Oct 20, 2021

HALLOWEEN KILLS (2021)

It’s been a very long time since I’ve encountered a horror movie as polarizing as Halloween Kills. I'd have to go back more than a decade to, ironically, Rob Zombie’s Halloween, or the Platinum Dunes remake of Friday the 13th. Far be it from me to think I can cover anything in this review that’s not yet been covered in reviews across the internet, from mainstream critics to genre-friendly websites to legions of social media posters. I have seen ten/tens, zero/tens, and everything in between. One commenter stated that the 1978 original and Halloween Kills are the only Halloween films they’ve ever liked, and they’d much sooner watch this newest sequel than the original. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Halloween Kills has been hugely maligned for a whole host of reasons, most of them fair—depending on what “fair” means to you. (I'm a little perplexed that people are coming down hard on the movie's choice to officially confirm The Shape as some kind of immortal, evil, unkillable being because I'm pretty sure the six bullets he took to the chest and walked away from in 1978 already did that.) Because of this disparity, reviewing Halloween Kills feels like screaming into the void alongside everyone else, like sitting in a room and arguing among friends about which local greasy spoon makes the best pizza—because everyone has an idea of what they want, and that idea can be radically different from person to person.

The problem with the Halloween series, or really any ongoing series that had a legitimately good first entry and later devolved into broadly distilled, sensational versions of the same concept, is that audiences become split as to what they want. The first movie creates the mold and the rules, but every sequel, by design, has to do something new, and through their very nature, they become sillier and sillier parodies of their own idea. (This was something I ran into when I reviewed 2019’s Rambo: Last Blood, which many people dismissed because it “wasn’t a Rambo movie”—again, who decides what a Rambo movie is? Because 2009’s beloved Rambo doesn’t look a thing like 1982’s original First Blood in which Stallone’s character doesn’t kill a single person, though it very much resembles its immediate two antithetical sequels that had fully embraced John Rambo as a one-man army fighting in countries across the world in that overbaked Jingoism that ‘80s action franchises had fully embraced. With there being two established formulas for a Rambo movie, again, who decides which is quintessential?) The first Halloween is a critically lavished film that even Roger Ebert once referred to as a classic, so each time a sequel is made, a portion of the audience hopes to see something that lives up to that legacy—something made with class and with an emphasis on suspense over gore. Most of the Halloween sequels aren’t good movies, though they are fun in their own way. (I'll always defend Halloween 4 as being a good one, though; maybe I’m alone in that.) As such, some audiences want to see a good Halloween movie whereas some just want to see a fun one—and what happens after? Well, those two schools of thought collide in a violent crash, and because this is 2021 A.R. (After Reason), a time during which everyone is angry about everything all the time, even something as innocuous as a movie can cause blood-raging fights.

Once you see Halloween Kills—or any movie, really—you henceforth belong to “the audience.” We all become one mass, just one more thing we now have in common, even though we’re all looking to the movie to satisfy our own personal desires with little regard to what the person in the next seat may want. Those desires can often be granular, as everyone has already set their own barometer for satisfaction. What’s that mean? At the end of the day, there’s only one version of a movie (well, for the most part—Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers is somewhere saying, “Hold my four different cuts”), which means it’s only going to entertain a certain fraction of the audience—especially one as bloodthirsty as Halloween fanfolks. In an effort to entertain both schools of thought, I’m approaching this too-long review in a different way. The first half will be written by someone who wanted Halloween Kills to be legitimately good in the same ways as the original and the 2018 reboot. The second half will be written by the part of me that acknowledges Halloween Kills is the eleventh movie to feature Michael Myers wandering around Haddonfield and killing townspeople in all kinds of ways and who really didn’t expect much at all beyond some senseless violence and a reasonably engaging story. Depending on what you want from Halloween Kills, pick your poison and read on. (Spoilers everywhere.)

Take 1: “I Wanted A Good Movie”

Prior to its arrival in theaters to both huge box office and critical acclaim, 2018’s Halloween seemed like a real longshot. In the years preceding, Rob Zombie had killed the series dead with his experimental nonsense, and this was after 2002’s dismal Halloween: Resurrection had already killed the series along with its leading final lady. (If next year’s Halloween Ends kills off Laurie Strode, that will be the third time her character has died in this goofy series—pretty impressive.) There was understandable excitement when it was announced that John Carpenter would be serving as spiritual consiglieri to the reboot after having spent the last 35 years away from the series, as the closest he’d come in that time was quitting Halloween: H20 in the earliest days of pre-production. Then came the announcement of Jamie Lee Curtis’s return as the embattled Laurie Strode and the mood went from “oh?” to “oh!” Enthusiasm for the project was palpable. Then came the announcement that the guys who had done Your Highness, David Gordon Green and Danny McBride, would be handling the project, and the Internet had no idea what to think. I sure didn’t. These guys were going to resurrect a series that hadn’t been worth a damn since 1998? (Midnight Mass’s Mike Flanagan also pitched his own version for a reboot, most of which was repurposed for Hush, his Netflix Original home invasion flick. I'd still love to see what Mike Flanagan's Halloween would've been like. Maybe someday...during franchise retcon # 3.)

Despite everyone’s usual cynicism, Gordon Green and McBride (and poor Jeff Fradley, the film's third co-writer who is seldom mentioned), under the watchful eye of John Carpenter, managed to deliver one of the best sequels in the series, with Carpenter going on record as saying it was better than his original. (No one believed him, but it was cute for him to try.) With the dream team having fairly earned the accolades toward their approach, there was no reason to believe Halloween Kills wouldn’t be at least comparably good, or at the very least wouldn’t squander the goodwill established by their first go-round.

The curse of the sequel strikes again.

The “good” news is Halloween Kills isn’t the worst sequel in the series, regardless of the timeline you’re sticking with—I don’t think we could ever plumb those kinds of depths ever again—but based on the pedigree involved, the poor execution of good ideas, and the good execution of lower-reaching ideas to satisfy the wants for a more visceral experience, that leaves Halloween Kills in a kind of cinematic no man’s land where it’s hard to choose one side or the other—and that’s worse. Halloween: Resurrection, for instance, is a piece of shit I’ll never watch again—though unfortunate, there’s no conflict there and I’m at peace with its place in the Halloween hierarchy. Halloween Kills has a lot to offer, but its best parts don’t push the narrative forward in any meaningful way, which is its biggest detriment. If your movie doesn’t have a point, then fuck—what are we doing here? Halloween Kills definitely tries, and it has ideas either brand new or fleshed out from previous sequels (the vigilante aspect from Halloween 4, for example), but what we’re left with feels unfinished, overwrought, and aimless—leaving Halloween Kills feeling more like an extended opening act for Halloween Ends. It’s the holding pattern of horror sequels—the palate cleanser in between courses—and that sucks.

