Halloween ‘Kills’ More Than it Does Anything Else

The Halloween franchise has had just about as long and storied a history as a horror series can possibly have at this point, with all the highs and lows that naturally come with something that’s been more or less ongoing for over forty years now. From John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 classic all the way through Rob Zombie’s ill-conceived reimaginings in the early 2000s, this slasher staple had pretty much exhausted all conceivable avenues of storytelling within its original narrative framework and canon by the time the 21st century rolled around. And after Zombie’s less-than-stellar attempts to reinvent the series with his uber-violent, utterly mean-spirited interpretation of the story behind Halloween’s star psycho, Michael Myers, it seemed as if the masked maniac was finally put to rest for good back in 2009.

Luckily (or not, depending on your perspective), this is Hollywood we’re talking about, and no recognizable piece of pop-culture furniture every stays dead for too long. Lo and behold, in 2018, we were treated to another attempt to revive this Halloween-holiday mainstay after nearly a decade of dormancy. Directed and written by David Gordan Green, along with frequent collaborator Danny McBride, this re-entry into the world of Halloween was treated as a clean slate canon-wipe, ignoring everything that happefned after Carpenter’s original. The decision was genius, allowing the Pineapple Express creative duo to take the concept back to its more thematically pure roots, long before the series lore became muddled and bogged down by Celtic cults, long-lost relatives, and a kung-fu-fighting Busta Rhymes.

Yeah, that’s a thing that happened.

And despite the seemingly bizarre choice to give the reigns of a traditional horror franchise to a creative team more known for their stoner comedies than anything else, Halloween 2018 was easily the best outing for Myers since his debut decades ago. It was tense, scary, brutal as all hell, and most importantly, compelling. It had likable leads, a charming and funny supporting cast, and an extremely well-written return for iconic series final girl Laurie Strode, played by a triumphantly returning Jamie Lee Curtis. Michael Myers is more intimidating and menacing here than perhaps he’s ever been, and it felt more like a true horror film than any Halloween film had in a long, long time. The film was a smash success, and Green revealed that it was meant to be the start of a new trilogy, a trio of films telling the definitive conclusion to the Halloween mythos.

And after a year-long delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Halloween Kills is finally here. Does it live up to the high bar set by the previous film, and does it honor the legacy of this now-legendary fixture in the horror zeitgeist?

Well, I’d say that depends entirely on what you’re looking for in a Halloween film.

Do you enjoy Halloween as a purely visceral slasher experience? Do you like all the gore and brutality that some of the franchise’s bleaker entries have had to offer over the years? And do you just want to see Michael Myers tear through some innocent townsfolk? If you answered ‘Yes’ to any of these questions, then Halloween Kills is certainly the film for you.

In terms of sheer body count, I think Kills may have every other previous film beat, even combined. By my estimate, between 30 and 40 people have bit the dust in some gruesome manner or another by the time the credits roll to that classic Carpenter score, which would be an impressively high number in a war film, much less a fairly small-scale slasher. And these aren’t throwaway deaths, either. Michael is here to make a show of it this go around, and delivers on some of the most vicious, ruthless kills I’ve ever seen in a mainstream horror flick. If you thought the deaths in 2018’s Halloween were intense, wait until you see what this installment brings to the table. Honestly, the reboot continuity Michael Myers may even put the Rob Zombie version to shame at this point, which is saying something.

But a body count alone does not a great film make for many, myself included. No, you need a story to support it. The previous film performed this admirably, with a poignant exploration of trauma and grief building the framework in which the guts and gore could organically spring from. It was very much Laurie Strode’s film, about how that character has dealt with the horrors of Michael’s previous killing spree decades earlier. In between all the terror and mayhem, it was ultimately an extremely personal film, one that felt more First Blood than Rambo III, and was all the better for it. Michael Myers was dangerous not because of the physical damage he could do, but for the mental scars he leaves behind as well, which is a fascinating take on what is normally a purely material affair.

