At this point in 2018, a movie featuring three generations of victimized women squaring off against a predatory male is destined to find an audience. Nostalgia and catharsis; splatter and sisterhood. The new “Halloween” couldn’t miss even if it were set on Arbor Day.
It’s a fairly engrossing bit of fan service, boasting many clever touches and a few disappointing ones. Director and co-writer David Gordon Green’s picture veers erratically in tone, and the killings are sort of a drag after a while, en route to rousing vengeance finale. Still, enough people in it are killed, gorily, in enough different ways (knife, hammer, razor wire, head-bashing, head-squishing) to satisfy the target demographic.
And there’s Jamie Lee Curtis for the rest of us, revisiting the role of babysitter Laurie Strode, in which she made her screen debut 40 years ago. Forty years. The ruby anniversary, appropriately enough.
“Fan service” doesn’t mean every “Halloween” aficionado will love Green’s take on things. I came to this sequel, one that disregards all the torturous narrative developments of the previous nine sequels or reboots, a medium fan of director John Carpenter’s wily 1978 original. What’s good about it now is exactly what was good about it back then, before all the crummy “Halloween” imitators: the gliding long takes; the hilariously direct correlation between sexual activity and imminent slaughter, heightened by the later, fourth-rate “Friday the 13th” universe; the persistent, three-note, 5/16th musical theme co-written by Carpenter himself, signaling the methodical insidiousness of serial killer Michael Myers, the man in the latex William Shatner mask (no joke) with the eerily enlarged eye-holes.
This was always the appeal of Myers as bogeyman. The man who, as a boy, fatally stabbed his neglectful sister took his cue from George A. Romeo’s great, grimy “Night of the Living Dead” a decade earlier. Myers still plays around with spatial “gotcha!”s, appearing suddenly, but he doesn’t run; he walks. (The actors taking turns behind the mask are Nick Castle, returning from the original, and James Jude Courtney.) Also, at one point in Green’s film, Myers executes a robotic and alarming sit-up. It’s a nod to the ’78 movie, as is Curtis’ wordless appearance outside the high school, standing in Myers’ old spot.
Laurie has lived with the traumatic baggage of the “babysitter murders” (the film’s original title) through failed marriages and a drinking problem. She has spent her adult life is fear, and resolve, transforming her home into a booby-trapped wonder of justifiable paranoia. Her grown daughter (Judy Greer), semi-estranged, doesn’t get why mom can’t just move on. Meantime it’s Halloween again, and the Greer character’s daughter (Andi Matichak, shrewdly cast and a welcome presence) is dealing with a straying boyfriend and a sense that the jolly goblin holiday won’t go as planned.
Green’s tense, no-b.s. madhouse prologue — a tense, very ’70s overture in style and approach —makes that clear enough. By the time someone says “we have a 10-50” on a police transmitter, it’s clear that 10-50, in the vicinity of fictional but infamous Haddonfield, Ill., translates to “we have a bus full of psychos wandering around by an overturned transport vehicle on a dark highway, and the big one has his own horror franchise.”
This is Curtis’ fifth “Halloween” picture. She’s a tough, terse, authentic presence, and pushing Strode into Sarah Connor “Terminator” territory brings out the actress’s edge. The script by Green, Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride never quite figures out the right mixture of gristle and wisecracks (at one point, two local cops yak on about the new banh mi sandwich place in town). Audiences, I suspect, will forgive and forget all that, simply because the big finish delivers a big finish. Nothing unites American movie audiences in every corner of this fractured nation like a home invasion premise, requiring a large arsenal of firearms.
Throw in a psycho and it’s like Christmas in July.
Directed by: David Gordon Green
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak
Rated: R GRADE: B
Running time: 104 minutes