Released: 15 October 2021
Director: David Gordon Green
Distributor: Universal Pictures
Budget: $20 million
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Anthony Michael Hall, and James Jude Courtney/Nick Castle
Minutes after Laurie Strode (Curtis), her daughter Karen (Greer), and granddaughter Allyson (Matichak) left masked killer Michael Myers/The Shape (Courtney/Castle) caged and burning in Laurie’s basement, Laurie is rushed to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, believing she finally killed her lifelong tormentor. However, when Michael frees himself and continues his relentless killing spree, Tommy Doyle (Hall), a former victim of Michael’s, rallies all of Haddonfield to rise up against the unstoppable monster.
In 2018, director David Gordon Green’s direct sequel to John Carpenter’s seminal horror classic was released to largely positive reviews and amassed a startling $255.6 million box office against a $10 to 15 million budget. Initially, Green and co-writer Danny McBride pitched the idea of filming two movies back-to-back and, after their “requel” proved to be a success, the two briefly revisited this concept for the follow-up. However, while Halloween Kills is the first of two sequels, this plan was abandoned to focus on one film at a time. In addition to the returning Jamie Lee Curtis and Nick Castle, the film sees the return of many characters from Carpenter’s original and filmmakers even initially approached Paul Rudd to reprise a new version of his role as Tommy Doyle but (wisely, in my opinion, given how convoluted Halloween’s timeline is now) cast Anthony Michael Hall since Rudd’s schedule wouldn’t allow him to sign on. After the COVID-19 pandemic saw the film’s release to be delayed by a year, Halloween Kills eventually received somewhat mixed and confused reviews that nonetheless praised the kills and atmosphere, and fell a bit short of matching its predecessor’s success with its $131.6 million box office.
Honestly, I wasn’t the biggest fan of Halloween (…the 2018 one, not the 2007 one…or the 1978 one…); if I had to sum it up in one word, it would be: redundant. The film really didn’t provide anything we haven’t seen before in any of the many Halloween sequels and reboots and I maintain that, for all its flaws, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (Miner, 1998), did a much better job of tying up Laurie’s lingering issues with Michael Myers. Halloween decided to scrub away everything after John Carpenter’s original, which is fine, but went so far out of its way to dump on the other films and the established lore that it was honestly distracting. It also injected a bunch of new lore and characters that just felt a bit shoe-horned in and spent a great deal of time focusing on the nature and motivation of Michael Myers without actually addressing it; I get not liking the old revelation that Michael and Laurie are siblings and wanting to erase it from continuity, but what’s the point of doing that and doing away with that established motivation if all you’re going to do is dance around what motivates him? I don’t particularly want to know, and think it’s much scarier for him to be this random force of nature, but the film kept pretending like it had more to say about this and it just didn’t.
Sadly, much of the same issues plague Halloween Kills (terrible title, by the way), which definitely suffers from scrambling to find ways to continue what should have been a definitive end for the infamous killer and then filling it runtime with busy work because the filmmakers are determined to make a third entry in their new trilogy. If you’ve seen the trailer, it’s pretty clear that Michael survives the fire at Laurie’s booby-trapped home; firefighters arrive on the scene to fight the blaze but end up getting absolutely decimated by Michael, who hid from the flames behind a convenient shutter in Laurie’s basement rather than thanks to any kind of supernatural powers. Sporting a burnt and wrecked mask and suit, as well as still carrying the damage he received in the previous film (including his missing fingers), Michael certainly cuts a fearsome, monstrous figure this time around and definitely isn’t messing around as he attacks his prey with an aggressive fury that is a far cry from his usual, more methodical strategies. Michael’s return sparks fear and outrage throughout Haddonfield, particularly in Tommy Doyle, Lonnie Elam (Robert Longstreet), Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards), and Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), all returning characters (and, in some cases, cast members) from John Carpenter’s original film who were left traumatised by Michael’s original killing spree. Tommy’s determination to pay reverence to Michael’s victims and Laurie’s survival turns to a desire to hunt Michael down and end his threat once and for all, and he becomes the rally force behind getting all of Haddonfield up in arms and on the lookout for Michael. Tommy’s transformation from a terrified little kid into this wannabe bad-ass is a little jarring, to say the least; the film’s marketing heavily pushed Laurie as being the one to bring Haddonfield together but it’s actually Tommy, who grabs a baseball bat and repeatedly offers advice and insight into Michael’s abilities, motivations, and methods, which just didn’t work for me as I had a hard time buying him as any kind of expert on the iconic killer just because he happened to be scared shitless by Michael as a little kid.
