The tricks and treats of “Halloween”…

A new “Halloween” film (the eleventh of the franchise to date) arrived in cinemas this past week.  I’ve long been fan of both the films and the holiday, but I wish I hadn’t heard so much positive buzz on this one before I saw it for myself (it’s that whole ‘expectations’ thing).   While I certainly appreciated the return of the original “Laurie Strode” (Jamie Lee Curtis),  some may need reminding that Curtis has been in five of the eleven films to date; that’s nearly half of them.  The 1978 original, “Halloween II,” (1981), “Halloween H20: 20 Years Later” (1998),  “Halloween: Resurrection” (2002) and now the confusingly same-titled “Halloween” (2018).  For me, the more important question; why is she returning?   What is new to tell about the Laurie Strode character?

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Jamie Lee Curtis today, wearing her iconic outfit from the 1978 original…

In video interviews, Curtis has correctly pointed out that Laurie Strode is a terrific character; she’s smart, resourceful, and a good horror role model.  Despite her strength, she’s still emotionally vulnerable and relatable.  She’s from the same mold that produced the ALIEN franchise’s “Ripley” (Sigourney Weaver), “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and many others since.  Curtis’ Strode helped usher in the cinematic female victim who refuses to be victimized.  I was curious to see how this pioneering character fared in the #MeToo era.

This latest Halloween film is directed by David Gordon Green and cowritten by Green, actor/writer Danny McBride (of the disastrously bad “Alien Covenant”) & Jeff Fradley.   H18 is a mixed bag of tricks, but the treats are fewer than I’d expected; especially after reading positively glowing pre-release coverage of the film.

 

****PUMPKIN SPICE SPOILERS AHEAD! ****

 

The night he came home… again.

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Gun totin’ grandma Laurie Strode (Curtis).

The new film picks up 40 years after that first ‘night he came home’ to Haddonfield, Illinois (shot now in the more autumnal, rustic-looking South Carolina instead of suburban Pasadena, California).  Michael Myers (a returning Nick Castle) is incarcerated under maximum security (haha) at Smith’s Grove sanitarium, from where he escaped in the original.  His victim, Laurie Strode (Curtis) is now a reclusive, survivalist agoraphobic grandma whose intense paranoia of Michael’s return has alienated her from her family, including married, middle-aged daughter Karen (Judy Greer), son-in-law Ray (Toby Huss), and high school-age granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak).  Laurie’s home is a survivalist’s jackpot, with ridiculous levels of layered defense, including a weapons cache that’d make even the most ardent Second Amendment advocate blush.  Unlike her appearance in “Halloween H20” (1998), where Laurie had chosen to live a life despite her fears, this ‘new’ version of Laurie is only about her fears.  The victim forever seeking payback.  Strong, intelligent, educated Laurie Strode is reduced to another cinematic Ahab.  Some might see this version of Laurie as tough and empowered, but I just see Michael Myers living rent-free between her ears.  Even without killing her, Michael has won.

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High school friends Dave (Miles Robbins), Vicki (Virginia Gardener) and Allyson (Andi Matichak) perform their own version of the sidewalk stroll scene from the original “Halloween.”

Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson is a good student, much like her grandma, and is attending a Halloween dance at her school along with her bit-of-a-dick boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold).  They plan to dress up as a crossplay Bonnie & Clyde.  Her friend Vicki (Virginia Gardener) is babysitting a precocious little boy named Julian (Jibrail Nantambu).  Vicki’s plan, much like Laurie’s friend Lynda in the original, is to invite over her spacey boyfriend Dave (Miles Robbins) once Julian falls asleep.  This subplot is truest to the original’s pitch of ‘the babysitter murders.’

