‘Halloween Kills,’ and That Makes for a Bloody Mess

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Halloween Kills (CREDIT: Ryan Green/Universal Pictures)

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Anthony Michael Hall, James Jude Courtney, Nick Castle, Will Patton, Thomas Mann, Kyle Richards, Nancy Stephens, Robert Longstreet, Charles Cyphers, Dylan Arnold, Scott MacArthur, Michael McDonald

Director: David Gordon Green

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for Blood, Guts, Viscera, Screaming

Release Date: October 15, 2021 (Theaters and Streaming on Peacock)

According to Halloween Kills, there are two main reasons why you should avoid mob justice:

1. You might go after the wrong person and end up killing an innocent man.
2. The guy you’re targeting seemingly can’t be killed.

That second lesson applies specifically to the Halloween film franchise (although it can certainly be extended to other horror classics). These seem like pretty obvious lessons, but I guess I should cut the characters in this film some slack, considering that they don’t have the same context that we viewers do. In case you need a refresher: the David Gordon Green-directed Halloween Kills is a direct sequel to the 2018 Halloween (also directed by Green), which was itself a direct sequel to the original 1978 Halloween that ignored all the other sequels. So while in the current continuity it might be a slight surprise to the residents of Haddonfield that Michael Myers is indestructible, it’s not at all surprising to the audience.

As the Halloween franchise is 43 years old and a dozen films deep, it’s forgivable if it doesn’t pull off too many genuine shocks anymore, so long as it has something to say. And Halloween Kills certainly wants to have something to say vis-a-vis that mob justice angle. But it seems to me like the townspeople seeking justice are actually fairly effective. Sure, the misidentification is pretty bad, but they eventually do manage to corner Michael. Their plan would have worked against someone a little more mortal!

But of course, the dictates of pre-planned sequel-dom make it clear that an ultimate victory is fully out of reach. A third entry directed by Green, entitled Halloween Ends, is already on the schedule for next October. So right now, we can feel pretty confident that Michael will return and that Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode will as well. Everyone else, even some returning favorites (including child star-turned-Beverly Hills housewife Kyle Richards herself), are a little more vulnerable.

So then, we’re left to hope that the set pieces are at least effective. Pretty much all of them are throwbacks to the style of the original. Some are pretty funny, others are melodramatic, all of them end in relentless violence. Probably the most amusing is the series of scenes with Michael McDonald (the steamroller-crushed security guard from Austin Powers) and Scott MacArthur (best-known for the short-lived Fox sitcom gem The Mick) as a couple just trying to have a relaxing Halloween night in. Unfortunately, they decided to live in Michael Myers’ former home, and that just doesn’t bode well for their future together. If Halloween decides to go in a sillier and campier direction, they’ve got the blueprint right here.

Halloween Kills is Recommended If You Like: Saw-style gore, Inevitable death, Anthony Michael Hall springing into action

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Masks

Movie Reviews: With ‘Knives Out,’ Rian Johnson Can Add the Whodunit to His Collection of Filmmaking Merit Badges

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CREDIT: Claire Folger © 2018 MRC II Distribution

Starring: Ana de Armas, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michael Shannon, Don Johnson, Toni Collette, Lakeith Stanfield, Katherine Langford, Jaeden Martell, Christopher Plummer, Noah Segan, Edi Patterson, Riki Lindhome, K Callan, Frank Oz, Raúl Castillo, M. Emmet Walsh

Director: Rian Johnson

Running Time: 130 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for A Few Explosions, Possible Poisonings, and (Attempted?) Stabbings

Release Date: November 27, 2019

If you’d like to dust off a musty old genre and guide it to unexpected new depths, then you might just want to call Rian Johnson. He’s already shown what new joys await in a neo-noir mystery, a time-travelling actioner, and the biggest franchise of all time, and now with Knives Out, he moves on to the whodunit, and the answer to that question is, “By golly, Rian Johnson has done it once again!”

