Am I the only one who is growing a little weary of reboots and alternative timelines?
Up to a point, I’ll accept a certain amount of adjustment during a franchise, but, for at me at least, the 2018 Halloween (recently release in various home video formats) may be pushing the idea too far. (For those of you unfamiliar with the complexities of the Halloween timeline, I recommend a quick look at Den of Geek’s explanation, which will bring you up to speed nicely.
To give you some context, though I write fantasy, it’s not the only genre I enjoy reading or watching. Horror has always been one of my favorites, and the original 1978 Halloween is a movie I’ve watched several times over the years. I’ve seen every other film in the franchise at least once, and usually more. All of the other movies (except for the unrelated-except-by-name Halloween III and the Rob Zombie remakes of the first two) use the 1978 movie as their beginning, and rightly so. It is a groundbreaking classic whose influence extends far beyond the franchise.
I should also mention that I like many elements in horror besides just the fear-provoking ones. We don’t always think of horror as an inspiring medium, but it can be. For me, one of the best parts about the original Halloween was Laurie Strode’s heroic defense of the kids she was babysitting. Wounded as she was, she could have run screaming down the street and gotten away from Michael Meyers (who was always walking) or at least attracted the attention of the police. Instead, after a failed attempt to get help from the neighbors, she ran back to the house where she was babysitting and did what she could to protect the kids. Frightened as she was, she was able to get them out of the house and away from Michael, putting herself at greater risk in the process.
Fast forward through the unfortunate Halloween 4 through Halloween 6 to Halloween H20, which discarded the plot line from those three movies and instead picked up twenty years after Halloween II. H20 was a worthy successor to the original. Laurie Strode has had a rough life, but she still manages to pull herself together enough to save her son and conquer her demons (literally and figuratively). That would have been a good place to stop. Instead, we got Halloween: Resurrection, which undid the ending of the previous movie to bring Michael Meyers back–and kill off Laurie Strode in the first few minutes. Though not a terrible movie if treated as an entirely separate entity, it was a far less satisfying continuation of the franchise. I wouldn’t have minded an H40 that ignored Resurrection and picked up twenty years after H20. There would have been a symmetry to that. The original film was Jamie Lee Curtis’s first. H20, if I recall correctly, was Josh Hartnett’s first movie. I could see a mother-son sequel in which their characters discover that Michael’s spirit has somehow returned to the world and have to conquer their demons one last time. Instead, we got Halloween and an entirely new timeline that ignores everything after the first movie.
The new Halloween is far from being all bad. Jamie Lee Curtis, for example, is still as great an actress as she ever was, and the movie avoids any of the really silly departures that characterized some of the earlier movies. In fact, the script is good. It’s easy to see why Curtis and John Carpenter both see this movie as a worthy successor to the original–in very many ways, it is.
So why am I complaining about it? Because of one nagging detail that I can’t get out of my mind. Try as I might, I can’t see how we get from Laurie Strode in the original to Laurie Strode in this film. One of the things H20 did well was enable us to see in a believable way how Laurie’s paranoia had persisted over the years. It was able to do this because it didn’t discard Halloween II, though it did massage the ending a little. In H II, Michael dies in fiery explosion. In H20, a point is made of the fact that his body was never recovered. A viewer could understand why Laurie had obsessed over the idea that Michael would still be out there.
Alas, the new Halloween has Michael captured right after his first murder spree (discarding his disappearance at the end of the first movie). Instead of being understandably spooked by the idea that Michael is still out there somewhere, as in H20, Laurie Strode is obsessing over a killer who has been in custody for forty years and has never once, in all that time, made even a single escape attempt.
Laurie Strode in H20 has her problems: paranoia over a killer who could be dead, suffocating overprotectiveness toward her son, alcoholism. However, she has good qualities as well. She seems to be an effective headmistress of a private high school, she cares about her students, and she really cares about her son–enough to try to get her paranoia under control. Contrast this with the Laurie Strode of the new Halloween. She’s a great military strategist and knows how to handle weapons, but otherwise, she’s a total basket case and even refers to herself in those terms. Her attempts to raise her daughter in a military-boot-camp atmosphere is enough to get child services to intervene, and Laurie loses custody permanently. Leaving the lost childhood aside, did the daughter benefit by being able to protect herself? No, Mommie Dearest had to come and rescue her. Even in terms of what she was trying to accomplish, this Laurie Strode is a failure.
One might question whether she’s even a good person, particularly when she talks about praying Michael will escape so she can kill him. Wouldn’t it be better if he never escaped? Then there’s the whole idea of evacuating her family to the “safety” of her fortresslike home–where she believes Michael will come. Honestly, except for plot necessity, does that make any sense at all?
One might argue that Laurie is redeemed by the fact that she’s right. The only problem is that there’s no reasonable basis for her fear. One of the things H 4 and the later members of that trilogy did well was try to create a supernatural explanation for Michael’s resilience. There are a few hints of the supernatural in the new Halloween, but no clear indication that Laurie has some special psychic ability or any other way to know Michael would eventually break free and leave a trail of bodies.
I think you see where I’m going. Laurie Strode in H20 has some reason, however unsubstantiated, for her fears. Laurie Strode in the new Halloween hasn’t the slightest shred of justification, and her fears are several times stronger than the fears of her H20 counterpart. She ends up looking like a psychotic who is rescued when dumb luck proves her right and puts her in a position to save the day–which she could have done without making her family miserable for years and then putting them at risk.
All of that said, I would have far less objection to the movie if it had been about someone else dealing with paranoia after being victimized by a serial killer. It’s not that I can’t imagine anyone behaving as she does, and Jamie Lee Curtis plays the role perfectly. It’s just that I can’t imagine Laurie Strode, as portrayed in the other movies, behaving this way. I wanted the Laurie Strode of H20, who rises above her problems, not the Laurie Strode of the new Halloween, who sinks beneath them. Sure, each one kills Michael–but the new Laurie Strode leaves a disturbing amount of collateral damage.
Halloween is still a good movie–it just isn’t a great one, and it could have been. Even knowing that, I’d still see it, and I’d recommend any genuine lover of the franchise should see it as well. (I imagine most of them already have.) I find myself praying that there won’t be a sequel, though. Maybe I’m wrong about that. Maybe a post-Halloween Laurie Strode could gain the control of her life she doesn’t have in this movie. That might be a more suitable end to the franchise.