When faced with the twelfth entry in a franchise that has been running for 43 years and in that time produced, if we are being spectacularly generous, four actually good entries (and I think it would be easier to defend the claim that only the very first one is actually good than that a whole four movies reach that threshold), "did this work?" is almost a stupid question. No, Halloween Kills doesn't work, it would have been almost more surprising if it did. Nonetheless, one has to offer it a kind of dumb, surly, begrudging respect, simply for the fact that it was hauled into existence at all. Consider it this way: as of Halloween Kills, the Halloween franchise has pulled up even with the Friday the 13th series in a two-way tie as the second-longest American horror franchise in history, by number of entries;* only the murderously terrible direct-to-video Witchcraft series has more entries to its credit. I do not know if slasher film franchises, like politicians, ugly buildings, and whores, get respectable if they last long enough, but I will at least say that Halloween Kills is sort of beyond criticism - if you're the sort of person who watches this sort of film, there's nothing that would reasonably keep you away from this particular example, even if you, like me, walked into it in the full expectation of not liking it.

Call it a self-fulfilling prophecy if you must, but lo and behold, I found Halloween Kills to be a pretty unsatisfactory and unnecessary - maybe even actively misguided! - affair. This film is the direct sequel to Halloween, which was itself the direct sequel to Halloween (but it had nothing to do with Halloween) - that is, it follows directly upon the 2018 movie that was an earnestly fannish attempt to return to the basics of the 1978 masterpiece that inaugurated the slasher film as a bona fide genre, and not just a recurrent tendency; in so doing, the 2018 Halloween wiped the slate clean of six different sequels in two different incompatible lines of continuity. Odd, then, that Halloween Kills ends up taking so many of its cues from 1981's Halloween II, the place where all of that increasingly cumbersome mythology started to coalesce - and indeed, the worst things about Halloween Kills were already bad in Halloween II. Not the thing where the unspeaking psycho killer Michael Myers (James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle, or Airon Armstrong, depending on the needs of shot and what time period it takes place in) turns out to be the secret long-lost brother of his main target Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis); in fact, the new film takes the pains of a couple of lines of dialogue to specifically sink the idea that Michael has any specific connection with or interest in Laurie. The new film does, however, take place on the same night as its direct predecessor, beginning within minutes of its ending; and it also places Laurie in the hospital for its entire length, and leaves her unconscious for a substantial part of that length. And given how badly "let's put Curtis on the sidelines for the whole movie" went in 1981, I'm at a bit of a loss to explain how writers Scott Teems & Danny McBride & director David Gordon Green came to the conclusion that they return to that particular well.

Because, surprise of surprises, dumping Laurie into a single hospital room for virtually the entire film, and segregating her from the main body of the plot for all of the movie's 105 minutes, is an unmistakable problem for Halloween Kills. Not even probably the most damning one. But it certainly adds one more limitation to a scenario that's got more than its fair share. If you asked me to describe the story in one sentence, I don't really know how I'd go about doing that; the film is a collection of happenings across the course of a few hours on the night of October 31, 2018, in the unfortunate town of Haddonfield, IL, and a lot of those happenings befall a group of people who were eyewitnesses to the very horrible events of October 31, 1978: Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) and Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards), who were little kids that Laurie was babysitting; Lonnie Elam (Robert Longstreet), a slightly older kid at the time, whose path very briefly intersected with Michael;s retired sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers), whose daughter was one of Michael's victims; and Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), the assistant to the late Dr. Loomis, Michael's psychiatrist (Richards, Cyphers, and Stephens all reprise their roles from the 1978 film, while the late Donald Pleasance is replicated by an unpleasant deepfake and a wildly unconvincing vocal impersonator). Some of the events happen to people who weren't even alive yet: Laurie's daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), and Allyson's newly-ex-boyfriend Cameron (Dylan Arnold), Lonnie's son. Some of the events occur to people who meander into the film for the more or less solitary reason of boosting the body county, and for some reason these are all married couples: Marcus (Michael Smallwood) and Vanessa (Carmela McNeal), who do at least get to spend time interacting with the main cast; Big John (Scott MacArthur) and Little John (Michael McDonald), who refer to each other, in the privacy of their own home, in the second person, as "Big John" and "Little John", and this is something I refuse to believe they would actually do; and Sondra (Diva Tyler) and Phil (Lenny Clarke), who are just flat-out only in the movie for the solitary imaginable purpose of giving Michael a couple of early victims before the plot has fully gotten into gear.