Also making this latest sequel feel perfunctory and incomplete is the notion that Halloween Kills is the sixth Halloween film to feature Laurie Strode, but the first in which she never shares a single scene with her masked nemesis. Of course, this was by design, as the filmmakers wanted this entry to be about the rest of Haddonfield ("One of their numbers was butchered and this is the wake," Loomis says in Halloween 2 while Haddonfield townspeople are vandalizing the abandoned Myers house), but also because the filmmakers would really strain credibility in having Laurie walk away unscathed after so many encounters, especially with a gaping wound in her belly. While all of that is perfectly reasonable, at the same time, it makes the experience of Halloween Kills feel incidental. If it’s a Halloween film, Laurie and Michael have to do battle—that’s, like, a rule. If you’re playing in the canon sandbox established in 1978, then you’ve broken that rule—just one among many. That’s like having James Bond call the police on the main supervillain instead of taking the guy out himself.

If 2018’s Halloween was about trauma, a weighty subject with which a lot was done, Halloween Kills is about revenge—and not just among its characters, but revenge against our real life. Right out of the gate, this newborn series seems to be transitioning from philosophical and intimate nuance to primal, in-the-streets chaos. Halloween Kills is the third act of 1931’s Frankenstein playing out in feature film form (only Michael Myers deserves it). Being alive in 2021 means seeing the politicization of everything, right down to the health of an individual and that of his neighbor. Right now, out in the world, there exists at least one person who won’t take the COVID-19 vaccine and won't allow their child to take it, and not because they distrust it, and not because they think they don’t need it, but because a Democrat president told them to. That’s how sickly tribal we’ve all become. American politics are the most poisonous they’ve ever been, and artists have been salivating to explore that in their own creations. While it makes sense for some things—like this year’s also polarizing Candyman sequel—never in my dreams did I think the Halloween series would ever wade into the political arena, and in such a mindless, non-subtle way.  

Why this sudden turn into politics when in the midst of a review for a slasher movie?

Because as the unruly Haddonfield mob is chasing a wrongly targeted man up one flight of hospital steps after another, eventually using any free blunt object to smash through windows and knock down doors for the purpose of pulverizing their target, I don’t know how any American isn't thinking of the January 6th insurrection that took place at our nation’s capital—something I hope will be my country’s most embarrassing and shameful moment I ever experience for the rest of my life. The Haddonfield mob’s rallying cry of “Evil dies tonight!” might as well be “Lock her up!” and the lobby of Haddonfield Memorial Hospital might as well be the steps of the Capitol Building. Does something like this belong in a Halloween movie? I honestly don’t know. Had it been done well, then maybe, but even if it had…is that what audiences really want from their Halloween sequel? To be reminded that the silver screen isn’t the only place where the monstrous live? Though many of the classic horror films of the ‘70s contain political content, even subtly, the original Halloween doesn’t. Halloween is a haunted funhouse with things popping up in the dark. Though blood is shed and people are killed, it was designed to be harmless, pure, and chaste—an innocent good time with no wide-reaching implications. Sequels have to go bigger and explore new directions, I get that, but this sequel feels like a different kind of bigger and new that simply doesn't belong.

My biggest gripe with Halloween Kills is its poor treatment of the legacy actors and characters being glimpsed for the first time in forty years. Featured most prominently is Tommy Doyle, the young boy Laurie was babysitting when The Shape came home in 1978, this time played by Anthony Michael Hall. (Conversations were had about having Paul Rudd come back to play the part after having done so in the now de-canonized Halloween 6, and at first it was disappointing it didn’t work out, but seeing what the movie had turned Tommy into, not even my perpetual love for the Ruddster can convince me he could’ve played the part as required.) Alongside Tommy are Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards), Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), and Lonnie Elam (the wonderful Robert Longstreet of The Haunting of Hill House) while retired sheriff Leigh Brackett (Charles Cyphers) is working a shift as a security guard at Haddonfield Memorial. As a lifelong series fan, of course it was incredible to see those characters and/or actors return to the series. What wasn’t incredible was how poorly they were treated by the very movie honoring their place in horror history. How do you have Laurie Strode and Leigh Brackett under the same hospital roof and not allow them to share a single scene together, perhaps one in which they collectively mourn over the slain Annie, her friend and his daughter? (Nancy Loomis appears in archive footage from Halloween and, oddly, Halloween 2, which technically doesn't exist in this new timeline, but which is still used in an appropriate and unobtrusive way.) Though the yearly Halloween-night binge drink was a clever way to group all those 1978 massacre survivors together, why not give them each just a single moment to come off like human beings with a shared history? Though I value their inclusion, their presence smacks of vapid “look, see?” fan service in hopes we’ll get lost in dreamy nostalgia and not notice how wasted most of them are—not to mention that killing four out of the five characters seems a little sadistic, with three out of the four being killed in dismissive ways, as if their place in the series never meant anything. Brackett ranks a blink-and-miss-it face slash; Marion, who dies for the second time in this series, has the honor of going out looking like a fumbling idiot; and poor Lonnie doesn’t even get an on-screen death. Tommy is the only legacy character to get a ceremonial end, and even that felt wrong.

And all during this, bit players from Halloween '18 who were never even given names return in expanded roles, only so Halloween Kills can snuff out even more recognizable people, and with great violence. While it makes sense to reuse characters you've already created instead of introducing new ones, it seems really strange that these characters, who haven't had their own face-to-face encounter with Michael Myers and who only learned about him for the first time Halloween night of 2018, would so immediately want to throw hands alongside these legacy characters who've lost loved ones, or nearly died at Myers's hands, or spent the last forty years navigating their own traumas. I'm tempted to think it's meant to be some kind of commentary on tribalism and the deadly consequences of in-the-bubble misinformation, but I might be giving something called Halloween Kills too much credit.

