Thursday, November 8, 2018

Better Late Than Never Review :Halloween (2018)

The film that has taken a stranglehold on the horror movie community has finally arrived. Since it was announced that David Gordon Green and Danny McBride would be taking the helm on a brand new Halloween film, fans have been following every single step of the process. When it was announced that Jamie Lee Curtis would be returning to star in the movie and original creator John Carpenter would come aboard in an advisory role while doing the film’s score that’s when the anticipation for the movie grew exponentially.

David Gordon Green and Danny McBride are best known for comedies such as Pineapple Express, Your Highness and collaborating on the HBO series Vice Principals. Needless to say many were apprehensive as to how the duo would handle a horror film, not to mention one with such an iconic character as Michael Myers. However, the blessing given by John Carpenter over the script eased the minds of fans.  But with now, over ten films in the Halloween series even the most loyal of Halloween fanatics had middling expectations.

Halloween is one of the many horror movie franchises that have gotten more convoluted and confusing, as the series continued with more sequels over time.  Green and McBride’s vision for Halloween ignores all of the sequels that followed the 1978 original.  Leaving behind having to explain things such as the brother-sister dynamic between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. It also allows them to cut off any connections to the overly supernatural elements that were brought into the franchise in what is known as the Thorn trilogy (Halloween 4, 5, 6). This also gives the filmmakers the opportunity to allow their story of Michael Myers to be more accessible to moviegoers who are unfamiliar with the Halloween franchise.

Green and McBride’s sequel to Halloween (1978) will introduce a fifth timeline in the franchise. The first timeline follows Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers and Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers which follows Myers as he chases down family members including his niece. The second timeline follows Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween: H20 and Halloween: Resurrection which focuses more on the Laurie Strode character who is eventually killed off in what is considered the worst film in the franchise in Halloween Resurrection. The third timeline is in director/musician’s Rob Zombie’s image that took a vastly different direction focusing on what made Michael Myers the killer he ended up becoming. The fourth timeline is the standalone film Halloween III: Season of the Witch in which the Michael Myers character is not featured. One of the original plans for the Halloween franchise was to make it into an anthology series based on the Halloween holiday. The series was meant to have concluded after 1981’s Halloween II.

The first Halloween film in 1978 was filmed with a 300,000 dollar budget. Halloween was the highest grossing independent film of all time until 1999's The Blair Witch Project.  The film was meant to be called  “The Babysitter Murders,” and the amount of money that the original made followed by the many films that were influenced by Halloween caused the studio to demand sequels.

It has been almost ten years since the last Halloween film, and with Halloween (2018) being a direct sequel to the original there will be expectations that the film follows more of the elements found in the first film than any of the sequels. In many respects, Green gives the original film the sequel that it deserved. The new Halloween film is an excellent modern horror film with elements of Halloween. The film falls short of its potential to be a great Halloween film.  This could have been an over-reliance on making the film more digestible to a broader audience.

The film begins with two self-proclaimed investigative journalists Aaron Korey and Dana Haines played by Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees who enter into the Smith’s Grove Mental Hospital to speak with Michael Myers for their podcast. The Michael Myers character works best in small dosages and showing an unmasked Myers in the middle of daylight was quite the risk for Green to take. The full face of Myers is never shown clearly in the film; however, there is one scene later in the film that a viewer could pause to see Myers’ blurry full face. In the original 1978 Halloween film, Myers’ full face was shown clearly more so than at any moment in Halloween (2018). The opening scene showcases one of the story arcs in the film of people trying to get some reaction from Myers. The Aaron Korey character pulls out Myer’s infamous mask, which without question is the best mask the franchise has seen since the original Halloween, to evoke some response from the serial killer. In the opening scene, we are also introduced to the most controversial character in the entire film in Dr. Sartain who is played by Haluk Bilginer. Sartain is a former student of Dr. Samuel Loomis and will play a significant role in the direction the film takes in its third act.

