Here it is: the second installment in the current reboot of the franchise they couldn’t kill, Halloween. Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode is still with us as the slasher genre’s essential “final girl,” despite now being and playing a senior citizen. Michael Myers, described in the credits as “The Shape” and embodied once again by Nick Castle, is also back with a bang. At the end of 2018’s Halloween, he was lying riddled with bullets in a house deliberately set on fire by Laurie, expected to burn to a crisp. No prizes for guessing that ploy didn’t work.
This sequel is called Halloween Kills. After a long prologue from the original 1978 Halloween reprising how he started his rampage, we are zapped off to a bar where a grown-up Tommy Doyle — the kid who was being babysat by Laurie Strode in the original — takes to the stage to retell the story of that fateful night 40 years earlier. He is there with a group of survivors, now all middle-aged. Remember, Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) tells the silenced revelers in sepulchral tones, the Boogeyman is coming for us all. Fear is out there. But we will never succumb!
That rallying cry is an ominous harbinger of things to come, inasmuch as it is the kind of thing you might say if you wanted to get a lynch mob together. The storyline then kicks in a few minutes after the last film ended, with the killer escaping from Laurie’s burning house and Laurie herself being rushed to a hospital with knife wounds, flanked by her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) in a Christmas sweater and her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) who is shaping up as Laurie’s feisty successor. Laurie spends a lot of this episode in her hospital bed, blissfully reminiscing with wounded officer (Will Patton) about their teenage flirtation. Their fight against Myers goes back a long way.
Director David Gordon Green and his co-writers don’t let pesky franchise facts get in their way. As far as this current trilogy is concerned, the plethora of Halloween sequels and spin-offs made in the last few decades never happened; only John Carpenter’s classic, which is generally regarded as having given birth not merely to a franchise but the whole slasher genre, retains pride of place on the mantelpiece. The prologue is there not just to bring newbies up to speed, but to prod the bit of the brain that keeps the things of childhood sacred. Nostalgia is a powerful force at the box office, as evidenced by the monster box office enjoyed by the first episode of this trilogy. Number three comes out next year.
That said, Green’s dextrous handling of Halloween actually twists away from some of the old slasher tropes. Only once or twice — and then only for a nanosecond — does the camera take the killer’s point of view. That really doesn’t skate any more. Nor does vigilante justice. It all sounds very can-do when the good citizens of Haddonfield, having realized that the killer is out there again doing his evil work, answer Doyle’s call to get out there and execute him on sight. The sheriff protests in vain. Off they drive into the dark in their school-run cars, first-timers waving guns and fat bowling-alley warriors gripping baseball bats that will soon enough be turned against them. Unlike them, the killer knows what he’s doing.
Those left behind, also keen to do their part, are ready to turn on anyone they think — with the stupid thinking of any crowd high on excitement — looks like he might be a killer if you put a rubber mask on his face. Rumor, fake news, misinformation, call it what you like: the result is predictably tragic. “He’s turning us all into monsters,” says one of the sheriff’s deputies, kneeling by the victim’s corpse.
But maybe Michael Myers is not to blame for that; we were monsters already. Just watch the corpses pile up in Halloween Kills! Never was there a film truer to its name. They’re sliced up with kitchen knives, hollowed out with a fluorescent strip light, bisected with a chain saw and impaled on banisters. The body count is phenomenal. We love this stuff. You know we do.
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