Halloween Kills is the 12th entry in the Halloween franchise and the direct sequel to Halloween, 2018’s mediocre reboot that coasted to box-office victory on the back of Jamie Lee Curtis’s promotional charisma. My feelings about that film, and the franchise as a whole, are freely available here. The long and the short of it: The original Halloween is an unmatchable slasher classic. Most of its sequels are unwatchable, with 1998’s Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, the original Curtis reunion, being an exception. The only other film in this franchise that manages to do anything interesting is Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, a soul-crushing, mean-spirited knife to the nuts. I don’t have the nostalgia of renting Halloween VHS tapes as a kid and being afraid of The Shape. My expectations are relatively minimal.
So rest assured, there’s no deep-seated nostalgia for the franchise driving me when I say Halloween Kills is the best of the direct sequels to John Carpenter’s original Halloween from 1978. It maintains the formula of a Halloween film while building out the world of Haddonfield in a satisfying, surprising way. Unlike the 2018 movie, it doesn’t waste time trying to explore its characters’ traumas. All of that is still here but only as an excuse to keep the energy level at 11. The gore and kill choreography are both massively improved from the 2018 film. Some of the deaths are so cruel they feel right out of Zombie’s film. There are arbitrary money shots of splattered viscera that made my stomach turn and speeches about the nature of evil that mostly sound written to give the big-name actors something to do between screaming. It’s all so deeply silly and refreshingly messy.
The story directly picks up where 2018’s Halloween left off. Laurie Strode (Curtis), her daughter, Karen (Judy Greer), and her granddaughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), locked Michael Myers, aka the Shape, in the basement of Laurie’s survival compound and lit the entire structure on fire. Laurie is wounded and enroute to a hospital, thinking she vanquished the monster who has haunted her dreams for four decades after the first Haddonfield massacre (which is to say the first movie, the only canon in this newly rebooted series). But Laurie’s plan didn’t take into account the fact that the Haddonfield Fire Department is the best of the best.
Laurie’s out of commission for most of the story — an echo of the original Halloween II — and in her place rises Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), also a survivor of the 1978 Myers murders. Tommy was the little boy Laurie was babysitting on that fateful Halloween night. Of course, this franchise has resurrected the character once before — in its sixth, and worst, entry, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, there played by Paul Rudd as a pretty cool guy. He’s not so cool here. Whereas Laurie became an unhinged survivalist, Tommy became a “regular guy” who likes to stand up at open-mic nights on Halloween night to share his story and bring the room down … and enjoy the free drinks afterwards from newcomers. He has barely suppressed anger issues. He probably voted Trump. Despite all his talk about never letting fear control him, his first instinct when Michael returns is to grab a baseball bat and take to the streets with a mob … whether or not he’s actually chasing his nemesis.
Of course, Tommy doesn’t quite have the same cachet as the return of Laurie Strode, so director / co-writer David Gordon Green and company do their best to bring back as many familiar faces as possible. Turns out Haddonfield is actually a tight-knit community of men and women who never leave. Lindsey (Kyle Richards), who was also being babysat in the first film, and Marion (Nancy Stephens), the assistant to Donald Pleasence’s Doctor Loomis, reprise their roles from the first film. There are a few other returns I won’t spoil here. Whereas the 2018 reboot leaned on Curtis and tried to make it a treatise on trauma, resurrecting these forgettable supporting characters is deeply silly in the best way. These are cuts as deep as the ones some of them receive from Michael Myers when they eventually find him.
And find him they do. Many don’t make it out alive. In fact, this may be one of the most violent entries in the franchise to date. Someone will eventually do a body count. It rarely lets up, and nearly all the kills are crowd-pleasers.
Given how it directly follows the other film, there is thankfully little exposition before blood starts spilling. The only narrative drag is an extended series of flashback sequences explaining how Deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton) arrested Michael back in 1978, which serve primarily as character development so that he can share co-lead status with Laurie in the next film. It’s likely that looking back, Halloween Kills will be seen as more of an interstitial chapter between 2018’s Halloween and next year’s conclusive Halloween Ends, the final story in the David Gordon Green trilogy. It embraces a lot of blunt exposition to smooth over some of the narrative rough patches from the previous film to set up the final confrontation between Laurie and Michael in the next film. Good. Again: This is a fairly messy narrative but no more so than any of the other stories in the series, and at least most of this one dispenses with the need to act like it wants us to care about most of these people. They’re angry, get it? They want to kill Michael. He’ll probably kill them first. That’s all we really need to know.
Halloween Kills is a fast-paced and endlessly brutal piece of slasher horror. Its flaws — of which there are few — mostly exist to set up the next confrontation in the series. So be it. Sometimes it feels closer to the 1980s slashers than most of what has come since. It’s filled with moralizing dialogue, jump scares, graphic violence and even an unpredictable, somewhat nonsensical surprise stinger. Teenagers act stupid to put themselves in harm’s way, and the adults aren’t much smarter. Our audience scolded a few characters for making mistakes and laughed when Michael mercilessly killed them. I may not have pumpkin-spice memories of the series to color my thoughts. But when seeing someone get a knife jammed through their eye socket fills me with glee, a slasher movie is doing something right. Halloween Kills? Just a wholesome good time at the movies.