When you hear David Gordon Green and Danny McBride are making a Halloween movie, you expect something a little weird. A little scruffy. Maybe something like their previous collaborations — Eastbound and Down, Vice Principals, Pineapple Express.
Instead, the new Halloween — directed by Green and written by Green, McBride, and fellow North Carolina School of the Arts grad Jeff Fradley — feels like a respectful homage, more like a Halloween movie than a Gordon Green/McBride movie. Is that what we wanted?
I hadn’t seen John Carpenter’s original Halloween until I was prepping for the 2018 version. Without the context of 1978, it can be a little hard to understand why the original is so important. It’s not the goriest, it’s not the kitschiest or the silliest, it’s not the funniest, and it doesn’t have the most kills or the most sex or the most nudity. It’s about a motive-less killer, whose face we never see, who lurks in the backgrounds of frames in shots about small-town life (set in Haddonfield, Illinois). It’s easy to get to the end and come away thinking not all that much happened.
And yet, Halloween became a smash hit and ended up basically spawning the slasher genre (all due respect to Black Christmas and the Texas Chainsaw Massacre). If anything stands out about the original in 2018, it’s nice compositions, memorable music, and a motiveless killer. It’s more creepy than scary. Most horror movies, especially contemporary ones, rely on identifying and solving the gypsy curse, or whatever. You have to figure out what the ghosts or the killers want and who they are before you can defeat them.
Michael Myers’ refusal to explain himself gives Halloween a certain power, and a timelessness (at least in that aspect). We can’t stop asking why people kill, but is the answer ever satisfying? In the original, Michael Myers makes Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) his ultimate prize, and why? Simply because he saw her standing in front of his old house one day. He wanted to kill and she was there. That’s it. Halloween taps into the fear not just of pure evil and the boogeyman, but also the fear that existence is ultimately arbitrary.
Halloween II needed a twist, which came in the form of the revelation that Laurie Strode was actually Michael Myers’ sister. That offered a short-term “wow” factor, but it undermined one of its best themes. And in this new version, it’s one of the first things that gets retconned (or re-retconned, as it were). “Weren’t they brother and sister?” one present-day Haddonfield, Illinois teenager asks another.
“Nah, that was just a rumor,” the other says.
This peanut gallery also wonders aloud whether those knife killings “would even be a big deal nowadays,” a rather obvious question in a contemporary world where schoolchildren murder each other with assault weapons every few days.