We’ve had Halloween sequels for decades. What’s different this time? The same thing that’s different in found footage, possession movies, even the Amityville franchise: fresh blood, literally and figuratively. For many of the slasher sequels and remakes of the ’80s and ’90s, it was difficult to tell what the filmmaker disliked more, the audience or horror movies themselves. Some mainstays are campy fun and October traditions. (Freddy and Jason will always be a welcome sight), but the reflexive greenlighting of all horror sequels has led to great characters and premises being stretched beyond their appeal. This also killed the fun of the half-ironic, self-aware crop of films that followed Scream.
Few icons have had their legacies sullied as much as Michael Myers, the silent, hulking force of nature who first squared off with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in 1978. His featureless mask, plain clothes, and unknowable motives made him terrifying. His movements were slow but portentous, with the inevitability of an approaching glacier; any safety you feel is an illusion. Laurie, as depicted by Curtis, was an effective audience surrogate, but more than that we watched her discover a will to survive she did not know she had.
And then there are the sequels; turns out Myers is Laurie’s brother; he’s a reincarnated Druid something or other; then a wounded little boy in the misguided Rob Zombie remakes. These explanations make the monster both less scary and less interesting. Backstories like these are not useful for a character as menacing as Myers. Thinking about his origin is like watching an oncoming tsunami when you should be fucking running.
Enter David Gordon Green, once heir to Terrence Malick’s throne (see George Washington, All the Real Girls), who began making stoner comedies (Pineapple Express, Your Highness) before splitting the difference in recent years (Prince Avalanche, Manglehorn). In other words, not the first person you’d expect to pivot into slasher territory.
With co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley, he is very much on a mission to rehabilitate this series while undoing the wrongs of the past. The focus here is on the legacy of tragedy from generation to generation, as well as the danger of mythologizing that which does not operate by human understanding. Laurie, now living in near isolation, has been estranged from her family after subjecting her daughter (Judy Greer) to a lifetime of survivalist preparation viewed as abuse. Her granddaughter (Andi Matichak) makes efforts to involve Laurie in their life, but it is apparent that she is not free of the trauma from 40 years ago. Meanwhile, a pair of podcasters from the UK set off a chain of events that unleashes Myers on an unsuspecting and unprepared public.
Some may find the irony and self-awareness of the first half off-putting, but Green’s theme of understanding the past has an eye toward undoing the damage done by the awful sequels (which are totally ignored). Green captures some of John Carpenter’s magic in depicting the power Myers has over any space he occupies. Curtis is also in top form, and even if you have no investment in the franchise, she is the reason to see this.
Halloween R, 116 minutes; Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema
Playing this week
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056
A Star is Born, Bad Times at the El Royale, First Man, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, Venom
Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213
A Star is Born, Bad Times at the El Royale, First Man, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, The Hate U Give, The House with a Clock in Its Walls, Night School, The Oath, Venom
Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000
A Star is Born, Bad Times at the El Royale, Blaze, Colette, The Devil’s Backbone, First Man, Goosebumps 2: Haunted Halloween, The Guilty, The Hate U Give, The Oath, The Old Man & The Gun, The Sisters Brothers, Venom