Having watched the latest Halloween film, I can safely say that it is my favorite Marvel film of the year. I cannot wait to see Michael teaming up with Captain America, trading quips as the masked killer bashes Thanos’ head in with a sledgehammer. I was surprised by the lack of a mid-credits scene featuring Samuel L. Jackson inviting him into the Avengers Initiative, but I suppose they don’t want to give it all away after the shocking ending of Infinity War.
I am of course being facetious, but some of the misplaced humor did bring the MCU to mind. Firstly, though, my overall impression of the film is positive; it is definitely an ideal film to go and watch at the cinema for Halloween. It is a fun watch with sprinklings of tense moments and a surprising level of brutality, exactly what a slasher film should be. Halloween is also the best sequel in the series, though that is really not saying much considering the overall state of the franchise. It does not top the 1978 original, for reasons I will outline later, but it is still a good movie that does capture some of the spirit of Halloween, if only briefly.
The most important piece of the slasher film puzzle is the villain, and this film nails it completely. After all, Michael Myers is the original slasher villain, in that he codified the genre and was the first to have an entire franchise grow around him. Of course, he has a few issues as a character; namely, that he doesn’t have a character. He is ‘the Shape’, who holds no discernible motives for committing his heinous crimes. This is what makes him such an intimidating figure, as he stalks helpless teenagers and seems to get a perverse pleasure from his victims’ fear. It does provide some problems when you try to frame a franchise around him, and so the sequels started adding weird motivations, such as killing his long-lost sister and being the vessel of a strange cult, that just detracted from what made Michael scary to begin with.
Thankfully, this film does away with all the baggage of the original two continuities by erasing them entirely. Not unsubtly, mind you, as one of the characters basically winks at the camera while stating how stupid Laurie being Michael’s sister is as an idea. Michael Myers is once again an eerily silent killer who hunts his victims for reasons incomprehensible to us. They emphasize his inhuman nature throughout, but it is presented brilliantly to the audience in the opening scene, which I will not spoil in this review. Michael also gets a surprising amount of screen time, which I enjoyed. There are many scenes where we get to watch him at work, as he methodically murders random victims across Haddonfield. These types of scenes were always my favorite part of this franchise, as placing yourself in Michael’s position is a disturbing exercise, and it helped separate it from other slasher series like Friday the 13th, where Jason usually only shows up for the kills. Michael always carries a certain tension and dread with him that I usually find lacking in this genre, and it is paid off in some surprisingly gritty and brutal murders throughout.
The rest of the cast is pretty solid too, with Jamie Lee Curtis being especially notable. Now, while I think she is a good actress, Curtis has not always been on top form throughout the Halloween franchise. She was decent in the original, of course, but her appearances in some of the later films, such as H20 or the truly awful Halloween: Resurrection, really gave the impression of just being in it for the money. Here, she makes a triumphant return to form, giving some real depth to her character Laurie Strode. Laurie has gone the Sarah Connor route of having become an unstable badass after the events of the original film, which I was a little unsure of before seeing the new movie.
I was worried that she would become a little too strong and capable, which would undermine the horror aspects of the film. Thankfully, Halloween focuses more on how the trauma has impacted her life for the worse, as she has devolved into a paranoid alcoholic who has lost all connection with her daughter. You really feel that she is vulnerable, despite her owning enough guns to take over Zimbabwe. The other characters are well done too if a little disposable. There are around fifty side characters for Michael to murder, with varying levels of characterization. While some of them work, like Laurie’s son-in-law and the arsehole British journalists, others fell a little flat, giving us little reason to care when Michael inevitably smashes their faces into a thin paste.
One of the biggest positives is in the film’s fantastic score, composed by the original’s director John Carpenter. Despite being around the same age as the U.S. Constitution, he is still a very effective composer. Halloween, of course, features the famous theme from the original, but Carpenter has also added what is, in my opinion, some of his best work. Many of the scenes that would otherwise be fairly generic were giving a real sense of creeping dread, fitting perfectly with Michael Myers’ character. This works well with the cinematography, which is also far above the usual standard for a slasher movie. There are some great shots, including a single take that follows Michael as he moves from house to house, murdering his jolly way around town. These elements, twinned with some great lighting, are what really give Michael his awesome yet unsettling presence throughout.
Now, I’m going to move onto what I definitely did not like about the film. My biggest gripe is the humor that is inappropriately inserted into every scene that doesn’t feature Michael Myers. My opening comparison with the Marvel Cinematic Universe comes from this, as the humor is much the same; endless ‘witty’ quips that add nothing to the overall movie except a few cheap yucks. Halloween is supposed to be a straight horror film, so the audience should be getting disturbed and scared, not laughing at an awkward conversation between a father and his son about ballet.
Of course, horror comedies are already a thing, but films like Evil Dead 2 or Krampus establish their more light-hearted tone early on. Halloween wants to be a genuinely disturbing horror film one moment and then be silly and comedic the next. The only humor that landed for me was the stuff that was character-based; for example, the aforementioned son-in-law is established early on as a bit of a jokester, so when he makes wacky comments it’s fine. Another character the humor works well with is a little boy whom one of the teenage characters babysits for, who, despite being about 8, has some fantastic comedic delivery. What doesn’t work is when a very serious psychiatrist has a quippy retort towards a police officer at the scene of a brutal murder.
Most of this Joss Whedon-esque humor is absent from sequences featuring Michael Myers, but this just makes the tone a complete mess in the later parts of the film. One minute the audience is supposed to laugh at an allegedly funny remark, the next, be terrified by the unstoppable serial killer. The absolute worst example of humor in the film is when we spend a couple of minutes listening to two police officers discussing their preferred sandwich fillings. They are both on a stakeout protecting a targeted family from someone who has killed dozens of people in one evening. They decide to talk about sandwiches. Sandwiches. Yes, it really is that stupid. It makes the film just grind to an unfunny halt, after some very intense scenes proceeding it.
All of this ridiculous unnecessary humor makes me think of some elderly, out of touch producers looking at Marvel’s cinematic successes and thinking that a film cannot be a success without constant quips and jokes. Presumably, they believe that the youth of today have such low attention spans, what with their iPhones and Sony Walkmans, that the only way to engage them is to barrage them with humor. Perhaps they are right, as much of the audience in the screening I went to did seem to eat it up. However, I just thought back to the quaint 1978 original, which had little to no humor and was a far more engaging and disturbing experience as a result.
Halloween has some real issues in the story department as well. There is a twist that, while having the potential to be interesting, has absolutely no set-up and barely any payoff. If you have seen the film, I’m sure you know exactly what I’m talking about and probably found yourself scratching your head in bewilderment as well. Additionally, I found the ending to be pretty weak too. I won’t spoil much, but it ends on quite a triumphant note that seems contradictory to the themes surrounding the dangers of revenge and the need to let go.
Still, these issues did not spoil the overall experience for me. Halloween is definitely an enjoyable and entertaining film, and certainly is the best horror experience I have had in a cinema for quite some time. It is because I enjoyed the film that the irritating humor bothered me so much, as Halloween nearly reached the status of a horror classic only to fall, tumbling down into mires of mediocrity. When they make a sequel (which they inevitably will, since this film has done so well), I can only hope that they refrain from the misplaced jokes. They won’t, of course, and the follow-up will likely be even more excessive than this one. Still, we cannot take decent slasher sequels for granted, especially in this franchise, and so we should be grateful to Halloween for showing us that not all big horror releases have to be about ghosts knocking people’s furniture over.