An Unfocused Rant About Wookies, Boogeymen, & Fandom
It's Not Wise to Upset A Wookie
It was December 15th, 2017. One year into the full-body ache fever dream of the Trump presidency, one year away from those kids stuck in the Thailand cave, and three years away from the mental coma of the Covid lockdown. None of those details really matter. There was an adult man, sitting behind me, in a one-piece Wookie costume, and boy, was he excited.
I was sitting, in a pretty good seat, popcorn in hand, ready to see The Last Jedi, the follow-up to the juggernaut rebootquel-legacy-sequel-remake of A New Hope that was J.J. Abrams' The Force Awakens. (Full disclosure: I had to actually Google the title. I'm not being glib. I couldn't remember it. My brain kept saying “The Phantom Menace.” Maybe I'm just tired. Or maybe my brain deleted it. I think that'll be thematically pertinent, but I probably won't bring it up again).
I was lukewarm on J.J.'s flick, but Rian Johnson stepping up to the big leagues for a giant tentpole, for Disney no less, for Star Wars no less less, hadn't just piqued my interest, it had me excited! I was excited for a filmmaker I truly enjoyed getting the chance to play with these toys. My little indie darling friend, who had been entertaining me with swerves on traditional genre fare, was in the spotlight. I was so proud! I was so excited! Everyone's going to get to know Rian Johnson! They're going to know how good he is! They're going to go back and watch Brick, and Looper, and The Brothers Bloom! I'll finally get to talk to people about The Brothers Bloom! Little did I know... There was no way I could match the excitement of the adult man, sitting behind me, in a one-piece Wookie costume. And boy... Was he ever excited.
Leaving The Last Jedi I was dejected, low to the ground, shoulders slumped, and sad. Boy did that suck! Not the movie. Nope. The movie was pretty exciting, and pretty bold, attempting to force the round peg of expectations through the square hole of narrative satisfaction. (And if that analogy doesn't work, stick around, I've got plenty of them!). It was beautifully shot, with some truly awe-inspiring sequences bursting with clashing colors, narrative tension, and surprise reveals! The Last Jedi isn't a masterpiece by any means, with some moments of clunky, on-the-nose exposition, and at least one thematic cul de sac that had me mentally squinting. But it was a Star War, a franchise I considered creatively bankrupt, stuck in a narrative ouroboros about a family tree of space wizards fucking it up for everyone. And Rian Johnson tried to Frankenstein something new out of the corpse. And he was mostly successful! No, it wasn't the movie that had me slumped down in the dumps. What sucked was watching the movie, in a theater full of people, especially that adult man, seated behind me, in a one-piece Wookie costume.
It must've been during the trailers, that a feeling of unease, like the first anxious half hour of a mushroom trip, began to creep up my spine. I might be conflating things, but I think there was a trailer for Avengers: Infinity War. And it wasn't just the adult man in the Wookie costume, but he basically became a loudspeaker, the paragon of problematic movie-watching that probably will have me sounding like a crinkled, cranky old jerk. It was like every overly excited and entitled fanboy in the crowd was being filtered and projected, through him, straight into my skull. The Avengers trailer began and that motherfucker screamed. And he screamed. And he screamed. And he clapped. And he screamed. And he shouted. And he screamed. And he screamed.
“Captain America!”, ricocheted off my eardrums.
“Thanos!,” carved into my brain stem.
“AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!,” clap, clap, clap, clap, clap.
And on and on and on it went, through the trailers. Right through the “no smoking, exits are here and here” bumper, where I think he clapped for exit signs. Then straight on into the movie. Screaming every time a lightsaber appeared. Pointing out every character he recognized. Openly giving his theories on what was about to happen as it happened. Yoda! Kyber Crystal! Millennium Falcon! He couldn't get enough. THEY couldn't get enough. Not of the movie. No. But of what I can only assume is that comfortable, soothing encapsulation of nostalgia, and recognition. That self-fulfilling, self-sustaining, self-satisfaction of knowing, and letting everyone around you know you know, and that you know it before they know it, and more of it, whatever the hell that it is. The real-world equivalent of a message board comment of “First!” It was like a competitive Star Wars-themed “Where's Waldo” that they... he was trying to win. And let me tell you, there is no enjoyment in being a spectator for that particular sport.
But, here's what's weird: when the movie was over, I vowed to never see a tentpole film on opening night ever again. As we shuffled out... that adult man in the Wookie costume, and his friends in Star Wars graphic t-shirts, carrying lightsabers, and overpriced souvenir popcorn buckets... were right in front of me, exiting the theater. I was seething as I stared at the back of their heads. And if I wasn't such a chicken shit little weasel, I might've said something. I might have given them a piece of my mind. Instead, I seethed. And here I am, so many years later, still thinking about it. Thinking about how sad they looked. And how I said nothing. And how I could hear them talking.
They were dejected.
They were low to the ground.
They were shoulder-slumped. Sad.
After all that. After all they had put me, and the people around me through...
They were pissed. Sad.
They were not satisfied.
Their excitement was reactionary.
Or worse, some kind of performative learned behavior.
They hated the movie.
Are you fucking kidding me?
Oh yeah. This is supposed to be about Halloween.
Somebody Has to Kill the Babysitter
It was 1998 - a year before The Phantom Menace would bring Star Wars back to movie theaters, Tyler Durdin would beat the snot out of Jared Leto's much-deserving pretty little face, and The Matrix would introduce us all to bullet time. None of those details really matter. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later premiered. A strong case could be made for that film being the first experiment in legacy sequels, the kind of sequel that wants to delete past mistakes, picking and choosing a point that it finds satisfying to continue the narrative. Gone were Halloween 4 – 6. Laurie Strode never died in a car crash. She never had a daughter named Jamie. There were no secret pagan cults. A strong case could be made, but that's not what I'm here to do.
At a panel at New York Comic Con, back in 2022, Jamie Lee Curtis revealed that Halloween H20: 20 Years Later was initially her brainchild. You can find a video of the panel on YouTube, and she speaks fondly of coming back around to the fame, and infamy, the character Laurie Strode created for her. She had called up Halloween co-creators, John Carpenter and Debra Hill, and hatched a scheme. A reunion of sorts. She figured, hey we're all still alive and kicking, and the franchise seems to be dead, let's give the fans a little something. Let's get the band back together, and do it one more time. Plenty has been written about how all that good spirit and optimism got whittled away piece by piece (and for obsessives of the behind-the-scenes stories of this, and every Halloween production, I recommend both Taking Shape books from Dustin McNeil and Travis Mullins), and the battle between creatives and studio notes, until the band became Jamie Lee Curtis doing a tribute act.
The main gist is this: Jamie Lee Curtis wanted to come back as Laurie Strode to kill The Shape once and for all. She wanted to show a Laurie Strode who had been running her whole life from the monster. A depressed, drug-addled Laurie Strode, who finds it within herself to clean up, and chooses to fight back. And it would've ended with Laurie triumphant, and the Shape dead, dead, dead.
Moustapha Akkad, keeper of the keys of Haddonfield, and producer of every Halloween film before his tragic death, had a set of rules for Halloween, along with a detailed story bible and history of the franchise, with one steadfast rule: The Shape never dies. And sure, at the end of the film, (spoilers for a two decades old film), Laurie Strode lobs off Michael's head with an ax, but Halloween's a cash cow, and you can't just stop squeezing those udders if they're gonna keep squirting out those sweet, sweet ducats. And maybe that's the first thing I want to put in bold lettering in the front of your brain: Hollywood is a business, and this shit is all product.
So, anyway, along comes Halloween: Resurrection. Four years later. It's 2002, and terrorism has finally been invented. You know the gist: Michael Myers had switched places with an EMT worker, slit his throat, puts his mask on the poor schlub, and that's who Laurie decapitated. The Shape lives. The product is back on the shelves. And that's the thing, The Shape is the product. Laurie is a dipping sauce. And so Laurie gets unceremoniously knocked off in the first 10 minutes, and now The Shape, freed from the baggage of the franchise, can go off in an exciting new direction! Freed from the shackles of continuity they can take the character and idea, in bold, new places. So, Michael goes home, again! Back to Haddonfield again, again! To stalk, and systematically kill unsuspecting young adults again again, again. Only this time it's got internet! And a reality show being filmed in his house, and Busta Rhymes dropkicks him while delivering the line “Trick or treat... Motherfucker.”
But they did it.
They killed Halloween. Again.
There was nowhere to go from here. Halloween was seemingly a creatively bankrupt franchise stuck in a narrative ouroboros about a family tree fucking up Halloween for everyone. And for a whole four years, there were spurts and sputters, rumors and hearsay, about where the franchise should go next. There was talk of straight-to-video sequels, the ole Hellraiser/Children of the Corn route. There was talk of straight-to-the-point, all-star reunion sequels. There was talk of bringing back Busta Rhymes. (Again, check out both the Taking Shape books for some real in-depth stuff). And then it happened. In the wake of the colossal box office of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, Hollywood was taking every horror IP it had at its disposal and churning out whole-cloth, full-stop attempted restarts of their classic, and sometimes not so classic franchises. And Halloween is a cash cow, but it ain't no golden calf.
