M.L. Miller here! Welcome horror fans to my Annual countdown of the Best of the Best in Horror! Running every day through October, this list will culminate with the best horror film of the year announced on October 31st. Some of these films can be found in theaters—others have unfortunately only seen the light of day On Demand, DVD, BluRay, or digital download. I’ve tried to indicate in the reviews how you can watch and enjoy these films yourselves. I’ll also provide a “Worth Noting” secondary film suggestion in a separate post. These are films that stood out or just missed being on the list by a skosh—a little extra for those who can’t get enough horror.
How did I compile this list? I simply looked through films released between October 1st 2018 and September 30, 2019 and worked and reworked the list until I had the magic number, 31. This countdown is not for the elitists or festival goers, so if the film hasn’t been released to the masses, it won’t be on the list. Also anything released this October will most likely be on next year’s list—so sorry, no films like DOCTOR SLEEP or ZOMBIELAND 2 just yet.
I hope you’ll join me daily and don’t forget to like and share my picks with your pals across the web on your own personal social media. Chime in after the review and let me know what you think of the film, how on the nose or mind-numbingly wrong I am, or most importantly, come up with your own darn list…let’s go!
#10 HALLOWEEN 2018
Of course last year’s entry into the HALLOWEEN franchise was going to show up somewhere on this list. I think David Gordon Green did a whole lot of right with his updated version of the Michael Myers slash-fest. Jaimie Lee was great and I liked that he is committed to bring two more films in the coming years. I’m most excited because hopefully the success of this film will give the warring fractions of the FRIDAY THE 13TH franchise a goose to get them to iron out their differences. Still, we got a great Michael Myers film and we should relish in it. Released on October 19, 2018, here’s my lengthy dissection of HALLOWEEN! Available on BluRay/DVD, digital download, and On Demand!
Directed by David Gordon Green
Written by David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley (screenplay), based on characters created by John Carpenter and Debra Hill
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle, Haluk Bilginer, Will Patton, Rhian Rees, Jefferson Hall, Toby Huss, Virginia Gardner, Dylan Arnold, Miles Robbins, Drew Scheid, Jibrail Nantambu, Michael ‘Mick’ Harrity, Matthew Anderson, Diva Tyler, Brien Gregorie, Vince Mattis, Omar J. Dorsey, Pedro Lopez, Charlie Benton, Christopher Allen Nelson, Charlie Donadio, Stephanie Butts, Davol Garrett, Kurt Deimer, Sophia Miller, Colin Mahan, P.J. Soles
The HALLOWEEN films have been a part of my life since, well, as long as I can remember. I’ve seen all of them—yes even the Rob Zombie ones and can find something positive to say about all of them…yes, even the Rob Zombie ones. That said, I agree with those who say that the series had shifted way off course from the original and a back to basics approach was most likely necessary. I am always interested in big budget horror, especially from filmmakers that I admire and while horror isn’t what I think of when I hear David Gordon Green’s name, I do associate him with quality films. That said, the more I heard about the makings of HALLOWEEN 2018, the more I had a bad taste in my mouth about it. I am not a fan of ignoring all that has come before in these franchises which I hold so precious. It stank of the Platinum Dunes remakes which varied from middling to passible as they tried to modernize Jason, Freddy, and Leatherface. HALLOWEEN was already a victim of this modernization with Rob Zombie’s version which missed the point completely. So, having another Hollywood movie-man take a crack at it and stating that nothing but the original was canon felt like us HALLOWEEN fans were going to be shafted again.
Fortunately, that was not the case. And though the sibling relationship between Michel and Laurie is no longer a part of the mythos, everything else might as well as happened. Sure, there is no Druidry or little Jamie running around in her clown suit, but they are simply not mentioned here and if you squint, this might as well be another sequel. What stood out for me the most is how much Green respects the original and that love for Carpenter’s film is what makes it all worth your time. Green is not trying to reinvent the HALLOWEEN wheel as much as he is trying to keep it rolling smoothly without the baggage of the other films to slow it down. In the meantime, Green manages to add some new and fresh details to the madness. Not to Michael, but to the world around him. And that is what separates HALLOWEEN 2018 from the rest of the sequels in the franchise.
From HALLOWEEN 2 on, attempts were made to understand Michael Myers and why he killed his sister all those years ago. Michael was said to be the product of a Druid curse (parts 2, 5, 6), he shed a tear (part 5), angrily pursued his sister and then his niece (parts 2, 4, 5, 6), slept with that niece and impregnated her (yes, that is implied in part 6), and even had white trash parents and a bullied childhood (ahh, those precious Rob Zombie remakes) —all as a means to humanize Michael and give us some understanding as to why he does what the evil things he does. Green recognized that move to be the franchise’s biggest mistake. He gets rid of those glimpses behind the mask because he seems to understand that when you peek too much, you lose all that makes him scary in the first place.