The film then transitions to its opening introduction featuring a jack-o-lantern that is deflated essentially being inflated back to prominence. This jack-o-lantern introduction was used in the first two Halloween films and using this introduction for this film gives it a connection to the original film that other films in the series may not have.

The character of Laurie Strode is then introduced to the audience in a meeting with the two journalists (Rees and Hall). Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance as Laurie Strode is one of the major highlights in the film as she brought a certain vulnerability to the character. The character is different than the Laurie Strode she played in 1998’s Halloween H20 where Strode was the headmistress of a private school in northern California. Instead of having moved away from Haddonfield, Strode has become a recluse hiding out in a well-equipped home in the woods. Curtis’s performance brings about a vulnerability to the Strode character that lets the audience feel how the events of 1978 still impact this character.

After the meeting between Strode and the journalists, we are introduced to Strode’s daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter. Strode’s granddaughter Allyson is played by relative newcomer Andi Matichak. Matichak does more than a serviceable job in a role that in many respects can be seen as this generation’s Laurie Strode. Throughout the film, you care about what happens to her, and the film points to the character having a stronger relationship with her grandmother than her mother.

Judy Greer and Toby Huss respectively play Allyson’s parents, Karen, and Ray in the film. The Ray character is where much of the criticism of the film stems from. The character brings in the first set of comedy that is incorporated throughout the film, and the comedy brought by Huss feels out of place as he exclaims “I got peanut butter on my penis” at one point in the film. This brings about the question if comedy should be part of a Halloween movie in general.

In the 1978 original there was a comedic moment with Dr. Loomis scaring off kids from the Myers house, but for the vast majority, the film has a serious tone and a tension-building atmosphere. Comedy can be used in horror movies to lighten the tension, but it can overstay it’s welcome if used at the wrong time. In Halloween (2018), the usage of comedy will split fans down the middle between those who didn’t mind the comedy and found it genuinely funny and those who feel it was out of place.

The husband character of Ray could have been written off from the film entirely as he is later killed to no avail or reaction from the other characters. It is possible that the Karen Strode character could have been much more interesting if she had been a single mother. Judy Greer’s portrayal of Karen at times feels emotionless as if she is reading directly from the script. There is a scene in the film’s second act where Karen tells Allyson more about her childhood and the type of training she endured living with her mother as a child.  It is delivered in such a manner that it feels like Greer did not care about putting any feeling into the delivery and thus the audience does not care either.

The introduction of the teenage character’s or Allyson’s friends follows the interaction with her parents. Allyson is walking to school with her friends Vicky and Dave played by Virginia Gardner and Miles Robbins who are essentially following the walk to and from school from the 1978 original featuring Laurie, Annie, and Lynda. This is the scene that the film officially breaks away from the brother-sister story arc between Myers and Strode as Allyson comments that someone must have started a rumor to help explain Myers’ actions back in 1978.

Once Allyson gets to school we are introduced to her boyfriend Cameron played by Dylan Arnold and his best friend Oscar played by Drew Scheid. The high school teenage characters in the film do not overstay their welcome, and their performances are serviceable for what they are. These characters do not have much depth to them and are there like most slasher movies of this and any era to be killed off by the film’s antagonist.

One of the missed opportunities in the film is the town of Haddonfield itself. Although most Halloween film enthusiasts may not be wondering what happened to Tommy Doyle or Lindsey Wallace, the two kids  Strode was babysitting in the 1978 Halloween film, the town of Haddonfield and the film, in general, was lacking a Halloween or fall atmosphere. The film showcases Strode’s inability to get over the events of Halloween night 1978 fully. However, more scenes showing Laurie struggling with her demons could have been used such as her visiting the gravesite of her friends Annie and Lynda.

The most crucial element in any Halloween film is Michael Myers. The character has been played by multiple actors featuring multiple masks most famously in 1998’s Halloween H20 where there were four different masks used including a computer-generated mask during one of the kills. Halloween (2018) does the Myers character justice featuring the best Myers since the 1978 original, played by James Jude Courtney.

