December 3, 2021

Film Review: ‘Halloween Kills’ All Of My Hope (A Cathartic Review/Rant)

(I need to disclose this up front, I have been a long time Halloween fan. Not only is it one of the best horror films of all time, it is on the list as one of the best films of all time. So this review, while fair, is more personal than most. If you are a fan of Halloween (2018) you can either forgo reading this or give it a read and let me know if you agree at all. As in all art, to each their own.)

Through the years, the Halloween franchise has had its ups and downs. The original is a pure classic. The second film was a rush job that has its moments, but never comes anywhere close to the original. Halloween 3 infamously has its detractors who cannot wrap their head about abandoning Michael Myers and attempting to turn the Halloween franchise into an anthology. Honestly, it is actually pretty good. If titled, anything different it would have much more love. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers was a return to form – a smart sequel that respects the original while still extending the mythology. Sadly it is here where the Myers story was properly handled. 

What followed H4 were some well-intentioned, but sloppy sequels (5&6), Rob Zombie maligned reimaginings, a few generic 90’s style continuations, and even a kung-fu fighting Busta Rhymes. Somehow, like Michael Myers, the franchise that appeared to have died numerous times, returned from then dead time and time again. After the Rob Zombie films though, it seemed like we heard the last of The Boogeyman.

When it was announced a few years back that David Gordon Green would be teaming up with Danny McBride to revive the series with Jamie Lee Curtis reprising her iconic role, fans (including me) were ecstatic. How couldn’t we be after hearing John Carpenter would be involved and was enthusiastic about it. He even gave it his blessing with these encouraging words, “David and Danny both came to my office recently with Blumhouse Productions founder Jason Blum and shared their vision for the new movie and…WOW. They get it. I think you’re gonna dig it. They blew me away.”

Then things started to get sketchy. Instead of retaining the mythology established in the series, they explained that they would be disposing of everything besides the first film. Whoa! Wait a minute, no Jamie storyline, no Thorn, no Busta Rhymes? That was tough to swallow (ok, maybe not the Busta part), but I was open-minded. Then the highly-anticipated first trailer dropped, where keen viewers learned that not only are they abandoning it, they were changing some long-established canon. Laurie would no longer be the sister of Michael Myers. Uh… what?? Suddenly this new reboot felt more like a trick than a treat. Again though, I tried to accept the decisions.

Fast forward to 2018. This new Halloween opens and I am of course at the theater on opening night. I had concerns and fears, but I went in hoping for a good ride no matter what my gut was telling me. I am happy to say that my instincts were not wrong. I am very disappointed to say that the film was a total mess. There is one word I can use to describe it, lazy. Not scary, not creepy, not mesmerizing, not creative, just lazy. Green and Co. were handed control and given the chance to fix the flaws of the past and carry the franchise into the future. Instead of showing any reverence to the original what we were handed was a generic slasher with more in common with John Wick than Michael Myers. Sure, the mask was there, as was Jamie Lee and the infamous score, but otherwise the essence of Michael Myers was lost.


They turned this mysterious killer into an aimless killing machine. He had a purpose before, we just never knew what it was. Suddenly, it was as if he was killing for fun. Relentless and unstoppable. This rendered him pointless and (the cardinal sin) not scary. New fans were no longer interested in who/what/why Michael Myers was, instead the appeal was reduced to the lowest hanging fruit possible – ‘whoa! Did you see those creative kills?’ The original Halloween was a mood piece, it overflowed with fear and kept you unsettled from the opening scene until long after you viewed it. 2018’s version was forgettable and generic. If you swapped masks, some name and the music, was this even a Halloween film? I would say not.

Yes, it was packaged as one, but if you watched the original back to back with 2018 just how hollow of an imitation was inescapable. Jamie Lee Curtis was okay, even if she was never given much to work with. The imitation evil Doctor Loomis (Haluk Bilginer) was not only pointless, he was just another poorly thought out and aimless addition to the film (although I found him to be well acted in a campy sort of way.) I could go on and on about the flaws. Instead I will stop and say this, the film is full of so many head scratching and eye rolling moments that I had to immediately watch it again to ensure I didn’t miss anything. “Wow. They get it,” Mr. Carpenter?? Nothing could be further from reality. Besides the technical aspects of the film, some great cinematography, good editing and the reworked score everything else fell apart. (If you want to challenge my opinions of specific aspects of the film, I would love to have the discussion.)

That brings me to 2021’s Halloween Kills. I will admit, I had a tough time convincing myself that there was any shot at redemption for the rebooted franchise. What I saw in the 2018 film was a travesty and the trailer for the follow-up promised little hope. Some colleagues did tell me that they read the screenplay and I would be surprised. Again, I went in hoping for the best… or at least good. Spoiler alert! It’s not.

