******PUMPKIN SPICE SPOILERS!!******
After more than a year’s delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “Halloween Kills” is finally getting a release. Like the Godzilla franchise, Halloween’s continuity has been rebooted multiple times since the classic 1978 original. Halloweens 2, 4, 5 and 6 were (more or less) a straight line series of diminishing quality that saw Laurie Strode being killed in a car accident sometime after Halloween II (1981), leaving her young daughter Jamie Lloyd (played by Danielle Harris for most of the character’s run) to carry on the series, until her own murder in the cobbled-together mess that was “Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers” (1995). After 1995, the series’ bizarre, multiverse continuity became even more complicated…
“Halloween: H20” (1998) was a partial reboot which saw a middle-aged Laurie living under a new name in a Northern California town as the headmistress of a posh private academy (this is in keeping with the book-smart character’s penchant for academia, as established in the 1978 film). H20 saw Laurie dealing with the traumatic past events of Halloweens 1-2 (ignoring the subsequent sequels) as a functional alcoholic; a sad fact not unnoticed by her hover-parented son John (Josh Hartnett) and her colleague/beau, Will, played by Adam Arkin. The movie wisely keep things small scale, with killer Michael Myers on the loose within the campus after most of the student body has gone on a camping trip. H20 kept things simple and effective. Unfortunately, its sequel, 2002’s “Halloween: Resurrection”, would be an unmitigated disaster–trying to mix the slasher-horror genre with the ‘young-people-sharing-a-house’ reality TV craze (which began a decade earlier with MTV’s “Real World”). After a ridiculously convoluted explanation for why her decapitation of Michael didn’t take, Laurie is (mercifully) killed off in the movie’s first few minutes, and rapper Busta Rhymes later defeats the previously unstoppable Michael Myers by knocking him out of a window with a shovel–not kidding. It’s that dumb.
Note: “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” (1983) attempted to turn the series into a horror anthology with a creepy Samhain curse involving a Druid cult using mass marketing technology to murder children who buy their cursed masks. More “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”-conspiracy than “Halloween”-slasher flick, and surprisingly more watchable than it sounds.
On the heels of Resurrection’s failure, 2007’s “Halloween” reboot offered a decidedly sleazier, Rob Zombie-directed take on Carpenter’s previously whitebread town of Haddonfield, Illinois. It also took a deeper dive into villain Michael Myers’ troubled childhood. Zombie’s Michael Myers was more Jeffrey Dahmer-inspired than the blank-slate “boogieman” of the original. Personally, I enjoyed 2007’s Halloween as an intriguing alternate-universe version of the original. After a second Rob Zombie Halloween film deservedly tanked, the series was rebooted yet again. 2018’s unimaginatively titled “Halloween” (the third film in the series to use that single-word title) would undo all continuity after the 1978 original–including the critical revelation from “Halloween II” (1981) that Michael Myers was Laurie’s previously unknown brother. Laurie Strode was now reimagined as a half-crazed Sarah Connor-clone, turning her semi-rural Illinois home into a giant kill-room, irrationally waiting forty years for an incarcerated Michael to return. Laurie’s obsession with serial killer Michael seemed a lot weaker without their sibling connection. Laurie Strode now seems like a survivalist nut who listens to too much AM talk radio.
While I wasn’t the greatest fan of 2018’s “Halloween” sequel/reboot, I was hoping “Halloween Kills” might pull a rabbit out of its rubber mask and give us a more solid followup to its lackluster predecessor (since this has happened before with the Halloween franchise).
Unfortunately, expectations, like Michael Myers, are very dangerous things…
Opening with a faithfully recreated flashback to the 1978 original’s ending, we have previously unseen cops Hawkins (Thomas Mann) and his partner Pete (Jim Cummings) searching the neighborhood for Michael Myers, after he fled the scene after taking multiple gunshots from his psychiatrist, Dr. Sam Loomis (Tom Jones Jr/voice of Colin Mann). After Myers frightens former school bully Lonnie Elam (Tristian Eggerling), the killer is cornered by the two cops at the Myers’ former family home. Hawkins accidentally mortally wounds his partner after Michael uses him as a human shield. Outside the home, a squad of Haddonfield’s finest surrounds Michael, and the Shape surrenders…but not before Dr. Loomis tries to execute “the Evil.” Idealistic officer Hawkins thwarts the good doctor’s attempted execution, and Michael is taken into custody (a little too easily, if you ask me). Hawkins’ role in his partner’s accidental homicide is covered up by his superiors, and the young officer is left stewing in guilt over the death of his partner–who forgave him before succumbing.
