The True Heir to John Carpenter’s Halloween

The Halloween series is infamous for it’s convoluted timeline

Credit to Philip Summers @heyphilsummers for this wonderfully concise flowchart. (Although we will have to agree to disagree that Busta Rhymes is what ruined Halloween Resurrection) But yeah that timeline…

The Halloween franchise inadvertently turned itself into a choose your own adventure as the franchise continued to chase the success of the 1978 original. In light of 2018’s erasure of the rest of the sequels, I wanted to take a closer look at 4 films in the franchise that represent different paths one could take from the original. Each of these series entries offer the viewer a different page to flip to in the Halloween Choose Your Own Adventure:

  • The night continues: Halloween II
  • Laurie died and Michael goes after her daughter/his niece Jamie: Halloween 4*
  • Laurie lived and Michael goes after her: Halloween H20*
  • The night did not continue and Michael is not Laurie’s brother: Halloween 2018

*Yikes even the numbering format couldn’t stay the same!? Also I realize these are direct sequels to Halloween II not the original. But they are entry points for many viewers, and they each spawned their own sequels. I feel it’s worth exploring their relationship to the original.

Halloween 2018:

“Michael Myers killed 5 people. And he’s a human being, we need to understand. I’m twice divorced, and I’m a basket case.”

Laurie Strode in Halloween 2018

Halloween 2018 clearly wants to be the true heir to the original. It’s undoubtedly a money grab like Halloween II, but its reverence for the original as well as its clever nods to the sequels make it a strong entry to the series. Initially I was incredibly apprehensive after the first trailer was released and it looked like generic slasher schlock but the second trailer really captured the creepy, quiet suspense of a dark night when it feels like anything could happen.

Even more so than Halloween H20, this sequel paints Laurie Strode as the ultimate Final Girl – someone who prays for her chance to kill the killer and stop the cycle before more victims are claimed. She doesn’t suffer fools such as the true crime podcast duo who try to reexamine the case by trivializing her trauma and depicting her as a monster. Nearly every line Laurie utters is meant to be cheered on by the audience, unlike the less-resolved Laurie we encounter in H20. When Laurie shows moments of profound vulnerability such as her behavior at Allyson’s celebration dinner, we are meant to feel for her. Despite her outer appearance of a conspiracy theorist prepper, this movie reveres Laurie Strode in a way that is simply unprecedented in any slasher movie.

The reversal of the hunter and hunted including flipping iconic shots from the original is intense, scary, and cathartic. Perhaps more so than any of the sequels, Michael truly earns the name of The Shape in this one. Watching Laurie carefully go room to room to try and find him is nerve-wracking and effective. The use of humor and pathos with even its minor characters makes you feel for them and their deaths. The playful banter between Vicky and Julian, and the way Dave and Aaron at least try to fight Michael back stand out. Having John Carpenter supply the soundtrack also helps it feel more similar to the original film. Unlike the beefed up versions of his soundtrack in Halloween II and H20, this feels like an unpretentious reimagining of that original soundtrack. Some of the cinematography made this feel a bit timeless, and I’m curious to see if it feels as aged in 20 years as H20 does now.

Michael is much more brutal and physically impressive in this film than in the original. He is shown to twist jaws and snap necks with his bare hands. Some of his physical presence and prowess is reminiscent of the Michael Myers in Rob Zombie’s Halloween. This additional intensity seems appropriate for a post torture-porn audience’s appetite for brutality.

In reimagining this film for the 2018, I like the ways they analyze society’s voracious consumption of true crime stories. This is apparent with both the pretentious podcasters as well as Dr. Sartain’s obsession with learning how Michael feels when he kills.

This movie is not without its faults – one of the most egregious for me being Dr. Sartain inexplicably putting on Michael’s mask for a few seconds after he kills Hawkins. Perhaps this moment was meant to mock him, but it is so unnecessary (he throws the mask in the back of the cop car with Michael seconds later for goodness sake!) it dilutes the clever twist with his character in that moment.

I also worry about the pattern most horror films take in validating the outlook of a lone and seemingly unstable person. In today’s world of fake news and dismissal of fact-based evidence it seems like an increasingly insidious choice to rely on plots that validate the “one eyed person in the kingdom of the blind.” I will say this film at least makes an intriguing counterpoint to Laurie’s fears when Dave comments early in the film “Because, all things considered, there’s a lot worse stuff that’s happening today. And like, I mean, what, a couple people getting killed by one guy with a knife is not that big of a deal…she escaped, and they caught him, and now he’s incarcerated. I’m just saying like by today’s standards…” In reality, however insensitive the delivery, Dave has a valid point to consider. Laurie’s reaction is extreme, and removed from the fictional universe of a film would be disturbing. Likewise, Karen’s detachment from her mother would be completely understandable.

