Halloween Kills

HALLOWEEN KILLS is the controversial new film from director David Gordon Green (YOUR HIGHNESS). It is a sequel to his 2018 film HALLOWEEN, which was a sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 film HALLOWEEN, but not any of the other nine HALLOWEEN movies. It’s in the unusual (unprecedented?) situation of being a middle chapter in an already planned and greenlit trilogy – I see it as part 2 of Green’s HALLOWEEN II trilogy.

When I went to the first show on Friday I had already seen enough comments online to sense that many or most people disliked, strongly disliked, or flat out despised HALLOWEEN KILLS, in many cases sounding like they were prepared to live for decades as recluses building traps and practicing firearms on mannequins to prepare for when it comes for them again. I clearly don’t have my finger on the pulse of what other horror fans are looking for these days, because I’m positive had I seen it before hearing anything about it I would’ve figured it would go over well. As a guy who enjoys all but one of the HALLOWEEN movies on some level and will keep watching them over and over forever, I feel like it’s plain as day that KILLS has more on its mind than most of them, looks way better than most of them, and finds an approach that’s very different from what we expect or are used to, feeling fresh and new despite being more reverent of the first film than any previous sequel. It’s the kind of thing where if I didn’t like it so much I would have to at least respect it. But many people obviously don’t see it that way.

I think there’s a comparison to be made to another 21st century legacy sequel trilogy to a beloved late ‘70s classic. HALLOWEEN (2018) was a little like THE FORCE AWAKENS in that it won people over by crafting a more nostalgic stylistic approximation of the original than previous followups, plus bringing back the original star and have her serve as the veteran among a new cast. Now HALLOWEEN KILLS follows THE LAST JEDI in the sense that it says okay, we’re back in that world you love, now let’s try something different from what you may expect. And also in that it deconstructs some of the usual movie ideas of heroism.

Of course, THE LAST JEDI is hopeful and compassionate. HALLOWEEN KILLS has a much more bleak attitude. It’s more of an EMPIRE STRIKES BACK – it brings us to a low point that we can hopefully rise up from in the next one. We’ll see.

(This will be a HEAVY SPOILER review)

Green and his co-writers Scott Teems (Rectify) and Danny McBride (THE FOOT FIST WAY) have made a direct sequel to both the ’77 and ’18 films, but taking a more epic approach than we’ve seen in a slasher sequel before. I came out of the theater thinking of it as ONCE UPON A TIME IN HADDONFIELD. Like the 1981 HALLOWEEN II and the opening dream sequence of the ’09 HALLOWEEN II (another widely-loathed installment that I rank highly) it continues into the Halloween night of the previous film, with a mysteriously surviving Michael Myers/The Shape (James Jude Courtney, THE HIT LIST) still loose while Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, ROAD GAMES) is stuck in the hospital. But rather than being about a few people stalked by Myers near and at the hospital while most of the town sleeps, most of the town is either at the hospital or out stalking Michael. Many, including Laurie, assume he’ll show up there to kill her, though (as Will Patton’s Officer Hawkins tries to explain), he doesn’t necessarily know who the fuck she is. In the ’18 film his doctor dropped him off at her house to see what would happen.

In its cold open, KILLS brings back some HALLOWEEN ’18 characters. Remember, Laurie Strode’s teenage granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) had a boyfriend named Cameron (Dylan Arnold, FAT KID RULES THE WORLD) who she ditched at the dance because she saw him with another girl. I really liked that the last movie left him randomly alive rather than going for the cheap “he deserves it for cheating” kill.

But maybe that makes him a loose end. We open with Cameron still in his Bonnie Parker costume, out in the dark, frantically trying to get ahold of Allyson to apologize to her. But he sees a body – Officer Hawkins, in fact – left on the train tracks, and climbs a fence to check on him. Oh shit, sorry ex-boyfriend, it was fun while it lasted, but you’re Alice in the opening of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART II. You’re Marion in the opening of HALLOWEEN H20. You’re Laurie in the opening of HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION. You’re fucked.