Halloween Kills is desperate to do and try so many things, but bungles pretty much all of them. It wants to be “about” something but executes that aboutness with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. It wants to resurrect Haddonfield’s history by returning familiar faces, but then doesn’t do anything to treat them with the kind of reverence they still hold forty+ years later. Even Andi Matichak’s presence as Allyson is wasted on the vigilante angle, which not only feels wrong for her character but feels more like the movie is babysitting her for the time being in lieu of offering her something more substantial to do. Somehow, Halloween Kills feels like it’s trying to do way too much while also not doing much at all. More than anything, and maybe years down the line he'll confirm this, Halloween Kills feels like the kind of senseless, garish sequel Carpenter would've hated, had it been attached to the franchise's first timeline that, after a while, he had nothing to do with.

Take 2: “I Wanted A Fun Movie”

Halloween Kills is a fucking blast. With a body count of 43 people, it feels like there’s a violent and brutal death every three minutes. Though David Gordon Green returns as director, it feels less like he’s channeling Carpenter as he did in 2018, despite recreating a few shots, and more like he’s embracing his inner Argento. The gallons of blood used during production must be somewhere in the thousands. Holy smokes, is this thing Italian? Between the bloodletting and the corny dialogue, it must be.

Halloween Kills also presents Michael Myers at his most brutal, vicious, mean-spirited, and utterly unremorseful. His fire-scorched mask gives him the Jaws 2 treatment, which is appropriate because his character is an unstoppable killer shark. (Yep, I just quoted Busta Rhymes from Halloween: Resurrection. Haw haw.) James Jude Courtney, with a little assistance from OG Shape Nick Castle, and Airon Armstrong for the '78 sequence, returns for another round of Haddonfield mayhem and strikes an even more imposing figure than his last appearance. The Shape of 2018 was methodical but physically capable; here, he's embraced his full-on Kane-Hodder-as-Jason-Voorhees, dispatching his victims in ways we've yet to see in this series. Sure, he does his playful cat-and-mouse thing by hiding in dark corners and behind closet doors, but really, who gives a shit? Why bother with all that? The Shape of Halloween Kills is going for quantity over quality. He could've knocked on the door dressed as the pizza dude or popped out of a sugar bowl to lop off someone's head and the audience would've barely reacted because the death of any character they see on screen is inevitable. And boy, the movie wastes no time in getting to those deaths: the opening massacre of the first responders to Laurie's inferno of a house is awe-inspiring—and the closest we've gotten yet to seeing The Shape kill someone with a chainsaw.

Before the franchise’s first retcon in 1998 with Halloween: H20, the Halloween series had been that random horror franchise that Jamie Lee Curtis had appeared in for just a couple movies before saying farewell and moving onto bigger studio fare, in the same way lots of actors had done their one random appearance in famous slasher series: Kevin Bacon in Friday the 13th, Johnny Depp in A Nightmare on Elm Street, even Jennifer Aniston in Leprechaun. Though their involvement in said projects waver from pride to embarrassment, none of them ever went back to that well. (Sure, most of them died in their respective movies, but since when has that ever stopped Hollywood?) When Jamie Lee Curtis returned to the series for the first time in 1998, it felt like an event because it was an event, and though her presence in a Halloween film doesn’t guarantee it’s going to be good, it still feels right. And seeing her stick with this series forty years after the original movie is special. At this point, Halloween belongs to her and John Carpenter (and the every-day-missed Debra Hill), and here they are, all these years later, playing make-believe together like a bunch of kids once again, and this time with filmmakers who grew up on the very movies they're now putting their own stamp on. Output aside, what a nice thing.

Speaking of, Carpenter, son Cody, and Daniel Davies return to score once again, offering another sinister, kick-ass musical landscape. Themes from both Halloween eras are present and accounted for, along with a whole host of new material to properly shadow this new take on Halloween lore. Their score even acknowledges the angry mob angle, for the first time ever adding a chorus of voices to the legendary Halloween theme, which plays over the opening credits that feature not just one illuminated jack-o-lantern, but a dozen—each one growing more intense with flames as they flow past. 

What does it all mean? 

Haddonfield citizens are mad as hell and they’re not gonna take it anymore.

The 1978 timeline stuff, which sees Michael's detainment by Haddonfield police, including young Frank Hawkins (Thomas Mann) and his partner, Pete McCabe (the always enjoyable Jim Cummings, actor/director of The Wolf of Snow Hollow), works damn well, and is probably the best material in the whole movie. The loyal recreation of the Myers house is terrific, as is the mask, which is the closest this series has gotten to faithfully depicting those two holy totems. Evidently some fans have been blasting the “all CGI Loomis” that was inserted into this sequence, somehow not recognizing him to be a real, living, non-CGI human being (Tom Wright Jr.). Has CGI really gotten that good? I guess I haven’t noticed. Though the actor’s appearance is uncannily spot on, and overdubbed by the previous movie’s convincing Loomis soundalike, I would’ve preferred to keep this new version of Loomis in a blurry background, similar to how Michael’s maskless face has been left obscured throughout the first two movies of this new trilogy. Still, seeing his trench-coated form standing inside the Myers house doorway as the camera pulls back in a crane shot across the front yard, revealing a motionless Michael flanked by police—in a shot that mimics the original film’s scene where six-year-old Michael has his clown mask ripped off by his parents—well, it’s the stuff of legitimate chills, and Carpenter and co’s revisitation of the same theme used for that scene but now gussied up with disconcerting overlays is probably the movie's greatest moment.

The fake ending, in which the Haddonfield mob finally appears to get the best of their boogeyman with a bad-ass beatdown, only for Michael to gain the unsurprising upper hand and give them all a little what-for, is a terrific and exciting sequence that offers the audience some manipulative catharsis, but in a strange way, is one that also offers the audience a little hope. “He’s turned us all into monsters,” Brackett says following the hospital mob’s near-lynching of an innocent man, which may be the moral of Halloween Kills: no matter how vicious Haddonfield’s people become—and really, they're us; we’re that mob—we can never be as evil, black, and unfeeling as The Shape. In this scary day and age, I’ll take it.

