Review: Where Are the Scares? You Had One Job, Halloween.
I think we can all agree that at its core, a horror movie should be scary on some level. It can be many other things as well, but it needs to scare us. It can be funny, or nostalgic, or a social commentary, or gross, or over the top, or feature a romance, or tap into our feelings about family. But it must be scary.
I somehow sat through the entirety of director David Gordon Green’s Halloween—a 40-years-later continuation of the original, groundbreaking 1978 John Carpenter work—and was never scared. How is that possible? Hell, this version even has Carpenter reworking and beefing up his original score, and it still didn’t quicken my pulse. This is a major problem.[caption id="attachment_39362" align="aligncenter" width="639"] Image courtesy of Universal Pictures[/caption]
Of course I loved that writers Green, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley created a story that ignores all of the sequels and remakes of old, and dives right into a story in which original final girl Laurie Strode (a returning Jamie Lee Curtis) has turned her traumatic night with masked serial killer Michael Myers into motivation to arm herself to the teeth and train for what she believes is his inevitable return to Haddonfield, Illinois. Michael has spent his years in a fortified mental hospital. Although we never see his face unmasked, it’s pretty clear he’s suffering from male pattern baldness—perhaps the cruelest punishment for his murder spree 40 years earlier. Visiting podcasters to the prison manage to score an interview with Myers (or at least a chance to be in the same space and he is); they even bring his mask as a way of hopefully getting a rise out of him, perhaps inspiring him to talk for the first time.
Meanwhile, Laurie has lived a life fortifying her home and body to kill Michael. She somehow manages to have a family as well, including daughter Karen (Judy Greer), who begat granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), both of whom seem unusually well suited to defend themselves as well. The lengths that Laurie has gone to to protect herself are rather amusing, including an underground shelter, built beneath her kitchen and featuring an impressive weapons cache and seemingly enough supplies for a decade. It’s in interesting take on Laurie’s life, but it’s not particularly scary.
Naturally, Michael eventually escapes during a prison transfer and heads right for home on what turns out to be Halloween night. Having recovered his iconic mask, he doesn’t seem that out of place walking the neighborhood, bumping into costumed children and occasionally ducking into someone’s home to plunge a knife into their heart. Led by local sheriff Hawkins (Will Patton) and Michael’s doctor at the mental facility, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), a manhunt begins, with Laurie taking the search into her own hands. Once again, a clever approach, but nothing that struck fear into my heart, and at a certain point, Halloween began to seriously bore me. Partly this is because I never found Michael Myers an especially scary presence, and I say that as a massive admirer of Carpenter’s film. His kills seem to emphasize efficiency rather than flair, which in the real world might be an admirable trait, but in a cinematic setting is downright dull.
Once the film comes down to Laurie versus Michael, things pick up a bit, and the closing sequences feature a few clever visual twists on the first film. Of course it’s magnificent to have Curtis back in this universe, playing the character that put her on the map, battling the deadly force in a way that few horror films allow their female characters to do. But tapping into that nostalgia doesn’t make the film good; it just makes it familiar.
Lest you think I was unwilling to enjoy any film that attempts to re-create a little bit of Carpenter’s magic, I was sincerely rooting for Halloween to deliver on any level. But other than a few great casting choices (I’ll literally watch Judy Greer in anything), this one is a devastating disappointment.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x_-x4Dwz-rU
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Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.