Saturday, September 28, 2019

Halloween (2018).

Sequels have become something of a problem for me in recent years.  I started out more or less neutral at first.  I can't pinpoint the exact moment when I began to look at the proliferation or more of the same franchise as a problem, yet it has to have been pretty recent, as I don't recall having these issues, say, as far back as 2002.  If I had to say what brought about this growing negative outlook on dragging a story and it's characters on, then maybe it has to do with a perceived slip in quality among a lot of the popular franchises, such as Trek, Star Wars, DC.  It's like some kind of important narrative quality, or creative writing element got lost or mislaid somewhere along the way and now most filmmakers are scrambling to remember how to get the engine running like it used to.

I think a filmmaker like John Carpenter might know something of what I'm talking about.  At one point he found himself on the receiving end of a Hollywood's sequelitis complex.  The difference is he may have had only himself to blame.  In 1978, Carpenter made his name with the release of Halloween.  It remains something of a rare anomaly in the field of the slasher genre.  Unlike a lot of the knock-offs and imitations it spawned, Carpenter's original narrative somehow manages to avoid a lot of the pitfalls that mar a great majority of films that came in it's wake.  I'm afraid the same can't be said about the sequel that came a few years later.  I can remember being willing to give Carpenter a second chance as far as a follow up was concerned.  I wound up tuning out and turning off Halloween 2 somewhere near the middle of the whole thing.  It's kind of obvious that Carpenter's heart isn't really in it the way it was the first time.  The plot lumbers along with the struggle he had in coming up with a usable sequence of events that would pad out a standard movie-house runtime.  The director later admitted that when he wrapped up the first film, a sequel wasn't strictly a part of the package.

The trouble for Carpenter was that he chose to end his film on a shot that more or less begged a sequel of some kind.  To be fair, Carpenter did claim that the ending was meant to be taken on something like a symbolic level.  The disappearance of that film's villain, the now iconic Michael Myers, was meant to suggest the pervasiveness of evil, or a palpable sense of threat.  I suppose it means Carpenter's real trouble stems from the fact that sometimes most audiences can only read symbols on their most literal level.  Either way, fans were left wanting to know what happens next.  Over the following decade, each sequel detailing Michael's twisted life and exploits made everyone less anxious to find out what happens as time went on.  The original Halloween saga came to its inglorious end with Busta Rhymes kung fu-ing the Shape into cinematic irrelevance.  Rob Zombie tried to give the mythos his own spin, and as a result we don't talk about that particular episode.
Like I  said before, I've grown leery of sequels these days.  The gradual, disappointing slope of Carpenter's original vision is just one of many examples of why knowing when to write "The End" can sometimes be the most important way to guarantee a story has a meaning and therefore a purpose.  Now, after number of years, we have yet another entry in the Myers story.  The difference is this time, director David Gordon Green has decided the best course of action is to chuck the whole thing as a bad go and create what amounts to a soft reboot that starts more or less from scratch.  The big question is: does it work?

The Story.

On October 31st of 1978, a series of murders were committed in the small Illinois community of Haddonfield.  A patient of the local Smith's Grove Sanitarium, one Michael Myers, somehow managed to escape his permanent incarceration and make his way back to his old hometown.  The patient used this opportunity to commit a series of heinous acts against four high school teenagers who were also friends.  Of Myers's victims, only one of them, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) managed to escape that All Hallows night with her life.  Myers was apprehended not long after his terrorizing of Strode and her young charges by the Haddonfield police force.

Ever since that night Myers has been re-interred as a patient in Smith's Grove.  He has never uttered a word in all that time.  Mrs. Strode currently resides as a recluse just outside of her hometown.  Though she has married and raised a daughter (Judy Greer) of her own, it is theorized that her encounters with Myers has left an indelible traumatic effect on her mental state.  Town citizens report that Mrs. Strode has the reputation for being something of a paranoiac.  Her relations with her own daughter are said to be strained.

Due to recent budget cuts, Smith's Grove will soon be closing it's doors and services for good.  It's entire roster of patients, Myers among them, are scheduled for relocation in the nearest local penitentiary.  While there may be a certain amount of speculation as to what benefits such a change will make for the former patients, the major concern of the moment is the reports we've been received as events unfold.