Halloween Kills chooses to end with a shocker of a moment—the death of Karen (Judy Greer), which doesn’t just play out in Judith Myers’s old bedroom in the fabulously restored Myers house, but is even executed in the same way as Judith’s death in 1963: thrashing hands, obscured points of view—no glimpses of actual violent penetration, but still uncomfortable to witness. I’m surprised they didn’t pop in the ol’ eye-hole stencil to give us a look through Michael’s mask. A move like this is pretty ballsy, and is frankly the only important thing that happens in the entire movie, because it now means Laurie Strode, technically, has failed—that the years and years she spent training her daughter to survive against the evil in the world, which did permanent damage to their relationship and shaped them both into broken people, didn’t mean a damn thing in the end. And with the recent revelation that Halloween Ends is going to be set four years after the events of Halloween '18 and Halloween Kills, that’s plenty of time for Laurie to grow even crazier. And for the series to grow crazier, too.

If I had to break down this entire manifesto into one sentence, it would be this: Halloween Kills is a good slasher movie, but a bad movie in general…and yet I still kinda liked it. I've actually been thinking about it off-and-on since having watched it. No matter on what side of the fence you land, you can’t deny Halloween Kills offers a new flavor to the unkillable series, made with a certain uniqueness that’s difficult to shake. I don’t know why, but I have this odd feeling that, in years to come, it’s going to enjoy a ground-up re-evaluation—either by the first-round audiences left underwhelmed during its preliminary release, or by the next generation of viewers who find it, similar to how Halloween III: Season of the Witch has been recently embraced for its sheer lunacy after so many years of dismissal. Love it or hate it, Halloween Kills may very well have staying power, and I’ll be morbidly interested to see how it holds up in five, ten, or forty years from now.

Oct 18, 2021

HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988)


Halloween (1978) is a classic. That statement will be true from now until the end of time. Halloween 2…not so much. Though it tries to recapture its predecessor’s magic, right down to aping Carpenter’s style and half of Halloween’s cast and crew, its sole identity is forged from the unnecessary and hammily executed twist that Laurie Strode and Michael Myers were siblings. After that seemingly definitive swan song for The Shape came Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, which blew the minds of audiences everywhere, but for all the wrong reasons. “Where is Michael Myers? Who is this Irish guy? Fucking Stonehenge?” Though this black sheep sequel has since enjoyed a long-overdue reevaluation, most audiences refused to accept its Shapeless design at the time, leaving the series as an inconsistently formed trilogy with rapidly diminishing returns.

By the time 1988 rolled around, Trancas Films/franchise godfather Moustapha Akkad (RIP) and John Carpenter/Debra Hill (RIP) had already fought in court over the Halloween rights, which the latter lost, and the rights reverted solely to Akkad, who wasted no time in moving forward on a new entry. At this point, Carpenter had peaced out of the franchise and was putting the finishing touches on the second movie of his Apocalypse Trilogy, Prince of Darkness, and Hill, who would informally remain with the franchise over the next two sequels to groom potential writers and helmers, was busy producing Adventures in Babysitting. And finally, following her consecutive appearances in The Fog, Prom Night, Terror Train, Road Games, and Halloween 2, Jamie Lee Curtis had waved bye-bye to the horror genre. By then, and as Scream will tell you, Trading Places had put her on the map and major Hollywood offers were rolling in.

With no Laurie Strode, what’s a screenwriter to do?


Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) is seven years old and Halloween is just around the corner. She wants to be happy about it like other kids her age, but that’s impossible. She’s still reeling from the car accident that claimed the life of her mother (Laurie Strode) and father (assumed to be Jimmy, the surviving paramedic from Halloween 2) and has since been adopted by the Carruthers family. But there’s even more going on that she’s not privy to: in a move wisely avoiding being derivative of Halloween 2’s third-act twist, the audience is fully aware of who Jamie Lloyd is and her blood connection to Michael Myers. However, though she has inexplicable dreams about him, referring to him as “the Nightmare Man,” she’s mercifully unaware of her murderous uncle…unlike everyone else in Haddonfield, who know of or remember the sixteen people he killed a decade ago (an inaccurately high figure used in both marketing materials and the film itself), including the kids at school who bully her relentlessly. 

Bringing all of that trauma to her performance is an uncannily good Danielle Harris, who was only nine years old at the time of filming. Even though she’d worked scantly in television before her feature debut with Halloween 4, Harris proved she had the chops to be a sympathetic and likeable lead. With an almost unreasonable amount of dramatic responsibility, Harris is tasked with carrying the conflict of the movie on her shoulders, and when she ends her first scene with hugging a shoebox containing the photos of her dead parents on the floor of her closet and sobbing from her nightmares of the boogeyman, there’s no way you don’t feel for her.


Halloween 4 also marks the return of a familiar, reassuring, and haunted face: Donald Pleasence, who dons the trench coat of Dr. Loomis for a third time, and in a way that tests the durability of the phrase “suspension of disbelief.” Despite his valiant attempt to blow up Michael and himself at the conclusion of Halloween 2, which Halloween 4’s opening exposition dump reduces to Loomis “setting him on fire,” both have survived, though badly scarred. (A proposed but unfilmed opening for Halloween 4 picked up at the end of Halloween 2, which had Loomis begging firefighters dousing the flames on Michael Myers to “let him burn”—which Halloween Kills was happy to borrow.) When word hits that the ambulance transporting Michael to Smith’s Grove Sanitarium is found crashed and overturned below a bridge with all personnel dead and Michael missing, Dr. Loomis unpacks his steel-plated pistol and heads to Haddonfield, hoping to warn everyone in time that the boogeyman has returned.

Though Loomis essentially plays the same version of the character as before, this time he’s doing so with ten more years on his face and in his voice, and with ten more years of regret in his heart. In Halloween and Halloween 2, Loomis was curt, bossy, and domineering, but always with Haddonfield’s safety at heart. That bossiness remains, but this time it comes from a place of pure desperation. Though he’s not offered any standout monologue moments like his famous “devil’s eyes” scene from the original, he’s still given plenty of opportunities to chew the scenery, either by letting loose in explosive confrontational moments with cynical characters or by ably selling some pretty heavy-handed dialogue. (No one else could have pulled off, “They survived this ordeal; they’ll survive its memory.”) Along with the original, Halloween 4 presents the most archetypal iteration of Sam Loomis—the one that strays closest to fans’ perceptions of who the character is, what he looks like, and how haunted and broken he’s become over his self-professed failures.  