Or so you would think! Instead he discovers that Hawkins is still alive and successfully calls to get him help. And then we flash back to Halloween 1978, shortly after the events of Carpenter’s film. In the ’18 film Hawkins said that he was there in ’78 as a rookie. Now we see how it went down, and learn why the events were specifically traumatic to him (played by Thomas Mann [BLOOD FATHER] in these scenes). We learn that he, like his maybe-sometime-special-friend Laurie, blames himself for Myers still being alive and killing people, and believes it’s on him to end this. So not only is he still alive, but he’s all primed to be our co-lead and help Laurie save the day.

Maybe next time! He got stabbed in the fucking neck. In this movie you actually have to take time to heal from shit like that, so he’s out of the game.

I didn’t expect ’78 flashbacks, and they’re really well done – Green and d.p. Michael Simmonds (MAN PUSH CART, BIG FAN) switch to more controlled Carpenter style compositions and camera moves, and of course Carpenter himself is doing the score (along with his bandmates Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies). These scenes also feature Dr. Loomis in what I assumed was some ROGUE ONE c.g. type business but is reportedly a guy (Tom Jones Jr. [no relation], also construction coordinator) in very good makeup. And do you remember how Tommy Doyle, the kid Laurie was babysitting in ’78, was all worked up about “the boogeyman” because that little shit Lonnie Elam harassed him about it at school? The KILLS flashbacks even fill in an incident where we learn that Lonnie himself (now played by Tristian Eggerling) was bullied, and then had a terrifying encounter with the actual boogeyman.

Why would it get that into the weeds with such a minor ’78 character? Well, remember we knew in ’18 that Cameron was Lonnie’s kid. Seemed like an Easter egg at the time, but now we move to a nearby bar where grown up Lonnie (Robert Longstreet, less grouchy than in Midnight Mass but similarly lovable) is putting on a goofy Halloween talent show with friends. Not just any friends: Lonnie and other survivors of what I wish they would refer to as “the Babysitter Murders” are commemorating the 40th anniversary of that horrible night by being drunk and silly together. Anthony Michael Hall (WEIRD SCIENCE) plays Tommy, while Kyle Richards (EATEN ALIVE, THE CAR) actually returns as Lindsey Wallace, the kid Annie Brackett was supposed to be babysitting who ended up with Laurie and Tommy. Nancy Stephens also returns in her ’78 role as Loomis’s nurse Marion Chambers.

(notes: Lindsey was a minor character in HALLOWEEN 4, played by a different actress. Tommy was the lead character in HALLOWEEN 6, played by Paul Rudd. Stephens first returned as Marion in the opening of HALLOWEEN H20. But Lonnie had not been seen since the first movie, and this is the first time we’ve seen any of them together in the same sequel)

Across town, Michael escapes Laurie’s burning house, and, though the fire department are ready to defend themselves with axes, he slaughters them in spectacular fashion; it’s the second slasher movie of the year with a massacre that seems more like THE NIGHT COMES FOR US than FRIDAY THE 13TH. This puts the new murders on the TV and phones of everyone at the bar. People try to head home, but Vanessa and Marcus (Carmela McNeal and Michael Smallwood, who I didn’t realize were in ’18, I’ll have to rewatch it), think they see Michael breaking into their car. Sensing an opportunity to fulfill his life long revenge fantasies, Tommy takes a baseball bat from behind the bar and leads the other patrons to the parking lot. The bat is named “Old Huckleberry” and has hung on the wall of Mick’s Bar for three generations, so Tommy’s representing decades of Haddonfield history, as well as the sense that one is entitled to just take someone else (Brian Mays Sr., JOE, MANGLEHORN)’s meaningful relic without permission. He’s obviously justified in his lust for vengeance, but looks unsettlingly excited about it, approaching the car posing like The Punisher.

Do you remember, though, that in the ’18 film Michael escaped when a transfer bus crashed, and there were other patients wandering around in the night, confused? That didn’t need to be anything more than a callback to his escape from the hospital in the ’78 film, but now it’s become an important plot point. The guy they’re chasing is not Michael, it’s one of those other patients, credited as Tivoli (Ross Bacon), terrified and running for his life. I can’t off the top of my head think of another horror movie that acknowledges when we should feel sympathy for an “escaped mental patient.”

