Saturday, October 15, 2022

The Real Michael Myers was the Friends We Made Along the Way: An Analysis of the New Halloween Trilogy

I used to write movie reviews a lot.  

Like, a lot a lot. It was kind of my thing. I don’t do it anymore, and I haven’t for a while, and while there are a lot of reasons for that – including it just not being a viable career path anyone, no matter their talent, can actually pursue today – the main one is that I just stopped enjoying the exercise. The older I get, the less ‘good/bad’ as a metric matters to me, and the less I enjoy explaining why something falls into one of those broad categories. What I care about more than anything in a piece of media is if it’s interesting – if it’s going for something, if it has something to say, if it tries something I’ve never seen before. I want something worth chewing on. There’s an argument to be made, for instance, that Marvel’s overall output has had a notable qualitative drop since Avengers: Endgame in 2019 – but when I look at how many of their recent films and shows I genuinely like and would call ‘good,’ I don’t know if that’s really true. What is true is that they’re safe, they’re simple, and they don’t really have anything to say. Certainly nothing new. We’ve seen everything in that bag of tricks. There’s nothing left of substance to chew on. And as a result I’ve felt increasingly alienated from anything they’re putting out. 


David Gordon Green’s new Halloween trilogy is really, really interesting to me. 


These three films – 2018’s Halloween, 2021’s Halloween Kills, and this weekend’s new Halloween Ends – would all, in different ways, be impossible for me to review. Are they good? In some ways, yeah. Are they bad? In many ways, yes. Do they give you something to chew on? For me, at least, the answer is a resounding and overwhelming yes, and it’s a ‘yes’ that outweighs anything I could say about their relative ‘quality.’ These are fascinating movies to me. They are weirdly shaped, they play with a bunch of themes that don’t quite connect, they mostly fail as ‘horror’ movies, and they run back and forth from polar opposite ends of the tonal map – but I also think they’re chock full of interesting ideas and moments and emotions, that they break open and play with a well-worn genre in challenging and provocative ways, and go places (especially in this latest entry) that I never expected to see but am surprised at how engaged I was when we got there. 


These are interesting movies. I’m not going to review them – I don’t do that anymore – but I do want to talk about them for a little bit. 


Spoilers for all three new Halloween movies coming up after the jump…


John Carpenter’s original 1978 Halloween is a film I hold in extremely high regard. Purely on the level of visual storytelling craft, it is as good a 90-minute chunk of film school as you will ever have the privilege of attending, a lean and brutally efficient exercise in tension that perfectly guides the audience’s attention primarily through camera work, editing, and blocking. There’s nary a special effect or instance of visual gore in sight. It’s just the raw fundamentals of narrative filmmaking executed at a crazy high level, and I think it should be studied in the same way we perpetually analyze and re-analyze Hitchcock’s Psycho. Given that the generations who grew up with Carpenter as an indelible influence are slowly but surely taking over the institutions of criticism and academia that have gatekept anything as ‘low’ as a slasher movie from deserving that kind of examination, I fully believe it will be at some point in the future. 

None of David Gordon Green’s Halloween movies are on that level, but then, that would be a crazy standard to hold them to. There had been a whopping 10 different Halloween movies made by the time Green and creative partner Danny McBride stepped up to the plate, and when it comes to this series, there’s the original Carpenter movie, and then there’s everything else. The metric at this point isn’t whether you’re somehow gonna one-up Carpenter – that’s clearly never happening, and given Michael Myers’ over-exposure in the popular culture, it’s probably not possible. What matters is if you have something to add to the conversation, either in new horror thrills or significant narrative ideas. Rob Zombie was on the right track with his Halloween remake from 2007; while it hews too close to Carpenter’s original in its second half, it still stood out by featuring so much of Zombie’s thoroughly unique voice, and in taking the character of Michael Myers more seriously than anyone ever had before – for better or worse, he is front and center for just about every shot of the movie – it at least felt meaningfully different than previous entries. It makes a positive case for its own existence beyond rote franchise management. 


