Halloween review: no tricks, this is a total treat

Michael Myers returns to his roots in a smart, modern horror that deserves a warm welcome.

40 years after The Night HE Came Home and legendary serial killer Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield to terrify Laurie Strode once more, in this belated and reconned sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 classic.

And frankly after some of shaky sequels and reboots of seminal horror movies we’ve been subjected to over the last few decades Michael deserves a homecoming parade for this effective, uncynical sequel that works on multiple levels.

Halloween 2018 is respectful and progressive, chilling and inventive and frankly much better than many of us dared to expect.

So how do you reinvigorate a franchise done to death over four decades, and more so, one that’s spawned so many tropes, riffs and reinventions that it’s almost a subgenre of its own? In David Gordon Green’s redo, from a script he wrote with Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley the answer seems to be ‘embrace the original, but don’t be afraid of the new’.

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Present day then, and Podcasters Dana and Aaron are investigating the legend of The Shape – the killer who offed five people back in 1978 and for the past 40 years has been housed in a maximum security prison, refusing to speak a single word. On the outside, Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis, back on ferocious, furious form), now a grandmother with failed marriages and a lifetime of PTSD to show for her ordeal, lives in a secluded home estranged from her family and paranoid that one day her tormentor will return. And when he does she’s going to be ready.

It’s a smart way to establish Halloween’s retcon – all sequels including the thread which made Michael Laurie’s brother are erased (the sibling relationship was just something made up so people can feel better about themselves, a side character explains in one of the many organic-feeling call backs to the franchise as a whole).

Halloween pays its dues but it has also moved on from the original. Bodycount is vastly increased. Gore levels and imaginative kills are amped up to modern day horror norms. And gender and sexual politics have progressed too; young women don’t get offed for banging their boyfriends but one neat scene suggests even Myers hasn’t let the #MeToo movement pass him by either.

Indeed Halloween is a very carefully crafted love letter to the original which works just as well for the uninitiated, with crafty nods to sheets, washing lines and closets for old school fans and enough jumps and shocks for newbies.

If anything the script occasionally works too hard to tick all the boxes, with the film dragging somewhat during the second act in babysitter scenes that might have been necessary (the original title of the ‘78 film was The Babysitter Murders after all) but delay the inevitable anticipated meeting between Laurie and Michael. We’d be advocating cuts were it not for the fact that these scenes include one of the best new characters in the movie – hilarious little kid Julian (Jibrail Nantambu) who’s the only one who seems to know he’s in a horror movie.

Still, when we finally reach the climax, where the Strode women (including Judy Greer as Laurie’s daughter, and Andi Matichak as her granddaughter) meet their monster, the movie comes alive. Even in a stuffy critics screening the crowded couldn’t help but cheer at a sequence which will no doubt be one of the standout horror set pieces of the year.

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With opening credits that are pure nostalgia, and a score by Carpenter himself with Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies, Halloween 2018 elicits surges of emotion from the get go – joy, fear, elation, gratification and disgust. All the good stuff horror excels at. And with a cheeky post-credits… well, not scene but, perhaps beat (which it really isn’t worth staying for) the possibility for further Halloween outings surely isn’t dead.

Slashing through the mire of former cash-ins to create something old and new, smart and satisfying, this is how a long awaited sequel is done. Welcome home Michael.

Halloween is in UK cinemas on 19 October

Rating:

4 out of 5