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D: David Gordon Green / 106m

Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Haluk Bilginer, Rhian Rees, Jefferson Hall, Toby Huss, Virginia Gardner, Dylan Arnold, Miles Robbins, James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle

And it seemed like such a good idea at the time… ah well…

In the UK, on 10 October – and in advance of the release of Halloween (2018) – some cinemas screened the original Halloween (1978). Those screenings were prefaced by an interview/introduction with John Carpenter that was shot in 2015, and in which he gave an overview of the original’s production and the problems he faced in getting it made. Seeing the original on the big screen, and in the Panavision format that Carpenter had designed it to be seen in, was a potent reminder of just why it has become such a seminal movie in the ensuing decades. With a further nine movies having been foisted on audiences since then, it looked as if Rob Zombie’s disastrous Halloween II (2009) had killed off Michael Myers (aka The Shape) once and for all. But in Hollywood, you can’t keep a popular serial killer dead forever, and so we have the latest (eleventh) instalment in a franchise that you could be forgiven for thinking had exhausted all the avenues open to it in telling, and re-telling, Michael Myers’ story. And you know what? You’d be right…

Halloween seeks to earn brownie points with fans and newcomers alike by ignoring entries two through ten, and by taking up the story forty years after the events of the first movie. In this retconned version, Michael Myers was captured after being shot by Dr Sam Loomis, and has spent the intervening years in a state-run sanatarium. Meanwhile, the lone survivor of The Night He Came Home, Laurie Strode (Curtis), has had a daughter, Karen (Greer), who in turn has had her own daughter, Allyson (Matichak). Laurie and Karen are estranged because Laurie is beyond paranoid in her belief that Michael will return to Haddonfield one day, and come for her. Allyson is less censorious, and keeps trying to get her mother and grandmother to reconcile. Inevitably, Michael escapes during a bus transfer to another facility, and as predicted, heads for Haddonfield. Soon he’s butchering people left, right and through the throat in a wilful display of murderous impunity. And just as inevitably, he finds his way to Laurie’s home and the showdown she’s been waiting and planning for for forty years.

Comparisons with John Carpenter’s original movie are entirely relevant here, as writers  David Gordon Green, Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride have made clear their intention to honour the spirit of Carpenter’s movie, while continuing and expanding on the mythology set out in the first two entries. What this means in practice is a movie that constantly references iconic moments from the original while putting a “clever” spin on them, such as Laurie falling from a balcony and having disappeared the second time Michael looks down. It also means that this Halloween is a sequel-reboot that ignores the subtlety and atmosphere of the original in favour of gory kill sequences that happen only so that Michael has something to do (at one point, he’s literally going from door to door in his efforts to kill people), and pulls off a left-field “twist” involving a secondary character that might have been halfway effective if it wasn’t so dramatically laughable. What Green et al seem to have forgotten in their efforts to update the story and make it more “attractive” to modern audiences is the main reason why the original was so compelling: it was genuinely scary. This plays out as a thriller more than it does a horror movie, and a clumsily handled one at that. By attempting to go back to the franchise’s roots, the makers haven’t just retconned the original storyline, but they’ve gotten lost along the way as well. To paraphrase a well known saying, “It’s Halloween, John, but not as we know it.”

Rating: 4/10 – with its muddled, and misguided attempts at reinvigorating the series, Halloween can’t even get the title right (shouldn’t there be a II in there somewhere?); Curtis is the movie’s MVP, but that’s not saying much when the script develops her character at the expense of all the others, and where the notion of creating anything remotely resembling tension seems to have been abandoned right at the start of shooting.

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