[review by JA Kerswell]
HALLOWEEN KILLS is a hot mess. However, whilst the film has more faults than the Pacific Ring of Fire, it is a fun, beautifully shot and sometimes exhilarating watch. At least on the first go around. Subsequent viewings sadly amplify its problems - and one frankly unforgivable flaw. But, at the very least, it is certainly more entertaining than the rather dour first instalment from 2018. However, what I didn’t expect was Haddonfield to lurch into demented Looney Tunes territory, but director David Gordon Green goes gonzo and certainly lives up to the sequel maxim: go big or go home. Michael Myers rampages through his home town on a murderous candy rush of violence; levelling up after each kill like some kind of monstrous video game protagonist.
|Michael Myers has come home like a Big Mac overdone!|
As with HALLOWEEN II (1981), HALLOWEEN KILLS is more of the night “HE came home.” Taking place on the same Halloween night in 2018, where Michael Myers having escaped a hospital transport made his way back to Haddonfield to carry on the killing spree he started way back in 1978. Talking of which, HALLOWEEN KILLS features meticulously crafted flashbacks to that night. These help explain the retrofitting of the franchise that saw the 2018 film ignore all subsequent entries apart from the 1978 original (although the director hides Easter eggs that nod to the franchise throughout). Although they look fantastic, arguably the flashbacks add little of value. Perhaps anticlimactically, it shows how Myers essentially gives himself up to the police (not before killing a cop) - which essentially negates the beautifully ambiguous he’s-still-out-there ending of the original. It sets up the back story of Officer Hawkins and his regret at preventing Loomis from shooting Myers in the head - and he becomes guilt buddies with Laurie Strode. There is an effective scene where little shit Lonnie bumps into Michael (for the second time) and lives. Not to mention a spookily realistic recreation of Dr Loomis.
Flash forward and the surviving Strode women have hitched a lift to hospital. Much to their horror an infeasibly large fire crew passes them by hurtling towards Strode’s burning home. “Let it burn!”, she screams. However, distressed and weary the women at least initially believe that Myers is now ashes in her basement. However, the seemingly obvious problem in Laurie’s plan to create a Myers sized pizza oven was the flameproof closet that Michael conveniently hides in (surely a design flaw?). Myers emerges from the inferno to hack and buzzsaw his way through a small army of firemen with a brutality that signals where Green is going to take the film. Myers then starts the slow, bloody march back to Haddonfield …
|Arguably, the biggest flaw of HALLOWEEN KILLS is that it essentially sidelines Laurie Strode.|
And now onto what I believe is the film’s fatal flaw. One of the most surprising aspects of HALLOWEEN KILLS is how little Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode is given to do. I mean, she has even less to do than in HALLOWEEN II (1981). I can understand that she’s having a breather before the upcoming HALLOWEEN ENDS, but what is perhaps most shocking about the film is how redundant the character of Laurie Strode actually is here. Even Michael Myers has jilted her. Strode tells anyone who will listen that Michael is headed to the hospital to find her, but he isn’t. Has she just wasted 40 years preparing for a confrontation that Myers had no interest in participating in? After all, it only happened in the first film due to the machinations of the evil Dr Sartain. One of the things that made John Carpenter’s original so scary was that it was a simple quirk of fate that locked Myers to Laurie; akin to a shark sniffing blood in the water. That she became the target for his unstoppable quest was all the more terrifying because the suggestion was that it could have been anyone of us had we crossed his path instead. The sequel made her his sister, which diluted the idea of the randomness of evil, but rationalised his pursuit. Of course, HALLOWEEN KILLS jettisoned the sibling connection, but now also seems to have jettisoned the idea that Laurie is the planet that Myer’s dark star revolves around. It is somewhat mind-boggling that Jamie Lee Curtis would have agreed this was a fitting direction for her most famous and iconic character to take. The OG Final Girl is a now essentially a foot-note in her own franchise. It’s akin to having Sigourney Weaver return for a new ALIEN trilogy and have her spend the middle film sitting in the medbay playing sudoku whilst the creature rampages outside. It remains to be seen whether this comes together in the closing chapter, but it rather dilutes the much-trumpeted overarching theme of three generations of ‘Strode Strong’ if Myers simply sees them as an inconvenience to be swatted away rather than somehow intrinsically linked to his arcane plans.
