Recycled Nostalgia: HALLOWEEN
John Carpenter’s 1978 HALLOWEEN is like a fine flavorful, aged wine that always pairs well especially in October. It’s the godfather of slasher films along with the classic, iconic final girl trope that’s written in most, if not all horror films especially with today’s caliber of societal problems. So where does that lead us with the latest HALLOWEEN thrill of a film? A hunter and its prey? Evil vs innocence? Survival and instinct? All of the above.
David Gordon Green's 2018 HALLOWEEN is like one of those random nosebleeds a person may have; surprising at first, then it just clears up and you move on about your day and I mean this in the nicest way possible. With that being said, HALLOWEEN has a bag full of gags and scares it just somehow falls a little bit short in the suspense department. Being this is a continuation of the original, the story is not as refined as Carpenter's.
In fact after about a week and a half of mulling it over, I still can't seem to make up my mind on how I feel about this but what I do know is two major themes stuck out to me; trauma and an overture of references from Carpenter's original story. I'll get to that in a bit, but first let's talk about trauma.
The final girl is a character trope, she's the last girl standing, the one who must face the killer, and tell the story in the end. Her role becomes so paramount in HALLOWEEN and yet we tend to neglect the aftermath of such an ordeal this poor soul has gone through. This resonates substantially because Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) is alive and batshit paranoid that Michael Myers will be coming back to kill her 40 years later. As a woman she's lived her life had a daughter (Judy Greer) and trains her how to be a final girl by giving her the tools and proper training. This theme is pivotal and Green hones in on this notion of trauma from beginning to end and the obsessive compulsive nature of Laurie's paranoia. Examples of this paranoia result in Laurie being reluctant to talk to these podcast reporters, she's there to bare witness of Michael Myers being transported to a new facility, and she stumbles upon a family dinner, probably semi inebriated and fully aware of Michael's escape. Which leads me to a very big question of a very missed opportunity; the bus crash. As an audience why weren't we given a scene to how it happened? Instead we're left with the aftermath when that was a clear moment to really orchestrate some suspenseful magic. We also get that moment of Laurie in the car with her gun leading us to suspect she's going to gun down Michael but fails to do so, or was there another ulterior motive? Unanswered questions, yet again. Sometimes, I feel just like Fox Mulder chasing the truth. I want an answer! I feel like so much of Laurie's paranoia kind of undermines the suspense.
Being the final girl, even decades later we learn her life is a mess yet somehow structured with the anticipation of terror that’s always lurking behind her. It really presents something interesting here, because as an audience you don’t really think about the aftermath and the amount of alcohol and therapy one consumes to stay functional after such trauma. I wonder how Sally from TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE is doing. Laurie's family is essentially estranged from her, and that doesn't fully seem to bother her because all she can think about is killing Michael Myers. She knows what needs to be done in order to survive and nothing will stop that adrenaline, even when she’s thrown out of a window. She will survive. Learning to shoot, learning to fight, learning to take control. This almost sounds like an overhyped testosterone film, but as a woman in 2018 she has to be realistic and stand up for herself and not rely on the bravery of a man. Here's where I'm going with this point, stay with me. Rewind back to 1978, when Laurie was running and screaming that Halloween night. She was screaming for help, banging on every door in the neighborhood, and no one would come to her. No one, not until she runs back to the house to face the terror all over again and then Dr. Loomis shows up to miraculously save the day. This is a striking contrast to the 2018 version, because (spoiler alert) all the men get killed off and the women survive. We have three generations of women who kick ass all because Laurie's trauma aides her in constructing a life of caution and defense. She's built an entire fortress of solitude with weapons and a secret panic room, there's no doubt once Michael Myers sets foot on her turf, he's going down. But we all know being this saga will never truly end because what Michael Myers? Pure evil. Evil never really dies. We like wishfully think it does but we as human beings have to face reality. Don't get me started on current events, evil is always lurking.
Now travel back in time to late 1970s, John Carpenter as a young filmmaker is sharp with his execution of a story created entirely in his head is so paramount to Hitchcock’s mastery in classic suspense that it certainly becomes the genuine beauty behind HALLOWEEN, 1978. The anticipation, the evil lurking in the shadows ready to strike; it’s the equivalent of a classic jack in the box. You wind up the toy and anticipate a jolt of excitement to thrill you. That toy or in this instance character is Michael Myers, except he’s a very real monster, who wants to kill you. The bread and butter of John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN lies within the theme of predator vs. prey and it’s seemingly a realistic fear. I love this quote from Carpenter, “What scares me is what scares you. We’re all afraid of the same things. That’s why horror is such a powerful genre. All you have to do is ask yourself what frightens you and you’ll know what frightens me.” This quote nails it on the head in terms of what really lacked in Green's HALLOWEEN. And here's my personal irony on the matter. I feel that fear itself was lacking in Green's HALLOWEEN because so much of its story paid homage to the original yet lacked that special atmospheric ingredient that's beloved among the horror genre; suspense not predictable suspense. This is what made Hitchcock so prominent and his films will stand the testament of time because of it. And Carpenter being influenced by him helped recreate something that blew audiences away back in the 70s. With David Gordon Green on the other hand, it almost felt like a copy and paste version of the original. This is what's so interesting with filmmakers you can see where their influences come from just by style or camera angles, fun Easter eggs too so to speak. You see it in most of Brian DePalma's work. Hitchcock oozes out of his films such as DRESSED TO KILL. Big homage to PSYCHO in a lot of ways. And this might be the most challenging bit of filmmaking in today's cinema is learning how to creatively construct an original story of suspense without duplicating it so much to make it feel like the original.
