Halloween Kills—directed by David Gordon Green, and co-written by Green, Scott Teems, and Danny McBride—picks up immediately where 2018’s Halloween left off, dropping us right in the middle of a massacre in progress.
As we begin, the citizens of Haddonfield, Illinois—“a simple town where nothing exciting ever happens,” as one character calls it—are just starting to realize there’s a brutal killer in their midst. Puzzlingly, very few of them remember or even know about that killer’s similarly bloody visit on Halloween night 1978, following his first Halloween murder there in 1963. And though only mere moments have passed in the movie’s world, Halloween Kills wants us to see how the psyche of the town has shifted considerably since that first film. The film works hard to advance certain themes—the lingering agony of PTSD, the sparks that make terrified groups of people transform into a frenzied mob, the choices families make to protect their loved ones. Sometimes it works a little too hard. But it also features some standout performances while delivering maybe the goriest Halloween movie to date, which is saying something.
So, yeah, we’re right back where we were—Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, powerful as ever), her daughter Karen (Judy Greer), and her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) are speeding away from Laurie’s burning house with Michael Myers (played, depending on the scene by stunt performer, James Jude Courtney, and original Michael mask-wearer Nick Castle) still seething evil inside. Haddonfield firefighters—as blind to their town’s history as everyone there traditionally has been; remember, Laurie was considered a wack job for spending her life preparing for Michael’s return—rush to put out the flames, and unknowingly end up freeing the monster once again. While Laurie gets some much-needed medical care at Haddonfield’s hospital, Michael gets right back down to business, slaying his way across town while panic slowly begins to set in on streets where straggling trick-or-treaters are still making the rounds.
But despite this ready-made forward momentum, Halloween Kills actually spends a lot of its time poking into the past. We get a detailed flashback to 1978 that explores painful memories of that night long kept hidden by Deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton; Thomas Mann plays young Frank). We attend the annual reunion of Michael survivors—the now-adult kids Laurie was babysitting that fateful night (Kyle Richards, who reprises her role as Lindsey Wallace, and franchise newcomer Anthony Michael Hall as Tommy Doyle); Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), the nurse who was with Dr. Loomis (the late, great Donald Pleasence, who gets what looks like a digitally recreated cameo) when Michael escaped in 1978; and Lonnie Elam (Robert Longstreet), a onetime schoolyard bully who had an attitude adjustment scared into him after encountering Michael and living to tell the tale. Also in Halloween Kills: Charles Cyphers as Haddonfield’s former sheriff Leigh Brackett, the father of one of Michael’s 1978 victims. And to set the mood, series creator John Carpenter contributes (along with Cody Carpenter and Daniel Davies) a tweaked and updated version of Carpenter’s classic score. If all this feels like fan service—well, it is, and we haven’t even mentioned the other Easter Eggs that wink at fans of the sequels that this new Halloween continuity has otherwise brushed aside. (You’ll know ‘em when you see ‘em.)
In the original Halloween, much of Laurie’s struggle springs from the fact that nobody believes her when she starts spotting Michael around town. Her friends don’t take her seriously (bad move, since they all end up dying); the next-door neighbors ignore her when she pounds on their door screaming for help. Only Dr. Loomis understands—nobody believes him at first, either—and he doesn’t meet Laurie until the movie’s final scene. So Halloween Kills finally, finally showing Haddonfield at large recognizing what kind of threat they’re dealing with is a relief, even if you still might still wonder multiple times how the town could forget such a vicious mass killing, especially one with survivors still in residence.
Trouble is, once Haddonfield finally wakes up, it quickly becomes infected by the kind of fear that makes formerly normal humans act so irrationally. (“People are afraid. That is the true curse of Michael,” Laurie tells us, in just one example of some heavy-handed dialogue that crops up during act three to make sure we’re catching onto Halloween Kills’ big picture; she also informs us that “Every time someone’s afraid, the boogeyman wins.”) Haddonfield unites under the rallying cry of “Evil dies tonight!”, but their explosive emotions turn them into an unruly band of vigilantes, something that’s illustrated in one particularly grim scene tempered a bit by Judy Greer’s performance as Karen, which brings sensitivity to a moment that otherwise feels a bit like you’re getting smashed over the head with a blunt object.
Really, that’s how the whole movie feels by the end. No Halloween movie has ever taken the subtle approach—this is, after all, a series about a guy who exists only to slaughter people in creative ways—but at times, Halloween Kills inches dangerously close to taking itself too seriously. Any attempts at comic relief feel shoehorned in (the queer couple living in Michael’s childhood home refer to each other as “Big John” and “Little John” and seem to enjoy the notoriety of their address, but the characters ultimately prove unimportant to the main story) and you wonder why the script even bothered.
Mostly Halloween Kills wants you to experience the raging hurt lurking deep within every heart in Haddonfield. By the end of the movie, the bandage has been completely ripped off and pain is flowing freely in the streets, but the town (and this is not a spoiler; we all know there’s a third movie called Halloween Ends on the way) is left without a William Shatner-wearing head to mount on a spike. We know Laurie is set for a trilogy-capping duel to the death when she and Michael meet again—and with it, maybe some actual closure. If that’s even possible.
Halloween Kills opens in theaters and on Peacock October 15.
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