The four-decade Halloween franchise is filled with death, rebirths, reboots, and repetition. Does it end with Halloween Ends?
In the Halloween universe, there are two rules: there are no accidents and Michael Myers is very, very hard to kill. Even if something looks like an accident – a bus filled with lunatics crashes during transport, a car topples down a hill, a child falls over a railing – it’s part of a larger destiny that befalls everyone tangled up in Michael Myers’s orbit.
Halloween’s brilliance, like its iconic theme song, is in its repetitive simplicity. This repetitiveness, personified in the figure of Michael Myers, is also what makes the franchise so tiresome. Michael Myers, like real life evil, is banal. He’s all compulsion (escape, go home, kill, retreat, repeat), hollow as a jack o’lantern. Myers often escapes from a maximum security asylum during some ill-advised transport. Next, he begins his trip home. On his way, he stops and kills people at gas stations and roadside rest stops. No matter how many times Michael Myers seems dead or how firmly he’s held, he escapes and returns home on Halloween. And home is Haddonfield, Illinois, the site of his first gruesome crime, where he stabbed his older sister on Halloween night at the tender age of six as shown in the unforgettable opening moments of Halloween (1978).
One wonders why anyone stays in Haddonfield on Halloween at all. Halloween Ends (2022), which apparently concludes the forty-four year franchise, gives us Haddonfield at its most traumatized. The holiday is approaching. Terror and evil circulate as the town’s ever infected by Myers and his crimes.
Comprising thirteen films, the Halloween franchise houses several universes filled with offshoots and possibilities, deaths, rebirths, reboots: Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and Michael Myers are siblings; they’re strangers destined to be dueling counterparts; Laurie is dead; Laurie is alive but living under a new name in California; Michael’s been burned up in a fire, appears dead, is not dead; Michael rises again; Michael is ruled by a cult, his actions backed by magic ritual; Michael is just a dude, disturbed and blank and beyond repair; Laurie’s relatives are in danger, her daughter or her son; Laurie is gone but present in photographs or as a voice calling out from some distant past; neither Michael nor Laurie are there, but the movie Halloween (1978) plays on a screen; Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) chases Michael around, warning everyone in the town; on and on. Killing is mechanistic and job-like for Halloween’s perpetual antagonist, who, when not locked up, dons a navy blue mechanic’s jumpsuit and white expressionless latex mask. On occasion, when regarding his victims, he tilts his head. But that’s it. We get nothing from him. Whatever the movie’s details, Michael Myers is always double: human and supernatural, flesh and blood and a mythological bogeyman.
But before Halloween established that Michael Myers was evil and Laurie Strode was good, before he killed her friends and tried to kill her, before she stabbed him in the neck with a knitting needle, there was a moment, a look. Near the beginning of the 1978 classic, Laurie sits at her desk in a high school classroom. It’s Halloween afternoon. She glances out the window and sees Michael Myers for the first time. He’s masked and behind a car, vacantly creepy as ever. As viewers, we’ve already seen him and traveled with him, the camera fastened to his shoulder as he followed Laurie to school, steadily breathing through the mask. We know he’s bad news, but Laurie’s deciding for herself, regarding him from across the lot. The class discussion revolves around the immovability of fate. Fate, like Myers himself, is fixed, hard to alter.
By the time we get to Halloween Ends (2022), Laurie and her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) are living together in Haddonfield as Laurie writes a memoir about her long standing trauma, complete with musings on the nature of evil, starting fresh, and letting go. One day, she looks out her bedroom window and sees Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), a local guy who just started dating her granddaughter, in a chillingly Myers-like stance outside her window. This moment calls back to when Laurie sees Myers in Halloween (1978). It’s just a moment, a look. Still, it’s crucial because the feeling and force of Myers is there, but Myers himself is not. Laurie shudders as something passes, virus-like, between their bodies. She looks, he’s there. She looks again, he’s gone. Halloween Ends zeroes-in on this uncomfortable mixture of intrigue, curiosity, dread, and fear. It’s better than the first two in the Blumhouse trilogy (Halloween (2018) and Halloween Kills (2020), though that’s not saying much) because it finds a more interesting way to reckon with the endless repetitions and returns of Michael Myers.
