Film & TV

Sick, but Not in a Good Way

Jamie Lee Curtis in Halloween Kills (Universal Pictures)
Halloween Kills offers too much violence and virtually no wit.

I know I sound like I’m writing speeding tickets at the Indy 500, but Halloween Kills is too violent. I should clarify that I’m a fan of sickmovie violence and often find it hilarious. But, sheesh, did they have to ram a fluorescent light bulb through the throat of that nice old black lady? Yuck.

To be enjoyable, movie violence has to have a point: It’s cathartic (bad guy gets what he deserves), it’s ironic, it’s so absurd that it’s funny. In the slasher movies of the Seventies, the gore was easy to take because it was both unreal (the color of the blood was always off) and it was in a sense justified. We never cared about the dumb-bunny victims, who existed only to be slaughtered. They were targets, not human beings. Anyway, most of them were so silly and obtuse they deserved it. The link between sex and death in teen-facing movies — make out and get taken out — was less a moralizing warning about the dangers of copulation than it was a simple exploitation of the way that sex and terror jostle for space in the same forbidden, shadowy corner of our lizard brains. The violence didn’t hurt, it simply got the audience excited. That was the purpose of horror: not to scare per se, but to create a thrilling simulacrum of scariness. Genuinely scary movies (say, Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer or Funny Games) are not fun.

In Halloween Kills, though, which is streaming on Peacock as well as being shown in theaters, the only element that excites more than it nauseates is the terrific score, a beefed-up version of John Carpenter’s creepily minimalist music for the first movie, in this iteration credited to Carpenter, his son Cody, and to Daniel Davies. Picking up immediately after the brilliant 2018 Halloween (which was not a remake but a sequel to the 1978 Halloween that ignored all intervening movies), the new one is grueling, enervating, and dispiriting. The director, David Gordon Green, who co-wrote the script with his frequent collaborator Danny McBride and Scott Teems, has such a distinguished career in comedy that I was shocked to see him abandoning his sense of humor. Satirical and wry as the 2018 movie was, with a pleasing right-wing tilt, this one is just a harrowing splatter circus. Green takes pains to get us comfortable with a diverse array of characters — a nice black couple, a nice gay couple, an interracial pair of oldsters — only to dispatch them in bursts of ruthless gore, without a hint of wit. Taking pains to make everybody likable and then feeding them through the Michael Meyers shredder borders on the sadistic. I expected more subtlety from a talent on Green’s level.

Making things worse, there are two political allegories in Halloween Kills that don’t make much sense. First, there’s a spoof of libertarianism embodied by 1980s actor Anthony Michael Hall, now beefy and middle-aged. He plays a survivor of the 1978 events (which Green expands upon in a pointless series of flashbacks starring Thomas Mann as the young cop played by Will Patton today) who starts a citizens’ vigilante movement based upon empty sloganeering (“Evil dies tonight!”) and a belief that the police department has failed the citizens of Haddonfield, Ill. His mob movement leads to catastrophe, not that the police exactly distinguish themselves either, so regardless of what the movie indicates you should think, I’ll call it a draw between individualism and deference to the state. “There’s a system!” complains Judy Greer’s Karen, the voice of naïvete in the film, who suggests citizens step back and trust their betters in government. Her more practical mother, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), corrects her: “Well, the system failed.” Point to the libertarian side.

Later in the movie, there’s an even less convincing glop of social commentary. Laurie, who wakes up wounded in a hospital bed believing mistakenly that she and her daughter and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) have successfully killed Michael Myers by trapping him in a fire, offers a solemn analysis of the greater meaning of the killer. By attempting to destroy him, the villagers have made him stronger, and he has even transmuted (the script says transcended) into an abstract concept: Fear. As a moral to the story, this comes as a head-scratcher. Although the mob whipped up in the movie is indeed dangerous, it isn’t nearly as lethal as Michael. Quick trivia question: How many people did the Captain Kirk-masked Michael kill in the original movie? Onscreen, only four. Michael kills dozens in this one, so many that it’s hard to count them all, and as Laurie says, he no longer seems mortal. So despite 40 years of fighting Michael, she seems to be missing the point when she says fear is the real problem in Haddonfield because fear is “dividing us.” I’d say no, it’s really the guy on the insane murder rampage that’s the problem, and that fear of his evil deeds is extremely well justified.

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