Nothing will ever beat my first theatrical experience watching the Halloween reboot in 2018. I went into the theater with no serious expectations for the film, joined by a dear friend of mine from college who loves the franchise. He proceeded to sneak an entire six-pack of IPAs under his shirt, got drunk, and started screaming “f*cking boomers ruin everything” at the screen repeatedly and disrupting the audience around us. I was slightly embarrassed but it was still more entertaining than the movie.
I say this because audience expectations are sensitive things. People go into movies with wants, desires, and hopes for what their favorite characters and stories will grow into with each subsequent iteration—even in a franchise like Halloween which has long since delivered nothing but diminishing returns over its twelve sequels since 1978.
In this case, the rebooted Halloween started off on a weak foot and my buddy sensed the film was a boomer power fantasy about elderly characters unrealistically fighting their way through scenarios that would otherwise set off their pacemakers and throw out their hips.
Horror movies are interesting on that front because audiences go into the genre with very specific desires and expectations for what the films should be and how they go about accomplishing them. For the most part, audiences reward gore and violence with high ticket sales—even when the stories necessary to create these features are particularly brutal.
Last year’s Halloween Kills ended on one of the bleakest notes I’ve seen in a recent horror film. After a long, self-serious story about the small town of Haddonfield, Illinois descending into mob madness and attempting to kill the slasher villain Michael Myers in cold blood—causing an innocent man to commit suicide after being wrongly accused of being the killer—the wounded Myers stands right back up again in true slasher villain fashion and murders the entire crowd.
Evil cannot be beaten with more evil, as it is made more powerful–and the audience is rewarded with one of the largest bloodbaths in recent cinema. It’s a morbid experience, which may be appropriate for October given that the modern rendition of Halloween is obsessed with death and morbidity, but it speaks to modern audiences’ lust for slasher villain violence.
Halloween Kills and the newest entry Halloween Ends, released this month, are an interesting study of what audiences want out of the genre, as the newest entry initially shies away from excessive gore and has surprisingly been awarded a lower 57% audience review on Rotten Tomatoes.
The newest film actually sets itself apart from the franchise by leaning into an original story and story concept, following a young man down the path of evil after a confrontation with the mysterious slasher villain effectively sets him on the path to becoming the town’s newest serial killer.
The movie is set four years after the events of the prior two movies in the trilogy. Michael Myers has disappeared for four years but his presence and survival has left the town of Haddonfield in a state of paranoia and mistrust. When a babysitter named Corey Cunningham accidentally lets a child die on his watch, he becomes a pariah and finds himself rejected by the rest of the town who fear that his accidental manslaughter is putting him on the path to becoming more dangerous.
Laurie and Michael are mostly pushed to the edge of the narrative so Corey can become the story’s core. Myers has retreated to the sewers where he has evidently laid mostly dormant until he decides to pass along his powers to Corey in a freak confrontation that sets him down a dark path of revenge and hatred.
Halloween Ends comes closest of the three films to actually live up to the ideas that the Blumhouse trilogy is trying to explore, given that the first film tried to be a larger meditation on long-term trauma and the nature of evil. The newest film actually feeds these ideas into its story in a way that isn’t totally exploitation (until the final ten minutes).
Pulling back from that story has also given the movie a negative reputation, despite the fact that it is the most interesting film in the franchise since Halloween H20 for the very reason that it wants to tell a different story and do something unique. Audiences don’t want unique, though. They want a conventional Halloween movie where Michael Myers slays his way through an army of innocent civilians.
As one of my GeeksUnderGrace colleagues wrote, “Kills is thematically shallow but very on brand. End is thematically strong, but very off brand.”
I am far from a puritan in my movie watching so I can’t complain that these movies are too violent but it doesn’t speak too well of this genre fascination that the audience’s first desire is to reward the desolation of humanity and innocence for entertainment. Horror and violence have their places in storytelling—tools for stories about meaning and the things that threaten life and human dignity.
Genuinely good horror stories don’t relish in anti-humanism or treat the human body as something to be eviscerated. Such stories don’t raise above being mere murder porn or exploitation movies.
The Blumhouse Halloween trilogy certainly has pretensions to being a more serious exploration of evil, trauma, and death but the sheer energy that the films put into watching Michael Myers murder innocent women and children shows that these movies are playing to audience desires for gore to the point that they’re undermining their own stories.
Modernity has afforded society a great deal of peace and it isn’t surprising that people want to experience things in their art and entertainment that recreate genuine human experiences that they don’t feel in their banal lives. Real experience shows this to be foolhardy. A generation of young romantic men went off to war in 1914 and came back traumatized beyond belief by the experience of war. Violence of this sort is all fun and games until you start to empathize with the people being slaughtered.
Watching movies that try to make you care for the poor innocent women and children being eviscerated should serve more purpose than the schlock we got. Halloween and Halloween Kills only establishes its characters just enough that you feel the gut punch of watching them being skull crushed or stabbed to death. The result just ends up being mostly nihilistic and depressing.
Then again, my generation also grew up watching Al Queida beheading videos and car crash footage on Live Leak. We are spoiled in our peacetime ways.