The film picks up immediately after the event of the last entry. Laurie’s home is burning with Michael trapped inside, presumably about to meet his maker by way of inferno. That is until the fire department shows up and puts out the fire. This scene alone crushed my dreams of a redeeming chapter in the new series because how poorly thought out it all was. I know this is a horror film and the 12th in a loose series at that, but you have to put in an effort. After all the years laying in waiting, an automated, boobie-trapped home full of high-end surveillance equipment and you never expected the fire department would show up? Really?? With that flaw exposed, it is just one of a handful of ludicrous details that challenged the suspension for disbelief early and often.

Fast forward to the best part of the film, an about 10-minute flashback that brought Loomis (originally played by Donald Pleasence) back to life through the use of a tremendous look alike and voice actor who captured the iconic character to a tee. Watching this sequence had me wonder why they could not retain this level of quality throughout or even close. The sequence includes some callbacks to the original, old characters, while building off the original in a satisfying fashion. Is it perfect? No. I could see their intentions a mile away, but I was okay with it. After a film and a quarter, I was finally seeing a hint of hope.

The hope quickly faded as we are introduced to some returning characters from the original. Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall – straight out of his Edward Scissorhands role), Lonnie (this time played by Robert Longstreet), and Nurse Chambers  (Nancy Stephens) and Lindsey Wallace (played by current Bravo ‘Housewife,’ Kyle Richards) would all return and team up to fight Michael Myers. What a coincidence that his return was perfectly lined up with their open-mic-night, mob raising event at the local tavern. Sometimes things just work out.

 



Unfortunately, for Halloween fans, this nostalgia grab turns out to be as hollow and lazy as the rest of the film.  The characters are given little to do besides spew bullshit, thinly veiled as ‘profound’ takes on Michael Myers as they deliver and encounter numerous cheap pop moments while referencing previous film moments, imagery and characters. Here’s a tip: If you are looking for authenticity, repeating ‘The Boogeyman’ over and over as if the character actually watched the original film is not going to cut it with a viewer looking for anything more than a gift.com version of a sequel. (Again the list is long and this ‘review’ – er rant – is longer. So I will not elaborate.)

I will not get into details as to not spoil the film for viewers, but there is a massive retcon attempt that is interesting at best, telegraphed from early on in the film and probably sets up a fairly obvious conclusion for the next entry, Halloween Ends. This retcon, while more ambitious than most of the other creative choices, does not hold water if you simply watch the original again (Something I seriously question if they did.) It gives an excuse for Laurie and Officer Hawkins (a new character worked into the originals flashbacks) the opportunity to lay out endless exposition and theories that simply makes them come across like two conspiracy theorists convincing each other of some inane idea. If the film went on any longer, I swear flat earth was the next topic of discussion.  The exposition is there to support a forced story line that never should have been told. If this was a puppet show it would be almost all strings.

Other complaints I care to expand upon, two showcased characters Big John (Scott MacArthur) and Little John (Michael MacDonald) are given a ton of screen time but ultimately have little to do. Were they there for comedic purposes or to make a statement of some sort?  Anyway you look at it, they were misused. Then there’s the mob, I believe the film is trying to make a statement about the mob mentality. Any attempt is lost in a sea of ineffective writing which includes eight dozen deliveries of the line “Evil dies tonight!” (I was counting.) It is numbing, but not enough to ease the pain. Both of these issues (and there are many more) only expose how awkward the tonal shifts are throughout the film.

This explains why it feels like there are no stakes. It is never, not for a second, scary. Surely it is more violent and gory, but that is a disservice if you are trying to make a direct continuation of the original. And gore is not scary unless you care about the characters. So, in other words, that does not apply here.

The saving grace of the film experience for me was that eventually I could disconnect my feelings towards the original and laugh at this film. Not with it – that’s a very different thing altogether. In the end, I tried to enjoy the ride. Accepting that there will never be a proper conclusion for the Halloween story (I may even argue we got it 43 years ago), I just sat back and laughed at the inanity of it all.

Let me close with this quote from David Gordan Green talking about the process of writing these films.
“We do so many drafts, we don’t even call them drafts. We’re always writing and evolving even on set. Danny McBride, Scott Teems and I tag teamed this one. We were all working together to figure out what the proper evolution of these characters was. We have great consultation of John Carpenter and Jamie Lee Curtis – even Nick Castle. He reads a script and gives us notes. It’s a really fun evolution.”

In my opinion, upon reading this I was disheartened. I only read it after watching the film and it explains a lot. The series never had a chance. There’s a lack of reverence that feels like a slap in the face to the fans and the original. That approach may be fine for a new horror film or a lesser loved franchise.  But, for what will almost certainly be the final stab at Halloween, at least with Jamie Lee, a real plan should have been in place. I guess I will sit back and wait patiently for the next and ‘final’ Halloween film coming next year in hopes of finding that much needed franchise redemption. For now all we have is Hollow Kills. Ugh.

As a Halloween film I give this a 1 (my official grade).
As a horror film I give it a 2.

Halloween Kills is in theaters and streaming on Peacock, but maybe stick with the 1978 original instead.

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Summary

Fans of the original 1978 ‘Halloween’ may want to skip this film. Fans of the 2018 ‘Halloween’ may want to skip this review.

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