Halloween Kills: The Good, the Bad, and the Really Ugly

I can’t say that I loved Halloween Kills. I can’t even say I really liked it, which pains me to say. I really wanted to like it, and I think it did have some redeeming qualities. But as a whole, I’m walking away from the film feeling disappointed on many levels. If you haven’t seen the film, check out Bronson West’s spoiler-free review, which is much more positive. I’m about to get into heavy spoiler territory, so read on if you wish.

It Wasn’t All Bad

Let’s get into the positives first. They killed Tommy Doyle! Okay, maybe that’s not a positive for everyone, but I was rooting for it. It’s been a while since I’ve been that annoyed by a lead character, so I was waiting anxiously for his demise. I know, this section was supposed to be about the positives. Let’s regroup.

Tommy Doyle with a baseball bat leads the hunt for Michael

Judy Greer stands out in this film. I’ve long been a fan of her work, and in recent years, I think she’s been one of Hollywood’s biggest unsung heroes. Her work on Showtime’s Kidding (which I’ve written extensively about) ranks as one of my favorite performances in anything over the last decade, and here in Halloween Kills, she’s able to represent the humanity of the situation. Often only with a look or body language, Greer gets the writers’ points across in a more effective manner than when we get beat over the head with those same points elsewhere in the film.

It should also be noted that the score in this film is nothing short of amazing. John Carpenter, along with his son Cody, delivered a synth-heavy sound that toys with nostalgia without completely committing to a retro sound. It’s subtle enough to give us those warm fuzzy feelings for yesteryear but also is modern enough to not allow the film’s sound to be stereotyped.

To conclude my section on things the film did well, Michael was handled excellently. My feelings on cranking up the gore aside, Michael’s mask was perfect, which is no small feat. There have been plenty of instances throughout the years where the mask was distracting for hardcore fans, as detailed in this article ranking Michael’s masks, so this film definitely deserves credit for getting the mask right. But more than that, they got a lot about Michael right. Michael Myers is a character completely built on body language and movements, and any changes to the formula are an unwelcome shock to the system. Halloween Kills in many ways is an improvement in how Michael was portrayed in the 2018 film, where one of my chief complaints was how awkward Michael felt at times. Halloween Kills was a vast improvement on Michael’s image.

Nothing Subtle at All About It

The title told us that this film would be violent. We got violence at unprecedented levels for this franchise in Halloween Kills—not just in terms of its ridiculously large body count, but each kill felt really over the top. The death scenes were excessive, as if David Gordon Green and company felt that the gruesome nature of each death was a selling point for the film. Looking back at previous installments in this franchise, specifically the original film, this series has never been about gore. It’s been about suspense. It’s been about less being more and about how what we don’t see but know is there is able to strike fear in us. Halloween Kills went the complete opposite way here, and for longtime fans of the series, it’s a striking change that isn’t going to sit well with everyone.

The film, if anything, seems to be a commentary on the state of the world and the anger, tension, and division we all live with. Which is fine if that’s the story you want to tell, but why tell that story in an established franchise? Halloween has always been about The Boogeyman and our fears and what’s lurking in the shadows. Halloween Kills is trying to tell us that The Boogeyman has already won and we’re just living in the aftermath. This could be a great story to tell, but execution is everything.

Social commentary has existed in horror for as long as the genre’s been alive. It works best when the message isn’t being pounded into our heads as we watch a story unfold onscreen. When that viewing experience is over, we allow the deeper meanings and commentary to wash over us so we can internalize it. Halloween Kills insisted on reminding us over and over again that we’re living through polarized times and that the mob effect is dangerous. What could’ve been an effective story about a town’s collective trauma instead muddied its message by trying to be something more than it needed to be.

I left this film thinking that Halloween Kills wanted to be more of a slasher than the series ever had been before while also aiming for a George Romero level of commentary. Romero made us work for answers and meaning, though. That wasn’t the case here. The film’s intent, a warning against groupthink and the mob mentality, was force-fed to us all while trying to pour copious amounts of gore down our throats. To double down on a previous point, this only felt effective when Judy Greer was onscreen. Greer’s performance as Karen was spot on, providing us a first-hand view of the dangers that surround us, begging us to take notice before it’s too late.

