{Feature} Ben Walker Discusses Halloween Kills and the Problem with Legacy

Halloween Kills and the Problem with Legacy

Ben Walker

In a video chat promoting the latest entry in the Halloween franchise, Jamie Lee Curtis was heard to utter the word legacy like some kind of super-important truth bomb, but after watching Halloween Kills, a more appropriate word for this latest entry would be confused.

Just like Halloween Kills does within moments of opening, let’s go all the way back to 1978 for an extended flashback. Consider the simple legacy of Michael Myers as a character. What makes him an effective, iconic slasher villain? We know him to be brutal and warped by who-knows-what from childhood. As an adult, he escapes from psychiatric care, wandering among the people of Haddonfield, masked and unchallenged, just some weird dude in a mask on Halloween. Nothing a small town hasn’t seen before. Stalking Laurie Strode for reasons as yet unexplained, he appears in daylight and shadow, watching, waiting for the best time to strike. And when he does, it’s with brutal efficiency, and, I’ve always thought, a morbid sense of humour. Would Jason put on a sheet and glasses to get close to a victim, or leave a tombstone in someone’s bed? I don’t think so. And if the half-eaten dog corpse wasn’t enough of a clue, there’s good old Dr Loomis to remind everyone he meets that Myers is evil.

As the sequels went on, you were never left in any doubt that Myers was a simple killing machine, despite occasional attempts to flesh his character out. As Laurie puts it in one of the only truly memorable lines in Kills, Michael transcends with every murder. To kill, and to return home, are his main desires. After the original Halloween 2, of course, things get a lot more complicated, with part 3’s idea of using the Halloween brand as a way to pump out yearly anthology-style movies quickly being dropped in favour of Myers’ return and desire for blood continuing through parts 4-6. All of these were sequels to the second movie, and eventually suggest that Myers’ evil immortality was linked to the Cult of Thorn. Then things get even murkier, with the post-Scream reboot of the franchise in Halloween H20 (and its sequel, Resurrection) creating their own revenge-based timeline branching off from part 2, ignoring parts 3-6. Later, Rob Zombie’s reboot and its own sequel served as a standalone universe, taking character names and general inspiration from the originals.

It’s a legacy that might seem pretty confusing, so at first glance David Gordon Green’s re-re-reboot – using the original movie as a starting point and retconning everything else – seemed like a good way to reinvigorate the franchise. I remember being concerned that the first of these efforts, 2018’s Halloween, would rely too much on nostalgia and callbacks to stand on its own as a decent horror movie. As it turned out, this new Halloween was a pleasant surprise, not without issue thanks to some woefully written side characters and glaringly out-of-place comedy beats, but certainly not Halloween Resurrection levels of cringe. It showed a different Laurie Strode too, broken by the events of that night in 1978 and determined not to let her legacy destroy her family. She is very much not to be fucked with, and Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance carries the movie just like her starring role back in the 70’s.

Even an entire clone army of Curtises couldn’t carry the mess that is Halloween Kills though. Flicking between past and present like a cat treading on your remote, the movie starts with a needlessly long flashback sequence and keeps tossing out scraps of nostalgia, eventually realising that maybe it needs to throw something else in the mix, hoping desperately that something will resonate. Will it be the cast all repeating trailer lines like “evil dies tonight” or “forty years ago evil came to Haddonfield” ad nauseam, no matter who they are? The side characters you’re barely given a chance to care about before they get murdered? The inexplicable transformation of Myers into a skilled hand-to-hand weaponry fighter? The way he Jackie Chans a gun in one laughable murder scene, and in another stops to play around with knives like a curious child? Any notion of legacy, or even continuity with Myers’ own behaviour in the previous movie, goes right out the window; an act that’s doubly confusing when you consider all the hoops the plot jumps through in order to drag old characters back into the mix.

Chief among these regurgitated characters is little Tommy Doyle, now a not-so-little middle aged barfly with a bee in his bonnet about the fact that he’s been scared for so long. Why? So the movie has someone to pursue Myers of course, seeing as Strode is laid up in hospital for most of the runtime. Doyle’s prime motivation is that he wants to bash Myers’ brains in with a stolen baseball bat, partly as a thankyou to Strode for protecting him all those years ago, but also as a way of proving he isn’t scared of the boogeyman. We know this because he paces around talking a load of shit to nobody in particular, cursing Myers under his breath and staring into middle distance. Among his friends are one of the bullies who tripped him over onto a pumpkin in the first Halloween, now reformed of course (and shown to be bullied himself in a flashback – oh, sweet irony!), the other kid who Strode protected in the original movie, and bewilderingly, the nurse who Myers attacked in her car when he escaped back in 1978. Every year these four come to a bar and moan into their beers about that tragic night, but they’ve never had to confront their past properly – until now! **Dramatic sting**

We also meet local cop Hawkins in an early flashback – he was, of course, in the previous installment, but in this part he’s also relegated to a hospital bed so he and Strode can make small talk from their gurneys. Back in 1978, we see him fail to kill Myers just like every other cop, but also blame himself for not pulling the trigger. So he and Strode make perfect partners in this movie, gnashing their teeth and swearing revenge on Myers once again, despite having failed so spectacularly. In fact, the entire movie is characters saying they’re going to kill Myers, from mildly annoyed neighbours to bereaved parents, teenagers to grizzled police officers, each of them managing to fail in their own shoddy way. The police’s legacy especially is one of failure, and even in the present day we see the sheriff overruled and ignored by an angry mob, while pretty much every officer under his command fails to maintain order.