For 2018’s Halloween – the third movie called Halloween, after the original and the remake, but in actuality a direct sequel to Carpenter’s original movie, creating an utterly baffling scenario where the identically-titled Halloween and Halloween are sequential entries in one line of the convoluted franchise canon – Green and McBride went the ‘legacy sequel’ route, bringing back Laurie and Michael (with original actors Jamie Lee Curtis and, in a smaller capacity, Nick Castle – James Jude Courtney plays ‘The Shape’ for most of these new movies) and advancing the clock to the present day, with lots of new and returning characters around the edges. It’s a very solid movie. The first half, giving us a sense of Laurie’s life as a paranoid survivalist 40 years later, her relationship with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) in tatters and kept at a distance from granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), is surprisingly good. It’s detailed and lived-in and feels remarkably human, a reminder that Green’s background isn’t in horror or even comedy but independent cinema, and there’s a down-to-earth quality he brings to bear here that genuinely works. 


There’s a subplot with a true crime podcast crew that feels like no one involved with the film had ever actually heard a podcast, let alone one in this specific genre, and the hosts – tailor made to get a satisfying stabbing from The Shape – eventually annoy Michael Myers into snapping and going on a good ol’ murder spree. Once it fully becomes a slasher movie, it’s a lot of fun. A little too long at 106 minutes, but there’s an energy to it, with a lot of character and personality. I don’t find anything Green does here particularly scary, but it’s frequently tense in effective ways, and I love the way they characterize Michael: slow and shadowy and robotic, but with just a slight hint of wit and strategy to his actions, his body language betraying a very subdued gleefulness at getting back in the groove all these years later. His kills are less intimidating than they are darkly funny (though we’re not in the straight-up Looney Tunes territory Halloween Kills will barrel into), but Green has a penchant for humor and vision of Haddonfield is quirky and offbeat in entertaining ways. 


The last act in Laurie’s house, as she hunts The Shape by closing shutters behind her to methodically lock them in together, is a blast. There’s a great reversal of the last shot from Carpenter’s original, and the ending, with three generations of Strode collectively lighting their tormentor on fire, is appropriately cathartic. Laurie herself is the film’s not-so-secret weapon, primarily because Jaime Lee Curtis is just that good – and it bears stressing just how invested she is in all three of these new movies – but I think the script has some fun ideas here, and it’s the first glimpse at how weird and prickly these movies will become. On the surface, they’ve made her into a Sarah Conner archetype – paranoid of an impending doomsday to the point of destroying her life and all her relationships, but becoming ruthlessly efficient in the process – but this isn’t the world of Terminator 2. They’ve contextualized her within a world where everyone is unhealthily obsessed with serial killers, from the podcast hosts, to Michael’s creepy Doctor, to a town that’s frankly weirdly preoccupied with a pretty small-scale murder spree from 40 years ago (Michael kills 3 people on screen in that first movie). It feels pointed. Laurie would be completely unhealthy and dangerously deranged were it not for the fact that she’s proven entirely right, and is clearly overjoyed to get to tell everyone she told them so. She and Michael both have a certain spring in their step getting back into it. I’m not sure the movie knows quite what to do with that information – it’s ultimately too tidy in its resolution for the messy pathology it uncovers in this whole town – but I can’t shake the fact that it’s there. 


Oh, and the new Carpenter soundtrack? Fucking brilliant. He takes everybody to school here, reminding you what a preternaturally gifted composer he is in addition to being a preternaturally gifted filmmaker. Movie scores mostly suck now. This one doesn’t – it has fun with the instrumentation, and with the original themes, and it’s better than any other part of the movie is at building atmosphere or sustaining tension. It’s fantastic. And this absolutely holds true for the scores for Kills and Ends, all three co-composed with Cody Carpenter (John’s son) and Daniel Davies. On the level of craft, the music is the clear MVP across the trilogy. 


Still, I’ve never been able to shake the feeling that Halloween – no, not that Halloween, the other one, er, other other one – is a missed opportunity. It provides us with some perfectly fine Michael stabbings, and his square-off with Laurie is fun, but at the end of the day, I’ve seen Michael stab people before, and if I want to see him stab people again, well, there’s a whole lot of shitty Halloween sequels I’ve never seen. No, what Green’s Halloween has going for it is that initial character study and world building. The idea of following up on Laurie Strode 40 years later is genuinely interesting, and while their imagination of how she’d live her life post-Shape is certainly heightened, it still feels authentic. The movie touches on alcoholism and generational trauma and PTSD, all things that feel like real, thoughtful responses to the question of what life Laurie Strode would lead now. It feels lived-in. I want more of that. 


