On Oct. 19, former Austin director David Gordon Green’s “Halloween” arrives in theaters. It is the 11th movie in the Halloween franchise and does viewers the service of ignoring almost all those previous films.
That this is a sequel and not a reboot or remake seems important to note.
Reboots of beloved and not-so-beloved franchises are all over the place. The “Battlestar Galactica” reboot turned a corny, odd 1970s space opera into one of the most well-respected series of the decade. “Planet of the Apes” has been rebooted twice — by Tim Burton in 2001 (that didn’t work out so well) and by writer/producer Rick Jaffa in 2011 (all three of those movies are pretty good).
Heck, even the "Halloween" franchise was rebooted in 2007 — after seven increasingly ludicrous sequels — by Rob Zombie. That spawned one sequel and the opprobrium of horror fans who really don’t like Rob Zombie.
But the movie that opens this week sliced through the Gordian knot of all this accumulated mythology by simply ignoring it. Titled simply “Halloween” (like the 1978 original and the 2007 reboot), it takes place 40 years after the first and acknowledges only that film as a precursor.
Forty years later, we are still talking about “Halloween.” What is it about this movie that keeps it hanging around?
Here are five reasons that, no matter how many sequels the movie is stabbed with, "Halloween" keeps rising from the dead.
It was there at the right time.
There were exploitation movies before “Halloween” (and, of course, there was “Psycho,” the ur-slasher), and there were a whole lot of exploitation movies after, but “Halloween” seemed to arrive at the exact right time to become a blockbuster.
One story of film in the ‘60s and ‘70s is the quantum leap in what sorts of images a mainstream audience would accept on screen. “Halloween” seemed to bull's-eye that moment. Made with a budget of about $300,000, “Halloween” went on to gross $70 million, $46 million in the United States. Moviegoers were ready to be scared in new and violent ways.
It’s a pretty straightforward movie.
For all the backstory piled on to the original over time, the first “Halloween” is a pretty simple affair. (Spoilers to follow if you have never seen the original.)
In the still-a-little-shocking first-person opening, we see a child named Michael Myers, in a Halloween costume, kill his older sister with a kitchen knife. They are in the fictional town of Haddonfield, Ill. Fifteen years later, Michael escapes from his handlers, including his shrink, Dr. Loomis, on his way to court. He steals weapons and a mask and starts stalking a high-schooler named Laurie Strode. Michael kills a bunch of teens and almost kills Laurie, who stabs him a bunch of times. Loomis empties a gun into Michael, but Michael vanishes. Laurie is a wreck, but alive. The end.
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That’s it. That is a very spare plot.
Legendary movie critic Pauline Kael hated "Halloween," but she was onto something when she wrote, “Maybe when a horror film is stripped of everything but dumb scariness — when it isn't ashamed to revive the stalest device of the genre (the escaped lunatic) — it satisfies part of the audience in a more basic, childish way than sophisticated horror pictures do."
She meant it as a bug, but it ended up being a feature. “Halloween” is horror stripped to the bone (as it were).
That mask is terrific.
As “Star Trek” and horror nerds are well aware, the mask that Michael grabs is molded from the face of Canadian superstar William “James T. Kirk” Shatner. It was cheap, they needed a mask on set, someone bought it, made a few trims and there you go — one iconic symbol of total evil, coming right up.
The music was groundbreaking and brilliant.
John Carpenter isn’t just one of cinema’s visionary horror directors; he is also one of the form’s all-time great composers.
The neo-minimalist, instantly recognizable “Halloween” theme is clearly his hit, but he composed the music to almost all of his movies, and virtually all of his scores are worth seeking out. You might be familiar with his most famous scores — “Halloween” and “Assault on Precinct 13.” But plenty of his others have been released on the Death Waltz label, while his “Lost Themes” and “Lost Themes II” albums are Carpenter compositions without accompanying films.
Jamie Lee Curtis. That is all.
Let’s be real: Casting Jamie Lee Curtis, the then-unknown daughter of Tony Curtis (“Some Like It Hot”) and Janet Leigh (“Psycho”), was a stroke of genius equal to anything else in the movie. Her whole look and vibe said "everygirl," albeit a slightly odd, somewhat nontraditional one: the hair, the blouses, the look of anxiety, her goofy smile-laugh, that amazing scream. She had a realness about her that actresses can work for their entire lives and never capture.
It wasn’t until later that Curtis revealed herself as a genuinely great comic actress, reminding everyone that she had command of both her parents’ skill sets. It’s hard to blame her for being in the lousy sequels, but her terrified energy in the original is repurposed into guts, paranoia and power in the most recent version. The franchise could not have survived without her.