How David Gordon Green’s ‘Halloween’ Trilogy Came So Close to Hitting the Right Notes

Even the greatest movies can take a while to successfully connect with their intended audience.

A lot of films that we now consider to be above reproach were initially written off by contemporary viewers. Some were purposefully made to challenge, alienate, and provoke (like your Blade Runners or your Fight Clubs), but just as many straightforward genre flicks have fallen victim to hasty judgement.

Horror gets a particularly raw deal, given that the genre is undervalued and easily dismissed at the best of times. As such, its more out-there specimens don’t always get the fair shake they deserve.

Notable casualties of this short-sightedness include Peeping Tom, The Thing and The Shining: all of which have gone on to become feted classics. Yet it was only with a little distance — and by stewing on them for several years — that people came to recognise their genius.

With that said, give it a decade or so and Halloween Ends will be the subject of similar reappraisal and you’ll all of a sudden see it placing high in everyone’s rankings of the wider franchise. That might sound implausible right now (given the iffy aggregate scores and raging debate online) but gut reactions aren’t known for standing the test of time.

Not every horror film can be a Hereditary or Conjuring-level hit straight out of the gate, as has been demonstrated over and over again by the Halloween series itself. Memorably lacking the presence of Michael Myers, Season of the Witch was a major letdown for cinemagoers back in 1982. Likewise, Rob Zombie’s abrasive reboot continuity was once thought to be the brand’s absolute nadir.

It just goes to show what a difference hindsight can make as, today, both of those experiments are looked upon much fondly. Halloween 2 (2009) has grown into an unlikely fan favourite (appreciated for its bold stylistic choices and risky storytelling), while the Silver Shamrock jingle is now an iconic mainstay of October 31st celebrations.

A Gutsy Trilogy with Fresh Ideas

History will be equally kind to David Gordon Green’s trilogy once the dust has settled. After all, there’s a great deal to admire in each of the Blumhouse-produced sequels, from their moody cinematography — which oozes the Allhallows Eve spirit — to their propulsive soundtracks, inventive title sequences and unique ideas.

Sure, they don’t feel terribly cohesive when watched together in quick succession, but they are at least aspiring towards thematic depth, with interesting mediations on generational trauma and the intangible nature of evil. Muddled or not, this attempt at trying something different is laudable and ought to be encouraged by us fans. Otherwise, studios will just keep on regurgitating the exact same slasher formula until it has been milked for all its worth.

Of course, we’re mainly talking about Kills and Ends here. Halloween 2018 may have its detractors, but it was a relatively safe crowd-pleaser that more-or-less delivered what audiences were expecting from it. Restoring The Shape’s air of mystique, paying reverent tribute to John Carpenter’s original masterpiece, and supplying a dramatic confrontation between Myers and his adversary Laurie Strode, it could have made for a pretty satisfying finale in its own right.

Its two follow-ups have been far more divisive though. Halloween Kills was roundly criticised for getting lost in the weeds, with what many perceived to be an untidy script that was weighed down by an overabundance of subplots (many of which didn’t seem to go anywhere) and characters behaving illogically.

Yet the new trilogy capper has somehow proven to be even more contentious, owing to its subversive twists that were always guaranteed to ruffle feathers from the moment they were first pitched.

However, if you can manage to separate Halloween Ends from the rest of the franchise, then it’s actually one of its superior entries. Judged according to its own merits, Green’s latest film is a fascinating offshoot that dares to stray from the beaten path, while still retaining the series’ core themes, atmosphere, and lore.

In Defence of Corey Cunningham

It should go without saying, but spoilers abound from this point onwards.

As a premise, the tragedy of Corey Cunningham is infinitely more compelling than just another blunt-force Michael Myers rampage. Through the story of this hapless young man — whose life is irreversibly destroyed by a freak accident in which he was ultimately blameless — we get to explore how trauma can infect an entire community and leave lasting scars on everybody that it touches.

His transformation into Haddonfield’s new boogeyman is investing because, on one hand, you go to a slasher movie like this for the gory, creative deaths. But at the same time, your sympathies are firmly aligned with Corey throughout and you don’t want to see him heading down a dark path. There’s a dramatic tension at play that’s reminiscent of the Norman Bates dilemma in Psycho 2. Like in that sorely underrated film, you’re simultaneously eager for the bloodshed to commence, but also find yourself hoping for a peaceful outcome whereby Corey gets to prove his tormentors wrong.

In that sense, the big rug pull of Halloween Ends is not that it simply trades the established killer for a younger model, ala Friday the 13th: A New Beginning. Rather, the twist is that it’s actually a slow-burn character study, with most of the action unfolding from the POV of your antagonist. Well, until the last 20 minutes anyway.

I’d even go so far as to say that Corey is maybe David Gordon Green’s strongest contribution to the Halloween canon. Everything that’s related to him is genuinely fantastic, from the breath-taking opening sequence — which elicited gasps in my screening — to his creepy scarecrow mask, the junkyard massacre scene and his quasi-vampiric relationship with Michael Myers (fleshed out better in the novelisation).

If we can all come around to the notion of Rob Zombie humanizing Michael Myers or Season of the Witch abandoning the killer altogether, then surely we can accept this new direction as well.

Halloween Ends is Frustratingly Close to Brilliance

To be fair though, critics aren’t really objecting to the ideas of Halloween Ends, so much as to their execution.