This depiction of Laurie Strode compared to H20 makes for some interesting food for thought: Is it better to show how a character would realistically react to the trauma Laurie experienced as a teenager, or is it better for the purposes of a compelling fictional narrative to dip into the same magical waters that make Michael seemingly supernatural and have a character react in an extreme but “entertaining” way to the trauma they endured? And does it matter if the source of her trauma happened two or four decades ago? Michael is credited as The Shape in this film whereas Laurie Strode is depicted as a flesh and blood mortal woman. Yet they are meant to be opposing forces – a damaged, supernatural psychopath vs. a damaged, mortal woman.

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I mentioned this movie being a money grab, and it seems like Jason Blum has every intention of running the franchise into the ground again with his insistence on creating another sequel. Much like H20 this film ends with an older, tougher Laurie Strode defeating Michael once and for all (or does she?). And perhaps, much like H20, its ending will be marred by its very own Halloween Resurrection.

Halloween H20

Similar to how some people grew up with Halloween 4, I fondly remember “growing up” with Halloween H20. Rewatching this now it’s clearly dated – heavily influenced by peers such as Scream despite being directed by Steve Miner (the same director from Friday the 13th 2& 3. But after getting Jamie Lee Curtis on board for this one, H20 seeked to be the final film in a Halloween trilogy following the first two films.

This film again makes nods to other Halloween films. It even alludes to Laurie faking her death in a car accident to assume the identity of Keri Tate (in Halloween 4 it is revealed Laurie died in a car accident).

There are some effective moments of tension such as when Laurie believes she sees Michael only for it to actually be her boyfriend Will, and later when she finally sees Michael face to face and must accept that he’s truly found her this time. The face off between them in the dining hall is also well paced. More so than Halloween 2018 which pits Laurie, her daughter, and her granddaughter against Michael, H20 is definitively about Laurie and Michael squaring off one on one. And the final moments of the film provide a cathartic ending to their relationship with Michael silently reaching out only to get decapitated just as the original Halloween theme starts playing.

Although Laurie’s life and behavior feels very realistic in this one, but she is almost too realistic. Part of that is the character arc she goes through, transitioning from functioning adult living with post traumatic stress disorder to final girl who firmly and definitively stands her ground. In this entry Laurie says “she hopes and prays every day that her brother won’t find her” vs. the 2018 Laurie who “prays every night he would escape so she could finally kill him.”

The depiction of Michael in this film seems the truest to the original out of any sequel I’m discussing here. He misses opportunities at some points such as when Sarah gets up into the dumbwaiter before he can get more than a knife swipe, and when Marion Crane fights back against him. He doesn’t seem to be the occasionally Terminator-like figure he comes across as in Halloween II or Halloween 2018.

This film has a plethora of issues. It is not set in Haddonfield or even the Midwest which also takes away some of the tone of previous films. It’s predominant tagline is “This summer terror will not be taking a vacation.” The difference between this and the predominant taglines for other franchise entries is telling about the different tone this franchise entry has:
Halloween 2018 – “Face Your Fate”
Halloween 4 – “Ten Years Ago HE Changed The Face Of Halloween. Tonight HE’S BACK!”
Halloween II – “More Of The Night He Came Home”

Another issue with this sequel is the score. This is discussed at length in the documentary Blood is Thicker Than Water (discussion of the score starts at the 45:50 mark), but the choice to go with a more orchestral sound makes the movie seem full of itself. It feels like a Scream movie with Michael Myers. It lacks the unpretentious, cold-blooded dread of Carpenter’s scores which are so irreversibly entwined with Halloween. It also ends with a Creed song over the closing credits which I know is wrong to count against the film given it being a product of its time but yikes.

If taken on its own independently of Halloween Resurrection this would have been a sufficient finale to Laurie and Michael’s story. But compared to Halloween 2018 it seems too far removed from the original’s tone and sincerity to be the superior conclusion to Laurie’s story.

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

This movie manages to do something different without Laurie Strode, and for the most part it succeeds while staying true to the first and second films. It was a bold choice to focus the story on a child and her foster sister but it pays off.

Image result for jamie lloyd halloween 4

Jamie Lloyd is an incredibly well-acted and written character for a horror film. She is just precocious and vulnerable enough to be relatable for adult audiences. Jamie crying while looking at the photo of Laurie reminds us of our own feelings of reverence to Laurie Strode. When Jamie hallucinates about Michael being in her room it feels like he is truly The Shape or the Boogeyman in those moments. The film’s repeated use of the word Boogeyman highlights the fact a child is the protagonist. All of this builds to a truly chilling ending when it is revealed Michael’s evil has seemingly poisoned his innocent niece, causing her to brutally stab her foster mom to death with a pair of scissors.

Donald Pleasence’s repeated “NO!” is blood-curdling. The ending really highlights the inventive direction this entry in the franchise decided to take.