We've received a bulletin from the Haddonfield Sheriff's Dept. about a vehicular accident just outside the city limits.  The vehicle in question is stated as a bus, the Smith's Grove prisoner transport.  Every patient on that bus has been re-claimed and accounted for except one.  As of now, the patient known as the Babysitter Killer, Michael Myers, is believed to be loose and is suspected to be somewhere in or around the vicinity of Haddonfield.  Law Enforcement authorities are asking  that parents take special care of their children, and that anyone with any possible information as to Myers's whereabouts should report his presence to the Sheriff's Dept. immediately.  Do not try to confront him on your own.  This man is dangerous, and has taken the life of more than one person in the past.  Above all, be safe, and have a very Happy Halloween.

Trick or Treat?

I'm willing to admit that sequels can have a place in the grand scheme of spinning yarns. The trouble is to know when they may be necessary or just superfluous. Films like Hook or The Color of Money earn their places by being more or less well done. I can even think of a few other minor examples I'm willing to give a passing grade. However when do you reach the point where you realize things have been dragged out too far, and every last drop of creative inspiration or invention has been wrung dry from a good idea? That's the inherent challenge facing every sequel, I think.   The audience is always left with a sort of wheat and chaff deal.  Their stuck having read the entrails in order to find out whether the next installment is a waste of time, and which one has the goods.  So how does Green's version turn out when it's placed under the microscope?

It's true that I might have a few minor critiques.  The surprising part is that I'm not sure these issues are anything like a deal breaker for me.  One of the first things that jumps out at the viewer is just how fast this movie is in comparison to Carpenter's slow burn, accumulative case of of the creeps approach.  I often find that the latter pacing works best for the Horror genre because it is ideal for turning up the dials on the audience's anxiety.  This works especially if you can introduce the horror into the scene, and then just leave it there, knowing it could strike at any moment.

As a contrast, Green starts everything off on a similar pace.  We are allowed to enter Smith's Grove and gain a sense of the layout.  We are shown snatches and glimpses of both the staff and patients and see the basically unhealthy environment that both coexist in.  Then we are taken to Michael, played by original actor Nick Castle in a rather clever cameo.  From there we are allowed to catch up with Laurie and the strained nature of her current family life.  It is in these scenes that Green introduces a thematic question.  Can the violence of one monster turn his victim into yet another monster?  The question itself is intriguing enough that it can produce an interesting story if handled right.
It is an idea that the film tries to toy and flit around with when it comes Laurie's character.  We are shown a woman who has survived on a physical level, yet it's obvious enough that her encounter with Myers has left psychological scars that effect the way she interacts with people around her.  She seems to have a sort of case of agoraphobia.  In addition, there is a need to return to the cage of her stalker.  Indeed, it is possible to look at her survivalist house out in the woods as just another sort of cage.  In which case it is tempting to look at the two main leads as a pair of lunatics, and the narrative of their eventual collision course.  In some ways it is this thematic question that invites the most interesting dramatic potential.  I almost wish Green chose to accent these aspects of her character.  However, any ideas in that direction begin to fall apart once you realize all your thoughts are just warmed over H20 re-writes.

I have to wonder if Green and his partner in crime, Danny McBride, underwent a similar thought process in trying to flesh this film out.  This may account for why the director has decided to play things a little more straight-forward.  That's not a bad thing, though it does sort of shoot his idea of the victim turned monster in the foot.  While he does mention the concept, it's obvious that we are meant to be on Laurie's side from the very beginning, with little doubt that she's always more or less in the  right.  As a result we are left to see how well the script develops the new characters into the mix.