That’s another thing I think is interesting about KILLS: it pays unusual attention to following up on the consequences of everything that happened in the previous film. I’ve always liked that in the ’81 HALLOWEEN II (as well as FRIDAY THE 13TH III and IV) you see police responding to the murders from the previous film. Zombie, in his ’09 HALLOWEEN II, showed some extra gruesome crime scene and hospital aftermath, treating the repercussions of the violence more seriously than is standard in the genre, and I think Green pushes that idea to another level. I can’t think of another slasher sequel that takes such pains to show the ramifications of everything that happened before, and not just move on to the new stuff. The death of Laurie’s son-in-law Ray keeps coming up – his wife and daughter will remember him even in the midst of this, and become sad again. The remains of part I victims (like the guy whose head was turned into a jack o’ lantern) are still being discovered. Well into the movie, as the hospital is in chaos, a woman (Holli Saperstein, Vice Principals) comes in trying to find her son Oscar, who we know from ’18 is already dead. And it’s a while later when she makes the devastating discovery, spotting his gruesome corpse through a window, the workings of Haddonfield too damaged by The Shape for someone to be there to break the news to her.

I know some of my friends complained about perceived faults in technical aspects, such as the editing. I had no such issues, and certainly didn’t have any problems following what was going on. But I don’t agree with the notion that horror is the same as action, even if a few scenes here treat it as such. Most of my favorite fight scenes are about the beauty of movement, and that’s definitely not what I want from The Shape killing people. I would rather wince at what he’s about to do to somebody, and feel it in my gut when it happens. Sometimes that means a sustained shot (crushing someone’s skull with his hands) but often the images come in a quick stab. To me the violence here is very effective. I would honestly be more receptive to arguments that it’s too effective – too many undeserving people facing too much pain in too short an amount of time.

In my recent reviews of the FRIDAY THE 13TH series I complained about some chapters centering on a bunch of teens who are dicks to each other. I like that in this only the little kids are assholes (and loving it). There’s a trio of trick-or-treaters in HALLOWEEN III masks who are like a real world Lock, Shock and Barrel from THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS. The scene where Lindsey finds them at the park and they’re giggling about “there’s a creepy man in a white mask, and he keeps, like, trying to play hide-and-seek with us” is so funny and scary at the same time. “I mean, we’re not three years old.”

It’s not a surprise that Green is so good with kids – the mostly young ensemble cast of his first feature GEORGE WASHINGTON (2000) were nominated together for “Best Debut Performance” at the Independent Spirit Awards, and one of the funniest characters in the ’18 HALLOWEEN was Julian, who in this one Marcus knows as “that asshole kid across the street.” In fact, regardless of age, Green has always shown an eye for recognizing funny and unique people and letting them shine as oddball characters in his films. He convinced McBride, a film student friend from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts who later told the L.A. Times, “I never envisioned a career in acting. I never really thought about it,” to play the obnoxious character Bust-Ass in the 2003 film ALL THE REAL GIRLS. A lesser known example is the character actor Eddie Rouse, who started in Green’s short films before appearing in GEORGE WASHINGTON, ALL THE REAL GIRLS, UNDERTOW, PINEAPPLE EXPRESS and THE SITTER, as well as AMERICAN GANGSTER, PANDORUM, DRAGON EYES and PUNCTURE WOUNDS.

The strange way this talent of Green’s applies to slasher movies could be seen in ’18 and continues here: he quickly invests us in lives that are about to be ended. I mentioned in my review of FRIDAY THE 13TH PART III how much I like watching those hippies who own the store at the beginning (even though they’re bickering). Green excels at creating pre-terror slices of life in that tradition, never resorting to the kill-fodder approach (the banana-eating hitchhiker in FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER) or the guy you’re supposed to hate (the abusive husband or the shock jock in HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MYERS). Green makes the characters so funny and likable that their deaths hurt to watch more than I’m used to in this type of movie. I mean, that poor kid who told his dad he wanted to be a dancer! I didn’t want to see him go through that!

