In 2018, when David Gordon Green was given the hallowed mission of rebooting the “Halloween” series (that the director of “All the Real Girls” would embrace becoming the showrunner of a slasher franchise says a lot about the 21st century, but let’s leave that for another time), his job was to wipe away 40 years of bad sequels and to restore the lurchy cinematic gamesmanship, the perfectly-timed-shock-cut ingenuity, and the scary-classic mystique of the 1978 “Halloween.” (That the original was, itself, a mayhem-by-the-numbers knockoff of “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre” says a lot about the state of horror movies back then, but let’s leave that for another time.)
The mission was accomplished. “Halloween: The Reboot That We Promise, This Time, Is Actually Good and Not Just a Cheap Ripoff Imitation” had the same relation to the 1978 “Halloween” that “The Force Awakens” did to “Star Wars.” It wasn’t the real thing but an incredible simulation. Green had the craft and spirit to mimic John Carpenter’s elemental midnight B-movie canniness. The movie was just diverting and scary enough, and it got to remind the whole world of how cool, in her stalwart fear and fight, Jamie Lee Curtis always was.
Set 40 years after the first film, the 2018 “Halloween” took us back, in spirit, to the innocent garishness of the late ’70s, and that was a (minor) triumph. But in “Halloween Kills,” which picks up immediately after the last film, with Curtis’s Laurie Strode being rushed to the hospital after having trapped Michael Myers in her trick basement and burned him alive, Green more or less abandons the previous film’s enjoyable retro flavor. Michael, who was no more killed by Laurie than he was in all the other “Halloween” installments (“Halloween Kills” is the 12th), proceeds to go on his latest kitchen-blade stalker rampage, and the new movie becomes all about fusing the “Halloween” formula with the tropes and obsessions of today. Which turns out to be a real fear-killer.
The damage caused by Michael is now spoken of in the language of recovery. This starts when Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), who was one of the two kids Laurie was babysitting on that fateful 1978 Halloween night, stands up before the costumed crowd at a bar and, in between talent-show acts that are more terrifying than anything else in the movie, he says, in solemn tones of sharing, “Please join me in commemorating the victims, and the survivors, of that Halloween.” The victims this time include a middle-aged biracial couple and also a gay couple, named Big John and Little John (really?), who live in Michael Myers’ old house, which they’ve renovated to within an inch of its dark polished floorboards. That these two treat Halloween night as an occasion to eat fancy hors d’ouevres and watch “Minnie and Moskowitz” makes one realize there are clichés you wish Michael Myers could kill off.
Laurie, confined to her hospital bed, gets up out of it by giving herself a double injection of opioids. “It’s all happening,” says Laurie. “Michael’s masterpiece!” What she means is that Michael isn’t just a mad killer anymore — he’s an orchestrator of chaos, a terrorist. His intent is not simply to murder but to cause ripples of fear (you know, like ISIS and Al Qaeda!).
And then there’s the mob that forms. Anthony Michael Hall, who in his crewcut looks like the kind of Middle American lout who cheered on the Capitol Riot, picks up a baseball bat out of the bar and heads after Michael. A crowd forms behind him, and by the time Hall gets to the hospital the crowd has swelled to a furious, surging, unruly metaphor for The Angry America Of Today. Everyone starts to chant “Evil dies tonight!” And as a demonstration of how this kind of thing can go awry, they target the wrong killer, thinking that Michael, unmasked, is the other crazy dude who just escaped from the local mental institution. That’s a twist so preposterous it’s high camp, since the guy who isn’t the killer is a homunculus who looks like Danny DeVito in a hospital gown. (Did they forget that Michael Myers is six-foot-five?)
Halloween night may be Michael Myers’ masterpiece, but “Halloween Kills” is no masterpiece. It’s a mess — a slasher movie that‘s almost never scary, slathered with “topical” pablum and with too many parallel plot strands that don’t go anywhere. Green, as clever a job as he did on the first film, wastes no time cutting back to where the “Halloween” series ultimately landed: in a swamp of luridly repetitive and empty sequels, with Michael turned into such an omnipresent icon that his image gets drained of any nightmare quality. He’s more like someone who belongs on a lunchbox. Curtis, so good in the last one, is mostly wasted this time (you can feel the film trying to think up things for her to do), as Laurie’s daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) do most of the heavy lifting.
The relentless nattering about the past — Michael is evil! And evil can never be killed! — is the sure sign of a desperate, bottom-line-fixated sequel. The other sign is that Michael Myers, stabbing knives and broken light fixtures into people’s faces, may not be scary anymore, but he’s still a charismatic figure of darkness. You’re relieved every time he shows up, and it’s all about that doleful, rubbery-gray, Hamlet-of-psychos mask. After 40 years, that mask is more expressive than any of the actors in “Halloween Kills.”
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