Note: One of the few highlights of this otherwise tiresome sequel is the meticulously recreated 1978 version of Haddonfield from the original, using North Carolina in lieu of the original’s Pasadena, California-for-Illinois. Not to mention the dumb luck of casting a near-perfect face/body double for the late Donald Pleasance (1919-1995). Tom Jones Jr. was a production assistant for the movie, not an actor, but with his face and the voice of actor Colin Mann, a near-perfect duplication of Pleasance was created. It was so good, in fact, that I automatically assumed that Pleasance was somehow digitally recreated.
Cut to Halloween night, 2018, after the ending of the last film. Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), along with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) flee the blazing kill-box left for Michael in Laurie’s home. Riding in the back of a truck en route to a hospital, they see firetrucks rushing to put out the inferno Laurie so carefully arranged for Michael, as they scream in anguish at the fire department’s misplaced altruism.
Note: Once again, I shake my head at the ridiculousness of Laurie spending forty years arranging a kill-zone for a man who terrorized her one night forty years earlier. Yes, that event was no doubt deeply traumatizing, as she lost two of her best friends that night, but it doesn’t explain Laurie’s obsession with killing a man who, to her knowledge, has been under lock and key for the past four decades. Not to mention that undoing Michael’s previously canonical role as her sibling makes Laurie seem almost as singularly obsessed and bloodthirsty as serial killer Michael.
Of course, Michael escapes the burning Strode house, with only a singed mask when a well-meaning fireman reaches up to pull him from the blazing basement kill-box. Michael shows his gratitude to the Haddonfield Fire Dept. by killing the lot of them with their own tools. Watching Michael murder firefighters by disabling their oxygen supplies and smashing into their faces with various weapons goes on a little too long for my taste–I prefer horror that suggests gore and brutality instead of reveling in it.
Note: How the fire didn’t spread into the trees and shrubbery near the Strode house is beyond me; unless another unit came to put it out afterward, only to find several of their comrades hideously slain by a preternaturally robust man of 61 years old.
We then follow Michael as he works his way into the neighborhood, breaking into the home of an older couple (Lenny Clark, Diva Tyler) who hear news of Myers’ new rampage only to become victims of the serial killer themselves. Once again, Michael performs his brutal style of performance art as he rams a fluorescent lighting tube through the body of the wife, while brutally gouging the face and skull of her husband. Once again, it’s simply gore for gore’s sake…
Note: The murder of the older couple is (coincidentally or deliberately) lifted from the opening scenes of 1981’s “Halloween II.” Interestingly Halloween II (directed by Rick Rosenthal–who’d return for 2002’s “Halloween: Resurrection”) was also when the franchise became more gory in order to compete with “Friday the 13th” and other slasher flicks. Director John Carpenter’s 1978 original was much more suggestive in its horror. In fact, it’s surprising that Carpenter returned to executive produce this borderline-torture porn sequel (along with star Jamie Lee Curtis, who coproduces).
We then see a local Haddonfield bar and grill hosting a Halloween night talent show, with various locals strutting their stuff. Marcus (Michael Smallwood) and Vanessa (Carmela McNeal), are a young couple who’ve switched roles for Halloween–with male nurse Marcus dressed as a doctor, while wife Vanessa assumes the role of a sexy nurse. They’ve come to the bar to relax and unwind, but are rudely interrupted by the drunken noise of some older patrons sitting behind them–these patrons are the survivors of the original Michael Myers killing spree of 1978; retired nurse Marion (Nancy Stephens), a middle-aged Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) and his (implied) wife, Lindsey (Kyle Richards). Tommy is invited onstage, where he talks about the horrors of that night 40 years ago. After asking the survivors to quiet down earlier, Marcus and Vanessa reach out to apologize. The entire group then bonds together over drinks.