Laurie's daughter, Karen, is perhaps one of those moments where the script could have been fleshed out.  Karen isn't a bad idea, in and of herself, however once the two main leads are established, it does mean the rest of the cast tends to take a back seat.  That's a shame because if there was ever any spot that afforded audiences an opportunity to reconnect with Laurie as a character, then it would be in her interactions with her own daughter and her grandchild, Allyson (Andi Matichak).  The sad part is that a little thought makes it easy to see why the filmmakers didn't choose to slow things down for the characters a bit more.  McBride and Green must have had their eyes on the other films the whole time they were writing this script.  They had to have been aware of all the negative backlash that H20 received on it's release.  That meant the goal they set for themselves was to try and revamp that same scenario while trying to avoid all its mistakes.  Since audiences really didn't like the way Laurie's home life was handled in H20, the filmmakers decided the best course of action was to place as little focus on her family as possible.

I honestly can't tell what's worse here.  The fact that an interesting set of characters didn't get all the justice they probably should have deserved, or else the fact that most audiences seemed to agree with Green and McBride's choice.  I can see and understand why you'd want to avoid the mistakes of your predecessors.  I'm just less sure why characterization has to be part of the sacrifice.  The curious part is this.  While it's true we never get as much time with the characters as I might have liked, it strangely doesn't ruin the proceedings for me.

If there is one scene I had to cite as the ultimate WTF moment, then it is one that comes perhaps somewhere just before the final act.  It involves, Michael, a police deputy and a character Laurie characterizes at one point as "The New Loomis".  Despite this setup and the name tag, there's a bit more here than meets the eye.  I've decided not to go into too much detail so as not to spoil anything.  However I'm not sure whether I'm doing this because it is something you don't want to miss, or else just because it is so out of left field that I'm afraid some viewers will mentally check out at that point.  Let's just say you'll know the scene when it happens, because nothing in it goes in any way like you might be expecting.  I can see how it might be a deal breaker for some.  The curious part is that it didn't ruin the whole thing for me.  Yes, I kind of found myself rolling my eyes as this particular moment played out.  The good news is that it never outstays it's welcome.  Once it is over with, we are back to the main crux of the story, and it is here where I think the film's biggest strengths pay-off.

Nitpicks aside, what we have here is a neat little character study between two outcasts and how their traumatic pasts shapes and molds their eventual reunion in the present.  Without giving too much away, the ending is where all the film's strengths come into play.  Green and McBride are to be commended for finding ways to make their finale both an echo and reflection of the denouement of Carpenter's original.  Another interesting part of this final sequence is that it is the first time I can ever recall the Shape being caught in a moment of indecision and uncertainty.  Every other time I've seen this character, Michael always comes off as more of a force of nature that is able to flit about the scenery without a care in the world.  He was often treated as a prop, like a mannequin or an automaton.  Someone who always knew what to do the moment he arrived on the scene and never had to give anything a second thought.  Green and McBride present the first example I know where Michael is thrown off balance.  We see him give a confused pause, then look around, unsure of what to do next.  From there on, his moves become much slower and cautious, and mostly trying to second guess his targets.  It's an astonishingly interesting and welcome character note for the Shape.
While this is obviously not a perfect film, the real question is how does it perform overall as a potential sequel to a film that is still regarded as one of the masterpieces of the genre?  On the whole, I'm inclined to say it definitely works a lot better form me than Halloween II.  Like that movie, it's a mistake to think you can bottle the same kind of lightning that Carpenter did way back in 78.  It is a lesser film in terms of comparison to its original as far as that goes.  However, the filmmakers seem to know they shouldn't try to be an imitation.  This realization does allow them to take the characters in overall satisfying enough directions.  I think this explains the pacing of the new film.  It helps move the plot along, and allows it to skip over the kind of filler moments that dragged the first sequel down.  It is just possible that there will be debates between those who are willing to defend a sequel  like H20 against this film, for the moment my thoughts are that this is definitely a good alternative to that earlier work, and one worth checking out as the Autumn season is upon us.


  1. (1) I have not seen the 2018 version so I can't really engage with your analysis here but I can sort of generally comment on sequels and what not, particualrly HALLOWEEN.

    I think it's weird that filmmakers are thinking, you know, we need to get people from the original movies involved. Many disagree, but I just don't think the genre works as well with elderly women as the protagonists. Call me kooky. And I don't even care how that makes me sound: frankly, I think YOU (the proverbial you) sound nuts when you suggest a genre as deeply silly as the slasher film can support this kind of stuff. It's like when people try and make heavy metal terrifying. Dude, you can't do that - like Carpenter with the original "Halloween," it's been done as good as you can do without changing the genre - or making it deeply silly by, like, casting Old Lady Jamie Lee Curtis in it, repeatedly.

