Halloween Movie

‘Halloween’ in 4 Words: Long Live Laurie Strode

Culturally Relevant Themes Elevate Halloween Above Its Predecessors

October 17, 2018

By Jason R. Latham

It’s very unnerving, given the current cultural climate, to see Jamie Lee Curtis spend the first half of Halloween trying--and failing--to convince those around her that mass murderer Michael Myers is a threat.

Curtis is a damaged survivor who nearly fell victim to “The Shape” as a teenager, yet her warnings are dismissed and she’s written off by her own family as someone whose lifelong trauma can be cured if she’d just forget Myers and move on.

By coincidence or design, it’s a theme that elevates the 2018 Halloween above the nine films that followed John Carpenter’s 1978 classic. It also justifies the decision to ignore those movies and their “choose your own adventure” continuity.

Without diving into the full Halloween mythos, you need to understand that the series has taken more than a few narrative turns in the last 40 years: bringing Curtis’ Laurie Strode back, killing her off, picking up with her daughter, killing that character off, bringing Strode back and killing her off again, and passing the directorial duties to Rob Zombie for a reboot that received its own sequel. There’s also a sequel that has nothing to do with Strode or Michael Myers, in which genre legend Tom Atkins saves Halloween from the Irish. Spoiler alert: It’s awesome.

Given all of that, one can see why director David Gordon Green and screenwriting pal Danny McBride put those movies back in the drawer and set the focus solely on Strode and her lifelong nemesis. To further distance the new Halloween sequel from its predecessors, Green and company have removed the sibling bond between the pair--a revelation that came about in 1981’s Halloween II and began to weigh the series down over time.

“Once we started following that thread, the more we started finding a narrative that we really liked, because of its raw simplicity,” Green told fans during a panel at the Halloween: 40 Years of Terror convention in Pasadena.

That thread finds Strode -- 40 years removed from her first encounter with “The Shape”--as a Sarah Connor-esque survivalist, preparing for the killer’s return just as Linda Hamilton readied herself for Judgment Day.

Thank goodness for her “Gram-bo” act, because when Myers does escape during a transfer from Smith’s Grove sanitarium to what creepy new psychiatrist Dr. Sartain (Haluk Bilginer) describes as a maximum security hell, he’s coming home to Haddonfield, Illinois and carving a path straight to her, even if that means going through Strode’s long-suffering daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), and more empathetic but equally exhausted teenage granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak).

Myers’ breakout is, of course, inevitable, but the situation is not helped by a pair of investigative journalists (Rhian Rees and Jefferson Hall) who are determined to interview him for a true-crime podcast. Egged on by the aforementioned Sartain, the podcasters’ insistence on discovering the method behind the killer’s madness sets the stage for his escape, while neatly filling in the blanks for Halloween newcomers and those who have been away from the series since 1978.

Erasing the previous sequels returns Myers to how Carpenter originally perceived the character: purely and simply evil. There is no Druid cult driving Myers (see Halloween 6) and his hillbilly upbringing didn’t inspire him to kill (see Rob Zombie, who else?). He just, is.

Appearing with Green on the same Halloween: 40 Years of Terror panel, actor/stuntman James Jude Courtney was asked by a fan how he intellectualizes Myers. His answer: he didn’t. Courtney and original “Shape” actor Nick Castle, who briefly dons the mask again, take the approach that Myers is in empty vessel. He moves toward his target--through it, if need be--and moves on. The only hint of a thought process is the killer’s fixation on Strode and a penchant for staging the bodies of his prey, propping them up in “See what I did here!” fashion before they’re discovered by the next unsuspecting victim.

While those bits carry over from Carpenter’s original, Gordon’s Halloween eschews the first film’s long, slow build for a relentless pace, taking his foot off the gas only for Easter egg references to sequels past, as well as some terrific banter between babysitter Vicky (Virginia Gardner) and Julian (Jibrail Nantambu), the boy she is watching while Allyson and others attend a school dance.

The pace is helped along by Carpenter, who returned to score the film after a decades-long absence from the franchise. With the aid of son Cody and godson Daniel Davies, the director/composer delivers one of the franchise’s most powerful scores, enhancing the classic Halloween theme with modern synth and Davies’ electric guitar.

All of the bloodletting builds to a climax in which the three Strode women come face-to-face with Myers at Laurie’s heavily-fortified woodland compound, complete with metal-grated doors and a hidden basement offering the protection of a panic room.

Matichak and Greer are given moments to shine during the final confrontation, but the show belongs to Curtis. In early conversations between director and actor, Green says he explained Laurie Strode’s state of mind and commitment to keeping his family safe when Curtis interjected, “She’s ‘Do as I say!’ Laurie” – a reference to the 1978 film’s climax that’s since been immortalized in a Rosie the Riveter-inspired meme.

In her fifth go-round as Strode, Curtis delivers a character that is both psychologically scarred by her tormentor but also resolute in enacting her revenge. It is true that no one believes Strode’s warnings, but she will not be silent. This time, it is she that will not be stopped, and unlike “The Shape,” she has a plan.

Among the critics quotes compiled for the Halloween marketing campaign is the heavily used line “Long live Michael Myers.”

They need to change that to, purely and simply, “Long live Laurie Strode.”