*Ring. *Ring. *Ring.
“Hello? Is this Rob Zombie? The Devil's Rejects' very own Robert Zombie? Have I got a job for you! I was wondering if you had time to remake us a Halloween! Yes, that's right, Halloween! Sure thing. Carte blanche. You can do what you want. Oh, it'll certainly be a nightmare. Yes, you'll be working directly with me, Bob Weinstein. Yes. That's right. Dimension Films. So, you want to do this white trash, exploitation style you've come to be known for? Sounds great! Yes. I'm gonna note you to death. I'll even tell you I hate every frame of your movie. Sure! Yup. Of course! I'll meddle. I'll needle. I'll endlessly harass you. And then once it opens to a record-breaking weekend and grosses nearly $100 million dollars, I'll say I was right all along! And you know what? How about you have such a terrible time making it, we'll try and get someone else for the sequel! And after coming up short, we'll come back to you, tail between our legs, do it again, and make your life even more miserable! Okay. Yup. Yup. Sounds great. I gotta go! Yeah, gotta go physically threaten my wife with bodily harm, cover up for my brother's many sex crimes, and watch the new cut of School for Scoundrels! Boy is 2006 amazing! Us Weinsteins, I bet there will never be any repercussions for our abhorrent behavior, and many, many crimes.”
– Bob Weinstein calling Rob Zombie to hire him on 2007's Halloween reboot, which definitely, maybe, probably went exactly like this.
I don't really have the time, or rather, I wouldn't want to waste your time re-litigating the Rob Zombie Halloweens. I will say, while I personally disliked his 2007 film (for just being a bizarre, southern fried steak cover song of the original), I also don't care that it turned The Shape into a hulking monster with mommy issues. Actually, I kind of liked that. Furthermore, I actually find the second one to be endlessly fascinating and kind of fun. White horse and all. Why? Well, in the words of Jack Skellington upon viewing the gorgeous blinking lights of Christmas Town for the first time, “Something... New?.”
And It's no surprise to me, like the aforementioned The Last Jedi, and the soon-to-be-defended Halloween/Halloween Kills/Halloween Ends, that the court of public opinion hasn't been as kind to those movies. I don't want to be a gatekeeper or a snob, so I'll preempt those monikers by saying, fuck off. You don't know what you want! And even when you get it you're unsatisfied!
This is an intervention little piggy.
We gotta look at the slop in your trough of content.
You've got microplastics in your diet.
We Gonna Do What They Say Can't Be Done
Halloween (2018), or as I, and other pithy, bratty, cloyingly annoying little film nerds like to snarkily refer to it as H40, was the Heath Ledger-casted-as-the-Joker of writer/director announcements. David Gordon Green was going to direct the new Halloween. Not only that, he was going to team up with his friend, and frequent collaborator, Danny “Eastbound and Down” McBride. And they were going to write this new Halloween together. Not only that, not only that, they were going to start from the ground up, with a seemingly bold idea for the time. This was going to be a direct sequel to the very first film, deleting from existence, all of the sequels. Gone would be the brother/sister connection, the psychic estranged daughters, the Ahab-like Loomis hunting his Myers white whale, the pagan cults, the excessive body count, and Busta Rhymes.
David Gordon Green, at the time, wasn't exactly a household name. Most people latched onto the Danny McBride of it all. But every announcement article led with some mention of Pineapple Express, the Seth Rogan, James Franco, and Danny McBride stoner action comedy that Green had directed, and had been his biggest commercial hit. Driving the point home, every article would also bring up Eastbound, and Down, the increasingly surreal, and foul-mouthed HBO comedy co-created by Green and McBride, along with the third head of their North Carolina troika, Jody Hill. Some would mention David Gordon Green's more humble roots, his earlier work, but for the most part, the story being presented was one of David Gordon Green and Danny McBride, two silly guys, who make silly movies, were making a Halloween. Isn't that silly?
The announcement was made in early 2017 and the reaction (I combed the message boards! I did the research!) seems to fit into 3 camps: 1) There was the cautiously optimistic camp, that I fell into. The kind of fans, and maybe casual movie watchers, who were trepidatious, mostly towards anything having to do with a 40-year-old franchise, and the Hollywood IP machine, but who were also a bit excited by such a swerve in the creative department. 2) There was, as there always is, the angrily pessimistic camp. The kind of faceless Tweeters and commenters who jump at the chance to dampen anyone’s excitement for anything, ever. They immediately glommed on to the mention of Pineapple Express and Danny McBride, ignoring the articles themselves, and declared the comedic take they were going to have would be an immediate failure. If they had read past the headlines, they would've known there was nothing comedic planned, but hey, reading and comprehension are hard. And that's thematically relevant! 3) Finally, there was the dryly cynical, and apathetic group who still felt the need to comment. They're always there. They don't have anything to add, they're just bored, and sometimes they're even robots! That's fun!
All that is to say, everyone had their own expectations.
Everyone always does.
Expectations, and comprehension.
Now we're getting somewhere.
These expectations were tied to both McBride's specific brand and Green's biggest hit. These are what the people knew and that was the story being told. Some of us, however, had a different David Gordon Green in our heads. Us pithy, bratty, cloyingly annoying, all too often gatekeepy (and more too often, too often, white and male) film nerds knew the gentle, contemplative, indie darlin' Green once was. The guy who charmed the likes of Roger Ebert with his $42,000 freshman effort George Washington. The artist with a naturalistic style, who made films about blue-collar, small towns, and bittersweet disappointment. We all would mention his Terrence Malick-like touch, as if we were the first people to make that assessment. That's the David Gordon Green we fell in love with. And it gave us a chance to “Uh, actually…” a whole lot of people.
Performative learned behavior.
Call and response.
For me, David Gordon Green is the guy who made All the Real Girls - a monumentally important film in my life, which found me at the right time, at my lowest point of romantic frustration and identity crisis: my early 20s. It’s a film that is both a love story and a painful coming-of-age yarn, about the trappings of small-town living, and the immaturity, and selfishness of the men (really, the petulant boys), who don't see anything beyond that and don't really want to. It was a film that reinforced my sadness and also put a mirror up to who I was and could wind up being. It helped snap me out of a particular self-inflicted funk and showed me the kind of piece of shit I could really become. It's a sad, quiet movie that should be instantly familiar to anyone who grew up in a town with a failing infrastructure, where everybody knows everybody. That's the feeling I associated with David Gordon Green, so, yeah, I had my own expectations. My learned behavior. Oink oink oink.
Then it was announced that Jamie Lee Curtis was back again. Again, again. Again, again, again. And even more excitingly, John Carpenter had supposedly been working closely with the new creative team, and consulting on the script. While that could've just been some well done PR, it didn't matter. It stoked the coals. Then it was announced: Carpenter was also going to help with the score. The cranky old man himself was going to craft some new music for Halloween (2018)? Then Nick Castle was back, in some capacity, to play The Shape. Well alright, this thing might work after all.
You Wanted A Hit: Halloween (2018)
Okay. Okay. Okay. Here we are. Let's talk about Halloween (2018). I promise you, it won't be any more focused, but at least we're getting somewhere. I guess that somewhere is Haddonfield, forty years after a disturbed young man named Michael Myers escaped from Smith's Grove Sanitarium and returned home to stalk the small town on Halloween. Forty years after he killed five people and a dog. Forty years after Laurie Strode fought the boogeyman, and lived to tell the tale.
Halloween (2018) starts back at Smith's Grove, which I for one can't believe is still in business. Right off the bat, David Gordon Green seems to be smashing together the past and the present. There is something retro, analog, and out of step with modernity about this Smith's Grove. As the familiar orange credits in Serif Gothic play, they're intercut with clustered together patients, a wobbly record player, and out-of-date surveillance monitors. It's a mental institute by way of film, not reality. But then the modern comes crashing in, in the form of two true crime podcasters who have come in hopes of interviewing Michael Myers about that infamous night forty years ago.
Finally, we are introduced to the monster, in this bizarre, Burton-esq setting of a large red and white checkerboard courtyard. Led by Dr. Sartain, who Laurie later refers to as “the new Loomis,” they finally come face to back-of-head with Myers. Chained to a cement block, standing still and quiet, the podcasters try to coax a reaction out of him. There is nothing there, and as their frustration grows, they bring out Michael's iconic white Shatner mask. Where they got it or why it's not locked away in some evidence locker is beyond me. But the mask stirs up the other patients in the yard. “You feel it, don't you, Michael?” podcaster Aaron asks, as the wails, howls, and jeers of the other patients mix and build with the score. It's an effective, uneasy bit, as Aaron grows more frustrated, screaming, “Say something!” and then kaboom, the iconic title, and theme.
