Rebooting the Halloween franchise as a three-film cycle comes with a paradox: John Carpenter only ever intended the Michael Myers narrative to last for two films. With Halloween III: Season of the Witch, he handed the writing and directing reins over to Tommy Lee Wallace, and settled into the role of executive producer, along with Debra Hill. From there, he hoped to helm Halloween as an anthology series, with a shift in focus every two films. This didn’t mean that the Michael Myers mythology had to disappear entirely, but that each new reboot would have license to approach it in ever more ingenious and oblique ways. At the time, Carpenter’s plan was too ambitious, but it feels tenable in the era of streaming television, when franchises like Marvel and Star Wars have expanded their worlds in previously unimaginable directions. Halloween III inchoately gestured towards this new era of franchise-building, making it somewhat dissonant for David Gordon Green to make his own third film a full stop on the franchise, let alone the definitive conclusion that the title suggests.
To its credit, Halloween Ends is closer in spirit to the strangeness of Halloween III than any film since, with the possible exception of Halloween: Resurrection. While the final act turns into a more generic and obligatory “conclusion,” the first two thirds set a unique tone and mood for the franchise, starting with the jarringly turquoise font of the initial credits. In that light, even the closing scenes play more as a meditation on what it would take to continue the franchise in the future, and on the future of franchising itself, cementing these three films as every bit an original addition to the Halloween mythos as Rob Zombie’s pair of reboots, or Jamie Lee Curtis’ comebacks in Halloween H20 and Halloween: Resurrection. For the first time in decades, the franchise distances itself from Michael Myers, starting with the extraordinary opening scene. One year after the events of Halloween Kills, Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), a young man living in Haddonfield, arrives to babysit a neighbour, Jeremy. Jeremy’s mother tells Corey her son has been somewhat disturbed by Myers’ killing spree, and sure enough Jeremy soon leads Corey on a chase through the house that ends with Corey accidentally pushing Jeremy over the third floor landing right when his parents arrive home.
At several moments throughout this opening scene it feels as if Michael Myers is going to appear, but he never does, setting the scene for a film that is more interested in the ripple effect of Myers, the second-generation Halloween stories of people “who never crossed paths with him.” Where Halloween Kills opened right where Green’s original left off, Halloween Ends takes time to settle back into the suburban textures of Haddonfield, and luxuriate in character development, until it feels genuinely uncertain how and when Myers will emerge. Since the film deals with the legacy of Myers, it’s highly attuned to the world of horror that came in his wake, and in some ways feels closer to the cinematic progeny that Halloween spawned than Halloween itself. The main residue of the original film is Laurie Strode’s autobiography, which she’s finishing in the opening scenes, and which stands in for the kernel of the franchise as Green gradually moves away from it. As he does so, he particularly draws on Scream, from the beats of the opening scene, to the jaunty radio presenter who, like Laurie’s autobiography, propels the story forward and provides the film with its core rhythm.
This sense of the porosity between Halloween and later horror franchises produces a more general fixation with shapeshifting, as well as an interest in situating Halloween within Carpenter’s broader body of work. During the opening sequence, Corey and Jeremy watch the main transformation scene from The Thing, which also informs the opening credits. This time around, we’re treated to a progeny of pumpkins, each emerging from inside the last, and all grinning maniacally until the last, which appears to be a regular pumpkin, until it breaks apart to reveal prosthetic viscera. Many later scenes also revolve around visceral transformations, whether it’s Laurie burning a pie, or Corey having glass embedded in his hands, evoking Myers as a site of malleability and plasticity above all else. More than in any other film, Myers is a gaze in Halloween Ends, so protean in his presence that Laurie can soon recognise his eyes in Corey’s head, and intuit him in the bearing and tenor of Corey’s manner.
