In the Desert of Set > Sermons > Occult Cinema > Halloween Is Back, And It’s About Time

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Halloween Is Back, And It's About Time

Anyone who’s known me for five minutes knows the Halloween franchise is my favorite movie series of all time. The 1978 original is the purest and simplest “good versus evil story” I can think of, with not one but two heroic characters you can really root for (Laurie Strode and Dr. Sam Loomis), plus a truly frightening villain (Michael Myers or “the Shape”) who is every bit as iconic as Darth Vader or the Joker. Many of Halloween’s sequels, “requels,” and other spin-offs have built upon this original premise to produce a mythos that is much richer than most others of its ilk, and many of us fans were worried the newest film from 2018 would not live up to this heritage. After giving myself a year to re-watch David Gordon Green’s Halloween (2018) several times, I think I’m ready to pass my final verdict on this latest offering.

But first, some necessary backstory. The Halloween series is not a single continuous storyline like the Star Wars or Lord of the Rings movies. It’s more like a plethora of alternate universes that are all spun from the original 1978 film in some way. First they tried a direct sequel that takes place on the exact same night (1981’s Halloween II); then they switched to an anthology idea (1982’s Halloween III); then they made three more direct sequels to the first sequel (Halloween 4–6, 1988–1995); then they ignored those sequels and wrote two brand new ones to the first sequel (Halloween H20 and Resurrection, 1998–2002); then they made a remake and a direct sequel to that remake (Rob Zombie’s Halloween and Halloween II, 2007–2009). Counting the original film as its own self-contained product,1 this accounts for no less than six different timelines, with the new 2018 film introducing a seventh for viewers to choose from. This is pretty confusing to most people who haven’t grown up watching this kind of insanity since the 1980s, but the way I look at it is this. Most popular movie franchises do not allow their audiences to pick and choose which installments are “canon.” When George Lucas brought Jar Jar Binks into Darth Vader’s origin story, it became official Star Wars lore regardless of the fact that everyone hated The Phantom Menace (1999). But with Halloween, you have the option of choosing any one version of events over any other.

In one version of events (1981’s Halloween II), Laurie Strode is revealed to be Michael Myers’ younger sister. This radically changes the dynamic between these two characters, who are complete strangers to each other in the first movie. There, the Shape is arbitrary in its actions, meeting Laurie by chance and stalking her just for amusement. But with Laurie rewritten as his sister, Michael suddenly has a “mission”: to wipe out his entire family tree. In another version of events (1995’s Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers), Myers turns out to be demonically possessed by a pseudo-Pagan cult (whose members may or may not be biogenetic engineers);2 and in yet another version (Rob Zombie’s Halloween from 2007), he is simply the result of being raised in a “white trash” family. It’s actually quite amazing how different these films can be from each other, and yet each of them has its very own fanbase. Even 2002’s Halloween: Resurrection (the one with Busta Rhymes doing kung-fu) has its devoted fans. I don’t ever hear people get defensive about Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989) or Superman IV: The Quest For Peace (1987), but gods help you if you ever walk into a room full of Halloween III fans and shout, “Tom Atkins sucks!”

David Gordon Green has received some flack for supposedly being too arbitrary in developing his particular version of Halloween. I can’t remember who it was, but I recall reading some critic who trashed the notion that “Directors can apparently change canon at the drop of a hat now.” Whoever made that statement must not be a very good film historian, otherwise they’d know these movies have already been changing their own “canon” for decades. Halloween isn’t the first franchise to do this, either. Just look at Hammer Films and Toho Studios, which created alternate timelines for both Count Dracula and Godzilla in the 1970s and 1980s, respectively. The so-called “requel” is nothing new, and bringing the Shape back for a new spin on what happened after “The Night He Came Home” is really no different from, say, letting Christopher Nolan take a crack at Batman. The Halloween flicks aren’t for everybody, but neither is this foolish idea that every film in a series must necessarily take place in the same universe.

That being said, David Gordon Green’s Halloween begins with two podcast reporters (Jefferson Hall and Rhian Rees) who are visiting Smith’s Grove Sanitarium in Illinois to see Dr. Ranbir Sartain (played by Haluk Bilginer) and his patient, Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney). We learn that shortly after the events of John Carpenter’s Halloween, Dr. Loomis tracked Myers through the neighborhood and was about to nail the fucker with another six slugs to the chest when the local PD showed up and “de-escalated” the situation. Myers was brought into custody and returned to the sanitarium, and Loomis was revoked of his license to practice medicine, which is how Sartain took over. Now it’s 40 years later, Loomis is deceased, and Myers is about to be transferred to a maximum security prison, where he is expected to rot. The reporters try to stoke a reaction from Michael by pulling out that odd, white, faceless mask he wore while stalking his victims in 1978. Myers gives them nothing, but every other patient in the sanitarium suddenly goes rabid, and that tells us right there that these idiot reporters just made a really bad mistake.