Instead what we get in HALLOWEEN 2018 is the bottomless void that is Michael’s character and the inability to understand that void propelling the rest of the cast. It is more chilling that no one has ever understood why Michael committed the “Babysitter Murders of ‘78” since he hasn’t spoken a word about it or anything else in 40 years. In a world where everyone tweets every immediate thought that pops into their brains for all to see, it’s looked at as inhuman for Michael not to say anything about it. It is revealed that there is nothing wrong with Michael’s ability to speak—he just chooses not to and for a second or two I thought Green was going to jump the shark and have Michael speak since it is mentioned more than once in the film. Thankfully and smartly, Green doesn’t do that.
What he does is tell a story of survival and the futile quest for answers when none exist. This isn’t about Michael. He is as he was in the original—a great white shark on land, killing for no reason. He is being watched over by Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer), a student of Loomis’ who has observed Michael “in captivity” for the last 40 years. Sartain gets the plot rolling as he allows a pair of podcasters into the asylum to confront him about his crimes all of those years ago. Sartain even allows them to produce Michael’s mask to see what his reaction will be. Meanwhile, on the outskirts of Haddonfield, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is living life as a reclusive, alcoholic, agoraphobic and broken survivalist, preparing for Michael’s inevitable escape. She has been divorced twice, trained her daughter Karen to fight/shoot/defend herself before she was taken away by the state, and now lives alone in a caged fortress (not unlike an asylum itself) with its own mannequin laden shooting range, trap doors, secret passages, and personal arsenal. In Haddonfield, Karen (now grown and played by Judy Greer) and her husband Ray (Toby Huss, who offers up a fun break to all of this seriousness) are doing their best to raise their teenage child Allyson (Andi Matichak). Allyson is the same age as Laurie in the original and having some of the same world-encompassing teen issues Laurie had back then, though she isn’t as nebbish as Laurie was. When Michael escapes, he heads straight for his home town for another Halloween night of killing and eventually makes his way to the Strode gals.
HALLOWEEN 2018 turned out to be a fascinating film. It honors the original while moving the story of Michael’s wake a bit forward. Green is respectful of the original and the film also has little details from the rest of the series that will make longtime fans extremely happy. If you haven’t seen the film, know that the rest of this review/rant is filled with SPOILERS, so proceed with caution.
As I said above, what fascinates me about this film is how Green manages to focus on the lives of the rest of the characters and their reactions to Michael. He doesn’t try to give answers. That’s what the podcasters want. That’s what Karen wants. That’s what Sartain and Will Patton’s Officer Hawkins want. The eternal quest for meaning we all search for when tragedy strikes is never answered, and that is the point of the entire film and something those who continued the franchise didn’t understand by tossing in all of that other baggage giving the violence meaning. Only Michael and Laurie know that there are no answers as to why Judith Myers died and why Michael killed five people that night in 1978. Michael simply lives to kill (only showing one moment of humanity mid-film when he doesn’t kill a crying baby) and Laurie has trained all her life simply to kill Michael. She reveals early on that she has stopped looking for answers and simply admits that bad shit happens to people for no reason. The only thing both these characters understand is that death is something they need to dole out. The rest of the group is reaching blindly into the abyss for a hidden truth to latch onto.
Taking a quick browse around the internet showed me that one of the most divisive characters of the film is Dr. Sartain, who SPOILERS (as if I didn’t warn you before) ends up being more of a Michael Myers fanboy than a fill-in Dr. Loomis bent on his destruction. He wants to see Michael in his natural state “in the wild” as he has seen all he can of this beast in captivity. While I know this late in the game reveal might feel like a cheat as we are made to believe in him as a surrogate Loomis, I love it that this twist occurs here as it is made evident early on that Laurie is the new Loomis in this story. Sartain is just another victim in this film who went to a dark place to find meaning in Michael’s random acts of destruction. Hell, Sartain may have even helped Michael escape from the bus in the first place as he lamented about losing him as a patient. The moment when Sartain tries on Michael’s mask is a fascinating twist and one that suggests a connection of sorts to HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, in that somehow the mask activates Michael’s killer impulse and he wants to see the world through a killer’s eyes. Sartain (the name itself is an old-world spelling of the word “certain,” hinting that he is determined in his quest and unwavering despite the futility of it all—his white whale is to simply understand why Michael does his thing) has a relentless resolve that Michael will provide the answers when he sees Laurie. This quest sets Michael and Laurie on a collision course in the finale with Sartain steering the entire narrative from the beginning. If not for Sartain, it is more likely Michael would have simply kept on killing in Haddonfield.