The film begins to pick up in intensity when Myers along with a group of other inmates are being transferred to a new facility. This portion of the film showcases some of the best parts of the film showing the inmates being loaded unto a bus along with the two journalists listening to an old recording of Dr. Loomis. On the tape, you can here Loomis exclaiming several times that “it needs to die” in regards to Myers. The score used in this scene and throughout the entire film is exceptional. John Carpenter along with his son Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies created a score that is not only a proper homage to the original film but is modern enough for new audiences to enjoy for generations to come.

The film goes to a man and his son on the way to hunt when they see a group of patients and inmates on the road. This scene is shot expertly with credit given to the film’s cinematographer Michael Simmonds. The scene picks up when the son comes out of the vehicle looking for his father who went to check on some of the inmates, and he finds a bloodied policy officer on the ground that tells him to only “run” in a concerned and dreadful tone. The kid eventually heads back to his father’s truck after finding Dr. Sartain in the bus and shooting him in the shoulder after being frightened. In the truck, he has Myers waiting for him and is quickly killed in what ends up being the tamest kill in the film.

We are then introduced to Officer Frank Hawkins played by Will Patton who receives the call of a bus accident. When he shows up on the scene, the film shows that while some of the kills will be left to the theatre of the mind, others will show the added brutality of Myers after 40 years of being locked up. The father of the boy in the truck is found with is neck contorted in an unnatural position. Patton is one of the highlights of the film and should have been cast as the sheriff. Omar J. Dorsey does not do a terrible job as the sheriff; however, there are points where he makes a joke of the situation that feels out of place. Patton would have been better reserved as the sheriff as it is found that he was the arresting officer of Myers back in 1978.

One of the best parts of the film is when Myers is stalking the two journalists Dana and Aaron. You first see Myers hiding behind a tree while Dana and Aaron are visiting the gravesite of Myers deceased sister and first kill Judith Myers. This scene is the only scene that shows footage of the original Halloween showing Myers stabbing Judith repeatedly. Many were wondering before the film came out if Green would show more scenes from the original film or show Myers being apprehended and arrested. The decision to only show Michael killing Judith was a smart decision as it allows the original film’s ending not to be compromised.

Myers then follows Dana and Aaron to a gas station where he finally reunites with his mask. The gas station scene is a tribute to 1988’s Halloween 4 and 1998’s Halloween H20. Myers finds Dana in the women’s bathroom where he walks over to her stall and shows her what he has done by pouring over a set of teeth for her to see in her stall. Halloween fanatics will remember Myers stealing a woman's car from a rest area in Halloween H20 and killing clerks at a gas station to capture his infamous auto mechanic suit in Halloween 4.

Aaron finds Dana in the women’s bathroom and is greeted by Myers who quickly slams him enough times against the wall and bathroom stall doors to leave him dead or incapable of moving. Myers then picks Dana up and strangles her to death. It is assumed that Aaron is dead; however, the last image of him in the film shows him looking at Myers. From here Myers grabs his mask from the trunk of Dana and Aaron’s vehicle and the shape has officially returned.

Another missed opportunity in the film is the connection between Strode and Officer Hawkins. When Hawkins finds the two journalists at the gas station, he sees Strode out in the crowd of onlookers. Clearly, the characters know one another as shown in other scenes in the film where she calls him by his first name. This relationship is not explored or explained in the film possibly to fit in the twist that comes in the film’s third act.

Some of the highlights of the film are when the film focuses on Myers and shows him doing what he does best, and that’s killing. The film does a beautiful one-shot long take that follows Myers randomly going into the home of residents and brutally murdering them. In the first home that Myers invades a baby is crying, and with Myers killing an adolescent child earlier in the film, viewers are in disbelief in anticipation of Myers killing an infant. Myers instead looks at the infant and exits the house as he heads to his next destination. The camera follows Myers as he heads to a neighbor’s house and watches through the front window as the resident of the home receives a phone call warning her about the bus accident and the murders earlier in the day. Myers at times can be an admirer of his kills treating them as artwork. Other times he likes to just get the job done. In this scene, The Shape heads into the home using a side door and grabs the women from behind slams her head a few times and then stabs her right through the neck. The kill was quick and brutal and will likely rank as one of the best in the franchise.

