Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the series that gave her the unchallenged title of Scream Queen and launched her career. After years of establishing her versatility in various projects, Curtis once again honors her fan base with another deeply felt, complex take on Laurie Strode. In this distinctly different take on the series, Strode is a recluse, believed by her daughter to be agoraphobic, and living in a fortress complete with artillery and a panic room. The reason for her madness: Mass murderer Michael Myers is imprisoned, but the danger of him getting out and finding her is always present.

David Gordon Green’s film is odd and unsteady most of the way but is redeemed by the maximum suspense generated by the third act. There are brilliant touches throughout, particularly the inverting of iconic character placement poses from the 1978 original. There’s also a skillful, one-shot take that not only builds tension in reestablishing Myers in his element, but comments on how Halloween is a night when someone wearing a white mask and carrying a kitchen knife can go unnoticed.

The decision to make this the “official” part two and disregard every other sequel is not only unwise but doesn’t hold up. It’s a stretch to believe that Strode became a borderline nutcase and dedicated survivalist from an incident that occurred when she was in high school. I find it hard to believe that, forty years later, Strode becomes a crazy cat lady-type after surviving a masked killer, who she defeated. If anything, I’d suspect she’d become a motivational speaker or own her own dojo.

The unhinged version of Curtis’ Strode here suggests the events of the sequels also took place; she seems to have survived not only The Night He Came Home, but the subsequent hospital attack, her battle 20 years later in a boarding school, and nearly being murdered by Myers while institutionalized. There’s also an unexpected but welcome nod to Halloween III: Season of the Witch, another touch that suggests hitting the reboot button was an unwise decision.

Not only does erasing the prior installments undermine what’s good about them, it doesn’t distract from how this is still just a remake of the story beats from the original. It’s better in parts than as a whole, and the best moments impress and leave a lasting impression.

Curtis is excellent, although, as in Halloween II, she adorns an unconvincing wig. While there is depth and nuance to her portrayal, Curtis actually had better character development to work with in Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, which is still the best Halloween sequel. Playing Strode’s estranged daughter, Judy Greer has a great scene near the film’s end and newcomer Andi Matichak is solid as Strode’s headstrong granddaughter.

Gordon’s film is very contemporary in its filmmaking and attitude, as it reflects modern-day paranoia, pessimism, and unease with authority figures. It’s also one of the few Halloween movies clearly made by a filmmaker with a commanding sense of style. The overall result is equally as fascinating as a redo and a commentary on Carpenter’s original as well as Rob Zombie’s very personal, under-appreciated 2007 remake.

Some of Green’s film feels off, starting with the title sequence, which refashions the pumpkin motif in a goofy manner. Strode sometimes vanishes for long patches of time and, following a striking pre-title sequence, it’s hit-and-miss for most of the running time. Once it becomes about Strode’s final confrontation with Myers (and, movingly, her belated attempt to reconcile with her fed-up daughter), the film truly shines. While the ending suggests yet another sequel, this is just fine as a stand-alone work.

Finally, what’s with that title? Why not Halloween 2018: Forty Years Later or Halloween: Myers v. Strode – Dawn of Justice? Giving it the exact same title as the original is confusing. Despite the shared moniker and plot similarities, John Carpenter’s original is still the best and towers above this and, really, most other films that have come before and since. Yet, it’s great to see Curtis back, and the affection and skill Green gives this. If you love being scared and have a strong stomach, then Happy Halloween, everyone!

Three Stars

originally published in Maui Time Weekly