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Dana (Rhian Rees) and Aron (Jefferson Hall); idiots abroad…

Meanwhile, in another subplot that the movie could’ve easily done without, two British journalist/podcasters Dana & Aron (Rhian Rees, Jefferson Hall), have flown all the way to Haddonfield just to get up-close and personal with a chained Michael Myers in Smith Grove Sanitarium’s curiously checker-boarded outdoor common area.  Aron and Dana meet Michael’s new case manager, Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), whom Laurie later succinctly calls “the new Loomis.”  Dr. Loomis (named after the hero in the original “Psycho”) was the Halloween franchise’s Van Helsing-like psychiatrist (played by the late Donald Pleasance), whose sole purpose was to stop Michael at any cost.  We later learn that the obsessed Dr. Sartain is no Dr. Loomis.

A similarly obsessed Aron is keen on making the infamously mute Michael talk, and his ‘plan’ to do so involves flashing the infamous murder mask in Michael’s (never fully seen) face.  How Aron and Dana got ahold of a piece of state’s evidence, let alone smuggled it into a high security area, remains a logistical mystery.

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“See anything you like?”

Undeterred by their failure at Smith’s Grove, Aron & Dana later visit the reclusive Laurie, who in so many words, takes their $3,000 bribe to get through her security systems and politely tells them to f–k off.   The two visiting Brits get a harsh lesson in midwestern American hospitality.

Laurie is nervously awaiting (or eagerly anticipating) Michael’s transfer from Smith’s Grove to a new facility, because we all know how smoothly a previous transfer went on the exact same night 40 years earlier, right?

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A hijacked sanitarium bus unleashes its cargo of escaped inmates the night before Halloween, in a scene that recalls Michael’s previous escape from the 1978 movie.

Later that evening (October 30th), a father-son pair of hunters (hunting at night, of course) come across a hijacked/crashed bus from the sanitarium as inmates in hospital garb flee confusedly into the nearby woods.   Michael Myers has once again escaped, and it’s about as surprising as drying paint.

Halloween morning arrives as the two traveling Brits get to partake in another Yank ritual known as the ‘disgusting gas station bathroom’ (i.e. the ‘petrol station loo’); this is where the two finally meet Michael in the wild, and he proceeds to kill them and take back his mask, which they so conveniently kept in their car for him.  The scene of Dana being forced to crawl along the filthy stall floors to evade Michael is terrifying, but for all the wrong reasons; crawling along an absolutely putrid gas station floor is arguably more terrifying than evading a tire-iron wielding serial killer.

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Who was that masked man? 

Now the almost kabuki-like rituals of a Halloween movie begin in earnest.  Frankly, I was getting a little impatient by this point; the running time is only an hour and 44 minutes, but it feels considerably longer.

After a disastrous ‘reconciliatory’ family dinner, Laurie takes on an unofficial role as Haddonfield town crier.  Allyson breaks up with a cheating Cameron at the Halloween dance, then has to fend off Cameron’s creepy nerdy friend Oscar (Drew Scheid) who offers a convenient shoulder to cry on.  Meanwhile, babysitting Vicki has a tough time putting little Julian to bed as she awaits her boyfriend Dave (it’s Halloween night, for chrissakes...what kid wants to go to bed early?).  I have to give a shoutout to young Jibrail Nantambu, who is one of the brightest sparks of the entire movie.  This kid effortlessly steals every scene he’s in, even from Michael Myers.

Babysitting Virginia Gardener tries nearly in vain to put a scene-stealing Jibrail Nantambu to bed.  A shame, since he’s far more useful to the movie awake.

