When David Gordon Green and Danny McBride signed on to develop a new Halloween trilogy, their big idea was to pick the story up 40 years after the events of John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, effectively ignoring all prior sequels in the series. With a clean slate, this seminal horror franchise had a chance to break free from the convoluted narrative restraints that had accrued by the time Jamie Lee Curtis made her last appearance as iconic final girl Laurie Strode in 2002’s Halloween Resurrection. But where 2018’s legacy sequel – simply titled Halloween – had a natural rhythm, setting both Laurie and boogeyman Michael Meyers on a crash course toward their inevitable, bloody reunion, its new sequel Halloween Kills can’t decide which part of its mythology it wants to resurrect or expand upon.
Green and McBride don’t commit any major sins like re-canonizing Laurie as Michael’s sister. But they do heavily rely upon a few major retcons staged in the immediate aftermath of Michael’s 1978 rampage. In this version of events told via flashback, we learn that a young Officer Hawkins encountered Michael that fateful night. With his partner, they tracked Michael down to his childhood home after he murdered three people. But instead of apprehending Michael, Hawkins accidentally shoots his partner, killing him.
On the same night, a young Lonnie Elam – briefly seen and mentioned in 1978 as a bully of Laurie’s babysittee Tommy Doyle – also comes face to face with the boogeyman but lives to tell the tale. This sets the stage for Michael’s original survivors to return with their own scores to settle.
Halloween Kills then jumps back to present day, alternating between the Strode women and a growing mob of irate, confused citizens descending upon the hospital where Laurie is recovering from her wounds sustained fighting Michael. It just happens to be the same hospital that another escaped patient, mistakenly identified as Michael, enters seeking help.
Now blind with rage, the Haddonfield mob – led by Tommy – chases the patient to his death. It’s a tragic suicide that’s played as a gut punch but also clumsily for shock value; as the camera closely pans across the splattered brains and gore sprawled out across the pavement below. On paper, this isn’t a bad idea. Michael’s survivors seeking revenge only to become corrupted themselves could have worked. It’s the kind of exciting approach that made 2018’s film so effective in exploring the trauma left in Michael’s wake. In practice, though, it lacks the subtlety or focus to feel earned.
It also doesn’t totally track within the context of its immediate predecessor; which explicitly went out of its way to demystify and minimize the legend of Michael Meyers. “Couple people getting killed by one guy with a knife is not that big of a deal,” recounts one character. A few hours after, he’s stabbed to a wall like a human light fixture. Even Kills has characters mispronouncing Laurie’s name only to shortly thereafter volunteer for a suicide mission to destroy an immortal serial killer. There’s a correlative nature to disbelief and how much everyone but Laurie and the original victims actually underestimate Michael. Unfortunately Green and McBride don’t play up that angle. Yet we’re still expected to feel something when a character shouts “Evil dies tonight!” for the umpteenth time before foolishly walking directly in the path of their obvious death.
That Halloween Kills amps up its violence doesn’t bother me either. Unlike other, more overtly supernatural horror villains, Michael and his forms of terror – stalk, hide, maim, kill – are still bound to reality; even if everyone in Haddonfield thinks he’s evil incarnate. John Carpenter already nailed the Jaws-like restraint and creeping dread of Michael’s fatal voyeurism all without ever spilling much blood in 1978. And the 2018 film did a pretty good job honoring that simple elegance.
But there’s just very little else that either hasn’t been explored (see Halloween II through H20) or needs to be explored again (see Rob Zombie’s underrated entries). So while it may be in conflict with Carpenter’s original vision, it isn’t without precedent. It also makes sense as the one thing filmmakers can continually iterate or push to the next level. And this one more than delivers on its escalating gore and inventive “kills” if you fancy that sort of thing. What Halloween Kills fails to deliver is any meaningful connection between audience and victim.
For this particular story to work, one of two things – both fairly radical – needed to happen: sideline Laurie or Michael. The last time a Halloween sequel excluded Michael, it wasn’t received well, although there is something to be said for the cult status that Halloween III: Season of the Witch has achieved. An authentic, psychological thriller of man turned monster exists somewhere in here. But it gets lost in the sauce of myriad underwritten perspectives we’re forced to explore. Often, these detours arrive at the expense of its more compelling arcs like Laurie and her family. So why remove the one thing that actually works then? If executed properly, it allows the film to better develop its survivor arc. It also builds even greater momentum for Laurie’s triumphant return in the final installment.
With Halloween Ends set for a four-year time jump, hopefully that serves as enough of a soft reset to right the course of this diverted ship. However Green and McBride choose to conclude their trilogy, Halloween could benefit from taking the Ends part literally for a while. Knowing the way IP rights and franchise management works, that probably won’t happen. A recent interview with writers Ben Collins and Luke Piotrowski from Hulu’s upcoming Hellraiser revival detailed an abandoned Halloween project that proves fresh takes on this franchise are still possible. Even if the next reboot doesn’t rebrand The Shape as national urban legend as they might have, the point is: less is more. The true horror of Michael Meyers isn’t what we can see. It’s what we can’t.
Halloween Kills is currently on Peacock and in theaters.