Here's my fantasy version of 2018’s Halloween: Michael never kills anybody. Laurie lives her life, trying to reconnect with her daughter and granddaughter, but continually fucking things up because she just can’t let go of the paranoia and trauma. We feel for her. We feel for them, too. Meanwhile, the movie keeps almost leading us to Michael Myers Mayhem. The podcast crew does their thing. We keep cutting back to the asylum. When’s he gonna break out?, we ask. But he never does. The movie goes and goes, and Laurie makes what progress she can amidst the broken pieces of her life for around 90 minutes. Then Michael is put on a prisoner transport bus (as he is in the real movie), and it crashes (as it does in the real movie). Laurie hears about it on the police scanner, and rushes to the scene, finally able to confront The Shape. But she doesn’t find him. She finds Michael Myers, yes – but he’s just an old, sad, silent man, stumbling around with the other inmates, maskless, aimless. Whatever compulsions he had to kill, he’s spent 40 years in a box, and they’re gone. He sits down on the side of the road. Cautiously, Laurie approaches. He doesn’t react. She sits down next to him. He doesn’t react. She pulls out a cigarette, lights it, and goes to take a drag – but realizes Michael’s head has just barely arced in her direction. He’s reacting to the smoke. She offers him the cigarette. He takes it. She lights another for herself. They sit side by side, silently, smoking, looking out at nothing in particular. We hear sirens in the distance. The shot continues for an interminably long time – 10 minutes, maybe more. It’s like the end of Tsai Ming-liang’s Vive l’amour, but with Laurie Strode and an old man who used to be a masked serial killer, and they’re just sharing a cigarette. Eventually it cuts to black. The End. 


That’s the Halloween sequel I want to see. 




Halloween Kills 
is where things really get fascinating for me. This movie was widely excoriated upon release last year, and I’m not going to tell anyone they’re wrong for disliking it. It’s a weird beast of a movie, paced like one endlessly long first act, 100-plus minutes of set-up with continually delayed pay-off, ‘Part 1’ of a 2-part movie where Part 2 never got made (the Halloween Ends that came out in theaters this week is entirely different than the one Gordon and company had in mind when making Kills). Michael goes about doing his thing, nobody ever mounts an effective resistance, and Laurie mostly stays in the hospital monologuing about the nature of evil. Some of the kills are very gnarly – it is as graphic and grotesque as Carpenter’s original is restrained and quiet – and others are extremely funny – there’s a bit where a woman in a sexy nurse costume tries shooting Michael, he kicks a car door at her, it knocks the gun back at her, and she shoots herself in the head, all in about 2 seconds of pure Looney Tunes mayhem – but at no point is the movie scary. It barely has a story to tell, and instead of rising and falling action, it’s really just a sustained series of vignettes where Michael does his stabbing and strangling and nobody comes close to stopping him. 

And after I saw it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. 


Halloween Kills is a movie that’s simultaneously very very silly and very very bleak – absurd to the point of cartoonish, and dark to the point of nihilism. That tension interests me. Once I realized it was there, I couldn’t stop thinking about what this movie was doing, intentionally or not, to problematize the entire idea of the two genres it nominally fits within: slasher movies, and legacy sequels. 


Green’s first Halloween was a pretty textbook example of the ‘legacy sequel,’ and an above-average one at that. You bring back the old characters, you introduce some new ones, you let time pass as it has in reality, and you re-play scenarios from the original with various twists or complications. It’s the J.J. Abrams Star Trek and Star Wars thing, done better than those, but not as well as current genre champs Blade Runner 2049 and Doctor Sleep. Halloween Kills is also a legacy sequelby virtue of being a sequel to one, but it feels like a movie that’s angry to have been handed that assignment. Most of these films revel in bringing back old characters, in having fans go ‘look! It’s minor supporting character Y from sequel number X!’ Halloween Kills does this in spades, bringing back all these little characters from Carpenter’s original that you may not even remember, including the kids Laurie babysat and the kids who bullied those kids and the town sheriff and even Dr. Loomis’ old assistant. The gang’s all here. That’s a lot of legacy characters. 


And Michael brutally murders (almost) every single one of them. 