    I'm not saying they couldn't make a damn good movie with an elderly Jamie Lee Curtis menaced by a serial killer. But at best it would be a good echo of The Twilight Zone ("The Invaders") in the same way even the best slasher-stalks-teenagers movie is going to be an echo of "Halloween" or, if your tastes run in that direction, "Friday the 13th."

    What about PSYCHO? Or A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET? Aren't variations possible? Okay, so maybe my theory isn't airtight. Just saying: I keep saying these odd decisions being made, and they seem to continue with HALLOWEEN KILLS. (That said, I love Judy Greer.)

    (2) Anyway, I respected what Rob Zombie tried to do with his reboots, even if I never really want to ever watch either of them again. Oddly enough given how I began this review I'd be happy to watch H20 again this season. But really, all I need are the first 3. In theory, I could enjoy another HALLOWEEN but quite honestly I couldn't really see how. Why not just watch the first one again? Granted I'm not anyone's idea of a normal movie-watcher.

    (3) "Nitpicks aside, what we have here is a neat little character study between two outcasts and how their traumatic pasts shapes and molds their eventual reunion in the present. " See, I just can't hang with this as a foundation for a HALLOWEEN film. Just make it a different film, then, is my take on it. But of course it's all name recognition, franchise, brand, etc. I don't know, I'm just not the person to ask on these I guess. If it sounds like I have the franchise in a little narrow box that I don't want to see it move beyond, maybe that's fair, but from where I'm sitting, it's only because I find these angles of approach to be silly.

    (4) As for the original HALLOWEEN 2, it is by no means a good film or a worthy sequel. But it is a template-slasher film for so many that followed, even moreso than the first one. And it's one I enjoy revisiting every so often, but more the way I enjoy revisiting any 80s flick which I know is terrible or unworthy but has a bit of my childhood in it.

    1. Well, taking each comment as a whole, m own take is the same as always. I'm not real concerned about the age of the characters so long as the writing is good.

      As for sequels as a whole, I'd argue that if the original is able to create an ending that is difficult to top, then a continuation would tend to ruin things more often than not. On the other hand, I have seen at least several instances where a sequel snuck up and surprised me by how good it seemed.

      The best examples I know of is Will Vinton's "The Adventures of Mark Twain" and Walter Murch's "Return to Oz".

      Still, there are other cases where I'd say it's best to let The End be just that.


    2. As far as the idea of sequels themselves, I mean: there are literally thousands. A couple examples here and there and the general idea is untouched: most stories would or will continue if popular/ strike a chord. I would never question their validity as a CONCEPT, although there are individual cases (think the HANGOVER films) where they are obviously unnecessary/ strained. But like you say, sometimes the story is good so they can be enjoyable. (Not the case with the HANGOVER movies.) But what are all the Holmes, Bond stories but sequels, etc.?

      But this idea that the slasher film can expand to support Michael Myers targeting old ladies is dumb. Not a good idea. I don't care what minority that lands me in, but it's a case of no story can be good enough to justify this. If you want to make a Holocaust film, there are certain tonal things to avoid. This is the same thing.

      Again, I can think of exceptions/ make a whole new movie where this wouldn't be an issue. But to keep casting Old Jamie Lee Curtis as the protagonist, i.e. she's the Holmes to Michael Myers' Moriarty, this worked once, and only because it was done in a WB/ Dawson's Creek style, in H20, and barely, there, if it did at all. I just think it's a case of adding a 20 minute pan-flute solo in the middle of a Motley Crue song.

    3. "Most stories would or will continue if popular/ strike a chord."

      That's sort of the crux of the whole issue for me, really. I can't deny this is what can and often will happen if something gets enough popular acclaim. Where I come in is on those occasions where I'm just not sure it serves any real purpose. I'm against sequels in theory. In practice, however, I've reached a point where artists (or is it just executives and/or popular demand) need to start learning to pace themselves and ask when enough is just that, enough.

