It’s been forty-three years since Halloween first blessed the big screen, and now with eleven sequels in the can with another on the way, I’m reminded of the words by little Tommy Doyle, “You can’t kill the Boogeyman.” Halloween (2018) was a runaway success, faring well critically and following that up with even greater box office success. With a medium so heavily focused on nostalgia at the moment, the series finds itself facing the ultimate “call-back”, and that’s how to follow up on this success. It goes without saying that Halloween II is generally regarded as a big letdown compared to its predecessor. Since that release, the series rebounded with Halloween: H20 which led to an even more disappointing sequel in Halloween: Resurrection. Now that Halloween (2018) has once again seemed to right the ship, can Halloween Kills defy this precedent of bungled follow-ups? Will the third time truly be the charm?
It would have been easy for the filmmakers who helmed the prior installment to sit this one out and settle for a producer’s credit while letting some new blood take the reins. Instead, the creative team of writer/director David Gordon Green and co-writer Danny McBride are joined by a new hand, co-writer Scott Teems, to finish what they started. It’s rare for a creative team to stay intact on this franchise, especially after having success within it. What’s interesting though, is how they approach making a follow-up. Halloween Kills was co-announced along with Halloween Ends, so viewers understand the story is not actually ending, even when the film repeatedly tries to sell them on “Evil dies tonight!”. The challenge here is to satisfy viewers with a proper installment and not seem like filler while those viewers wait for the real ending to come.
Halloween Kills is set on the same night as its predecessor. The creative team is mirroring the same exact approach that John Carpenter took on his screenplay for Halloween II. Carpenter has gone on the record on multiple occasions to explain how this approach boxed him in creatively. He forced himself through the writing process with the help of alcohol. Halloween II‘s biggest failure was its screenplay, and its writer will be the first to tell you that. It almost seems like a mission statement that the creative team here have chosen this path. Despite the obstacles ahead of them, it’s as if they are proclaiming, “We can do it right this time!”
Fulfilling the promise of “More of the night he came home…again!” The plot of Halloween Kills picks up directly in the aftermath of the previous film’s events. The queen of all “final girls”, Laurie Strode (once again played by Jamie Lee Curtis) is en route to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. This is because of the wounds she sustained battling her murderous, masked soulmate and leaving him to burn in her basement. She’s accompanied by her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) who are also dealing with their wounds received from their encounter with the boogeyman, with many of their wounds appearing beneath the surface. It’s important to note that Curtis takes a backseat in Halloween Kills. Not only have the filmmakers mirrored Carpenter’s approach to making a sequel by having it take place directly after its predecessor, but they also sideline their heroine once again by placing her in a hospital bed. This puts the weight of carrying the film on the extensive supporting cast. It’s a novel approach that’s valid in its intent. With another sequel on the horizon promising yet again another final showdown between the franchises respective hero and villain, creatively it makes sense to broaden the focus. Halloween (2018) saw its supporting characters get shafted in the amount of screen time they had. With the overstuffed nature of its screenplay and with the focus primarily being on Laurie, many of these supporting characters were cut down in the editing process, with many being condensed into generic stereotypes. With Curtis in the background, the film means to shine a spotlight on the entire town. In doing so, taking the theme of trauma and applying it to multiple characters. One of the reasons the screenplay of Halloween II was a failure was because it could not find anything for its supporting characters to do outside of serving as fodder for its villain. This is an opportunity to right that wrong. It’s a shame that Halloween Kills seems so intent on repeating the past, because it makes the same exact mistakes with its ensemble. Any idea of exploring a theme is quickly forgotten, as well as giving most of these characters any personality.
Within minutes of the film’s start, it’s apparent that something is off here. The audience is thrown into a flashback which serves as an epilogue to the first Halloween. The pulsing score sure sounds familiar, and the visuals are close enough to pass for imitation although it’s much more brightly lit and Dean Cundey’s attention to shadows and light is sorely missed. This is the problem as it never rises above feeling like a cheap imitation despite the budget that most likely went into this sequence. This is where Michael Myers makes his first appearance, and he is presented so up front and clear as day that it removes any mystique that should be illuminating from him. Over the next few minutes, the events on-screen can only be described as watching a high school theater act taking on some Halloween fan fiction. This sequence accomplishes nothing that couldn’t have been summed up in a sentence or two. It’s a bad form of self-indulgence that unfortunately starts the film in a slump that it never recovers from. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should!
This leads to the title sequence which has one takeaway that symbolizes some of the problems with this picture, there “too many pumpkins”. The first of the film’s extensive supporting players get introduced, or would it be better to say reintroduced? Much of the roster here is filled out by looking to the past with legacy characters. This includes Anthony Michael Hall and Robert Longstreet stepping into the roles of Tommy Doyle and Lonnie Elam; as well as Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards), former sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers), and Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens) all reprising from the original installment. It makes sense to place the focus on these characters. The audience is already familiar with them and their histories, which allows more time to dive into their respective character arcs and development; at least that’s how it should work. In a complete tonal clash from what’s been established in this universe of films, these people don’t even seem like people at times and are closer to cartoon characters. Carry overs from the last film, such as Allyson, don’t get spared of this treatment either. With her father having just been murdered, the best she can muster is some uninspired, unnatural speech that sounds out of some cheesy b-action flick from the 80’s. Any attempt at introspection afterwards feels tainted. The audience is not given a chance to emotionally connect to these characters. Even Laurie, who serves as the emotional center that Halloween can always rely on, is relegated to barking the same tripe dialogue. It’s miles away from the character moments from before, such as her scene in Halloween (2018) outside of the mental institution when she breaks down. The dialogue is real issue here. In many cases the characters don’t even appear as if they are talking with each other, and instead seem to be speaking directly to the viewer with the sort of lines that seem to say, “hey, do you remember when this happened in the old film?” and following that up with a wink and a nod. One example being Leigh Brackett delivering the “everyone’s entitled to one good scare” line once more, but he does this in the middle of a big confrontation with the man that murdered his daughter decades earlier. Well, I guess Leigh has seen the original Halloween as well! It’s as if the filmmakers are ostentatiously throwing these callbacks at the viewer, but don’t realize that the only thing they are accomplishing is taking the wind out of their sails.
