Halloween Kills isn’t a “good movie.” And I love it anyway.
It’s all subjective, so what does it even mean for a movie to not be “good?” I suppose I’m referring to established standards of story construction—plotting, dialogue, theme—and their haphazard implementation here. It has, no question, some very sloppy storytelling. I recognize that. I also find it deeply compelling. Halloween Kills might not be a “good movie” in a formal sense, but it has, for me, an infectious, ghoulish enthusiasm and deep affection for the source material that I can’t dismiss, no matter how intensely I may cringe at the awkward execution.
Though I dislike most of the films in the franchise, I have a persistent nostalgia for Halloween and its iconic killer, Michael Myers—going back to 1988, when I was ten years old. Halloween 4 had just come out and was playing at my small town cinema. I was too young to see it in theatres, but I remember the TV spots for it sending chills down my spine. Around that time, I saw the original on television. Its moody atmosphere, that hauntingly relentless score and the lurking shape of Michael Myers has stayed with me all these years.
Director David Gordon Green has a very obvious affection for John Carpenter’s original. I share that affection. His 2018 sequel doesn’t have that eerie simplicity, but it is certainly one of the better films of the franchise. In a refreshing move, it ignored all of the other sequels—abandoning four decades of convoluted mythology—to continue on from that first film. Green’s vision for Halloween is charming and clever.
His follow-up, Halloween Kills, suffers from a lot of hokey contrivances and an almost unbearable self-importance, but it is still what I consider a spiritual successor. It is in conversation with the original in a way many of the sequels (and Rob Zombie’s appallingly vulgar reboot) are not. It shares, with entries like Halloween 2 (1981), Halloween 4 (1988) and Halloween H20 (1998), an attentive reverence for the original’s tone and aesthetic that schlock like Halloween 5 (1989), 6 (1995) and Resurrection (2002) lacks.
There has been a lot of criticism about Halloween Kills’ atrocious dialogue, its absurd plot mechanics and pretentious social commentary. The film considers itself a deep meditation on the nature of human evil, but instead of actually meditating on the nature of human evil, it just keeps telling us that it is. I am no apologist and certainly don’t look past these flaws, but there is also a resonance that transcends that shoddy framework.
The return of legacy characters and the 1978 flashback recreations that attempt to mimic Carpenter’s style have been scoffed at as pandering fan service. I won’t argue. These are, indeed, fan service, but I challenge the notion of fan service as a flaw. Why are fans invested in a property if not to be served the very thing they crave? There is a disheartening cynicism in our conversation about fan service.
As a fan, I want to be served the music and the mask. I want that tired, muddled contradiction of Michael Myers as both human and an unstoppable force of evil. I want the opening titles to feature orange text in that signature font with jack-o-lanterns on the left side of the frame. When I watch Halloween Kills, I don’t see an artistically bankrupt cash-grab. I see filmmakers who, in their genuine enthusiasm for the original, are desperately reaching out to grasp the intangible heart of a horror legend.
Hyperbolic? Certainly. The Halloween franchise, at its core, is a little bit camp. It is Doctor Loomis—that raspy, urgent voice of Donald Pleasence—waxing poetic about evil. I can laugh at the pretentious, pseudo-profundity and hackneyed plot devices. I can also rejoice in the giddy ecstasy of a shared fandom. They don’t cancel each other out.
I am particularly fond of the stilted, uncomfortably quaint new mythology Green’s sequel trilogy is developing. Gone are the endless Myers family dynamics, the silly Druid curse, the Man in Black and all that cult nonsense. In its place, we have a monster who will forever be a six year old boy, trying to get back to his childhood home so he can murder his sister and look out her bedroom window.
Though there is hardly a drop of blood in the original film and only minimal on-screen violence, Halloween Kills is relentlessly gory. What sets it apart from those awful mid-90s sequels—where gruesome kills replaced the slow-burn suspense and dread of their predecessors—is in its sobering depiction of the aftermath of violence. Though we can revel in the cartoonish, creative deaths, we are then met with the harsh realism of exposed brains, severed limbs and human grief.
This cruel juxtaposition has a cumulative effect that is intensely disconcerting. Death is both real and unreal. Michael Myers is naive and animalistic yet also keenly aware and emotionally manipulative. The movie is a manic parody of itself, but also embarrassingly earnest in its messaging. The contradictions are baffling. The tone is precarious. It is messy and misguided and unruly.
And yet, for me, it works. It casts a spell. And it isn’t just nostalgia for the superficial trappings of the franchise. So many of the sequels have all the ornamentation, but fall flat for me. Halloween Kills, in many respects, fails spectacularly; it also feels sincere and deliberate. It maintains the mystique. And it hits some of its marks so perfectly that I can allow its misses. Either way, it swings so damn hard I get caught up in the momentum.
With so many sequels and reboots crowding the cinema landscape, I understand the fatigue. It sometimes feels as if the major studios no longer want to take risks on new material, established properties are safer. But the world is also torn and terrifying, can’t we embrace the comfortable magic of fandom?
Halloween Kills is not a “good movie.” And yet it struck a deeper chord with me than, say, The Godfather, which is, I’m sure most will agree, a “better movie.” Great movies aren’t always the most rewarding experiences. Appreciating bad movies doesn’t tarnish our sophistication. Cynicism, though, can ruin the best parts of us.