The opening titles themselves are one of the key elements of this trilogy, each stating the theme of the movie by playing on the iconic imagery and the audience’s expectations. In this first entry, we have a rotted pumpkin, played in reverse, slowly regaining its form. An almost brash, and cocky declaration that the franchise itself had rotted over the years, and this'll bring it back. It's meta without being lazy, and I think it's pretty fun. And it's the first hint that Green and McBride know what they're doing. They know what we expect. And while over the next nearly two hours we're going to get a slick, well-made Halloween film, there is something else going on.
This isn't just another entry in the Halloween franchise.
This is about legacy.
This is about the Halloween franchise.
And in a way, this is about all franchises.
The other important thing to note about this opening is the subtle hint that while Michael may just be a man, something else is at work. All is quiet in the courtyard, until the appearance of the mask. It seems to stir up the patients and guard dogs like an otherworldly beacon. Like it has power. And maybe it does. But what if it's something else, more powerful, more ancient, that is causing the commotion? Maybe the mask is just a symbol, a recognizable piece of imagery, like Mickey Mouse ears, and lightsabers. You in the audience see it and recognize it too. The man chained to the block of cement in the middle of that courtyard is just that. But that mask. Maybe it represents something innate.
What if it's story?
What if it's belief?
I mean, we all know Michael Myers is just a man.
Our podcasters Aaron and Dana have the air of professional journalists, with their posh English accents and genteel mannerisms, but they are chasing a story, exploiting a tragedy, and opening wounds that might not have fully healed. And they might be messing with something they don't completely understand. They're looking for a there there. They're bringing back the story of Michael Myers. They're trying to find the angle to tell the story of this supposed, unstoppable evil. Sound familiar? Sound a little meta? Maybe.
Their next stop is at the home of Laurie Strode, the only surviving victim of The Shape's killing spree. The podcasters ring the buzzer and finally get Laurie to agree to an interview, for the low price of $3,000. She's sequestered in a gated fortress, covered in surveillance equipment. There are multiple locks on her door. And when they finally sit face to face with Strode, she's curt, unkempt, and angry. They try to explain to her their motivations, bringing up her belief in “The Boogeyman.” It's a callback to her final line in the original film. Something that separated The Shape from just a man in a mask. It's a play on childhood fear, that branded him with something older than himself, and ubiquitous in our psyches.
Michael Myers is just a man.
The Boogeyman is a legend.
Laurie firmly believes in “The Boogeyman,” and while this entry had sold itself on its grounded-in-reality approach, belief in the supernatural - be it active or inactive - is a reality for most. The religious, the superstitious, the fearful; our base, lizard brain instincts, the little tingle that makes us run up the basement steps, that fear of the quiet nothing, isn't that something a little supernatural? While these podcasters, safe behind their microphone, can compartmentalize the brutalities they read about and exploit, they couldn't truly comprehend what it's like to actually face it head-on.
The movie clips along, setting up a showdown of sorts. It’s a rematch between The Shape and Laurie Strode. It's what the audience wants, or what the audience thinks it wants. It's what we all expect. It's what Green and McBride know that we want, and expect. And it's where I get confused. I love the Halloween franchise. I love unnecessary sequels of all kinds. I even love some good fan service (that's how they tricked me into seeing Spider-Man: No Way Home) every now and then. But, and maybe I'm the oddball, I don't really care about Laurie Strode. Her story happened and it had its ending... multiple times. But, again, to me, Halloween isn't about Laurie, it's about The Shape. It's about unmotivated, unreasonable evil. This isn't Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. This isn't Kill Bill. Laurie was an unfortunate bit of collateral damage in The Shape's rampage. She's just a part of the story, but she isn't the focus. It was never about her.
And guess what? Halloween (2018) kind of agrees with me.
Or maybe I kind of want it to.
Make no mistake, this is a Laurie Strode story. It's a story about how the story of that fateful night forty years ago has haunted her and Haddonfield. It's a story of generational trauma: passed down from Laurie to her daughter (Judy Greer) Karen, and her granddaughter (Andi Matichak) Allyson. It's a story about how there are things that maybe are better off buried, chained to a block in a sanitarium somewhere. And these podcasters rolled into town because they smell a story that hasn't been exploited. They're taking a rotten pumpkin and bringing it back to life. Sound familiar? Sound a little meta? Maybe.
After Laurie, we're introduced to the Strode clan, an almost farcically happy family, with a cheeky bit of foreshadowing as kind-hearted, dad-core patriarch Ray (Toby Huss) plants a rat trap under the kitchen sink. They're having breakfast and discussing Allyson's new boyfriend, Cameron, with an emphasis on his reputation hammering once again at the power of story, of legacy. It's a pretty great scene, full of that Green naturalism and slightly awkward dialogue. And it isn't The Shape that haunts the family, it's Laurie. Allyson refers to her not as grandma, or me-maw, or something warm, and familiar, but as the oddly stilted “grandmother.” Karen, Laurie's daughter, lies about being in touch with her and how her mother is beyond help. You know, leave it alone. That Laurie Strode stuff is over. There's no there, there.
No one really talks about Michael or The Shape, or that night. They talk about Laurie, and who she is, or rather, who they think she is. It seems like Haddonfield has made her The Boogeyman. Allyson's friends, well-fleshed-out cattle fodder for later, in a bit of fourth-wall-breaking dialogue, bring up the brother/sister connection, which is waved away as rumor and hearsay. Stupid stories people made up. Her friends - the desensitized and traumatized Gen Z - even wonder if her story is all that bad. So, five people got killed by a lunatic forty years ago? This is a post-Sandy Hook America, and that just sounds like a normal Tuesday. What is she so traumatized from? Why is she so special?
On this normal Tuesday, Allyson goes to school, learning the same lesson about fate that Laurie once learned. It’s a callback and reframing of the original. As Allyson mindlessly peeks out the window, there she is. Grandmother. Haunting her family in the same way The Shape once haunted her. She stands outside the school in a direct callback to The Shape in the original, and she has some advice for Allyson: Escape. Get out. Leave the story. She can't. Laurie's trapped. She's stuck in the story, and she knows that the story isn't done with her yet. It can't be. Or else her whole life has been a waste. She needs it to be.
Of course, Michael escapes. Once again... again and again... they're transferring Michael on Halloween night. I don't know why they keep doing that, but they do. Green infuses this scene with his naturalism, reminding us of the original escape that is embedded in our minds. There is a fun conversation between a father and son, after a hunting trip in a car, before they come upon a familiar scene. Patients in white, ambling around an abandoned road. And it all feels so familiar, and rote. It's homage, and it's a trick. We know what happens next, Michael is gonna steal the car and speed off, leaving the kid, and his dad staring in disbelief. So what do Green and McBride do? They fucking kill the kid. Full-on strangulation, and a neck crack. You thought you knew the story? You thought you knew The Shape? Think again. Expect something new.
From here, the next forty minutes or so are easily my favorite chunk of the movie. The legacy sequel looking for something new to say about Laurie and The Shape swerves into a clever, refreshingly slick, and new slasher. Honestly, you could take the Strode portion out, get rid of Myers, have a new masked villain for Gen Z to fear, and there is a great new take on the slasher genre smushed in the middle of this movie.
There are great sequences like The Shape stealing back his mask and finding a new jumpsuit, a more brutal, and uncoordinated attack than we expect from him. There is the phenomenally staged, and shot oner where The Shape stalks from house to house, randomly killing, and upgrading his weaponry. It's the moment most take away from the film. There is, which for my money is the best sequence in the film, the backyard murder of the sloppy drunk comedic relief teen, punctuated by the flickering motion sensor light. There's teen angst, a Halloween dance, and murder. It's all great stuff. And part of me wishes Green and McBride were inspired by Halloween to do something new. Part of me thinks they wanted that, too. But chugga, chugga, all aboard the IP train.
Anyway, we're right back to the Laurie Strode of it all.
Before I say more, look, Jamie Lee Curtis is kind of incredible in this role. She has world-weary sadness and bubbling anger. Every scene of the 60-something-year-old Curtis cocking a gun, cleaning a weapon, and preparing for battle, she sells wonderfully. It's no wonder she won an Oscar for Everything, Everywhere, All At Once, or stole the star-studded show of The Bear's claustrophobic Christmas spectacular. She's incredible, and I guess we're in the middle of a Jamie Lee-assaince, or whatever. I just don't care about Laurie Strode, and honestly, I don't really buy it.
