The Pitch: It’s the late hours of Halloween night 2018, and Laurie Strode’s (Jamie Lee Curtis) house is still aflame from trapping Michael Myers in a flaming prison she’s spent decades building. But even that’s not enough to kill the soulless demon monster with a penchant for homicide; he escapes with nary a scratch on him, save for some scorch marks on his William Shatner mask. As daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) rush an injured Laurie to the hospital, the rest of Haddonfield learns of the asylum bus crash that led to Michael’s escape, and a mob forms to try to catch the killer. But will strength in numbers be enough to vanquish pure evil?
Halloween Persists: In the age of “legacyquels,” followups to nostalgic hits from the ’70s and ’80s that feature the return of old stars and the sensibilities of new directors, 2018’s Halloween was a qualified success, closer on the Force Awakens spectrum than it is Terminator: Dark Fate. David Gordon Green, along with co-screenwriter Danny McBride and returning star Curtis, managed to miraculously revive the old slasher-killer formula into something that, if not entirely successful, at least took the franchise back to basics and treated Laurie Strode with a modicum of respect.
But as with any horror franchise, it’s the sequels you’ve got to worry about, and Halloween Kills burns away the first film’s goodwill about as quickly as the light leaving the eyes of one of Michael’s victims. Functioning essentially as an extended, episodic epilogue to the 2018 film, Kills prefers to dance around the periphery of the Laurie/Michael vendetta, offering unsatisfying side stories that also double as ham-fisted political commentary. Laurie, after all, is in critical condition after the events of the first film, so poor Curtis is stuck in a hospital room for the vast majority of the film’s runtime; don’t expect her to be shouting down Michael and pumping shotguns this time around.
Instead, we revisit some of the other characters from the first Halloween, and see how they’ve been dealing with their respective traumas since Michael’s first (and, according to this series’ canon, the only) rampage in 1978. Tommy Doyle, all grown up and played by Anthony Michael Hall, leads a group of recovering victims — including Marion Chambers (Nany Stephens) and Lonnie Elam (Robert Longstreet) — in an annual ritual of telling their harrowing story at the local watering hole. But when they hear that Michael’s back on the loose, they decide (inspired by Laurie’s example) to stand up to Michael as a community. “Evil dies tonight!” they chant, grabbing baseball bats and guns and all manner of implements to hunt down their invincible tormentor.
It’s a move patently intended to Say Something about Our Present Moment; the hordes of mostly white Haddonfieldians, screaming and shouting while waving guns around, harkens back to a certain fateful day in January at the Capitol. But it’s a messy, hamfisted story beat, especially since it fits particularly poorly in this particular genre — in slashers, you want the townspeople to band together to stop the bad guy, since he relies on fear and division to stalk his prey.
Instead, Tommy’s posse turns into an idiotic mob that, at one point, chases down the wrong person, another escapee from the bus crash that set Michael free last movie. More than a hokey, obvious metaphor for vigilante violence, it takes leaps so preposterous that even the most slasher-jaded would roll their eyes. (Not even after it’s too late do the townspeople stop to think whether the elderly, 5-foot-nothing schlub in hospital scrubs and no Michael Myers mask looks anything like their 6’5″ target.)
Halloween Thrills: That said, there are some isolated thrills to be found in Kills‘ still-torturous 100 minute runtime. The fringe benefit of having zero characters to care about in this thing is that you can delight in their dispatching, and Green and Co. find nifty new ways to kill off Haddonfield’s dead-eyed residents. An entire firefighter team is taken out by Halligan bars and rotary saws, Green shooting much of the scene through the bloodied goggles of an already-dead victim.
One poor victim finds themselves on the business end of a broken fluorescent light tube (though it’s troubling how the kill they linger on the most is that of an elderly Black woman). John Carpenter, Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies’ throwback synth score is still thrilling, though it plays the same beats as last time and doesn’t offer much appeal beyond the nostalgic.
Halloween Shrugs: Apart from the grisly viscera and ooey-gooey sound design, though, there’s not much appeal in Halloween Kills. It’s violent, visceral, and deeply nihilistic, like so many good horror movies are. But it forgets to actually be scary. And if you’re not going to spook us, at least keep us centered on characters we care about or build up the new ones to give us something to root for.
As is, Kills‘s structure is a mess, tossing us from one small set of Michael-bait to the next, occasionally checking in with a near-comatose Laurie to bask in the bitter irony of her presumed victory. (Guess what, Will Patton’s grown-up Sherriff Hawkins is alive too; too bad he does literally nothing for the rest of the movie.)
In its sole focus on its tertiary characters, Halloween Kills feels like the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Must Die of horror movies. Instead, we get bizarre setpieces featuring bickering old couples who get torn apart by Michael’s blade, or Tommy’s band of day-player survivors from the first film attempting to get their own revenge on Michael without Laurie’s decades of doomsday preparation.
Most bizarrely, a few scenes center around the middle-aged gay couple who’ve bought Michael Myers’ old house (Michael McDonald and Scott MacArthur), who call each other “Big John” and “Little John” for some strange reason. They spend Halloween night eating canapés and watching Minnie and Moskowitz, before Michael naturally comes home to see how they’ve redecorated. If they’re looking to curry favor with The Gays for representation, let’s just say the rest of my community may not be happy with the kill roster by movie’s close.
The Verdict: I know, horror movies are supposed to be stupid — especially the ones to which Green is clearly paying homage. But here’s the thing: they don’t have to be. You can do throwback nostalgia-bait horror that doesn’t require every character to have the situational awareness of a three-hole punch, I promise you. In trying to play wink-wink with the silliness of horror sequels, Halloween Kills falls prey to the very tropes they think they’re sending up, which also makes the cringeworthy attempts at being “topical” fall even flatter.
This feels like the dark second chapter to a presumed third film that will close out this erstwhile sequel trilogy. But who’s going to care about how it ends at this point? Decades of cultural osmosis have taught us that Michael Myers can’t be killed, but maybe this film series should suffer a different fate. Tedium dies tonight.
Where’s It Playing? Halloween Kills drops in theaters and on Peacock October 15th. Bring your mask, your knife, and a barf bag.