In the twenty years since Michael Meyers attacked his sister on Halloween, Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) has changed her name, faked her death, had a son (Josh Hartnett), and become the headmistress of a private school in California. Now, with the school empty due to a field trip, Michael will show up to finish the job he started long ago.
Jamie Lee Curtis’s return to the Halloween franchise must have caused a fair amount of scrambling to fix the continuity errors her appearance would generate. As Curtis dislikes the sequels to her 1978 film, the decision was made to ignore the existence of Halloween 4-6 (and parts of 2). Considering what disasters those were (remember the druids? The clones? The hermit? The thumb of death?), this was the best decision possible. It brought up the possibility of doing a Halloween film right. And they almost did. Almost.
Without question, this is the most professionally made Halloween film, and the most stylish since the first. The camera work and lighting are all competent, and the gore is of a higher caliber than in earlier films, with a broken leg looking particularly cringe-worthy. The acting is the best of the series. The teens (Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams) manage their simplistic roles, LL Cool J has a relaxed, pleasant air as the comic relief, Adam Arkin is far better than the material as Laurie’s boyfriend, and Curtis has greatly improved her craft since ’78. Janet Leigh (Curtis’s mother) even shows up for an extended cameo as a bow toward the first Slasher, Psycho.
The story is also more complex with substantial character development. Laurie did not walk away unscathed from Michael’s attack; she’s an alcoholic with nightmares and is raising her son in an atmosphere of paranoia. While there’s a lot going on, the problem is, it isn’t enjoyable to watch. Every moment of onscreen family crisis drags, and I started longing for crazy old Doc Loomis to spring up and say “He’s evil, eeeevil!” just for the diversion.
With a lack of understanding of the sub-genre, director Steve Miner and writers Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg actually try to build up suspense, which has got to be someone’s weird idea of a joke. Here’s a note to all people involved in the Halloween franchise: THERE IS NO SUSPENSE IN A HALLOWEEN MOVIE. WE KNOW EXACTLY WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN, AND IT INVOLVES A BIG GUY IN A MASK KILLING PEOPLE. For this film (or any like it) to attempt anything approaching quality, it needs to make the preordained killings innovative. Long scenes of Jamie Lee Curtis gazing down roads and into windows wondering if Michael is going to show up doesn’t do it.
Slasher clichés abound. There’s the same sad splitting-up as in every other Slasher. And there are frequent jump-scares as someone pops menacingly out of the shadows, only to hug a girl or tap someone on the shoulder. Worse, we spend a minute watching a teen with his hand in a disposal only to have him successfully remove it. Why did we need to watch him? Is that the most frightening thing Zappia and Greenberg could come up with? They even follow that with the old “car won’t start” scene. Sigh.
Normally, I laugh off other critic’s comments that one masked Michael is better than another, but this Michael is noticeably less frightening than his predecessors. He lumbers along, looking less like an insane killer than a drunken janitor.
But, things do look up two-thirds of the way through. Those painful character development scenes make the deaths more meaningful and I found myself rooting for Laurie and even her son. Curtis still has the scream queen in her, but it’s mixed with a bit of Sigourney Weaver’s Ripley which makes the ending oddly satisfying. It’s odd because I’ve never left a Halloween flick feeling satisfied; mild annoyance at the loss of an hour and a half is the norm.
I do have a question for any paramedics or coroners out there: would you put someone in a body bag and zip it up while leaving the person in a mask?
Now I realize it would violate Slasher rules, but I would have liked a real ending to the story, one that explained a few of the whys and wherefores. While I didn’t get that, I got much more than I expected as the series was finally and completely finished. It’s unfortunate that Dimension films missed that, and made yet another sequel with a ridiculous explanation for Michael’s return.
Anyone who has read my other reviews (in case it isn’t obvious from this one) will know I’m no fan of even Halloween, much less its sequels. But this is a rare case where a sequel improves the original. If you must watch Michael Meyers, I suggest getting the 1978 picture and this one, ignoring that the others exist, and making an evening of it.
The other films in the series are Halloween, Halloween 2, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 5, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Halloween: Resurrection.