I don't really see book smart Laurie so wholly devastated by that night forty years ago that she became a sort of Sarah Connor in T2 Doomsday prepper. I don't understand how she had two marriages and a kid, while also building her fortress of doom. I wind up, maybe stupidly so, wondering where she got the budget to create her complex and arm herself to the teeth if she is so thoroughly broken that she can't leave the house. What the hell did she do for work? There are too many missing pieces in the story. With the familial connection gone, and the sequels no longer canon, why is she giving so much power to the legend of “The Boogeyman?” Why is she so certain he's coming to get her?
At least, I didn't get it on my first viewing, when I walked in with the baggage of my fandom and my expectations. Now, I'm pretty sure, that's the point. Laurie has wasted her life with a destructive, narcissistic obsession thinking she's the main character of the story. She's almost ignoring the fact that while she survived her harrowing ordeal, people died. They were family and loved ones to people in Haddonfield. It's not just her that survived The Shape, it's the town. She isn't alone in this. It's not about her. When we finally get to The Shape and Laurie’s showdown that we were all so weirdly pumped for, it wasn't Michael finally finding the one that got away. We're not even sure he has any idea who the hell she is. No, it's the bizarre Dr. Sartain (who I don't have any time to even try and unpack) who gets these two together. It's all coincidence and a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The big, explosive finale is Laurie and The Shape swapping back and forth between cat and mouse inside Laurie's fortress. There is a dark gleefulness to Laurie, an “I told you so!” attitude, where she's more of a broken clock showing the right time than she realizes. And it's all shot so well, with cinematographer Michael Simmonds using natural light sources to paint the scenes in golds, and stark white beams of illumination. The score is absent, as Laurie stalks through her house, with a shotgun, dropping gates clickity, clacky thuds. There's something action movie about the whole thing. It actually feels a little bit Assault on Precinct 13, but I might be reaching.
And so, Laurie and The Shape, along with Laurie's daughter, and granddaughter, finally show down again. Again, again. Again, again, again. Again, again, again, again. You get it. This is technically the sixth fucking time in Halloween's history that Laurie Strode and The Shape face off. This time, they trap Myers in the basement, and the house is revealed to be some kind of giant trap. Judy Greer gets to flex as she gets the drop on Myers, in a great character moment, and a genuine moment of surprise. And the three generations of Strode women put aside their anger with each other, work together, and kill The Boogeyman. The whole thing is a bit silly, but fun. It's what we all wanted after all.
Laurie Strode triumphs.
The Shape is burned alive.
It's finally over. Again, etc.
Halloween (2018) opens to nearly $80 million on a reported budget of $10 million and goes on to gross nearly a quarter of a billion. The reviews are overwhelmingly positive, with a few detractors here and there. But for the most part, the whole experiment was a success. David Gordon Green and Danny McBride had delivered the goods. They produced a satisfying, almost worthy successor to John Carpenter's original, and a bookend for the Halloween franchise. The Shape was dead, burned alive. Laurie Strode could rest, and finally get on her with her life...
For about a week.
Moooo. Chugga chugga.
This wasn't the end.
This was part one of a trilogy.
But Maybe We Don't Do Hits: Halloween Kills
At some point, after the monumental success of the legacy rebootquel Halloween, it was revealed that Green and McBride had originally pitched two pictures, to be shot back to back. I wonder what that pitch was. Would it have been a more drawn-out Laurie Strode story? Would it just have been Halloween (2018) spread over two pictures? Would it be exactly what we got with Halloween Kills? We don't know. They held off though, and waited instead to see the audience’s reception. And it was good! It was great even! So where do we go next? Just like the original Halloween, Halloween (2018) ended in a somewhat narratively satisfying place, with the legend of The Boogeyman dead, and Laurie triumphant, but damaged. How can you get out of the room when there is paint all over the floor?
Halloween Kills is dumb. Really dumb. A big, loud, excessive film, with one of the largest body counts in a slasherdom, 34 victims over one night! It's everything that’s wrong with legacy sequels, shoehorning in returning characters, padding out backstories, and resurrecting actors from the dead with CGI. Everything is amplified, with the kills themselves being particularly brutal, and thorough. (At one point Michael stands over a body, testing the effectiveness of kitchen knives, as one of his other victims looks on, with a fluorescent bulb protruding from her neck). The whole thing is a speedy, brainless bloodbath, stretching credulity past the breaking point, to levels of Looney Tunesery.
And I love it, dearly.
It feels like a Gremlins II style fuck you. A rambunctious, punk rock, giddy piece that drowns the audience's gullet in so much legacy sequel trope that you walk out with a piece of content foie gras where your content liver used to be. (And if that analogy doesn't work, stick around, I've got at least one more!). In an interview with IndieWire in 2022, David Gordon Green makes mention of Halloween Kills being an action movie of sorts. And boy, does it play like one. In place of John Wick, we have The Shape aimlessly walking around Haddonfield, just having a good ole time. The kills are brutal, but inventive, and shot to elicit excitement, and some chuckles, rather than fear. While Halloween (2018) was the franchise dipping into “elevated” horror territory with its self-serious approach, Halloween Kills is a throwback to 80's horror schlock. It's stupid, and it knows it. That's the whole point.
The middle child of the trilogy starts immediately after the events of Halloween, with Laurie and her clan off to the hospital. We're already invoking the original sequel, and purposely so. Everyone knows that The Shape died at the end of Halloween (2018). What this sequel presupposes is... Maybe he didn't? The rotted pumpkin was healthy once again, and now Green and McBride had to keep going. Well, go big or go home. And the title sequence now isn't just one healthy pumpkin, flickering in the dark, it's multiple pumpkins. It's the town of Haddonfield. The Boogeyman was woken up, and now he's on the loose, and everybody is infected.
And so, we flashback to the original film, moments after The Shape disappeared after being shot by Loomis. Answered is the question of how Michael was finally caught, along with a bit of reframing of the narrative. The sequel is going out of its way to open up the story and distance itself from just centering on Laurie Strode. It's reinforcing the ripples of that Halloween night. The scars aren't just hers, they're Haddonfield’s. Like an Andy Dick who murders, there are a lot of people who had a run-in with The Boogeyman, and it left its mark. We watch as a young Officer Hawkins, a new addition to the franchise from Halloween (2018), had a chance to kill Michael forty years ago. And he fucked it up. Boy, did he fuck it up. See Laurie, this isn't your fault, it's his!
While Laurie and her crew are off to the hospital, emergency workers are off to Laurie's home, to do what they do, and douse the flames. This is the first of two giant massacres in the film, and the action movie tone is on full display. This firefighter sequence is fantastic. Drenched in the light of orange flames, and completely bonkers, The Shape just slashes, smashes, and destroys one body after another. The POV portion, from inside of a firefighter’s mask, is so claustrophobic, amplifying the confusion, and the insanity. We're fully out of our grounded approach now, as a half-charred Michael Myers is revealed in slow-mo, surrounded by fire, like a John Woo character. This is a sequel motherfuckers! Buckle up!
While Laurie Strode is prepped for surgery, we're treated to a reunion. Legacy sequel, without legacy characters? You couldn't possibly. Unfortunately, Donald Pleasance had passed away two decades earlier. And while they ghoulishly copied and pasted his face onto another actor’s for the flashback, you couldn't carry the whole movie on that simulacrum. So let's get the band back together. Or at least, scrape the barrel for some folks who could play the instruments. Who the hell is left from the sequel that we can squeeze a little nostalgia and recognition from?
We head to the bar, where a Halloween talent show is happening, for some reason. And we are reintroduced to some characters I think you'll be pretty excited to see.
Enter: Tommy Doyle, Laurie's babysitting charge from that fateful night. A seething, wild-eyed Anthony Michael Hall, as that guy you see at the bar every night, starting a fight with anyone he can. Then there is Lindsey Wallace, the babysitting charge of the late Annie Bracket. They actually brought back original actress Kyle Richards. Isn't that neat? Aren't you excited to see... Kyle Richards? again. Next, Lonnie Elam! It's Lonnie, guys! Tommy Doyle's former bully, who made him smash his pumpkin. Sure, you remember Lonnie. He's the kid Loomis scared from the bushes. Yeah! That Lonnie. (And I'm being silly, but I will say that Robert Longstreet kills in this role). And then finally, the piece de resistance, Marion Chambers, Dr. Loomis' assistant, and the nurse who survived a hand to the face from Michael Myers. And guess what... they fucking got Nancy Stephens to reprise her role. I know. I know. I screamed in the theater when she came on screen.
You see, every Halloween, these four get together, share a couple of drinks, and reminisce about that night. These three kids and a woman, like 20 years their senior, at some point got together and started this little group. And it's just those four. They didn't invite, say, Sheriff Brackett, who for some reason is still bumbling around in a police uniform. It's just those four. It's insane. It's so nonsensical. When did they start doing this? Why haven't they gone on with their lives? Why the hell is Marion, at least 15 years their senior, who I'm pretty sure didn't even live in Haddonfield, start hanging out with these kids? What about the real victims' families? At least that's what I thought. But the movie is giving hints about The Boogeyman's infection. The people he's touched. They might be asymptomatic, but they're trapped in this story. They're obsessed. It's pumpkins all the way down folks. And the audience just loves to go to a theater and be rewarded for their fandom with things they recognize, that they can whisper to the person next to them, or just scream out a name.
