Michael Myers Is Back and Ready for Blood in Franchise-Worthy ‘Halloween’ Sequel

The new “Halloween” is more of an homage than a mere sequel. Forget the other seven films and the two Rob Zombie-directed remakes. This is a more adequate and enjoyable follow-up to John Carpenter’s 1978 classic. It would be a stretch to expect anything to equal the original “Halloween,” which at the time of its release Roger Ebert compared to “Psycho.” But director David Gordon Green has made a strong thriller using a villain engrained in our pop culture consciousness while updating the premise, and winking constantly at its predecessor.

It’s been 40 years since the events of the original “Halloween” and mad slasher Michael Myers (Nick Castle) has spent the last few decades incarcerated in a psychiatric facility. Two podcasters, Dana Haines (Rhian Rees) and Aaron Korey (Jefferson Hall) decide to visit Myers and try to get the silent monster to speak. Still haunted by the killings of 1978 is Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), who lives barricaded in a secluded home, constantly training with weapons and setting traps for the day when Myers will return. Her grown daughter Karen (Judy Greer) wants nothing to do with the family’s dark legacy and sees Laurie as disturbed, she’s also worried about Laurie’s influence over her daughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). Allyson herself is gearing up to party for Halloween night with her boyfriend and other friends. But during a transport from one facility to another, Michael Myers manages to escape and makes his way to town, ready to claim more bodies.

As we continue to move through a period where studios are reviving anything they can find in their vaults, it’s refreshing to see they are willing to get notable talent to produce worthwhile material. “Halloween” is the first attempt at horror by Gordon Green, who first gained renown in 2000 with his poetic debut “George Washington.” A filmmaker of evocative tales of rural American life, his other notable dramas include “All the Real Girls,” “Undertow” and “Joe.” His more mainstream efforts have been quirky, rowdy comedies like “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness.” With “Halloween” Green combines his strengths to make a horror thriller that’s good because in a sense it’s old-fashioned. He doesn’t depend on digital hocus pocus or supernatural devices (unless you count the idea of pure evil as supernatural). Instead he has crafted a film based on tension, visual atmosphere and sudden, shocking violence.

Green creates the sense of either things unseen or threats lurking. The opening moments have Korey and Haines approaching Myers in the open courtyard of a prison, and we only see the back of the killer, as he stands inside a space marked off by a taped square. After prodding him to speak, Korey lifts the famous, pale mask immediately recognizable to all “Halloween” fans before the image cuts to the now iconic opening credits. The rest of the film is full of moments of similar and greater tension. Myers, also known as “The Shape,” represents an idea, that of pure evil, which is why even at 70 he can apparently take a crowbar to the face, a shotgun blast to the hand and still keeps going. Yet Green never turns him into some kind of “super” villain. His camera follows Myers as a stalking predator. One masterful, steadicam shot follows Myers through a suburban neighborhood at night as he walks into a garage, grabs a knife and proceeds to seek victims.

As with most horror films (good ones that is) it would be a crime to spoil, but expect scenes of eerie intensity as shadows will move along walls, a sudden close-up will reveal Myers’s presence, and suddenly a knife will cut through someone’s throat. A terrifying scene in a bathroom feels claustrophobic with just the killer’s feet pacing behind a stall door, and then bloody, extracted teeth are dropped on the ground. There are moments of unhinged gore in this movie, but it’s never gallons of fake blood splashed on the screen. Green knows how to show just enough to get under your skin. Cinematographer Michael Simmonds films everything in a baroque, almost gothic texture. He evokes Green’s vision of a small town America of simple living, where everyone knows each other, where there are woods all around with autumn colors. But now Green’s poetic meditations are turned into a nightmarish survival game. Fans may rejoice that John Carpenter himself, along with son Cody Carpenter and Daniel A. Davies have composed the score. The classic franchise theme is back, with touches of electric guitar and synth that feel like a trip back in time. The film’s very look, including pans and and cuts will have a 70s feel, especially the very final shot. Keep an ear open for dialogue that has fun with itself (“you’re the new Loomis!”).

Another welcome throwback here is how Green returns to something key in the original “Halloween,” it is at heart a teen film. The teenagers in the ‘78 original felt like real high schoolers of their time, and here Green puts a special emphasis on the teen characters as well. Allyson as played by Andi Matichak always feels authentic, as well as her less than impressive boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold). They joke and make stupid mistakes like real teenagers. None of them are smarter than the material requires or get caught in some elaborate scheme to take down Michael Myers. Instead stolen kisses will be thwarted, alcohol will inspire dumb behavior and someone will confess their feelings with the absolute worst timing.

What about Jamie Lee Curtis? Forget her roles in the previous sequels “Halloween: H20” and “Halloween: Resurrection,” this here is the actual Laurie Strode we would expect after 40 years of being haunted by the brutal slayings of her youth. She has become fixated with training for combat, expertly showing her family how to arm themselves for Myers’s eventual return. We learn that Karen was taken from her by foster services when they discovered she was raising her in what amounts to a training facility. Curtis reprises the role with a real edge, telling Allyson to forget college and go live. Her own house is a booby trap for Myers. The ending is well-done action, but there’s a haunting quality to it as well. Laurie will never ever be able to escape from Myers’s presence.

“Halloween” is a well-crafted, scary time. It offers a new experience while stylishly paying tribute to the classic original. For Green this is a revelation as well. Now he has proven he has a great eye for creating moments of authentic terror. It’s the perfect movie for the season. Take a date, sit down, relax and wait for the knife to come out of the dark corner.

Halloween” opens Oct. 19 in theaters nationwide.