For me the most upsetting scene in KILLS comes early on, when we briefly meet a grumpy older couple, Sondra (Diva Tyler, THE LAST EXORCISM PART II) and Phil (Lenny Clarke, THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT MARY). Sondra is flying a drone around the house and Phil is complaining that he loaned his sleep apnea mask to someone and now it smells like cigarettes. As Sondra tells him, that’s actually the smell of Laurie Strode’s house burning.

Before you know it Michael is there and performs what in any Jason movie would be an A+ “kill,” but seeing it happen to these two is fucking grim. A gut punch like that may be at odds with wanting to have fun watching a horror movie, but I think it’s appropriate for HALLOWEEN. Which one of the ’77 deaths would you say was “fun”? When do you think Michael was not being “mean-spirited”? Green reminds us not to be glib about death, even as it entertains us in movies. Zombie took a similar approach with his Shape’s animalistic violence, but I think Green’s comes across less rubbing-your-face-in-the-shit just because there’s more joy in the movie before the violence, and fewer people screaming at each other about skull-fucking or whatever. Maybe it’s still not a feeling you want out of horror. It’s not what I came looking for. But I accept the challenge.

I must also tip my hat to Big John (Scott MacArthur, THE BABYSITTER: KILLER QUEEN) and Little John (Michael McDonald, not the singer but the writer/director of the 1995 BUCKET OF BLOOD remake starring Anthony Michael Hall), the couple who live in the old Myers house and get into a tiff with the kids in the Silver Shamrock masks. I’m glad there are some new characters who get to stay alive for a while.

Michael Myers stalking citizens of Haddonfield is an expected/required element of a non-Season-of-the-Witch HALLOWEEN, but this story is just as much about citizens of Haddonfield stalking Michael Myers. There was also a vigilante posse in HALLOWEEN 4, but here it’s done on a much larger scale and intended as more of an exploration of Carpenter’s “boogeyman” metaphor. Tommy, Laurie and others have picked up the tradition of Loomis’s grandiose speechmaking, referring to Myers as “the evil” and somehow interpreting that he has “transcended” beyond being human. (I agree with criticisms that some of this is heavy-handed and forced, but I don’t see it as a dealbreaker.)

The hospitals of the HALLOWEEN IIs were quiet and empty. This time most of the town goes there looking for loved ones, like in a disaster movie. I had some rough nights bringing my mom to the emergency room, so I recognize this overwhelming stress of waiting in the chaos with no one to help. Tommy, Lindsey and company show up and Tommy makes a rabble-rousing speech about ending the evil of Michael Myers. Returning ’18 character Sheriff Barker (Omar Dorsey, DRUMLINE) tries to calm everybody, but holy shit, that’s returning ’77 character former Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers, ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, in his first movie in 14 years), now working as a hospital security guard, getting emotional because Michael killed his daughter Annie all those years ago.

Tommy’s posse has grown into a mob, and then it becomes a riot. Though the movie was filmed and originally scheduled for release well before the January 6, 2021 Capitol attack, you can’t help but make comparisons. In the real life riot, extremists were ignorantly raging against an imaginary threat; in the reality of the movie, regular people are upset about an actual guy leaving bodies piled up across town. But it’s hard to discount the truth of the scenario when we’ve had small towns across America patrolled by husky bearded dudes armed with assault rifles and paranoid fantasies about “Antifa” bussing to their town to burn down businesses in the name of racial justice. That the boogeyman is not real never stopped anyone from acting a fool.

I think it would be fair to say that, timely or not, this theme that The Shape is our fears and these are the ways our fears get the better of us is not profound enough to earn so much underlining. That the boogeyman idea was perfect for the exact length of Carpenter’s film and becomes flimsy when extended two movies further. I kinda feel that way, but I admire the audacity of it. And I think the idea of the whole town being morally tainted by their reactions to The Shape extends into a deconstruction of cinematic heroism.