That’s weird, right? That’s fascinating. Can you imagine if, in Ghostbusters Afterlife, Jason Reitman had gotten Bill Murray and Dan Akroyd and Ernie Hudson and Annie Potts and Sigourney Weaver all together for their big moment in the sun, and then the ghosts came out and ate them all? Just killed every one of them on screen, and then dropped the mic? It’s completely antithetical to this trend Hollywood has inundated us with. Instead of reveling in the return of the old guard, Green reassembles all these characters who survived Michael Myers once, in Carpenter’s classic and iconic original, and he gives Michael a do-over, letting him dispatch all of them in ways both shockingly brutal and over-the-top slapstick (sometimes both at once). We expect them to be important to the story, because ‘legacy characters’ are treated not dissimilar to Christ himself in these kinds of films, but they’re not. They’re completely ineffectual. They die just like anyone else. There is no position of privilege afforded them in the narrative. 


The choice to make Tommy Doyle – Laurie’s original babysittee, played here by Anthony Michael Hall – a stand-in for the inflated egos of mediocre men is actually pretty pointed. He really thinks he’s the center of this story. He believes he is destined to take out Michael Myers, that he’s survived this long and stayed in Haddonfield for a reason, that he can put together a posse and lead the whole town to victory over their shared tormentor. He genuinely imagines himself capable of defeating the Boogeyman with an old wooden bat, a notion he is not disabused of even after Michael escapes the bowels of a burning building and slaughters 11 burly firefighters infinitely more physically capable than he. 


And he dies like a fucking idiot, stabbed to death no different than any other Michael Myers victim. 


There was a lot of attention paid at the time of the film’s release to just how stupid everyone acts in Halloween Kills, and it’s absolutely true. Even by the standards of horror movies, the residents of Haddonfield are extra hopped up on stupid pills this time around. Father/son duo Lonnie and Cameron go alone, one-by-one, into the Myers house, just completely unequipped to fight someone who’s done the things Michael has done, and they get stabbed up real good. Cameron gets his neck snapped on the stair rail in one of the cartooniest kills in the entire series. Michael really seems to relish killing these people in ways that befit their stupidity. 


But isn’t that kind of the point? The only person who took The Shape seriously was Laurie Strode, and she’s laid up in the hospital having falling short in a superhuman effort made after four decades of preparation. Meanwhile, Tommy Doyle and Sherriff Brackett and Lonnie the Deadbeat Dad all think they can go mano-a-mano with The Shape with zero preparation and win. And it turns out they can’t! Of course they can’t! The movie very graphically punishes them for their inadequacy and stupidity. There’s a woman over here who’s been screaming at the world to take this threat seriously since Jimmy Carter was President, they all ignore and shun her, and then when the threat comes to their doorstep, they die like idiots. If I came out of Green’s first Halloween feeling like there were unexplored implications to this broken society that’s simultaneously obsessed with violent morbidity and shunning a woman who rightly warned them about The Shape, then Halloween Kills is the answer. The first movie wrote a bigger check than it was ultimately interested in cashing, and the sequel, in part by being a hot mess that refuses to grant the audience any kind of satisfying closure, winds up paying it off. 


I have no idea if any of this was Green’s intent. But the movie is just so incredibly unforgiving of all these characters who think they’re important because they were a part of this story once, and so believe they must continue to be important in the future. And Michael Myers doesn’t care. They’re all trying to make sense of him, to add narratively satisfying reason and logic to his existence and to their suffering, and he just tramples over all of it and stabs them to death. He doesn’t actually want anything or need anything, and the more they try to pin him down, the more he wins. The ‘killer as a force of nature’ analogy is as old as horror itself, but Halloween Kills does something interesting with the idea in how firmly Michael refuses to conform to the stories anyone is trying to tell. Most of the film’s action revolves around a hospital he has absolutely zero interest in going to and never physically approaches. He has one goal: to kill. And he does it. This makes the film feel unresolved, like it goes and goes without reaching any kind of dénouement, but that’s actually not true. It does have a climax, wherein the people of Haddonfield seemingly corner and kill Michael and fulfill the story they’re trying to tell, of a community rising above and conquering their fear. 


But then Michael just gets back up, says “nope,” and stabs them all dead. Stab stab stab.


That's definitely a dénouement. It's incredibly bleak and even nihilistic – “everyone you were following this entire movie was an idiot, and you were too if you thought the story they were trying to tell was real or meaningful” – but it's not an accident. It feels like a very intentional punch, the ultimate blow in the film’s efforts to systematically shut down every avenue to putting Michael Myers into any box or way of understanding other than “the Energizer Bunny of stabbing.”


