starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Anthony Michael Hall
written by Scott Teems & Danny McBride & David Gordon Green
directed by David Gordon Green
by Bill Chambers Depending on your perspective, Halloween Kills, David Gordon Green's follow-up to his 2018 Halloween, is the third Halloween II, or the second Halloween III, or the twelfth entry in a long-running serial with a compulsion to press the reset button. Though other horror franchises have splintered into manifold continuities (you'd need Ancestry.com to sort out the various branches stemming from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre), Halloween is unique in that it's not (just) a cash cow getting milked to death by new content farmers--no, a fairly consistent chain of ownership has made a habit of calling a mulligan whenever the consensus is that they've strayed too far from the beaten path. After a failed bid to rebrand as an anthology with the John Carpenter-backed Halloween III: Season of the Witch, whose reputation has since been reclaimed, the series resurrected Michael Myers and his Ahab, Dr. Loomis, only to fly too close to the sun with Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. Halloween H20 followed, and in bringing back Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode, Michael's sister, it wallpapered over the events of Halloweens III through VI. Then Halloween: Resurrection undid all of that movie's goodwill, so Rob Zombie wrote and directed a remake of the first film. Zombie returned for a sequel that was roundly rejected despite being the ne plus ultra of Halloween movies for the misfit fans like myself, and the unlikely team of Green and Danny McBride took the reins, making the somewhat unconventional decision to do a legacy sequel to Carpenter's 1978 original alone, again with Curtis but without the early retcon that Laurie and Michael are related.
Continually wiping the slate clean is, I hope you'll agree, a poignant approach to maintaining a film series about the return of the repressed. Yet memories, as computers have taught us, cannot simply be erased--they must also be defragmented, and in Green's Halloween movies, these stopgap measures have begun to infect the text, for better or worse. When, in Halloween Kills, three corpses materialize wearing the troika of Silver Shamrock masks from Halloween III, it feels peculiarly vestigial--less like a fan-service Easter egg than like a phantom limb. And there is no small irony in Halloween Kills being a structural echo of the '81 Halloween II, given that it's sequelizing a movie meant to supplant the same. What's fascinating, though, is how Halloween Kills, like Halloween '18 before it, only really works because of the groundwork laid by 40 years of Michael Myers hacking and slashing his way across the Midwest--groundwork that, again, has been mostly dispensed with. Here, Michael Myers has spent four decades in incarceration since killing five teenagers in 1978, but he's still probably the most popular person in Haddonfield, his name or nicknames--the Boogeyman, the Shape--having such totemic weight as to be capable of fomenting a vigilante mob at the drop of a hat; his masked countenance immediately recognized by the current occupant of the Myers residence. Convinced of his inevitability by her lone brush with him, Laurie dedicated her life to ending his, sacrificing her family in the process. Although she's not his sister in this incarnation, do we accept her current backstory without the knowledge that, in some forgotten timeline, she was? Not so much remakes as we-makes, Green's films depend on us, our familiarity with the Halloween iconography, to fill in their blanks.
Taking place within moments of its predecessor's ending and unfolding largely within the confines of a hospital (this one not so sparsely populated as the one that held Laurie in 1981), Halloween Kills finds Michael Myers (alternately played by stuntman James Jude Courtney and OG Michael Myers Nick Castle) escaping his fiery comeuppance--it will help, incidentally, to give Halloween '18 another look right before this one--and resumes his murder spree in Haddonfield as Laurie convalesces from stomach wounds in the ICU. While Laurie's daughter Karen (Judy Greer) tries to keep her mother from learning they didn't actually "get" Michael, Karen's own daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), joins the pitchfork-wielding villagers in their hunt for "the Boogeyman," seeking, in a much-needed corrective to a blind spot in the previous film, to avenge her father's murder. Leading the throng is Tommy, the little boy Laurie was babysitting in Halloween '78, all grown up in the person of Anthony Michael Hall. (If I have a beef with his casting, it's that in a film that welcomes back Curtis, Castle, Kyle Richards (!), and Charles Cyphers and goes to the trouble of recreating Dr. Loomis, the absence of the original Tommy, Brian Andrews, inspires secondhand FOMO.) The plot is surprisingly listless--will Michael go towards the hospital or his house, now occupied by a gay couple named Big John (Scott MacArthur) and Little John (Michael McDonald)?--but Laurie finally has an opportunity to shut down her one-track mind and breathe. Parked next to her bed is Hawkins (Will Patton), who's survived Dr. Sartain's attack, and the two rekindle a flirtation that's never gone anywhere because Michael Myers is, among other things, a formidable cockblock. For Hawkins's part, he worries that an act of mercy in 1978 led to where they are now. She forgives him, a quietly monumental act in the context of these films. The movie they're in is reminiscent of the fragile, human stories Green told at the beginning of his career, when he was the heir apparent to Terrence Malick.
My biggest disappointment in the Halloween reboot-quels is not that Green made them but that the wrong Green made them. Stultified by the grind of television, he can't even seem to summon the visual prowess he once possessed. Michael Simmonds's lensing stands out because it's anamorphic, but the images are rote compared to Dean Cundey's pioneering work on the first three films, with his gliding camera and crepuscular darkness. On the one hand, Green cultivated an ugly side in his comedies with McBride that lends itself to the machinations of the slasher genre and to flaunting Michael's sick curiosity. The Michael of Halloween Kills is as barbaric as Zombie's, perhaps more so; the only thing that got me through the viscerally repugnant scene where a woman impaled with a fluorescent bulb watches impotently as Michael tests the penetrative abilities of various knives by sticking them one by one in her elderly husband's back was imagining McBride's colour commentary. Something the pandemic has underscored is that every death is brutal, traumatizing, unfair; the sheer volume and at-times-over-the-top expressionism of Michael's murders in Halloween Kills get at that truth as few movies can. It's almost exposure therapy.
But Zombie's Halloween II was also cathartic, channelling all that helpless spectatorship into a primal scream aimed squarely at the injustice of mortality, whereas the only reassurance Green provides is that there'll be another sequel. There is something to be said, however, for the haunting use of Anne Murray's "Could I Have This Dance (For the Rest of My Life)" during the climactic showdown between Allyson and Michael, who may have put on the record himself. A subplot involving the bloodthirsty townspeople mistaking another psychiatric fugitive for Michael underscores that there aren't many people to root for in Halloween Kills (the movie baldly states "Now he's turning us into monsters" but narrowly gets away with it by giving the line to the folksy Brackett (Cyphers)), though if we're being completely honest, Michael, this veritable junkie for the thrill of the kill, is the true protagonist of the film and maybe the saga as a whole, the same way the book's called Dracula. And here we are watching Halloween XII, grooving to the beep-boops of Carpenter and son Cody's score, wishing we knew how to quit him.