Dr. Sartain is on the lookout for Michael, along with longtime veteran police officer Hawkins (Will Patton), who remembers Michael’s rampage of 40 years ago.  The two pick up a terrified Allyson, who is fleeing Michael herself, and literally run into Michael (with a police SUV), knocking him unconscious.  In one of those incredibly stupid, only-in-the-movies story twists, Dr. Sartain then kills Hawkins; because Hawkins wants to blow the unconscious-but-still-dangerous Michael’s brains out.   The creepy Doc then tries on the unconscious killer’s mask for shits and giggles.  Sartain then hoists the still-out cold killer into the back of the police vehicle (right next to Allyson, of course) and drives off.  Allyson shrewdly makes a deal with the obsessed doctor that she will tell him what the mute Michael “said” to her if he lets her go.  He reluctantly agrees.  She then predictably tells him to go f–k himself, and escapes into the woods.   Michael awakens, of course, and the bargain-basement Dr. Loomis is killed.  This time-buying subplot makes about as much sense as “JAWS” shark-hunter Quint suddenly taking a bite out of Chief Brody’s leg.  It’s a stupid and pointless contrivance.  It buys a few minutes at the expense of the potentially interesting Sartain character’s use in a future sequel.

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The final showdown takes place at Grandma Laurie’s, as the kids finally realize she was right all along (much like John Connor comes to regard his own ‘crazy’ mother in “Terminator 2: Judgment Day”).  Daughter Karen and her redshirt husband Ray arrive.  Ray is, of course, immediately killed by Michael when he foolishly goes outside alone (of course).  Later, Allyson arrives at Laurie’s fortress of solitude, complete with hidden panic room basement beneath a retractable kitchen counter.   Turns out the ever-crafty Laurie has been secretly hoping Michael would find her and her family; as her entire home is designed to function as a Rube Goldberg-style Michael Myers trap.  Silly doesn’t begin to cover the implausibility of it all.  Speeding SUVs, sewing needles to the neck, and even a shotgun blast to the face didn’t work, but somehow Laurie thinks her basement trap ought to do the trick in snaring Michael.   She gets him in there nevertheless, and sets the house to self-destruct, much like a Bond villain’s secret lair.  Needless to say, we hear Michael’s ominous, Darth Vader-like breathing after the end credits.

Meanwhile, no one gives two flaming farts for poor dead husband/father Ray.

The End.

 

Post mortem.

As my fellow horror-film friend noted, there was clearly money available for this production.  The cinematography is quite good.  The cast is compelling, and there are a few nice visual callbacks to the 1978 original, such as a moment near the end when Michael takes another look out of the second story window to see that the ‘unconscious’ Laurie has disappeared; a juxtaposition of Dr. Loomis’ overlooking a similarly absent Michael from the original.   That bit actually got a few laughs with the “Halloween”-savvy audience with whom my friend and I shared the experience.

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Michael Meyers’ murderous performance art is seen again in H18.

There are also trick or treating kids wearing glow-in-the-dark ‘Shamrock’ masks from “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” (more on that one below).   Laurie’s referring to Michael as ‘the shape’ earlier on is a reference to what he was called in the original 1978 shooting script.  Clearly the writers and directors knew their subject well; it’s just too bad the overly indulgent writing lacked the economy and coherence of the original.  As it is, the new film is packed with too many characters and pointless subplots, and somewhat lacking in common sense.  H18 is a bit of a mess, but at the very least it’s a lovingly made mess; which left me more forgiving of the film than I might have been otherwise.   It’s not the worst of the Halloween movie franchise, but it’s not exactly the best, either.

 

The original night he came home.

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40 years ago, John Carpenter’s “Halloween” walked slowly but determinedly into the collective psyche of horror fans everywhere, building an audience over weeks and months through word of mouth.  I didn’t see “Halloween” in its initial 1978 theatrical release, though I do remember seeing another movie around that same time at a multiplex, and literally hearing screams from the theatre next door (not exaggerating).  I caught the film on TV and home video numerous times since, and I could see where some of that reaction came from.

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Dr. Sam Loomis, as played by the late, great Donald Pleasance (1919-1995); the Van Helsing-esque psychiatrist who doggedly pursues his murderous escaped patient Michael Myers through five Halloween films.   

