Movies

Tricks and treats

Jamie Lee Curtis faces her demon yet again in 'Halloween'

Slasher films have become such a prominent feature of the American movie landscape that we take these movies -- and the knife-wielding, mask-wearing killers who star in them -- for granted. But one must remember that if "Psycho" blazed the first trail, John Carpenter's 1978 smash "Halloween" homesteaded the genre by mainstreaming the simple idea of a psychopathic serial killer stalking Rockwellian America until a teenage "scream queen" successfully fights him off.

The instantly iconic Michael Myers eventually became a parody of himself, surrounded by knockoffs even as he racked up nine more franchise entries. But newly appointed "Halloween" writer-director David Gordon Green and his co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley make a modest proposal: Forget all that. Go back and re-watch "Halloween" with the fresh eyes of a 1978 audience. Ready? Now, watch 2018's "Halloween," again starring Jamie Lee Curtis, as if it were the sole sequel, and see if this trick and treat doesn't mess with your head a little.

Demonstrating that the task of forgetting is arduous, this new "Halloween" proves respectful to Carpenter's original film but also is unavoidably informed by the interim of slasher-film history.

Carpenter's straight-ahead earnestness wouldn't play in today's market without such stylistic flourishes (in a meta nod, one character belittles the Myers killings: "I'm just saying, by today's standards..."), although we do get a freshly minted everything-old-is-new-again score by Carpenter, son Cody and Daniel Davies.

Without indulging spoilers, I can tell you that the new "Halloween" serves as a 40-years-later direct sequel to the first "Halloween." Green, McBride, and Fradley sacrifice credulity in favor of operatic plotting. Laurie's teenage trauma has never remotely healed: The Michael Myers survivor has become a Michael Myers survivalist, looking like a "T2" Sarah Connor and living in a house with floodlights, heavy door bolts and a safe room. Everyone else sees in Laurie a sadly incapacitated paranoid, and she's not one to entirely disagree ("I'm twice-divorced, and I'm a basket case," she freely offers). But we know what she knows: She's not wrong about Myers, and one best beware his return.

Painting a family portrait of the cycle of trauma, the new "Halloween" introduces us to Laurie's grown daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak), who will all have to set aside their differences to confront a mutual horror manifested as the remorseless evil of male assault. The archetypal gang is all here: the Local Cop (Will Patton, always welcome); the mad doctor (Haluk Bilginer's Dr. Sartain, patterned after Donald Pleasance's bug-eyed Dr. Loomis); and the horde of horny teenagers (chum for the relentless shark that is Michael Myers).

On this dark Halloween, Dr. Sartain intones, "Tonight, so many possibilities exist." Green's film employs a couple of funky twists and lands most of its jokes while paying lip service to examining the predator-prey relationship and its flip-flop potential (one of the movie's best moments inverts an action beat from the original film). When all is said and done, this 11th "Halloween" film cannot break new ground, but it does freshen up the franchise and give the fierce and funny Curtis a well-deserved opportunity to step up again as a movie star. Because Green loves the material enough to have some good, old-fashioned fun in this playground, he's able to bring the audience along with him.

— Peter Canavese

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