|HALLOWEEN KILLS goes off the rails with the overwrought scenes of mass hysteria in Haddonfield Memorial Hospital.|
Green subverts the audience’s expectations by making Haddonfield Memorial Hospital the film’s biggest Maguffin. In the 1981 sequel, the hospital provided the backdrop for the majority of the film, as Myers continued his pursuit of the drugged Laurie through its shadowy corridors. However, whilst Haddonfield Memorial was eerily (and let’s face it unrealistically) deserted in 1981 it is now a hive of activity that resembles the chaos a major incident might cause. Although, that’s where realism ends. Haddonfield Memorial Hospital now has its own share of idiosyncrasies. I mean, how many hospitals have morgues with windows so that all and sundry can gawp at the corpses on the gurneys as they wander by? Whilst the 2018 film was anchored in the idea of personal trauma and how it affects people even after many years, HALLOWEEN KILLS was described as a film that dealt with mob mentality and vigilante justice. It is about the collective trauma of Haddonfield that is awakened by the return of Myers. The idea is solid (and was already explored in at least one previous sequel), however the film completely goes off the rails in the scenes where, led by an increasingly unhinged Tommy Doyle, a mob chases down the other escapee from the asylum in the mistaken idea that he is Myers. The hysteria is so out-of-control that we’re asked to believe that ER staff would leave their posts and duties in droves to join in the vigilante frenzy. Only a handful of people keep their heads. Laurie Strode - after initially joining the hunt and stoking the flames - and along with her daughter realise they have the wrong man. Once again, Laurie Strode is not the anchor to the action as the townsfolk spin wildly out-of-control in their pursuit of Myers. She seems to be largely inconsequential in the grand scheme of things and is unable to control the chaos around her. And surely that’s a wrong turn by the creators of this film.
One of the things that had fans excited in advance was the word that other past characters would be back for HALLOWEEN KILLS. Kyle Richards (who reprised her role as Lindsey Wallace) and the fellow babysat Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall taking on the role originally done by Brian Andrews). Also back is Nancy Stephens as Nurse Marion and Robert Longstreet as the adult Lonnie Elam. Whilst it is certainly fun to see these characters return, the film is too busy to give them much personality beyond having survived that night - and having bonded over the experience. Once they learn that Myers is back in Haddonfield, Doyle’s one-note, bug-eyed vigilante cranks up the gears and never gives up. Stephens has even less to do here than she had in HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER (1998). Richards is surprisingly likeable reprising Lindsay Wallace, but her character is literally wheeled off hallway through never to be seen again.
|Fan pleasing nods to the original - and other entries in the franchise - are great, but are no substitute for suspense and scares.|
Still, character development is perhaps not Green or Danny McBride’s strong point. I was not fan of the bitter survivalist Laurie Strode became in the 2018 film. Judy Greer’s Karen went from thinking her Mom was nuts to sass talking Myers. And Andi Matichak as granddaughter Allyson is still curiously unengaging. The dialogue could also have taken a final polish, too. A drinking game where you take a shot every time a character stares into middle distance and intones: “Evil dies tonight!” or “Michael Myers has haunted this town for 40 years. Tonight we hunt him down.” Means you’ll be under the table in no time.
