How to improve the Halloween franchise

The 2018 and 2021 Halloween films were garbage. No burying the lede here.

Halloween 2018 lacked atmosphere, dispensed with a character’s mobile in the most hackneyed and embarrassing way, threw in podcasting (because true crime is popular) and asked an audience to believe that podcasters, rather than dispassionate academics or clinicians, would be allowed to freely saunter into an asylum and goad a notorious killer with tools of his trade.

Both films were an exercise in cynical, bad faith fan service, loads of exposition as a hedge against an audience perhaps unfamiliar with the 1978 original. And in the recent film, to keep the old guard happy, Blumhouse folks decided on shoe-horning in a bunch of original faces from 1978 and getting them to meet in the least likely of locales: a bar (as opposed to say, a victims of trauma church basement get together) and on the least likely of days, October 31.

And in the case of Halloween Kills at least, the end-result is a bunch of strung-together vignette/set pieces showcasing a bunch of kills (and a bunch of different people) absent telling an actual cohesive story. Well, that’s not wholly correct. The characters actually TELL a story by rehashing events from 40 years ago, or worse, by talking about what’s happening now.

We’re supposed to be invested in Tommy Doyle, a survivor of that fateful night decades ago. Never in the history of drinking, have pub denizens been so enraptured by a karaoke/open mic talent night campfire-style updating of a decades old, unsolved murder case. It’s an absurd, nonsensical way to introduce a character. And not just that, it goes counter to what made Halloween great in the first place: that nobody knew what was going on, but that there were reports of a supernatural figure lurking in the shadows killing people.

Though it’s too late for the folks at Blumhouse, we all know that future films will be disregarding the events of the 2018 and 2021 incarnations, especially once there’s a buck to be made, and once Halloween Ends disappoints (and you have our personal guarantee that it will).

So, onward. Some suggestions for better ways to have approached the material, respecting the irreplaceable original, while keeping its mystique intact.

A real “new” Loomis

Since Donald Pleasence was our resident expert, it makes sense to replace him (but not in the case of 2018, when it makes a potentially interesting replacement wholly disposable). Here’s a thought: have a new crop of Haddonfield clinicians “move on” from Loomis, and disparage the old doc’s research and pronouncements about Michael being “pure evil.” So, the “new” Loomis says the original clinical research is valuable, and is immediately pitted against academic colleagues, biological determinists who claim recent pharmaceutical interventions are foolproof and that those, in combination with strict behavioural modification therapy, have paid dividends for 40 years. This provides some nice tension, because you have unheeded calls from an expert (“new” Loomis) whose expertise is questioned by academic colleagues who think his research methodologies are suspect and who tell the police to ignore it.

True Crime Tour

Whether it’s Dahmer in Milwaukee or the veritable cottage industry of Jack the Ripper tours in London, these kinds of excursions provide a more natural way to provide some exposition. But not just that: they’re populated by true crime pedants and amateur sleuths who could provide their own theories about the real origins of Michael Myers, who had, like BTK, been dormant for a lengthy stretch. Did he change his identity upon release? What happened to him at Haddonfield Memorial? Was he subjected to experimental treatments? Was he imprisoned elsewhere? Did he flee the country? Does he even exist at all?

Better yet, once the tours disband the people can be left to explore on their own and can be systematically picked off by The Shape. Myers works best when he’s lurking in the shadows.

It also makes sense to originate these tours from nearby Chicago, which has the added bonus of creating a little bit of rural/urban tension between Haddonfield residents who want to be left alone and not have their peaceful little town exploited. There’s also potential for creating dramatic tension between townie detectives and Chicago PD, creating overlapping jurisdiction issues.

Michael Myers’ story

With Jack the Ripper, pundits linked the notorious Whitechapel murderer to the Royals, and basically generated a wealth of plausible and implausible scenarios. You could even have FBI profilers posit a bunch of scenarios, further creating tension between Haddonfield’s resident experts and input from outside. By making their efforts fruitless, it can keep John Carpenter’s original filmic vision of Myers being a supernatural force, rather than a run-of-the-mill spree killer or Jason copycat like he is in Halloween Kills.

Laurie Strode’s PTSD

The one aspect that Halloween 2018 got right from a narrative perspective was Laurie Strode’s decline thanks to the events of 1978. She can remain shell-shocked from the events of that fateful night and finally reconnect with a “new” Loomis (or perhaps even one of the more reputable true crime tour guides) as a united front against Haddonfield’s resident experts, perhaps after a couple of podcasters question her sanity or whether her account of The Shape is even trustworthy.

A wingnut Tommy Doyle

Tommy was the kid under Laurie’s care in the first film. Instead of having him be a community organizer, and helping galvanize a public against Myers, it’s more interesting to have him be some kind of crank, exploiting his connection to the case and putting forward unreliable, or stupid theories and having him be an obstacle to Laurie. This can be a way to further divide Haddonfield residents…who are you, Team Laurie or Team Tommy?

Hawkins

The original responding officer from the first Halloween, can be living his life in retirement on the other side of the country putting the events of that night behind him, being a reluctant hero now or just staying as far away from the proceedings as humanly possible. Can also make him a conspiracy theorist saying that The Shape was a government creative, and being gently urged into retirement by spinning wild theories.

The Halloween house

The structure could be slated for redevelopment as part of a condo project, or could be shown by real estate agents. Hell, it could be an Air B’n’B listing. After all, enough time has passed for this to still be considered notorious.

Revisiting Hostel

In the 2000s, films like Hostel, Saw and the like represented a tonal shift to torture, an ugly, bleak era somewhat analogous to the Italian cannibal genre period, one which we occasionally visit, but seldom revisit on this site for probably obvious reasons.

Tying someone to a chair or a pyre and abusing them is a cheap way to generate scares, as there’s seldom build up, and it feels icky gratuitous and unearned – a bit like a comedian resorting to f-bombs for laughs.

No doubt Hostel writer and director Eli Roth was highly influenced by that type of cinema, and long before doing an homage to it later in his career, the surprisingly capable but flawed, The Green Inferno.

And to his credit, unlike some of his compatriots in this genre, he shows a modicum of restraint and actually tries to gradually and incrementally build scares the way horror should be done.

The setting, Bratislava, Slovakia, was a bit of a nice choice whether by design or accident – as the city represents a kind of gateway between the wealth of Western Europe and the Soviet-influenced cities of Central Europe. As beautiful as it is (take it from me, as a backpacker who happily didn’t meet the same end as the duo in this one) there’s a donut of ugly commie blocks surrounding the pristine, prettily Medieval centre to add much needed rusty decrepit stylistic intrigue.

Our “heroes” are American backpackers availing themselves of freewheeling sybaritic spoils they can’t find at home, and get lured into a more obscure part of Europe than the Red Light District of Amsterdam by a fixer with a Slavic accent. He assures them, speaking of accents, that the women of this particular geography find American elocution enticing.

They meet a like-minded man-child traveller, from Iceland, and become a lecherous trio, eventually getting their comeuppance, if that’s how you want to think of it, in a dungeon. Is this subtext warning of the perils of Americans being myopic about cultural life outside their borders, a variation on the theme of sexual misadventures being met with strict retribution a la 80s horrors? There are several other explanations.

Roth is smart enough to have a Final Guy rather than Final Girl, as backpacking through foreign lands aren’t as fraught with the same perils for guys. It subverts expectations just enough and the film is better for it.

At the end of the day, the jolts are there, even if the characters are somewhat 2D.

*** (out of 5)