It wasn’t until I (finally) saw the film theatrically with a younger audience a few years ago that I could see the film working on all cylinders. “Halloween” is more of a shared group experience, like “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”  Most of us in that audience knew all of the scare cues by rote, but they still worked.  I could hear a few first-timers jump or gasp at the sudden sight of the William Shatner-masked serial killer Michael Myers (Nick Castle).  It’s a classic cat-and-mouse story.   No matter how fast his victims run, Michael will always walk faster.

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Laurie’s bestie Lynda (P.J. Soles), becomes tragically acquainted with the playful side of serial killer Michael Myers…

The original film has very little excess fat on its frame.  It’s pacing may seem overly deliberate, and even slow by today’s standards, but it’s all carefully calculated to lull an audience into false complacency; much like 1973’s “The Exorcist.”  I still heard a few genuine shrieks when I saw it theatrically, and I smiled.  Good horror is good horror, and the best stuff still works.

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Laurie (Curtis) and “the shape” (Nick Castle).  Both would return to these roles 40 years later.

The simplicity of the movie’s story, as well as Dean Cundey’s fluid but sparse cinematography, still work as effectively today as they did in 1978.  It’s an effect that’s not as clear on home video as it is with a packed audience in a darkened theater.   As the late Roger Ebert once said, “Movies are a democracy in the dark.”  Our own emotions and reactions are validated and affirmed.

1978’s “Halloween” stands the test of time, and is rightly a classic of horror cinema, deservedly taking its place alongside Hitchcock’s “Psycho.”  

 

The Halloween cinematic multiverse.

Since 1978’s “Halloween”, there have been no less than ten sequels and reboots of this ‘simple’ idea.  Some of them worked, some of them didn’t.   H18 now erases everything that occurred since the 1978 original, and yes, that includes the sequel “Halloween II” (1981), which took place on the same night as the original, picking up from the final moments of Carpenter’s film.

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Multiple 007s exist within the James Bond multiverse…

The Halloween movie series is now, like James Bond and 2009’s “Star Trek,” a multiverse.  We have alternate ‘histories’ happening to some of the same characters, and even one or two of the same actors.   In one history, Laurie finds herself in a hospital on Halloween night, still being pursued by her brother Michael (H2), only to die in a car crash and leave an orphaned daughter named Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) to face down Michael in several sequels (H4-6).  Later, we’d see Laurie (Curtis) return with a son, living under an assumed name as the head of an illustrious private school (H7); still dreading the return of her brother (yet not stockpiling tons of weaponry).  Laurie would later kill the wrong man, find herself committed, and face Michael one final time before killing herself at the beginning of H8.  Only the events of the first two movies would be referenced in the quasi-reboot of H7-8, leaving the rest of the ‘in-between’ Halloween movies as continuity orphans.   The entire Halloween universe would be rebooted (including the original) with the two Rob Zombie-directed Halloween movies (H9-10).  The new 2018 Halloween confusingly ignores everything since the 1978 original, in what amounts to yet another quasi-reboot.    There’s also the odd little story of “Halloween III”, but more on that one further down.

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Laurie Strode (Curtis) finds herself in a hospital being treated by nurse Alves (Gloria Gifford), and wearing a really bad wig to match her hair from three years earlier…

First up is Halloween II (1981), which takes place mere seconds after the 1978 film, with an injured Laurie being rushed to the hospital, where an ‘explosive’ (hehe) final showdown between Laurie, Dr. Loomis and Michael Myers will take place.   Along the way, there are quite a few dead hospital staff, including a nurse and paramedic who die grisly deaths after having sex in a rehabilitation spa.  Director Rick Rosenthal (who would later return with 2002’s “Resurrection”) does a decent job keeping continuity with Carpenter’s classic, and Dean Cundey’s camerawork is on a par with his work on the first film, if not quite as fluid.  John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s screenplay makes the sibling connection between Michael and Laurie, reshaping all of the subsequent “Halloween” movies until the latest one, which unceremoniously erases that important continuity with a single line of dialogue.  I thought the brother-sister connection between Michael and Laurie gave predator and prey a stronger raison d’être, which Michael doesn’t really have without it.   Some prefer their Michael to be a motive-free killing machine, and that’s fine, but I prefer the blood-is-thicker-than-water vibe.