News of The Shape's return quickly spreads throughout town. Panic sets in. The mob, led by the red-faced and maniacal moron Tommy Doyle, grabs their weapons and heads out to deal some justice, Haddonfield style. Evil dies tonight! Evil dies tonight!
Halloween Kills has mob mentality on its mind. And it's really about crafting our own villains and directing our anger onto those villains. We all need someone to hate, and to blame. It's no surprise that it was released at the tail end of the Trump presidency, and post-Covid. Green and McBride are obviously trying to say something about hearsay, anger, misinformation, crowdthink, and mob violence. And it's all pretty silly. So, I'm going to one-up the silliness. Reframe the story. It's mine now.
We're the mob.
Evil dies tonight, indeed.
While the whole movie seemingly does away with logic in any sense, in favor of big, bold set pieces, there is an inherent logic in what it is trying to say. There is a reason the original sequels seemed to offer diminishing returns, and why Jason went to space, Leprechaun went to the hood, and the Police Academy went to Russia. How do you keep this story going? And while all of those other films have undead zombies, magical monsters, and Michael Winslow, Halloween painted itself into a corner from the very beginning. Halloween created the slasher genre (argue about that amongst yourselves), and could never have known the glut of sequels in its future. So their villain was just a man. How could he keep coming back? And why, did we, the audience, want him to? I mean, Michael Winslow can sound like a robot. That I get. What the hell does The Shape have to offer? And he was purposely hollow, lacking motivation. Jason hates those campers. Leprechaun wants his gold. Michael Winslow has to beatbox. Those are story engines. Halloween lacks any of that. All it has is a man in a William Shatner mask and Laurie Strode. How many times do we really need to see that?
Halloween Kills thankfully sidelines Laurie Strode. She's healing from her fight with The Shape, and pretty proud of herself for putting the whole thing to rest. She saved herself, her family, and the town of Haddonfield, from an unstoppable evil that wanted nothing more than to kill her. Or so she thinks, until they wheel in Officer Hawkins, who also survived his brush with death. And he lets her know, the whole thing was a fluke. Maybe she's always known the truth. He lets her know that she has no place in this story. She's nothing. She's nothing to Michael. But not to him. And, oh yeah Laurie, you didn't finish the job. Story’s not over. The Boogeyman is still on the loose.
This movie is tonal whiplash from the first. I understand the criticisms, mostly. The whole thing is all over the place. There are moments of awkward comedy, awkward budding romance, awkward emotional epiphanies, and awkward narration. There are so many setups and subversions, and it ends on such a sour note. But I don't care. The filmmaking on display is gorgeous, with this pseudo 70's grain and washed-out colors. Everyone is so sweaty and panicked. Each kill, some with a goofy Rube Goldbergian flair, is staged, and executed in exciting and new ways. The scene-chewing campiness of the legacy characters works within the context. And it is asking you, us, the little content piggies, why we were so focused on Laurie? Why did we want to put her through that again?
We asked for this!
We're the mob!
We want our Halloween!
We want to see Michael go out there, and kill! We want our mythology and continuity. You can't kill The Shape. Moo! Chugga chugga! Evil dies tonight! Shit's a Fogo de Chão, and there's no red card to show your server. If Halloween (2018) was the sensible, grounded legacy sequel, Halloween Kills is every horror franchise sequel, and every instance of fan service, bubbled and boiled down to its syrupy concentrate, then mainlined into our brains. It's too much movie. And it knows it. You want to smoke a cigarette son? I'm gonna watch you smoke the whole goddamn pack!
It all builds to a giant massacre of everyone. Every character still standing. Michael, somehow, beaten, stabbed, shot, burnt, gets up and kills them all. Just an unstoppable, supernatural force, swinging wildly, and taking us all out. I saw the film with my little brother, and he whispered to me, “I think he's going to murder the whole town,” and we both stifled laughter. The big finale of this movie is just unhinged, with an overwrought bit of narration about Michael transcending his humanity through murder. It's a tired, beaten Laurie Strode, in a hospital bed, one step away from asking to be put out of her misery. They beat the shit out of a dead horse, and Mr. Ed got back up and fought back.
The reviews were rough.
The box office was lower.
Judy Greer was dead.
Halloween Ends was next.
Must Be the Season of the Witch: Halloween Ends
Here we go. Ready for this? This is why I'm here in the first place, I think. I'm not entirely sure. I think it's readily apparent that I lost my place and my point, and probably, your attention, at least three or four times already. Anyway... Halloween Ends is nearly a masterpiece. It's probably the best Halloween film made since the original. David Gordon Green and Danny McBride wrote a beautifully inventive story full of Carpenter's spirit. They crafted a complex and engaging story that rewards revisits. Green directed the hell out of nearly every sequence, with the opening being an all-timer, not just for Halloween, or for horror films in general, but in film. The story of Corey Cunningham is a masterstroke, and in a few years' time, it will be reevaluated, just like its blue-titled inspiration, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, and it will be lauded for how monumental a piece of work it is. This was the Halloween, the movie that I wanted David Gordon Green to make.
These were my expectations.
They were met. And it's fantastic.
Halloween Ends isn't a sequel so much as it is a post-script. Right from the start, we're introduced to a whole-cloth, brand-new character and denizen of Haddonfield, Corey Cunningham, a promising young man, a bit nerdy, but warm in spirit, ready to take on the world. Corey has plans to attend college to become an engineer. He's about to go out into the world, escape Haddonfield, and its boogeymen, and make something of himself. Right off the bat, we see the eagerness in Corey and the gentle spirit he has. He offers gardening advice to the father of the kid he's about to babysit. When the kid's mother tries to instill the fear that Haddofield churns on into Corey, he waves it away with a simple “kid’s stuff.” When it comes to a choice between a beer and chocolate milk, Corey chooses chocolate milk. This is a good kid.
This whole opening sequence, from the WURG radio bumper, to the familiar Halloween night streets of Haddonfield, to the Phantom of the Opera foreshadowing piano tune, to the bouncy dialogue, to the camera pan over the twisty staircase, right up until its tragic end, is perfect. Taken as a whole, the opening ten minutes is a beautiful short film and it uses the visual language of film to lay out its themes. Sensitive kids suffering from nightmares are one mask away from being monsters. Fear can make you do stupid things. A fall to the depths can be a painful, deadly thing.
When we get to the final image of Corey, atop a staircase, knife in hand, in shock and disbelief, looking at the crumpled corpse of a kid he just accidentally killed, being cradled by his mother, all from a stupid mistake... It's dizzying. What is this movie? Where is The Shape? Where is Laurie Strode? Once again, the credits, which explode onto the screen with the booming theme song, now aping the color of the originally maligned, but now lauded Halloween III: Season of the Witch, are very bluntly trying to prepare you for what you're about to see. They feature a pumpkin, changing shape, morphing into different faces. This movie is going to be different.
But then, immediately after the credits, goddamnit, the voice of Laurie Strode comes in. She's narrating an excerpt from her book, and it's so weird. It makes Laurie look like such a cold, narcissistic, attention hound. She's of course writing about The Shape, about The Boogeyman, about Michael Myers, and she's apparently, learned nothing. This is where the movie loses me. Every time this new Laurie Strode pops up, aimless, and tired, I mostly check out. She even has another little “I told you so!” in her narration, like she's waiting for the town to turn around and apologize to her. She seems almost satisfied that her insane prediction about Michael Myers accidentally came true. And even worse, now that he's out there somewhere, having killed over forty people, including her daughter, and her son-in-law... After all that... She's put it all behind her? What? What the fucking what? Laurie's got a new haircut. She's taken up knitting. She's baking pumpkin pies. She's celebrating Halloween. I don't understand any of this! Everything she was so terribly fearful of came true, and probably, beyond her wildest, worst nightmares. And there was no closure. There was no end. No one knows where the fuck The Shape went. And now she knows, or should know, this was never about her. And now she's content? Now she's found peace? Or is she at least pretending she did?
But here's the thing, maybe that's the point. Maybe Laurie isn't a hero here. Maybe she's an equal, but opposite to Michael Myers. Laurie Strode is part of the problem. Laurie Strode is part of the rot.
During this narration, we are shown a changed Haddonfield. A broken Haddonfield. An angry, fearful, traumatized place full of suicide, death, and pain. And that's because Laurie Strode's boogeyman, her story, is now the whole town's story. Laurie didn't escape the trauma, she's just sharing it with everyone else. One giant trauma bond in small town USA. I guess that's something us Americans can get behind. We get it.
