This is more a case of ‘where to start?’ than ‘where to finish?’ The Halloween franchise has always had problems – basically, John Carpenter’s 1978 film had an ending that seemed to be open to follow-ups, but was actually perfect as is. Ever since the first Halloween II, there’s been a tension between the sort of basic shuffling the Friday the 13th has always got away with – Michael Myers kills more teenagers, maybe Jamie Lee Curtis comes back – and attempts to do something different like Halloween III Season of the Witch that haven’t clicked commercially. Some sequels have tinkered with the premise – Michael is Laurie’s long-lost brother, no he isn’t … that Danielle Harris moppet becomes the new Haddonfield stabber, no she didn’t … Jamie Lee is back for the Scream-type Halloween H20, then she dies in the first ten minutes of the one where Busta Rhymes kicks Michael’s ass at the end … Rob Zombie gets the reboot the whole thing and go into Michael’s poor white trash origins, then we all try to forget his two movies …
Now, David Gordon Green has had a stab (hah) at what amounts to his own trilogy of sequels, rather after the manner of those clutches of late Godzilla movies which hang together or (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) the ‘Tommy Jarvis Trilogy’ from F13. Halloween brought back JLC again, not only wiping out her earlier returns to the series but all previous sequels and reboots – and did that annoying reuse-the-original title thing which caught on so we’ll forever have to remember the dates of the redos of Candyman, The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Scream and Hellraiser to distinguish them from the originals (thanks a bunch). Halloween Kills did what it said in the title in one sense – Michael killed more people in Haddonfield than a tactical nuke down-town would have done – but it was a mean-spirited, depressing mess of a movie.
Halloween Ends is the new Halloween The Curse of Michael Myers, replacing all the old barnacles that accrued to the saga – the guy in the cowboy boots and the cult of Myers – with a bunch of new crusty stuff. The best you can say is that it’s trying something different, in the Friday the 13th: A New Beginning or Ninja III The Domination manner – but it still has to switch away from its fresh material to reheat business with Laurie and Michael, who otherwise loiter on the side-lines while the key characters are Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak, who has been good in these films whatever else has gone on around her) and newbie Corey (Rohan Campbell), who gets the not unprecedented gig – cf: (I looked it up) Danielle Harris’ Jamie Lloyd, Rob Zombie’s take on Creepy Little Michael – of being groomed to be the new cold-eyed, perhaps possessed-by-the-spirit-of-evil killer in town. In a prologue set on Halloween the year after that massacre in Halloween Kills, when you’d think the town would be as keen on having more trick or treat this year as the community of Valentine Bluffs was having a Valentines dance in My Bloody Valentine, engineering student Corey is a last-minute sitter for a brat who needles him by pointing out that the boogeyman kills sitters not kids – in shout-out mode, they watch Carpenter’s The Thing the way the original Halloween had Laurie and charges watch the 1951 film – and then plays a nasty prank that goes horribly wrong, resulting in one dead kid and Corey becoming a semi-outcast, his future prospects limited to working in a car junkyard (I get the feeling there’s a Christine homage here somewhere) and being bullied by eminently killable local teens.
Corey and Allyson are drawn together by shared trauma and Green almost makes this relationship work, which gives the movie some stakes – but he can’t resist doing what so many others (starting with Carpenter and Hill in the first Halloween II) have done and complicating the original set-up, implying that Michael accidentally killed his sister and her boyfriend, opening himself to be possessed by something evil that now takes root in Corey. The way Unbreakable shows Bruce Willis becoming a superhero, Halloween Ends shows Corey becoming a horror franchise fiend – bullies throw him off a bridge, and he sits up apparently unhurt (reprising a Michael bit from Halloween) … he meets Michael in a troll-hole under the bridge, or does he only imagine he does and pick up a mask? Corey’s enemies are in the firing line – and Green stages more bloody kills. But Michael/the Shape (James Jude Courtney) gets back in the act too … and so does Laurie, with the rotten town lynch mob of the last film reforming to set up the sort of definitive finish that didn’t other sagas in The Curse of Frankenstein (acid bath) or Terminator 2 (foundry smelter).
Will Patton is back as the nice cop and his almost-relationship with Laurie continues to seesaw between sweet and unnerving – in a supermarket meet, the musak is an easy listening ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’, though the original track takes over from ‘Mr Sandman’ as the end credits cheer-up song. Haddonfield again is shown to be a horrible place to live, even without the regular massacres – which goes against the feel of the first film, in which the boogeyman stalked what was ostensibly an idyll, but clicks with a vision of contemporary, divided America. Wherever Laurie goes, she abused by other survivors who blame her ‘for taunting a brain-damaged man’ into mass murder – which feels a bit like the mother giving Tony Stark a hard time in Captain America Civil War. A key figure is disc jockey Willy the Kid (Keraun Harris), who chatters unhelpfully throughout and gets one of Green’s hideous joke kills – his severed tongue thrown on a turntable to make the platter skip. Green really missed a trick by not casting Busta Rhymes in the role. Misshapen as it is, this new Halloween trilogy does connect with the way things are now in horror and the larger world – but that doesn’t make it particularly satisfying. What’s missing here is the delightful frissons – instead, it’s bludgeon to the brain time. All tricks, no treats.