Since every whodunit needs a murder victim and a set of suspects, Knives Out has a bounty of them. The recently dead man is super-wealthy mystery novelist (wink, wink?) Harlan Thrombey (Christopher Plummer), and the folks who might be responsible or maybe know something consist of his mother Wanetta (K Collins), his daughter Linda (Jamie Lee Curtis), Linda’s husband Richard (Don Johnson), their son Hugh Ransom (Chris Evans), Harlan’s son Walt (Michael Shannon), Walt’s wife Donna (Riki Lindhome), their son Jacob (Jaeden Martell), Harlan’s daughter-in-law Joni (Toni Collette), her daughter Meg (Katherine Langford), Harlan’s housekeeper Fran (Edi Patterson), and his nurse Marta (Ana de Armas). While his employees generally get along with him, his family members all have reason to resent him (and they also keep mixing up which South or Central American country Marta is from). Naturally enough, there are also a couple of police detectives on hand (Lakeith Stanfield and Noah Segan) and an idiosyncratic private investigator named Benoit Blanc (Daniel Craig), who has been hired under mysterious circumstances.

CREDIT: Claire Folger

The trick that Knives Out pulls is that within twenty minutes, it reveals everything (or nearly everything) that happened in thorough detail. Harlan’s death is initially ruled a suicide, and we are shown pretty much unmistakably that he sliced his own throat, and everyone’s presence at that moment is accounted for. Done deal, then? Well, there’s still nearly two more hours of running time left. The script keeps itself honest thanks to one particularly telling character quirk: Marta’s “regurgitative reaction to mistruthing.” That is to say, whenever she lies, or merely even considers lying, she spews chunks. Thus, there is no other option than for the truth to similarly spill out, and there is no room for contrivances to keep the audience in the dark. But that having been said, information can be obscured and unknown unknowns can take some time to make themselves known. Ergo, Rian Johnson gives us the simultaneous joy of being let in on a little secret while also playing the guessing game.

CREDIT: Claire Folger

In addition to Knives Out‘s masterful mystery machinations, it additionally offers plenty of keen observations of human nature. There is the ever-timely message of the tension that emerges when the haves and have-nots bump against each other, as well as the chaos that can reign when fortunes swing wildly. Furthermore, there is an astute understanding of the difference between truth and honesty, and how the latter can help you survive when the former is hidden. All of this is to say, motivation matters a great deal in cinema, and in life.

Knives Out is Recommended If You Like: Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot, Logan Lucky

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Colorful Sweaters

This Is a Movie Review: The Latest ‘Halloween’ Examines the Brutal Roles of Killer and Survivor

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CREDIT: Ryan Green/Universal Studios

This review was originally posted on News Cult in October 2018.

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Judy Greer, Andi Matichak, Will Patton, Nick Castle, Toby Huss

Director: David Gordon Green

Running Time: 105 Minutes

Rating: R for Relentless Knife Piercings All Over the Body

Release Date: October 19, 2018

What if your purpose in life is to kill people? What if your purpose in life is to be in a decades-long struggle with that killer? Horror sequels that come many years after the original and feature the same main character unavoidably grapple with matters relating to the circular nature of fate. Halloween, the same-named sequel to John Carpenter’s 1978 original, is especially committed to those questions in a way that deepens the meanings of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode without straying too ridiculously far from their initial incarnations.

As a direct sequel to the 40-years-earlier initially entry, this Halloween ignores everything that happened in all previous sequels and reboots. It is thus somewhat confusing that it opts for the identical title, but it is also thematically appropriate. Director David Gordon Green and his co-writers Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley are working under the presupposition that where evil struck once, it will strike again, in much the same manner that it did before. That is certainly what Laurie Strode believes, with Jamie Lee Curtis returning to her iconic role once again by jumping headlong into the disaster preparedness lifestyle. Michael has been locked away since the night of his rampage, but Laurie is convinced he will escape and kill again. Her relentless focus on readying herself for that probability has helped her survive, but it has also ruined her relationship with her daughter (Judy Greer) and anyone else she has ever been close with.

Green understands what made Carpenter’s approach so effective, as he similarly relies on tension-building instead of jump scares when showing Michael at work. We see more of the bloody brutality than we used to, which in one way is an indication that it is so hard to shock anymore but in another way is so frightening in its implication that rehabilitation may be impossible in some cases. For Michael, killing is practically a vocation. There are attempts by a few characters to explain his motivations, but he remains so terrifying mysterious, because the explanation ultimately never goes beyond the tautology of “he kills because he has to kill.” While Laurie is one of his favorite targets, there is a mythically eternal element to their struggle that suggests that he cannot ever actually kill her and also that she cannot ever kill him. Thus, at the moment that she gains the upper hand and we see his confused reaction, it is devastating. Not because we sympathize with the killer, but because the saga may very well have finally reached the point when it must end.

Halloween is Recommended If You Like: Halloween (1978), Disaster preparedness

Grade: 4 out of 5 Stabbings