Note: Original “Halloween” actors Kyle Richards (“Real Housewives of Beverly Hills”) and Nancy Stephens reprise their roles, while former teen star Anthony Michael Hall (“Weird Science” “Breakfast Club”) assumes the role of Tommy Doyle. The formerly scrawny Hall looks more like “Back to the Future”‘s Biff Tannen these days. The characters of Lindsey and Tommy were also played by other actors in “Halloween 4” (Leslie L. Rohland) and “Halloween 6” (Paul Rudd), respectively. Current “Ant-Man” star (and ageless man) Rudd made his onscreen debut as a conspiracy-obsessed Tommy in “Halloween 6.”
As the newly bonded group heads out to their cars following news of Michael Myers’ escape, Vanessa realizes there is an escaped mental patient (Ross Bacon) hiding in her backseat. Screaming for Marcus and the others for help, self-appointed town savior Tommy grabs the bartender’s lucky baseball bat and heads out to confront the man in Vanessa’s car, whom everyone assumes is Michael Myers just as the frightened man starts her car and speeds away, before totaling it and escaping.
Meanwhile, a recovering Laurie is patched together at the hospital. Karen and Allyson are onhand, as is Allyson’s boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold). Cameron is the son of Tommy Doyle’s former grade-school bully-turned-bestie, Lonnie (Robert Longstreet). A doctor privately tells Karen the news that Michael escaped the fire and is on the loose–again. Karen keeps the news from her mother as long as she can, until Laurie learns the truth. Laurie is determined to lure Michael to the hospital, where she plans to give her own life in order to take his. Later, Laurie is given a coincidental hospital roomie in the form of wounded veteran Haddonfield cop and ex-boyfriend Hawkins (now played by Will Patton). Both Laurie and Hawkins share their Michael Myers’ stories and their assumed guilt for their roles in his current rampage. It’s not until much later in the story that Laurie comes to understand Hawkins struggle with survivor’s guilt for not killing Michael back when he had the chance in 1978…
Note: This martyr plan of Laurie’s, of course, makes no sense, since her meticulously crafted kill-zone for Michael didn’t work, either. Why would she suddenly assume she’d be allowed to commit, let alone get away with, murder at a fully staffed hospital? Not to mention that the idea of a terrified Laurie spending most of the movie in a hospital bed was also stolen directly from “Halloween II” (1981)–a movie whose entire continuity (including the revelation that Laurie & Michael were siblings) was undone by 2018’s “Halloween.” Talk about insult to injury…
As Tommy coordinates the townspeople into a full-on search party, Lindsey, Marion, Marcus and Vanessa decide to search for Michael themselves, appointing themselves as town protectors in the face of an ineffective police department led by the useless Sheriff Barker (Omar Dorsey–still wearing that stupid cowboy hat from the previous movie). After warning some bratty, older trick or treaters to vacate a local park playground, Lindsey sees Michael at the park–watching them all from a discrete distance. Before long, Vanessa, Marcus and Marion are all brutally killed in their SUV. Later, Lindsey sees their masked corpses gruesomely arranged on the park’s carousel, as she barely manages to escape with her own life…
Note: Once again, the movie unimaginatively steals ideas from other entries of the Halloween franchise, this time the town’s half-rabid vigilantes from 1988’s “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.” There was also a scene from Halloween 4 where said vigilante mob killed the wrong man midway into the film–another moment repeated later on in “Halloween Kills” when the newly drafted angry mob corners another escaped mental patient, mistaking him for Michael.
Meanwhile, Allyson (still wearing her blood-stained blouse from the last movie) slips away from her mother’s mandated watch over grandma Laurie and joins forces with Cameron and his father Lonnie, who keeps a car fully stocked with weapons–legal and otherwise. The three of them decide to take matters into their own hands instead of waiting for the ineffective Haddonfield sheriff to act.
Meanwhile, Tommy has rescued a terrified Lindsey, who was hiding in the trees near the playground. Angered that Michael got so close to someone he cares about, Tommy rushes Lindsey to the hospital as his own rage is renewed.
