In exploiting the serial-killer genre, as horror historian Grady Hendrix has put it, shockmeisters took advantage of the fact that “the scariest motive is no motive at all.” You can’t appease a killer like Michael Myers: all he wants is to make you dead. And you, and you, and you.
Actually, there’s one special you, and she’s back with an armory in the new sequel directed by David Gordon Green. With the new Halloween, Jamie Lee Curtis at 59 claims her place alongside Alien’s Sigourney Weaver and Terminator’s Linda Hamilton as one of the unstoppable women action heroes to emerge from the post-Watergate, pre-Iran-Contra era.
It’s unclear how much of the AARP demographic the film’s producers are hoping will turn out for this one, but for all its famed teen-slashing (thinks in large part to the influential 1978 original Halloween), the horror genre has always embraced the annuated. With baby boomers working longer and playing harder than their parents, it’s only fitting that Curtis and co-star Nick Castle (who returns as Myers) should still be at the deadliest game of all, even if it means they’ll sleep through CBS Sunday Morning.
(Even Myers’s infamous mask has aged elegantly. With frequent close-ups highlighting its evenly weathered look, it’s like a Halloween costume from Restoration Hardware.)
You may or may not have followed the saga through its previous six sequels, not to mention its 2007 remake and a sequel to that remake. No matter: Green and his co-writers clear the canonical decks, so there’s nothing you need to know beyond what was established in the first film. Even that’s recapped, and even that doesn’t matter very much. The guy in the mask wants to kill everyone. You get it.
In fact, Green makes his film into a mockery of the notion that there would ever be anything else you’d need to follow in a slasher film. One plotline after another is introduced, only to be proved a red herring when Myers takes down its protagonists. It’s like the shocker of Psycho — killing Janet Leigh, Curtis’s mother, unexpectedly early in the film — repeated again and again. We learn just enough about several characters to care at least a little bit when they die. Just a little.
Carpenter, who created the original, returns to write the music for the new version. Long-established as an essential filmmaker, Carpenter has lately been working to encourage the rise of his stature as a composer. Stranger Things may evoke Steven Spielberg and Richard Donner in its young characters’ rambunctious relationships, but its score is pure Carpenter: ominous synths with oddly poignant acoustic accents.
That’s also the sound of The Fog (1980), a film where the villains have a much more readily comprehensible motive, despite arriving amidst an amorphous, iridescent haze. It’s all filled in via a journal discovered behind a brick that falls out of a rectory wall and smashes onto a drunken priest’s desk in the gothic seaside story about a small town menaced by spooky sailors.
Its nautical killers haven’t become quite as iconic as the masked Myers, despite helping to influence the deadly old salt in I Know What You Did Last Summer. Nonetheless, The Fog is an under-appreciated gem, and in select cities you can catch it in theaters this fall for the first time in years. Long out of print, Carpenter’s sophomore film has been restored in 4K (I saw a lower-res version, but the Fog still occupied plenty of pixels), so you can fully appreciate its sweeping vistas shot on the California seaside.
What might be even more enjoyable, though, is the way Carpenter captures the vibe of his strange little setting at the dawn of the Reagan era. If Wes Anderson had a thing for polyester, he might have created characters like Stevie Wayne, the smokey-voiced DJ broadcasting smooth jazz from the top of a lighthouse (needless to say, everyone in town listens religiously); and Nick Castle, the swinging 40-something whose young hitchhiking passenger (Curtis) inexplicably jumps into his quirky cottage bed with him after the windows of his truck mysteriously shatter.
Amidst a glut of genuinely soul-crushing CGI horror, Carpenter’s melancholy yet feisty entertainments — whether in original form or in faithful homage — are a refreshing tonic for seasonal scare-seekers. Nostalgia for slasher flicks? Yes, we live in dark times indeed.