Tuesday, October 18, 2022

To Live and Die in Haddonfield

Unlike fellow slasher franchises Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm StreetHalloween has never had an entry up till now that explicitly billed itself as the "final chapter." Even H20 wasn't promoted that way, which is why even the sight of Jamie Lee Curtis lopping off Michael's head in that film didn't convince anyone that Halloween was over. As much as it looked final, no one was buying it. Even a close-up of Michael's severed head lying on the ground was met with the unanimous reaction of "Eh, he'll be back." 

Halloween Ends, though, makes the most forceful, most unambiguous statement it can that, for real, this is it. As the first Halloween to promise to end Michael Myers once and for all, Ends lives up to its title, providing arguably the most definitive death of any major slasher icon. Michael ain't getting up from this one. He is fucking done, people. You know, at least until the next Halloween.

Yes, as dead as Michael is here, there will be more Halloweens and more of Michael Myers. This is such a certainty that it's ridiculous to pretend otherwise. It doesn't matter whether Ends is a hit or a bomb, that's not going to affect anything. Bottom line is that the rights holders are always going to be looking to exploit this iconic property. Wondering whether or not the Akkad family is going to make more Halloween movies is like wondering whether the Broccoli family will ever get tired of producing Bond films. Franchises like this are eternal so it's just a matter of time before Michael hits the streets of Haddonfield again. 

There is no deception, however, about whether Ends is closing the book on this particular chapter of the series. It is, it does and it does not cop out on that one bit. To its credit, Ends doesn't even offer a last minute wink to the audience to let them know that, oh, it's not really over. This is not like Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter where the final moments of that film revealed the title to be a cynical joke all along. No, director David Gordon Green brings his trilogy to an authentic, sincere, no fooling conclusion here. All it's really ending, though, is Laurie Strode's journey. It's just that Michael has to die (at least in this timeline) for Laurie to move on. As long as the audience believes there's even the slimmest of chances that Michael Myers might return on some other October 31st to come, even if it's when both of these characters are in their 90's, no one is going to feel that Laurie is truly free and clear.

So that's what Halloween Ends gives us: true closure. That alone gives it a special distinction among horror franchises, which are defined by their open ended nature. Unlike Laurie's lackluster previous "final" appearance in 2002's Halloween: Resurrection, this represents a much more fitting farewell for her. No matter what people may think about Ends as a whole, everyone will be able to agree that it leaves no unfinished business for Laurie. Her life when the end credits roll on this is now 100% boogeyman free. 

The immediate reaction to Ends has been split between "It's weird, I hate it" and "It's weird, I love it!" You can put me in the latter camp but I do sympathize with the former. This is the series' most defiantly oddball entry since Season of the Witch (whose blue title font is used here, giving an early indication that this will be a Halloween entry that's willing to throw a curve ball to the fanbase) and I commend director David Gordon Green and his Ends co-writers Paul Brad Logan, Chris Bernier, and Danny McBride, for not paying any mind to expectations. In a pop culture environment where there is often an overriding impulse to play it safe and just give the audience what they want, there is something wonderfully refreshing about a movie that is so unconcerned with that. Whatever you might think of Ends, you can't say they didn't put a premium on the creative process. This trilogy has been Green and co.'s chance to play in the sandbox of a franchise that they clearly love and I appreciate that they just fucking ran with it.   

There's a time jump of several years here so we get no direct follow up to the ending of Kills. Laurie's daughter Karen (Judy Greer) was murdered at the end of that film but we don't see the immediate aftermath of that. When we do catch up with present day Laurie, she's moved on as best she can. She's in the best place mentally that we've seen her in since the new trilogy began. As opposed to the grim, obsessed hard case she was in 2018's Halloween and Kills, she's more of a wacky grandma now. She's living in a new house with her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) and their place is located in the middle of Haddonfield, rather than being a fortified fortress in the middle of nowhere. Laurie is also writing a memoir about her survivor's story and Michael has neither reared his head nor (as far as anyone knows) plunged his butcher knife into anyone since that bloody Halloween night in 2018. 

