Movie Curiosities: Halloween Kills

After umpteen COVID-related delays, here we finally are with Halloween Kills, the long-awaited sequel to Halloween (2018). That film came out to widespread acclaim from fans and critics alike. The sequel, on the other hand, came out to a pathetic 38 percent Tomatometer, panned by critics as a self-important slog.

Am I really going to be the one to stand up for this movie? Gotta say, it’s not often I like a movie that everyone else seems to hate, but here we are.

To be clear, Halloween Kills does make some unusual choices. To start with, the film picks up immediately after Halloween (2018), just after Laurie Strode picked up all those gruesome injuries while fighting with Michael. Thus while Jamie Lee Curtis is absolutely in the movie, she’s mostly been sidelined to a hospital bed. For that matter, Karen and Allyson (respectively the daughter and granddaughter of Laurie, played by Judy Greer and Andi Matichak) don’t confront Michael directly until the climax.

(And yes, it is sadly impossible to ignore Matichak’s fluctuating age throughout the runtime.)

However, that’s mostly because the film takes a much broader scope. See, the previous film was focused on Laurie’s trauma at the hands of Michael Myers, going into detail about how it completely ruined her life. With this picture, the filmmakers have expanded that to cover the entire town of Haddonfield.

With this entry in the franchise, we’ve got…

  • Tommy Doyle (now played by Anthony Michael Hall), one of the kids that Laurie babysat back in the original 1978 film.
  • Lonnie Elam (played at varying ages by Robert Longstreet and Tristian Eggerling), another kid briefly seen in the original film.
  • Lindsey Wallace (a returning Kyle Richards), another kid that Laurie babysat in 1978.
  • Marion Chambers (a returning Nancy Stephens), former assistant to Dr. Loomis.
  • Leigh Brackett (a returning Charles Cyphers), whose daughter was killed by Myers back in 1978.

With these characters, we’re reminded that Laurie wasn’t the only one affected by Michael Myers’ original rampage. All of these characters are carrying 40 years’ worth of baggage, and the whole town still carries the memory of The Shape. They may never forget, but there’s now a younger generation that only knows Michael Myers as a myth, if they know him at all. It’s a fascinating generational divide, tinged with dramatic irony — it’s hard to blame the kids for scoffing at such an outlandish ghost story, even when we know as well as the older characters that Myers is very real and extremely dangerous.

But then we have the 2018 film, which was only the previous day in-continuity. A dozen people died in that movie, and all of those victims have loved ones. Loved ones demanding retribution. Along with the older generation who’s spent the past 40 years aching for closure.

Incidentally, let’s not forget that Allyson’s father — Karen’s husband — was killed by Michael in the previous film. So both of these primary characters are feeling that loss and righteous anger in a palpable way.

What’s worse, it’s hard to blame anyone for losing all faith in the police. Yes, the authorities should be theoretically capable of handling Michael and maintaining law and order. But then again, how many times have they failed by now? How many cops has Michael already killed? He just broke out of prison, for fuck’s sake!

Moreover, there’s the open question of how much empathy Michael Myers deserves. Should he be given the courtesy of a fair trial? Is Michael even human at this point? If Myers is murdered in cold blood, is the murderer just as bad as he is? (Can Myers even be killed?)

The franchise has always positioned Michael Myers as the personification of evil, but what does that really mean? Is Myers evil because he kills? Because he kills without any apparent motivation or cause? Because he inspires fear and shows no human emotion or empathy in turn?

The film goes a step beyond all of this, positing that Myers is the height of monstrosity because he turns everyone around him into monsters. With this movie, the town of Haddonfield has unraveled into such chaos, its people driven to such terrified mindless rage, that mob rule is the order of the day and the entire town is out for blood. Which inevitably means that someone innocent will get hurt. And that blood is on everyone’s hands.

To be clear, this is absolutely still a slasher movie, and we do get more than our share of over-the-top bloody murders by way of The Shape. I should also point out that while the movie absolutely serves as an allegory for any number of topical scenarios (from #DefundThePolice to the anti-vaxx protesters, take your pick), this is hardly your typical Jordan Peele horror. That’s in large part because — for better or worse — the film doesn’t really operate on such an intellectual level.

Rather, it operates on more of an emotional, visceral level. The filmmakers put us in the thick of the mob rule, showing us the carnage in unflinching detail to let us sort through how we feel about what’s on the screen. Thus the point is made in a compelling way that’s compatible with the gut-churning thrill of your typical slasher flick. Cleverly done.

With all of that being said, it’s hard to get around the fact that this is more a conflict of ideas, rather than a conflict between characters. Myers himself is less of a threat than the fear and hatred he inspires. Allyson joins the mob out for blood, Karen wants to remain calm and keep faith in law and order, and Laurie provides color commentary on what’s going on and how Michael is driving everything to shit. All of them do a lot to drive the conversation, but they don’t do much to advance the plot.

For a point of comparison, consider The Dark Knight. Both films are about a homicidal villain characterized as an inhuman force of nature. In both movies, the villain derives his power from his ability to sow chaos and paranoia, driving citizens to turn against each other through fear. Though Batman is indubitably more effective and proactive in his film than the Strode Women are here, the protagonists in all cases have to reckon with their personal losses and numerous costly failures in spite of their best efforts and good intentions. Through it all is the underlying question of how and whether it’s possible to maintain one’s morals and ethics while defeating an adversary that has no morals or ethics.

I want to stress emphatically that Halloween Kills does not skimp on the gore, but I didn’t find that the most interesting part of the film. I was genuinely fascinated by the film’s examination of mob rule and the divisive, self-destructive power of fear. It was all very timely in a way that didn’t feel condescending or partisan. Perhaps more importantly, it firmly placed Michael Myers in a modern context, making a compelling case for why this character from the ’70s still matters now.

Michael Myers is The Shape. From the very beginning, he was always meant to be a merciless, unknowable all-consuming void, as simple and as subtle as a knife through the eye socket. I have to admire how the filmmakers translated that into something relevant and heart-wrenching on a deeper level without compromising (too much of) the bloody spectacular kills.

I have no problem giving this a recommendation. Bring on the next sequel — David Gordon Green and his colleagues have more than earned the right to close the book on this saga.

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