Allyson, Laurie's granddaughter, now lives with Laurie. And at first, she's too numb to see what's wrong. Laurie dolts over her with performative kindness, and heirlooms from her murdered parents. She works at a hospital, surrounded by perv doctors, and narcissistic friends, but still, helping people. It isn't until Corey enters her life that she starts to wake up, and exit the fog. And who is the catalyst to introduce these star-crossed lovers, and usher in a new cycle of violence? Laurie fucking Strode for the win. You go, girl.
Corey has become a town pariah. Accidental murder of a child will do that to your reputation. He never left for college. He works at the town junkyard. He tries to keep to himself, but everywhere he goes, there are whispers of the child murderer. It seems Haddonfield needs its boogeyman, and Corey, by mere happenstance is it. After a run-in with a very Green/McBride creation of bully high school marching band teens, Corey's rage bubbles up, and he crushes a glass bottle of chocolate milk (hey look, a callback! A visual motif!) in his hand. Laurie encourages Corey to fight back against his bullies and then brings him over to the hospital for a meet-cute with her traumatized granddaughter.
Again, the theme of infection, of rot, is driven home as Allyson cleans Corey's wounds. And you can see, in another life, how these two might be perfect for each other, but in the cyclical story of Haddonfield, they're just destined for disaster. At first, Corey feels the warmth and love coming from Allyson, but he can't escape his story. They're equal, but opposites. Victim and perpetrator. A Gen Z echo of Michael and Laurie. It's no accident that for the first time in a long time, Corey comes out of his shell - after being invited to a Halloween party by Allyson - he's wearing a mask.
Unfortunately for Corey, the mother of the accidentally murdered boy is sitting at the bar, and she won't let him so easily forget. She, like Laurie, isn't about to let the wounds heal. Gone is the smiling, costumed woman from the opening scene, and in its place, is a frail drunk, rotted to the core. She spots Corey at the end of the bar, with his cavalier, carefree attitude, sipping a beer. (Look at that. Corey finally gets a drink, but it ain't no chocolate milk, it's a Budweiser. Isn't that narratively satisfying?!). Corey quickly leaves the party, letting Allyson know that everyone in Haddonfield feels sorry for her, but for him. It's not so easy; he's a murderer. He's a monster. He's a boogeyman.
So Corey leaves the party and wanders the streets of Haddonfield alone, angry, and trapped. I love how Green subtly changes Haddonfield from a small town, with cottage-like homes, into a post-industrial, cold, lonely place. Gone are the 50's Americana streets and cozy bars. In their place are concrete, wide open roads to nowhere, junkyards, and homeless encampments. It feels like a different place.
All it takes is one run-in with those weirdo bullies, where Corey takes Laurie's advice, and tries to fight back. It doesn't go so well for him. He's knocked off a bridge, by accident, by a group of teens who need something to fear. Corey falls, echoing the kid he kicked from the top of the stairs. Imagine that. Narrative symmetry. From the depths, Corey is dragged into the sewers, even lower, and face to face with The Shape himself.
This seems to be another point of contention with people. It takes 45 minutes for The Shape to show up, and when he does he's hiding in the sewer. People expected the unstoppable killing machine of Halloween Kills, while in the same breath, are confused as to how he's even alive. They're confused why he's in the sewer, beneath Haddonfield. Why isn't he out there, just killing, killing, killing? We enjoyed that pack of cigarettes. Light us up another!
You got that movie!
You got that movie eleven times!
And they still exist!
You can pick any of them out, and see that story!
Eleven different versions of it!
The Shape is in bad... uh... shape. He's a shadow of himself. Hidden behind a wall. At first, Corey is understandably horrified, but as he looks into the eyes of The Boogeyman, something stares back. There's a transference. And it's the first blatant hint at something magic, or supernatural happening here. Corey stumbles out of the sewer, frazzled, but electrified, and he kills for the first time. Something of an accident, less so than his first kill. But he's got blood on his hands now. You wanted a boogeyman? This is how you get a boogeyman.
Corey heads home, rushes past his overbearing mother, and like Peter Parker waking up from the spider bite, stares at himself in the mirror. He too, takes his glasses off. The eager, smiling young man is succumbing to the story the town has whispered about him. Allyson warned him at the hospital about infection, but it's too late now. Spiritual sepsis.
Halloween Ends is going somewhere new. It wants the audience to come along. But audience expectations, the comfort of the familiar is a little too strong. The whole reason I wanted to write about this trilogy was the response to David Gordon Green's follow-up to Halloween, The Exorcist: Believer. I haven't seen it, but the reviews were less than stellar. And they all seemed to have some air of, “Well, what did you expect from the guy who made Halloween Ends?” Every comment on Twitter, which I know, isn't real life, and most of the comments on articles, and message boards seemed to pretend that they weren't pumped by Halloween (2018). Like David Gordon Green made one movie you didn't like, and now he's a terrible filmmaker? You kill one kid accidentally and you can't escape that reputation. Sound familiar? Sound a little meta? Maybe.
Halloween Ends focuses on Corey's transformation and attempts to infect Allyson. It's Green diving headfirst into that Malick comparison, doing a little bit of a Badlands riff. It's also a little bit Christine. Corey's transformation is done so well, as he loses his glasses, trades his bicycle for a motorcycle, and fights back against the bullies, just like Laurie told him to, that Laurie sees it in him, in his eyes. She sees the rot, the evil, the boogeyman, and she realizes her mistake, putting these two together, but it's spiraling out of control, and once again, she's helpless to stop it.
By the end of the movie, those bully marching band geeks have been brutally murdered by Corey, who has become a more energized, new, REBOOT of The Shape. He's a bit more nimble, calculating, and motivated. He's reactionary, rather than an unstoppable force of nature. Corey's Boogeyman is more dangerous. If Michael Myers's original form is a projection of the fear of the unknown dancing under the covers of the safe, white suburbia of the 70s, Corey is the monster all that unbridled fear created. Frankenstein's fucking monster. Legacy. Inherited trauma.
Corey's final act is a showdown at the Strode house. He's going to do what Michael never could, never wanted to. He's going to kill Laurie Strode. He's going to end this fucking story. Halloween (2018) is exactly what you'd expect. Halloween Kills is the audience's monkey paw. Halloween Ends is an artist trying to escape the velocity of the Hollywood machine to give you something new. And just as quickly, he takes it away. After a quick bait and switch by Laurie, and an even quicker fight, Corey is on his last legs. And Laurie, part sarcastically, part honestly, begs him to kill her. But then there's a rattle from outside the door, as Allyson's car, with its broken muffler, pulls up in front of the house. And in one final act, knowing he'll never escape who he is, knowing the audience will never let him be the new Shape, Corey smiles and stabs himself in the neck.
You want to see a 60-something-year-old lady, what, like fight a 60-something-year-old serial killer, again, for the last time, for the last time last time? Fine. Michael shows up. He gets his mask back. Laurie and him do their little dance. In my theater, people cheered. They really wanted this. They wanted to watch Laurie win. They wanted The Boogeyman to die. Even though, every time he does, they're just waiting for him to come back.
Here is where David Gordon Green and Danny McBride might get their most meta, most fuck you-ish, most eye-rollingly bored by the Laurie Strode story. Laurie stands triumphant, with her granddaughter by her side, and they kill Michael Myers. Like really kill him. And it's not some big, grand finale, with fireworks, and a feeling of having overcome something. It's benign. It's boring. It's like mourning a person for a year before they finally succumb to their illness. The Strode women take turns, slowly, quietly, slicing at Michael's wrist. There is no energy to the scene. Enough with this fucking guy.
The Shape has been shot, stabbed with a knitting needle, knocked out of a window, exploded, hit by cars, knocked down wells, shot again, had his fingers sliced off, exploded again, decapitated, burned, stabbed, stabbed, stabbed, shot... yet, he keeps coming back. This man has been through a lot. The Shape never dies. Oh yeah? Laurie and Allyson parade his corpse through town, in a bizarre funeral procession, straight to that junkyard (which has to be littered with corpses, right?), and dump his body into a shredder. There's no question Moustapha, they killed The Shape.
Everything. Everywhere. All at Once.
Just recently, it was announced that there was a bidding war for the television rights to Halloween, to the Michael Myers story. Miramax, because somehow that's still a thing, beat out Blumhouse and A24, to take back Haddonfield. There are rumors of a whole cinematic universe being set up. Chugga chugga fucking moooooooooo.
And you know what? I'll watch it. Whatever stupid version or inspired version, or boring version of Halloween that comes next, I'll check it out because I'm a fan. I've been a fan since I was young, and saw Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers on television. My friendship with Mr. Story Screen himself, Michael Burdge, first started as we watched a recorded from TV, VHS version of Halloween II in his basement as preteens. I saw Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later in theaters, at 12 years old, with my 60-something neighbor, because no one would go with her, and no one would take me. I'm a fan. I'm a huge fan. The franchise is important to me.