      As for the question of age, I'm either more indulgent, or else it's just not something that's really on my radar. I could note that Michael himself is old in the film, however it's hard for me to see what difference that makes. Besides which, if I needed any optional defense for the film's direction, then I suppose it could be that lately my own movie-going time has been trending a lot back toward the direction of Hollywood's Golden Age, and the oldies but goodies that made it what it now is. From that perspective, it could be argued that I'm trying to keep questions of age out of it. Then again, this is all just hypothetical.

      I will admit that I think the filmmakers, or at least the studio that produced this film, should, again, start thinking about letting a decent enough thing be an not screw it up by bothering with more where none is needed. In that sense there might be some ironic overlap in our ways of thinking on the matter. Who knows.


    4. Minor correction.

      What I meant to write was I'm "not" against sequels in theory. It's just that the practice of late sometimes seems like it's starting to get out of hand. The Bond and Marvel tentpoles, I'd argue, are a different case because they have this kind of ongoing status built into them. Films like Halloween, or characters like Alice in Wonderland or Peter Pan, or similar made-up individuals are different. I think you can only go so far with them before things run out of steam.

      In this regard, it does seem like you might have to dig down into the fundamental elements of a story in order to tell whether it can bear the weight of a sequels or not.


    5. The way I feel about this is that, in retrospect, "Halloween" itself should never have been sequelized. If it hadn't been, the mystique that one film would hold today might be through the roof; it's got plenty as is, but freed of the expectation that this particular boogeyman was ever going to be understood, I think it would only be amplified.

      That said, once the decision to make sequels was given a green light, I think each one had to justify itself anew not only in relation to the original, but to the sequels which had preceded it. So in the case of this David Gordon Green iteration, it had to make its case for why it needed to exist. I don't think it ever did. Its primary argument was, "Hey, all the sequels are crap, so we're going to ignore them." It never stopped to think that those sequels were crap because the very notion of there being a sequel at all was crap; which means that merely by deciding to make a sequel of any kind, they were automatically on the same starting level as all the other sequels. Did they, from there, do anything to truly distinguish themselves?

      Not for my money.

  2. You know what, I'm going to walk my general comment back, that no story could justify this expansion of the slasher film to old ladies being the protagonists. Because I've got a killer (literally) Golden Girls idea.

    Anyway: there are all sorts of ways to make it work, I guess, it's not quite the Holocaust/ pan flute example I use.

    Maybe it's just I have zero interest, personally, in seeing this and I'm seeking to rationalize my personal preference via critical no-fly-zones. Perhaps it's just a personal prefernce thing.

    1. A Golden Girls idea, huh? Well, that's something I'm going to be keeping an eye out for.

      As for personal critical no-fly zones, it is something that all critics have to struggle with isn't it? The worst part may be that it's all just one big mileage may vary area.

      Incidentally, it took this long, yet at last I was reminded of a review of the film adaptation of Straub's "Ghost Story":

      I don't know if this is relevant to this particular discussion, yet it's something of interest, if nothing else.


  3. I've still only seen this once, and want to write something about it myself once I've seen it a second time.

    My big problem with the movie was that it threw out all the other sequels, including the plot point about Laurie being Michael's sister, but then the filmmakers made a film in which the two may as well have still been related, for all the difference it made.

    Plus, as with H20, I just don't connect what Curtis is doing here with the '78 Laurie at all. I feel less that she's playing Laurie than that she is playing Jamie Lee Curtis. She's good at it. There are some good scenes, but ultimately, I watched this and just didn't feel it had any true legitimacy as a sequel to the '78 original. I'm not a big fan of the '81 sequel, either, but it feels more genuine to me than this one.

    but will I be there to see "Halloween Kills" next year? Yeah, probably so.

    1. My problems with the first 81 sequel still remains the same. The mystique of the first film is gone, the sibling angle makes little to no difference, a lot of it is just filler, meaning the real conflict vanishes for long stretches of time during the film, and somewhere along the way I just keep checking out.