Halloween Kills at least begins with the impression that it’s going to be following in the previous film’s footsteps by telling its own emotionally resonant narrative. Whereas Halloween 2018 was a story about personal trauma, Halloween Kills presents itself as one more concerned with collective or generational trauma. Another fascinating theme, especially when you consider the real-world inspirations. A tragedy in a small town has a profound effect on its people. Yes, Laurie Strode was terrorized by Myers when she was a teenager, but she wasn’t the only victim. Three other kids were killed, and several others were constantly at fear for their lives. Michael’s impact would have been felt by the entire town of Haddonfield, and Kills sets itself up like it’s going to explore this in depth.

We meet the grown-up versions of Tommy Doyle and Lindsey Wallace, the two young children Laurie protected in the original film. An aged nurse Marion also makes an appearance, along with a retired Sheriff Brackett, whose daughter Annie was one of Myers’ victims all those years ago. These returning figures all share how much they’ve been haunted by their experiences, and how they harbor just as much resentment and rage towards the masked specter as Laurie Strode. Arguably, more so.

Unfortunately, this is where things fall apart. Whereas the previous film took these themes of trauma and anger and put them to work in the pursuit of a compelling narrative, Kills does nothing of the sort. We get the characters, we get their introductions, and then, basically nothing. No one has an arc, no one grows or learns from the experience, and no one ends the film changed in any other way other than being dead.

To back up a bit, the plot of the film, as far as there can be said to be one, is this: Taking place moments after the conclusion to the previous film, Michael Myers escapes from the burning building the Strode clan trapped him in, and proceeds to continue his reign of terror on Haddonfield. The survivors of the original film all learn of Michael’s return, and round of a posse of pissed-off, terrified townspeople to bring Myers down for good.

And that’s pretty much it.

This movie feels very much like the third act of a longer, better film, only stretched out and forced to stand alone as a complete story. When Green announced that his Halloween revival was to be a trilogy, rather than the two films that were originally planned, there were fears that the middle film would suffer from being simply filler, stalling and setting up pieces in service of a more interesting and bombastic finale. And I feel that those fears were largely founded. Halloween Kills is exciting, certainly, and I had an immense amount of fun watching it. But at an hour and forty-five minutes, one expects a film to have a bit more substance behind it on the story side of things.

There are moments when the ideas behind the film shine. A lot of Halloween Kills emotional framework centers on mob mentality and paranoia, as the people of Haddonfield grow more and more desperate to bring Myers to justice. There are some genuinely compelling ideas that are presented here, but are ultimately just flirted with too fleetingly to make any real impact.

For nearly an hour and a half, the only thing that happens in Halloween Kills is that the people of Haddonfield run around trying to find Michael, while he kills other random civilians at a leisurely pace while remaining one step ahead of them somehow. When they finally catch up to him in the climax, the film again presents itself as if it’s going to give the audience a cathartic, earned moment of triumph. But once again, it pulls the rug out from under the viewer with more of the same runaround, leaving the conclusion feeling hollow and frankly pointless.

Nothing of value happens in Halloween Kills as far as the overarching narrative of the trilogy is concerned, save for a character death or two. This feels very much like the writers knew how they wanted to end the franchise, but didn’t know how to successfully stretch the premise over three films. So, Kills is left feeling like the neglected middle child.

It’s not a bad movie. There’s certainly worse slasher films out there, and it comes nowhere close to being as convoluted or plodding as some of the later Halloween sequels. At the very least, it’s entertaining. But it’s just not satisfying in any real, significant way like its predecessor.

And I’m trying to avoid spoilers here, but there’s something that Halloween Kills does with Michael Myers at its conclusion that genuinely annoyed and baffled me, and makes me fear that the franchise is skirting dangerously close to the ridiculous plot contrivances that drove the series into the ground on more than one occasion. The phrase “curse of Michael Myers” is spoken in this film, and I hope to god that this isn’t the direction the series is heading in once again.

Ultimately, Halloween Kills is nothing more than a fun diversion, one that despite its visual strengths and its pulse-pounding action doesn’t have the balancing narrative weight of the previous film to ground it and make it feel like it really matters. Halloween Ends is really going to have to pull out all the stops if it wants this trilogy to feel like anything more than another run-of-the-mill Michael Myers outing when it’s all said and done. We’ll see if they can pull it off.

Have you seen Halloween Kills? Love it? Hate it? Feel pretty ‘meh’ about it? Let me know in the comments!

Happy Halloween!

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