There comes a time when a topic can become exhaustively over-explored, which is why I’ve spent years writing about the Halloween series without ever specifically writing about the original, and which is why I’m also having trouble adequately celebrating the talents and legacy of Donald Pleasence. There’s absolutely nothing new to be said about him. Somehow, even the word “legend” feels lacking when addressing his power as an actor, his immortal staying power as Dr. Loomis (it’s the defining role of his career, yet he wasn’t Carpenter’s first choice), and whose sad eyes and obsessive madness will be sorely missed in every Halloween sequel to come. In Halloween 4, he turns Loomis up to eleven. The guilt and determination that’s driven him thus far has metastasized into maddening fixation; he’s gone from a psychiatrist disillusioned by his failure to counsel a child to a bounty hunter on the prowl in hopes of destroying the murderous man that child has become. His transformation into Ahab is complete and only death will stop him from hunting his white whale.

In response to savvier audiences, Halloween 4 smartly tweaks the concept of the “final girl,” made iconic by Jamie Lee Curtis, in an effort to keep the formula fresh while also remaining loyal to it. The screenplay by Alan McElroy deconstructs and redistributes the “final girl” title among our two female leads, maintaining all the expected characteristics but presenting them in a different dynamic. It’s the character of Rachel (Ellie Cornell) that falls in line with the classic heroic sense of the final girl, proving herself to be Ripley-tough—and not just against The Shape, but in everyday life when fending off her aggressive boyfriend, Brady (Sasha Jenson), or marking her territory against drugstore sexpot Kelly (Kathleen Kinmont), her competition for his affections. “Wise up to what men want,” Kelly tells her, all but confirming Rachel’s virginity—again in keeping with the final girl’s characteristic purity. Like Laurie Strode, Rachel is smart, capable, and aware of what’s going on around her, even when dealing with her own teenaged angst. Little Jamie, however, because of her age and the emotional baggage she carries, takes on the umbrage of the final girl’s victimization as the killer’s ultimate target, forced to endure most of The Shape’s wrath and unending rage. In response, Rachel has to be the strong one; she becomes the Kyle Reese to Jamie’s Sarah Connor, and with her parents out of town and Haddonfield’s remaining finest chasing down drunken, friendly-firing vigilantes, she’s the only one who can save her stepsister. 


Really, all of the screenplay is well constructed, with evident thought behind every creative decision. The movie’s best scripted scene is the one shared between Loomis and the eccentric Reverend Jackson P. Sayer (adorable character actor Carmen Filpi), who is kind enough to give Loomis a ride after his explosive confrontation with The Shape leaves him stranded on the road. Once Sayer’s antiquated truck appears to materialize within a cloud of dust, as if divine intervention—as if he’s an angel putting Loomis back on the path to his fate—the two share a drink…and a conversation about the apocalypse. "It always has a face and a name," Sayer claims, and Loomis can only agree. Both men acknowledge they are seeking the same thing, but both are seeking it in different places. Had this scene been excised from the final draft or first edit, no one beyond the writer would’ve noticed, but it's small touches like this that make Halloween 4 special. The mere mention of this end-times theme elevates this entry while enhancing Carpenter’s initial concept of “evil” as a force as opposed to a philosophy, and in what form we’re all expecting it to manifest…because if we’re all looking for something different, we’re doomed to let it pass right by.

Taking over the command for Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers in the previous films) is Ben Meeker, played exceedingly well by character actor Beau Starr (Goodfellas). His portrayal of Meeker as a no-nonsense lawman turns a potentially forgettable supporting role into strong and memorable work, and his first scene with Dr. Loomis establishes the makeup of his character. Upon Loomis entering the Haddonfield Police Department and telling them of Michael’s return, Meeker resists believing it from sheer audacity, but once Loomis convinces him, he doesn’t waste time. “What the hell can we do to prevent a repeat of ten years ago?” he growls, proving to be far more proactive and powerful than Sheriff Brackett ever was…but that’s because Brackett had been the overseer of a small, quiet, pre-tragedy town where nothing ever happened except for kids parking and getting high. It’s Meeker who lords over post-tragedy Haddonfield, cursed with the knowledge that bad things can happen even in the sleepiest of towns and remaining on mental reserve just in case the Myers shit ever again hits the Haddonfield fan. Following Loomis’s revelation, he immediately scoops up The Shape’s likeliest targets and barricades them inside his fortified home outfitted with steel doors, a battery-powered CB radio, and of course, a robust arsenal. Ironically, in spite of how prepared he may have been, like his predecessor, Meeker suffers the loss of his daughter to The Shape; as has been a constant theme in the series, it would seem no amount of preparedness is enough when fate comes calling. The characters in Halloween and Halloween 2 made foolish choices and engaged in reckless behavior because they didn’t share the omniscient view of the audience and didn’t know of the danger creeping up on them in the dark. In Halloween 4, every character is given clear indication of the danger they’re in and every character makes the smartest possible decision in the moment, and yet most characters don’t survive the night. “Fate never changes,” indeed.


George Wilbur provides a perfectly satisfying performance as The Shape (with some assistance from Friday the 13th series alumnus Tom Morga), which is sometimes undone by the less interesting costume catalog mask and the hilariously thick shoulder pads that make him look like he's got on a few mom sweaters beneath his jumpsuit. Thankfully, Wilbur is able to counteract much of his character’s clumsy presentation with his subtle mannerisms and rock-solid stature. His stillness aids in the film’s ostensibly purposeful choice to present The Shape as slowly reforming after his ten-year coma: his first appearance has him wrapped in mummy-like bandages and strapped, unmoving, to a hospital gurney, his flaccid hand hanging loosely at his side…but then on his feet with his hospital gown hanging off him like shedding skin…and then free of his hospital garb and inside a freshly obtained mechanic’s jumpsuit…and then, finally, within a brand-new mask. The newfound knowledge of his niece’s existence has given him “purpose” again, and that purpose shows him regenerating until he’s back to being the masked maniac that’s lived only within the nightmares of Haddonfield for the last decade.