The story structure in HALLOWEEN really plays out almost verbatim. If you look closely it's like each beat is a wave of nostalgia, where today's HALLOWEEN feels like yesterday's HALLOWEEN with some varying differences. You have the infamous music which brings it's atmospheric tone to life, the escape of Michael Myers, some added characters, who really don't do much to push the story forward except bring awareness to how so many are fascinated with evil. It's really all about the beast of a mind gone rogue and fascination and trauma attached to it, like a very warped ecosystem that's on loop. There is nothing to Myer's character except violence. With reason? There is no reason certainly when it’s evil and that’s the fascination with these podcaster kids and Michael’s doctor. So intrigued by the mind of evil. Evil is evil, you don’t want to coddle it and poke it with a stick to see if does something different. So what Michael Myers hasn’t spoken a single word in decades? Why provoke it? Alas, curiosity does tend to come with cautionary interjection as most characters in horror movies are fools. Fools will be fools and that sells entertainment. Oh, I love horror movies.
With all the possible corners of suspense being exhausted, probably the most gratifying scene from a cinematography standpoint is where Myers’ goes on his killing spree from house to house. It’s a tracking shot where the camera is outside the window and follows him to his next victim. It’s exhilarating to watch, yet feels like a sloppy trail of nonchalant killings where it seems like he's killing housewives. It's missing substance and it bothers me. If Green gave these helpless victims a moment or two that simulates a brief story of their own humanity leading up to their imminent demise then it would been more interesting, possibly even comedic. Instead Myers' is just killing housewives instead of babysitters. At least with the babysitters, they each had some hilarity which always matches well with suspense for some reason. It sways the tension briefly which is always fun. I must admit there was about a ten second moment that captured my attention. The baby in the crib. Michael stops, lingers, and for a moment you think is Green going to pull the trigger and be absolutely ruthless? In an air of suspense you're left to believe that. However Myers' doesn’t kill the baby and moves onto the next room. I believe this was the only moment of suspense that deserves a brief applause or can also be considered something telling in Myers' character depending how you look at it.
For the rest of the film, the pacing doesn’t always fully feel like it jives with the predictable suspense. It’s almost as if its rushing, rushing to the next kill, rushing to neglect a certain atmospheric tone, rushing to the big showdown. It really boggles my mind and yet I have to remind myself this isn’t Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN it’s Green’s interpretation and attempt at cultivating his own story which I understand when he brings this sense of empowerment for women all packaged up with trauma. I give him that, it makes it marginally interesting.
It’s one thing Hollywood has become increasingly efficient in is remaking movies of the past especially the ones that changed the face of cinema. There’s this sense of nostalgia attached to our beloved heroes, heroines and stories or things that go bump in the night. Devoted fans of the horror genre will bow down to their media god to see what new goodies these characters bring to life. And sometimes Hollywood falls flat on its face, makes it however million dollars and moves on, hoodwinking you. It’s the oldest, slickest trick in the book and works almost every time. Let’s hype up this trailer, bank on it and run rampant with our loot to make another not so scary remake of something that was a thrill in it’s prime. I feel as if the jig is up. With the gift and power of suspense you have to be creative with it, almost as if you’re reinventing it not recreating it from 40 years prior.
Which brings me to another out there point, did anyone feel like the ending resembled TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE? There's always a pick up truck driving around especially when a final girl has killed and survived and so the trauma ensues. In this instance, the torch has been passed down to the next generation, who must carry the weight of it because we all know Michael Myers never truly dies. In fact he's a metaphor for the trauma projecting on those who survive his evil doings.
Finally, as I always say, the 70s was a magical time in cinematic history which today tries so desperately to touch upon yet falls disappointedly short by barely scraping the surface. Films were actually shot on film and nothing can really emulate that no matter how hard one tries to recreate it. I can’t wait to see how they managed to create a reboot of SUSPIRA and I have a feeling I will still be chained to my love for Dario Argento's 70s version which will probably result in my next blog post. Happy Halloween movie fans! HAPPY HALLOWEEN