We also get to identify with Rachel as Jamie’s flawed but relatable foster sister. Their relationship provides a solid heart to the film.

Image result for jamie and rachel halloween 4

This isn’t just another slasher film about slaughtering teenagers – the focus is on Michael Myers hunting down his seven year old niece. We get to see a teenage character, typically the focus of slasher films, through the perspective of a child. This allows us to shift between the two perspectives, and feel the terror both a child and a teenager would feel in this situation. Rachel’s arc goes from reminding Jamie they aren’t blood related, to her literally going through hell to save Jamie from her actual blood relative.

The tone of this film stays through to the original while still finding opportunities to be unique. The director knew what a Midwestern town would look like on Halloween, and captures it with minimal but effective mise en scène . The soundtrack to this one wisely plays it safe in Carpenter’s absence. It of course features its iteration of the iconic theme, but mostly goes with an understated yet haunting score for the rest of the film.

One thing that detracts from this film is George Wilbur’s portrayal of Michael Myers. Casting a stuntman as Michael led to a stiffer, more robotic Michael that felt noticeably different than other entries in the franchise. Michael is brutal in this one as he is in Halloween II. While in Halloween II he grows a fondness for stabbing people with needles and literally walking through doors, in Halloween 4 he seems to have a cringeworthy affinity for poking his fingers in peoples’ faces as if their flesh is Playdough. Despite allegedly being invalid, he has come a long way since the murderous but occasionally clumsy killer in the original.

I also don’t know what to make of the redneck lynch mob that forms to try and hunt Michael down. It is out of place but it’s fortunately a small part of the film and doesn’t detract from the rest too much. Also props to the mob for making the decision to transport Rachel and Jamie to safety when presented with an opportunity to corner Michael. To be fair, this is after they accidentally kill an innocent community member they mistake for Michael so it makes sense they would be a little more cautious the second time around.

Overall, this is an incredibly solid sequel and a surprisingly fresh direction for a movie which was created to reestablish a formula in order to save the Halloween franchise. There are things to appreciate about its sloppy sequels, but left on its own merits (especially its shockingly proactive ending) it is a unique slasher that really stands out.

Halloween II

When I originally saw this movie I loved it. Because I saw both Halloween I & II decades after they came out I truly felt it was one seamless experience when I originally watched it. The way the movie picks the plot up seconds after the end of the first felt innovative and energizing. Typically slashers end with the implication that evil never dies and the Final Girl is forever traumatized, and Halloween II actually explores these ideas in the immediate aftermath of a massacre.

John Carpenter begrudgingly wrote the movie and the music along with Alan Howarth. The result is a soundtrack that feels like an amplified version of the original – different but similar enough (just like Warlock’s depiction of Michael in this film). The soundtrack fits this entry just as the Carpenter soundtrack on the 2018 fits that film. Halloween II‘s soundtrack amplifies and exaggerates the original. Halloween 2018‘s soundtrack is a subtle but distinct twist on the original.

The Michael in this film walks through doors whether they be glass or wood like they are nothing. He feels like an angrier version of the one from the original – stabbing people with needles and smearing Samhain in blood on a school chalkboard in a silent cry for acknowledgement. Slashing all the tires in the hospital parking lot and draining the head nurse of her blood. It’s interesting that the Celtic Pagan element so prevalent in Halloween III and Halloween 6 is actually first mentioned here.

The reveal that Laurie is his sister completely changes the motivation behind Michael Myers, but it sets the canon for nearly all the sequels including Halloween 4 and H20. It seems most viewers argue it is scarier for Michael’s violence to be completely senseless and random as it appears to be in the original film. While I’m certainly not disagreeing, I also think Laurie’s realization that her life has been a lie is chilling. The idea that her brother is the killer, and that he won’t stop till he kills her just because she is his sister is dread-inducing. The Laurie in this film has had no time to process her trauma but still manages to fight back in a more visceral way than the original. It is in this film we start to get glimpses of the Laurie we will see in H2o and Halloween 2018.

Halloween II is an effective sequel to the original. It is interest that its added anger and gore came from Carpenter’s anger at its existence in tandem with his belief that it needed more shocks and gore to compete with its new peers. It seems he both hated it and wished it good luck simultaneously.

For better or for worse, this film sets Laurie and Michael up as opposing forces, forever fated to face the other when the world around them begins to die as fall takes hold.

Unlike the Friday the 13th series which quickly blurs together, the Halloween franchise does something unique in almost every film it spawns. Even Rob Zombie famously made Halloween his own when remaking it (unlike the by the numbers remakes of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Friday the 13th). By going back to its roots and taking itself seriously, Halloween managed to create a slasher sequel that was worthy of our attention in 2018. Not to mention it reintroduced viewers to a series that’s grown so brilliantly convoluted in its timeline it could give X-Men a run for its money.

Till the next one…

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