Halloween Kills

Halloween Kills

It increasingly feels like the proposition of mainstream horror movies is doomed to obvious political showmanship. These movies are burdened with the need to say something so the result is a clumsiness that gets in the way of purer genre expression. In David Gordon Green’s first crack at Halloween (2018) we were in the peak of Hollywood branding their movies with the #MeToo movement as a way to pat themselves on the back rather than fix the internal problems of sexual misconduct in the workforce. Few actually watched the movies with something deeply resonant to say about such matters, and the most obvious example of this was Promising Young Woman (2020) being christened an Academy Award favourite while the much stronger The Assistant (2020) was ignored. Halloween never really had any business needing to be about something, but the result saw every crew member needing to say it was a serious look at women’s trauma. This irked me, because Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (2009) was about this very thing, and communicated such manners on a visual level far more emotionally sophisticated than Green’s. Zombie’s film was crucified. Green’s called a breath of fresh air. I thought Halloween’s analysis of trauma was lunk-headed, masculine in its simplicity of taking a woman’s pain and handing her a shotgun, and dismissive because screenwriter Danny McBride is best suited telling jokes, therefore any actual terror had the air let out of it by a need to be sarcastic or ironic. I didn’t think Halloween had anything of note to say about trauma, and its sequel film does away with that element almost entirely proving that it wasn’t a key concern in the first place. In Halloween Kills it’s more honest with itself and it is about revenge, which is a much better mode for the sake of simplicity, but Green and McBride get in their own way again when they feel they need to say something about the growing mob mentality in the United States. If the first of Green’s Halloween was about “women’s trauma” then this one is about MAGA. If they follow this pattern their third film Halloween Ends, which is set to be released next year might be about Climate Change.

It’s not that horror movies can’t be political, but that in order for it to land it’s better left as subtext. John Carpenter’s original Halloween (1978) is a political film, but it doesn’t label itself as one on the surface, nor does it supersede craft, or audience engagement, above making a statement. It makes one without making one, which all the best horror movies do. In Carpenter’s film Debra Hill provided much of the back and forth dialogue between Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her girlfriends, and in their conversations you can see how they understand the vulnerabilities that come with being a woman without it being what the movie is entirely about. They see Myers off in the distance, and they assume he’s just a creep, but they also ask each other if they want someone to accompany them on their walk home, or if they need a back-up in bringing a guy over while baby-sitting some kids. It’s still about Myers stalking and killing, but it’s also about this other more organic thing. The political messaging is sewn into the dialogue and the way the girls choose to walk in threes down the street. Carpenter’s other movies, They Live (1988) excluded, also do a good job of smuggling political metaphor into the work without it being the loudest element on the screen. Christine (1983) is the death of the 50s and the rise of Reaganism, The Thing (1982) is community failure in the face of apocalyptic crisis, and Starman (1984) is military aggression of foreign bodies, but it’s not the only thing these movies are about. When you fry an egg in a pan of butter and salt you don’t say you had salt for breakfast. You say you had a fried egg. What Danny McBride and David Gordon Green essentially do with Halloween Kills is empty a cup of salt.

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