Next, the reporters go to Haddonfield to visit Laurie Strode, the only teenager among Michael’s victims to survive—the one who fought back and lived. We learn that over the past 40 years, Laurie had a daughter named Karen (played in adult form by Judy Greer); but she continues to exhibit terrible PTSD, and she’s also become a survivalist gun-nut. Her day-to-day behavior is so alarming, in fact, that the state eventually took Karen away from her custody. Mother and daughter have been estranged ever since, and Laurie now lives in a lonely old house in the woods, with an armory fit for Armageddon. She has always known deep in her heart that Michael Myers will escape again one day, and that the mysterious Shape will stalk the streets of Haddonfield once more. And when that happens, Laurie aims to finish what the local police prevented Dr. Loomis from doing all those years ago, once and for all.

The reporters don’t get much farther with Laurie than they did with Michael; they’re disrespectful to her, suggesting she’s just a hysterical old woman and no one should believe or listen to her. But instead of being silenced, Laurie kicks them the fuck out and goes right back to preparing for the Big Blow-Up. Then she goes to visit her granddaughter, Alyson (Karen’s daughter, played by Andi Matichak), who is experiencing her own share of maternal estrangement. It seems that the adult Karen Strode still carries all her childhood demons from growing up under Laurie; for while she is much more stable and capable of raising a family than the elder Strode, she has nevertheless succeeded in alienating her daughter as well. She has restricted Alyson’s access to her grandmother so much that the two of them must meet in secret if they are to interact with each other at all. And while Karen thinks Laurie is just an attention-seeking prophet of doom, Alyson knows her grandmother’s trauma and grief are completely authentic.

It’s only a matter of time, of course, before Laurie’s prophecies about Michael Myers all turn out to be 100% true. The patient somehow manages to escape from a prison bus while he is being transferred to the maximum security facility on Halloween Eve. Then he tracks down the two podcast reporters at a local gas station to retrieve his mask from their belongings. I have to admit, this is the most thrilling sequence I’ve witnessed in any Halloween movie since the late 1980s. Michael Myers is somehow even more intimidating when he’s out of costume, walking around in broad daylight, with everyone around him none the wiser. This part of the film also made me realize just how much Myers resembles a Batman villain like the Scarecrow—complete with escaping from a psychiatric prison and dressing in a costume that seems to enhance (rather than conceal) his true personality. For when Michael finally retrieves his mask and wears it once again, he drops all pretense at being human and reverts to his true identity as “the Shape.”

Now it’s a little difficult for me to discuss the rest of this movie without giving away some mighty big spoilers. (You didn’t think there would be any spoilers in a movie like this, did you? You thought it would just be a lot of stalking and slashing, right? Well trust me, I was just as surprised as you are!) For this reason, the next few paragraphs of this article can only be viewed if you click on the dropdown link below. If you’ve already seen the film or you don’t care about spoilers, go ahead and click the link to finish reading my thoughts. Otherwise, please skip ahead to the next paragraph.

So the Shape returns to Haddonfield and invites itself into random people’s homes, carving the residents up like jack-o’lanterns. It then crosses paths with Alyson while she’s walking home from a school dance, but she manages to elude it and find Officer Hawkins (Will Patton), who’s out patrolling the neighborhood with Dr. Sartain. Hawkins, Sartain, and Alyson then encounter the Shape again, and when Hawkins prepares to kill it, Dr. Sartain goes apeshit and kills the cop. Then he throws an unconscious Shape in the backseat of Hawkins’ police car (along with Alyson) and drives off toward Laurie Strode’s house. He explains that he’s obsessed with learning the secrets of Michael’s true motives, and that he believes he can uncover those secrets by forcing a showdown between Laurie and the Shape. But once they’ve almost reached the Strode house, the Shape re-awakens and tears the police car to shit with its bare hands. Alyson manages to escape by the very skin of her teeth, but things don’t go so well for Dr. Sartain, whom the Shape soon dispenses with. Then the Shape sees Laurie’s house down the road, and the Big Blow-Up between Strode and Myers soon begins.

