Editor’s Note: The following contains spoilers for the movie Halloween Ends. Continue at your own risk.
If there’s any key problem with the David Gordon Green Halloween movies, it’s their refusal to totally commit to interesting ideas. To watch this trilogy of features is to watch a collection of movies strangely uncertain about what direction to go in. Potentially interesting character beats get lost in the slasher movie shuffle while more subversive plot developments are eschewed in favor of sticking to what’s worked in past movies. The hesitance to go truly unpredictable in this trilogy is especially apparent in the 2018 Halloween film and Halloween Ends, both of which make the same strange mistake of teasing the idea of creating a replacement for Michael Myers, but not following through on it.
The idea of forgoing the iconic villain of this franchise may seem like a bizarre concept, but slasher movie franchises have often traded out villains. The adversaries of the individual Scream installments may feature a similar costume, but they’re all different people. Pamela Voorhees (Betsy Palmer), the killer of the first Friday the 13th, would get usurped in that saga by her initially deceased son Jason. And goodness knows one can lose count of how many proteges Jigsaw (Tobin Bell) recruited to keep his work going after he died in the later Saw sequels. Despite there being so much precedent of torch-passing among horror movie villains, not to mention Halloween and Halloween Ends teasing out this idea, they never follow through on it.
The first manifestation of this concept in Green’s Halloween saga comes in Halloween and involves the character of Dr. Ranbir Sartain (Haluk Bilginer). Up to this point, the character has functioned as a successor to Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence), to the point that he’s mentioned to have trained under Loomis in the past. But just before the third act gets underway, Sartain reveals his true colors. After incapacitating Michael Myers, it’s revealed that Sartain let this masked psycho out of prison after becoming fascinated with his slayings. As a symbol of how obsessed he’s become with this killer, Sartain puts on that classic Michael Myers mask. For a moment, it looks like the biggest monster in this universe is the last person audience members might expect.
Unfortunately, Sartain is quickly dispatched shortly after that. After dragging Myers to Strode’s home, this vintage slasher villain reawakens and dispatches Sartain. This potential new face of fear in the franchise is now gone, with his only role in the overall plot seemingly being to get Myers to the location of Halloween’s climax. It’s a frustratingly inert resolution to a potentially interesting detour in the plot of Halloween made all the more discouraging because of how superfluous it is in the context of the plot. This feature only gestures at the idea of a successor to Myers stepping up and instead settles for just rehashing what’s worked in the franchise before.
An even more frustrating incarnation of this problem emerges once again in Halloween Ends. For much of the runtime of this installment, the audience is following Corey Cunningham (Rohan Campbell), a man who accidentally killed a child he was supposed to babysit back in 2019. He’s been unable to escape this tragedy ever since, with his life being a relentless torment of bad luck. After getting beaten up by a pack of high schoolers, Cunningham finds himself in a storm drain where he comes face-to-face with Michael Myers, whose been in hiding for four years. Though it seems like the end for Cunningham, Myers sees potential for causing grisly mayhem in this young man and lets him go.
After this, Cunningham begins to go on his murdering spree as the protégé of Myers and even wears a scarecrow mask he previously used for a costume party as his equivalent to the white mask adorned by The Shape. It’s easy to see the function this character serves in the narrative on paper, particularly regarding how he ties into the David Gordon Green Halloween movies and their obsession with trauma. Whereas Laurie Strode has had to learn to move past the horrors that scarred her, Cunningham decides to embrace the reputation of psycho that everyone in Haddonfield, Illinois has given him. Going this route leads to him becoming a modern-day successor to Michael Myers, a point underscored by how Cunningham eventually fights Myers, pins him down, and takes his worn-out mask for a Halloween night massacre.
Sadly, the execution of Cunningham’s role as a chilling replacement for Michael Myers leaves much to be desired. For one thing, Myers is still around for the majority of the movie. Anytime he accompanies Cunningham on his slayings, it’s Myers who gets the showy kills that audiences will remember. It’s hard for Cunningham to function as something new and exciting when he’s constantly getting upstaged by Myers. At least his vengeful Halloween night slaughters give Cunningham a chance to be a murderous solo act, but even this doesn’t last long. Cunningham, much like Sartain, is killed before the final half-hour begins. Once Cunningham perishes, Myers shows up, grabs his mask, and continues his pursuit of Laurie Strode as if this new character never existed.
The desire of the Halloween movies to always return to a Myer and Strode showdown keeps undercutting the potentially interesting idea of Michael Myers getting usurped in this franchise. These films always stop just short of going all the way with this interesting notion in favor of giving audiences either what they want or what they’ve seen before. So much potential is left on the table as a result while the individual narratives of these movies also suffer as a result. Halloween and Halloween Ends both feature narratives with lengthy digressions involving new potential main antagonists that just don’t go anywhere and aren’t nearly entertaining or scary enough to justify their existence.
The problems with Sartain and Cunningham in these Halloween movies underscore the problems so many horror sequels encounter. Scariness almost always requires an element of surprise or shock. This doesn’t have to manifest in a basic form like a jump scare, it can also come from a plot that twists what audiences consider “normal” to a warped degree or deliver imagery you couldn’t have previously imagined. Unfortunately, horror sequels are often working at the behest of what audiences liked previously. These projects only exist to capitalize on the popularity of other features, which means they often turn into an encore performance rather than something distinctive and exciting that can send a chill up one’s spine.
Halloween and Halloween Kills show an interest in going against the grain and delivering what people might not expect from a Halloween installment, particularly regarding who the main adversary of these movies is. Unfortunately, the execution of these projects keeps undercutting the notion that a new slasher foe is about to step up as the face of the Halloween saga. These movies didn’t need to ditch Michael Myers to be good. However, their awkward and eventually aborted attempts at trying to do just that underscore their bigger narrative issues. Plus, the difficulties of both films in trying to go somewhere new vis-à-vis their antagonist underscore the greater difficulties all horror sequels face in trying to be both frighteningly fresh and comfortingly familiar.