In today’s film climate many scenes are used in trailers to help sell the movie to audiences. In the case of horror films, it is to the detriment of the film as many scares are given away in the trailer. Halloween is no different.

Portions of the gas station scene were given away in the trailer; however, the scene is still jarring when watching the film. The scene that falters the most from the trailer is when Myers begins stalking Allyson’s friend Vicky who is babysitting. There is a comedic interaction between Vicky and the kid she is babysitting Julian played by Jibrail Nantambu that does work for what it is, however, the comedy may have gone on for too long.

In this scene, Julian states that he thinks he saw someone in his room and Vicky goes upstairs to check on it. When Julian asks Vicky to close the closet door, she is unable to and finds Myers in the closet with the light on. Most of the audience knew this was coming taking away from its ability to frighten the viewer. Green had the task of making a film that would be a worthy sequel to the original, but not mimic the film to the point of imitation. In this instance, it may have been better to use more low-key lighting to have Myers emerge from the shadows or simply have Vicky turn the light on in the closet before being attacked.

Once Myers begins to go after Vicky, Julian runs down the stairs in comedic fashion to avoid getting hurt. This scene was supposed to frighten the audience; however, more laughs than gasps are in this scene because of the comedic elements. Much of the suspense was lost in the trailer. Horror movie fans were likely turned off by the comedy in this scene; however, a casual movie audience may not have been as bothered. Regardless, the two deaths that took place inside the home were good and paid homage to Lynda and Bob’s death from Halloween (1978).

Heading into the film’s third act, we have what seems to be an obligatory high school Halloween dance. The scene only serves as a way to get Allyson away from her friends as she leaves early after a dispute with her boyfriend. She leaves with her friend Oscar who becomes Myers’ next victim in a unique motion sensor kill that has Myers come closer and closer every time the light goes off. The score used in this point of the film when Allyson finds Oscar’s dead body is one of the best made by Carpenter in any film.

Allyson’s runs away to a nearby home to be picked up by Officer Hawkins and Dr. Sartain who are on the road together looking on the streets for Myers. Strode along with her daughter and son-in-law are awaiting her arrival at Strode’s Sarah Conner-esque fortress of a home. The next part of the film is the most controversial and has maligned some fans to dismiss the entire movie completely. The Halloween series is not known for its twists, and unfortunately, the twist in this Halloween falls mostly flat and proves to be unnecessary.

On the road, Officer Hawkins sees Myers walking down the street and runs him over with a Police SUV. Myers is knocked out, and both Sartain and Hawkins go over to check to see if Myers is still alive. Then it happens.

Sartain pushes the top of his pen causing a blade to come out and then he proceeds to kill Officer Hawkins by stabbing him in the neck.  Sartain then goes on to put on Myers’ mask in what comes off as more comedic than shocking. When the twist first occurs you are shocked as an audience member, unfortunately, this twist was used as nothing more than a device to get a final confrontation between Myers and Strode.

The Sartain character is interesting.  On the one hand, it was a good idea in having a former student of Loomis who is more interested in finding out what makes Myers tick even to the point of taking it upon himself to murder a police officer. The other side of the equation is the film quickly turned a rational and responsible doctor into a murdering one who needed to know how it felt to kill. This decision by the filmmakers to have Sartain take a ‘heel’ turn will split fans on the film for years to come.