The events befalling all of these people are sort of nebulous: the chronology of the evening isn't terribly well defined (Tommy mentions an event happening "an hour ago" when the available evidence of editing and scene construction otherwise would have me assuming it had literally just taken place), and the way that flashbacks to 1978 are chunked into the movie certainly doesn't help smooth things out. The streamlined version is that Tommy, Lindsey, Lonnie, and Marion form something of a trauma survivors' group that gets together every Halloween to remember their tragedies, and when it's clear that Michael is back slashing his way through Haddonfield, they're the first to jump at the prospect of forming an angry mob to rampage across the town, looking for the killer. The closest thing that Halloween Kills has to a mission statement, and it's not terribly close, is that angry vigilante mobs, obsessed with revenge for its own sake, aren't good things, though it sort of waffles between reasons why: maybe they're bad because bloody-minded desire for revenge is inherently bad, maybe they're bad because they might accidentally kill people who don't deserve it, maybe they're bad because Michael is some kind of vampiric embodiment of evil, who feeds off of the violence he does and others do in his stead. The last of these possibilities is jammed into the film very abruptly, mostly in order to give Curtis a good, meaty monologue to devour, and also to provide the film with a sequel hook after it has otherwise seemed to wrap up; it's not quite "Michael is the result of a Druid curse"-level stupid, but it's certainly heading in that direction.

So anyway, the plot just kind of happens, without any shape or clear momentum. Michael sometimes kills people because they get in his way, and sometimes just because he likes a-killin', and sometimes he doesn't kill people even though he could. The pre-release hype was that Halloween Kills was an especially bloody and violent neo-slasher movie, and given the relatively timorous kinds of violence that have been coming out in the last couple of years, it does stand out; there is an eye-gouging that is particularly gruesome and bothersome. But I would say that the 2018 Halloween had much more explicit gore and more imaginative deaths. So in terms of pure slasher film spectacle, this one comes up short. And it has a considerably more muddled idea of what to do with all of its death and mayhem: the 2018 film came under some fire for its treatment of trauma and survivor's grief, but at least it had a story with psychological stakes; this one tries to split its emotions across so many not-quite-protagonists that it never amounts to anything other than a lot of talking and exposition that keeps the death scenes reasonably separated.

If nothing else, Green and cinematographer Michael Simmonds do fair enough work in capturing the thick black clamminess of a late October night; the film spends a lot of its time outdoors, and it captures the sense of nighttime as a mood and a presence, not just an absence of light. Simmonds also does a decent job using softer focus, slightly less saturation, and considerably softer black levels to make the 1978 scenes feel different from 2018, somewhat in the direction of the original Halloween (though the "correct" look of that film has been notoriously hard to pin down; it is meaningfully different on almost every single home video release the film has had). It's got a little style, that is to say, which is certainly not true of every film in this franchise. It comes, very obviously, from a place of fandom and love, which isn'tΒ automatically a strength; it errs on the side of getting hung up on things that a more mercilessly objective movie might have blown past. Still, there are worse sequels in this series - much worse, in some cases. And given how obviously this exists to transition us between the first and third films in a trilogy, I can't even say that it makes me terribly frightened for the future of Michael and Laurie. Still, taken just as itself, and not graded on a curve that includes e.g. Halloween: Resurrection, this is pretty muddled, and not good enough at being exploitation trash to make up for how badly it's expressing whatever it thinks it has on its mind.

Reviews in this series
Halloween (Carpenter, 1978
Halloween II (Rosenthal, 1981)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Wallace, 1982)
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Little, 1988)
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (Othenin-Girard, 1989)
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (Chapelle, 1995)
Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (Miner, 1998)
Halloween: Resurrection (Rosenthal, 2002)
Halloween (Zombie, 2007)
Halloween II (Zombie, 2009)
Halloween (Green, 2018)
Halloween Kills (Green, 2021)

*And that tie will be broken soon: Halloween Ends is set to come out in October 2022, while Friday the 13th, Part XIII has been languishing in development hell for over a decade, with no future in sight.