Halloween Kills title screen.

Nostalgia Overload and a New Generation of Halloween Fans

Halloween at this point has numerous incarnations and “universes,” for lack of a better term. There’s a story where the first two films, then the fourth, fifth and sixth exist. The third film occupies its own space. There’s one “universe” where the first two films happen, then we skip to the seventh and eighth films, overlooking everything in between. Rob Zombie’s films occupy their own space, and now we have a world where the original film exists and then only this new trilogy. Confused yet?

This new trilogy of Halloween films, which is set to conclude with Halloween Ends in 2022, is an attempt to create a new generation of Halloween fans who perhaps haven’t seen all of the sequels or don’t care about the narratives that have been abandoned over the years. This is new to them, and this is the narrative that’s hopefully going to capture their hearts and minds for years to come. Yet at the same time, Halloween Kills trots out legacy character after legacy character and peppers the film with references to the past (Ben Tramer anyone?) in an attempt to tell long-time fans of the franchise that this trilogy is for them, too. Only it’s not.

The franchise has shifted into something new. I almost think I, as a longtime fan of the series, would be more accepting of this film had they not tried to incorporate so much nostalgia. If you’re creating something new, that’s fine, and hopefully, it does create countless new fans. But when you’re re-writing the history we’ve come to accept and altering the characters we’ve come to love and embrace over the years (Laurie), there’s no need for countless callbacks and fan service. Carve your own path. Create your own history. Don’t lean so heavily into a past that you’re at other times asking us to ignore.

Final Thoughts

This film had a lot of potential. The idea of a town traumatized by Michael Myers who is ready to band together to stand up to that evil is an interesting concept. The heavy-handed execution is where it failed for me. In Halloween, less has always been more, but that doesn’t just apply to violence. If you want to tell a story about the dangers of groupthink and mob mentalities, you can do that in a film like this, but you don’t have to have characters chanting “Evil Dies Tonight” every five minutes. Give your audience the benefit of a doubt—we can read between the lines.

For a film that’s supposed to be built around trauma, I wish we would’ve seen more of that instead of everyone immediately jumping straight to anger over something that happened 40 years ago. I actually have a hard time buying that so many people were that upset over something from that long ago. Maybe if we weren’t ignoring all of the sequels and were looking at a more collective picture of their pain and loss spread out over several Halloweens with Michael tormenting them, it would make more sense. It’s almost as if we’re being asked to remember a history that has been washed over.

Being an announced trilogy, this film was in a tough spot. You can’t kill Michael because we know he’s coming back. You can’t overplay your hand with Laurie because you know she’s the key to the final battle, but having Laurie on the sidelines the entire film didn’t feel right either, even if Karen did an effective job as the substitute lead. The attempt to explain why Michael is the way he is serves as a cliffhanger of sorts for the final film in this trilogy, attempting to set him up as an unstoppable foe. The final act of the film worked better than the first two, which unfortunately just makes this film feel like the equivalent of a setup episode in television.

As a long-time fan of this franchise, perhaps my biggest issue is that, for me, I just haven’t been as invested after the first six installments. That, to me, is Halloween. Everything that has come after has just been films for other people to enjoy, and I’ve never felt like the target audience. Which is okay—as a horror fan, I’m always happy to see new people fall in love with these characters and worlds, and I will never try to be a gatekeeper or anything like that. Was this the worst film in the franchise? Absolutely not—Halloween Resurrection will forever hold that dubious distinction. Halloween Kills could’ve been a film about Michael struggling to have a bowel movement and still be better than the infamous Busta Rhymes edition of this franchise. This film had its flaws—several of them—but perhaps my biggest takeaway from it is that I simply wasn’t the target audience. I’ll always have my Halloween films, and new generations will now perhaps have theirs too.

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Written by Andrew Grevas

25YL Media Founder

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