“Black cats and goblins and broomsticks and ghosts, covens of witches with all of their hosts; you may think they scare me, you’re probably right, black cats and goblins on Halloween night: Trick or treat!”
It’s been over forty years since director John Carpenter dropped the mic on the horror film genre, introducing the world to masked serial killer Michael Myers in the 1978 chiller classic Halloween. Over the years, and despite the best efforts of sequels, reboots and even a standalone film utterly divorced from its predecessors and successors (Halloween III: Season of the Witch), the original film still towers over the film landscape, as eerie and as unsettling as anything that’s followed it down the blood-splattered pike since.
This latest effort by director and co-writer David Gordon Green, Halloween Kills, stands out from the 2018 film that preceded it in just about every conceivable way, from frights to the taut writing by Green and his fellow gremlins Danny McBride and Scott Teems. Consider 2018’s alternate-reality reboot Halloween but a mere dry-run to the vastly more entertaining second installment in what is destined to become its own trilogy when Halloween Ends hits theaters next year.
Picking up exactly where the last film left off, Halloween Kills wastes no time in getting down to the business of what’s next as it follows all of the survivors of The Shape’s most recent bloodbath. No big surprise, Michael Myers has managed to survive his gruesome injuries and a raging inferno set by the industrious Laurie Strode, her daughter and granddaughter and now he’s poised to get some serious payback.
That’s the quick pitch as to what this latest film is about, but it does everyone involved with the making of it a disservice to leave it at that: There’s real stuff going on in Halloween Kills that is more layered and nuanced than a simple body count flick (though that aspect is there, too, if you’re mileage runs in that direction). Green, a talented director who brought the funny with Pineapple Express, is a fan first and foremost of the original John Carpenter and Debra Hill Halloween and as such he has undertaken the horror equivalent of “putting the band back together” in the form of bringing back all of the players who survived the bloody happenings in Haddonfield, Illinois back in 1978. That means that long dormant characters such as Lindsey Wallace, Sheriff Leigh Brackett, Marion Chambers, Lonnie Elam and Tommy Doyle have returned to the fold to assist beleaguered former babysitter Laurie Strode in one final showdown with The Boogeyman. It turns out to be an inspired choice, as these fan-favorite characters serve the purpose of giving Halloween Kills what 2018’s Halloween was sorely lacking – Heart and soul. It also forces an investment emotionally from the audience because, this being a Halloween movie after all, we all know that not everyone from that survivor’s list is going to make it out of this new adventure alive.
As the movie unspools, two timelines play out onscreen for our attention: Green does a deep-dive back to the original ’78 film, seamlessly intercutting new bits of the backstory of The Shape and Haddonfield while keeping the action rolling in the present-day sequences. It’s a clever device, the juxtaposition of the past with the present and the parallel track works hand in hand to add crackle and pop to both past and present. Homage is paid also to Donald Pleasance, one of the standard-bearers for the Halloween franchise from the first movie up until his final performance as the good doctor in Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers. Pleasance always added a continuity and gravitas to the films, even as it descended further into cheese and camp. His absence from these stories is always felt (think of The Beatles sans John Lennon), but Green manages through some neat trickery to bring Loomis back to life in the ’78 storyline and, as a result, his presence is palpable in the new sequences, too. This is no small feat.
Oh sure, I could nit-pick certain things in Halloween Kills: Some of the characters deserved better sendoffs than they ultimately received, there’s too fine of a point put on an out-of-nowhere subplot about an innocent inmate set upon by an angry mob and the violence, a thing mostly of masterful suggestion and veiled in shadow in Carpenter and Hill’s original opus, is at times a little too reminiscent of the gore-drenched Rob Zombie remakes from some years back. But these are quibbles that cannot shake the undeniable power of this new film.
Halloween Kills is the best film in the franchise since 1978 and well worth an hour and forty-five minutes of your time. This reviewer is already counting down the days until Halloween Ends comes a-knocking at the box-office.