Pumpkins and oranges, I suppose.

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Tom Atkins & Stacey Nelkin check out the evil (if not imaginatively designed) Shamrock masks…

“Halloween III: Season of the Witch” (1982) was something of an anomaly within the series, as it was intended to branch the franchise into an anthology direction, though it clearly took place in the same universe (a glimpse of Michael Myers on a TV screen alludes to that).  The story involves a modern-day Samhain Celtic conspiracy to sell fatally cursed Halloween masks to children from the Shamrock novelty company, led by an evil old warlock named Conal Cochran (Irish-born actor and “Robocop” old man, Dan O’Herlihy).  Dr. Dan Challis (Tom Atkins) agrees to help a woman named Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) investigate the death of her murdered father who died under Challis’ watch.   The two infiltrate Shamrock (based in “Santa Mira”; the same fictional town of 1956’s “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”) where they learn that Ellie’s father was a whistleblower who tried to expose Cochran’s evil plan.  H3 is an interesting ‘pod people’ conspiracy movie in its own right, but was hobbled by the decision to market it as the third in the Halloween movie franchise, despite its total lack of continuity with the Michael Myers story.   It was a creatively brave but commercially foolhardy decision to try to turn the “Halloween” movie franchise into an anthology series… though it might’ve worked for television (see: “Friday the 13th: The TV Series”).

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Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) and foster sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell), the survivors of “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.”

H3’s subsequent box office failure led producers to reverse their anthology decision, and six years later we had 1988’s “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.”  Written by a squad of writers, but cleanly directed by Dwight Little, the film would write out Laurie Strode and introduce her orphaned daughter Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), who is living with a foster family and bonding with her older foster sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell).  Jamie is having nightmares of her murderous uncle’s return as Halloween night approaches. Meanwhile, Rachel’s social life is turned upside down by her cheating boyfriend (Sasha Alexander).  Michael Myers has been comatose since the explosion at the climax of Halloween II, but revives with a vengeance as he is transferred to another facility (another botched hospital transfer).  Michael apparently suffers no bone or muscular atrophy during his ten years in a coma, but as a scarred Loomis conveniently reminds everyone, “he’s not human.”  After Michael’s escape, it becomes a race to save Jamie (named after Jamie Lee Curtis, of course) and all of Haddonfield from her returning uncle.  Various locals form an armed and dangerous mob.  Power and phone lines to the town are severed, leaving it effectively isolated.  Michael is later run down and shot multiple times in the story’s climax.

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“No…there is another.” 

After Michael’s apparent ‘death’,  Jamie touches her uncle’s hand which seems to awaken the ‘evil’ within her.  The final shot sees Jamie wearing her clown costume (much like her uncle’s from 1963), holding a bloodied butcher knife after killing her foster mother, with Loomis screaming in shock and disbelief.

It’s a haunting final image…

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The final confrontation…for now.

… which is not really followed up upon in “Halloween 5” (1989); a slapdash and downright dull sequel, which sees traumatized mute Jamie in a sanitarium being treated by Dr. Loomis.  The question of Jamie’s liability for her foster mother’s murder is never adequately addressed.   Ellie Cornell also briefly returns as Rachel for a scene in which she’s quickly slaughtered by Michael.  Rachel isn’t given any of the resourcefulness or survival instincts she displayed in “Halloween 4.”  Other new characters are possess varying degrees of annoyance, with a special shoutout to the character of “Tina” (Wendy Kaplan), who spends almost all of her screen time mugging, making weird noises, or acting as if she’s flushed all of her meds.  Tina left me honestly rooting for Michael Myers to succeed.

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“Tina” (Wendy Kaplan); deserving special recognition for being the single most obnoxious character in the entire Halloween cinematic franchise to date.

