If you're a slasher fan that likes Blu-rays, this January wants to decimate your wallet, with the back to back releases of both Halloween (2018) and Hell Fest, which both hit theaters last fall but met decidedly different fates, with David Gordon Green's revival of Michael Myers proving to be the series' most successful sequel by a mile and Hell Fest... well, it's not the ALL TIME lowest grossing slasher in wide release (that would be Popcorn), so there's something. Granted, there was never any scenario where Hell Fest would have made the same kind of money as Halloween (which had an established brand, an iconic actor returning to her most famous role, and a better release date to cash in on the season), but the marketing for Gregory Plotkin's original theme park-set slasher was bland at best, enticing only the hardcore to come check it out.
(SPOILERS FOR BOTH FILMS FOLLOW!)
Thankfully, those who DID see it - for the most part - agree that it was a fine return to the slashers of yore, without a complicated plot, meta-winks at the audience, or other "post-Scream" elements that have left the slasher genre in a kind of flux for the better part of the last twenty years. No, it was just a straightforward, simple tale of a guy in a mask stalking and killing a group of college kids, which is all most slasher fans ever really want from these things anyway. Indeed, part of what gave Halloween the success that eluded so many of the other sequels is that they made the (right) call to drop all of the series' messy, at times confusing mythology from their film, saying that the other films never happened and allowing Michael Myers to return to his motive-free ways for the first time since John Carpenter's original. This made it accessible to newcomers who didn't feel like keeping up with nieces and Druid cults, and by being, you know, GOOD, fans like me were able to accept the retcon with minimal fuss.
But the film needed to serve two masters; they didn't want to deal with the Myers family bloodline or thorn tattoos, but they also needed to find a reason to have Michael coming after Laurie again, because that's what's expected. Jamie Lee Curtis is not going to come back and sit on the sidelines - a rematch had to be in order. So some of the film had to be reverse engineered to a degree, with a few eyebrow raising plot elements (namely, Dr. Sartain) that seemingly existed only to help pave that way for the two of them to come face to face again. To their credit, they avoid ever giving Michael a human sort of reaction to seeing Laurie again - for all we know he's not even aware that it's the same woman he stalked forty years prior. It's only because Sartain literally drives him up to her house that he finds himself in the midst of a rematch - prior to that, their encounters are due to the fact that Laurie is determined to stop him once and for all, while he's content with just wandering around Haddonfield killing randoms.
And so it occasionally becomes difficult to remember that he isn't particularly interested in Laurie, and if one were to miss the first twenty minutes where these things are explained away, they might not even realize the two characters are no longer related as they face off in the film's climax. The makers set out to ignore everything that ever happened between the two films, and it's easy enough to forget the Druid stuff because they've already done that before in H20, but the sibling angle is always going to be in the back of an audience member's mind if they've seen the others, because it's always been such a driving issue. It was revealed in the second film, her daughter/his niece took over for parts 4-6, and then H20/Resurrection had Myers going to great lengths (even driving halfway across the country) to kill his sister. And she didn't remain ignorant of their connection, as Laurie refers to him as her brother multiple times in H20, which until this one was the series' most popular follow-up. So the ideal audience member for the 2018 film would be one that never saw any of the other sequels and remained blissfully ignorant of this particular plot point, so that the idea that the two were brother and sister never even crossed their mind until Allyson and her friends bring it up and instantly quash the idea in the new film.
I bring all of this up because I, like a lot of people my age, never even got to see the original Halloween without "knowing" this bit of information, and we were forever robbed of one of the film's best assets: the fact that there was no real reason for Michael Myers to be stalking Laurie Strode. In fact if you watch the movie he's no more interested in her than Annie or Tommy; he spends quite a bit of time watching the former before killing her, and takes a break from following Laurie and her pals around to go stalk Tommy for a bit as he makes his own way home from school. So when Halloween II says he's going after her specifically because she's his sister, it really removes the creep factor from a lot of the first movie, while also making it a bit confusing if you take it as canon. Why would Laurie's adoptive father send her to the Myers house, knowing her connection to it? Why is Michael following Tommy around, if he's only out to get his sister? And why wouldn't Loomis have at least known about the existence of another sibling if he was assigned to Michael's case almost instantly, when the sequel tells us the records weren't sealed for another two years? No, it was a bad/dumb idea that was poorly implemented to boot, and we've always just had to live with it.
