Director David Gordon Green got his start with art house dramas but is perhaps best known for the baked humor of “Pineapple Express.” So it’s apt that, despite plenty of gore, his “Halloween,” the latest sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 ur-slasher, sometimes feels like a horror movie with a contact high. But if rambling digressions can inspire unexpected connections that lead to a good joke, they also work against the tension required for an effective thriller.
Forty years after the events of the first film, the 11th title in the franchise proceeds as if all the other sequels never happened (although the second one’s plot twist is alluded to as an urban legend). A pair of investigative journalists visit deranged killer Michael Myers in his maximum-security institution for the criminally insane. You’d think its inmates would be unsettled by the red-and-white checkerboard prison yard, but this self-conscious art direction feels forced, and it leads the film away from the creepy naturalism that was Carpenter’s strength.
Yet Myers isn’t the only prisoner, as we see when the journalists meet Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, reprising her breakout role) in the secluded woodland fortress that she has built for herself. Curtis effectively plays Laurie, who as a teenage babysitter survived Myers’s homicidal rampage. Now, she’s a grizzled survivor eaten alive by paranoia — which she has unsuccessfully tried to instill in her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), and granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak). But that paranoia may come in handy, thanks to a ludicrous plot point: Authorities have decided to transport Myers to a new facility — on Oct. 31, of all days.
What could possibly go wrong?
The wandering screenplay, written by Green with Jeff Fradley and Danny McBride (who co-starred in “Pineapple Express”), introduces throwaway characters that at times seem more intriguing than the main players. When a farmer and his young son are driving down a dark road, the boy can’t stop talking about his dream of becoming a dancer, aspirations that are shattered when they happen up on the scene of a bus accident that releases Michael Myers back into the world.
Another tense incident loses steam when a pair of police officers arrive and get caught up in a discussion of banh mi sandwiches. This kind of lame comic relief makes it difficult for the movie to build any kind of tension.
Laurie’s family tells her to forget the past and get on with her life. So it is ironic that the movie is such a nostalgia fest, with copious references to the first film, from the music (slightly updated by Carpenter himself) and title font to a scene where Allyson glances outside her classroom window to see Laurie — mirroring a shot from the 1978 film in which Laurie looks outside her classroom to see Myers.
Carpenter’s original film is a masterpiece of horror that has inspired countless inferior retreads. This is far from the worst, but its return to the past feels more like a “Halloween”-themed party. And as a horror comedy, it’s not scary enough — or funny enough.
R. At area theaters. Contains horror violence and bloody images, crude language, brief drug use and nudity. 109 minutes.