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40 years later ‘Halloween’ gets proper sequel

This image released by Universal Pictures shows Jamie Lee Curtis in a scene from “Halloween.” (Universal Pictures via AP)

In 1978, director John Carpenter’s “Halloween” kicked the legs out from under the horror genre. The film signified a pivot for the industry, bringing with it a trove of tropes that filmmakers employ to this day.

For four decades, Carpenter’s inexorable killer, Michael Myers, has haunted popular culture, lurking in our imaginations and our nightmares. All the while, studios have repeatedly tried to capitalize on his serial killer stardom, failing at every turn to capture even a morsel of the original’s visceral charm. What they’ve given us instead are sequels that range from pedestrian to pitiful.

Now it’s 2018. Myers is back. Again. And the good news is writer-director David Gordon Green’s “Halloween” (2018) forgets that nine sequels ever happened. But the question remains, does Green have what it takes to deliver us from 40 years of mediocrity?

Yes. Sort of.

“Halloween” (2018) isn’t a game changer. Though it doesn’t need to be. To work, it simply needs to operate within the confines of what Carpenter built so long ago. And Green’s film does–perhaps to a fault.

The film lays things out like this: It’s October 30, 40 years after the original murders. There are now three generations of Strodes: Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis), the sole babysitter to survive Myers’ initial night of terror; her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), who has a palpable resentment of her mother; and her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), whose personality is a composition of the two.

We start at Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, Myers’ prison. Two true-crime podcasters are there. They naively believe they’ll be the first to record the infamous killer’s voice. But we know Myers, and he’s no talker.

When taunting a merciless serial killer is no longer a good idea, as if it ever was, the two move on to an interview with Laurie.

She’s a wreck. She’s a hostage to her trauma, paranoia and grief. And we see it all over Curtis’ wonderful performance. She’s even become something of a doomsday prepper. Her heavily fortified house looks less like a home and more like a military compound.

As exciting as it is to see Curtis dig back into the role that jumpstarted her career, the first act is a slog. It’s more of a “Halloween” history lesson than a proper “Halloween” movie. It’s painfully clear our intrepid Brits, during their interviews, are asking questions for us, not themselves, and Green does little to hide it.

It isn’t until Myers’ inevitable escape that the film finally finds its footing.

What unfolds is a surreptitious remake couched inside a sequel, like how “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is a not-so-subtle retelling of the first “Star Wars” cloaked inside some new characters and garb. Here we even get a stand-in for the Myers-obsessed Doctor Loomis from “Halloween” (1978). “He’s the new Loomis,” Laurie quips, almost winking at the camera.

Just as “The Force Awakens” did, Green gives us a lot of fan service here, and man is he good at it. That is if you go for that sort of thing. He plucks several iconic shots and moments out of the original and drops them in here.

Green goes as far as to ape Carpenter’s celebrated long, unbroken take that follows Myers, as a child, through his house as he stalks and then kills his sister. Just as Carpenter used this long take to capture Myers’ birth, Green does it to capture his rebirth.

The camera keeps us wide-eyed as it shows the indifference behind Myers’ eyes. It peers through windows and meanders through backyards right along with Myers as he prowls the neighborhood, dispatching his victims with rote malevolence.

The relentless callbacks somehow never get old. However, they do make this movie feel less special, like it’s pandering to its audience to put an end to 40 years of scorn and censure.

Among all the fanfare, “Halloween” (2018) does manage to ask some interesting questions. For instance, how much do we let the horrors of the world shape our lives? Laurie and her daughter are on opposite ends of this spectrum. Laurie’s life is fueled by paranoia, so much that every decision she makes is informed by the thought of Michael Myers finishing what he started. Her daughter, on the other hand, has slipped into a life of complacency, largely comforted by her ignorance she has so carefully engineered.

“Halloween” (2018) owes every second of its 106-minute runtime to the original. It stole all the best parts from the 1978 flick and put them into a pretty good movie.

It may not be the sequel we’ve always wanted, but it manages to quench that thirst for blood Carpenter gave us almost half a century ago.

“Halloween” is rated R and is playing in area theaters.

Conrad Smith is a Canfield resident and former intern at the Salem News. He’s passionate about film and enjoyswriting about the industry.

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