Marion and Lindsey may as well have not even been in the time for how little they do; they seem to primarily be there so that the filmmakers can make a big deal about bringing these actors and characters back, and to spout overly enthusiastic diatribe about how “Evil dies tonight!” and to appear as hopelessly outmatched as the rest of Haddonfield. Lonny plays a slightly larger role as it turns out that he’s the father of Cameron Elam (Dylan Arnold), who you may remember was Allyson’s scummy boyfriend in the last film. Cameron and Allyson come back together to join Tommy’s increasingly aggressive and mindless mob, united in their grief over Michael murdering their friends and family, much to the chagrin of Karen, who is perfectly happy for the authorities to handle the matter and under the belief that Michael will eventually make his way to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital to finish off her mother. Haddonfield, however, has been driven to the brink by the continued spectre and threat of Michael Myers and are whipped into an absolute frenzy by Tommy, who openly defies the local police department and determines that mob rules are the best and only way to put Michael down once and for all. The result is an unwieldy, paranoid gaggle of terrified, angry townsfolk grabbing whatever weapons they can and desperately hunting Michael down. Their exuberance leads to them targeting another escaped mental patient (Ross Bacon), whom they mistakenly (and stupidly) believe to be Michael (despite the fact that he wears completely different clothes, is obviously shorter and squatter, and runs around unmasked, which are all decidedly non-Michael Myers traits but, apparently, an “expert” like Tommy doesn’t consider these facts) and results in his death. The sudden narrative switch towards mob mentality makes Halloween Kills easily one of the most political in the entire series; the message of the film is the dangers of fear and anger on an increasingly large group of people as the mob tramples over each other and is literally frothing at the mouth to get their hands on Michael no matter what, which ultimately only results in further chaos and bloodshed.
You might be wondering where Laurie is during all of this, and why I’ve barely mentioned her. Well, despite receiving to billing, Jamie Lee Curtis is pretty much benched throughout this entire film as, just like in the God-awful Halloween II (Rosenthal, 1981), she is bed-ridden with serious injuries and confined to a hospital for the entire movie. At first, she’s overwhelmed at the knowledge that Michael is finally dead but she quickly insists on getting back into the fight, despite her injuries, when she learns of his survival, however her injuries are exacerbated by the unruly mob and she just heads back to bed and taps out of the rest of the film to ponder Michael’s mindset and the nature of his evil rather than actually doing anything. Surprisingly, Deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton) is revealed to have survived his clearly fatal wounds from the last film and, like Laurie, is equally determined to kill Michael once and for all since (as flashbacks show) he is the one who kept Michael from being outright executed back in 1978 but, despite him being extremely motivated to make up for this mistake, he also spends the entire movie recovering in a hospital bed and I question why the filmmakers even bothered to have him survive since he doesn’t factor into the plot at all beyond ruminating on Michael’s evil. Similarly, Karen really doesn’t have anything to do beyond beg Allyson not to join the mob and plead with hospital staff to prepare for Michael’s arrival, though both she and Allyson do finally factor into the final showdown with Michael but, by then, I had honestly checked out.
One aspect where Halloween Kills does really well is in the music, sound design, and presentation; there’s a dark, gritty brutality to the film that really ties into the escalating terror and paranoia of the local mob and the various remixes of the classic Halloween theme do a great job to help punctuate the tension and the kills. There’s a decent attempt to build some tension and a sense of dread here, especially as Michael is now a very publicly acknowledged figure rather than being just a local bogyman for people to deny or laugh off. There’s a definite sense that the people of Haddonfield have had enough of his shit and are determined to put him down once and for all, but they’re a disorganised and rowdy bunch who are much better at shouting and getting all worked up than they are at actually chasing the killer down or holding their own against him. I definitely enjoyed all the throwbacks and the returning characters and actors, and the film even opens with and includes a couple of flashbacks to Halloween night, 1978, to absolutely, emphatically, unequivocally erase Halloween II from continuity and replace it with what basically amounts to a far more-populated remake of that film.
