Let’s Talk About: Halloween Kills

Part of the challenge of writing and posting critical assessments of contemporary films and assigning them arbitrary numerical ratings is that oftentimes you find yourself looking back on the critiques of yesteryear and asking yourself what the hell you were thinking when you praised/criticized a particular release. Tastes change, develop, and mature over time, and very often the movies that most resonated with you back in the day don’t have the same appeal or impact when you revisit them years later (and vice versa). For instance, when I recently looked back on some of my write-ups from just two years ago, I was surprised at how dismissive I was of Joker, slapping it with a paltry 4/10 and writing it off as pretentious. That same year I named The Irishman my number one pick in my annual Top Ten, which is wild because I’ve seen it exactly once, as opposed to the five times I’ve seen Jojo Rabbit. I also apparently thought so little of 2018’s Halloween soft reboot/sequel that I didn’t even bother with a Let’s Talk About, giving it a halfhearted 6/10 and comparing it unfavourably to John Carpenter’s 1978 original.

Incidentally, I concluded my 2019 Top Ten with the hopeful words, “Here’s to 2020!” which makes me mourn for the boy I once was.

Unlike Joker (which I feel may deserve a second chance), I’ve revisited David Gordon Green’s surprisingly artful entry to the Halloween franchise since it left theaters and am not too proud to admit I rather enjoyed it. It’s not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but it does a bang-up job of resurrecting both Laurie Strode and Michael Myers for modern audiences and wiping the slate clean for a series that had failed to justify its own existence since, oh, 1981. Some tonal inconsistencies, muddled themes, and odd comedic interludes aside, I give it props for its soundtrack and cinematography, not to mention making Michael Myers threatening again after being watered down by sequel after dumb sequel (you can’t blame this entirely on his mask, which got derpier and derpier with each outing… but come on, by Halloween IV it’s like everyone forgot how to make the mask look remotely convincing).

Seriously, in the span of two movies he went from Captain Kirk to Lt. Commander Data

Anyway, if the first Halloween is a masterpiece of horror, 2018’s direct sequel is a solid 7.5/10, making it the best Halloween sequel by default. Whether you love it or hate it, I think we can all agree it’s Citizen F***ing Kane compared to Halloween Kills, the twelfth entry in the series, fourth stab at a direct sequel, second installment in the fifth continuity, and second opportunity for me to tap out while I’m still young. All this movie manages to do with its hour-and-forty-five-minute runtime is prove definitively just how unnecessary, uninteresting, and ineffectual Halloween sequels are (because despite thirty years of Druidic cults, cursed runes, Donald Pleasence acting crazy, Busta Rhymes doing kung fu, lazy ret-cons, CGI masks, and Rob Zombie taking a dump on everything, the world apparently needing reminding of just how bad this franchise can be).

HADDONFIELD GROANS

Be forewarned… oh, who cares.

The story picks up eighteen seconds after the last film ended. Laurie Strode, her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and her granddaughter Allyson (…who is not a reincarnated Bianca Kajlich from Halloween: Resurrection) are on their way to the hospital in the back of a farm truck, because the movie needs to reestablish we’re in the Midwest, albeit an area of the Midwest where people apparently have never heard of guns. The local fire department has been dispatched to Laurie’s rural bunker, where Michael Myers remains trapped in the basement by both bars and blaze. After the firemen inadvertently release him from the raging inferno and get offed with their own tools… things immediately cease to be interesting, because the movie then takes the ‘angry mob’ subplot from Halloween IV and promotes it to actual plot, which is kind of like centering The Simpsons Movie on the rioting residents of Springfield and only checking in on the titular Simpsons occasionally and out of contractual obligation. 

For the next hour-and-a-half, we bounce from one redundant scene to the next, watching as crowds of nameless extras mindlessly chant “Forty years ago!” and “Evil dies tonight!” loud enough and long enough that all the exposition dumps are almost refreshing by comparison. Laurie Strode spends the entire movie confined in a hospital bed, leaving Michael Myers to teleport across Haddonfield, ruthlessly eliminating every minor and background character from the original film (who are all inexplicably still in the area and somehow best friends, united in their mutual fleeting encounters with an escaped mental patient four decades prior). He also takes the time to murder clichéd, entirely unlikeable new characters who feel like holdovers from the Rob Zombie version. Judy Greer is the lone standout here, which is frustrating because she’s given so little to do until the final act. She’s the unsung MVP,  the last bastion of sanity and reason in a community that has descended into madness and vigilantism with alarming ease, until (spoiler) she’s herself offed in the final seconds in one of the most insulting finales I’ve ever been subjected to. It’s like David Gordon Green realized his audience was falling asleep and decided to punish them for it by killing the only likeable, believable character with about as much respect and gravitas as when The Walking Dead killed Beth.

Speaking of The Walking Dead, tell me who’s pictured — walkers in Atlanta or residents of Haddonfield?