I’ve heard some people complain profusely about this plot twist with Dr. Sartain, claiming that it totally “came out of left field” or “served no purpose” for the story; but I thought it was absolutely brilliant, and for several reasons. First off, it’s clear that while Laurie and Sartain both believe the Shape wants to get her, the Shape itself has other ideas. While Laurie has never stopped dwelling on that fateful Halloween night in 1978, the Shape doesn’t appear to even remember who she is. Now some of you might not think that sounds too bad, but consider this for a moment. Imagine that someone attacked you and traumatized you several years ago, to the point where everything you do in your life is now shaped and dictated by that experience. Now imagine that you will finally have a chance to confront your tormentor several years down the road, only to learn that he doesn’t even remember you or the things he did to you. Not because he’s been rehabilitated or because he honestly forgot, but simply because you are insignificant to him in every possible way. This is exactly how it works with men who assault or abuse women in real life. While Laurie has focused all her energy on destroying the Shape for the past 40 years, the Shape hasn’t thought about her even once since 1978.

If it seems strange that a Halloween movie would feature another villain apart from the Shape, we need only consider Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. I believe the Sartain character is actually an homage to Dr. Terence Wynn (played by Mitch Ryan in Curse), who is otherwise known as “the Man in Black.” According to Curse, there are other people in Haddonfield who know what the Shape really is aside from Dr. Loomis, but who want to “control” or “understand” it rather than destroy it. Dr. Wynn and his “Thorn Cult” learned the hard way that this impossible, and Dr. Sartain learns the exact same lesson here. There are quite a few homages to earlier films in this movie (including an homage to the goofy clown cops from Halloween 5, if you can believe it!), so I’m pretty certain this resemblance between Wynn and Sartain is intentional. I think the idea of the Shape having “fans” or “helpers” is not only interesting from a narrative perspective, but also quite scary and realistic. Just look at how people idolize monsters like Charles Manson or John Wayne Gacy in real life.

As for the claim that this plot twist “came out of left field,” there are numerous clues in the first half of the film that the twist is coming. Dr. Sartain is the one who deliberately allows the podcast reporters to taunt Michael with his mask at the start of the film. (What the hell kind of doctor lets the press fuck with his patient like that? Dr. Loomis would not have approved.) He also insists on accompanying Myers on the prison bus, and he is the only survivor we see on the bus after Michael’s escape. (Did Michael really kill all those guards—or did Sartain do it?) The doctor also says a lot of asinine things about empathizing with Michael, as if he doesn’t give a shit about any of the victims. Finally, when Laurie Strode and Dr. Sartain meet for the first and only time in the film, Laurie refers to him as “the New Loomis,” given his inherited role as Michael Myers’ psychiatrist. This line is absolutely loaded with irony considering that Sartain later turns out to be in cahoots with the Shape, and that Laurie herself turns out to be a much better Loomis than Sartain could ever be!

I also enjoy the Sartain plot twist because I honestly didn’t see it coming; it truly caught me off guard. I can’t tell you how many times I will sit down and watch a new horror movie I’ve never seen before, only to correctly guess everything that’s going to happen throughout the film. I have even lower expectations when it comes to slasher movie sequels, which tend to follow a very rigid formula. So the fact that this sequence surprised me as much as it did is nothing short of amazing. And considering how important Sartain actually is to the story (mind you, he is the only reason Michael and Laurie ever cross paths), he has now become one of my favorite characters in the franchise. (Too bad he won’t be showing up in any more sequels, unless it’s in a flashback!)

One other observation I’d like to make is that each of the male characters in this film is either helpless (like Officer Hawkins), untrustworthy (like Alyson’s boyfriend Cameron), or downright evil (like Myers and Sartain). There is a recurring theme about women not being heard and not being believed (not only by men, but by other women as well). After Michael was apprehended in 1978, no one aside from Laurie and Dr. Loomis seems to have considered him responsible for his own actions. The State of Illinois simply locked him away again, and everyone moved on. When the podcast reporters question Laurie about this, they seem to take Michael’s side for some reason, excusing him for his actions in 1978 because “He’s crazy” and “It happened so long ago.” So Laurie isn’t just fighting the Shape here; she’s fighting the entire patriarchy, which cares more about her tormentor’s side of the story than her own. And when the Strode women finally band together to tackle the Shape, they aren’t just taking down a man in a mask. They’re taking down three generations of trauma, systemic misogyny, and toxic masculine dominance, all of which are symbolized by the Shape.