Though his screen time is limited, even Michael Pataki (Rocky 4) as Hoffman, medical administrator at Ridgemont Federal Sanitarium, offers a new dynamic as the “other” doctor—not the one chasing down evil in the night, but the one faced with the uncomfortable logistics and potential liability of keeping a comatose and evidently indestructible murderer in his hospital. Hoffman doesn’t want Michael destroyed, vanquished, or exorcised of the “evil” inside him—he just wants him gone and out of his medical jurisdiction. “Michael Myers is now safely in your hands,” he says to the Smith’s Grove personnel who come to transport him away from Ridgemont—and he says it for a reason: it’s his disclaimer, his end-of-watch sign-off, his mandate that whatever happens with Michael in the future won’t fall on his head. And yet his last scene sees him watching from the shore as Dr. Loomis, undaunted, walks into a shallow creek to examine the bloodied and mangled transport ambulance that’s been driven off the road. It’s then Hoffman understands Loomis has been right all along, that realization reflecting in his sorrowful eyes. 


Director Dwight Little (of Marked for Death fame, also starring Danielle Harris) deserved a more robust career directing features, but he eventually made the successful jump to television, having helmed episodes of The X-Files, Prison Break, and 24. Similar to Hollywood’s modern practices, an independent film called Bloodstone caught the attention of Moustapha Akkad, who offered the unknown director the gig. Little proved he was the right man to follow in Carpenter’s footsteps, insisting on rich storytelling, fleshed out characters, mood, and terror. Little knows when to dial it back and rest on suspense, and he knows when to kick things into gear and get the pulse racing. Just look to the opening credit sequence—it doesn't feature a montage of newspaper clippings to get us all caught up, nor does it launch into a pre-credits kill scene. Instead, Little presents static, abstract shots of small-town Haddonfield—Americana, really—on the cusp of October 31st. Familiar icons like pumpkins, skeletons, and scarecrows wielding rusty hatchets are on display in midwestern farmland settings and set to ominous, non-melodic music by returning composer Alan Howarth. That opening sequence exists for no other reason than to show you that behind Haddonfield's Halloween is an underbelly of fear and blood—that for other places in the world, Halloween is just another holiday, but in this small Illinois town, it’s a reminder of wounds long scarred over yet nowhere near healed. 

Though Michael’s carnage fills the streets and quite a few bodies drop, Halloween 4 is only occasionally violent, obscuring or suggesting much of its bloodletting and mostly falling back on a restrained approach. When compared to the entries in the Friday the 13th, Phantasm, and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises released that same year, and all which perpetrated an eye-popping level of violence against their audiences, Halloween 4 was downright tame by comparison—and that’s because Little looked to Carpenter’s original for inspiration. Dark and shadows, camera tricks suggesting violence without showing it, fleeting glimpses of The Shape, an emphasis on developed and likeable characters—these are things that made the first film great, and they are also the things that make Halloween 4 more than just another sequel. But in a move echoing Halloween 2's troubled production, several days of additional shooting occurred to beef up the movie's violence in favor of audience expectations, as early cuts of had been stingy with the gore. This minor meddling isn’t a detriment, however; sudden violence in a movie otherwise trying to avoid it still contains the power to shock, whether or not it runs congruently with the director’s intention.


Little isn’t content to just crib from Carpenter’s playbook, though, infusing new concepts into the series and new ways to execute them. The movie’s last act, in which some truck-driving good-ol-boys transport Rachel and Jamie out of Haddonfield, is the highlight of Halloween 4, filled with propulsive action and bonafide fear, as Michael dispatches one character after the other, tearing faces, stabbing spines, and tossing them off a speeding truck. The entire sequence is sublime, embracing one of the core philosophies of the sequel: go bigger. Like the first Halloween, the action of Halloween 4 builds and builds before “ending” inside a dark suburban home, but unlike the first film, The Shape doesn’t disappear into the night because he’s not yet done with our characters. The carnage continues, spilling out of that dark suburban home and onto its own high-peaked roof before ending up on the nearest highway out of town, not only opening up the “world” of Haddonfield but eerily reminding the audience that Michael Myers can go anywhere—that he’s not constrained by a town boundary line—that all he needs is a ride. And as for that shock ending, holy fuck. That last-act moment of Jamie holding those bloody scissors and Loomis seeing everything he feared taking shape before his eyes and shouting himself hoarse before beginning to sob—all playing out over the Halloween theme—has never once failed to give me chills.

Speaking of, Halloween 4 sees longtime series composer Alan Howarth going solo without Carpenter for the first time, and though he’s eager to jump right into the Halloween theme, he’s sly with his approach. While the film utilizes the infamous theme several times, it never sounds the same from one sequence to the next: when The Shape is being loaded onto the Smith’s Grove ambulance, it’s propulsive and ominous; when the convoy of beer bellies are patrolling the town with their rifles and shotguns, it’s focused and militaristic; and when The Shape is on the roof of the truck during the highway finale, the theme truly comes to life—it’s quick-paced, frantic and relentless, matching the most action-oriented sequence seen in the series up to that point. Outside of the main theme, Howarth doesn’t rest on his laurels and barely revisits some of the previous movies’ themes, intent on injecting his own music into the franchise. Like the very movie he’s scoring, Howarth’s music is the peak of his solo work across all the sequels.


Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers was a new beginning for the re-born series, but also the beginning of the end, as the next two lackluster sequels would get mired in new directions so strange and mythology so confounding that audience interest couldn’t sustain, leading the series to be retconned twice—first by 1998’s Halloween: H20, which rendered parts 4-6 irrelevant, and again by 2018’s sequel, which rendered everything irrelevant except Carpenter’s original. Until this era of reboots and retcons, Halloween 4 had been the only worthwhile entry that preserved the core story begun in 1978 and had proven to be the last entry that focused more on thrills, suspense, and well-developed characters as opposed to one-dimensional bloodbags destined for garish and graphic kill scenes. Poor Halloween 4 had done the impossible: resurrected the boogeyman, created new characters to carry the mantle, and revived the series after Halloween 2 had concluded it and Halloween 3 had reinvented it. Time has proven the series’ intermittent fresh-start approach to be the right call each time, as they consistently returned reasonable respectability to the Halloween name, even if they left behind a wacky trajectory of three different timelines for fans to navigate. Proving that is the fresh release of the polarizing and disappointing Halloween Kills, which sees interest in the series at an all-time high while once again boasting the return of Jamie Lee Curtis in her sixth appearance as Laurie Strode, the quintessential final girl. (Her seventh and “final” go-round will be in next year’s Halloween Ends.) Though Halloween: H20 was the first sequel to reboot the Michael Myers story and resurrect its towering reputation after the dismal Halloween 6 (which had done so much damage to the series that the initial version of Halloween 7 sans Curtis was destined for a direct-to-video debut), it was also a little sad: seeing Laurie Strode battle the boogeyman once again was the stuff of fan dreams, but her return to the series had erased her daughter completely out of existence—and while Halloween: H20 was a worthy sequel, it was no Halloween 4.


