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Halloween Kills

Halloween Kills (Green, 2021)

I'm not a diehard fan of the entire Halloween franchise, but I happen to think some of the sequels are pretty good. So when David Gordon Green "rebooted" the series with his sequel in 2018 that ignored all the other sequels, I was a little annoyed by the erasure of Rick Rosenthal's Halloween II, which I happen to think is a pretty strong example of its genre. But at the same time, I could mostly excuse this decision as I appreciated that the movie was having a direct conversation with John Carpenter's original, and while I found much of its exploration of the concept fairly self-defeating, it still worked as a fairly propulsive horror film with a good sense of narrative momentum and some effectively gnarly kills. Halloween Kills, which picks up right after that movie, shares the level of brutality of its predecessor, with a bevy of murders involving neck snaps, crushed skulls, blunt force trauma, fluorescent tubes to the neck as well as the requisite stabs, each of which seemingly has the foley artists working overtime. Carpenter's original is known for being fairly bloodless by the standards of the genre, with Michael Myers' strength demonstrated succinctly when he manages to lift one of his victims by the hilt of a knife. Green bludgeons you with ample graphic evidence of Myers' abilities. Gorehounds will be sated, is what I'm saying.

Unfortunately, in between those scenes, the movie is kind of a chore, and its erasure of Rosenthal's film annoyed me especially as it consciously invites the comparison, re-envisioning events right after the events of the original as well those of the 2018 film. Where Halloween II moves briskly, showing Myers attempting to continue his rampage while evading the police in its particularly thrilling first act, Halloween Kills stops the action every few minutes to tell us the significance of what's happening. The first time it happens, Anthony Michael Hall (playing Tommy Doyle, one of the kids babysat by Jamie Lee Curtis' Laurie Strode in the original, a role which was also played by Paul Rudd in The Curse of Michael Myers) dampens the mood during Halloween night at a bar with a not ineffective speech. I think Hall's casting is particularly astute, as his bulked-up physique could be read as an attempt by his character to gain a sense of control after the traumatic events of the original.

But every few minutes, somebody else gives a similar speech, again explaining what Michael Myers means to the community (The phrase "Evil dies tonight" is repeated ad nauseam.) Each of these is staged like fodder for a trailer, so that the movie never breathes dramatically. In Halloween: Resurrection, perhaps the series' least loved entry, Busta Rhymes elegantly explained that "Michael Myers is not a soundbite, spin-off, tie-in, some kind of celebrity scandal. Michael Myers is a killer shark, in baggy-ass overalls, who gets his kicks killing everything and everyone that he comes across. That's all." Not only would his speech not sound out of place here, it's less ungainly and on the nose than some of the ones here. Given the focus on community trauma and the self-defeating strategy of the previous film, I suspect this is Green's attempt to take on modern "elevated" horror films which prioritize theme over tension, but the fact is that some of those are still effective horror films and as a result Green's gambit is either disingenuous ("look at how bad my movie is, just like the ones I'm satirizing") or highlights his relative incompetence. Take your pick.

The previous movie had certain ideas about gun ownership that one could read a clear political stance into, even if the execution felt more in reference to genre tropes than the real world. This one turns its attention to police accountability and especially mob mentality, but while it ultimately indicts the latter, its handling jerks between pro- and anti-mob incidents in a way that seems schizophrenic more than subversive. (One could expect Dr. Hibbert to cry out "We've given the word 'mob' a bad name" and not find it out of place, given the movie's penchant for speechifying.) The mob element also results in a certain sprawl, which is structurally interesting (and allows Myers to rack up his kill count much faster) but takes us away from Curtis and Will Patton, whose relationship is only human element here that feels genuine. It's all pretty unfortunate, as when the movie decides to shut the hell up and commit to following something through, it can be pretty tense, like Patton's flashback to his encounter with Myers on the night of the original film's events. And when Myers is going about his murderous business, there is a baseline of entertainment value given Green's mean-spirited glee in executing these sequences.

And for a certain strain of horror fan, some of the references here might be enjoyable. The movie calls back to Halloween II with the death of a character dressed as a nurse (a nod to one of that movie's best known kills), and by finding a diegetic explanation for the changed appearance of Myers' mask. (While many of the sequels have used wildly different masks, The earlier film used the same one as the original. The reason that it looked drastically different is that in between the films, it was kept under the mattress of producer Debra Hill, who happened to be a chainsmoker.) Here the explanation is that the mask is burned along with Myers, which brings to mind another line from the great Busta Rhymes in Resurrection:"Looking a little crispy over there, Mikey. Like some chicken-fried mother****er." (We need to bring back Busta, is what I'm saying. Let's get this trending, people!) The use of a firefighter's saw in one sequence also brings to mind High Tension, which has similarly gruesome murders. Both Halloween II and High Tension are substantially more tense than this one (and Resurrection, while far from "good", is much funnier whenever Busta Rhymes is onscreen), but the movie does refer to at least one movie that's much worse, when a character's arm is severed after he falls to his death in a gruesome riff on the most memorably cheap moment in Zombie Holocaust. Take that, Marino Girolami!