And that's why I was so happy when the killer in Hell Fest was revealed to be... some guy. Actually he wasn't even *revealed* at all - he gets away after being subdued and goes home, where we learn that he has a daughter, but not his name or what he really looks like. The idea is that he is just a regular suburban father who is able to operate under anonymity, without a tragic backstory or "escaped from the institution" type explanation - and I love that! Likewise, I was thrilled to realize once and for all that he wasn't going after this group of teens for any particular reason - the Final Girls (yes, plural!) Natalie and Brooke just happened to catch his eye at the park and that was that. If a sequel wants to say he was planning to go after them specifically, it'd render most of his actions in this one rather odd to say the least. Plus, his lack of an identity/strong motive isn't anticlimactic or anything like that either - we know right off the bat that it's not one of the main characters in disguise, because they are all accounted for when the killer makes his first appearance, and the film hadn't introduced anyone else of note before he showed up at the titular Hell Fest. Sure, Plotkin and his writers could have pulled a Friday the 13th and introduced a new character a few minutes before outing themselves as the murderer, but knowing that he too was a fan of slasher films I rightfully assumed he wouldn't have had much patience for that sort of thing as a viewer and thus wouldn't do it to us as a filmmaker.
Now, I'm not saying Hell Fest is as good as Halloween (or even, uh, Halloween), but it was so refreshing to get to see a brand new slasher that borrowed that series' anonymous approach from the get-go, when so many others seem determined to complicate things right off the bat. As I said, I never got to see Halloween without "knowing" Laurie was Michael's sister, having seen Part 4 first, but should Blu-ray/VOD numbers be good enough to warrant a Hell Fest sequel or two, I can choose to skip them if I catch a whiff that their makers have decided to retcon things and make Natalie an ex-girlfriend of the killer, or even turn it into a whodunit and have a "new" character reveal himself to be the killer that we never actually saw. Not that a blank slate killer always works - the guy in 1981's Home Sweet Home, for example, really could have used a little more motivation for going so far out of his way to find/kill the people he does in that one - but Hell Fest's killer works with the minimal motivation that we are treated to. He picks an area where he can hide in plain sight, waits for someone to annoy him, and then takes them out - it doesn't need to ever be more complicated than that, even if they end up making a dozen of these things.
We also don't need to bring back Natalie or Brooke, because it seems like the killer cares more about not getting caught then he does finishing the job. Both actresses/characters are perfectly enjoyable for what they are, but just as I did for the numerous women who survived Jason Voorhees, I wouldn't be wondering where they were in any potential sequels. Contrast that with the next Halloween movie - if Laurie/Jamie Lee is MIA, it'd seem weird, and if the actress does decide to quit (again! If so... see you for Halloween (2038) Ms. Curtis?) you can guarantee they'd be making sure Andi Matichak and/or Judy Greer come back to give it some connection - and then they have to figure out a new excuse for them to cross paths with Michael. Granted, Green and his writers are far more creative than I am, and I'm sure they got something planned that toes that line, but it doesn't change the fact that they have to have their cake and eat it too - they want Michael to be indiscriminate, but they also need to keep his famous not-yet-victims around and in danger.
So I truly hope that any planned sequel to Hell Fest - and any other original slasher that might be in development - sees the opportunity that they have, which is to get right what Halloween has always been cursed by (ditto Scream, which seemingly had to stick to a mandate of "the new killer also hates Sidney") and let the killer stick to his random ways, free of famous survivors and increasingly convoluted storylines. Again, it's a longshot that we even get a Hell Fest II, but with strong enough home video sales I don't see why they wouldn't want to make, if nothing else, some DTV follow-ups that can continue on this more anonymous path. Wouldn't it be nice to see a long-running slasher series where they didn't have to erase entries or come up with inane explanations for how it's still going? "Keep it simple" is a rule that most know, but seem to forget when it comes time for a sequel - I'd love to see a series that stood by that idea for a while.