly awful iterations. The ultimate insult? Not one, but two Rob Zombie films.

So if Myers has to be rebooted once more, it seems like a natural decision that filmmakers would simply reset the clock back to the very beginning. With the new and confusingly titled Halloween (could no one add a “40 Years and 40 Frights” subtitle or something?), director David Gordon Green received Carpenter’s blessing – and musical assistance with the score – to wipe every Halloween sequel from continuity, making this film a direct follow-up to the original bane of babysitters everywhere.

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Today, it’s four decades after Myers first turned the everytown suburb of Haddonfield, Ill., into his hunting ground, and the hulking, speechless killer has been locked up in a local asylum ever since. Instead of inspiring legend and racking up body counts, Myers has been mostly forgotten about by the world, with the exception of original survivor Laurie Strode (Curtis), who has twisted the trauma of that long-ago Oct. 31 into pure survivalism. Unlike the tongue-in-cheek iteration of Strode who appeared in 1998′s Scream-esque Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and 2002′s inexcusable Halloween: Resurrection, Curtis’s retconned heroine is her own force of nature: a victim determined to never become one again, even (perhaps especially) if it means becoming the hunter herself.

Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis, barricades herself inside her home in Halloween.

RYAN GREEN/Universal Pictures

It takes about 15 minutes here for Myers (James Jude Courtney, with an assist from original player Nick Castle) to escape – thanks to an unwitting assist from some ridiculous Serial-like podcasters investigating cold cases, who are thankfully dispatched early and never mentioned again – and begin picking off Strode’s friends and family. These include a wealth of legitimate actors who refuse to call it in just because they find themselves in a horror film. Standouts include Judy Greer as Strode’s estranged daughter, the always-cast-as-a-weary-sheriff Will Patton as Haddonfield’s weary sheriff, and Andi Matichak as Strode’s teenage granddaughter, who finds herself smack in the middle of an especially deadly night of trick-or-treating. But Strode has been preparing for this moment her entire adult life – and she unleashes nearly as much hell as Myers himself can muster.

There is little in Green’s filmography that positions him as Carpenter’s worthy successor – in fact, all the evidence (Pineapple Express, Your Highness, his HBO collaborations with Danny McBride) points to him taking Myers and Co. in a more meta direction. Yet the director and his co-writers McBride and Jeff Fradley aren’t interested in reinventing the knife so much as they are in ensuring it’s used with the same precision that Carpenter wielded.

There are a handful of jokes that seem to spring directly from McBride’s blunt mouth – including one whole character, a foul-mouthed kid who is having absolutely none of this Michael Myers business – but the humour is threaded nicely throughout the tense and tight script, with the overriding tone one of absolute and unrelenting terror.

Myers is not presented as some agonized-over metaphor, but simply a man who does one thing well, and does it often. Strode by contrast is offered deeper reservoirs of emotion and shades of complexity than any slasher character in history, with Curtis exploiting the opportunity for all it’s worth. Perhaps embarrassed by the way her character was handled in the past – gone are any notions that she’s Myers’s sister, as is her cheap institutionalization in Resurrection – Curtis digs deep, imbuing what seems like 40 years' worth of determined rage into the latter-day Strode. The performance culminates in a fiery, generations-spanning finale that cements Strode (or, really, the Strodes) as the final Final Girl.

Ultimately, what I’m calling Halloween: This Is 40 (see? It’s not that hard) is the Platonic ideal of a slasher reboot – fierce, lean, and with no fewer than three fist-pumping “Hell, yeah” moments.

Hopefully producers will never, ever make another one.

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Halloween opens Oct. 19.

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