Halloween Kills Review: If It Bleeds, We Can Kill It

You'd think that by the time a film franchise — particularly one with the inherent limitations of a muted, masked slasher as the main character — reached its 12th installment, new ideas would be harder to come by than victims who've encountered Michael Myers and lived to tell the tale. But amazingly, improbably, "Halloween Kills" ranks among the very top films in this franchise, feeling somewhat akin to this new trilogy's "Empire Strikes Back" in terms of darkness, world-building, and just being a flat-out unapologetic thrill ride.

Following on the heels of their massively successful 2018 "Halloween" relaunch, the team of David Gordon Green/Danny McBride/Blumhouse continue to tell the tale of a defiant survivor-turned-survivalist Laurie Strode and her descendants: pragmatic daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and spirited granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak). This time, however, their continuation waits a good 19 minutes into the film, as "Kills" goes deep into Haddonfield folklore.

The film opens with Deputy Frank Hawkins (Will Patton) down and spouting blood, leading to a flashback to Halloween night 1978 — when Hawkins was a rookie and it was his partner who was in a similar position.

"I used to know the guy, Michael, when we were kids ... my mom used to make me go over to his house to play," his partner tells Hawkins before they're confronted by the boogeyman. "She felt bad. He would spend all of the time staring out of his sister's bedroom window. I remember thinking 'What the hell is he looking at out there?' Then one day, he just snapped."

The extended sequence will play like manna from heaven for "Halloween" fans. Director Green and his co-writers McBride and Scott Teems have stocked these opening moments with significant bullet holes, familiar names being tossed around, even resurrecting Donald Pleasence (who died in 1995) through some sort of impressive digital trickery. Try as "Halloween" films have for the last few decades, it just isn't the same without wild-eyed, chicken-little-in-a-horror-movie Loomis running around in his trenchcoat, warning everyone that "pure evil" is coming.

As Pleasence 2.0 shows up in the doorway of the Myers house, begging "Tell me, what happened in here. Did Michael kill again?" the voice might be a little off — overly melodramatic, believe it or not, in a role beloved for being overly dramatic — but still, the effect is impressive. Then we see Michael being taken into custody in front of the Myers' house, with everyone standing perfectly still as the camera pulls back, in homage to the opening of John Carpenter's original film.

If you're familiar with the "Halloween" films, you'll enjoy such Easter eggs — as well as a powerful, character-introducing scene in a local bar that has Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall, looking absolutely nothing like Paul Rudd in 1995's "Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers") addressing a group of Michael Myers survivors including the nurse (Nancy Stephens) who survived his "Halloween II" attack (which would seem to be the only acknowledgment in these films that "Halloween II" took place) and the little girl being babysat by Nancy Kyes in the original film, Lindsay Wallace (Kyle Richards, like Stephens, the original actor). Much like his former babysitter Laurie Strode, Tommy has grown up to be a tough survivor, resolved to never play the victim again.

Nobody puts babysitter in a corner

If you're not familiar with the "Halloween" films ... well, all you really need to have seen is the 2018 film to keep up with the plot. But seriously, go track down at the very least the first two films — oh, and "Season of the Witch" too.

At this point, we finally catch up with the Strode girls, as they ride away from the burning death trap created for Michael — and watch in horror as a team of firefighters race toward the scene. "No!" a distraught Laurie screams. "Let it burn!"

Although some have been upset by the imagery of Michael Myers murdering first responders, it is essential to the plot — and how Michael gets out of Laurie's seemingly perfect trap. These responders also don't take the attack passively — armed with axes, saws and other equipment, they attempt to confront Michael. You can probably guess how that turns out, but this much is not so predictable: Green shoots the sequence with impressive flair and memorable creativity. As a lifelong "Halloween" fan, it's so nice to watch such a talented director (who clearly loves the source material) at the wheel.

The worst "Halloween" films have been too heavy, or too light. It could be argued that "Halloween Kills" strikes the best balance since the original film. Yeah, there are scenes when Michael squashes a man's skull just because he seems to feel like it, or stabs somebody with a shattered track light bulb and will likely cause you to think "well, I've never seen that one before" — but there's also a great cameo from funnyman Lenny Clarke, and a hoot of a subplot involving two men named "Little John" and "Big John" who have given the Myers murder house an extreme makeover.

Dancing and getting stoned, the men love telling the neighborhood kids spooky stories about their house — but don't love it so much when Michael comes home. Ironically, Little John defends himself with a big knife, while Big John selects a little knife.

"Halloween Kills" is at its best when paying lip service to the fans, looking back on the events of 1978 with meticulous, reverential glee. Although you get far less time with Laurie than in the last movie (she's essentially licking her wounds), Judy Greer does some great work in the film. She often serves as a mouthpiece for the audience, like when she begins fuming at hospital staff: "Does the hospital have security guards? Do you have security guards? It seems like you should have security guards in case something like this happens. And this is happening, right now."

"Kills" is at its worst when indulging a forced red herring involving a second escaped inmate. Very early on, the audience is aware that this man is not a mask-less Michael — so when an angry mob led by Tommy spends several minutes convinced that he is, all the audience can do is sit back (maybe take a bathroom break if you're smart) and wait for the characters to catch up. Keep in mind, this all sucks up several minutes when the real Michael is nowhere to be seen.

Which is a shame, because it's the only weak spot in the Tommy Doyle storyline, and Anthony Michael Hall feels authentic, intense, and frequently dangerous in the role. "Kills" shines a bright light on many of the different "If I encountered Michael Myers, here's what I'd do" scenarios of the past decades, with Tommy urging everyone to move around unexpectedly, keep Michael off guard, and find strength in numbers.

Batman and mobbin'

The tension builds as a mass of angry people gather in the hospital lobby, riled up by Tommy and chanting "Evil dies tonight!" as they effectively rally around Laurie Strode while using her for bait. Of course, this being Halloween night, several members of this angry mob are dressed in costume — including at least one mime. Sadly, the mime does not turn out to be the hero of this film.

The climax of "Kills" is terrific, extremely visceral stuff, as Michael finds himself cornered by the mob. We've seen slashers survive a lot, but what happens when they're dragged out into the light and surrounded by several dozen people wielding everything from guns to a hockey stick? It's a visual that breaks nearly every trope of a slasher film, but "Kills" does it justice.

Stepping in for Pleasence, it seems like Patton's Hawkins has become this trilogy's Dr. Loomis. "He's a six-year-old boy with the strength of a man, and the mind of an animal," Hawkins says of Myers from his hospital bed — along with the revelation that he and Laurie were once a bit of a thing.

More world-building, more fan service, and also more development for this trilogy, which unlike certain "Star Wars" movies that shall remain nameless isn't so obsessed with the past that it has nothing interesting to say in the present. By the end, you'll be thrilled to have a new, solid "Halloween" film in your life — as well as an impressive bridge that will leave you wishing the final Green/McBride/Blumhouse film, "Halloween Ends," were in theaters tomorrow. But hey, just like when we were kids, it sure does feel good to once again not be able to wait for "Halloween" to get here.