“Evil dies tonight,” shout the inflamed townsfolk of Haddonfield, Illinois, more times than you can count in Halloween Kills. Or maybe it’s “A franchise dies tonight?” I might have misheard. Either way, this latest installment is like a latex ghoul mask so stretched and shapeless it no longer fits.
Three years ago, David Gordon Green successfully breathed new life into the mythology of Michael Myers by building a story about the legacy of trauma and pitting three generations of women from the same family against the psycho-slasher introduced by John Carpenter in the influential 1978 horror classic. Green and his co-writers made the smart choice to ignore the multiple disposable sequels and return to the beloved original, picking up the story of “final girl” survivor Laurie Strode 40 years after that fateful night.
Few tricks, zero treats.
But in this second part of a trilogy spun out of the rebooted property — all set on the same night and slated to conclude with next year’s Halloween Ends — Green has made exactly the kind of witless, worthless sequel that bled the franchise dry in the 1980s and ’90s. It premieres in Venice in conjunction with a Golden Lion career achievement award being presented to Jamie Lee Curtis, who deserves to be celebrated for any number of more memorable films.
What’s most disappointing is that after reimagining Curtis’ Laurie as a fierce warrior grandmother, hardened by PTSD into a tough customer at considerable cost to her personal relationships, here she’s basically sidelined in post-surgery recovery. She gets to spout some wobbly Halloween lore, about Michael transcending mortality to become a superhuman disseminator of fear. But mostly she’s just killing time waiting for the inevitable showdown in the closing chapter.
In a screenplay co-written with Scott Teems and Danny McBride, Green’s storytelling skills are in trouble from the start. It’s a full 20 minutes before we find Laurie where we left her at the end of 2018’s Halloween, clutching a nasty abdominal knife wound in the back of a pickup truck with her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). As firefighters speed in the other direction, toward the blaze of the house where Laurie has trapped Michael in the basement, she screams, “Let it burn!” She seems to know already that Michael won’t be kind to those first responders.
Before all that, we wade through clunky detours and messy recaps of Michael’s history, from his murder at age 6 of his teenage sister, through his 1978 Halloween night rampage in Carpenter’s film to his escape from a psychiatric hospital 40 years later — along with another patient who’s roughly half his height and yet somehow later manages to be mistaken for Michael by an angry mob.
The writers have combed the original story by Carpenter and Debra Hill for any surviving minor character they can subject to more punishment. That includes Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall), whom Laurie was babysitting in ’78; and Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards, reprising the role), whose babysitter, Annie, was one of Michael’s victims. Annie’s dad, former sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers), is still around, now working security at Haddonfield Hospital.
Also still kicking is Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), a colleague of Michael’s former psychiatrist, Dr. Loomis, now sadly departed but resurrected in an inadvertently amusing flashback by someone doing a bad Donald Pleasence impersonation: “Pure eve-ill!” That 1978 interlude sheds light on Will Patton’s Officer Hawkins, played in his rookie-cop years by Thomas Mann in scenes that reveal how he failed his fellow officer and didn’t stop Michael when he had the chance. But Patton’s main function here is to give Laurie someone to talk to in the ICU.
That leaves a whole lot of barely developed characters to hunt down Michael or help pump up his body count. Or both. At the nominal center is the posse captained by Hall’s blustery bore, Tommy, leading the “Evil dies tonight!” charge. He’s accompanied by feisty Allyson, packing heat like Grandma taught her; her boyfriend, Cameron (Dylan Arnold); and Cam’s father, Lonnie (Robert Longstreet), who narrowly escaped a brush with Michael back in ’78.
Green amps up the violence and gore at the expense of actual scares or even a modicum of suspense. This is a curiously numbing bloodbath, as the masked Michael (James Jude Courtney) supplements his knife skills with everything from a pickax to a fluorescent light tube. Within the context of Carpenter’s laser-focused plotting, Michael’s kills were often subversively playful, suggesting a warped sense of humor beneath his psychosis. Here, he’s just a mayhem machine, going through the motions.
Laurie speaks in awed tones at one point of “Michael’s masterpiece,” stirring up the mob and disseminating chaos. But there’s no sense of him having much of a plan beyond eliminating anyone dumb enough to get in his way. Or a gay couple — called Big John (Scott MacArthur) and Little John (Michael McDonald), in a touch I assume was intended to add some levity — sufficiently heedless to think they can slap a coat of paint on a haunted house and live there unharmed. None of this is either frightening or fun, unless you get a kick out of watching Judy Greer wield a pitchfork.
Perhaps the saddest way in which Green bulldozes the lean-and-mean essence of the Carpenter mold is how far he strays from the latter’s insidious use of music. For those of us who saw the phenomenally successful 1978 indie back before its terrifying power had been diluted by endless riffs and rip-offs, the needling synth notes of Carpenter’s score could plant themselves in our heads whenever we entered a dark empty house. (OK, I’m speaking for myself.)
I felt a genuine jolt of excitement as the first gut-churning electronic rumble is heard here over the Universal logo. But as in everything else, restraint has been abandoned. Carpenter’s son Cody and Daniel Davies share composing credit with the master, going big and bombastic, and layering in vocal elements. But instead of getting under your skin, the music hammers you over the head. Call it Halloween Overkills.