Amongst slasher villains, Michael Myers is an enigma. The masked slasher became an instant icon after the first movie, but despite four decades of sequels, none have managed to recapture the killer’s quiet menace. Halloween Kills is but the latest in a long series of sequels that have tried to return Michael to form, an effort it doesn’t entirely fail. The polarizing film gets a lot right about The Shape, but also misses several key points about the killer that none of the sequels have yet to capture.
What it Gets Right – Random Killer
For most of the series, all that was known about Michael was he had a strange drive to kill all his blood relatives. So long had this been a part of the series that you may have forgot this wasn’t introduced until the second film. In the 2018 Halloween, the family thread was dropped for the first time since the original, reverting Michael closer to the random madman he used to be.
Halloween Kills puts a strong emphasis on Laurie not being Michael’s focus, something that has proven somewhat controversial. Me? I’m in favor of this change. Michael always works best when he’s shrouded in mystery. In the original, Michael simply picked Laurie because she was the first teenage girl he saw after his escape, and she bore a strong resemblance to his murdered sister. While the family focus didn’t necessarily ruin the character, it did take away some of that unknowability which made him so frightening. Halloween Kills continues the trend of leaving us to wonder why Michael does what he does. The probably answer, that he simply enjoys it, is all the more unsettling.
What It Gets Wrong – Silent Assassin
Still, Halloween Kills contains some misfires that keep it from being a terribly frightening film, and one such issue is the kills themselves. They’re just too damn loud. The original Halloween was more of a proto-slasher with a greater focus on suspense than gore. Out of all the entries in the series, Halloween Kills is the showiest, with enough kills to fill three of the 1978 films in the first ten minutes. And they’re all very loud.
Michael was someone who killed swiftly and silently, often before his victims even had time to scream. This new film is overflowing with bodies, all of whom have time to stretch their lungs before settling into rigor mortis. As a result, the quiet dread of the original is very hard to find, some of the killings getting so drawn out as to become tedious. It doesn’t necessarily wreck the film, but it doesn’t do any favors for mood building.
What It Gets Right – Playing with Victims
Whereas most slasher villains are all about the killing itself, Michael always seemed to take pleasure in toying with his victims. This is something we saw in the original Halloween, such as toying with Lynda using her dead boyfriend’s glasses or his almost playful pursuit of Laurie Strode, something that was lost in most of the body-count-focused sequels. Though this movie definitely has a focus on bloodshed, it does capture Michael’s habitual pawing at his prey.
Halloween Kills contains numerous examples of Michael tormenting his victims. In one sequence, he randomly attacks a married couple in their home, mortally wounding the wife and forcing her to watch as he plunges knife after knife into her husband. In another, Michael attacks a young couple, coldly observing one’s pleas as he beats the other to death. It’s moments like this where the character is at his most chilling, and Halloween Kills is at least able to tease the effectiveness of the original.
What it Gets Wrong – Voyeurism
Of course, Halloween Kills also misses out on perhaps the two most crucial elements of the character that so far none of the sequels have yet to match. The first is that Michael likes to watch before he kills. Michael seems to derive a sense of power from observing his victims without their knowledge, gradually toying with them from the shadows as he gets bored and escalates to murder. Most of the suspense in the original is not centered around the actual killing, but the anticipation of it.
Michael spends the bulk of the original Halloween not killing, but watching. He spends an entire day and most of the night following Laurie and her friends, peering at them through windows, behind bushes, and from darkened streets. It’s through this that Halloween evokes a sense of mood. Many slasher films forget that the anticipation of the killing is where the fear comes from, and one of the biggest faults of Halloween Kills is that it is so focused on breaking the record for bloodletting, the film never takes its time. Failing to do that, it also fails in getting the audience’s heart racing.
What It Gets Right – Dark Humor
Michael doesn’t just like to toy with his victims while they’re living. He also seems to take pleasure in playing with them after they’re dead. One of the most chilling parts of the original was Laurie’s discovery of her butchered friends, whose bodies had been as part of a twisted haunted house like display. This is but another way Michael likes to torment his living victims prior to the killing, and is one of the few things most of the sequels have managed to keep intact. Halloween Kills manages to capture this aspect of Michael quite well.
Numerous times throughout the film, we see Michael’s habitual desecration of his victims. In one scene, he hangs several of his victims while dressing them in Halloween masks (from the underrated Halloween III as a matter of fact.) In another, even more effective scene, the heroes discover the bodies of a brutally murdered couple, whom Michael has posed to recreate one of their honeymoon photos seen around the house. Little details like this provide fleeting glimpses into Michael’s sadistic psyche, and manage to keep at least some of his menace alive.
What it Gets Wrong – The Shape
Of course, there is one more thing that Halloween Kills gets wrong as every other sequel has. The funny thing is it’s not something you’d typically notice, but along with Michael’s voyeurism, was one of the most important things about the original. It’s how Michael is photographed. In his films, Carpenter often dehumanized his villains as much as possible. The gang from Precinct 13 had little to no dialogue. The monster in The Thing spent most of its time posing as other people. In Halloween, he didn’t portray Michael as a man, but as a shadow.
There is a reason the originals script referred to Michael as The Shape. The bulk of the time, Michael is only shown in silhouette. We catching fleeting glimpses from a distance, from behind, backlit, and in the most effective scenes, we see him in such low light that he almost seems part of the shadows. People forget that the mask was only put in the character to make him more vague, and the times it was shown in harsh light were only out of necessity, and always kept brief. It’s such a small detail that pretty much everyone trying to follow Carpenter’s footsteps misses it, preferring instead to focus on the iconic mask. What they forget is the mask is only part of the shadow.
Good Hits and Bad Misses
Halloween Kills is a fun, gory grindhouse thriller that recalls great exploitation classics of ages past, but it isn’t John Carpenter’s Halloween. While it does capture some small details of Michael’s sadistic psychosis, it misses out on making him into an ethereal force that plotted from the darkness. This new series was perhaps the best opportunity to date that filmmakers had to return to form. In some ways they do, but in others, they continue to miss the same opportunities every filmmaker has had since the first sequel.
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