Before he started oozing evil energy, Corey Cunningham was a nice kid who accidentally killed a child he was babysitting for. The town proceeded to reject him, dubbing him a monster and a psycho. Corey now slinks around town, works as a mechanic, and tries not to get noticed. When a bunch of bullies wearing high school band uniforms (yes) push him around outside a gas station, Laurie comes to his rescue and she introduces him to Allyson, with whom he begins an all American motorcycle-style romance. They ride around town, talk about burning everything to the ground, make plans to leave Haddonfield behind, and makeout. Corey is just a guy. But he’s also a container the town pours its uglier energies into. He begins to morph. (I want to stake out the claim that Corey is a good character who possesses that rare thing in the Halloween franchise: an arc.) Halloween Ends gives us an alternate story, opening up the look, the flash of recognition, at the very beginning. As Corey and Allyson ride around town, fated to hang together through shared outsider status, we might wonder: What if Laurie and Michael had been two kids falling in love?
One night, after those same high school band kids gang up on him, one of them accidentally pushes him off a bridge and Corey gets sucked into a tunnel under the town. Michael Myers is there. He’s been there since the last film, it seems, lying in wait or recharging, both figment and man. It seems at first like he might kill Corey, but something more interesting happens. Michael Myers and Corey lock eyes. A look, a moment, a transfer of bad energy. Corey gets ejected from the tunnel the next morning and a homeless man explains that sometimes Michael takes people in there. He wonders, though: “Why’d he let you go?”
In Halloween Ends, evil is a force moving between individuals and Myers is the main shape it takes. The homeless man exemplifies this infectiousness, as while talking to Corey he says, eyes wide: “I’m Michael Myers!” But this film also shows the bullying violence of the mob, a group of people convinced they’re doing good and stamping out bad. The mob’s violence reestablishes order by casting out those it dubs monstrous. When the band member accidentally shoves Corey so hard he falls off the bridge, his distressed friend asks: “Who’s the psycho now?” We might also ask: Who is the victim? What happens when an innocent person is repeatedly treated like a monster? When an accident has catastrophic results? Literally pushed over the edge, Corey becomes an engine for realizing the mob’s worst fears as he continues his downward spiral. The scenes where Corey ventures back into the tunnel, getting silently taught by Michael, are some of the most exciting scenes in the franchise because Michael Myers is doing something new. Strange to see him stay put, to do something besides escape, return, and kill.
You can’t kill the bogeyman. He’s a mythological and formal problem, a shape that keeps changing. Halloween’s problem has always been: how to deal with Michael Myers? This most recent attempt is compelling because it complicates the victim/monster split, showing how a victim might morph into a monster. Someone asks: was the evil always there (in Corey) or did the town put it there? Likewise, was Michael Myers always evil or did Haddonfield, or his parents, make him so? (There’s not much love these days for the Rob Zombie reboots from the late aughts, but in their nü metal realist way, they deal with this question). Conversely, we are asked to consider how Laurie, the film’s forever final girl, may also be a bit monstrous herself.
As Corey begins his Halloween killing spree, someone calls into the radio station and quotes Nietzsche: “Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.” The DJ replies with another Nietzsche quote: “Without music, life would be a mistake.” He puts a record on. Corey, who is in the midst of his Halloween killing spree, appears and chops off the DJ’s tongue where it flops like a fish atop the spinning disc. Cut to Allyson listening to the skipping song on the radio, changing the station. There’s a virality, a sense that evil travels, infects, and spreads as it gets broadcast.
Eventually, Michael emerges from the tunnel. At first, Corey and Michael work together but Michael finally discards Corey, too. Michael and Laurie have their (final?) face off. There’s a rottenness at the heart of the Halloween series. It cheaply kills characters you’ve grown fond of. It puts people through hell and then chops their heads off. Like Myers, it often seems to have no reasoning at all. But Halloween Ends, still a slasher movie filled with wild kills, has a little more soul.
The 1978 original is both visually thrilling and disorienting because, like the franchise’s take on evil, the camera shapeshifts, jumping from character to character. First here, now there, distressingly unstable. As Pauline Kael wrote in her 1978 review of the film: “there's so much subjective tracking you begin to think everybody in the movie has his own camera.” Near the end of Halloween Ends, after everyone’s gone from Laurie’s house, the camera’s still there, clocking the famous mask, by now dingier and glimmering, lying uninhabited on Laurie’s coffee table.
The town performs a ritual destruction on Michael Myers, parading his body around on the top of a car in a midnight procession before delivering him to the teeth of a giant metal crusher. I thought of what the philosopher René Girard said about how societies have tended to avoid “striking out at the true guilty party because it might awaken the spirit of vengeance.” Myers, guilty, always returns, unquenched. But Halloween Ends unlocks another zone in the Halloween universe, one where the town demolishes a sacrificial victim in order to heal.