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Halloween Kills (2021)

Halloween Kills (2021)

Less than we bargained for

In Halloween Kills, Michael does, indeed, kill. He's very mad that he was left to burn in Laurie Strode's tinderbox home, & he's out for revenge. He's done stalking. He's done killing in private. He's now murdering his victims in front of one another, & he's doing it with a brand new barbarity. He wants to see the people of Haddonfield suffer. And he's out to inflict maximum damage.

There's a particularly violent scene where Michael happens upon an older couple--Sondra & Phil--in their home. Sondra is flying a toy drone & Phil is making suggestive comments involving Cheez-Its while complaining about the smoke from the Strode housefire. You immediately like this couple in the same way that you liked Vicky or Dave or Julian in the previous film. Then Michael shows up & brutally murders them both. He stabs an entire set of kitchen knives into Phil's back--one by one--while Sondra bleeds out from a gaping florescent lightbulb wound. And then he strolls out of the home on his way to wreak more havoc. And that's where most of this film lies... at the intersection of David Gordon Green's want to deliver these endearing vignettes about the people of Haddonfield & Michael's want to end those vignettes prematurely. This works terrifically when when Green is introducing new characters. (The scenes involving Big John & Little John, as well as the trick or treaters, are some of the best in the film.) But when he turns his attention toward filling the gaps in 40 years of Haddonfield history, it starts to feel obligatory & begins to buckle under the weight of overly complicated lore.

For instance, it doesn't make the film any better that the kid who bullied Tommy in elementary school--Lonnie Elam--is now the adult father of Laurie's granddaughter's boyfriend. The film takes precious screen time to set up flashbacks where Lonnie encounters Michael back in 1978, but you have to imagine time could've been better spent on the core characters. Green certainly deserves credit for wanting to redeem basically every townsperson in Haddonfield. (Even Cameron had a deleted scene in the first film where he apologizes to Allyson & then gets arrested for mouthing off to some cops.) And it's clear that he's trying to create the sense of continuity & familiarity that define small towns. But the expense of developing Haddonfield as a character is that we merely acknowledge the trauma unfolding without really get a chance to sit with it.

One of my favorite shots of the film is Allyson sitting in the hospital stairwell, still in her Clyde Barrow Halloween costume & still covered in blood from her encounters with Michael. And she's dealing with the fact that her father is now dead & her grandmother is in surgery. And we only sit with the shot for 3 seconds before Karen interrupts with an update on Laurie's condition, pushing the plot forward. Karen's allowed 30 seconds of screen time to grieve her husband when she washes Laurie's blood from her hands to reveal her wedding ring. But the moment is undercut by dramatic shot transitions that seem more intent on highlighting the camerawork than the gravity of the situation or the emotions of the character. Like Halloween 4, it sometimes takes quantity of scenes over quality.

But the film gets interesting when it begins to demythologize Michael's relationship to Laurie. During a witness interview montage, Allyson tells the deputy that it was the obsession of Michael's psychologist, Dr. Sartain, with Laurie Strode that brought Michael back into their life. And from this point on the movie begins to understand the towns people not just as victims, but as autonomous third parties who play their own roles in the events. And treating Michael as a force of nature intent on destroying his hometown, rather than a serial killer with a personal grudge, makes him far more menacing.

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Hysteria grips Haddonfield as the townspeople set out to hunt down Michael, but this only makes it easier for him to murder them. When he kills Marion Chambers--the nurse who originally discovered Michael's escape in 1978--in the park, it ends up being one of the most harrowing scenes in the entire film. She narrowly escaped her encounter in 1978, & here she finds herself again, trapped in a car with Michael in pursuit. Except without the same luck she had before. When Vanessa Wilson (introduced in the previous film) ends up accidentally shooting herself in this same sequence, it really captures the futility of this hunting expedition. If you find Michael, the reality is that he's found you.

Back at the hospital, Karen has convinced the townspeople that Michael is coming for Laurie. There's a very conveniently timed announcement that the hospital is on lockdown, setting the stage for Tommy Doyle's "Evil Dies Tonight" speech, wherein he whips the crowd up into a frenzy. And Laurie, post-surgery & out of her mind of painkillers, eggs him on. This leads to the mob mistaking another escaped mental patient for Michael, chasing him across the hospital. And this is where the film starts to derail. Tommy yelling "Evil dies tonight!" as he leaves the room, Laurie injecting her ass with painkillers in the campiest way possible, & her overly expository conversation with Officer Hawkins where she declares that "Every time somebody's afraid, the Boogeyman wins" are all pretty cringy & seem like intentional decisions to stray from the tone of previous films. And I'm not sure anything is achieved by it. In fact, it renders ineffective the moment when Tommy realizes he's mistaken, made worse when just 20 seconds of screen time later, Tommy's gone from being six floors up in the middle of the mob to arriving at the body in the parking lot. And when Security Guard (né Sheriff) Brackett laments, "Now [Michael's] turning us into monsters," you get the feeling that Green is treating the audience with as little respect as he's treating the townspeople.

It's tough not to compare the third act to the January 6th raid on the U.S. Capitol, even though the film was shot in 2019, because it's definitely trying to comment on populist reactionary politics. Laurie even shouts at the mob that they're acting like sheep. But it ends up functioning like Allyson's 3 seconds of grieving in the hospital stairwell: it's acknowledge, but not necessarily felt. The quick-hit editing & overly expositive dialogue doesn't quite support the message, which calls for nuance. So I can't help thinking it all would've worked better on a much smaller scale.

When Allyson & Cameron later confront Michael at the Myers home, you get a taste of what the movie could've been without all of the misguided forays into Frankenstein-esque townspeople hysteria. Without Tommy or Lindsey or Security Guard Brackett. Without the flashbacks or the exposition. Just a smaller group of core characters fighting back against a monster.

Halloween Kills falls into many of the same traps as Halloween 4, but it offers so many great moments that you desperately want it to take itself more seriously. It's not a bad film, it's just frustrating to watch. Which ends up placing a film that could've been great into the middle of the Halloween pack.

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