There are so many Halloween 3s. First was Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the third movie in the Halloween series proper. Then came Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers which, by way of Myers’ return, and the return to the original canon, functions as a third entry. Then comes Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, which ignores everything after Halloween II and acts as a trilogy capper for the Laurie Strode storyline (the fact that the title invokes water but the film does not makes for an incomplete titling convention, but the movie is so good that I don’t care). And now, with our current Halloween canon comes Halloween Kills, the new third entry in the new Laurie Strode canon that ignores everything but Halloween and its sequel…Halloween.
Does your head hurt yet? Don’t worry. The best way to handle such a convoluted chronology is to ignore it entirely. The Halloween franchise has become a choose-your-own-adventure sort of thing, and that’s fine by me. Everybody has their favorite canon (mine being Halloween, Halloween II, and H20), and every canon has its pros and cons. It really depends on what you want from the slasher that (sorta) started it all.
This new arc which aims to “course correct” after a long line of sequels fell into all the typical trappings of long long loooong slasher franchises was given the cultural green light when John Carpenter saw the script for Halloween (2018) and indicated that the writers truly understood the material. I’d disagree, but I’m also not so married to the material that I care very much. Halloween (2018) is dumb as all hell, but it’s a well-made movie that’s a blast to watch. Halloween Kills, however, makes it clear to me that John Carpenter, a man who simply demands to be paid for his work (no love lost to the master, but his Escape From New York/Lockout lawsuit was bullshit of the highest order), saw an opportunity to lend his name to a project and give it new life while also receiving a fresh paycheck. Nothing but respect for this move, but it was quite a demystifying revelation once it hit me.
Halloween Kills does not feel much like a Halloween movie, and does so little to further the mythology of the current canon that it feels like filler. This is to be expected to a degree, but the alchemy which lends late stage slashers their charm is not present here. Halloween Kills is not boring, nor is it incompetent, but — and I say this with full realization of what slasher sequels tend to be — it’s extremely corny. Overwritten to the point of being underwritten, an excess of plot happens, but there’s no story at all. It’s also not very scary.
Picking up the moment the previous installment ended, a squad of firefighters are dispatched to squelch the flames that, unbeknownst to them, are currently torching an imprisoned Michael Myers to death. “Let it burn,” yells Laurie Strode to a parade of passing emergency vehicles before falling unconscious from her wounds. The first responders don’t hear her, but soon enough they’re all dead and Michael Myers is back out on the streets, ready to fuck up anyone who gets in his way.
Meanwhile, a bunch of survivors from the very first film, now all grown up and weirdly unhinged, have decided to put an end to Myers’ reign of terror once and for all. Tommy Doyle (played here with a respectably intense, but unintentionally hilarious edge by Anthony Michael Hall) plans to do this with a baseball bat (which he has given a name for some fucking reason), while his increasingly large gang of angry Haddonfieldians plan to do the same with…more baseball bats. The film follows this crew much more than it does the Strode ladies, who barely appear at all, putting an end to the already weak assertion that the new canon is some sort of groundbreaking feminist text. Laurie (aka “Grandmother,” as her progeny clumsily refer to her) spends most of the film unconscious in a hospital, while her offspring bounce into and out of the plot in non-notable ways. They do stop to mourn the loss of Ray, the husband/father who was unceremoniously killed in the previous entry, but the way it’s written is, once again, unintentionally hilarious.
The kills are more brutal here than in much of the franchise at large, but none are particularly imaginative, and most are shot in a way that carries no weight. Michael Myers should be an oppressive force that exists on the periphery of even the most peaceful scenes, but he’s a non-entity here. Even when he’s shattering a fluorescent lightbulb and shoving into a woman’s throat, there’s no shock value or sense of fear. It feels oddly perfunctory. Another instance, in which Myers crushes someone’s head with his bare hands, is shot in a way that feels half-committed. This is a gross, high-gore moment that plays as an afterthought due to the way it is framed. In fact, a lot of this movie’s energy is lost in poor framing and clunky editing. And it’s weird because director David Gordon Green shows a strong command of such things in the multiple sequences which flash back to the events of 1978 for the purpose of some light retconning.
These scenes look and feel as if they are lifted directly from the original film. It’s remarkable how accurate they are when the rest of the film feels so messy. Granted, the present day sequences shouldn’t look like something from four decades ago, but they should at least show a basic aptitude for visual storytelling. There’s a fine line between scrappy and sloppy, and this tends to err on the side of the latter.
Where the film succeeds is in pacing. There’s very little down time once the action starts, so even though it’s regularly boneheaded (the characters all behave in a way that could charitably be described as “dangerously stupid”), it’s never boring. And it’s far from the first slasher sequel to be this dumb. I like the aggro energy that the film has. I like that it’s mean. I like that it’s very much trying to make the viewer uncomfortable. I like that there’s an attempt to comment on the intoxicating nature of mob mentality.
But it’s just so corny.
Halloween (2018) had some nice comedy moments that work, as well as a few that didn’t, but Halloween Kills seems to be at war with itself at every turn. The zany gay couple (one of whom is Michael McDonald of MadTV fame) sure tries to evoke some humor, but it’s a weird bit of intended goofiness in a sea of unintentional goofiness. No two scenes feel like they’re from the same flick. What’s weird about this is that there’s an alternate universe where every criticism I’ve leveled against this movie is actually an asset, but something about the recipe is off.
By the end, however, Halloween Kills does reach a respectably batty pitch, finishing on a note that has me just as excited for the next (and final?) entry as I’ve ever been.