Halloween Kills (2020- oops, 2021)

OCTOBER 21, 2021


One of the more annoying things about the press cycle for Halloween (2018) was seeing it referred to as a "remake" of the 1978 film, a baffling mistake even if you hadn't seen the film (did they think Jamie Lee Curtis was being de-aged 40 years to play a babysitter?). But ironically, Halloween Kills ends up being a spiritual redo of the 1981 Halloween II; not only does it pick up immediately after the 2018 film, covering the same night, but it also has Laurie (Curtis) confined to a hospital bed for the bulk of the runtime, recovering from the previous film's injuries. It's also a more successful "later that same night" continuation, as David Gordon Green is much better at aping David Gordon Green than Rick Rosenthal was at aping John Carpenter - you can watch these two back to back without any of the whiplash that accompanies 1978 to 1981.

It also revives H2's "angry Haddonfield residents" idea, confined to a single scene (one of my favorites in that film, incidentally) where townsfolk are shown rioting outside the Myers house with the cops trying (barely) to calm them down. However, here it's expanded into what is essentially the B plot of the film; if you recall in H40, Michael Myers wasn't the only one who escaped from the prison bus, and one of those patients (specifically, the guy with the umbrella from that film's opening scene) is still on the loose but also kind of terrified, because after a chance encounter with Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall*) outside a bar, half the town is now convinced he is Myers, chasing him around while chanting "EVIL DIES TONIGHT!" Eventually they get completely out of control, as mobs tend to do, and you get the idea Michael could just take the rest of the night off and the body count might still rise.

It's a solid concept, and helps ward off the film's inherent rehash quality caused by its "same night and Laurie is in bed" setup that we've seen before (for all its callbacks, H40 never felt like a redo of any other entry). However, the actor playing the innocent patient is a bizarre choice for someone to be mistaken for Michael Myers, as he's shaped more like Danny DeVito, and mistaken BY PEOPLE WHO HAVE SEEN MICHAEL (i.e. Tommy) to be the tall, lanky man of their nightmares. The whole "pegging the wrong guy" thing has been a big problem because of social media over the past few years, and it's a missed opportunity that they didn't utilize that sort of thing to tell this story instead of relying on a previous victim's eyewitness "it's him!" account that makes little sense given their history. By the time Laurie finally sees this poor sod and tells the rampaging mob that it's not him, it's too late - they're all riled up and ignore her. And yeah, that's the inevitable conclusion for this plotline, but it would have worked so much better if it wasn't built on such a shoddy foundation.

As for the actual Shape, he's having the time of his life! This may have the highest body count of any film in the series; I didn't stop and count, but the previous record holder is 20 (a tie between H5 and Zombie's first one**) and thanks to two massacre scenes, along with the standard standalone victims in between, it has to go beyond that. One of them is the one in all the trailers, with Myers taking on the firemen who were actually trying to rescue the big dummy, and from there he kills his way through the town on a path back to his home (so no, he doesn't go to the hospital this time, the other big switch from Halloween II). Some of his victims include minor characters from the last film, so a fresh rewatch might be in order if you don't think you'll recognize every bit actor from the now three year old movie (even if this came out on time I doubt anyone but the hardest hardcore fans would realize that a pair of characters here are ones we've met before). Not that it matters much as far as understanding the movie, but it's kind of an amusing irony; in this revival that removes Michael's personal mission against Laurie, he ends up inadvertently finishing the job with everyone else that ever came within spitting distance of him.

Oh yeah, Laurie. She's livelier here than the last time she went to Haddonfield Memorial (maybe if Jimmy actually brought her that Coke she woulda been a little more animated?), and given her injuries in the last film it makes more sense that she's out of commission for a while, so long story short I don't mind that she's not up and about - it'd be pretty silly (even for this franchise) to have her back prowling the streets looking for her not-brother so soon after taking that beating. And she ends up sharing a room with someone else who survives an attack (no spoilers), giving both characters some rather sweet character development time - plus one of the few deep-cut Halloween nerd references that actually worked for me. It was kind of surreal to have Curtis show up to intro the film, bursting with her usual candid energy (translation: lots of F bombs) only to watch her mostly lie in a bed for two hours, but whatever faults the movie may have, her somewhat limited screentime and confined performance was not one of them. And for all the people who missed the fact that Michael coming to her house in the last one was NOT his goal, this movie reaffirms it, with Laurie hearing it herself that he never intended to go after her again.

