Grade: D+

Miramax went to extraordinary lengths to deter reviewers from seeing this resuscitation of the old John Carpenter franchise before opening day, which is curious since, compared with some stuff they’ve prescreened (like the abysmal “Waking Up in Reno,” which the studio then abruptly withdrew from release), it’s not as bad as one might expect. By the miserable standards to which the slasher genre has sunk, “Halloween Resurrection” is actually pretty good. Of course, by more objective measurements it’s still quite bad.

This eighth installment in the venerable series comes only a few months after New Line brought the hockey-masked Voorhees kid back in the abysmal “Jason X.” That picture traced its lineage back to an ancestor–the original “Friday the 13th” (1980)–that was putrid to begin with, but the 1978 “Halloween” was in fact a brilliant little thriller, directed with skill and savvy by Carpenter and managing to generate real chills through suggestion and understatement rather than gore. The 1981 sequel was unfortunately a bloody bore, and succeeding chapters have simply recycled the bogeyman-with-a-knife formula with ever-diminishing results (the sole exception was “Halloween III,” the oddball 1983 attempt to fashion a completely different plot, which was dreadful in a completely different way). It was a sign of Jamie Lee Curtis’ desperation that she agreed to star in the seventh “Halloween” (“H20: Twenty Years Later”) in 1998. The result, however, was surprisingly tedious. Curtis now reappears in the prologue to “Resurrection,” in which the whole saga is briskly summed up, but the plot quickly leaves her behind and moves back to Haddonfield to gather together the requisite assortment of fresh meat for the cleaver.

What follows might better be called “Halloween: The Big Brother Edition,” or, if you prefer, “The Michael Myers Project.” The script by Larry Brand and Sean Hood is based on the premise that a bunch of dumb youngsters–all students from the local college, it would seem–agree to stay in the old Myers homestead overnight, with their experience shown on a live webcast (each of them wears a personal camera to record things, with the results broadcast over the internet, sometimes in a quartet of images that recalls Mike Figgis’ misbegotten “Timecode”). Needless to say, Michael rises from the undead to threaten them, and corpses predictably pile up. Since the characters in jeopardy are all the merest sketches, the only question is how and when their deaths will occur, and whether the departures are pulled off with enough flair to cause some shudders and uneasy laughter. In the present case director Rick Rosenthal, showing more skill than he did back in 1981, stages the mayhem with some modest style (and much more discretion than is common nowadays, though far less than Carpenter exhibited in the good old days). Cinematographer David Geddes makes fairly good use of darkness and shadow on an obviously modest budget, Robert A. Ferretti has edited things with admirable dispatch (the picture runs under 90 minutes), and Carpenter’s minimalist music (expanded by Danny Lux) retains its effectiveness. The narrative also occasionally shifts to an audience of teens watching the action over the net, which is not only an amusing commentary on the audience watching the movie itself, but a rather clever device for getting a bit of outside help to the kids in the house from the outside. The script also tries to comment on the cheesiness of “reality” TV by having the producers of the “event” phony up the proceedings, but that particular ploy comes off weakly.

The cast doesn’t really matter in a movie like this; the script requires not so much young actors as slabs of meat to be sliced and diced at will. Everybody here is properly disposable in the sense that one doesn’t regret seeing any of them disappear suddenly; none is around long enough, or given sufficiently interesting traits or chatter, to care about in the least. (Still, according to the production notes, it took no fewer than four people to do the casting.) One element unfortunately missing is the presence of somebody like the late, lamented Donald Pleasence, who could resonantly rattle off ludicrous dialogue about Eee-vil with delightful panache; all that’s offered here as a substitute is Busta Rhymes, playing the money-hungry producer of the webcast, and he’s nowhere near as much fun. (He does, however, fulfill the one unspoken rule that seems to apply to all the cool black dudes in such frightfests. If you don’t know what it is, just wait until the end.) You have to feel a pang of sympathy for Curtis, revisiting the part she introduced nearly a quarter century ago: her frazzled, disoriented attitude seems all too genuine. At least whatever commitment she might have had to the role would now seem decisively concluded. Of course, Michael has been restored to life so many times in the past (and the epilogue here suggests yet another sequel), that perhaps other characters can be revived, too. The Dimension division of Miramax clearly didn’t lay out a lot of cash for the movie, which looks threadbare across the board. (Under the circumstances, it’s amazing that no fewer than one producer, a co-producer, an executive producer and four co-executive producers–the latter including the two Weinstein brothers–have stepped up to the plate to claim a share of the credit.) You have to give the makers a pat on the back for achieving as much as they have on so very little.

But it’s still not enough. “Halloween Resurrection” is nothing more than a recycling of the formula that worked so well for the first picture way back in 1978, with a few technological touches to give it a contemporary feel; and inevitably it’s tired and predictable, without any of the surprise or freshness of the original. But it’s better than recent examples of the genre (miles ahead of “Jason X,” for instance), and an improvement on the various installments in this series that have appeared since Carpenter’s flick. That’s hardly a ringing endorsement, but it’s more than the contemptuous dismissal Miramax, in its unseemly obsession to keep the picture under wraps, apparently anticipated.