Evil Is Real: Halloween Kills (2021) - Reviewed

Images courtesy Universal Pictures

Since this reviewer was only six years old, Halloween (1978) has been a defining cultural landmark in my life, both as a film lover and a filmmaker. I grew up identifying Michael Myers with The Boogeyman, listening to Donald Pleasance's eerie monologues, and cheering on Jamie Lee Curtis and Danielle Harris' iconic final girls in a genre known for strong female leads surviving unbeatable odds. My first Halloween experience in a theater was in 1998, after Dimension Films picked up the rights to the series and looked up the word "reboot" in the dictionary. I was there in 2007 when Rob Zombie turned a modern Grimm fairy tale of arbitrary evil into a haphazard origin story about traumatized rednecks who smoke a whole carton of f**ks a day. And I was there in 2018 when two generations of fans finally got a sequel worth comparison to the original. There have been ups and there have been downs, and at this point, there have been more alternate timelines than Back to the Future fan fiction.

For the sake of continuity, we'll call Halloween Kills the newest entry in the Three Finger Timeline, which begins with John Carpenter's Halloween, continues with David Gordon Green's Halloween (2018), and now slashes back into theaters (and Peacock streaming) with the most nihilistic entry in this immortal franchise's checkered history. This is a sequel that justifies its existence from go with nonstop violence and gore, yet manages to coalesce as a well made piece of genre fare that somehow never feels cheap and unnecessary. It may not sound like high praise, but for a series that has seen the likes of Halloween Resurrection, it might as well be a Best Picture Oscar.

Halloween Kills picks up immediately where the 2018 film leaves off, even taking us back in time to the first night he came home in 1978, showing us what happened after Dr. Loomis shot his former patient six times in the chest. (That's 1970s psychiatry for you, I guess.) The script by director David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, and Scott Teems bounces between these two fateful nights, 40 years apart, and uses the flashbacks to build satisfying character arcs out of elements only hinted at in Halloween (2018). Will Patton's Sheriff Hawkins becomes a flesh and blood three-dimensional man with long sutured wounds leaking fresh regret. Even throwaway moments and characters from the earlier films have payoffs; some featured extras show up with full blown supporting roles. Remember Lonnie Elam, the boy who was too chicken to step into the Myers' house? Remember the Doctor-Nurse couple who just happen to be leaving their house as Michael begins his killing spree in the last movie? You will.

While the last movie had a smaller, more focused narrative on Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, killed and resurrected more times than Michael in this franchise), her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Ally (Andi Matichak), Halloween Kills is much more of an ensemble piece, for better and for worse. As Laurie goes under the surgeon's knife at Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, other survivors of Michael's first murder spree get wind of his return and manage to rally an entire town full of frightened sheeple into a frenzy over something most of them don't remember or understand. All the best horror films have elements of social commentary, and while this carries echoes of Halloween 4's hick militia in its veins, it's used to much greater effect here. Given that Halloween Kills was delayed for a full year by the pandemic and its subsequent politicization, it's hard not to see this as a cautionary tale of how weaponized fear can turn even well-intentioned innocents into a horde of monsters capable of sadistic and terrible acts. All for "the greater good," of course. These scenes go on for too long and are a little too on the nose, but their importance is undeniable.

With that being said, #JusticeForTedHollister. 

One of the strengths and weaknesses of Halloween (2018) was its inability to escape from the shadow of the original film, to the point where entire scenes and sight gags seemed to be constructed on a foundation of clever role reversals. In that respect, Halloween Kills has evolved beyond its predecessor. Beginning with a bravura prologue, phenomenally realized by Green and his creative team with some truly top notch CGI and production design, it's obvious that the filmmakers approached this sequel with a lot more confidence in doing their own thing. While the screenplay does indeed borrow from many of the sequels for its themes, visuals and in-jokes -- make sure you tune in for the big giveaway at 9 in your Silver Shamrock masks -- Green's handling of the material feels like his tongue was only halfway in his cheek.

While the humor in Halloween Kills certainly lands, this is a movie that truly lives up to its name. The deaths are gnarly, numerous, and visceral, featuring terrific practical makeup by Christopher Nelson. It's shot beautifully by Michael Simmonds, saturated with atmospheric dread, and aided by another truly great John Carpenter music score. Carpenter and his collaborators have found that careful balance of maintaining the iconic singularity of his original work while still updating it for a new generation. Much like the original Myers house itself, which makes its first appearance since Halloween II (1981), and features heavily as a location in both timelines. The effect is both convincing and haunting.

All praise aside, there are some clunky elements. One in particular reeks of rushed exposition and cheap beer. Early in the film, Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) retells the story of Michael Myers to a room full of drunk bar patrons just so he can re-introduce Kyle Richards as Lindsey Wallace and Nancy Stephens as Marion, reprising their roles from the original. Given that this is the twelfth movie in this 43 year old franchise, it's safe to say you're nucking futs if you choose this sequel as your starting point. It is wonderful to see these actors playing their parts again, and in a movie that actually makes you care about what happens to them, but dammit, figure out a way to get there without scenes like this. Is it as bad as every single Friday the 13th movie parroting Jason's legend to people who should all be well aware? No. And for what it's worth, Anthony Michael Hall sells the shit out of it.

The film's screenplay manages to sell a lot of stuff that had me apprehensive when these sequels were announced. For example, there's a cold and calculated logic to Michael surviving the towering inferno Laurie and family trapped him in. Upon reveal, there were nods of approval from an audience grateful for not having their intelligence insulted again. If you can force yourself to remember the "explanation" offered in Halloween Resurrection for Michael surviving the events of Halloween: 20 Years Later, which elicited audible groans and loud cursing during screenings, you'll understand why this moment is so important. On the flip-side, there are also the typical slasher movie problems: Characters being complete idiots, putting themselves in peril or flat-out getting themselves gutted like fish, when all they'd have to do is make one phone call and the cavalry would be at their backs. With that in mind, it gives me great pleasure to begin the next sentence with the word "but."

But this is the first movie I can remember where that honestly does not matter, and that brings me to its most grotesque and redemptive moment: Halloween Kills has one hell of an ending. Or perhaps "ending" is the wrong word. It leaves you hanging with a shocking gut punch of pure nihilism that sticks in your crawl like a thorn (not to be confused with Thorn Cult), and I still feel unsettled by it even as I write this review. Suffice it to say, Halloween Kills is a true horror film, perhaps the first this series has ever seen, though a strong argument could be made for Halloween III. The more I reflect on the story and characters, the less I'm bothered by the flaws, and the more I'm impressed by the risks taken. We all know Halloween Ends will be coming next year, so I don't think it's spoiling anything to say evil most certainly does not die tonight. It lives on in the dark, gazing at its own reflection... waiting....

- Blake O. Kleiner