I'm getting old. I'm getting tired. And I’m a fan, but I’m not a capital F fan.
Werner Herzog once said, “Give us adequate images. We lack adequate images, our civilization doesn't have adequate images. And I think our civilization is doomed, is gonna die out like dinosaurs if it does not develop an adequate language or adequate images.”
And I can already hear your eyes scratching your skull as they roll backward. At least that's what I expect. Great, you're thinking to yourselves, or at least I'm thinking you're thinking to yourselves, another film bro talking about Herzog. And I get the inclination, but it's part of the problem. It's anti-intellectualism; an argument with no words. Who’s having that argument? Is it you or me? Yeah, I read Infinite Jest, and I fucking liked it. Leave me alone.
So what does Herzog mean here? Who cares. I'm pretty sure he was talking about the “truth” of the documentary or something like that. Who cares. He said it, gave it to us, and it's ours to take however we want. It's mine to take however I want. Go ahead and read it again, what do you think he's talking about? Good. You're probably right. I hate artist statements. Never read them. I never want to know what the artist intended. If Catcher in the Rye makes me want to assassinate a public figure, it’s my problem, not theirs. What the hell am I talking about?
Film is art. And art is vastly overrated. Film is entertainment. And entertainment is necessary for the human psyche. Film is content. And content is mushing our brains. Film is film. And it's not that important, and it's all too important, and its importance is being overestimated, and undervalued. But at the end of the day, film, almost all film, and definitely, all mainstream film, is a product, created by corporations, scheming to get money, and your mind, hiding behind jester's privilege.
That adult man in the one-piece Wookie costume, screaming at the screen behind me during The Last Jedi is my boogeyman and I'm Laurie Strode. And we're both wrong. I sit at that trough, eating the slop along with the rest of you. Just because I think I'm wearing pants, and performatively using a spoon, doesn't make me any different. (And if that analogy doesn't work, I don't think I have much more to give you. We're reaching the end of this thing. Oink oink.) We've all turned film watching into a spectator sport, and a speculative market. We've turned it into politics. We've turned it into a two-party system. Or at least we've been tricked into it. And I think we need to stop.
What I do think is that something is broken. After generations of counterculture identities being churned up, and vomited back at us by the capitalist machine, we gave up and gave in. There's no fighting fire with fire. So we'll be the brand before they can make us the brand. Graphic tees, cosplay, Funko Pops, and sequels, escapism for escapism's sake. Ready Player One? What do you collect? Oh, so do I! Look how much collection I have. Is it better than yours? Did you know Viggo broke his toe in this scene? Name three of their albums. Who does a therapist go to when they need to talk to someone?
It's pumpkins all the way down, folks. I just wrote who knows how many words about entries in a past its prime franchise, talking down to an invisible audience that probably doesn't exist, to prop myself up. I'm the main character of this story, and I have to stop that Wookie. Because I'm a fan. I'm an entitled, entangled, addicted fan.
What bugs me so much, and the response to these very entertaining, very well-made Halloween movies are emblematic of, is the entitlement, and the stagnation. The sweaty-mouthed heroin addict begging for a hit and blaming the dealer when the high just ain't the same. This whole world is changing so fast, so chaotically, and the capitalist machine has trained us so well to salivate at the ringing of a bell, and that bell is nostalgia, and that bell is same same.
When I was young I got into comic books, like really into comic books, like thousands and thousands of dollars into comic books. I spent almost two decades collecting and obsessing. Sunk cost fallacy. I had been doing it so long, so habitually, that I didn't realize my own dissatisfaction with the hobby. I blamed the writers, the editorial, the artist, and worst of all, I blamed all the new fans. I was there before superheroes went mainstream you know! All of you are fakes! You're ruining it!
What I came to realize, however, is I changed. I grew. It's inevitable. It's what happens. There wasn't something wrong with comics. They just weren't for me anymore. And they weren't going to be. At least, not the monolithic idea of being a comic fan, of being a nerd. So I started to focus on what I actually liked about comics, which writers I liked, and what stories I liked. And a whole new world opened up to me. I dropped the pride, and the need to label myself as a nerd, as a comic nerd. That label, mostly self-imposed, pressured me into keeping up appearances, and it was sort of comfortable to wear as a costume. And we do it all the time.
Case in point: Barbenheimer. Remember that? At first, it was an organic, sort of ironic, internet meme, that turned into a full-blown event. Which are you, team Barbie or team Oppenheimer? Barbie wears pink. Oppenheimer is gray. Which are you seeing first? What are you wearing? It's a feminist screed! It's a toy commercial! It's ignoring the devastation of the nuclear bomb! It’s a masterpiece by an artist at the height of his craft! You got a take? You got a take? Who's got a take? Put on your high heels, and your tweed jacket, we're going to the cinema! How embarrassing.
And who am I to take the helium out of someone's balloon? People were having fun! But it all seemed a little ghoulish. It all seemed a little too manipulative. It all seemed a little too like Invasion of the Body Snatchers, where the pods are PR firms, and the people are living, breathing commercials. We are what we eat. Oink oink oink.
It just felt like all that fanfare got in the way of any actual discourse about the movies. And maybe that’s okay. Maybe the discourse isn’t that important. But when our identities get so tied up in the idea of the thing, in the idea of the product, honesty is hard to stomach and it’s harder to speak. If you got swept up in the pageantry of Barbie and Oppenheimer, got all dressed up, got all your friends together, spent all that money, and the movies truly sucked, could you say that out loud? Could you admit you were tricked? What if they were just okay? Could we allow them to be that? After all that buildup and meme sharing, and identity, tied to products, to commercialism… After all that, can you even be honest about what you just experienced?
But, I guess, does that even matter?
Film is entertainment. Film is a product. Film shouldn’t be our identity. No pop culture should. And all of it… Television, film, music… All of it should be honestly assessed, and honestly allowed to be okay. Not the greatest thing you’ve ever experienced. Not the worst thing you’ve ever sat through. Sometimes, okay is best. Chicken soup, vanilla ice cream, Police Academy 2: Their First Assignment. And it’ll never take away from how you first felt. And it will never feel that way again. And sometimes, most of the time, it’ll feel that way only to you. Instead of sharing that feeling, or trying to share that feeling, we get mad. We get mad that someone doesn’t get it. I get mad. And we don’t try and share the joy. When someone gets that feeling, we want to snatch that joy. First to be right! First to prove you wrong! Kybar crystals! Lonnie Elam!
HOWEVER: There's a difference between a piece of art being bad, and a piece of art not being for a specific person. Not everything is for everyone. That's homogenization. That's repetition. That's fucking boring. And there is a real difference between being a fan of a brand and being a fan of art. Some people can be both. And neither one is better, or worse than the other. And both can be real fucking snobs about it. But when those two sides start arguing, using the same words, but speaking a different language, things get ridiculous.
There is a video that went viral from TikTok recently. It's of two self-proclaimed nerds, surrounded by nerd ephemera, talking about Killers of the Flower Moon. Scorsese is back, and he had the gall to make a 3.5-hour film. Who the hell does he think he is? In the video, these two self-proclaimed nerds share their opinion of Scorcese's new flick, and it's an actual shrug. They talk about Marty's likening of Marvel films to carnival rides, and how when choosing between art and entertainment, they always choose entertainment. And these two self-proclaimed nerds had the gall to release this clip to the internet. Who do they think they are?
The backlash was fierce.
You can find the video pretty easily, and I'm not going to share it here. I don't really see a huge difference between what they're doing and what I'm doing. I had the gall to write this unfocused slop. Who the hell do I think I am? They're allowed to like what they like. They're young, and I don't envy their generation, and the generation after them, having their coming of age be a performance. Thank god the only things I had access to twenty years ago were Ain't It Cool News talkbacks and alt.newsgroups.
The thing is, they're not stupid, just ignorant. That might sound harsh, and I'm sorry if it is. They don't like movies, they like Marvel. And that’s because they don’t have the language for film. They don’t really watch film. They don’t really want to watch film. They are ignorant to the wider spectrum and experiences film has to offer. Maybe they’re closed off to it. Maybe they don’t care. They want to watch Spider-Man. They want to see Easter eggs. They want the familiar, and recognizable. I guess that's okay. They may get there. They may not. They want to be entertained. Those two self-proclaimed nerds don’t realize, they are so convinced, that art and entertainment are separate. Art is boring and hard. Entertainment is fun. They don’t want to learn anything else, and they’ve probably dug their heels in too deep after being ridiculed and lectured for so long by a bunch of pompous, pretentious film nerds.