Sartain along with a passed out Myers drives Allyson to Strode’s home only to be eventually killed by Myers with a brutal stomp on the head. Before their arrival, the film cuts to two officers who are in front of the Strode home awaiting any signs of trouble. The two officers played by Charlie Benton and Christopher Allen Nelson engage in a conversation about a Vietnamese sandwich before the arrival of Myers and Sartain. Some filmmakers can have random conversations that have nothing to do with the story arc that can work most famously seen in many Quentin Tarantino films, but in the case of Halloween (2018), the scene feels entirely out of place. Throughout the film, there were several tributes to the other films in the Halloween franchise. This scene may have been a tribute to 1989’s Halloween 5 that featured two bumbling idiotic cops that had cartoon music anytime they were on screen. Regardless, much like some of Allyson’s high school friends, the officers are there to be killed by Myers which he does uniquely by turning one of the officers into an impromptu jack-o-lantern.

The battle between Myers and Strode at her home is one of the highlights of the film. When Myers grabs Strode through her front door and begins to slam her head against it the viewing audience at this point thought that she could be killed. Strode is able to escape by shooting Myers’ fingers off with a shotgun. The film then turns into a cat and mouse game with reversed roles.

Strode begins to look for Myers throughout her home who isn’t necessarily hiding, but waiting for Strode’s arrival for him to attack. Eventually Strode finds Myers in a room filled with mannequins. While Myers jumping from behind one of the mannequins works as an excellent jump scare, the film could have taken cues from the original and have Myers slowly emerge from the shadows. After Myers and Strode scuffle for a bit Myers is able to get the advantage and tosses Strode over the balcony onto the ground. One of the best shots in the entire film follows as it shows Myers looking over the balcony to see that Strode is no longer there. The lighting used when Myers looks over the balcony is reminiscent of the original Halloween film that used plenty of low-key lighting.

The film’s ending sequence takes place next. Myers goes after Karen and Allyson who are hiding in the basement that is blocked by a kitchen countertop island. Myers eventually breaks down the island and is goaded by Karen to show himself above the stairway by pretending to be unable to shoot her gun. Myers show himself at the top of the stairway to be shot in the neck by Karen in her one redeeming moment in the entire film. Strode than emerges out of the shadows in a slightly cringe-worthy moment as she states “Happy Halloween, Michael” before attacking him with a knife. Eventually, the three women get Myers down in the basement and lock him in the cellar revealing the area as a trap instead of a pseudo-panic room. The house is then set on fire by Strode with the final shot of Myers being him standing down in the basement emotionless. Karen, Allyson and Strode then head out of the home and are picked up by an unknown driver in a truck. The film shows shots of the house on fire, and most noticeably you don’t see Myers on fire. The final shot of the film shows a close up of Allyson holding a bloody kitchen knife.

The ending works in allowing the film to have an ambiguous ending that leaves both Strode and seemingly Myers still alive. However, the finish does feel rushed. The conclusion of the film was reshot after test audiences thought that the original ending did not work. The film’s first cut was two hours and fifteen minutes and the theatrical cut was only an hour and 46 minutes. It will be interesting to see what was left out when the film is released for home purchase to view any deleted scenes or alternate endings.

For fans that waited after the post-credits, they were greeted with Myers' famous breathing, all but guaranteeing that Myers is still alive.

Lastly, David Gordon Green’s Halloween (2018) overall impact on the franchise will be felt years from now. Hardcore fans of the franchise will find the film to be among the best of the series likely right behind the original Halloween. The film had the highest potential out of any of the Halloween films with its positives outweigh its negatives. The film does so many things right that it can be disheartening at some of the creative choices that drag the film down.

The real success of the film comes at the box office. The film domestically has made over $152 million on a 10 million dollar budget. Worldwide the film has grossed over $230 million. Halloween (2018) also holds the record for being the highest grossing horror-slasher film in history and the fourth largest grossing R-rated horror movie behind 2017’s Get Out and IT and 1973’s The Exorcist.

The horror film genre is filled with more imperfect films than perfect ones. The anticipation for the film took over the horror movie community, and that can lead to many becoming overly critical. Halloween (2018) is by no means in the realm of being perfect. Halloween fans and horror movie fans, in general, are used to taking good enough and turning it into something classic or at least a cult classic. Halloween (2018) was good enough. Moreover, “The Shape” is now once again a horror movie icon for a new generation of horror fans.


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