But yeah, those aforementioned faults? It's gonna be a polarizing film, for sure. The "EVIL DIES TONIGHT!" stuff paves the way for some truly terrible dialogue, as does the return of some of the original characters. Pretty much everyone who survived the first movie is back in some form or other, and while it's lovely to see Sheriff Brackett again (and yes, played by Charles Cyphers), his role comes off as fan service more than an organic addition to the story - by the time he's repeating "Everyone's entitled to one good scare," you might find yourself regretting ever wanting them to bring the character back in the first place. As for the others: Lonnie (the great Robert Longstreet from Midnight Mass and Hill House) is probably the best revival, as Cameron's dad/Tommy's former bully, now pals with him, Lindsey (Kyle Richards, who is actually pretty great), and Nurse Chambers (Nancy Stephens), forming a group of "survivors" who get together every Halloween to toast their escape from the boogeyman.

In theory it's not a bad idea, but the mix of returning actors and people taking over from others stunts the "reunion" aspect of it all (particularly for Hall, as he's now the third person to play Tommy Doyle in the main franchise), and like the not-Myers guy they chase around, it's kind of built on a giant leap of logic. I'm just trying to imagine the scenario in which Chambers (who, in this version of the timeline, never did anything else beyond drive Loomis to Smith's Grove and get her car stolen) found herself palling around with two kids to form this little group. It's a minor ripple of the same problem that kind of plagued the 2018 film: it erased the series' entire history, but also kind of relied on it to explain why anyone today acted the way they did. Yes, assuming she didn't die in H20, I'd expect the woman who took care of Loomis and comforted Laurie in H2 would find herself keeping in touch with these people she actually encountered, but none of that happened, now. Might as well invite the guy from the hardware store to join them. As with Brackett, it's a "nice to see them again" kind of thing, sure, but their reasons for being there are flimsy at best, and also retroactively mess up the previous film - if they're all still so haunted by Myers, and have kept in touch with Laurie, why is it they're only finding out about his escape/return now? News of his escape hit the news that morning. Seems to be a "sidequel" kind of approach would have been better to bring them back to the story, showing what they were up to during the day and how they processed the possibility of facing their monster again.

Their return also means a lot of clunky dialogue to remind the audience who they are, which poses an interesting scenario - seems to me that people watching will either know exactly who Lonnie Elam is without needing the reminder, or won't care anyway, as it ultimately means very little in a movie with something like 40 characters. There's Laurie and her family, a couple who join Lindsey and Chambers' posse, the firemen, the couple who owns the Myers house (the best of the lot, I should add), the cowboy Sheriff, Cameron, Brackett, another couple who lives near Laurie (guess what happens to them), and - oh yeah - a handful of other characters who appear in the lengthy flashback to 1978 showing how Michael got captured in the first place (a scene more or less meant for the 2018 one but never shot). So with all that going on, does it really matter than Lonnie was the bully kid who Loomis scared away from the Myers house? Nope, but we get a dialogue exchange reminding us!

More on the flashback stuff - you can skip this paragraph if you've avoided the trailers - it works pretty well; even the Loomis standin looks pretty great (they still can't quite nail the voice though). And it helps to establish once and for all that even Halloween II was wiped out in this timeline (ironically not helped by a shot of the film appearing when they feel the need to explain who Brackett is), so I really wish they had found the place for it in the last one as originally intended. The problem with it is that most of it appears early on, adding to the strange editing choice that keeps Laurie from appearing for like twenty minutes, as we get the flashback AND another scene that shows us where Cameron was and how he gets reintroduced to the story before finally catching up with our hero. I think if they found a way to sprinkle the flashback stuff throughout the film (it largely focuses on a character who is around in the present day, so a Lost-style series of quicker flashbacks could have worked) it would have all landed better.

To sum up the last few paragraphs: the movie has a pretty rough first half hour, as it's trying to marry the need to set up all of the new ideas (the Myers house, particularly Judith's bedroom window, ends up being a "thing" throughout the movie) plus the "immediate continuation" approach, and it's not particularly successful. You might feel frustrated just waiting for Laurie AND Michael to reappear and start doing their thing. The sheer amount of kills and scenery changes keeps it going once all that stuff is out of the way, but it's one of those things where it might be difficult to get a general audience - i.e. the people that turned the last film into the most successful entry of the franchise - to go along with these relatively ambitious ideas before they get to the stuff they came for.