Note: A rare funny note in this dour sequel sees Lonnie forced to revise the story of his encounter with Michael Myers; after years of telling townsfolk of Haddonfield that he bravely entered the Myers’ home that Halloween night of 1978, he finally comes clean and admits that Dr. Loomis scared him from entering the house (“Lonnie! Get your ass away from there!”).
The hospital’s head of security is none other than former Haddonfield sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cypher), who, along with Karen, is furious with the current sheriff’s ineffectual leadership. Thus, the beginnings of an angry mob begin, with Tommy Doyle whipping the crowd into a frenzy with the battle cry of “Evil dies tonight!” In her hospital room, Laurie realizes the key to Michael’s indestructibility–he feeds off the anger and rage directed at him, making him even stronger (something hinted at in “Halloween 6,” which saw the supernatural “Thorn” cult of druids somehow fueling Michael’s invulnerability). This is how a 61 year-old escaped mental patient is (somehow) rendered impervious to attacks which would otherwise destroy a normal human being.
Note: Yes, Charles Cypher is another returning cast member from the 1978 original. Original cast members are tossed into the movie like so many Easter eggs, and it’s easy to miss a few (as I’m sure I have). The character of (ex) Sheriff Leigh Brackett, is, of course, named after the famous same-named sci-fi novelist and ‘Queen of the Space Opera,’ who wrote one of the earlier drafts for “The Empire Strikes Back” before succumbing to cancer in 1978.
Meanwhile, the escaped mental patient who stole Vanessa’s car has managed to slip into the Haddonfield hospital, which is then placed on lockdown. After several members of Tommy’s crazed mob spot the patient, he is sent into a panic. Karen gets a good look at the man and realizes he is not Michael Myers. She attempts to save the man’s life by isolating him into a locked-off corridor overlooking a window, several stories up (yeah–what could go wrong?). As Tommy’s vigilantes, including former Sheriff Brackett (who lost a daughter to Michael’s murder spree 40 years earlier), close in on the terrified old man, he predictably smashes through the window and jumps to his death–much to the horror of onlookers, including Karen and grandma Laurie, who dosed herself up with (conveniently left behind) painkillers in order to join the fracas.
Note: While this movie was shot over two years ago, there is a surprising resonance with the movie’s angry vigilante mob and the Washington D.C. Capitol rioters of January 6th, 2021. The Capitol rioters also shouted a three-worded battle cry (“Stop the steal”) as they were misled by former President Trump’s baseless conspiracy theories into storming the Capitol building of the United States government, breaking into the evacuated congressional chamber after savagely beating capitol police, forcing their way through barricades and even smearing feces on the walls. While the vigilantes of the movie don’t go quite that far, their mindless rage does force a frightened escaped mental patient into committing suicide instead of facing their blind wrath–paying a fatal price for the mob’s misplaced rage.
Repeating his pattern from the first movie (and some of its now-forgotten sequels), Michael once again seeks to “return home.” However, the former Myers’ home is now the home of a gay couple, Big John (Scott MacArthur) and Little John (Michael McDonald), who are spending Halloween night at home and toking up when their domestic bliss is rudely intruded upon by “the Shape” himself. Michael savagely kills the two Johns, placing their corpses together near a phonograph, which plays a love song–once again, Michael’s sick penchant for murderous performance art rears its ugly (and possibly homophobic) head. It’s upon this twisted scene that would-be vigilantes Allyson, Cameron and Lonnie enter the former Myers’ house and are similarly slaughtered.
Karen goes after Michael herself, at the old Myers’ house. Once there, she comes across the horrific carnage of her daughter and the others. The shock forces Karen into a white-hot maternal rage, as she physically attacks Michael herself–successfully pulling off the killer’s iconic mask and luring him into a group of waiting vigilantes, led by a baseball bat-wielding Tommy Doyle.
Note: As with the previous movie, we never get a good full-on look at Michael Myers–only a glimpse of his white-haired scalp and the side of his face, enough to see that he still has the scarred eye given to him by Laurie’s wire coat hanger in the 1978 film. The unmasked Michael is played by actor James Jude Courtney, who (in photos taken in his Michael makeup) looks a lot like actor Jonathan Banks, who plays “Breaking Bad”/”Better Call Saul” character Mike Ehrmantraut–the frighteningly efficient former-cop-turned-private-fixer often employed by Saul Goodman (Bod Odenkirk).
