Last week marked the 40th anniversary of Halloween, a film that revolutionized the world of horror. Unsuspecting audiences took their seats in the theater on October 25, 1978, not yet knowing that they were watching an early example of the slasher—a subgenre that would go on to dominate and define 1980s horror.
Of course, there were definitely films predating Halloween that would be considered slashers—Black Christmas (1974), The Town That Dreaded Sundown (1976), and even Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) is often cited as a pre-slasher slasher. But it was Halloween that really kickstarted the genre, and few others before it can match its cultural influence and lasting impact. Even now, 40 years later, we’re still seeing sequels to this film—and, even better, we’re seeing good ones.
Halloween (2018) is, canonically, the only direct sequel to the original film. As confusing as that sentence might be, it’s important to establish off of the top. This means that every sequel released after the original (and all of their plot points and character development) was disregarded entirely. Laurie Strode and Michael Myers are no longer brother and sister, Jamie Lloyd was never born, the Thorn Cult (thankfully) never existed, and Busta Rhymes never hosted his reality show.
The creators of this year’s Halloween—directed by David Gordon Green, with a screenplay by him, Danny McBride, and Jeff Fradley—recognized that the series had jumped the shark long ago and are now providing the audience with a well-needed return to what made the original film such a masterpiece.
With its eponymous title, audiences might assume going into the new Halloween that it’s another entry into the rash of soft-reboots that have recently been plaguing Hollywood. But let me set the record straight by saying that this movie is, indeed, a straight-up sequel to the original, continuing a story that started four decades ago and featuring the same original characters with a few new faces.
Here in 2018, Michael Myers has spent the past 40 years institutionalized, having been captured shortly after his murderous, Halloween night rampage in 1978 that left four people and two dogs dead. Even though the original Halloween left the ending open by suggesting that Myers escaped after being shot by Dr. Loomis, this film shrugs that off by simply stating that he was captured later that same night. It sounds like there could be an interesting story there, but this film didn’t concern itself with that.
Laurie Strode (played, again, by Jamie Lee Curtis), meanwhile, has spent the past 40 years since her encounter with Myers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. She has spent her days arming herself with plenty of guns and ammunition, fortifying her house, and preparing for the (in her mind) inevitable day that Michael Myers escapes custody—a mentality that has left her twice-divorced and estranged from her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), and most of her family, excluding her sympathetic granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak).
Without giving away too much of the story, Michael is able to escape custody, reclaim his iconic mask, and return to his hometown of Haddonfield to continue the rampage that he started 40 years ago. Here is where we see a triumphant return to what made the original Halloween so brilliant and scary: Michael Myers has no rationale, no pre-planned agenda. There’s no reason for him to be going on a rampage, other than the simple fact that he is a killer who wants to kill. Despite every character trying to coax out the contrary, Myers has no excuse for his actions. He’s not motivated by a desire to “finish off the last of his bloodline” or by the fact that he’s a pawn of some larger cult. His motivation is killing indiscriminately, which we see as soon as Michael returns to Haddonfield.
In a glorious tracking shot, we see him masked, stalking from house to house and murdering each inhabitant as if the last 40 years never even happened, camouflaged by fellow costumed trick-or-treaters flooding the streets outside. He continues his murderous rampage throughout the night, his freedom a looming threat to the three Strode women.
Now, you might try and argue that Michael did have a motivation in this film and that his motivation, specifically, was to hunt down Laurie Strode, the one who got away back in ‘78. But that’s not really the case, as Myers didn’t immediately set out to find her and may not have encountered her at all if Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) hadn’t have stepped in and driven him out to her.
And, speaking of this doctor, if you’re going into this movie expecting to see a new Dr. Loomis, you will be disappointed. Nobody can perfectly replace the late Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis, and though the original 2018 script initially included him by way of movie magic, the creative team thought better of it and revised, mostly due to John Carpenter’s own suggestion.
After Loomis’ offscreen passing, a new doctor, Dr. Sartain, stepped in to try and understand Michael. Becoming obsessed with Myers’ and his unrelenting, tight-lipped stoicism over his 40 years in captivity, Dr. Sartain is so desperate to figure out what makes Michael tick that he’s willing to jeopardize the lives of innocent people to understand him. From being the instrument Michael uses to escape to personally driving Michael to the movie’s climax, Dr. Sartain is not the gun-wielding Loomis who comes in at the eleventh hour to save the day. Instead, he is a secondary villain responsible for getting this whole new series of events rolling.
The movie ends in a climactic encounter in Laurie’s house-turned-fortress, with Michael stalking Laurie from room to room and finally throwing her from a second floor balcony in one of many scenes that pays homage to the original. Continuing that reverse mimicry, Laurie’s body disappears when Michael looks down from the balcony and here is where, in 2018, the hunter becomes the hunted.
In the end, Michael is lured into an inescapable situation through the combined forces of three generations of Strode women, and thus ends the murderous rampage of Michael Myers… or does it?
While this film serves as a solid and welcome return to what made the original so memorable, it definitely doesn’t surpass it and there are a few damning differences. For one, this sequel features a lot more of the human element than did the original script. We’re meant to empathize with Laurie, who has spent the last 40 years scarred by what happened and preparing for Michael’s inevitable return, and we also have to spend a good bit of the movie learning about Allyson’s conflicted position between supporting the grandmother that her own mother dismisses as crazy, damaging, and even borderline abusive. The script also spends a good chunk of time setting up a love triangle that ends up being rather insignificant overall.
It’s true that these things add depth to characters, which is a good thing, but in this movie, there just seemed to be just a little too much of it—enough to detract from the overall story without paying off meaningfully. We don’t really care about the podcasters who are trying to interview Michael, for instance, or the fact that Allyson’s boyfriend is cheating on her, or that Dr. Sartain is so obsessed with Michael that he wants to be Michael. These story elements do build the plot and serve to move it along to a degree, but the setups could have taken less time, being that these plot points mostly exist just to give us a few extra kills.
In a direct sequel to a 40-year-old movie, callbacks are expected, and Halloween includes many that fans of the original will notice and appreciate. Cleverly done and never too overt, cheap, or distracting, these subtle homages show the depth of appreciation and respect the filmmakers had for the original, while still evolving the story and not resorting to a shot-for-shot remake.
Most callbacks are subtle, such as a quick shot of Vicky’s (Virginia Gardner) dead boyfriend, Dave (Miles Robbins), pinned to the wall with knife à la Bob (John Michael Graham) from the original, or Michael Myers’ character being called “The Shape” in the credits.
And though every existing sequel has been disregarded plot-wise, the new Halloween even includes a fantastic nod to Halloween 3: Season of the Witch by including the same masks from that film and to Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers by making the gas station where Myers reclaims his mask in 2018 almost identical to the one featured in the earlier release.
Other callbacks are a little more in-your-face, like Laurie’s disappearance after she’s thrown from the balcony or Allyson sitting in class and seeing her grandmother watching her from across the street.
While Halloween does have its flaws, it is a very good return to what made the original so good. It doesn’t waste too much time with unnecessary exposition, and most importantly, it maintains the integral fact that not knowing what motivates a killer is oftentimes much scarier than knowing. As a fan of not only the original but the entire series, I would definitely recommend this movie. It took 40 years, but the original Halloween has finally received a proper sequel.