Green said of the 2018 film and Michael Myers: “I think we're just trying to take it back to what was so good about the original. It was just very simple and just achieved that level of horror that wasn't turning Michael Myers into some being that couldn't be killed.” So, it is somewhat confusing that HALLOWEEN KILLS turns Myers into the Haddonfield Voorhees: an equal opportunity rampaging golem that grows in power and invincibility with every kill. He’s like Rawhead Rex in a William Shatner mask. Previously in the earlier films, Myers was literally ‘the shape’ and would fade in and out of the shadows like a spider zeroing in on its prey. However, despite Green saying otherwise, he seems to have little interest in shade. In HALLOWEEN KILLS, Michael Myers is stark black and white - and blood splattered red. On face value it is undoubtedly thrilling and entertaining, but I do miss the phantom Michael of the original and its sequel. Where before he would walk slowly after his prey in a coldly robotic but deadly and determined way, here he is all business and time efficiency. And his business is to stab, slash and hack his way through his hometown on the way back to his childhood home. Less charitable reviewers might wonder if the moneymen wanted to amp up the violence to appeal to those who loved Rob Zombie’s versions? Also for all its enjoyable frenzy, HALLOWEEN KILLS often lacks suspense. Which is ironic given that John Carpenter’s deft mastery of suspense was what made the original so scary and effective. And I thought all the ballyhoo on this new trilogy was that they were returning to that approach. The original film and its sequel had a small cast of characters that came into Myer’s deadly orbit. That helped drive suspense. But HALLOWEEN KILLS is almost the biblical epic of slasher movies. What it gains in numbers of wild-eyed Haddonfielders running every which way it loses in being able to give the film time to (heavy) breathe. A case in point is when Lindsay Wallace is chased by Michael after their car is ambushed by him. In an illogical move, Wallace decides to run across a park towards an isolated ornamental pond rather than to the row of occupied houses in the other direction (although no-one curtain peeps, it seems, in Haddonfield even during screams and gunfire). It does, however, give Green the opportunity to craft an effective chase scene. Which he does, but then elects to cut it short for no apparent reason.
Arguably, the film’s most effective - and arguably divisive - suspense sequences are with the gay couple who now live in Michael’s now unrecognisable childhood home. Green and McBride are best known for comedy. And whilst they said they were playing the horror straight in HALLOWEEN KILLS I quite liked the quirkiness of these scenes. It was almost like something you might have seen in one of the franchise’s middle chapters (if gay people had been allowed to be in 80s slasher movies that is). Michael McDonald and Scott MacArthur as Little John and Big John respectively play their characters with a comedic touch, but not so broad that it undercuts the suspense. Sadly, Green does that himself by repeatedly cutting away to other scenes. However, for once, Myers is allowed to be the shadowy boogeyman and not The Terminator in overalls.
I’ve always erred on the side that Myers is somehow superhuman and powered and driven by the supernatural. After-all, how could he survive the myriad of injuries and bullets in the 1978 original otherwise? This idea predates the whole Samhain cult aspect that drove some of the previous sequels. The novelisation by Curtis Richards of the original 1978 film gave Myers a supernatural motivation originating in human sacrifices from the "dawn of the Celtic race" and "the druid festival of the dead". Whilst it is likely that Richards fleshed out the bare bones of the story, Debra Hill said: ”We went back to the old idea of Samhain, that Halloween was the night where all the souls are let out to wreak havoc on the living, and then came up with the story about the most evil kid who ever lived." John Carpenter said of the intention of the new trilogy - and after being less than thrilled with the direction Rob Zombie took the franchise in - that Myers was “… a force of nature. He's supposed to be almost supernatural.” Laurie Strode clearly thinks so: “I always thought Michael Myers was flesh and blood, just like you and me, but a mortal man could not have survived what he's lived through. The more he kills, the more he transcends into something else impossible to defeat.” Again, given that no mere mortal could survive the psychical battery his character receives by the end of HALLOWEEN KILLS it seems a given that Michael will be a fully supernatural being by the time HALLOWEEN ENDS comes around. And I’m just fine with that.
However, it remains to be seen if Green can wrap up the new trilogy in a satisfying manner. ENDS was originally going to shoot back-to-back with KILLS, but the pandemic put an end to that. But, presumably, that meant a script was in existence and potentially continued on the same night. But now the word is that ENDS will take place four years after the first film and bring us right up to date - and will, in some way, deal with COVID and contemporary events. This makes what happened to Laurie Strode in KILLS even more anticlimactic. But, if Green can spend less time on crafting Easter eggs for the fans and making grand gestures to themes and more time on a decent script, creating suspense and finding a fitting end to the saga for near everyone’s favourite Final Girl I’ll still be excited to see it.
female: 5 / male: 24