Unless they came for suspense, as there isn't a lot of it. Kills? Sure, but very little of the build up the best entries offered *before* the finishing blow(s). Weirdly, all of the best moments for that sort of thing occur in the Myers house (take THAT, Halloween Resurrection!); the flashback, the current day owners, and a few of our heroes all take turns creeping around the place looking for its former resident, and those scenes have lots of the slowly building dread that I tend to prefer over yet another hacked up victim. But otherwise, he's just more like a force of nature, barely even pausing between kills at times. I don't particularly like the brother angle, but one thing it offered was a more restrained Shape when he was out and about Haddonfield; one of my favorite scenes in Halloween II is where he is just making his way through the town square, ignoring all of the people around him that didn't interest him. This version of the character would kill them all without any resistance, and maybe that sounds appealing to you, but to me it just gets almost tiresome. I'd rather get five great chase scenes that end in deaths than twenty kills without much of a setup.

Also (another paragraph to skip, though the spoilers are vague) the ending is pretty grim, not to mention rushed. Michael successfully takes on a mob in a way that seems absurd even for this series (it's like a Jackie Chan fight scene where everyone waits their turn to get kicked, or in this case killed) and then seemingly teleports to kill a major character elsewhere, all in the span of like 45 seconds or so. And then it cuts to credits, a cliffhanger of sorts because we all know Halloween Ends is coming next year. So it's a movie that starts wonky and ends abruptly - that's a lot to ask out of an audience who might be hesitant about going to the theater (or signing up for yet another streaming service). I'm sure when Ends is out it'll play better (kind of like how Saw V is fine when you're marathoning), but for now I suspect there will be a lot of frustrated viewers, and they also have to really bring their A game in that one to make up for the seeming loss of _____ in the proceedings, as they were a welcome addition and will be missed (then again, it IS a slasher series and thus I know the body count has to be higher than the number of survivors).

That said, there is still a lot to like here, and I ended up putting it somewhere in the middle of my ranking***. It actually started reminding me of the underrated Halloween 5 in many ways; it's taking some big swings, and while not all of them work, I have to respect the attempt, even moreso with this than H5. We're talking about what is essentially "Halloween 12" (yep, with Ends it'll surpass the Friday the 13th series in total entries for the first time), so they almost have to take risks just to keep it from feeling like a rerun. One thing they've definitely fixed from the 2018 one is the number of off-screen kills, something that was noticeably prevalent there but barely occurs here - almost every death is shown (and pretty graphic, there's a splattered head that even made ME wince). If you're the sort of fan who equates a body count with quality then you're gonna love the flick for sure. And Carpenter's score is another winner, once again reviving the themes and bringing new stuff to the table.

It also has some legitimately sad moments, something that a slasher often doesn't have time for. Remember Oscar the incel from the last one (and his gruesome spiked fence death)? His mom shows up at the hospital and sees his corpse, and it's a pretty devastating moment, as is the one where Allyson realizes that her father is dead. In fact all of the character work is pretty on point (clunky introductory dialogue aside), as even the most anonymous victims (like Laurie's neighbors) have some personality that you can't always expect out of a slasher sequel. I wish cowboy Sheriff had more to do (especially with Brackett around; what a contrast! No one will care to bring this guy back in forty years), but thankfully cases like his are the exception instead of the rule.

Long story short, it's got all the pieces there, they just don't always fit together as well as I hoped. I've rewatched the 2018 one a bunch, but I feel this one won't get grabbed off the shelf as often, at least until I can follow it up with Ends and see the whole story. Overall I like it, but at the same time it's just kind of jumbled, a "for die-hard fans only" kind of affair that asks more of its audience than the last one did, and I don't watch these movies to furrow my brow and wonder why they were doing something the way they were doing it. I think if I was 12 when I saw this I'd love it and grow up defending it, but now, with limited time for watching stuff at all let alone rewatching it, I can't help but feel slightly disappointed that this one doesn't have the same pull that the last one did.

What say you?

* With the film debuting on Peacock and thus will be easier to manipulate the footage, I expect - no, DEMAND - someone deepfake Paul Rudd into a few of Hall's scenes ASAP.
** Actually, Halloween III has 21! But that's not Myers, so it gets asteriskized!
*** 1, 3/4, 2018, 2, Kills, 5, RZH2 (d-cut) Curse/H20, RZH1, Resurrection

1 comment:

  1. I re-watched Halloween(2018) a few days ago and wasn't impressed. And I don't even care about continuity. Unnecessary, really.

    As a super-fan, are you happy that new films are being produced, no matter what they put on the table, or should they cease the effort altogether (bc original's never going to be surpassed)?


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