Most of the characters in H5 are walking cardboard targets, simply waiting to be killed.  H5 is less of a horror movie, and more a walking carnival shooting gallery; minus any trace of the gallery’s fun or excitement.  Director and cowriter Dominique Othenin-Girard admittedly had only a year to put it all together, but the result is do dismally disappointing that one wonders why he (or anyone else involved) couldn’t have waited for better inspiration.  The result was a major drop in quality from the previous movie.  Box office receipts weren’t kind either, and it’d take another six years for Michael Myers to return.

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The death of a recast Jamie Lloyd (Brandi Norwood).

“Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers” (1995), would be the last of the Jamie Lloyd-led universe of Halloween movies, with a recast Jamie (Brandi Norwood) delivering a baby, after having been raped by her monstrous uncle (add incest and rape to the Michael’s mile-long rap sheet).  Jamie is then killed by Michael in a hideous and brutal opener (even for a horror flick), after hiding her baby in a bus station restroom, where it is rescued by the now-adult Tommy Doyle (then-newcomer Paul Rudd).  Tommy was one of the two surviving children saved by Laurie Strode in the original 1978 movie.   In the interim between then and 1995, Tommy has become a creepy conspiracy-geek/recluse.  Naturally, he teams with Dr. Loomis (the final appearance of Donald Pleasance, who died right after production).   There is also a new Strode ‘surviving girl’ named Karen (Marianne Hagan) living in the old Strode house with her comically boorish family, led by her Biff Tannen-ish father (Bradford English) and her mousy mother (played by former “True Grit” costar Kim Darby).   Michael returns, and his seeming invincibility is now retconned by a mysterious Druid cult and the power of “Thorn” or whatever the hell.  There is also some nonsense involving a Howard Stern-like shock jock doing a live broadcast from the infamous Haddonfield on Halloween night.  Distracting carnage ensues.  Long story short, Tommy, Kara and her little brother Tim (Keith Bogart) defeat Michael with the help of Loomis in a laboratory deep beneath the sanitarium.  The set looks like a bad copy of an old Frankenstein movie.

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Creepy peeping Tommy (Paul Rudd) and Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) in pursuit of Michael Myers and the Druid cult behind his powers.

H6 was heavily cut and recut, with whole subplots thrown out and characters/motives significantly altered.  I’ve seen both director Joe Chappelle‘s theatrical cut and a bootleg of the formerly missing ‘producer’s cut’ (which is supposed to be an improvement), and all I can say is that neither version is particularly good.  Writer Daniel Ferrands’ script is a hot sour mess no matter how you slice it.  There are moments that approach the general competency of “Halloween 4,” but by and large, either version of H6 is a waste of time.

Once again, the franchise was due for a refresh…

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… which it received with 1998’s “Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later.” Nicely directed by Steve Miner (from a script by Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg), H20 is one of the better sequels.  The film eschews all of the increasingly burdensome continuity after the 1981 sequel.  H20 was (despite its formula-for-water title) the true triumphant return of Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode.  We see Laurie living as headmistress of an elite private academy in northern California under the assumed name of “Keri Tate.”  Strode has built an entirely new life for herself (she is not the survivalist recluse we see in the latest movie).  She also has a teenage son John (Josh Hartnett) who attends her school, as does his girlfriend Molly (Michelle Williams, who was stellar in 2011’s “My Week With Marilyn”).   The only chinks in Laurie’s new armor are her bouts of post-traumatic stress disorder, which she combats by ‘self-anesthetizing’, and by hover-parenting her son (who is chafing under her overbearing protectiveness).  The night of Halloween is rapidly approaching, and Laurie has to balance her own neurotic protection of John with allowing him to go on a field trip with Molly and their friends.

