David Gordon Ween

Just like all other major entries in decades-running horror franchises, David Gordon Green’s Halloween was sharply divisive among genre fans as soon as it hit theaters in 2018.  Even so, its reputation has only declined in the five years since, especially as it has become the go-to, defining example of mainstream horror’s current “legacy sequel” trend.  Not only does the Halloween reboot have to answer for its own revisions of Laurie Strode & Michael Myers lore, but it also now carries the weight of horror nerd complaints against more recent offenses like 2019’s Child’s Play, 2021’s Candyman, and this year’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre.  It’s also been reduced to a scapegoat trendsetter for the Trauma Metaphor Horror wave that has followed in its wake, while artsier, standalone titles like Hereditary & The Babadook have maintained much steadier, more prestigious reputations in the same context.  It doesn’t help, of course, that Green has diluted his Halloween legacyquel with two follow-up films that have only alienated the Michael Myers purists even further as the series stumbled along.  I opted out of the David Gordon Ween discourse when Halloween Kills opened to white-hot angry reviews last year, but now that his theatrical mini-series is over and the online vitriol has been directed elsewhere (mostly at Olivia Wilde’s Don’t Worry Darling, which is practically a legacy sequel to Stepford Wives), it finally felt safe to return to Haddonfield to see how his take on Halloween has evolved.

Personally, I was really impressed with Green’s “original” Halloween in 2018, and I still think it holds up well when considered in isolation.  Regardless of its role as a harbinger for the next five years of mainstream horror trends, it still a really scary movie about self-fulfilling prophecies and obsessive thought spirals.  Okay, yes, Laurie Strode is haunted by the same metaphorical Trauma Monster that stalks most modern horror heroines (this time in a road-worn William Shatner mask), but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any dramatic complexity to how that internal battle with trauma plays out.  We’re told that in the 40 years since Laurie was hunted by the infamous killer Michael Myers in the John Carpenter original, she’s been mentally stuck in the events of that one night in a way that has defined & limited every other minute of her life.  Faced with senseless violence from a heartless, near-catatonic killer, Laurie has attempted to make sense of her life’s story by convincing herself it’s fate that she will have a final showdown with Michael once he inevitably escapes captivity.  It’s the same way that doomsday preppers always appear to be looking forward to the apocalypse they supposedly fear.  So, when Michael does escape, Laurie (along with other Michael-obsessed weirdos like “The New Dr. Loomis”) does everything in her power to make sure she & Michael have their “final” showdown in her D.I.Y. death-trap compound at the outskirts of Haddonfield, even though that’s exactly what she’s been dreading for decades.  Michael just mindlessly kills whatever’s in striking distance; Laurie is the one that makes the confrontation happen, totally unaware that she’s willing the fight into existence.  It’s chilling.

Green’s Halloween trilogy loses its way in the 2021 sequel Halloween Kills, which zooms out the scope of Michael’s function as a Trauma Monster from his effect on Laurie to his effect on Haddonfield as a community.  I choose to interpret the word “kills” as a noun here, since this second entry is a feature-length montage of Michael slashing his way through the streets, homes, and pubs of Haddonfield while Laurie recovers from their “final” showdown on a hospital bed, listening in from the sidelines.  Michael proves the point of the 2018 film’s self-fulfilling prophecy arc by making no effort to visit Laurie’s hospital room; he just lumbers from kill to kill in the most mindless fashion ever seen from a slasher villain.  If Halloween Kills is “about” anything outside the monotonous rhythm of those murders, it’s in how the community of Haddonfield tries to make sense of Michael’s senseless violence by making themselves the collective hero of the “story.”  I very much appreciate Halloween Kills‘s disgust with small-town America’s fetish for gun-toting vigilantism, given how many ordinary, ill-equipped Haddonfieldians approach Michael with deadly weapons—the same way real-life gun freaks dream of personally intervening in active-shooter crises—and are immediately destroyed for their trouble, either by Michael’s knife or their own petard.  It’s just a shame the movie is spread too thin across Michael’s hometown to ever truly feel scary.  Its larger scope means that it keeps intercutting between the tension of individual scenes so that we’re never properly immersed in any one of them.  It doesn’t really matter that its political assessments of small-town America are goofily unsubtle; it could have easily gotten away with that if it weren’t so scatterbrained.

After the frantic scrambling of Kills, the more sincere, dramatic approach of Halloween Ends can’t help but feel like a relief.  With his final entry in the series, Green returns to the low-key indie dramas that first earned him name recognition before he started making major studio slasher sequels & stoner comedies.  Halloween Ends may not be as Great as the first film in its trilogy, but it’s at least coherently structured and (mostly) functions as its own standalone movie, which is an embarrassingly low bar that Halloween Kills does not clear.  It’s also custom-designed to alienate & infuriate die-hard horror fans the same way that Halloween III: Season of the Witch was when Carpenter was still actively involved in the franchise, since it also does not focus on the senseless killings of Michael “The Shape” Myers.  Instead, we follow an equally iconic horror villain: Cory, the lonely mechanic with a troubled past.  Cory is dubbed “the new Michael” by the surviving citizens of Haddonfield, who essentially radicalize him into becoming a mass murderer in their continued attempts to make a clear, sensical narrative out of Michael’s mindless violence.  Meanwhile, Cory keeps The Old Michael as a pet in the sewers below Haddonfield and “feeds” his bullies to the hibernating killer the same way little Jamie feeds his bullies to the “tra-la-logs” of The Pit.  I’m sure there are plenty of people who are frustrated by the tonal & narrative inconsistencies between each of Green’s Halloweens, but I do love that there’s still room in a post-MCU world for individual movies in a big-budget franchise to take unique directions from each other – even if it’s strange to get that from a series with a consistent creative team at its core.  Cory’s story isn’t nearly as compelling nor as scary as Laurie’s, but at least Green & company found a way to make Halloween intimately personable again after the aimlessness of Kills.

The bigger problem is not the inconsistency across this series; it’s that it didn’t need to be a series at all.  Laurie Strode’s story is so neatly contained & emotionally impactful in the 2018 Halloween that there’s no reason for her to return for two more entries.  Kills feels lost by comparison, aimlessly wandering the streets of Haddonfield in search of a new emotional hook.  To its credit, Ends finds that new hook (by conjuring a new central character out of thin air), but it has no chance of fully standing on its own, since Laurie is still hanging around Haddonfield, distracting from its new sense of purpose.  After Cory’s own storyline is neatly wrapped up, Laurie steps back in for another “final” showdown with Michael, as if they’re ultimate fight to the death was meant to be, undoing all the good work of Green’s “original” Halloween.  After two entire films of Laurie hanging around a hospital room (Kills) and absentmindedly narrating her memoir (Ends), that last minute return to her vendetta with Michael can’t help but feel like an afterthought that dilutes the impact of both her story and Cory’s.  That’s largely what makes Halloween ’18 a great film and Halloween Ends an okay one.  And the purposeless ambling of Kills only makes them both look stronger by comparison.

-Brandon Ledet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s