The movie’s only real new idea is that of a second escaped patient on the run – the fake Myers as I like to call him. This short, squat fellow could in no way be mistaken for The Shape by anyone who’d seen Myers in person. But of course the TV news only shows both men’s faces briefly, naming neither of them, nor giving a physical description. They also don’t bother having anyone from the police on to explain that Michael Myers is the main suspect, and not the other guy who as we eventually see is just a bit confused and lost, certainly not wandering up behind people to slip a fluorescent light tube through their carotid artery. This TV report comes not long before or after a scene in which a policeman is standing outside Myers’ latest murder scene yelling out “the killer is Michael Myers, go get him!” to all within earshot.

All this buffoonery and incompetence means that when the fake Myers, wounded and scared, shows up at the local hospital begging for help, the townsfolk, whipped into a fury by perceived police inaction and Tommy “Fuckwit” Doyle’s loud mouth, turn on the poor man and chase him to his death. What could have been a neat bait-and-switch instead turns into a weird political parallel of the 2021 Capitol riots, and I’m in no way suggesting that you can’t have politics in horror, but the entire hospital sequence feels incredibly out of place. It’s like a scene from an entirely different movie copy/pasted into this one, and it just doesn’t work. There should be tragedy in seeing a man fleeing for his life, but instead we get a cop saying “maybe we’re the real monsters” and nobody listening to him, least of all Tommy “Dumbass” Doyle who point blank refuses to believe they’ve got the wrong man before setting back off quite happily down the path marked vengeance once again. We’ve seen mob justice in Halloween movies before of course, but there it was more clearly single-minded, not obfuscated by clever twists or points to be made about the political climate of the day. Just a killer on the loose and a group of angry townsfolk out for blood.

Eventually, the hugely unrewarding third act bows out with a bunch of blood-soaked chaos where both the cinematography and direction try to make things more interesting than they actually are, but only end up piling on yet more confusion. There’s a glimmer of hope that the filmmakers have understood the legacy that brought them to this moment though. Myers, it is revealed (more than once, like saying someone’s name out loud, apparently you have to do it 3 times or more so people remember), just wants to go home, and he will kill anyone in his way, just like the first movie. It’s too late for redemption by then though. Given that there’s a third movie, obviously Tommy “Dingbat” Doyle and his band of merry morons fail completely in their attempts to lure Myers away from his home and into a trap. They also fail to understand that Myers has killed an entire squad of firefighters hours earlier (despite the news reporting as such), but hey, don’t let the details stop you guys. By the time the credits roll, the setup for the next and hopefully final excursion by Gordon Green into the franchise is pretty clear, but it’s hard to care enough to be enthusiastic about it.

Halloween (2018) finished on an open-ended note that could have lead literally anywhere else but here. Without even a single clue about what Halloween Ends has in store apart from a Megan Thee Stallion cameo, my prediction is that you could skip Kills entirely and go straight into Ends without missing anything of substance. Just load Strode and Hawkins up with a bunch more painkillers, bung a rifle in their hands and let them meander around while another troupe of underwritten side characters get neck-knifed before yet another showdown which will, inevitably, leave the door open for more.

Instead of exploiting the legacy of this series any further, maybe it’s time to put it in the ground for good, rather than trotting out its corpse and pulling yet another Weekend at Bernies for horror geeks. And I say that as a horror geek. If you can’t give us something new from this series, give us something new. Do a Halloween 4 and suggest that the evil can move on to other people or generations. Hell, do a Halloween 3 and give us batshit Stonehenge theories mixed with robot clones and masks which can turn your face into centipedes. Either respect the legacy, or rebuild it, because more of the same just isn’t cutting it.

Ben Walker

Ben got a taste for terror after sneaking downstairs to watch The Thing from behind the sofa at age 9. He’s a big fan of extreme & bizarre horror and well as more psychological frights, and most things in between. When he’s not reading, he’s writing, and when he’s not writing he’s on Twitter @BensNotWriting or reviewing books on his YouTube channel, BLURB.

1 Comment

  1. A fascinating piece and insightful analysis. I totally agree that if something cannot be re-made, it should be discarded and room made for new things. The Slasher genre is very archetypal, yet it’s because of this that there is so much potential for reinvention. I really think that one day we will have a slew of new Slashers that offer something different!

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