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Laurie’s issues are also hindering her budding romance with easygoing guidance counselor Will Brennan (Adam Arkin), who eventually learns the truth of Laurie’s identity and remains steadfastly faithful, despite his initial surprise.  LL Cool J also has a memorable supporting role as campus guard (and amateur romance writer) Ronny, who provides needed comic relief.  The climax becomes a chase though the halls of the campus and into the surrounding hills as the now obsessed Laurie runs down her brother with a car, pinning him to a tree.  In a final cathartic move, she chops off his masked head.

That should’ve been the end of it, except that it wasn’t.

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The entirely unnecessary sequel “Halloween: Resurrection” (2002) spoiled what could’ve easily been a perfectly fine last chapter for the “Halloween” movies.  Directed by “Halloween II” veteran Rick Rosenthal, written by Larry Brand and Sean Hood, HR honestly has no reason to exist.  Jamie Lee Curtis gamely returns for an early sequence which retcons the finale of H20 with an exposition-heavy scene which reveals that Laurie decapitated the wrong guy at the end of the last movie.  Somehow, Michael escaped death, but not before putting his mask on some poor victim with a crushed larynx.   When Laurie came to kill the masked dupe, he couldn’t even scream.  A mentally shattered Laurie resides in a sanitarium, where she awaits death at the hands of her brother.  Timely-as-ever Michael invades the hospital, and after a sibling scuffle, Laurie chooses suicide by plunging to her death; denying her homicidal brother the pleasure.

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Meanwhile, a reality web series production team (led by Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks) want to do a live-webcast on Halloween night inside of the old Myers’ house simply because the movie needs an excuse to put a group of pretty twenty-somethings in harm’s way.   It’s as stupid as reopening Camp Crystal Lake each year after the string of homicides from the previous summer.  One of the twenty-somethings, the soon-to-be decapitated wild girl “Jennifer,” is played by Katee Sackhoff, who would go on to memorably star as the equally wild ‘Kara Thrace’ in the cleverly rebooted “Battlestar Galactica” a year later.   The finale sees Busta Rhymes drop-kicking Michael Myers to his death (really?!), as the Myers’ house goes up in flames.  After surviving explosions, gunshots, stabbings, crushing cars and other deadly weaponry, Michael is apparently quite vulnerable to a the kung-fu of Busta Rhymes.

The End.

Sort of…

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A new Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) and a new Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) are both given more screen time in 2007’s “Halloween” reboot.

In 2007, “Halloween” was a complete reboot of the original.  The new film would be directed by Rob Zombie (“House of 1,000 Corpses”).  Zombie’s “Halloween” was an origin story that attempted to add a more human dimension to Michael Myers by showing him as a sensitive but creepy boy (Daeg Faerch) who comes from a trashy family and is cruelly bullied at school.  His stripper mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) loves her son, but drunken live-in boyfriend Ronnie (William Forsythe) sister Judith (Hanna Hall) and couldn’t give two flaming farts for young Michael, who is middle-school aged in this version (instead of the 6-year old we saw in the original).  Like real-life serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, Michael begins to exhibit disturbing signs, such as a love of dead animals, and a tendency to ‘hide’ behind masks.  On Halloween day, Michael finally snaps;  he murders his bully at school and most of his worthless family, save for his devastated mother and baby sister Laurie, who is eventually adopted by the Strodes (maintaining that piece of continuity from “Halloween II”).   Michael’s devastated mother eventually commits suicide, unable to live with being the mother of the monster that her son has become.

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Friends rebooted: former “Halloween” veteran Danielle Harris now plays Laurie’s bestie Annie (the sheriff’s daughter), Scout Taylor-Compton is the new Laurie Strode, and Kristina Klebe is the new Lynda.