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in 1978 (left) and 2018 (right)

Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode in 1978 (left) and in 2018 (right).

When Rob Zombie’s Halloween was released in 2007, it broke my heart. I went into that film with an open mind and the best of intentions, hoping to enjoy it very much; but when I left the theater, all I wanted to do was scream. Both the 2007 film and its 2009 sequel are completely devoid of all the things that made the old Halloween movies so great. Michael Myers is robbed of his mystery, Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis are both rewritten as completely detestable characters, and the entire “good versus evil” dynamic is absent; we are expected to empathize with Michael instead of his victims, and nothing about that is OK with me. The Shape is “purely and simply evil,” and there must always be a strong and noble character to fight it in the end. Dr. Loomis and Laurie Strode are the most obvious candidates, of course, but the Halloween franchise has also spawned additional heroes like Jamie Lloyd (Laurie’s daughter in Halloween 4 and 5, played by Danielle Harris), Rachel Carruthers (played by Ellie Cornell in Halloween 4), Kara Strode (Marianne Hagan in the Curse of Michael Myers), and Tommy Doyle (Paul Rudd, again in Curse). In fact, I can’t think of any other horror film franchise that features quite so many heroic characters as the Halloween series does. So when the new film came out last year, it was a huge deal for me personally. This was their big chance to fix everything Rob Zombie messed up, and they absolutely succeeded!

Another thing I love about the 2018 film is that the “babysitters-in-jeopardy” element of the story is limited to just the second act. We’ve already seen Michael Myers stalk babysitters for 90 minutes at a time (several times, in fact); there is just so much more he can do as a character. David Gordon Green proves this by using the first and final acts to elaborate on things we’ve never seen in any Halloween movie before. The first act does a fantastic job of putting us in Laurie’s head, exploring her complexity as she alternates between her doomsday prepping and her struggles with PTSD. And the final act is a real powerhouse, escalating the conclusion of the 1978 original to full-blown action movie proportions. Now that Green is currently filming not one but two more Halloween films (to be released in October 2020 and 2021, respectively), I’m excited to see what other new situations he might throw these characters into next. (I’ve always wanted to see the Shape square off against an entire SWAT Team, myself!)

I purposely waited an entire year to write this review because I wanted to see if my feelings about this film would fluctuate or not. They haven’t, so I now feel secure in making the following assertion. Without a doubt, David Gordon Green’s Halloween wins my vote for “Absolute Best Direct Sequel to the 1978 Original.” The only other film in the series that ranks above it, in my opinion at least, is 1982’s Halloween III (which excels simply for being its own original Samhain-themed story).3 This isn’t just some run-of-the-mill slasher movie. Here we are shown how one night of terrible violence can still affect people several decades afterwards (even if they weren’t born yet at the time!). We are also given a powerful allegory for the struggles women continue to face under the patriarchy today. While the Halloween series has always featured strong female protagonists, the new 2018 film deserves special recognition for bringing this theme to a whole new level. I just can’t recommend it highly enough, and I am anxiously looking forward to Green’s next two projects, Halloween Kills (2020) and Halloween Ends (2021).

Yours Truly, as Dr. Sam Loomis

A neighbor dressed as the Shape (left) and me dressed as Dr. Loomis (right), from Samhain 2007.

1 Some Halloween fans enjoy watching the first movie the way John Carpenter originally intended—as its own stand-alone “campfire story,” with no sequels or continuations of any kind, and a spooky open ending that was never meant to be resolved.

2 The Curse of Michael Myers (otherwise known affectionately as Halloween 6) pulls its information about Paganism straight out of its ass. It reveals that Myers is under the power of evil “neo-Druids” who worship a demon called “Thorn.” The symbol for Thorn is actually a rune from the Elder Futhark alphabet called Thurisaz, which has nothing to do with evil; it represents the use of destructive energy to protect rather than destroy. Even funnier, Thurisaz is not a “Celtic rune” but a Norse one; it would not have been used by the ancient Druids, who used a completely different alphabet. But with all that being said, watching Paul Rudd bind the Shape with protective rune magic is definitely a milestone of the series!

3 Want to read more about Halloween III: Season of the Witch and why I enjoy it so much? Check out my sermon, Halloween: When the Barriers Are Down.