The only character that gets any real development is Michael Myers, who also serves as the most entertaining aspect of the film…that is when the rest of the characters don’t ruin the moment by opening their mouths. Once again, the iconic villain is played by James Jude Courtney, who performs the best version of the character this side of Nick Castle (who might have shown up in there somewhere and is at least here in an ADR capacity). The level of brutality and gore have been upped considerably here compared to what’s typically expected of the series. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, as widespread carnage fits the type of tone that’s intended. It wants to be mean, and it wants to be dark. They see a side of the character that’s typically held off-screen, such as his curious macabre approach to decorating bodies as if he’s holding a knife in place of a paint brush. It also becomes monotonous when there is so much of it, and with such a poor execution in direction. It kind of feels like the movie is compensating here for failing to measure up elsewhere.
Halloween (2018) had an issue where many moments that were scary on paper did not translate well to screen. Such as the closet gag where Michael attacks the babysitter, only to have the moment ruined by the scene stealing Julian, who has a comedic reaction to the supposed terror he’s witnessing. Green has learned to be more selective about how they place their comedic relief so as not to disrupt any tension they’re trying to create, but he continuously steps on his toes during these moments. A fantastic example of this is in the early goings of the picture during the flashback. While that segment doesn’t offer anything new in terms of plot, it could at least serve as a means to provide tension and establish a tone for what follows. There is a moment where Lonnie, the bully from the first film, has his own encounter with Myers. Lonnie, while running on the sidewalk, falls and turns around to see The Shape gazing at him. This causes him to recoil in terror as The Shape moves closer, but when he is grabbed it’s by a couple of cops who never saw Myers. On paper, it’s a good sequence full of suspense but it is fumbled hard by poor direction and choppy editing. There’s no sense of buildup here, and the blocking is so generic. This sequence should have been slowed down with a focus on the boys terrified face, perhaps as the footsteps of the The Shape become louder and louder as he moves closer. Timing is a such as crucial aspect of being successful in this genre, and this movie just blows through any hopes of eliciting any emotion for the moment. There are a couple of exceptions where Halloween Kills gets it right, that it just becomes annoying how misguided the rest of the movie is.
One such exception is Kyle Richards’ big chase scene that lands near the middle of the film. This is when the Hitchcock inspiration that lends itself so well to this series becomes apparent. Towards the end of the chase, Lindsay is hiding in a creek with her pursuer nearby. You could hear a pin drop as she attempts to hold her breath in while all the terror within her is wanting to burst out. The scene holds on Michael as he waits to hear her make a mistake and reveal her position to him, and it does so long enough to just to give the audience doubt on how they think the scene will play out. Shortly after, there is a sequence featuring a couple that are newcomers, Big John and Little John. It’s their few scenes that show the potential that the ensemble approach had. They don’t feel like caricatures and come across as real people full of personality which results in their segments standing out and provide a tension that is sorely lacking in other parts. This is all basic suspense, and it’s a shame there’s not much more to be found here given that on paper there are numerous set pieces that should be unnerving but are held down by an unimaginative execution.
The actors try, but even the world’s greatest salesmen couldn’t sell this. The director of photography, Michael Simmonds, returns here to try and instill some life into The Shape; but the editing is so choppy that the cinematography falls by the wayside. These scenes are so disjointed with each other due to this, and at the worst of times the best summation of moment-to-moment action is incompetent. The one aspect of this whole thing that doesn’t disappoint is John Carpenter (and his bandmates) contribution with the score. It might not stand out quite as much as his last offering to the series, but he is still firing on all cylinders. He is not resting on his laurels, as he continues to take older compositions in new directions while adding many new ones. They lean more on ambience and atmosphere over melody, but they ultimately succeed on delivering on the movies intent to be a more sinister and darker version of Halloween.
With the twelfth installment of this series in the can, Halloween Kills is a regression for the series that can really only speak to gore hounds and hardcore slasher fans. While the approach here leaves room to explore new areas for the franchise, the execution continuously stands in the way. There are honestly much worse Halloween movies, but filmmakers of this caliber should know better. For every good idea there is either poorly thought-out melodrama, cheesy overbearing and overwrought dialogue, or poor editing and direction that drags that idea through the mud. Much like the first sequel in this franchise’s storied history, Halloween Kills seems so intent on repeating the past that it repeats many of those same mistakes which strips the series of its creative drive and identity. With Halloween Ends scheduled for release next year, now it’s a question of whether this creative team can reach deep down and find those ingredients which were once used to bring this series back from in the dead in the first place. However, if there is one takeaway from over forty years and an endless array of sequels, it’s that little Tommy Doyle’s proclamation that “You can’t kill the boogeyman” has been more than realized. At this point though, it’s beginning to feel less like a decree and more like an omen.