The Energizer Bunny of Stabbing 

The title of the movie is sort of brilliant in its honesty. Halloween Kills. Yes, that’s the whole point, right? After all these years, after so many movies – this is the 12th – what else is there to say? Whatever you think you’re back in the theater for, the truth is that Michael Myers is the engine of this thing. Not Tommy Doyle. Not Sherriff Brackett. Not even Laurie Strode – they’re all expendable to the Halloween universe. Green’s 2018 reboot isn’t even the first time the franchise brought Jamie Lee Curtis back for a rematch with The Shape; Halloween H20 did that first, and before the credits rolled on the follow-up, Halloween Resurrection, Michael had stabbed Laurie to death so he could go on stabbing some more. That’s what he does. He stabs. He kills. Halloween Kills. The name of the franchise and the name of its monster conflated into a two-word mission statement. 


Some horrible troll-ish contrarian part of me wants to write the words ‘Halloween Kills is the Watchmen of slasher movies.’ I deserve to be slapped across the face for saying that. It’s objectively ridiculous. But if I establish this is in no way a qualitative statement – Halloween Kills is very obviously not a seminal Alan Moore masterpiece that will forever change the shape of its medium – maybe you’ll hear me out. The thing about Watchmen is that if you read it and you really understand and internalize it, it’s sort of impossible to ever take any piece of superhero media seriously again. You can do it – you can go enjoy a Marvel movie – but it will always be ringing in the back of your head, so damning and airtight and mercenarily brutal is its deconstruction of what makes this genre tick. It pushes the underlying tropes to their Nth-degree conclusions and in so doing brings the genre to its breaking point. Halloween Kills isn’t that smart or accomplished, obviously, but the more I think about it, the more I feel that same rupture in my understanding of its genre. It strips the formula so bare, is so coherently incoherent in how it serves up the pleasure of watching the Slasher do his thing, that I feel it ringing in the back of my head when I think about other slasher movies. It’s Scream without the self-aware comedy, but in some ways even more brutal in its assessment of the genre because there is no victory except for the killer, the only one who matters to keep this train a’rollin.


It sort of feels like Halloween Kills should be the end of the series. What’s left to say? I genuinely love the final shots of the theatrical cut, where The Shape stands over Karen’s well-stabbed body and Laurie stands at the edge of her hospital room and they both stare out the window, at each other, at darkness, from across an unbreachable distance. If this were a cliffhanger, the intent would be to hype us up for the rematch, but I think Gordon wisely realized that’s not what this was. The Blu-ray has an extended cut with an alternate ending, where the ethereal staring contest is more intense and ends with Laurie grabbing a big knife and storming out of the hospital to go get revenge. And Green was obviously right to cut it, both because Halloween Ends goes in a completely different direction, and because it would be a dishonest ending to Halloween Kills. Ending this film with the two characters locked in an eternal stalemate in the shadow – one killing, one surviving, on and on and on – feels truthful, in some deep and uncomfortable way, to what this franchise is. The movie has pushed the slasher genre to its logical conclusion, which is total abjection. 


Of course, this wasn’t the end. Halloween Ends is the end, even though it counterintuitively positions itself as something of a new beginning. 




Halloween Ends
 is a weird fucking movie. 

It mostly isn’t a horror film, and not in the ‘it isn’t effectively scary’ kind of way, but in the ‘it genuinely isn’t trying to be’ kind of way. It’s primarily devoted to watching three people – Laurie, Allyson, and a new character named Corey – navigate intersecting vectors of grief and trauma in their weird little insular hometown. If you took out Michael Myers, who doesn’t show up for 40-plus minutes, you could pass it off as an intimate little indie flick about broken people bumping against each other and maybe sort of feeling less broken as a result (given Corey’s damage, it would be too abrasive for Sundance, but it would kill at South by Southwest). Green is in his original element here. Characters and their surroundings feel alive, scenes play out at length with lots of room to breathe, pop music comes in and out to animate scenes and emotions, and there’s an appealing looseness to the whole thing. For long stretches, it comes remarkably close to that fantasy of a murder-free Halloween movie I described at excruciating length earlier – just a simple, soulful character study about people who survived The Boogeyman. 


