The Screen Scene: Halloween Kills

The Screen Scene with Scott Phillips

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WRBL)Evil dies tonight. These three words become a catchphrase of sorts for the people of Haddonfield, Illinois as they learn that deranged serial killer Michael Myers has returned to their little burg for another murderous rampage in the new film Halloween Kills. It sounds empowering, but after about fifteen films that include endless sequels and reboots, audiences know better. The evil will die only after the box office for the Halloween films dies first.

In 2018, writer-director David Gordon Green unleashed the first volume of a trilogy of new films starring Jamie Lee Curtis as the sixty-something Laurie Strode, survivor of the night of terror that killed several of her friends in 1978. Green took an interesting approach to Halloween (2018). He pretended that NONE of the Halloween sequels ever happened, not even the direct sequel, Halloween II, which was released in 1981 and starred Curtis. In Green’s take on the Michael Myers universe, the masked murderer was captured by law enforcement shortly after the events depicted in the original 1978 film, and he’s been in prison and mental health facilities ever since.

Given this amnesiac cinematic premise, Halloween (2018) made the franchise feel fresh again. We were introduced to Laurie Strode for the “first time” after forty years. The teenager who barely survived her night of terror is now a survivalist living in a heavily-fortified house with all manner of weapons, waiting for the night Michael comes home…again. Along with its scares, the film had a plenty to say about survivor’s guilt, the PTSD suffered by victims of violence and abuse and the effects of trauma on subsequent generations. (It’s not easy being Laurie’s daughter or granddaughter.)

With such a strong premise for the first film of a reboot trilogy, it’s unfortunate that Halloween Kills, is such a slog. In a brief prologue, we return to the Haddonfield of 1978 and witness the apprehension of Michael Myers. Thanks to the magic of CGI, we even get a few glimpses of Dr. Sam Loomis (played by the virtual image of the late Donald Pleasance) and it proves to be some of the best use of that technology I’ve seen. The film then cuts to the very point where Halloween (2018) ended, and all the film’s originality ends with the flashback.

It’s hard to believe that a filmmaker as talented as David Gordon Green made such a muddled mess of a film. When this project was conceived by Green, he clearly knew how to begin this reboot trilogy and likely knew how it would end. Halloween Kills feels like he’s improvising a way to get from Film 1 to Film 3: ratchet up the violence, slather it in gore and hope no one notices that nothing really happens during the film. Even Jamie Leigh Curtis spends the entirety of the film in the hospital recovering from the injuries she suffered in the 2018 film. It lends the narrative what little realism it has, but it doesn’t make for exciting viewing.

The 1978 film was so effective because it chose suspense over violence. Fans may have forgotten over the past 43 years, but John Carpenter’s original film is virtually bloodless, and the suspense created by the threat of violence far outweighs the visual depictions of violence. Carpenter understood Alfred Hitchcock’s distinction between action and suspense. Action is having a bomb go off during the film; suspense is watching the timer counting down to an explosion that never occurs. In Halloween Kills, David Gordon Green has chosen to set the bomb off…about every ten minutes.

The character of Michael Myers is most effective when he’s kept in the shadows. He’s The Boogeyman hiding under your bed or lurking in your closet. When you bring him out in the open, you destroy his mystique. It’s much like Steven Spielberg rarely showing the shark during the first half of Jaws. Your imagination is far scarier than the creature itself.

True horror fans will still find plenty to enjoy in Halloween Kills. It just fails to live up to the promise of the 2018 film. Next October the reboot trilogy will come to a close with Halloween Ends. Just don’t believe the title…unless it dies at the box office, too.

Halloween Kills hit theaters and the Peacock streaming service on October 15th

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