      At least I can say with this incarnation they are at least making an effort at trying to let the Shape keep his original dignity. I still can't say they really make any big mistakes in that department.

      As for the way they handle Laurie, its curious because here there's nothing entirely bothersome about it for me. For some reason I just can't say I have that any major issues with how she is treated here.

      My biggest criticism is more of a warning: let-it-end-HERE! I think we've gone as far as we can, so maybe it's best to just know when to let a final bow be just that.


  4. "At least I can say with this incarnation they are at least making an effort at trying to let the Shape keep his original dignity. I still can't say they really make any big mistakes in that department."

    I'll have to respectfully disagree with that. What this sequel says is that after Michael disappeared from the lawn after landing there from being gunshot, he walked around a corner and got arrested. That strikes me as a fundamental misunderstanding of the original movie.

    Not that "Halloween II" doesn't do much the same. It definitely does.

    1. I, on the other hand, am not so sure. I always took it to mean that he wandered around for quite a while before he was captured. It could be that they are implying that the only reason that Mikey got caught was because was was finally starting to succumb to his wounds, which might be the reason the deputy spared him that night. He probably never expected the perp to either pull or just flat out be the Energizer Bunny.


    2. But, I mean ... do you really want to think about the Shape wandering around aimlessly before getting tosses into the back of some cop car? Is that what the end of Carpenter's movie seems to be offering, imagination-wise?

      I just couldn't get with that.

      Here's a random idea I just came up with for a sequel. So after the '78 movie ends, they never find Michael; he never shows up again. They just find the mask and the knife lying on the ground in some alley someplace, and his whereabouts remain a mystery. The mask and knife end up in some murder-artifact museum, and decades later are stolen by some would-be copycat who decides to target Laurie to finish the job. A bunch a crap happens, and the movie ends with a somewhat -- but not TOO -- similar scene to the original's ending, where Laurie shoots the bogus Shape, who falls off of something. So she walks over to the edge of it, looks down, not wanting to know, but having to know, only to find ... him lying there, dead as a dog turd. She breathes a sigh of relief, slumps down, calls the cops, and as the sirens begin to wail in the distance, she looks over the edge again. The body is still there; the mask and knife are gone. Laurie hears the sound of footsteps on the stairs. We begin to hear the sound of breathing; fade to black as the music swells.

    3. Hmmm, I can at least see the possibility of potential in these ideas. Though I have to admit for a minute there it sounded like you were going for a more supernatural slant on things.

      Granted, the idea of Michael as supernatural, or on some level being either less or more than human, is not exactly unheard of. I remember reading somewhere (was it on your blog?) about one idea for a "Halloween" sequel that would center on Tommy and Lindsey from the first movie. In this version, it was supposed to be implied that the fear of Myers was supposed to be enough resurrect like this wraith of the character (for lack of a better term).

      If there's anything I've learned, it's that trying to find a way to sequelize someone like Michael is really a major challenge, of sorts. For my money, I still can't find any major objections, even with the bit with the "New Loomis" thrown in.

      As for his recapture and what it does for his mystique, I think there are two observations that go together, et should be considered one at a time.

      As to his wandering around aimlessly, I never really saw it like that. I see Mikey as mostly trying to make a clean getaway before hi injuries slow him down to the point of collapse and he grounds to a halt like somewhere near the state or county line. When the deputy finally catches up, subduing Michael isn't a problem because he's almost lifeless. The deputy's mistake was in placing the perp in the back of the cruiser and driving him to the hospital. As he says, he should have "finished the job" that night.

      From there, Myers is simply kept under heavy sedation, and eventually returned to the asylum. There he remains in that unresponsive state until seeing the mask again dangerously gets his attention, and the rest is up on the screen.

      As for his mystique, it seems to be centered all on the question of motivations of insanity. What makes Mikey run? Why does a person snap and commit such acts. That seems to be the driving force of his influence, and the 2018 film decides to keep it a mystery. In fact, I recall an article by professional critic John Kenneth Muir about "The Tao of Michael Myers" which tackles very much the same subject:

      I suppose it is just possible that that article was an influence on m thinking going into the sequel. Though who knows, really.