Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth
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Sex. Celebrity. Politics. With Teeth

The Gross Hypocrisy of Halloween Kills

The bloodiest, most brutal entry in the long-running franchise is...actually about collective trauma? Pfft.

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Image: Universal Pictures

If we were at a party and I told you all the heinous ways that death is depicted in Halloween Kills, you’d probably walk away from me. I can only assume you’d stop reading if I did the same in this space. The latest and 12th (12th!) Halloween movie manages to distinguish itself as the most brutal entry in a franchise synonymous with brutality. Not since the Saw movies were grinding out on an annual basis has mass entertainment reveled in gore so gratuitously.

The piling bodies (with various holes in various places made with various instruments, including bare hands) combined with over-the-top performances and the depiction of the frenzy that erupts in a besieged town when its citizens decide to fight back against their boogeyman—the whole thing felt so operatic that I had to laugh just to relieve tension. This movie is, by any rational standard, several different kinds of ridiculous. Blood gushes with the severity of hardcore early ‘80s Italian horror. The villain here, Michael Myers, is such an unstoppable killing machine that after beating one character’s body several times on a floor adjacent to a staircase, he cannot resist snapping the neck upon his descent out of the house, like a cat reflexively pushing a glass off a table. When you’re hot you’re hot.

What to make of this carnage? I interpret it as a sort of punishment. Halloween Kills follows 2018’s Halloween, a monster smash that grossed nearly $160 million domestically against a $10 million budget. It’s the highest grossing slasher movie of all time, and, while it didn’t skimp on violence, it could hardly be mistaken for a vomitorium. On the heels of this audience and critical fav (79 percent on Rotten Tomatoes), which was frequently cited in reviews for its uncommon depth and relevance (The New Republic: “A brutal rumination on intergenerational pain, and the ways that male cruelty can make good women bad”), a follow-up designed to make its audience see stars operates like a Haneke-esque scolding, a meta-commentary on what it means to be so entertained by violence. “Remember what you loved about the first movie?,” director David Gordon Green and his co-writers Danny McBride and Scott Teems are saying (they did 2018’s Halloween, Halloween Kills, and will round out their trilogy leg with next year’s Halloween Ends). “Well, let’s give you a closer look at that by bashing you over the head with it.”

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I think this kind of audience contempt is misdirected and hypocritical (the aforementioned Haneke obnoxiously shamed his audience with fourth-wall breaking villains for watching the movie that he made in Funny Games, which I think is his worst film). But Halloween Kills distinguishes itself with a solid investment in honesty. It is reasonable to believe that violence, in fact, should be hard to watch; to allow it to go down easy is to misrepresent it. One of Halloween Kills’ quirks is to repeatedly cut back to dead bodies. Where other movies of this sort cut at the point of impact, Halloween Kills delivers uniquely explicit fatal blows and then returns to the corpse a second or third time, just to make sure you’re soaking in the misery. Picking up the same night that the 2018 movie ended (and showing alternate points of view regarding the night’s string of murders in the town of Haddonfield, Illinois), Halloween Kills retraces steps, showing for example, police finding strewn bodies that in another franchise would likely be forgotten as soon as the credits rolled. The film ponders the effects of violence on a mass scale—what is it like to survive an attack on your town? What do the people do when they know a threat is imminent?

The young adult author Lois Duncan famously hated the 1997 adaptation of her 1973 novel I Know What You Did Last Summer for commodifying death (her daughter had been murdered eight years before the release of the movie, so this was a particularly personal matter to her). Among her many critiques she shared in the press (in a mini-tour she underwent at the time of the movie’s release in attempt to publicize her daughter’s unsolved murder), she told the Daily Press of Newport News, Virginia, “There are no parents mourning, no one crying.” In Halloween Kills, parents mourn and people cry. Characters break down when they realize their loved ones didn’t make it, or finally have a minute to reflect because they (temporarily) aren’t being chased by a knife-wielding psychopath. This probably seems rudimentary to those who haven’t paid much attention to the horror genre—and in many ways it is rudimentary—but nonetheless, this movie does things that other slashers have largely avoided by design, and if it is difficult to endure, well, that is simply part of the point.

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What transformed 2018’s Halloween from a decent-if-dull slasher into a truly annoying experience was its marketing, which bestowed unsightly pretense on what was ultimately just another trashy Halloween sequel. Make no mistake: I am at peace with the never-ending parade of trashy Halloween sequels. I will sit through each and every trashy Halloween sequel that is released, and I will probably enjoy each one to some extent. Nothing will match the elegance of John Carpenter’s classic original, and I would be the fool for expecting anything to do so. I don’t know that everyone involved got that memo. So frequently in interviews, cast and crew, especially Curtis, argued that the movie was actually about trauma, implying that it was somehow more socially aware than previous entries and slasher movies in general.

That’s, simply, a ridiculous thing to say. Horror movies are always, obviously about trauma, whether bodily, cultural (the Vietnam War provided so much inspiration to early ‘70s horror that it’s hard to imagine what the genre would look like without it), or psychological. It all seems like Twitterspeak spin to excuse the age-old pastime of watching people getting hacked up on the big screen.

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Halloween Kills, which I found more entertaining than its predecessor if morally bankrupt as a result, comes with its own sense of baked-in superiority. It brazenly expands on the night depicted in Carpenter’s original, piling on the grain to take us back to 1978. Past movies in the franchise are referenced and dismissed (Michael, we hear, showed no sociopathic tendencies as a kid, unlike what was depicted in Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake; fear, Laurie tells us in a melodramatic finale monologue, is “real curse of Michael Myers,” a reference to the subtitle of the series’s sixth entry). While some of the imagery in Halloween Kills is among the strongest in the franchise (a shot of the blank-faced Myers being surrounded by police is particularly haunting), this is little more than a slightly novel way to pile up bodies with some lip service paid to the mob mentality so present in American culture today. In the end, though, even its own facile point can’t hold and the result is a climax that makes absolutely no sense for the sake of continuing this story, which dried ink renders inevitable. In the end Halloween Kills is yet another trashy Halloween sequel. Everyone involved seems intent on convincing us that it is elevated, but do not be fooled. Expecting something more from Halloween is like beating your head against the wall, no hulking boogeyman needed.