It’s Halloween 2018 in Haddonfield, Illinois, and the time-honoured festivities are in full swing. At the start of the second episode of the revived franchise there’s already a body impaled on railings, and a cop (Will Patton) gushing blood on the ground. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) – horror cinema’s original Final Girl, now Final Grandmother – is being rushed to hospital, and her house is in flames. But indestructible killer Michael Myers has decided to make a night of it, and is out there armed with a firefighter’s axe, axing firefighters.
Forty years after John Carpenter made the defining slasher movie, director David Gordon Green has made a creditable stab, as it were, at reanimating the title. Green is an occasional indie auteur (George Washington, Prince Avalanche) who leads a double life as a mainstream stalwart, and showed in his 2018 Halloween reboot that he’s more than competent at straight genre thrills. Writing again with Danny McBride, here joined by Scott Teems, Green offers a functional but enjoyably efficient follow-up. It kicks in only minutes after the events of the previous episode, and pretty much follows a straight line, apart from brief flashbacks to 1978, with even a passable Donald Pleasence lookalike on hand to lend authenticity.
There’s not a massive amount of innovation, but the significant new element is that the citizens of Haddonfield decide to hunt Myers down vigilante-style, at the urging of Laurie’s one-time babysitting charge Tommy Doyle, now a bullish barroom bro; he’s played by Anthony Michael Hall, a veteran of the 80s John Hughes cycle. The population storms Haddonfield hospital, chanting “Evil dies tonight!”, bloodlust in their eyes as they pursue the wrong man – which is where the film gestures at a parable about everyday Americans going rogue under the spell of collective hatred. No one actually dons a horned helmet, but we get the message.
But – in contrast with George Romero’s zombie films, where political allegory is the whole point – we’re really here for the slaughter, and the reliable repetition. Loose bits of plot from Green’s 2018 film are strewn all around like fragments of shattered pumpkin, and there are more characters to follow than Haddonfield’s entire original population. But familiarity with the terrain helps us settle in quickly, and while the film doesn’t re-craft old-school slasher politics for contemporary sensibilities quite like 2019’s Black Christmas remake, the focus is still determinedly female. Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie, now wearing Patti Smith’s current hair, is as indestructible as ever; new-generation unscareables Andi Matichak and Kyle Richards give their best; and the always superb Judy Greer manages to convey undaunted intensity even despite some very autumnal knitwear. James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle and Airon Armstrong all loom as Michael Myers – or The Shape, as he’s credited – whose featureless mask has now taken on a slightly rueful expression, as if he knows he’s likely to be on carving duty for a very long haul yet.
• Halloween Kills screened at the Venice film festival, and goes on release in Australia on 14 October, and the US and UK on 15 October.