At the beginning of the newest Halloween entry, two investigative journalists are sitting inside Laurie Strode’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) compound, hoping to get a few words from her about the ordeal she suffered forty years prior. They ask her if she’d like to tell her story. With a surprised look she responds, “My story?”
That line is the crux of what makes this latest entry into the Halloween series so meaty and worthwhile. As much as I love Michael Myers and the franchise (well, most of the franchise), Laurie’s account of her anguish seemed to get lost in the glorious mayhem. She’s been chased through hospitals, and killed in car accidents, returning only to drink her way to oblivion and then die again. But, throughout it all she has mostly remained an object of obsession for Michael. Now Laurie wants her narrative back, and she’s determined to write her own conclusion this time!
The film opens at an insane asylum where the two previously mentioned reporters are attempting to put together a juicy true crime podcast. They interview doctors, get some background, and hit all the research bells and whistles. But what’s a true crime tale without a little sensationalism? The reporters approach Michael Myers (Nick Castle), silent since he was first hauled into Smith’s Grove Sanatorium, and attempt to lure him back to the world of the speaking by holding out his infamous mask as bait. It’s a carrot on a stick. Michael does not seem impressed.
The reporters then venture to Laurie’s home, which makes Fort Knox look like a resort. Again, they attempt to lure her into their podcasting clutches, using money to get her to open her barbwire gates. Equally unimpressed, she gives them about 30 seconds of sound bite and kicks them to the curb. Unable to move out from under Michael’s blood red shadow, Laurie assembles a fortress that may keep her safe at night, but those gates have also built walls that have led to two failed marriages and a daughter that had to be removed from her custody. Laurie’s daughter, Karen (Judy Greer) now has her own child, a young woman named Allyson (Andi Matichak) who shows a lot of Laurie’s signature traits (before Michael). Life for her is as normal as possible, but her freaky grandmother keeps everyone on their toes, and sometimes at a distance.
Then, Michael escapes, and returns to Haddonfield. He kills indiscriminately as he slices and dices his way back to Laurie. But, she’s been patiently waiting for forty years, and she’s ready to even the score.
This latest Halloween is a rather elegant entry into the world of slashers. It’s self-aware, but not in the humorous way the Scream series is. It doesn’t poke fun at the genre, tending to embrace its old school roots rather than critique them (fans will eat up the myriad of Easter eggs strewn throughout). And unlike Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007), it doesn’t seek to demystify Michael either, keeping him as eerily mysterious as he was in the first film. He just is. At the same time, the film cares deeply about Laurie and her family dynamics. And, by the end, Halloween is determined to let Laurie finally tell her story, and decide how she wants it to end.
One of the things that makes Laurie so infinitely fascinating, as she hopscotches her way through various entries in the franchise, is how she has become a cultural identifier of the times. In the first Halloween (1978), as second wave feminism hit full swing, Laurie shows some agency and chutzpah. However, she has to be saved by Dr. Loomis – a man. The original Halloween represents that tension between conservative ideology and feminism’s pursuit of independence. This concept follows though to a somewhat lesser degree in Halloween II (1981).
Jamie Lee Curtis took a break from the series for a bit and then brought Laurie back in Halloween: H20 (1998), this time wearing the battle scars from her terrifying encounter with Michael twenty years before. She’s a marker for PTSD – a closed off alcoholic, suffering from a tragedy very few will ever experience or survive. This film came a little after the Gulf War, which ended in 1991, representing an era of raised consciousness towards the emotional damage caused by traumatic experiences.
Now, following the same lines of H20, albeit with a more refined eye, and nodding towards third wave feminism with a further nuanced pursuit of independence, Laurie gets a chance to square off with the guy who basically destroyed her life. It’s suggested that Michael and Laurie are one in the same, both ultimately driven by obsession. But Laurie wants to break free and is obviously tired of having her identity defined by a man. There’s plenty of dialog sprinkled throughout the film to remind us that Michael is just a guy. He’s no supernatural force; he’s basically some dude who’s harassed a woman for far too long.
But don’t get me wrong. I can raise my fist and wave my feminist flag until I’m blue in the face, but does that make Halloween any good? I’m happy to say that regardless of any political intention, Halloween is also a gloriously brutal, and, at times, a genuinely scary movie. From John Carpenter’s absolutely spellbinding score to some gorgeously vicious set pieces, the Shape is back and more terrifying than he’s been in many, many years. Jamie Lee Curtis, and the supporting cast (especially Matichak) are at the top of their game. And, like Laurie, I’ve been patiently waiting for a true blue modern-day slasher to be put together as thoughtfully and as well as Halloween. It’s a throwback that manages to feel fresh, and if the original set the blueprint for the golden era of slasher films that would last through the early eighties, I can only hope this wonderful update regenerates the genre once again.