He is still around, though, just living a less glamorous life in Haddonfield's sewer system. No more fancy mental institutions for this guy. Whether it's due to age, injury or just a simple lack of get up and go, the mass slaughter days of old are over for Mad Mike (to be fair, after the body count he racked up in Kills he's earned the right to kick back). But when Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), a young man who had been involved in the accidental death of the boy he was babysitting on Halloween night in 2019, finds himself within Michael's reach after an encounter with some local bullies leaves Corey lying close to Michael's lair, a strange partnership is formed. Rather than killing Corey after dragging him into the drain pipe entrance to his present digs, Michael, through some kind of psychic bond, taps into the darkness inside of Corey and vice versa. Michael lets Corey go but some of Michael's essence goes with him. Complicating matters is the fact that prior to Corey and Michael making their connection, Laurie had introduced Corey to Allyson and a romance between the two immediately sparked. 

I imagine there could have been a more conventional version of Ends that would have checked off most of the boxes for fans but this isn't it. Rather than Laurie turning Haddonfield inside out on the hunt for Michael (a move that would only have undermined the emotional growth that Laurie has experienced and prove that she learned absolutely nothing from the previous two films) or Michael actively pursuing Laurie (which would make no sense as this trilogy has established that Michael does not care about Laurie whatsoever or even possess an understanding of who she is), we get a movie where Michael's evil insidiously creeps back into Laurie's life as she senses Michael's darkness lurking inside this unassuming boy that her granddaughter is dating. I know this has some fans all up in arms but I dig it. A coming of age romance with twisted undertones isn't the usual Halloween fare but it works for me. Allyson and Corey both have a burning resentment towards the town that they feel has wronged them or has stolen something from them and the grievances they share and their resentment towards Haddonfield draws them together, even though Allyson is unaware of the dark path that Corey is on. Is she going to save him? Is he going to pull her deeper into his darkness? There's a real sense of unpredictability when it comes to Allyson and Corey's relationship. Things could go several different ways. It doesn't seem completely impossible that Allyson, troubled in her own way as she is, could get on board with where Corey's going rather than run the other way. 

For his part, Corey is torn between his feelings for Allyson and the addictive sense of empowerment that feeding off/teaming up with Michael gives him. Like the character of Arnie Cunningham from Christine (the King novel and its John Carpenter adaptation) that Corey shares a surname with, his exposure to Michael has brought a new sense of confidence and a cool but sinister swagger to this previously awkward and shy guy who was used to being pushed around by the scary toughs of the local high school marching band (I find this to be a truly great touch in that it really shows just how pathetic Corey's life is - he lives in fear of fucking band kids). The people of Haddonfield were by and large not kind to Corey after the 2019 incident, making him into the town's new boogeyman in the wake of Michael's disappearance, and so siphoning off Michael's power (if in fact that's what's happening as whatever transference is taking place between Corey and Michael is so ambiguously stated that it's hard to define) is a way to strike back at the town that has treated him like a pariah. Whereas the rampages Michael went on in Halloween '18 and Kills were ones where generally random innocents were the victims, Ends plays out as a full on revenge spree with Corey taking out the most deserving douchebags of Haddonfield. As opposed to Michael, where no matter how brutally he's hacking someone up, you never sense his pulse rate rises, Corey is all rage, delivering some of the nastiest kills of the series.

When you have a slasher series that has reached double digit installments, the question you need to ask yourself is "why am I still watching this?" If you're just hanging in there because you're still hoping to finally see them make a perfect Xerox of the original, call it a day and move on. Especially with Halloween, a series that from the jump has gone in so many different directions, nearly all of which have violated the spirit of the original. For all the various branching timelines of the Halloween series, the only timeline that actually means anything when it comes to Halloween is the 91 minute running time of the original. That's it. All you need from Halloween begins and ends there. Everything beyond that is a different kind of ride and what you get out of the other films depends on how much you're willing to roll with the swerves they take. From the start, you had to be prepared to let go of what Halloween was in order to enjoy the films that carried on its name.