Oct 17, 2021

HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS — FULL NBC BROADCAST, 1989

Following my previous fan edit "broadcast" of George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead, I decided to do something similar in honor of the spooky season. Much like Dawn of the Dead, some of the Halloween sequels never enjoyed network broadcasts in their hay day. To date, the most high profile broadcast of a Halloween movie was the 1978 original, which premiered on NBC in 1981 the same weekend that Halloween II opened in theaters. (This was the edit that's become known as the "television version," which includes three new sequences shot by Carpenter using Halloween II's crew to help pad the running time to fit within a two-hour time slot.) While Halloween II and Halloween III: Season of the Witch did air on television in the mid-1980s, both aired on syndicated stations with pre-existing licensing agreements with Universal Studios, who owned both sequels (and who also own the current Halloween timeline, comprising 2018's reboot and this year's disappointing Halloween Kills). Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers were made independently and never aired on network television or even on local syndicates outside of premium cable channels. Because of this, and being someone who owns a copy of every known broadcast of a Halloween movie, the lack of a Halloween 4 broadcast always felt...wrong. 

Decades spent watching the Halloween series has allowed me to embrace a possibly controversial truth: after Carpenter's original, Halloween 4 is my favorite of the series by a lot. There's a variety of reasoning behind this: one, it's well made and appears genuinely respectful of the source material; two, because if you've stuck with the series through thick and thin, then you know how off-the-rails the series went with each timeline, making Halloween 4 look better and better by comparison; and three, and this is the biggest one—nostalgia. While the series' original run that began with the very first and ended with 1998's Halloween: H20 all lovingly exists under that warm and comforting nostalgia umbrella, there's something about Halloween 4 that really hits me in the feels. All of that is what led me not just to fan-editing a network broadcast that never actually happened, but it had direct influence on how I designed the edit. 

With my Dawn of the Dead edit, I kept all commercials confined to a late-70s and very-early-80s aesthetic, with most of the commercials being in-jokes based on Dawn of the Dead's content. (There's a bonafide commercial for Monroeville Mall—that kinda thing.) With Halloween 4, I kept the era appropriate to 1989 or close to it, but I also I made it a full-on nostalgia boner for everything Halloween season—commercials for costumes and makeup, all kinds of weird and spooky 900 numbers geared towards children (including Freddy Krueger's infamous hotline), and of course, TV spots for notable or infamous horror flicks released that year. It was designed for background play during your Halloween party, or to sit down and watch in its entirety—the hope is to stoke your own fires of nostalgia as you get lost in this more and more celebrated decade. 

Like Dawn of the Dead, this edit of Halloween 4 has been censored for content to adhere to network standards, but luckily, unlike Dawn of the Dead, Halloween 4 didn't have that much content to remove because it was a pretty tame and chaste sequel compared to what would come in the franchise's future, so this edit isn't very jarring. It also felt right using NBC as the hosting network, as it had aired the premiere of the original almost a decade previous to this one—it felt like the series had gone home. I hope you enjoy this newest addition of TEOS Theater and can embrace the shitty-on-purpose look and feel of a broadcast recording designed to look like a 37th generation copy—all blips, static, and tracking issues included.

Oct 11, 2021

JOHN CARPENTER'S HALLOWEEN SAFETY PSA


Something I made for a laugh to celebrate the spooky season: a remix of the 1985 Centron Halloween Safety PSA, this time with footage from Halloween, along with cameos from Halloween 2 and Halloween 3: Season of the Witch.

Every apology in the world to John Carpenter.

Oct 7, 2021

LEGEND OF THE SCARECROW

A complete and total tip of the hat to ShellHawk's Nest for turning me onto this beautiful short film entitled "The Legend of the Scarecrow," about a lonely scarecrow who only wants to befriend the crows that visit his field. It has elements of Frankenstein and Poe and TEARS. Be sure to check it out.

Oct 5, 2021

PLAYLIST: HALLOWEEN – SEASON OF THE HITS

Another round of Halloween listenin' for the year of our gourd 2021.

This one really fought me this year. Hopefully it doesn't suck.

Allow me to soundtrack your spooky season: 

Oct 4, 2021

NIGHT OF THE ANIMATED DEAD (2021)

There’s never been a more abused horror title than George A. Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead (1968), as its strange and immediate classification as a public domain title allowed decades of ensuing filmmakers to pick its bones in all kinds of ways without legal ramifications, from creating unauthorized remakes to remixing the movie with new edits and presentations to straight up showing scenes from the movie in their own low budget endeavors. At this point, I’ve seen more characters in horror films settle down in front of their TVs on Halloween night and begin watching Night of the Living Dead then I’ve seen them wandering around dark houses or backyards while asking, “Is anyone there?” (I can speak with authority on this because even I’ve been personally involved with two crappy projects that desperately clung to the OG movie’s coattails. Any moron can do it.)