And that’s the other thing that I took away from this film. As much as Laurie has lived her life obsessing about Michael and the destruction of her sanity and well-being all those years ago, I really don’t think Michael really was all that compelled to find her. There’s nothing to indicate that he wanted to before Sartain puts her in his path. Michael doesn’t make a B-line to Laurie’s house when he escapes. He heads to the gravestone of his sister, Judith. The only reaction we ever get from Michael (aside from a groan when Laurie blows off a few of his fingers with a shotgun) is when Sartain mentions Judith Myers. If not for Sartain, there would never have been a confrontation at Laurie’s house. So, what does that say about Laurie’s motivations? Is this film somehow talking about the futility of living one’s life as a victim? The pointlessness of living a life of revenge against someone who has moved on after an assault and forgotten all about it? It sure seems to me that, from what was shown on screen, while it is a good thing Laurie trained all these years, Michael was perfectly fine roaming from house to house in Haddonfield killing as many people as he could and would have continued to do so if not for Sartain’s grand experiment in the wild. It is the audience that might think Michael is after Laurie because of his obsessive behavior in the now obsolete sequels. In actuality, this film juggles two different perspectives (one monster without emotion and another consumed with revenge) that converge in the end only by happenstance.
HALLOWEEN 2018 is at its strongest when we get the long tracking shots of Michael walking the streets of Haddonfield on a killing spree. I honestly would have been happy if we didn’t have the big explosive finale at the Strode sanctuary and simply followed Michael for much longer. It was riveting to see how nonchalantly he walked in and out of the homes. It was terrifying how, even today, people leave doors open for anyone to get inside. And while I know there had to be character, plot, and resolution in there somewhere, those scenes of carnage were the highpoint of the film for me. If there’s a criticism I have about the film, it is that there is a lot of confusing moves once we’re at the Strode house with characters going upstairs, downstairs, and into the cellar over and over again with the layout of the house becoming more malleable and harder to follow as the film progressed.
Jamie Lee Curtis goes above and beyond here as Laurie, giving her a complexity that no one would have imagined and speaking lines that tear at one’s soul. There are multiple scenes in this film where she is downright scary and used not only as a surrogate Loomis raving to the townsfolk and police about the evil on the loose, but also as much of a monster as Michael himself (as in the scene taken straight from the original where Allyson sees Laurie outside of the school window just as Laurie saw Michael). It is a brave role for Curtis to take and one that speaks volumes about the ramifications these horror films have on the final girl. It was satisfying to see Laurie get her comeuppance on Michael (until the inevitable sequel, that is), still personally I feel one of the Strodes should have bought it in the end for a bit more impact.
There are some jarring cuts in this film that I hope can be rectified in a director’s cut, specifically when Laurie gives her speech to Hawkins about wishing Michael would escape outside of the first night murder scene. The out of the blue 180 degree turn of Allyson’s boyfriend from good guy to douche-nut most likely had some supplementary details snipped due to time constraints as well (especially since his character never returns after the dance). While the ending is satisfying, it is obvious that a sequel is planned, most likely with a traumatized Allyson as its central character, so some of that boyfriend resolution might come up there. And as long as they don’t try to get into Michael’s head too much, I welcome another visit to Haddonfield. That said, this film raised my curiosity about Judith and maybe a way to understand Michael is to go back and meet her. Of course, that’s a slippery slope and too much explanation gets into the same rough terrain the sequels foraged through, so a sequel is going to be a tricky one to pull off.
I could go on and on about this film and plan to do just in an upcoming Cannibal Horrorcast podcast that I’ll post soon. Carpenter’s score was intense and nerve-shredding. As usual, Will Patton gets the short end of the stick as far as screen time, but the time he does get is strong. The gas station bathroom scene is Michael Myers to chilling perfection. The mask looks spot on. While it is much gorier than the original, that’s not a bad thing and it’s not done gratuitously—only to offer up some perfectly scary beats. Green’s is a much more complex version of Carpenter’s more simplified vision from ’78, but still seems to honor the essence of what that film was trying to communicate. While Green’s theme he talked about in interviews—that Michael is the essence of the boogeyman was never fully delved into or as scary as I think he wanted it to be, the notion that there are no easy answers to violent happenings is a rock-solid foundation to build a late in the game slasher film on. It may even usher in a new theme of how senseless violence is, getting rid of all of those annoying origin stories we’ve been seeing lately. All in all, this is the HALLOWEEN remake/reboot/reimagining that gets a hell of a lot right. I can only hope they can give the same level of respect, honor, and attention to the FRIDAY THE 13TH and A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET franchises someday.
THE COUNTDOWN SO FAR…
#10 – HALLOWEEN 2018
M. L. Miller is a wordslinger/writer of wrongs/reviewer/interviewer/editor of MLMILLERWRITES.COM. Follow @Mark_L_Miller.
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