When Laurie finds out Michael is alive, she – against protests from her more sensible daughter Karen (Judy Greer, CURSED) – gets out of bed, shoots herself up with painkillers, and goes out there to—

—ah, fuck. She immediately unseals her stab wound and has to go back to her room. I told you – you have to heal in this movie! So Laurie and Hawkins, who blame themselves for not killing Michael, are stuck at the hospital from their injuries during the previous film. But Laurie riles up Tommy: “We fight. We always fight. Go! Find him, Tommy!” Everybody else who survived either the ’77 or ’18 rampage decide they have to go after Michael and kill him – convinced that if they’re angry enough, and brave enough, they can do the thing Laurie and Hawkins failed to do. They say all the cool stuff they’re supposed to about the badass stuff they’re gonna to do him. In most movies one or more of them would succeed. This is not most movies. It’s only after most of the significant characters have lost fights to the death with The Shape that Laurie decides, “He’ll always be here, won’t he? Even when we can’t see him. You can’t defeat it with brute force.” A little late.

Karen is the heart of the movie. After the events of the previous film she better understands her mom’s paranoid lifestyle, but she’s not on board with this vigilante revenge idea. (Maybe she’s seen A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET or HALLOWEEN 4.) She tries to convince her daughter and then her mom that it doesn’t make sense for them to go after him, that the police can handle it better, that “there’s a system.” But everybody else agrees with Laurie that “The system failed.”

Representing innocence in the movie, Karen is responsible for the most heroic act: physically standing between the violent mob and Tivoli, who they have mistaken for Michael Meyers. Choosing to trust rather than the opposite, to stand up to the mob rather than join it. I’m amazed that a HALLOWEEN sequel got my heart beating fast in a sequence where the heroine is trying to protect an escaped mental patient, not evade one.

But the horrible outcome of that incident crushes Karen’s world view. Later, when she (in a more normal horror movie version of heroism) steals Michael’s mask and lures him away from her daughter to the posse of vigilantes, Tommy recognizes and respects her original position that people should be staying with their loved ones and healing. He tells her to go back to the hospital and be with her mom. Instead she plunges a knife into Michael’s back. Revenge for killing her husband, or for traumatizing her mom, or for causing her to grow up the way she did. Both literally and figuratively, she sees what it’s like to look out from Michael’s dead sister’s bedroom window. Giving in to violent urges is what dooms you in this one, not having sex. Isn’t that worth doing one time?

I’ve noticed some of the people who hated HALLOWEEN KILLS saying that “nothing happened” or that it’s all “wheel spinning,” and I haven’t been able to make sense of that. It bothers me that so many people consider pushing along to the next big thing in the narrative to be the only point of storytelling, and don’t have as much respect for things like mood, anticipation and just spending time hanging out with interesting characters. But I don’t think that’s the disagreement here, because I don’t see any way to calculate that less, you know, stuff happens than in any other HALLOWEEN. Maybe it feels different to them because, as a planned middle chapter, it’s able to stray from the central characters more often, and to end without the expected moment where it seems like the good guys won. I wouldn’t want all slasher movies to do this, but I love that this one recognizes why it can, and takes advantage of the opportunity.

(If I’m gonna lavish praise on this ending though I gotta acknowledge that HALLOWEEN 5’s is way more audacious, giving us a what-the-fuck twist without any clue what it even meant, and that’s not enough to make it one of my favorites.)

I’m not arguing that HALLOWEEN KILLS is a perfect movie, but luckily perfection is not something I seek in most movies, much less slasher sequels. For me, anything that’s heavy-handed or forced about KILLS is far outweighed by what’s new about it, what’s ambitious about it, what’s unexpected about it. I love that, like Zombie’s second HALLOWEEN film, they seemed to have considered how you would make a HALLOWEEN sequel if none of the other HALLOWEEN sequels existed. I love that it’s so worshipful of John Carpenter but not at the expense of being pure David Gordon Green.

It’s possible that a more normal but well-crafted sequel to HALLOWEEN ’18 would’ve satisfied both me and the people who hated this one. But man, there are so many normal sequels in the world already, and there will be so many more. Let us have this one. You’ll get plenty more for you. And maybe someday some of you will start to appreciate this one.

The post Halloween Kills first appeared on VERN'S REVIEWS on the FILMS of CINEMA.