It’s true that certain narrative beats are a little clunky here, especially in terms of how they jar with (or even outright contradict) aspects of the previous films. Indeed, despite being shot back-to-back, Kills and Ends are lacking a clear throughline and sometimes feel like they’re entirely at odds with each other.

The climactic slaying of Karen in the 2021 movie has little bearing whatsoever on its immediate sequel and is all-but-forgotten by the principal characters. Meanwhile, Laurie’s arc necessitates that a huge psychological leap occurs between films (without much to justify it) and Michael Myers randomly flips from an unknowable, supernatural entity to “just a man in a Halloween mask” apropos of nothing.

And then there’s that tacked-on climax, which feels like it belongs in a completely different movie altogether. Blatantly acquiescing to studio notes, Green cobbled together a hurried showdown that has virtually nothing to do with the preceding 90 minutes. Although there is some catharsis to be gained from watching Laurie dispatch her archnemesis of 40 years, it’s a shame that it had to come at the expense of Corey’s captivating arc and that he ends up being pushed to the sidelines in what should really have been his own story.

So, yeah, Halloween Ends is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but its problems are easily solved. In fact, it would only take a bit of rearranging to make it, and by extension the rest of the trilogy, feel way more coherent.

Halloween Kills and Ends Are Just Backwards

Looking over Kills and Ends retrospectively, it seems like they would have benefited from having their release dates swapped around. Not only would this have made more sense from a thematic perspective, but it would fix a number plot holes and character issues that people are hung up on.

In this alternative sequence, the film that is currently titled Halloween Ends (but would presumably need renaming) would pick up a few years after the 2018 reboot. Convinced that she has vanquished her foe, after burning him alive in a booby-trapped house, Laurie would finally be able to let go of her trauma and embrace life.

Elsewhere, with the Shape having gone AWOL (recuperating from the fire by hiding out in the sewers), Haddonfield’s residents would have to channel their fears and outrage onto a surrogate monster, in the form of Corey. From there, things would proceed in pretty much the same fashion, with Corey inevitably reaching his breaking point, developing a taste for vindictive murder and forging a symbiotic bond with Michael. All while the OG boogeyman regains his strength and waits for the ideal moment to strike back.

By situating these events in the second film, rather than the third, Green would no longer be forced to undermine his original ideas and jam them into (what was ostensibly supposed to be) the epic conclusion to a new trilogy. Instead, Corey’s story would be afforded ample time to breathe and would get to unfold naturally, without being rushed into its denouement.

This would a win-win for everyone. Not only would it work better for Green, who wouldn’t have to sacrifice his authorial intent, but it’d also be less flummoxing for general audience members. After all, viewers might be willing to go along with subversive narrative twists in a movie that isn’t billed as the grand finale of the Laurie v Michael saga.

Speaking of which, in this hypothetical scenario, the second movie would close with a tantalizing cliffhanger. Michael emerges from the sewers, rejuvenated and severely pissed off. Smash to credits!

The ensuring threequel would then be the perfect opportunity to indulge in a senseless bloodbath (like the one already featured in Halloween Kills), as the boogeyman returns to visit revenge upon Haddonfield and Laurie Strode in particular. Again, it would effectively be the same movie, albeit one that more closely resembles what fans want from a trilogy swansong, and that is more compatible with the grudge match so aggressively hyped up by the marketing for Ends.

To clarify, I’m not trying to pitch a totally different set of films here. On the contrary, what I’m saying is that all of the individual pieces are there already. They just need to be shuffled around a little.

There are certain expectations that come with doing the last entry in a trilogy, and it’s an odd time to go on a tangent with never-before-seen characters. As much as David Gordon Green insists that the concept of a “final showdown-type brawl never even crossed [his] mind” when writing Halloween Ends, it’s clear that it did for everybody else watching in theatres and at home. And many of them were bitterly disappointed. How else would you explain the polarizing reviews, angry social media discourse and steep box-office slump?

However, the Corey Cunningham arc would probably have gone down smoother if it were the focal point of the trilogy’s second chapter. Meanwhile, the everything-cranked-up-to-eleven approach of Halloween Kills feels distinctly more appropriate for a franchise’s last hurrah.

As previously discussed, swapping them around would also take care of a few narrative inconsistencies and other foibles. For instance, Laurie’s decision in Ends to put everything in the past would be more understandable if her only daughter hadn’t been butchered in the preceding film.

Similarly, the entire town getting whipped up into a frenzy in Kills (over the escape of a sexagenarian mental patient, with a meagre body count of five) doesn’t ring true as it currently stands. But if it’s the third such rampage in living memory, and everybody’s still reeling over the Corey situation, then all of that “Evil Dies Tonight” stuff suddenly makes sense. It’s a more logical escalation.

Not to mention, if Kills were positioned as the finale — and saw the Strode family getting to settle its score with Michael once and for all — then you wouldn’t have an entire movie where Jamie Lee Curtis is relegated to a fucking hospital bed!

With all that said, Blumhouse’s reboot continuity is messy and disjointed. It doesn’t really function properly as a trilogy and watching the films back-to-back only serves to highlight their inconsistencies.

Yet the ideas remain bold and the whole thing is frustratingly close to brilliance. Indeed, it almost works and with a bit of retooling to its chronology and sequencing, it’d easily be the definitive Halloween timeline. Even without that, it’s still a very intriguing take on the slasher legacy and one that I feel is going to age remarkably well.

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