There is probably no major franchise with a more gnarled line of continuity than the Halloween slasher movies, which despite the apparent cleanliness of their numbered progression, have no fewer than four different, irreconcilable universes, and that's without bringing in Rob Zombie's standalone remakes in the 2000s to muck it up. 1978's Halloween begat one line of descent that stretched from 1981's Halloween II to 1995's Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, but skips 1982's Halloween III: Season of the Witch, which takes place in a self-contained timeline in which Halloween I exists as a fictional movie. 1998's anniversary edition Halloween H20 rewinds to preserve Halloween II, but not any of the subsequent films, and which generated its own sequel, 2002's Halloween: Resurrection. And now in 2018, another multiple-of-twenty-years sequel has come out, titled just Halloween, and it's rewinding even further; it is a sequel to Halloween and only Halloween, which makes it all the fucking weirder that it has seen fit to copy that film's title without alteration. Perhaps that's just what people who are exhuming the corpse of John Carpenter movies do; I am reminded of how The Thing was a direct prequel to The Thing. At least in that case, the filmmakers came up with a very mediocre excuse for why that made sense. If there's any logic with titling Halloween - that's Halloween '18, you understand - I cannot follow it.

But anyway, here we are, with Halloween 11, as I will pissily think of it in my heart of hearts. The film is part of the increasingly well-established trend of years-later sequels that are as official as official can be (this is, among other things, the first Halloween to have received John Carpenter's direct blessing since Season of the Witch), and also feel pretty much indistinguishable from fan fiction. The fans this time around are screenwriters David Gordon Green & Danny McBride & Jeff Fradley, none of whom have done anything even slightly adjacent to horror before now, but they've collectively evidenced a distinct affection for '80s pop cinema that makes it wholly unsurprising that they're super into slasher movies. And the story they've whipped up does, indeed, feel like a logical progression from the state of things in 1978, albeit one that fudges the timeline, misses the point on one or two important things, allows itself to lazily re-tread certain plot points almost at random, and is in general much too cheerful and un-horrifying in its in-jokes, of which there are a great many.

Anyway, 40 years later, Michael Myers (played by a returning Nick Castle or James Jude Courtney, depending on how much physical activity is demanded in any one scene) has remained implacably silent for all these decades at Smith's Grove psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane, somewhere in Illinois. Many miles away, in Michael's hometown of Haddonfield, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has set herself up in a survivalist compound, where she and her PTSD live in glowering, angry fear of the inevitable day that Michael will return. Why in God's good name Laurie didn't move across the country, as in Halloween H20 is anybody's guess; because there couldn't otherwise be a sequel that's also largely a remake, would be my guess. I'm sure Green, McBride, & Fradley would have it be that Laurie's intense, overpowering desire to be there when Michael returns to wreak havoc, so that she can kill him herself, overpowers her good sense, but this seems to be one of the many places that the film's desire to seriously treat on the subject of survivor's trauma is in more or less direct conflict with its desire to be an old-fashioned genre picture.

In the last 40 years, Laurie has had a daughter, Karen (Judy Greer) and that daughter has had a daughter, Ally (Andi Matichak), and Ally is now just a high school senior, just like Laurie was all those years ago. And this is of course possible, though it seems rather highly implausible; but without it, we wouldn't get the pleasure of watching Ally doing things very like the things Laurie did in '78. At any rate, Karen has no kind of relationship with Laurie at all, and Ally is hoping to mend that, and this will of course happen against the backdrop of the three women being forced into conflict with Michael, who for the second time is being transported on Halloween night from one high-security facility to another, and so for the second time escapes by crashing the bus and stealing a car. Things progress more or less as they will, except that Halloween '18 has a body count more than three times the size of Halloween '78, so there are a lot more random dog-ends of plot. These are all egregious, though the most egregious (in part because the film blatantly promises that it will amount to more) is the matter of true-crime podcasters Aaron (Jefferson Hall) and Dana (Rhian Rees), who occupy a much-too-substantial amount of screentime in the first act for a pair of people whose entire function in the plot is to establish that Laurie is short-tempered, and to come up with a splendidly contrived reason for Michael to get his iconic white mask back.

As a storytelling object, this is all pretty excessively unsatisfying: it's bloated, misshapen, and rather coldly clinical and inept in the way it tries to be a story about overcoming past trauma, though Curtis (who is, by many many miles, the best member of the cast) does a whole lot to make it seem like all of that character drama is working at any given moment. The film's primal sin is that it wants be more sprawling and big than the first Halloween, and so it is defined by a kind of totalising more-ness: more characters, more backstory, more sets, more death. But it tried to fit all this into a narrative that very deliberately reworks the beats and basic shape of the original movie's very sleek, trim plotline, which calls maximum attention to how needlessly busy it is.

Still and all, if we were to judge slasher movies first and foremost as storytelling objects, we'd hardly get anywhere. And I am happy to say that the new Halloween is at least pleasurable at the blunt-force trauma level that slasher movies have worked at for the last four decades. Green, who also directs the film, has long since made it clear that his major strength as a director is evoking the mood of a place through stillness, negative space in the composition, and adroit use of color temperature, and those skills all prove to be extremely effective tools in putting together a horror movie, which ends up as very little surprise indeed. He and cinematographer Michael Simmonds are great at achieving something that has long eluded the Halloweens: they make their movie look like it takes place in Illinois in mid-autumn, with the velvet blue-black of the night and the washed-out blue-yellow of the day. It is the first Halloween that evokes something of the dampness and chill of actual Halloween in the actual Midwest, and for this I am supremely grateful - the film feels creepy, even when the cumbersome machinations of its plot and the flat acting from most of the cast prevent it from actually achieving something of a real creepy atmosphere.

The other thing is that the film does right by its death scenes. Not everybody who should die does; among those who do die, some deserve substantially messier deaths than they receive. But at the purely savage level of watching gore effects achieved with skill and no cutting away, this Halloween does right by its ancestors. A sudden knife-through-the-throat in a picture window; a skull being exploded beneath a workboot; a wrought-iron finial through a jaw, in a particularly florid image that reminds of the slasher's roots in the more operatic gialli; these are all vigorously, grossly achieved, and insofar as that's what drives somebody into a movie called Halloween, that person would for those moments not be disappointed.

It's close to being the only thing that isn't disappointing. It's a puffy, wandering movie, replacing the fairy-tale sleekness of the original with flat, declarative moments centering on generally uninteresting people (Curtis's Laurie is first among equals, but the film divides its focus all over the place). The best parts are all the comic asides and winking "do you remember this" in-jokes, which are very shitty things to be the best part of a horror movie. And I frankly don't see how turning Laurie into Sarah Conner from Terminator 2: Judgment Day advances her character, or tells us anything about the nature of surviving a great trauma. Still, the bar for a slasher film isn't generally high, and this franchise has notched some particularly galling lows. I was hoping for the second-best Halloween, and I didn't get it (Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers is easily better, and arguments for a couple of the others could be made without much effort), but hey, at least it's comfortably in the top half of the franchise, so far be it from me to complain too loudly.

Reviews in this series
Halloween (Carpenter, 1978)
Halloween II (Rosenthal, 1981)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Wallace, 1982)
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Little, 1988)
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (Othenin-Girard, 1989)
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (Chapelle, 1995)
Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (Miner, 1998)
Halloween: Resurrection (Rosenthal, 2002)
Halloween (Zombie, 2007)
Halloween II (Zombie, 2009)
Halloween (Green, 2018)