The final scenes see Tommy’s mob descend upon Michael, who calmly reaches down to pick up his dropped mask, right before each member of the mob take turns beating the living crap out of him. Surviving a whooping that no human possibly could, Michael gets back up and turns their own rage upon the crowd–killing them one by one–finally beating Tommy to death with his own bat. Karen watches in horror from the upstairs window of the Myers house, before Michael slaughters her as well. The final image we see is of Laurie, staring from her hospital window–having just lost her entire family to Michael Myers.
Laurie’s wasted life of seclusion and later reconnection with her family were but exercises in futility. In fact, Laurie’s forty year pursuit of both payback and her own family’s safety are, like this movie, utterly meaningless.
Note: Once again, don’t get too attached to anyone in this movie, because it’s not worth the effort to cheer them on. The movie’s message is that all acts of heroism and sacrifice are in vain, and that evil will win, no matter how hard good tries to stop it. In fact, evil only gains strength the more it is resisted. This runs contrary to everything we’ve seen in the 1978 movie, which saw Laurie and Dr. Loomis survive that movie’s carnage precisely because they stuck their necks out to stop Michael Myers–not in spite of it. “Halloween Kills” has a nihilistic cynicism that seems to counter everything one traditionally roots for in a slasher film–that ‘final girl’ who survives the carnage because she is resourceful and strong. “Halloween Kills” simply doesn’t give a s#!t, and it shows.
Summing It Up.
I’m not sure exactly what I was hoping for with this sequel, given my disappointment with 2018’s “Halloween,” but I was buoyed by rumors of a deeper connection to the 1978 source movie, particularly the rumored cameos by the original actors who played Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers), Lindsey (Kyle Richards) and even nurse Marion (Nancy Stevens, who also appeared in “H20”). The former ‘little boy’ Tommy Doyle has grown into a baseball bat-wielding fifty-something played by former teen star Anthony Michael Hall (I’m not sure exactly why original actor Bryan Andrews wasn’t called back for the part, but from what I’ve read, he gave Hall his blessing). There was even a near-exact lookalike playing Dr. Samuel Loomis. With all of that going for it, I was vaguely hopeful that “Halloween Kills” was going to pull out all the stops for a grand “Halloween” finale.
Sadly, the callbacks to earlier “Halloween” movies exist to prop up a weak story that is little more than a mashup of prior Halloween movies, with an injured Laurie trapped for most of the film in a locked-down hospital (see: 1981’s “Halloween II”) as the townsfolk of Haddonfield are whipped up into a vigilante mob (see: “Halloween 4”). Hell, even the supernatural notion of Michael growing ever stronger from acts of violence was taken from “Halloween 6.” The sad truth is that we’ve seen all of this before, and more efficiently executed than in this meandering mess of a sequel. About the only pluses of “Halloween Kills” are its 1978 flashback sequence, as well as the cameos from the 1978 films’ actors–even if their characters are the human equivalent of bowling pins, just waiting to be knocked down. Yes, I realize that people are supposed to get killed in the “Halloween” movies (duh), but if no one is going to survive, then what’s the point of investing emotion in them? Without characters worth investing our emotions in, this collection of “Halloween”-inspired parts doesn’t equal an enjoyable whole; its nihilism is calculatingly cynical and downright unimaginative.
The only thing that “Halloween Kills” truly killed was this longtime “Halloween” fan’s interest in a followup.
Where To Watch.
“Halloween Kills” is in wide release in theaters everywhere. However, if–like myself–you’re not yet ready to return to theaters during the current COVID pandemic? “Halloween Kills” can be streamed safely at home via an upgrade to Peacock.com’s premium service ($9.99/month–less than a single movie ticket). To my readers, I once again wish you and all of your loved ones good health and strength during the current COVID pandemic. The current number of COVID-related deaths in the United States are now over 722,000 as of this writing (with over 4.5 million deaths worldwide), so please continue to wear masks in public, and get vaccinated as soon as possible to minimize risk of serious infection.
Have a safe and happy Halloween!