Easily the best part of Halloween Kills are the kills; Michael is at his most brutal here, ramming broken light tubes into people’s throats, smashing in skulls with axes, gouging eyes out with his bare hands, stabbing people in the brain through the eye, and causing his attackers to look like complete idiots at every turn as he’s easily able to shrug off their attacks and even cause them to kill themselves in almost comical fashion. All sense of subtlety and quiet menace have been completely lost here as Michael brutalises his victims in gruesome and gratuitous fashion; sure, he stalks most of them and there are some creepy moments where you’re never sure where he is (or you do know where he is but character’s are hiding in fear and waiting for him to move on), but Michael generally attacks with a sudden and ruthless spite that sees many of his victims suffering terribly as they bleed out from spurting wounds and are forced to watch Michael bludgeon their loved ones and be placed in ghastly positions for others to find. As impressive and gory as the kills are, however, they definitely seem to have been ramped up to make up for the film’s middling plot; it’s not that Halloween Kills is poorly paced or necessarily too slow, but its plot definitely seemed to run out of steam pretty quickly, so I was left watching random characters doing weird stuff while the mob grew more and more unruly until Michael finally got around to murdering these oddballs just to add to the film’s kill count.
A great deal of Halloween Kills returns to the question of Michael’s nature, but these new movies seem to be struggling to fill the void left by eliminating his familial link to Laurie. Originally, Michael was just this murderous force of nature; compelled by some dark urge to be this remorseless, near superhuman killer who embarked on a seemingly random killing spree. It was disturbingly simple and chilling in its premise as you were never really sure if he was a man or something more, but sequels and remakes subsequently convoluted Michael’s backstory and motivations by adding the familial link to Laurie and all this shit about runes and a cult or whatever. Halloween altered that by finally doing away with the idea of Laurie and Michael being siblings and replaced it with this desperate desire to learn what motivates Michael and to try and figure out, or get him to say, what’s going through his dark mind. Halloween Kills mostly continues this; Michael has become this local legend and a figure of fear in Haddonfield, a force whose presence weighs heavily on the town and forces them to take up arms against him since he is, after all just a man. And, yet, he’s not; bullets don’t stop him and he exhibits a superhuman strength and durability to makes him more than a man, and Laurie speculates that the fear of Michael is what makes him such a terrifying figure. Halloween Kills does a pretty good job at infusing Michael with this kind of intangible, unhinged, completely random murderous intent while still dancing around the idea that there has to be more to him without actually saying what that is, but I can’t help but feel like it fails to properly stick the landing with any of its themes and messages and is fully aware of this, hence all the senseless gore and violence.
I had pretty low expectations going into Halloween Kills; I was still sour about the last movie, which nonsensically ignored all previous continuity again to tell a redundant story of Laurie having a showdown with the iconic killer many decades later, which he’d already seen done much better (in my opinion) in Halloween H20. Halloween Kills also feels incredibly redundant because it’s just full of bloody violence and busy work to allow the filmmakers to make a trilogy of new films. It doesn’t take long for the films’ disparate narratives to completely lose steam: we’ve got Tommy and his friend son a bit of a side quest that’s not very interesting, Laurie and Frank laid up in hospital as a mob grows around them, and Michael out and about offing random weirdos in increasingly gruesome fashion and none of these elements are really that engaging so I found myself just kind of tuning out about halfway through. The film is, essentially, another go-around at a Halloween II and, while it’s nowhere near as bad as that film is, it probably is just as redundant; Halloween really seems to struggle when it comes to sequels and I can’t help but think that the franchise would have been better off if we’d never seen a follow-up to the original until some time later (be it ten, twenty, or forty years) as every sequel, remake, or reboot has struggled to find ways to continue the story as you kinda have to add a little more to Michael and his lore to do that and every time that happens it dilutes the random terror of Michael Myers. Here, Michael is clearly the best part of the movie and even he acts very out of character for me; never has Michael been so brutal and vindictive in his kills and it definitely feels like this was done because the other storylines just weren’t interesting enough to carry the story. Benching Laurie and Frank, who have the most motivation to go after Michael, and shoe-horning in this political statement about mob mentality was a bit of a mistake for me; I like the idea of Haddonfield rising up against Michael but they really didn’t do anything with this concept beyond the obvious message that angry mobs only make a terrible situation worse. Overall, I can’t say that the film did much to defy my expectations and instead ended up being a mean-spirited, redundant entry in the franchise (and the new trilogy) that exists simply to set the stage for what I hope will be the final entry in the series for a good long while.
Could Be Better
Have you seen Halloween Kills? If so, what did you think to it and where would you rank it against the last film and the other entries in the franchise? Did you enjoy Michael’s newfound brutality and the grisly nature of the kills or did you find the violence a little too gratuitous? What did you think to the read of Tommy, Lonny, and other characters and actors form the original Halloween? Were you a fan of the mob-based aspects of the story and the ruminations on Michael’s nature? What did you think to Laurie taking a back seat in this entry and would you like to see the franchise come to an end in the next movie? Feel free to sign up and leave your thoughts down below and drop a reply on my social media to let me know what you thought about Halloween Kills.