Overheard from the media seats as the lights went down before a recent screening of “Halloween Kills”: “I have no idea what to expect here. It’s just some guy with a mask and a – I don’t know. I really have no idea.”
The anonymous wag’s delicious sarcasm – and yes, that was sarcasm dripping like the blood we were all about to experience on the screen before us – neatly encapsulates the perverse appeal of this most predictable of film sagas now on its 12th chapter and not over yet.
It’s an appeal that is by no means unique to the “Halloween” movies, centering on the masked and now presumably immortal serial killer Michael Myers, but rather one endemic to the entire genre of franchise slashers, including “Scream” (which is soon to get its fifth installment in January).
These movies are not expected to deliver surprises or style but the cinematic equivalent of fast food: the same reliable pleasure of sugar, salt and fat, without nutrition, but in the form of gore, violence and cheesy, overwrought screenplays served up again and again and garnished with the occasional plot twist in lieu of a sprig of parsley.
By the measure of its body count alone, “Halloween Kills” is a masterpiece. And yet there should be standards. It’s been three years since we last saw Michael, aka the Shape, played by James Jude Courtney. (But who really cares who’s under that mask, originally derived from a death mask of “Star Trek’s” Captain Kirk, and now so battered and battle-scarred as to be unrecognizable?)
“Halloween,” the 2018 reboot of sorts by director/co-writer David Gordon Green that pretty much ignored every previous film except the 1978 original, ended with Michael presumably trapped by his nemesis Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) – the onetime-babysitter-turned-obsessed-and-graying-grandma-with-a-gun – in the basement of a burning house.
Michael had been run over, stabbed and shot in the last film and was missing a couple of fingers. But Laurie wasn’t looking so hot herself. As the closing credits rolled in 2018, we saw her clutching a nasty knife wound in her stomach and on the way to a hospital with her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak).
That’s the setup that opens “Halloween Kills.” After a short flashback to 1978 that fleshes out the shameful backstory of Will Patton’s police officer Hawkins – presumed dead, but c’mon – the new film picks up exactly where the previous one left off and continues its cycle of murder and cringingly bad dialogue.
At one point, after a case of mistaken identity, an angry mob of vigilantes drives an innocent man, wrongly presumed to be Michael, to suicide. “Now (Michael)’s turning us into monsters,” laments Sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers, returning to his role from the first film.)
Blather, rinse, repeat. Cyphers isn’t the only 1978 throwback. Kyle Richards returns as Lindsey, a child in the first film, and so does Nancy Stephens as nurse Marion Chambers, the assistant to Michael’s psychiatrist Dr. Loomis (played by the late Donald Pleasence in 1978 and here, in flashbacks, impersonated by actor Tom Jones Jr. and the voice of impressionist Colin Mahan).
Anthony Michael Hall steps into the role of Tommy, the boy Laurie was babysitting in the first film. Tommy is good – if that’s even the right word – at stirring up hoi polloi.
These nods to nostalgia are in keeping with the lazy impulse to give the audience exactly what it wants while ignoring what the film actually needs. The narrative is saggy and chaotic, the acting histrionic and the cinematography unremarkable. Even the murders, which include a stabbing in the neck by a broken fluorescent tube, aren’t especially creative.
There’s a lot of baloney – along with bodies – sliced up by the end, with Laurie bloviating about how Michael has come to “transcend” something or other. But there’s nothing transcendent let alone new in “Halloween Kills.” Near the end of the film, Hawkins – you didn’t really think he was dead, did you? – says, referring to 1978: “If only we knew then what we know now.” Which is what, exactly?
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