Review: Halloween Kills

Director: David Gordon Green

Stars: Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Anthony Michael Hall

Earlier this week Captain Kirk himself was fired into space, in a sense completing a circuit that began back in the 1960s. Here on Earth, however, the raggedy-ass face of William Shatner is out there scaring the bejeezus out of teens in the multiplexes once more, as Michael Myers returns yet again.

The third film in this retconned universe – which forgoes all original sequels, acknowledging only John Carpenter’s seminal smash – Halloween Kills picks up exactly where its predecessor left off… only to dovetail back into the timeline of the 1978 movie to tie up a few conspicuous loose ends.

To wit; we get to see what happened to Michael after Dr Loomis emptied a revolver into him; how he was caught, and what happened in between. It’s a handsome bit of fan service, although the CG-augmented resurrection of Donald Pleasance’s crackpot doctor is likely to be the first of many items to split audiences down the middle. The same creative team are behind this muscular follow-up, but they still seem torn over which version of this franchise they’d prefer to embrace; tipping their hat to Carpenter with the film’s casting and general production design, but pursuing Rob Zombie down the avenue of evermore elaborate and sadistic violence.

It’s a thankless task being a Halloween purist, one imagines. Every sequel bastardises your baby just a little bit more. Those beholden to the original vision of The Shape may find themselves baffled here, as Michael starts hacking up bodies, rearranging corpses, and generally displaying more cruelty than ever before. This week also saw Scream return to cinemas and, as Randy would attest, sequels always have to go bigger. But the Michael of Halloween Kills is an uncharacteristic force of nature.

This becomes a mixed blessing. For the aforementioned puritans, its not quite what Myers is about, and the ensuing massacre pushes at the edges of the extreme. For this film, however, it quite effectively ups the ante,  and sets the ball rolling for some considerable bloodletting.

Having been sliced in the gut during the showdown of 2018’s Halloween, traumatised battleaxe Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is sidelined to a hospital bed for this middle chapter in David Gordon Green’s trilogy. All due respect to Curtis, but this benefits the film significantly. Without her to anchor the story, Green and his co-writers open up Haddonfield, creating a sense of scope in the community rarely attempted at any point in the franchise. Anthony Michael Hall (almost unrecognisable from his formative John Hughes days) takes centre stage as the grown-up Tommy Doyle, leading a wave of hyped-up vigilantism that starts sweeping the Illinois suburb. As with the previous film, a rather patchwork narrative unfolds. The Strode daughters navigate the sidelines while new characters are left to fend for themselves in the middle.

This is where some of the juiciest sections of Halloween Kills are laid bare. A car-full of would-be avengers that include a doctor and nurse couple (Michael Smallwood, Carmela McNeal) are fun to follow for a little while. And elsewhere, the new owners of the Myers house – Big John (Scott MacArthur) and Little John (Michael McDonald) – offer some interim delights. These quickly-sketched lambs-to-the-slaughter are more in-keeping with the kind of body-count-upping extras found in a Friday the 13th film than a Halloween one. But its characters like these that fuel slasher movies and, in this case, they keep the furnace stoked.

Halloween Kills matches its predecessor’s bloating running time (similarly clocking in at 1hr 45 – long for a slasher). And, as before, it might’ve been a tighter film if some of the padding had been cut as brutally as all these victims. An entire section at the hospital on mob mentality could have (and probably should have) been excised altogether. The point about vigilante justice is made effectively elsewhere, and the sequence exposes a laughably cartoon-ish view of mental illness in the process.

The dialogue throughout also could’ve used another pass or two. It’s hard to discern if its knowingly cheesy or just downright bad, and the difficulty in telling comes from the indecisive approach to tone. Much like last time, Green and company don’t seem entirely sure what’s allowed to be funny and what isn’t. Largely, this is a film that operates at a remorseless stride. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as anyone who showed up for Don’t Breathe 2 might attest. But it does tilt the overall toward the nihilistic mire of the Rob Zombie movies and makes the flecks of intended humour difficult to register. One also can’t shake the feeling that every line has been written on the off-chance that it makes the trailer.

Fulfilling an evident bridging role, Halloween Kills still manages to provide instantaneous multiplex thrills. With an engaged and involved audience, this is more or less textbook Friday night horror fare, providing routine rushes of adrenaline. It is graphic, and serious, and more than a bit silly. But it also strengthens Green’s hand in the franchise, and I’m curious to see what he’s cooking up for the inevitable final showdown.

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