To date, only one project, officially sanctioned by Romero, has brought any class to the Night of the Living Dead name and that’s been the 1990 remake by longtime Romero collaborator and special effects maestro Tom Savini, which starred Candyman himself, Tony Todd, as the ill-fated Ben. Since then, we’ve had 1998’s 30th anniversary edition of Night of the Living Dead, which went back to the original movie and added newly filmed scenes to fill in some of the “gaps,” and which included returning actors who were very clearly thirty years older, as well as 2001’s Children Of The Living Dead, starring a now-regretful Savini, which was designed to be a direct sequel to that specific version of the movie and has since been disowned by nearly everyone involved in its making. Then came Night of the Living Dead 3D (2006) with Sid Haig, in which zombie Johnny TEXTS his beleaguered sister with “COMING 4 U BARB,” and its prequel Night of the Living Dead 3D: Re-Animation (2012) with Jeffrey Combs. Mimesis: Night of the Living Dead (2011) vied for a meta-approach by taking its own universe and meshing it with that of the classic undead zombie shocker. 2015’s Night of the Living Dead: Darkest Dawn was the first attempt to present an all-animated take on the zombie classic and was produced by, of all people, Con Air’s Simon West, and featured voicework by Danielle Harris and a returning Tony Todd. Honestly, this list could keep going but it’s already becoming tedious, so the last one I’ll mention is the recently filmed, odd-but-curious sounding project Night of the Living Dead II, which seems to be more of a straight-up sequel to Day of the Dead (1985), as it brings back the main trio of Lori Cardille, Terry Alexander, and Jarlath Conroy. As you can see, nothing about Romero’s original is safe – not the concept, not the title, and not the actual film, which is a trend that refuses to stay buried, as we now have Night of the Animated Dead, courtesy of Warner Bros., who hasn’t touched hands with anything remotely tied to this universe since 1988’s lousy but harmless Return of the Living Dead II.

With voicework by people you’ve actually heard of, like The West Wing’s Dulé Hill, the Transformers series’ Josh Duhamel, and It’s Always Sunny’s Jimmi Simpson, as well as the animation’s mostly loyal depictions of the characters/actors from the original film, it’s tempting to think this return trip to the well has finally figured out how to rebirth Romero’s film in a way that’s honorable, entertaining, and even substantive. Known actors, familiar characters, a major studio – clearly, they’ve nailed it this time, right? But if you think Night of the Animated Dead is going to be the title that finally gets it right, then buddy, you’re chewing a mouthful of Greek salad.

Die-hard fans of Night of the Living Dead will notice as soon as it starts that Night of the Animated Dead is using the original screenplay nearly word for word, which immediately robs the movie of any suspense. Instead of pondering what will happen and the new directions the movie will explore, your anticipation will be reduced to a basic curiosity for how the animators will present some of the original’s more notable sequences. This kind of approach to a movie, especially one you know so well, frankly isn’t enough to keep interest sustained, so once the novelty of the animation wears off, and once the first few words of each voice performer are spoken and you get the sense of how that performer meshes with his or her character, Night of the Animated Dead has trouble keeping viewers invested. One would also assume, being what it is, that the animation on display would be impressive, what with it being the selling point of the movie, but it’s not. It’s haphazardly done and very cheap looking, with herky-jerky movements that, at times, can actually be nausea-inducing. It’s that kind of Hanna-Barbera animation where if none of the characters are speaking to each other, everyone’s at a dead still like a photograph, and this happens so many times that you begin to wonder if your Blu-ray player is on the fritz.

The voicework ranges from perfectly fine to downright confounding, and it’s difficult to ascertain if certain choices were purposely made or accidental byproducts of the actors’ voice performances. Hill’s take on Ben is much gruffer than Duane Jones’, while Duhamel’s take on Harry is more subdued than Karl Hardman’s, whose Harry Cooper is still one of the all-time great dicks in cinema—and this while recognizing that Hardman wasn’t a professional actor. This might not feel like a big deal, but the dynamic shared between Jones and Hardman in the original movie put them on equal footing: they were both comparably bossy, domineering, and alpha male. Meanwhile, Hill comes off as the aggressor while Duhamel makes Harry Cooper seem more desperate and afraid, and whose dickishness seems to spur from fear instead of dominance and egotism. For reasons that should be obvious, and considering the decades of film theory that have examined the racial themes in the original movie, that’s…not a good thing to present for 2021. Really, the only voice actor who seems entirely comfortable with her work is Nancy Travis, who voices Helen Cooper. Confident with the medium and with a firm grasp on her character, hers is the only performance that blends well into the presentation; meanwhile, the other actors’ voice performances consistently blast you back out again. (Katee Sackhoff as Judy is bewilderingly bad.)

The only new thing Night of the Animated Dead brings to the table is its graphic depiction of violence, which was left unexplored in the original movie (at least by comparison). Instead of Johnny bumping his head on a tombstone, now his skull cracks open, brains leak out, and blood pours from every hole in his face. Instead of Tom and Judy blowing up unseen in a pickup truck, the engine block explodes through their windshield and takes out whole chunks of his face and her neck. It’s gratuitous, for sure, but it also comes across as disrespectful, though I can’t say why, considering how hyperviolent Romero himself would make his later sequels. And maybe that’s because the filmmakers felt constrained by sticking with the original screenplay and even the physical appearances of the original actors, so this was their way of putting their stamp on the movie…but then again, who asked them to stay so loyal in the first place?

Really, Night of the Animated Dead never feels respectful to its parentage, even if it does reuse the same words Romero wrote and the physical embodiments of the actors Romero cast. Even certain scenes’ choreography and staging are re-used, as if the filmmakers were looking at the original movie’s storyboards when creating their animations. But one thing stuck out more than anything else: in spite of Night of the Animated Dead borrowing the script, the actors, and the shot setups from the original movie, one scene in particular was pared down from its original incarnation, which Romero and co. had filmed guerilla style in Washington, DC, and depicted several governmental figures being grilled by the media while walking down the busy city street on the way to their car. Instead of re-using this walk-and-talk sequence, those same three government figures are placed in front of a static shot of the Capitol Dome while fielding questions from off-screen reporters—which, in essence, completely removes Romero’s in-film cameo as a reporter from this new iteration. I have to wonder if the filmmakers of this new version even knew he was in that scene to begin with. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t, because if they did, why cut the director out of his own movie? Why not take that moment to tip their hat to the man whose seminal film they’re making a buck off? That, right there, seems to sum up Night of the Animated Dead: it’s the same screenplay, the same “actors,” and mostly the same shot compositions, and yet, somehow, there’s a complete lack of George A. Romero. And that’s the worst thing this newest take on the title could’ve done.

I wish I could delude myself and believe that, at the very least, Night of the Animated Dead might help to introduce the original film to newer audiences, but I doubt that’ll be the case. If you’re born with horror in your blood, that path was always going to lead you to the godfather of the zombie sub-genre anyway; for the newest generation, however, there are an army of imitators to wade through before arriving at the main event. One thing’s for sure: it’s more than worth the journey.