But the movie does have Michael Myers, of course. He lives in the sewers now, you see, and the movie very heavily implies that his mask has magical powers that regenerate one’s life force via acts of savage stab murder, and that those powers can be transferred from one person to another by claiming the mask. It’s also got bullies ripped straight out of an 80s movie like The Karate Kid, and everything about their affect and presence is discontinuous with the film around them. And it ends with Laure and Allyson driving Michael’s corpse on a ritualistic procession through town, everyone gathered together in shared purpose as if to say ‘the real Michael Myers was the friends we made along the way,’ on their way to an industrial shredder that chews said corpse to mincemeat. It’s a series of images that are completely and utterly ludicrous unless you read them emotionally or symbolically, in which case it’s all weirdly touching. 


I like Halloween Ends. I think I like it a lot. It might be my ‘favorite’ of these three, though the first one is manifestly the most ‘competent’ as a piece of cinematic storytelling and the second is most provocative in what it suggests. But Halloween Ends fascinates me more than either of them. And more than that, I vibe with it. There’s a bizarre energy to this one, a willingness to throw out whatever plans Green and McBride had when they started this journey – this very obviously isn’t the movie they had in mind when making Kills – and instead tell a smaller, simpler, far stranger story that makes precious little sense if you want to stitch the plot together literally, but that feels genuinely affecting and even smart in how it confronts messy ideas about living in the wake of trauma. 


Laurie has gone through an entire movie’s worth of character development in between the end of Halloween Kills and the start of Halloween Ends, and I’m okay with that. I’m guessing the place she is at the beginning of this one is the place she would have been at the end of whatever Green and McBride’s original plans were, and I’m glad they put their foot on the gas and accelerated. This version of the character is interesting. She’s reacted to the events of the last two movies – where Michael collectively killed more people than the UN estimates died at Chernobyl – not by doubling down on her survivalist paranoia, but by letting go. She’s writing memoirs. She’s living with her granddaughter. She’s got Karen’s picture on her iPhone’s lock screen, and an old photo of herself as a teenager with the friends Michael murdered up in the kitchen. According to Allyson, she’s been in therapy and stopped drinking. She’s doing the work. She’s living life. Jaime Lee Curtis is spectacular at illustrating all of it, her innate warmth and irrepressible humanity spilling over in the room Green gives her to play Laurie as a relatively normal human, without sacrificing that edge, that devilish little twinkle in her eye, that’s been so central to this era of the character and her performance. We don’t get my fantasy of an unbroken 10-minute take of Laurie and Michael sitting on a curb smoking cigarettes, but we do get scenes of Laurie shopping at the grocery store, and the movie ends with her and Deputy Hawkins (Will Patton) making steps towards some kind of shared life together, talking about going to see the cherry blossoms in Japan. There’s a scene where Laurie, writing her memoirs, contemplates the two choices before her, in confronting her trauma: “suicide or cherry blossoms.” That’s a good line. It’s an evocative idea. There’s a moment near the end where Laurie is seemingly on the verge on committing suicide, and while it winds up being a fake out, I still found it kind of breathtaking to see the movie going there, to have Jamie Lee Curtis play out the emotions of the moment. I think Laurie is too; she’s ultimately doing it to trick Michael (er, Corey-as-Michael – more on that in a bit), but her performance of suicidal ideation is too good to be purely a bluff. She’s trying the abjection on to see if it fits. 


Laurie isn’t really the main character this time around, though. The real main character – or, at least, the real point-of-view, the one Green as a filmmaker is most obviously aligned with and interested in – is a new figure named Corey Cunningham, played by Rohan Campbell (although I am 100% sure the script described him as “Joseph Gordon Levitt, if he was 10 years younger and we could afford him”). In the opening scene of the film, set one Halloween after the grisly events of the first two films, he accidentally kills a kid he’s babysitting. I like this scene. It’s bizarre and disorienting, and therefore a good primer for the film to come, but it plays its cards methodically. We see that Corey’s a good kid – the parents trust him innately, and even though it’s the opening scene of a Halloween movie and we expect a shoe to drop at some point, it’s hard to find a reason to dislike or distrust him. The mom tells Corey that her son is deathly afraid of ‘the boogeyman’ after last Halloween’s stab-a-thon, but once they leave, the son is fine watching a grisly horror movie with Corey (John Carpenter’s The Thing, not coincidentally – a nice nod to the original Halloween, where Carpenter had the original The Thing playing on the TV while Laurie babysat). It becomes clear the kid isn’t the one who’s afraid of the dark, but Corey, who’s deeply on edge, afraid of every shadow, a microcosm of the entire psyche of this tortured town. And when the kid plays a stupid prank on Corey, locking him in an upstairs closet, the frayed nerve that is his body lashes to get out – and the kid is accidentally thrown from the uppermost level of the house to his bloody death, just as his parents walk in. 

