Halloween Then, Halloween Now

Here’s what I’d like you to do. I’d like you to watch the original Halloween, the John Carpenter classic. And then, if you can, watch this immediately afterwards. Individually, they’re within sight of being perfect pieces of cinema. The original is pared back, caffeine-staring horror of a sort Carpenter excels at. This is an extraordinarily successful return to that idea that feels and explores every year that falls between them. But viewed together? You get to watch a genre evolve in near real-time.

The original is still great and successfully captures the ‘it couldn’t happen here’ complacency that a lot of the sequels, and compatriot franchises, struggled with. In fact the only movie I’ve ever seen come close to it’s level of polite suburban unease is Donnie Darko. Both are about the worst day in the lives of a nice neighborhood. Both have a lead character pushed to the absolute edge and both have pleasingly ragged endings.

But where Donnie’s time is a closed circle, Laurie Strode is far less lucky. She staggers into this multiversal continuum of horror that gives you multiple Halloween IIs, a complete remake and its sequel, a movie connected to none of the others (OR IS IT?!) and multiple possible futures for Laurie. This, by far, is the best one, with Curtis returning as an openly PTSD riddled survivor who lives on a compound, practices with firearms every day and has been haunted for 40 years by her encounter with Michael Myers. She and Sarah Connor would get on very well. Which probably means they’d have adjoining survivalist compounds and glower at one another through the fence once a week but you get the idea.

Curtis anchors both movies, in the original as a determined and ingenious near-victim and here as a survivor who is acutely aware of every price she’s paid. She’s angry and twitchy, unable to see past the guilt she feels over how she raised her daughter Karen played by the always excellent Judy Greer. So much so in fact that she’s pretty much given up on a relationship with her and is concentrating on her granddaughter Ally played by Andy Matichak. The three generations of the Strode family are used to track the evolution of women in cinematic horror. Laurie is a survivor but is unable to move past what happened to her and sacrifices any relationship with her daughter to both be ready for Michael and to give her family a fighting chance. Karen flat out refuses to accept her past, to the extent of spending the third act wearing a Christmas jumper but has the skills her mother gave her available on a second’s notice and gets the best moment in the movie. Ally, who gets as close to Michael as any of them, is different again. The movie repeatedly subverts your expectations and usually does that with Ally. She’s no one’s victim, no one’s girlfriend unless she wants to be and it’s her who grabs the knife that’s been the traditional symbol of Michael’s power. What she does with it, and where it is, closes the movie out with a nicely ambiguous note for some but a very clear one for me; The Strode women are through being anyone’s victims and they are done with the past. If it wants to hunt them, it can try. The message for the genre is starker still; this is how you evolve a slasher franchise and, odds are, end it. This is the new standard. Act accordingly.

Halloween is on general release now and is great. The original is available on various shiny disc and internet services.

This piece originally appeared as part of my weekly newsletter, The Full Lid. If you liked it, and want a weekly down of pop culture enthusiasm, occasional ketchup recipes and me enjoying things, then check out the archive and sign up here.

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