Halloween Kills more uneven than 2018's Halloween
October 21, 2021
Long before the Marvel Cinematic Universe grew into a multiverse through “Loki” and “What If …?” on Disney+, fans of the “Halloween” horror films were already well-acquainted with the concept of branching timelines.
From 1981 through 2002, various sets of sequels to (and remakes of) the original 1978 “Halloween” saw Laurie Strode, Dr. Loomis and Michael Myers killed off, brought back and killed off again, as each new timeline told us that either parts or all of the preceding films hadn’t actually happened in the ways we saw them play out onscreen.
Forty years after the film that started it all, Blumhouse (of all the movie studios) said, “Forget everything except the first film,” and started virtually from scratch with 2018’s “Halloween,” a direct sequel to the original, and against all odds, it actually worked.
Jamie Lee Curtis — looking more like her mother, “Psycho” star Janet Leigh, — reintroduced former good-girl-next-door Jamie Strode as a haunted and fractured old woman, still living in the long shadow of Michael Myers, having alienated her family and slid into alcoholism, even as she’d developed the skills and strength of a survivor through obsessive combat training.
By showing Laurie, her adult daughter and her high school senior granddaughter putting aside past grievances to come together and face Michael Myers, 2018’s “Halloween” was as powerful an elegy to protective motherhood as 1991’s “Terminator 2: Judgment Day,” even though we all knew the Boogeyman of Haddonfield would soon come back.
Sure enough, 2021’s “Halloween Kills” follows in the footsteps of 1981’s “Halloween II” by picking right back up during the same Halloween night as the immediately preceding installment, plus or minus a few flashbacks set during the events of the original film.
“Halloween Kills” starts out remarkably strong, by showing us the backstory of Sheriff’s Deputy Frank Hawkins (played by the always watchable Will Patton in the “present day,” and by a suitably vulnerable Thomas Mann in “1978”), and his reasons for holding himself responsible for Michael Myers’ death toll, before we catch up with some old friends from the original film.
Tommy Doyle and Lindsey Wallace were the grade-school kids whom Laurie babysat that fateful Halloween night in 1978, while Lonnie Elam was the kid who teased Tommy about “the Boogeyman” before they were terrorized by Michael Myers.
Although they’re all played by different actors in the “present day” — Anthony Michael Hall’s intense stare and trigger-switch impulsiveness toward taking action are well-suited to this film’s portrayal of Tommy Doyle as shell-shocked enough that he’ll do anything to avoid feeling like a victim again — they’re joined by original film actors Nancy Stephens as nurse Marion Chambers, the former assistant to Dr. Loomis, and Charles Cyphers as former sheriff Leigh Brackett, whose daughter was among Michael Myers’ victims in 1978.
There’s a welcome authenticity to the way “Halloween Kills” portrays the weirdly specific emotional bonds forged by those who have weathered shared tragedies, enough that it’s hard not to cheer when Tommy responds to the news of Michael Myers’ latest killing spree by grabbing a baseball bat, rounding up an informal posse of citizens and leading group chants of “Evil dies tonight!”
But no matter how much we might want such “street justice” to be the answer, “Halloween Kills” never lets us forget that fear-driven mobs are not a solution, even against a fictional and impossibly unkillable mass-murderer.
Still, it delivers one of the most viscerally satisfying scenes in the entire “Halloween” series, as the survivors of Michael Myers’ previous murder attempts band together to beat him down, all at once, even if this momentary victory inevitably turns to defeat.
“Halloween Kills” is a much more uneven film than 2018’s “Halloween,” succumbing to frequent sequel flaws such as gratuitous comic relief characters, and victims acting stupidly just to make Michael Myers’ work easier.
Moreover, like “The Empire Strikes Back,” it’s difficult to judge in isolation, since we know “Halloween Ends” has already been planned for 2022, so whatever loose ends are left by this film still have a chance to be followed up on in the completion of this particular trilogy.
This latest tangent off the “Halloween” timeline had a promising beginning, but it’s reached a nexus event of its own, and only “Halloween Ends” can determine whether this branch has been worth the journey.
If nothing else, it was wonderful to see Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis again, in CGI so uncannily effective I initially almost mistook it for previously unaired archival footage.