Before we get to that point, however, Green also signals this porosity at the fringes of the Halloween universe in spatial terms. For the first time, Haddonfield is conspicuously positioned at a junction and network of other stories, creating a much greater focus on roads and driving than ever before, to the point where the town is almost entirely swallowed by the exurban tissue that surrounds it. Most films in the franchise focus on pedestrians moving in constrained locations – usually between houses, or within the space of a few blocks – but Halloween Ends is closer in spirit to Christine than to the original film, and revels in highway flow. All of Corey’s main plot points are determined by this autocentric focus – he works in an autoyard, meets Laurie when he is beaten up in a service station, develops a relationship with Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) by teaching her to ride a motorbike, and is almost hit by cars at several key thresholds in the story. Finally, the same gang that beat him up pursue him again when he’s walking along the highway, throw him off an overpass, and don’t wait to see if he’s survived when he lands in the midst of a desolate traffic island.
In earlier films, the highway was mainly significant as a conduit in and out of Haddonfield, a point of ingress or egress for Myers. Green brought it into focus more in Halloween, and brings it right to the forefront of the franchise now, since it turns out that Myers has been living and hiding in a sewer that abuts this traffic island. In fact, Myers appears to have calcified into the highway infrastructure itself – we only glimpse him in a very circumspect way, and he doesn’t seem able to leave his sewer, or even extract himself fully from the crevasse where he first announces his presence to Corey. Throughout the franchise, Myers was the harbinger of a new networked space, and he transfers that networked knowledge to Corey in a shared supernatural gaze now, prompting the most radical transformation since Halloween III. For, instead of Myers intruding into suburban space, Corey now lures victims into Michael’s space. Rather than expanding the network, Myers operates the network remotely, acting as a node where the next generation of younger men can activate an older phallic toxicity. We hear Carpenter’s theme for the first time when Corey draws in a romantic rival, and holds his body prone for Michael, who in stabbing it regains some of his former power, and starts to venture back into the world, where he kills in slasher tandem with Corey.
For the first time in the franchise, another character has absorbed Michael’s networked flow. Corey expresses the resulting high by taking Allyson on a motorbike ride, and yelling into the wind as a new synth motif enters the score, a pulse and propulsion beyond Carpenter’s original. The ride enters with Corey taking Allyson to the roof of the local radio station, where he tells her that, after Jeremy’s death, he longed to climb the antenna, which he saw as a beacon calling out to him. We get a glimpse of this beacon early in the film, when Corey looks up at it, and Green shoots it as an uncanny object that looks back, evoking Myers’ networked gaze, but in an even more diffuse and dispersed manner than usual. If Jeremy’s fall from the third floor, and Corey’s own fall from the overpass, evoked the freefall of the Myers-network, then climbing this radio tower is the solution – or controlling the network that it represents.
Accordingly, Corey sets out to reprise all the networked spaces of the film, but on his terms. First, he moves back into Jeremy’s house, now abandoned, and makes his bed on the exact spot where Jeremy hit the ground, still marked by a lurid bloodstain. Then, he reprises the two encounters with the gang who harassed him at the petrol station and the freeway overpass, but with a more fluid command of the road. Luring them to his car yard, he disposes of them all with automobile technology – running over one, melting another’s face with a blowtorch, and disfiguring a third with a wrench. Finally, Corey heads to the radio station, where he pulls out the disc jockey’s tongue, and leaves it on the turntable. The most brutal slasher violence of the film cements Corey’s control of the network, as the tongue produces a scratching sound, almost a musical effect, that percolates across Haddonfield, making network technology both more visible and ineffective than ever before. Suddenly, everyone is on their phones, but only to mark missed connections, culminating with Laurie calling 9/11 to report her own imminent suicide, before revealing that the call was a trap to draw in Corey.
From this point, Halloween Ends shifts to a generic finale, as it has to for a film that promises to end a forty-plus year franchise. And it does truly feel as if Laurie’s story as over, as she pastiches the postures from the end of the first film, and experiences a series of accelerated flashbacks as Myers grabs her throat. But by the same token, it feels as if the second-order Halloween stories that comprise the majority of the film have real potential – and Green concedes as much in the final moments. While Laurie does kill Michael, and while Haddonfield parade him down to the car yard for a ritual ceremony, the exact nature of this ceremony simply reiterates his inextricability from the autocentric network that sustains these second-order stories. Laurie feeds Michael into a car-crusher, his body is broken into a thousand pieces, and he no longer exists as a discrete figure, but that just makes his fragments ramify more resonantly too, as the building-blocks for a new franchise era, a network that still lives.