'THE SHAPE' OF SLAUGHTER
Director: David Gordon Green
Review: David Stephens
So here we are. A couple of years ago, genre fans could never have imagined that they would be queuing up at multiplexes for a bona-fide, straight-up, no-shit-Sherlock sequel to the father-of-all-slashers, John Carpenter’s defining 1978 horror “Halloween”. And yet here it is, and it has the same title as its illustrious predecessor. We did a Christmas retrospective of the franchise a couple of years ago, with four straight sequels, a soft reboot (and a sequel to that), and a remake (and a sequel to that). Rumours of another Michael Myers massacre had been circulating in studios for some time, but nobody could have foreseen that the makers of stoner comedies “Pineapple Express” and “Your Highness” would be the ones to do it! However director/writer David Gordon Green and co-writer Danny McBride impressed many with their obvious love and respect of the original. Not only that, but the quality of the project enticed Jamie Lee Curtis to return to her career-making role of Laurie Strode again, with Carpenter wholeheartedly approving the production and providing music once more. After positive reactions from previews and festivals, genre fans have been on tenterhooks to see “The Shape” carve his way through Haddonfield once again. So without further ado, YGROY has visited the cinema to see if this is really “Samhain” special.
Most fans are well aware that this is a straight sequel to the “night he came home”. So wipe all sequels from your memory. Laurie Strode is not Michael Myer’s sister, and didn’t fake her death for twenty years. And Busta Rhymes most certainly did not kick Michael’s ass! For this narrative, it’s simply been 40 years of relative calm in Haddonfield since that night of terror. Michael did indeed survive the shooting by Dr Loomis, but he was quickly caught and imprisoned in a high-security facility. Two Brit journalists are nosing around documenting the legacy of “The Baby Sitter Murders”. Whereas the (still) hulking killer hasn’t uttered a word in all that time, Laurie has become a paranoid survivalist, which has destroyed two marriages and the relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). But a prison transfer for Michael spells trouble and “The Shape” stalks Haddonfield once again.
As this review is being typed, Halloween has already earned over $91m globally (from a $10m budget) in less than 4 days. Not bad for a belated sequel to a 1978 no-budget affair. The canny promotions by Blumhouse, and the highly vocal support by Carpenter and Curtis, has helped a great deal and ensured the support and interest from devoted horror fans as well. The IRL 40 year’s anniversary hasn’t hurt its chances either. Digression aside though, is the film any good? We’re happy to report that it most certainly is, and it’s a story that feels like a genuine continuation of the Myers saga as well as honouring the original to an impressive degree. There are definite issues (more on which in a moment) and it’s not a perfect film by any means, but it is clever, inventive and scary for the most part, and a genuine stab-in-the-arm for the hibernating franchise. Let’s get the minor gripes out of the way first. Despite the overall good narrative and effective script, there is a hefty plot development that just doesn’t work and jars awkwardly at a pivotal moment. (NB: You’ll know it when it happens… we’ll say no more and won’t elaborate). Pretty much every male character is either stoned/drunk or entirely clueless/useless. The conclusion to a climactic sequence is oddly abrupt and somewhat unsatisfying (although there is a nice punchline). But whilst all that might sink some other studio horrors, those are just small speed-bumps in the road for a thoroughly engaging genre ride. From the moment the unsettling prologue concludes and cuts straight into the credit sequence (with THAT theme obviously), you’ll be hooked. You’ll be mentally hugging yourself when the mask is first donned and when Curtis starts to kick some serious ass. And after it ends, many will (and indeed already have) head to the nearest genre forum to discuss the details of what they’ve just seen.
In some respects, this is where “Halloween ‘18” scores big and has struck a nerve with audiences. It stalks a very fine line between updating the slasher for modern sensibilities and also paying homage to classic moments in the previous films. Some of the best examples include scenes which put little twists on the original murders like another guy being pinned to a wall by a knife, or the “sheet ghost” making an ironic re-appearance. In some cases there’s a complete reversal of previous incidents, such as the “fatal” fall from a balcony, which takes on a whole different meaning here. This goes hand-in-hand with subtle details that point to changes in social attitude since the slashy seventies; the boy who would rather go to dance class than hunt, the gender switch of Bonnie & Clyde, and the endearing chats between babysitter Vicky (Virginia Gardner) and her charge. Also updated is Michael’s sheer bloody-minded viciousness! He’s described by a character as being something that just “moves and kills”, and The Shape is basically re-imagined as a shark on two legs. And that’s thoroughly refreshing in a series that has become bogged down with weird mythology and contrived kinships. Michael might be death personified, but he’s not actually hunting down Laurie or seeking vengeance. He’s just a resilient dude that loves to kill. This is never clearer as in the moment he arrives in the Haddonfield suburbs and looks around him as if sizing up a smorgasbord of potential victims. So expect graphic deaths (including one humdinger involving a head) as he gets to work. There’s no pandering to PG-13 ratings here folks! And perhaps even more crucially, you feel empathy for most of the people involved as their ends are not pleasant, reinvigorating that description of The Shape as being “pure evil”.
There’s an interesting take on Laurie as well in this sequel. Basically (and wonderfully) depicted by Curtis as a long-time sufferer of PTSD, she actually takes on the role of a “stalker” at times (outside the schoolroom window, etc). It’s a nice re-interpretation of a “Final Girl”, and although the couple are destined to confront each other, it’s Laurie that’s obsessed with killing Michael… NOT the other way around. Matichak is also very solid as the well-rounded and intelligent teenager, but in all honesty Greer feels underused…until a cracking moment near the climax. Kudos is also due for Gordon with the imaginative camerawork at play, which doesn’t emulate Carpenter as such but creates its own style with very long single takes and extreme close-ups of character’s faces. And it should go without saying that the soundtrack is magnificent, with audio cues “plagiarised” from the original film along with remixes of the incomparable theme music. In summing “Halloween” up, we have to say that some of us still have a lot of respect for “H20” and this new film doesn’t quite live up to the original. But, even with a few shortfalls, it is an amazingly faithful and solid sequel that will go on to be a massive hit and a film that will get hardcore and casual horror fans talking for some time. And in a world of cynical lesser sequels and forced shared universes, that is something to be applauded. Slick and a treat.