Even though its screenplay was penned by Carpenter himself along with the great Debra Hill, 1981's Halloween II was a travesty when it came to staying true to the first movie. It abandoned the original's largely bloodless approach and injected hardcore '80s-style splatter, it swapped out the mystery of Michael Myers' boogeyman nature in exchange for goofy occult nonsense (which only opened the door for more occult nonsense to come), and it torpedoed the randomness of Michael targeting Laurie and her friends in favor of a lazily conceived familial connection straight out of a shitty soap opera. All of these were indefensible, garbage choices. But is Halloween II still a fun slasher movie? Yes, of course! Point is that from early on, it was clear that the Halloween sequels were never going to be what Halloween had been. If anything, they didn't waste any time actively trashing what made Halloween special. So if you're going to appreciate them, you have to just put Halloween aside and judge the rest of the series based on its own separate criteria. 

If someone thinks what Green and co. have done in the new trilogy, and specifically in Ends, is some kind of unprecedented betrayal of Halloween, that just says to me they don't remember what it was like when there was only one Halloween. Michael being Laurie's brother, now that was a betrayal. The first and the worst of them. Nothing else compares. Certainly not the idea of Michael transferring his evil to another person, which is actually pretty standard stuff for the sequels. The whole Thorn trilogy was centered on the idea that Michael's evil could be passed on to someone else. I don't know, if they had the Thorn symbol appear on Corey's wrist, would that have helped some fans wrap their head around this movie? I have to wonder what Halloween films they've been watching that Ends can throw them like it has.

As someone old enough to have watched in real time the unlikely arc of slasher sequels like Friday the 13th: A New Beginning which went from being universally despised only to gain an enthusiastic cult following, I have to roll my eyes at the over the top negativity directed towards Ends. Hate it if you want but I'm telling you, I already know where this train is heading. If anyone thinks the same fandom that still obsessively compares the virtues of two separate, and pretty much equally lousy, versions of The Curse of Michael Myers, won't come to find value in Ends, a movie actually made with real craft and an attention to detail that will reward repeated viewings, I don't know what to tell you. 

Even though we know another Halloween will come along at some point, it might be a long while until we find out when that will be. In the meantime, I'm happy to let Ends sit and be savored. I think fans need to spend some time with this one and let it sink in. I wouldn't say that everything about Green's trilogy landed as well as it could have but I dug the crazy chances and the big swings that Green took across all three films.

Above all, these movies performed the much needed service of finally freeing Michael Myers from the tedious task of pursuing his bloodline. Not only did they erase the family connection between Laurie and Michael but this trilogy re-established an aspect of Michael Myers that had been lost since the original, the fact that he is pure, unknowable evil. Whenever he encounters Laurie, it's never about a personal vendetta on his part, it's only because some outside intervention caused it to happen. Even at the end, Michael only goes to Laurie's house because he wants to retrieve his mask from Corey (it's so fitting, even poetic, that this is ultimately what leads to his downfall). That Laurie is there is purely incidental. Michael doesn't attack her because it's Laurie, he attacks her because she's there and nothing more. 

Whether it be the true crime podcasters who naively tried to provoke a reaction from Michael, or Dr. Sartain who thought he could safely study an unleashed Michael, or Laurie who spent years wrongly convinced that Michael must surely be as obsessed with her as she was with him, or the mob who recklessly pursued Michael at the cost of their lives, or Corey who believed he could transform like a black butterfly into Michael's equal, the folly of attempting to understand Michael, or grasp the extent of what he was capable of, was the central element of this trilogy. Over the course of three films, characters underestimate Michael at their own peril and the mistake they all make is that they believe they are dealing with a man. The citizens of Haddonfield preside over Michael's physical destruction at the conclusion of Ends but the mystery of what was inside of him remains intact. What Green and his collaborators understood throughout their time in Haddonfield is that the only sure way to destroy the boogeyman is to try and explain him.  

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