Halloween Kills (2021)

As I’ve mentioned in past reviews, ad nauseum, I’m a child of the 80’s / 90’s and as a result, I was privy to, and obsessed with, horror flicks that came out in that wonderful time period, that Golden Age of Cinema. During the 80’s in particular, we gore fans were swamped with all manner of movies, with ‘slashers’ ranking particularly high in release numbers, and with varying degrees of quality.

Several of the iconic villain characters birthed from this cinematic deluge of good-time gore and titillating horror still resonate in pop culture today. The heavy-hitters of the time were ‘Jason Voorhees’ (Friday the 13th), ‘Leatherface’ (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre), my personal favorite ‘Freddy Krueger’ (A Nightmare on Elm Street) and of course, ‘Michael Myers’ (Halloween).

The Halloween franchise kicked off in 1978 when legendary writer / director / composer John Carpenter (The Thing) hit the scene with the low-budget story of an escaped lunatic returning to his home town to continue his deranged (supernatural?) quest to murder a teenaged girl (who may or may not be a relative, depending on what canon you opt to follow) and anyone who got in his way. The movie was a smashing success, raking in around $47 million on a mere $325 thousand budget and arguably giving birth to the ‘slasher’ franchise as we know it today.

It also guaranteed sequels, and we’ve seen a lot of them emerge over the years, including an attempted two-film total reboot from shock rocker (and solid horror director himself) Rob Zombie (House of 1000 Corpses), all with varying degrees of success and quality.

In 2018, on the 40th Anniversary of the original flick, we were gifted another entry, only this one was a little different. It had an agenda. And that agenda seemed to be to erase EVERYTHING after the original movie (I’m 50 / 50 on this idea, as I think the first Halloween 2 (1981) was a solid sequel that embraced the growing gore factor of the franchises competitors and contemporaries at the time, and embraced it well) and continue the franchise in a new direction, a direction directly connected to and feeding off of that now-classic first film.

I liked what writer / director David Gordon Green and writers Danny McBride (his inclusion still amazes me) and Scott Teems, along with the help and endorsement of The Man Himself, John Carpenter, did in furthering the story in a more concise and grounded fashion, while staying in keeping with the feel of the first one. They took a realistic approach to the story of iconic ‘final girl’ character ‘Laurie Strode’ (Jamie Lee Curtis) and the lasting horrors that have plagued her and her family through the years, naturally leading up to another violent encounter with that lunatic murder fiend ‘Myers’.

Well, here we are three years later and we get the next chapter in this new trilogy that, just like the first sequel, takes place immediately following the events of the flick before it, with this film set squarely in the way-back of 2018.

After a 1978-set prologue, that effectively picked up right where the original film ended, while adding some interesting tidbits to the canon’s history, we see bloodied and battered modern-day survivors ‘Laurie’ (Curtis), her daughter ‘Karen’ (Judy Greer) and granddaughter ‘Allyson’ (Andi Matichak) fleeing the burning compound where they trapped ‘Michael’ (Nick Castle) as they rush a critically wounded ‘Laurie’ to the hospital. The Haddonfield Fire Department prove to be a little too effective in their jobs and as a result, 11 of them are gruesomely dispatched as ‘Michael’ emerges from the flames before continuing on with his murderous quest. At the same time, a group of ‘Michael Myers Survivors’, led by an adult ‘Tommy Doyle’ (Anthony Michael Hall, playing one of the kids ‘Laurie’ was babysitting in the first flick) have convened at a local bar to commiserate having survived the 1978 mass-murder atrocity that visited their town 40 years earlier. As this plays out, word of ‘Michael’s latest escape and continued rampage spreads, leading to the formation of a blood-thirsty mob that roam the streets in search of the deranged and seemingly indestructible ‘Myers’.

Much gore and death ensue.

And I do mean MUCH! This is easily the goriest in the entire franchise, and that’s saying something, especially with Rob Zombie having directed a couple of them. Speaking of Zombie, I’ve stated before that I have a love / hate relationship with his filmography and that’s largely due to his penchant for ‘pushing the line’, taste-wise. There’s ALWAYS That Scene…you know the one I mean…where he offers up almost fetishistic levels of needless cruelty and brutality, just for kicks, apparently.

Well, it would seem that David Gordon Green and Co. took a page from the book of Zombie and added a couple severely unpleasant flourishes of their own, to the point where my wife and I looked at each other at one point and we both agreed that the horrific murder scene that was playing out wasn’t necessary and was “A little much.” (wife’s words) when it came to the gore-soaked cruelty depicted.

But, having said that, I think Halloween Kills succeeded in what it set out to do and it managed to do a lot of things right, in my humble, horror-loving opinion.

First off, the film looks great. For the sequences showing 1978, they applied a digital grain to replicate the look of the original movie’s film stock and it works almost seamlessly. There are a number of slick and inventive compositions and edits and the use of shadow and lighting was very effective, especially during an extended sequence where *SPOILERS*…we get an unmasked ‘Myers’ on the prowl. Even though the main characters get to see what The Shape looks like, we are only given snippets (similar to Bruce in Jaws), often obscured by shadow or calculated camera angles. I thought it was surprisingly effective.

 Also effective was the music score, again provided by John Carpenter himself and his son Cody, and it created great connective tissue to the ’78 film; both in-universe and on a meta level. On a story level, even though MANY of the plot-points can be traced back to elements from the very films this movie seeks to ret-con, I liked the updates to the already-explored idea of ‘Laurie’ being badly injured and virtually helpless against the inevitable onslaught that is ‘Michael’, along with the oddly relevant concept of the besieged town beginning to psychologically fracture and adopting a violent mob mentality born of fear, hate and paranoia.  

The cast is very cool, with many familiar faces from the 1978 film returning to revisit key characters. Along with the obvious inclusion of Jamie Lee Curtis, we also get Charles Cyphers back as ‘Sheriff Brackett’ (father of ‘Laurie’s murdered best friend ‘Annie’), Kyle Richards as ‘Lindsey’ (‘Tommy Doyle’s sister), and Nancy Stevens as ‘Marion’ (the nurse with Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) at the beginning of the original who survives an attack by ‘Myers’ when he first escapes). Other additions like newcomer Anthony Michael Hall (The Breakfast Club) and returning Wil Patton (Armageddon) also add to the fun.

In the way of Negatives, I don’t have too much to spit out, but I will say that, again, some of the kills, while technically spectacular, were a little harsher than necessary and that knocked a couple points off for me. People seem to forget that the first film, much like 1974’s The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, really isn’t gory at all. It’s the suspense that titillates, not the splatting red. But as time has gone on, the series became a case of blood-sprayed one-upmanship for the make-up teams, with the gore and violence seemingly climbing with every entry. THIS one dials that shit up to 11!…and it’s not always fun. I love me some good gory effects as much as the next psycho, but sometimes the cruel lingering on the crime gets to be a bit much and left my wife and I feeling kinda…dirty (and not in a good way!). Also, there’s a sequence in which a REALLY obviously CG’d version of Donald Pleasance turns up to add ‘Dr. Loomis’ back into the fold for a few flashback shots and it was distracting and verged on hilariousness. Aside from those, nothing else really leaps to mind as a detriment, at least not from a first viewing.

All in all, I’m still on board with what they’re doing with this new direction for the franchise and I’m curious to see how they wrap it all up with Halloween Ends, due sometime in the next two years.  If you liked the previous one, or the franchise as a whole, or even just classic, blood-soaked horror flicks, then I can easily recommend Halloween Kills. Just be prepared for some really gnarly and gruesome death scenes that may leave you feeling like you need a shower afterwards!

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