There is a great interview with Paul Thomas Anderson on Charlie Rose, from all the way back in 1997. I think I saw it clipped and shared as an Instagram Reel. Talk about lowbrow! He’s talking about film school and how it’s a waste of time, saying that it’s overly pretentious. He talks about sitting in a screenwriting class, and the teacher telling the class that anyone who wants to write Terminator 2 can leave now. And how dangerous, how shitty of a thing that is. But the best part is, when he talks about film education doing it backward, starting with Battleship Potemkin and working forward, when you should start with Terminator and work backward. You don’t hand a two-year-old The Brothers Karamazov (I’ve never read it.), you give them The Very Hungry Caterpillar. I think about that a lot.
When people went to see Halloween Ends, they didn't want a movie, they wanted Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. I guess, that's okay too. I think part of the failure of Halloween Ends in the public’s eye, was its marketing. The trailer sold the product as some epic showdown between Laurie and The Shape. Again, to me, seeing two geriatrics with little to no connection besides happenstance in a 40-year story held no appeal to me. What does that even look like? It probably looks like the last half hour of Halloween (2018). If I want to see their showdown I’ll watch that. Or Halloween, or Halloween 2, or Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later. Or either of Rob Zombie’s Halloweens. Those still exist. Those are still there.
But David Gordon Green and Danny McBride’s trilogy went out of its way to set up its story and its themes. With each entry, it opened wider and wider, showing that Laurie and her trauma wasn’t the point, and in a lot of ways, Laurie was part of the problem by thinking it was about her. That Michael/The Story was the rot on Haddonfield/The Franchise, and Laurie/The Audience can’t see past that. And that’s one interpretation, that I saw, and I find it interesting. And Green used every film technique in his arsenal, and it’s not even that subtle, to traverse multiple genres, and somehow, give a little for everybody. And it works! I really don’t care what you think, it really does work! The cinematography is gorgeous, the set pieces elaborate and precise, the growth, and exploration of different versions of horror is ambitious as hell, and kind of crazy, and it really fucking works. It’s interesting! It’s at least more interesting than “The Boogeyman is not stabby-stabby enough.”
Halloween has been around for 40 years, and it will continue to be around, and god help us, I’m sure there will be another entry about Laurie Strode. If you want the “McDonalds Travis Scott” meal, they’re gonna give it to you. The same items that are always available rearranged to seem like something new that you can get swept up in the hype for, and buy once again.
But to me that’s boring. And it’s not adequate in its images, which is also why I think The Last Jedi is a bit confused in its messaging. Kylo Ren is fucking right. That last act swerve back to cackling villainy almost pretty much cancels out how right he is. Let the past die! Kill it if you have to! Evil dies tonight!
Film is a craft, and I know from experience how fucking insane it is that any movie gets made, let alone a decent one, let alone, let alone an original one, and decent one. It takes a lot of people working with, and mostly against a lot of people to make that shit happen. And there is a difference between being disappointed by your own expectations, and being disappointed by a team of people, practicing their craft poorly. That might sound a little “appeal to authorityish,” and maybe, it is. I’m just saying, you can't be mad at a cheeseburger because it's a bad bowl of soup. Or at least you can’t criticize it for that.
And if you do criticize, if you want to have that conversation, you better be ready to back it up with more than, “I was expecting soup! I prefer soup!” And that goes both ways. Maybe that cheeseburger is a bad bowl of soup. I’m willing to be convinced. I’m willing to be wrong. That’s the best part of film fandom, and film discourse, and wasting our time with this deluge of pop culture we’re swimming in; being wrong. Wanting to learn more. When you open yourself up to film, or any art form for that matter, without expectations, without preconceived notions, you are opening yourself up to being truly, and frequently surprised. And for that you have to take it way less seriously, and be a little bit more serious in the way you watch, the why you watch; the way you consume, the why you consume. Maybe two buns, a meat patty, and a slice of cheese is subversion of the concept of soup. Maybe it’s satire. Maybe I had one more bad analogy to close this thing out with. Who knows.
Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi and David Gordon Green/Danny McBride's Halloween are good films. They're well-made, well-written spins on overly familiar products. And while I understand someone’s disappointment in the surprise, especially in the case of Halloween Ends, I can’t get behind saying something is bad because it isn’t what you thought it’d be, when it’s really good at being what it was supposed to be.
The fandom response, the angry, entitled negative response is almost never about the craft. It's disappointment in expectations. It's bad because Luke didn't rush in and save the day. It's bad because The Shape didn't show up, and kill enough people. It's bad because it's not the movie I saw in my head, the fanfic I've been writing for years. It’s bad because I dedicated myself, my identity, and a chunk of my life to thinking this story, this malleable, moldable story, was always going to be the same. Heracles becomes Hercules. Constantinople becomes Istanbul. And some people can’t handle that. Sunk cost fallacy. New Coke will go back to being Coke Classic.
And that's bad. It's bad for everyone. It's openly admitting you don't like to be challenged, you don't like to be uncomfortable, and you don't want anything different. Weirder yet, while saying the quiet part out loud, you don't even hear it. Or they don't. That Wookie man. It’s not permanent. It’s not forever. The Big Mac ain’t ever leaving the menu. And you just accept the Big Mac as perfect because it’s what you know. And we’ll never find out if it’s not because you won’t let anyone try anything new. You won’t get excited about failure.
There’s nothing better than failure. There is nothing better than experimentation. Where do you think the Big Mac even came from? Don’t you remember the Star Wars Holiday Special? Don’t you remember Halloween: Resurrection?
I'm not saying we all need to be film nerds. God knows we have too many of those. I think I'm saying we need to stop arguing in different languages. And we need to start admitting we might have a problem. There's no reason for those kids to go viral except for people to smugly point out the obvious, which is even more pathetic. There's no reason for this excessive, unfocused bit of writing. But I'm old and tired. It's okay if I'm pathetic.
We’ve happily become the content. And we’re defining ourselves as such. And we’re concerned more about the discourse, about our reaction, about the expectations we bring in, and the overwhelming din of inescapable public opinion, manipulated, capitalist-driven public opinion, than escaping into what can sometimes be art. And that Wookie man, whoever he is, to me, is a problem, waiting for his turn to speak rather than listening to what someone is saying.
It’s insane to me that in a world of pop culture that is currently so obsessed with the concept of multiverses, where every version of the product as story exists all at once, and sometimes smashes together… It’s insane to me that some people can’t accept it’s all up for grabs, and none of it matters, except when it does. And you get to make that decision. There’s always another version. There’s always fanfiction.
If you want to be into the product, label yourself as such, be a Marvel-theorizing, cameo-loving nerd, and go for it. But have a little self-awareness. Know what you’re buying, that you are in fact buying, and that you are buying in. Each little hit of dopamine as you escape from the chaotic, changing world comes with diminishing returns. Especially when you set yourself up for disappointment. Stop hoping something is going to be what you think it should be, creating expectations to be met. Cinema Sins and 38 Easter Eggs You Might’ve Missed in the Priscilla Trailer, or whatever, has broken your brain. Stop shaking the Christmas presents. Just unwrap them and take them as they are. Sometimes it’ll be socks. Socks are cozy. Enjoy the fucking socks!
And if you want to be the deep-cut searching, VHS collecting, whispering trivia during the movie, “That's a nice shot” kind of film nerd, then go for that too. But stop banging your head against the wall defending Scorcese every time someone asks his opinion on The Fantastic Four or whatever. That adult man in the one-piece Wookie costume is always going to care about that. You’re probably not going to change his mind. More Tarkovsky for you!
There’s no there, there. Kylo Ren/Rey. The Shape/Laurie. Travis Scott/Michael Winslow.
We need to manage our expectations. Of art. Of film. Of Big Macs. Of each other.
I definitely need to.
Enjoy the entertainment.
I'm not the main character.
This story is not mine.
Oink. Oink Oink.
Object to the Hollywood film and you’re an intellectual snob, object to the avant-garde films and you’re a Philistine. But, while in Hollywood, one must often be a snob; in avant-garde circles one must often be a Philistine.
--- Pauline Kael
Who You Gonna Call?
In 2015, before the Trump Presidency and after The Office aired its series finale, it was announced that Paul Feig was taking the helm of an all-new, all-different Ghostbusters. It was going to be a gender-swapped reimaging, teaming Paul Feig with his Bridesmaid star Kristen Wiig, and frequent collaborator, Melissa McCarthy. Along for the ride were SNL alums Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. Written by Paul Feig and Katie Dippold, this was to be a new start for the franchise that had started and sputtered for nearly two decades. Things started out promising, and then...
Brian Bernard Murnane
A Prop Master, Art pirate, and freelance writer located in Glendale, California. Good at pinball,
bad at first impressions, worse at conversation. He also has a Letterboxd account, but he won't share that here. You've seen his work primarily on commercials that annoy you when you're watching Hulu.