Back in the day, the State Theatre walled off the balcony so that they could play two movies. One night, John Carpenter’s “Halloween” was playing upstairs while I was watching “The China Syndrome” downstairs. During a quiet moment in “The China Syndrome,” I heard this colossal mass scream through the balcony wall, and thought, “Boy, I guess that ‘Halloween’ must be the scariest thing ever filmed.”
It took a while to work up the nerve to see “Halloween” (1978). Now I own it on Blu-ray and have studied it with the director commentary. Carpenter’s small-town fable about babysitters stalked by an unstoppable killer is a masterpiece of tension and suspense. Like “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre,” which inspired it, “Halloween” is not a gore-fest. That would come with “Friday the 13th” and countless slasher rip-offs that “Halloween” unwittingly spawned.
And now there are 12 “Halloween” movies. Aside from “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” which ditched the Michael Myers mythology and made all the fans mad, I’ve only seen the movies with Jamie Lee Curtis, including the 1998 “H20.” Twenty years later, I came back for Curtis in the 2018 40th anniversary “Halloween” and now, “Halloween Kills” (Universal-Miramax-Blumhouse, 2021, 108 min.). “Halloween Ends” — yeah, right — will be released next October.
Conceived by Danny McBride and director David Gordon Green (“The Pineapple Express”), this reboot trilogy pretty much plays out in real time, and “Halloween Kills” picks up right where “Halloween” left off: Laurie Strode (Curtis), her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) are headed to the hospital, thinking that they have finally trapped Michael Myers in Laurie’s house, currently burning to the ground. Well, of course, they’re wrong.
What makes “Halloween” intriguing is the opportunity to track Curtis’ character over the course of 40 years, from high school student to damaged, triggered grandmother. It’s like some messed-up version of Richard Linklater’s “Before Sunrise” trilogy. Has any other actor played the same role over a greater span of time? I find that fascinating.
The problem with “Halloween Kills” is that Laurie Strode is largely side-lined, recovering from her wounds in the hospital as the focus shifts from her to the townsfolk of Haddonfield, Illinois going full-on Frankenstein’s villagers, picking up hockey sticks, guns and baseball bats to hunt down Myers, chanting “Evil dies tonight!” en masse. (Any similarities to the raid on the Capitol are very flawed and American.) Anthony Michael Hall plays one of the kids menaced back in 1978, now all grown up and — he thinks — ready to kill Michael Myers. Hall is a very good actor, but I just wasn’t as interested in his character as I was in Laurie’s family crisis.
If you’re expecting the same lack of gore and restraint of Carpenter’s original vision, think again. There are a lot of kill sequences, and they’re all on the outer edge of R-rated carnage. If you’re not into blood, brains and extreme splatter, stick with the Carpenter original.
Just in time for Halloween and Christmas, “The Movies That Made Us” on Netflix just dropped season three: “The Holiday Movies That Made Us,” and the first episode is all about the making of Carpenter’s “Halloween.” The series is cool because as much as I know about the movies being profiled, I always learn something or get a new angle on the history of production. I thought I knew everything there was to know about the original “Halloween,” but I did not know that during the shooting of the scene where Michael Myers hijacks Dr. Loomis’s car, actor Donald Pleasance was half-swacked on wine.
Season three is a real holiday grab bag, with episodes about the making of “Friday the 13th” (1980), “A Nightmare on Elm Street” (1984), “Aliens” (1986), “Robocop” (1987), “Coming to America” (1988), “Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993) and “Elf” (2003). I’m still not sure what holiday you’re celebrating when you watch “Robocop” and “Coming to America,” but whatever…
Recommended: “I’m Your Man” at Cinemapolis; “Rita Moreno: Just a Girl Who Decided to Go for It” on Netflix.
“Halloween Kills” is playing at the Regal Cinemas at Pyramid Mall.