Honestly, there’s not a whole lot I can say about Halloween Kills with any specificity because until the community smackdown in the final ten minutes, I was barely paying attention (I even left at several points without pausing to go to the bathroom, refill my soda, and make sure the pumpkins I set out hadn’t set fire to the concrete steps). This movie is boring. It’s also messy, scattered, loud, repetitive, self-aggrandizing, and insulting, but mostly it’s a chore to sit through because it has nothing to say — until the end, when it deliberately says “F*** YOU” to anyone who managed to stay awake that long.

MICHAEL MYERS RETURNS — THE CORE PROBLEM

Don’t get me wrong, I love Michael Myers as a villain — once, same as Hannibal Lecter. The inherent problem with this franchise is that unlike other slashers, Halloween’s premise doesn’t lend itself well to longevity, or even a follow-up that’s capable of building upon the original in any meaningful way. The first film works because of its simplicity — Michael Myers is just a dude who murdered his sister when he was six, escaped a mental institution by happenstance, and proceeded to stalk the streets of Haddonfield for no other reason than that he’s a predator. He’s terrifying because he doesn’t have any discernible motive beyond stalking and killing at random — it could have been any babysitter to fall prey to him that fateful night, it’s just unfortunate for Laurie Strode and her friends that it happened to be her. The only supernatural thing to occur is his startling vanishing act after getting shot off a second-story balcony by Dr. Loomis, which is one of the greatest, scariest endings in all of cinema (nowadays, we just take it for granted that Jason Voorhees will survive being decapitated, but this was 1978). The horror worked on two fundamental levels — the first being that humans are the scariest monsters of all, and the second being that evil isn’t something you can shoot dead. So long as there are people in this world to embody it, there will always be evil to contend with.

Halloween is a self-contained story that works perfectly once, but as soon as you establish that Michael Myers is an unkillable, supernatural vessel being puppeteered by a cult of Satan-worshippers, he ceases to be scary because he’s no longer someone you yourself might fall victim to one moonless night. The cracks in this franchise started to show as early as 1981’s Halloween II, which I actually mostly like except for the ludicrous reveal that Michael was hunting Laurie because she’s his long-lost step/half/adopted sister, a twist that completely undercut what made him menacing in the first place. The 2018 film addressed this by erasing their siblinghood from the canon, but all the good it did in making cinema’s most iconic boogeyman frightening again is completely undone in Kills

Except for this shot, which I admit is pretty damn cool

WHAT’S UP WITH THE BOOGEYMAN?

Perhaps my biggest issue with Kills is that it treats Michael Myers as a legendary monster who’s been haunting Haddonfield for decades, when contextually he’s just some deranged guy who murdered three teenagers back in the late 70’s and has been locked up ever since. Apparently, everyone in town remembers vividly that night “forty years ago” and is prepared to gleefully take up arms (sorry, hockey sticks and baseball bats) to eradicate the “evil” from their midst. Shockingly, an entire movie consisting of hundreds of people running around screaming and shouting like Dr. Loomis in Halloween V is actually quite disorienting, especially since their vehement hatred of Michael Myers isn’t actually justified. 

This was something that bugged me about the 2018 film as well — despite erasing all personal connections and history between Laurie and Michael, both the film and Laurie herself still act like the two are mortal enemies destined to go down in a blaze of glory together. Audiences may remember their shared cat-and-mouse escapades, but according to the logic of the film, Laurie no longer means anything to Michael because they’re not related. There’s nothing to suggest he’s gunning for her; in fact, she’s the one who’s so obsessed with him she alienated herself from her daughter and family. This could have made for a poignant commentary on the effects of brokenness and trauma, but sadly this wasn’t something the film was interested in exploring. 

Why hasn’t Laurie moved on already? Hell, Nancy Thompson did pretty well for herself after the first Nightmare on Elm Street, equipping a new generation of Dream Warriors to defend against Freddy Krueger, and Sidney Prescott proves her resilience in getting back up every time a new Ghostface surfaces… so what’s Laurie Strode’s deal? I’m not trying to invalidate her suffering or suggest I’d have responded any differently, it’s a question I legitimately wanted 2018’s Halloween to answer. Instead, it almost justified her paranoia, misanthropy, and cynicism by implying that Michael Myers’ return was inevitable and that her obsessive preparedness at the cost of her family was necessary for their survival. Except, Michael never ended up coming for Laurie at all… he roamed the streets of Haddonfield like a great white shark sniffing for blood, anyone’s blood, and their showdown in the finale was (awkwardly) facilitated by external forces. Somehow, the film failed to clue in that its heroine was sort of delusional, which strikes me as a missed opportunity. Imagine confronting your high school bully at your twenty-year anniversary and never realizing that they don’t remember who you are. 

CONCLUSION

I love and cherish the first Halloween, but as Halloween Kills proves, its story falls apart pretty damn quickly when continued. In a perfect cinematic world, one where Freddy Krueger never channeled MTV and Scream 3’s script hadn’t been butchered by the Weinsteins, Michael Myers would still be out there, somewhere, waiting to resurface.

This was honestly going to be a Nondescript Five, but I don’t appreciate endings that actively set out to upset me. Judy Greer should count herself fortunate she isn’t obligated to appear in next year’s Halloween Ends, a stakes-bereft ‘final chapter’ I have zero intention of viewing.

2/10

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