After a more lengthy and fascinating sequence showing Michael’s incarcerated youth, we cut to the ‘present’ of 2007, with Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) and her friends making their plans for Halloween night, most of which involve babysitting.  Michael has grown into a Chewbacca-sized man (played by Tyler Mane), and with the unwitting aid of a sympathetic guard (Danny Trejo), he escapes.  The rampage is more or less the same as the original, but with more modernized gore (of course).  Psychiatrist Dr. Loomis (Malcom McDowell) is portrayed somewhat less sympathetically in this version; he is now seen as a grossly ineffectual hack who’s more concerned with selling books than genuinely helping his patient.  At the very least, Loomis is partly redeemed in the climax as he genuinely tries to warn the town of Haddonfield, which seems to be colorfully populated with horror movie veterans.  The movie has guest roles and cameos from Brad Douriff (the “Chucky” series), Ken Foree (“Dawn of the Dead”), Clint Howard (“House of the Dead” “Ice Cream Man”), the aforementioned Danny Trejo (“From Dusk Till Dawn”), Adrienne Barbeau (“The Fog”), Dee Wallace (“Cujo”) and a few others I’m probably forgetting at the moment.

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“Can I see your license and proof of insurance, Miss?”

The climax is somewhat more extended in this version, with the hulking, mute Michael confronting a trapped Laurie; he gently shows her a baby picture of herself, with which she fails to connect.  The scene reminded me somewhat of Boris Karloff‘s sympathetic Frankenstein monster.  Some thought this humanizing of “the shape” ruined “Halloween”; I thought it gave Michael a more horrifying dimension.  It reminds us that monsters are made as a result of nature and nurture.  The final scene has a vengeful Laurie unsuccessfully firing a nearly empty gun at Michael, until a bullet finally strikes him in the head.

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Rob Zombie’s “Halloween II” (2009), not to be confused with 1981’s direct sequel, is a complete mess.  Lacking the discipline and coherence of his 2007 reboot, Zombie’s sequel floats about aimlessly, much like Laurie’s traumatized self.  Laurie has devolved into full-on victimhood now, dropping any pretense of trying to be a ‘good girl.’   A brief scene with her therapist (a cameo by the late Margot Kidder) refuses to yield anything positive.  She is living with her friend Annie (Danielle Harris again) and her father, sheriff Lee Brackett (a returning Brad Douriff).

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Future Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (“The Help”) stars in the only truly worthy scene in all of Rob Zombie’s “Halloween II” (2009).  Her character reminded me of Gloria Gifford’s tough-as-nails head nurse from the original “Halloween II” (1981).

The only bright spot in this incoherent mess of a movie is a terrifying dream sequence where Laurie imagines herself at a hospital (much like the real “Halloween II”), where she discovers that even more death and horror await her there as well.  The haunted faraway look of bloodied, future Oscar winner Octavia Spencer stayed with me long after the film.

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For some bizarre reason, Laurie and her hulking brother share a repeating vision of their late mother (a returning Sheri Moon Zombie) with a white horse (WTF?) that feels like something out of a pretentious, wannabe arthouse movie rather than a horror film.  In yet another ‘final’ confrontation, Laurie, surrounded by cops, repeatedly stabs Michael and tells him she loves him.  She then takes his mask and tries it on for size.  The ending sees Laurie in an asylum, smiling at the vision of her dead ‘real’ mother with that stupid white horse.

John Carpenter’s iconic theme music, which is as as important to this series as John Williams’ JAWS theme to the shark, is heard only at the very end of the film.

Fin.

Tricks and Treats.

In summary, the Halloween franchise has always been something of a mixed bag, and I say this from a place of affection.  The 1978 original will always be the apex of the franchise, and deservedly so.  Some have been solid, others have been terrible.  This latest entry, “Halloween” (2018) falls right in the middle of the pack.  Yes, it has a somewhat unwieldy script, but it’s partly saved by strong acting and high-end production values.  At the very least, it provides a more fitting latest chapter to the Halloween saga than the pretentious and ultimately worthless “Halloween II” (2009).

I’ve no doubt that we will see more “Halloween” movies down the road. Given the good box office of 2018’s “Halloween” (despite my own issues with it), it’s safe to say we’ll be killing time with Michael Myers for years to come…

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