It's a ridiculous moment delivered with acute comic timing, and while I laughed in the instant – it’s hard not to, when that’s the pay-off – the movie takes the implications of this scene surprisingly seriously. The main action takes place three years later, contemporaneous to now, and Corey’s life has been well and thoroughly ruined. He didn’t go to prison, but everyone in town knows him as the guy who killed that kid, and it’s destroyed him. Laurie – either aptly or ironically – is the first person to get that there’s some goodness in him, and introduces him to Allyson, now working as a nurse and seemingly doing pretty well after the grisly murders of her parents and all her friends in one night (spoiler alert: she’s not actually doing well).


The main action of the movie revolves around two budding relationships: A romance between Allyson and Corey, which is arguably underwritten but played so well particularly by Andi Matichak that I bought it; and a murderous bromance between Corey and Michael Myers, who takes the boy into his sewer lair after the 80s bullies throw Corey off a bridge and seems to decide they’re kindred spirits. The driving narrative of the movie, such as it is, is about which partner Corey will commit to: the beautiful woman whose damage matches his own closely enough that they can love without judgment, or the sorta immortal sewer demon who offers him a very different kind of spiritual healing through the soothing art of stabbing. 


As I said at the outset, Halloween Ends is a weird fucking movie. 


Even if I didn’t know the behind-the-scenes details – Green and McBride originally intended to shoot Kills and Ends simultaneously, as a 2-part sequel to their 2018 film, with all three taking place in a compressed timespan around the same Halloween, before scheduling difficulties led to Kills being shot on its own and the team revising their plans for Ends – it would be extremely obvious this isn’t the movie anyone had in mind when making the first two. If the plan was for Halloween Kills to create momentum that Halloween Ends would then ride, that isn’t the case at all, with Ends jumping ahead four years and having to reintroduce us to this world, and doing it in a slower, more relaxed manner than the first entry in the trilogy did. It’s an objectively weird way to structure a trilogy capper – I can’t think of another example, for a planned trilogy made in a short span of time, where the third film is by far the slowest, quietest, and least action-heavy, in both the literal and narrative sense – but it was also clearly the right call. Whatever the initial intent, Kills as a finished movie doesn’t create the kind of momentum that a sequel could satisfactorily pick up; too many people are dead, and Michael seems more invincible than ever. There’s simply more meat on the bones if you advance the timeline and make this third chapter a coda, an extended, slightly separated epilogue about processing the events of the first two. 


When Green first described his revised plans for Halloween Ends in this interview, he talked about possibly incorporating events from the intervening years in the real world into the film, like the COVID-19 pandemic and surrounding political environment. That isn’t a part of the final release, but you can feel how the pandemic shifted things here. This is a more thoughtful movie, a film that’s reconsidered its priorities and asked its characters to do the same. People are on edge in it in a way that mirrors reality, but they’re also more introspective. There’s a striking moment between Laurie and the father of the boy Corey inadvertently killed, where he talks about doing the work to forgive Corey and look at him honestly, and that’s a level of maturity I cannot imagine in a pre-pandemic Halloween from this crew. It’s obvious the priorities have shifted. Life’s too short to just do another stab session – I feel a palpable emotional investment from all involved here to make this one count. 


There is stabbing, of course. Plenty of it, if still exponentially less than in Green’s first two movies (which is still exponentially more than in the comparatively quaint and peaceful Carpenter original). But here, too, you can feel those shifted priorities. That gleeful quality to Michael’s murder marathons is gone here. He’s a wounded, lonely animal, limping around his sewer cave making do on whatever bodies come his way. He kills to survive now, because it seemingly sustains his life. Corey’s the one who winds up relishing it, his soul curdled after years of Haddonfield hatred, his Michael-inspired murders a creative outlet and therapeutic catharsis where satisfaction comes much faster than in the hard work of building a relationship with Allyson. Killing an enemy is easier than being vulnerable with a lover. 


