Jamie Lee Curtis and the demonic Michael Myers return in the best “Halloween” movie since the 1978 original. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.
Forty years later, “Halloween” still has the power to give us the creeps.
Since John Carpenter and his creative partner Debra Hill first unleashed the demonic Michael Myers on quailing audiences in 1978, there have been umpteen iterations in the iconic slasher series, including two bearing the title of the original. The newest and latest “Halloween,” emerging from the febrile imaginations of writers Jeff Fradley, Danny McBride and David Gordon Green (the latter also directed), is structured as a direct sequel to the original. Which is to say a number of story lines from previous pictures have been tossed aside and treated as though they never happened. In the process, these filmmakers have made arguably the best “Halloween” since that first one.
These men clearly love, and even more importantly respect, the original and have tied their version closely to it in matters small and large.
Small: a brief scene showing the granddaughter of heroine Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) seated in the same back-corner classroom desk her grandmother sat in in the original.
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Large: emphasizing the sheer implacable monstrosity of Michael Myers.
He’s ferociously violent, as always. In his rampaging wake on Halloween night: a head squashed underfoot, a body impaled on a fence.
He’s mute, as always. That makes him unknowable and therefore profoundly scary. No explanations are offered for his awfulness. Characters who arrogantly insist on trying to figure out what makes him tick come to gruesome ends.
He’s a mystery, “nothing more than pure evil,” in the words of the departed shrink Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasence). “The only thing he knows how to do is keep moving, keep killing,“ somebody else says. He’s like a shark that way. The words of Robert Shaw’s Quint from “Jaws” come to mind: “Y’know the thing about a shark, he’s got … lifeless eyes, black eyes, like a doll’s eyes. When he comes at ya, doesn’t seem to be livin’.” That’s Michael. Those are the eyes peering out from behind his ever-present mask.
There’s more here than graphic gore and shocks. This is also the story of the multigenerational effects of trauma. The main victim is Laurie herself, who survived Michael’s attack in the original and 40 years later has retreated to what is essentially a fortress in the woods, living there as a heavily armed semirecluse. She’s had two failed marriages and is estranged from her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), and her teenage granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak). The daughter was removed from her custody as a child owing to her mother’s paranoia, and Karen is resentful and despairing as a result. She’s striven to shield her kid from her grandmother’s fear-filled influence.
Curtis, whose movie acting career was launched with “Halloween” (it earned her the “scream queen” sobriquet) and who has played Laurie five times (including in one previous movie with a storyline where the character is killed), brings impressive gravity to her portrayal here. Laurie is angry and damaged and eager for a final confrontation with Michael. She gets it, in spectacular fashion, in this smart and very effective horror thriller.
★★★ ½ “Halloween,” with Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Virginia Gardner. Directed by David Gordon Green, from a screenplay by Green, Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride. 106 minutes. Rated R for horror violence and bloody images, language, brief drug use and nudity. Opens Oct. 19 at multiple theaters.