“Halloween Kills” is a strange name for a 43-year-old franchise that positively refuses to die. Then again, this 12th film in the series — a direct sequel to the 2018 reset “Halloween” — is odd on various levels, starting with the wholly misguided attempt to weave a half-baked message into its bloody mayhem.
Another title delayed by Covid, the Universal release will also be same-day available on the studio’s streaming service Peacock, testing the power of horror as a shared experience to overcome the at-home option.
Seeing the Halloween movie in a theater, however, merely reinforces how clunky it feels, creating uncomfortable moments where the audience seemingly doesn’t quite know whether to laugh with it in its nods to the franchise’s history or laugh at it, ultimately the prevailing sensation.
If the previous movie conjured a bit of excitement by eradicating everything that had transpired after the original, that sense of novelty has quickly worn off.
Instead, in a narrative flourish not helped by extra time on the shelf, the action picks up immediately after the scenario presented in 2018, when Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) thought they had emerged victorious from a showdown with killer extraordinaire Michael Myers.
Yet while Laurie’s being rushed to the hospital, Michael naturally somehow escapes, proceeding to make the population of this small town considerably smaller, thanks in no small part to the abject stupidity of its residents in terms of knowing horror-movie etiquette.
It’s around that point where the film (again directed by David Gordon Green, from a script he wrote with Danny McBride and Scott Teems) veers into the ridiculous and downright hypocritical, as irate citizens take it upon themselves to eliminate the threat, with Anthony Michael Hall playing the guy rallying the peasants with pitchforks (and guns and knives), chanting “Evil dies tonight!” as they take to the streets.
The idea of turning into vigilantes makes sense on a cursory level — lord knows the police aren’t particularly effective at their jobs — but the inherent warning that fear can transform ordinary folks into bloodthirsty mobs doesn’t go down particularly well when you consider the source. Simply put, you can’t have your cake and repeatedly stab it too.
It doesn’t give anything away to note that Universal has already announced another sequel, “Halloween Ends,” due next year.
Unlike “Halloween Kills,” it would be naïve to take that title too literally, although hope springs eternal. Because if ever a franchise deserved to be put out of its misery, at least given an extended rest, it’s this one.
“Halloween Kills” premieres Oct. 15 in US theaters and on Peacock. It’s rated R.