24 Lies a Second: The Twelve Nights of Michael Myers

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The Twelve Nights of Michael Myers*

Stabbings, shootings, gas explosions, falling from a great height, decapitation: some people just can't take a hint, and so it is little surprise that Shatner-masked homicidal vessel of pure evil Michael Myers has once again shaken off apparently certain death and is back doing his thing on screen. This time the movie is Halloween Kills, directed by David Gordon Green. Technically this is Halloween XII, but that's the sort of title that doesn't go down too well with focus groups, I imagine, and the one they've gone for is concise and catchy and tells you what to expect (like you couldn't already guess).

The eleventh film, just called Halloween, disregarded all of the previous sequels and remakes, and displaced Halloween II as the continuation of the 1978 original. Perhaps it is therefore slightly ironic that there are quite a few call-backs to Halloween II, both explicit and structural, in the new film, not least in the way that it carries straight on from the end of the last one.

As you will of course recall, in that film Michael ended up caged in a burning cellar by Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the final girl from his 1978 killing spree, after she spent decades and a fortune preparing for his eventual return. However, no plan is perfect and what Laurie has reckoned without is the prompt and diligent response of the Haddonfield fire department, who get stuck into trying to put the fire out. Suffice to say that not everyone who goes into the burning building comes back out.

It actually takes a little while for the film to get to this point, as it opens with an extended flashback to Halloween 1978 and the events surrounding the end of the original film (in this continuity at least). Quite what purpose all of this serves doesn't immediately become obvious, but what Green is seemingly trying to do is establish the sheer extent of the psychic trauma inflicted on the town by Michael's visitations and the long-term effect it has on many of the inhabitants.

Back in the 2018 narrative, news of Michael Myers' return slowly filters out, initially causing panic and distress – but a group of survivors and their friends decides they have done enough running and hiding, and decide to go on the offensive by hunting Michael down and dealing with him permanently. Laurie and her family are initially oblivious to this, as she is in surgery at the hospital (much less gloomy and deserted in this movie).

Michael, on the other hand, has polished off the fire crew and is steadily making his way through the town, visiting gory trauma on everyone in his path. But just who or what is he heading for…?

I note that Halloween Kills has had some rather mixed reviews, some suggesting the film is about nothing more than finding new ways for a man in a mask to bash people's heads in, but I think it's another rather superior Halloween film, respectful to the original to a degree that verges on reverence. Certainly they've done their due diligence in terms of getting the original cast on board: apart from Jamie Lee Curtis and Nick Castle, Charles Cyphers comes back as the sheriff, Nancy Stephens as the nurse, and Kyle Richards as one of the now-grown-up kids being babysat back in 1978 (making the transition from child actor must be a bit easier when you're in a super-long-running franchise like this one). The other now-grown kid is played by Anthony Michael Hall, who is rather good in the part. It also looks like they digitally resurrect Donald Pleasence for a few scenes, but this is kept to a respectful minimum. There is also a rather bizarre pseudo-cameo by Bob Odenkirk as the yearbook photo of one of Michael's original victims (apparently they couldn't track down the original actor and then someone noticed the resemblance).

One consequence of this big cast is that it isn't immediately at all clear what the focus of the story is going be this time around, beyond the requisite scenes of regular bloody slaughter. Slowly it becomes apparent: Laurie may have been the most prominent survivor of Michael's 1978 attack, but there is a town full of other people who lost friends and family and their sense of security, and the film is largely about how they respond to his return. And while this initially seems positive – friends banding together to support each other and take steps to defend themselves – as the film progresses it transforms into something disturbingly similar to mob hysteria, something nearly as ugly and dangerous as a masked killer on the loose. Perhaps there is a political subtext too – Laurie observes that the system has failed all of these people, and hence they are taking matters into their own hands. Quite what comment the script is trying to make is wisely left for the viewer to decide, but it brings a welcome extra layer of texture to the film.

That said, this isn't the most tense or scary film, with the main innovations being some reasonably inventive killings and a repeated motif where Michael finds himself confronted with large mobs of armed and aware enemies. What ensues is more like a kung fu movie than anything else, as they essentially charge him one at a time and get gorily despatched. (You would have thought that the seventh guy in line, the one with the power saw, would have thought, ‘You know what, on the basis of what's happened so far, I'm not going to chance it,' and run away.) The careful ambiguity as to whether Michael is an actual human being or something more fantastical is really stretched to its limit, anyway: the film is openly playing with the character's mythic aspects by the end, even suggesting he is somehow powered by the fear and anger of the people around him.

The film certainly ducks the issue of actually attempting a conventional conclusion to the story, although this is probably because it was announced as the same time as Halloween Ends, due out next year (the title is suggestive, but as the Akkad family (long-time producers of the franchise) apparently have a legal clause preventing anyone from actually killing Michael Myers off without their permission, we'll have to see). In the meantime, though, I think this is an effective and satisfying new riff on the Halloween franchise.

*Yes, I know that because some of the films take place on the same night and another doesn't feature the character at all, the strictly accurate title would be The Nine Nights of Michael Myers. But you try coming up with titles for these things.

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