If Rob Zombie’s clunky 2007 remake was any indication, it would seem that anyone attempting to revive Halloween for the 21st century is setting themselves up for failure. John Carpenter’s 1978 classic popularized the slasher genre and its myriad tropes. Adequately paying homage to the original, while also bringing something fresh to the franchise, is no easy task. By those standards, the new Halloween—directed by David Gordon Green and written by Green, Danny McBride, and Jeff Fradley—is infinitely better than it has any right to be.
The filmmakers’ new spin on Halloween is daring and ingenious. Jamie Lee Curtis’s revival of her original Halloween role, the “final girl” Laurie Strode, gives the film a chance to explore territory typically left unexplored in the slasher genre: namely, what the remainder of the surviving victim’s life looks like after the credits have rolled. As such, the 2018 Halloween is essentially a direct, decades-later sequel to the 1978 Halloween, wisely disregarding the the many new installments and reboots that came in the interim. A story that examines long-lasting trauma inflicted by a man on a woman—the psychological and emotional imprints that may last years after the incident itself—feels particularly relevant in the era of #MeToo and Brett Kavanaugh. Granted, the film could have benefitted from a female filmmaker or screenwriter’s perspective, much like the way Carpenter’s producer Debra Hill wrote the dialogue between Laurie and her friends in the 1978 version. Despite this oversight, McBride and Green deftly navigate the fractured relationships and lingering resentments festering within three generations of Strode women: Laurie, her estranged daughter, and the headstrong granddaughter who pursues a relationship with her damaged nana despite her mom’s wishes.
For Strode, the formerly reserved and studious teen who drove around her bucolic midwest suburb with her buddies smoking weed and listening to Blue Oyster Cult in between babysitting gigs, the events of the original Halloween amount changed the course of her life. (You try getting back to normal after a killing spree that leaves all your closest friends dead.) Four decades later, Strode has locked herself away in a fortress in the woods complete with boobie traps, a panic room, high-tech surveillance, and a substantial arsenal of weapons. The once-promising high school student has gone slightly feral, with an unruly gray bob and an obsession with killing Michael Myers, the serial killer who left her alone in the world.
The experience has strained her personal life, leaving her with two failed marriages and a torn relationship with her daughter, who was removed from Laurie’s custody after child services found out about the paranoid boot-camp atmosphere at her home. While trying to protect her herself and her family from the return of her abuser, Laurie becomes her own version of Myers, the silent stalker who watches her granddaughter from afar and camps out on the periphery of crime scenes before vanishing into the ether.
Green and his collaborators have a strong comedy pedigree, which they also use to make Halloween their own. (Green directed Pineapple Express and several episodes of Eastbound and Down, and McBride starred in both.) They use humor to endear us to minor characters before they meet their grisly ends as Myers’s victims, giving them small moments of humanity before they’re impaled on a fence or their severed head is hollowed out and used as a jack-o-lantern. Aside from being genuinely, relentlessly funny, these moments of comic relief manage to make you emotionally invested in people who might otherwise simply be used to tick up the killer’s body count.
Halloween also shines when it pays homage to Carpenter’s vision and other beloved horror films of the ‘70s and ‘80s. The film seamlessly references several hallmarks of the 1978 original without disruptively cracking the fourth wall or feeling like a cheap nostalgia ploy. Who else but true Carpenter heads would know that mentions of “The Babysitter Murders,” as Myers’s late ‘70s killings are called in the new movie, are actually a nod at the screenwriters’ original title for the first Halloween script? Original Myers victim and all-around ‘70s scream queen P.J. Soles also gets a small cameo, a fact I didn’t realize until her name popped up in the credits. There’s a shot replicated from the 1978 film that provoked sustained applause in the screening I attended. And eagle-eyed fans identified subtle nods to original set pieces in early promotional stills.
There are also callbacks to other Carpenter films, and those of his contemporaries. The shocking death of a one character—who skews a little younger than the average pre-college slasher victim—is evocative of a similar child killing in Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13. A jack-o-lantern mask worn by a small trick-or-treater could be a nod to the masks that serve as a conduit for a supernatural mass murder plot in the Michael Myers-free Halloween III: Season of the Witch. Outside of the extended Carpenter universe, Sheriff Barker makes a nod to Jaws villain Mayor Vaughn when he muses on the absurdity of cancelling Halloween just because one pesky serial killer is loose among the denizens of a small Illinois suburb. (Like a shark, Myers’s bloodlust seems more like a biological imperative than carefully considered behavior.) Laurie’s weaponized abode might make you think of another final girl, Nancy Thompson of Nightmare on Elm Street, who also sets traps around her home. And Green saves the biggest nod to classic slasher flicks for the end, when he buttons Halloween with an image lifted wholesale from one the genre’s most innovative films.
These familiar hallmarks ensure that Halloween remains true to the spirit of the original while addressing subject matter that is strikingly contemporary: the story of one woman who fights to free herself and her family from the tyranny of one man, as allegory for the struggle of all women to free themselves from the tyranny of men.