3 stars (out of 4)
Did you hear about Michael Meyers? Years and years ago — when he was just 6 years old — Michael put on a mask and methodically stabbed his older sister to death. Then in 1978, he knifed a bunch of teenagers on Halloween night. The only survivor was a babysitter named Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis). No reason for the attacks. Michael is just pure evil, which is terrifying in of itself. Now this psychopath is back on the prowl, and he’s as menacing (and mute) as ever.
While that news is verrrry bad for the locals in Haddonfield, Illinois, it will serve as a relief to devoted fans of the genre — especially those who grew up on John Carpenter’s groundbreaking 1978 original Halloween. All you need to do to savor the new Halloween is wipe your memory of all those other sequels and remakes, including 1998’s Halloween: H20 (co-starring a Dawson’s-era Michelle Williams!) and 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection. Director David Gordon Green and co-writer Danny McBride have eschewed all that nonsense and gone back to the basics. Beyond the simple plot, you’ll hear Carpenter’s iconic organ music score and see the 70s-style font type in the opening credits. Classics never die.
Lee’s Laurie is now a fierce gun-toting grandmother, still experiencing symptoms of PTSD. Do not mess with this woman. No matter that Michael has been chained in a psychiatric facility for his entire adulthood; she’s convinced that the masked man is going to come after her. She has a semi-estranged daughter (Jane Greer), who dismisses her as crazy, and a more understanding teen granddaughter (Andi Matichak). Then, on Halloween night, Laurie’s fears come true. While Michael (Nick Castle and James Courtney) is being transferred to another mental health facility, things go awry. Guess who makes a run for it and promptly returns to the killing business. Ahhhh!!!!
The body count is impressive. But like a true scary movie, the frights are of the old-school variety. Green (The Pineapple Express) and McBride have crafted a clever homage to the kind of flick that Jamie Kennedy geeked out on so memorably in the original 1996 Scream. If you remember “The Rules,” then you’ll know that the promiscuous, weed smoking teens are goners. So are the doubting police officers. The babysitter investigates that mysterious noise in the house when she should be running out the front door. Though I watched most of the movie through the slits of my fingers covered over my face, that’s only because I’m an extreme fraidy cat. The jump-in-your-seat moments are telegraphed all the way from Jupiter.
There’s one key difference between the two Halloweens: This original was deadly serious; this would-be sequel is filled with comic winks and nods. I heard applause in my screening room when Curtis looked for Michael in her closet, which was filled with wire hangers. There’s a funny inside-joke about the ill-conceived Halloween II in 1981. Smartest of all, the screenwriters address the Jack-o-Lantern in the room. So a maniac slashed a handful of teens back in the 1970s. Given today’s hyper-violent, mass-crime climate, one smart-ass teen surmises that the killing spree is not “a big deal.” He will live to regret those words.
The new generation of Halloween watchers may be disappointed that Meyers doesn’t SnapChat his murders or traverse into the Dark Web. The film does not unspool on a series of laptop and iPhone screens. I say there’s something appealing, even comforting, about a throwback horror flick that’s overtly low-rent. Back story and ultra-meta quips be damned! Besides, I guarantee no other entry this year will star a 59-year-old female barking at her loved ones to get down in the panic room underneath her kitchen. If the bogey man somehow manages to come back after this latest face-off, at least we know she’s waiting. What a treat, indeed.
Halloween opens in theaters on Friday, October 19.
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