It’s Time to Put the ‘Halloween’ Reboots Out of Their Misery

I wish I could say it was rare to see a movie as atrocious as Halloween Kills, but sadly, it’s an all-too-familiar experience for audiences in the 2020s: movies you endure, waiting for them to end if you don’t have the moral courage to walk out midway, because they’re achieving no other effect than boredom.

This film is so botched, it’s bewildering. There are a number of abysmal performances, and at certain points, the editing is so inept that a potentially frightening moment is nullified by sheer visual confusion. But the main thing is: How did director David Gordon Green ever agree to go forward with his own rotten script, which was cowritten with Danny McBride and Scott Teems, almost the same team that gave us the far better Halloween of 2018?

At the end of Halloween Kills, there’s a long, windy voice-over by Jamie Lee Curtis that I assume was added late in the process, maybe after the rough-cut screening, when the filmmakers realized how much pure nothing they had up there on the screen. You can imagine them thinking that maybe if Curtis, still beloved in her star-making role as Laurie Strode, gassed on at the end about the indestructible Michael Myers as the “essence of evil,” then perhaps the movie would be given a pass by a tolerant public. Especially so near Halloween!

And it turns out, if that was their strategy, it was the correct one. Halloween Kills is doing very well at the box office. Horror films have done excellent business ever since theaters opened post–pandemic lockdown, with A Quiet Place Part IIThe Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It, Candyman, and others finding a public eager to experience fictional scares after a surfeit of real-world terror. The typically moderate budgets and youthful, dedicated fan base of the horror film genre also help.

This second installment of this planned Halloween capstone trilogy squanders the goodwill earned by the first installment, which had its undeniable fascinations. It brought us Laurie Strode as an embittered, ranting alcoholic estranged from her damaged daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) because of her seemingly paranoid obsession with Michael Myers, who’d been institutionalized for forty years. Jamie Lee Curtis’s characteristic, all-out, vanity-free performance as this foul-mouthed harridan living like a doomsday prepper had so much fresh energy that it powered the whole film. When Myers inevitably returned — in horror films, the doomsday prepper is always right — he had a grittier look, with a dirty, damaged mask that looked like it had been bashed about a lot over the years. It was a nice corollary to Strode’s gray hair, deep wrinkles, and harsh, downturned mouth.

Halloween Kills picks up where that film left off, with Michael Myers apparently burning to death in the firetrap set by three generations of Strode women, and Laurie Strode getting hauled off to the emergency room with a knife wound in her stomach, screaming at passing firetrucks, “No, no, no! Let it burn!”

Unfortunately, Laurie Strode is unconscious in the hospital for quite a while after that, and it’s a testament to Jamie Lee Curtis’s charisma that the vitality of the film dwindles to a very low ebb in her absence. Anthony Michael Hall as Tommy Doyle, the boy that teenage babysitter Laurie Strode saved from Michael Myers back in the first Halloween (1978), comes to the fore plot-wise instead, and he does a lot of stomping and yelling “Evil dies tonight!” as the head of the local vigilante mob — but he’s merely a tiresome blowhard in the role and no substitute for Curtis.

One suspects the film’s writers might’ve had a vague idea that the forming of a lynch mob in Haddonfield, Illinois, showing how the townspeople have allowed a single evil figure to make them so fear-and-hate-crazed that they become evil as well, may have been intended to provide topical, Trump-scarred resonance. There are many lugubrious shots of the mob jostling around, committing acts of random violence against another escapee from the mental institution where Myers had been held, without verifying that it’s actually Myers, and they’re clearly supposed to be meaningful “message” shots. We have met the enemy, and they are us!

But, like much of the rest of the movie, it doesn’t really work. If anything, it seems about time the town got organized for action, instead of going up against an immortal killer in groups of one or two incompetents at a time — though, admittedly, it’s an awful shame they decided to follow a big blond thug played by Anthony Michael Hall.

There’s a ton of reverent backstory unearthed in this trilogy, including period flashbacks, with so many story lines involving people who encountered Michael Myers back in the day and lived to tell the tale that it weighs down the whole movie. Will Patton returns as Officer Frank Hawkins, who’s now haunted by his failure to kill Michael Myers when he had the chance to do it decades ago. He exchanges a series of nostalgic “Do you remember . . . ?” anecdotes in the hospital with Laurie Strode in side-by-side gurneys.

The filmmakers even bring back what is presumably a computer-generated (CGI) version of beloved old ham Donald Pleasence as Michael’s former keeper Dr Samuel Loomis. That is, CGI unless actors can come out of their graves in their yearning for a big sequel payday, yelling, “Did Michael kill again?”

Well, of course he killed again. He always kills again, and he is himself unkillable, but the only people who can’t seem to learn that are the citizens of the town of Haddonfield, who are Myers’s prey. We always grant some leeway to horror films when it comes to skeptical characters, because people who don’t believe in the monster are a key part of the genre.

But there’s a limit, and this Halloween trilogy has long since reached it. It’s purely ridiculous at this point that any person in Haddonfield would profess not to believe in this prolific killer or would still need to hear his backstory — Anthony Michael Hall as Tommy Doyle tells it, badly, as a substitute for his bird-call act at the local talent show. The town’s body count is very high at this point.

So it’s not scary, it’s merely irritating to see wave after wave of idiots clutching baseball bats, and knives, and guns they don’t know how to shoot, wandering out into deserted parks and dark wooded areas after Michael Myers. Until the very end of the movie, none of the characters has a plan of attack. And all too frequently, one moron will tell the other morons to “wait here” while they go into some dark house to seek him out alone, for no good reason whatsoever. This includes veteran survivors of Michael Myers attacks.

Myers also has no new ideas. He only has a few moves in this movie, and he repeats each one many times. He’s got a doglike habit of cocking his head once he’s killed someone, as they lay glugging on the floor after having their throat cut, as if he’s reacting in an animal way to the weird sounds they make. By the third time he’s done it, it’s merely exasperating, and it’s time to say, “Bad doggy, go lie down.”

But, as always when a new Halloween movie comes out, it gives people a good reason to watch the real Halloween again, John Carpenter’s brilliant 1978 original that inspired the — so far —  twelve-film franchise. Bow your head in reverence for John Carpenter’s genius in making that founding movie that was so good it continues to galvanize mostly godawful sequels.

This article first appeared on Jacobin. Read it here.