It’s the season for tricks and treats and masks and blood and gore and bizarre, probably psychotic fixations, and few film franchises inspire twisted obsessions quite like the “Halloween” collection. John Carpenter’s trendsetting 1978 horror-thriller spawned an entire tradition of slasher shockers.
Few have exerted an influence as powerful as his original. Forty years later, countless fans still feel a cold carving knife in their back at the sound of Carpenter’s minimal, ominous piano riff in 5/4 time. What began as a nasty piece of work has become some kind of reprehensible classic.
The new, same-titled “Halloween” is a loving homage to that prototype that energizes the genre like a shot of adrenaline to the heart. It isn’t directed or written by Carpenter, but it’s clearly part of the same bloodline, right down to the font used in the opening and closing credits. Lensed with beautiful cruelty by indie stalwart David Gordon Green, who co-authored the script with Danny McBride, it pays tribute to the first installment while expanding its sense of danger and isolation.
Like Carpenter’s film, this one resonates long after the end credits roll. Unlike the disappointing “Halloween” offshoots of the past four decades, this is a cut above.
The 11th film in the series, it erases the previous seven sequels, as well as Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake and his 2009 sequel to the remake. Hitting the reset button, this “Halloween” delivers perverse pleasures through coherent and satisfying plotting. The first horror feature from Green (“George Washington”), it channels Carpenter’s sensibility, creating an overwhelming aura of terror.
Jamie Lee Curtis returns in the role of Laurie Strode, whose life has become a long-simmering nightmare since her battle years ago with masked killer Michael Myers. That encounter has left her emotionally stunted, paranoid and in shallow relationships with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak).
A recluse, Laurie makes a rare appearance for two British podcasters who, like Michael’s new psychiatrist, are curious about what goes on inside his head. Pulled into the journalists’ “gotcha” interview, she makes it clear that there is nothing to learn from the ever-silent Michael. He is simply a beast that should have been exterminated. She has fortified her cabin home with razor wire and weapons, praying daily for Michael to escape from his maximum-security psychiatric facility so she can kill him.
Be careful what you wish for or, as a deputy sheriff guarding Laurie’s sleepy hometown of Haddonfield says, “What a stupid thing to pray for.” A bus crash as Michael is being transferred to a supermax lockup turns him loose just outside the small town and its minimal police force on Halloween night.
The camera follows him with serpentine continuous shots as intuition draws him toward Laurie. Along the way he inflicts horrible, inevitable violence to well-constructed characters who we hope would be able to escape unharmed.
This madly bleak whirl of violence and suspense takes a playful break with jokes about bánh mì sandwiches and whether “abracadabra” is drug slang. And while it stuns us with a sadistic late twist, it never loses focus on its simple, coherent plot.
The film is riddled with reflections, and the vengeful Laurie has become Michael’s mirror image, aching to launch a killing rampage of her own. Michael’s 11th-hour reunion with Laurie is what we expect and more, a tightly executed composite of mounting dread and jaw-dropping shock.
With capable help from cinematographer Michael Simmonds, Green repurposes evocative images and horrific actions from the first thriller and winds their springs until the tension is pressurized to the point of explosion. Conjuring an inky look close to that of film noir, the film makes ingenious use of shadow play and deep focus to transform banal suburban and rural locations into settings full of menace. In flashes of inspired editing, we see Michael stalk his victims with almost supernatural skill, suddenly revealed by the camera to appear in a room as if physical laws don’t apply.
It’s no surprise that Laurie called him “the boogeyman.” He’s very, very (very) scary. And so is his movie.