Here's the thing about Michael in this movie: He is a symbol, not a man. This has always been the case, of course: the horror of Carpenter’s original movie lies in the possibility that The Shape really might be the Boogeyman, emerging from the shadows and disappearing into thin air. The Michael of Halloween Kills, who knows his sole purpose and executes it with aplomb, is a symbol everyone is trying to wrestle into the shape of a character, and they all die for it. Laurie’s the smart one because she correctly diagnoses Michael as an abstract – as an ethereal ‘evil’ – rather than someone you can just walk up to and kill. 

This is actually complicated in Halloween Ends, because Michael has much more interaction with characters than in either of the last two movies. Him living in the sewer, or sustaining his life through the connection of the mask, or being killed via full-body bloodletting by Laurie and Allyson all bring him out of the realm of the symbolic and into the firm mechanical diegesis of the story. He doesn’t disappear into the night as Carpenter’s original version once did – he ends the movie ground into dust by an industrial-strength car shredder. His role in the story is both concrete and ludicrous; if you buy into his reality, then the reality of the movie falls apart. Here, we are truly confronted with his symbolic nature, because that’s the only way any of this works, and it radiates out to every other corner of the movie. 


And he’s a multivalent symbol this time around – or, at least, a univalent symbol who different people read in different ways. Corey sees the empowerment of a slasher fantasy, the easy and immediate satisfaction of becoming the killer. Laurie sees a darkness that must be rejected and vanquished. Allyson is trying not to see it at all. In all cases, what Michael stands for is, as Laurie keeps telling us, evil – a word these movies throw around too lightly, and yet still feels potent as a concept when Michael intersects with these characters. Corey lets it in. Laurie pushes back. Both commit grisly murder in doing this – Laurie’s ultimate, triumphant killing of Michael is extremely bloody! – which feels like a provocative contradiction. Must embracing evil and rejecting evil both involve killing? Is there a peaceful resolution to confronting evil? Or is there only violence? 


Abstract it a bit and it feels honest. Corey is swallowed whole by his trauma, and we understand that. It feels true. Laurie is willing to kill the trauma by letting her own body die with it, and it’s only by the intervention of Allyson, a loved one she’s failed in a lot of ways but whose connection is still the strongest thing either of them have left, that she allows herself to live past the exorcism of her trauma. Laurie and Allyson come together to bury that trauma, and they invite the whole town to come too, and there’s something very cathartic about tossing that trauma away and drawing a line of demarcation that says ‘this is where we start again.’ Sometimes that’s what it takes. 


This is why I like Halloween Ends. It swings for the fences. It isn’t shy in crafting big visual metaphors, in embracing plot beats that are patently ludicrous but lead to some kind of thematic truth of emotional honesty. The “curse of thorn” stuff from the 80s Halloween movies was an attempt to explain why Michael Myers just can’t stop going after his family members, a byproduct of Halloween II retroactively making Laurie Michael’s sister, the original sin of Halloween as a post-Carpenter franchise. Michael’s magical mask in Halloween Ends is smarter than that. It isn’t nearly as convoluted, for one, playing more as something primal or mythic. Dumb, but not needlessly overexplained. What shines through isn’t the technical explanation, but the idea of the mask empowering, of the mask alluring, of the mask offering the wearer something, something one of our characters needs. Similarly, tossing Michael’s body in a shredder is such a silly image I’m not sure the greatest special effects crew on earth could make it look ‘real’ (there can’t be much reference footage for them to go on), but as a big, leave-it-all-on-the-field visual metaphor for overcoming one’s damage? 


Well, fuck yeah. It works. 


I like Halloween Ends. I think it’s kind of a special movie, a weird, singular attempt to genuinely do something different with this franchise, and with the idea of a ‘movie franchise’ in general, zigging where we expect it to zag. I honestly can’t say I’ve ever seen anything quite like it, and I can’t imagine it existing if Green’s first two Halloween films weren’t the #1 and #4 highest-grossing slasher films of all time at the domestic box office. It’s not a revolutionary piece of cinematic horror, but it’s a compelling oddity I don’t think we’ll quite see the likes of again for some time. Halloween obviously hasn’t ended for good; Michael Myers will come back. Just like James Bond. It doesn’t matter if you’ve finally gone over the hump and blown him up or thrown him through the meat grinder – the character outlasts the body. We’ll see him again.  


But for now, for this iteration of Halloween? That’ll do, Michael. That’ll do. 

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