The “Meta” Canon of David Gordon Green’s Halloween

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A couple of weeks back I tweeted out how great it would’ve been for Paul Rudd to reprise his role as Tommy Doyle in this year’s Halloween Kills. For those who don’t know, Rudd played that character in 1995’s Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers and to call his performance a fan favorite is an understatement.

Most of the people who interacted with my tweet agreed, but some were quick to “inform” me that the casting simply wouldn’t have worked. That Rudd’s Tommy exists in an entirely different timeline. That “Halloween 2018 ignores everything except the original film, actually.”

Is this what it’s like to be mansplained, ladies? I’m so sorry.

I’d heard a while ago that Rudd was invited to reprise his role and that obligations to Ghostbusters: Afterlife had prevented it. This was somewhat confirmed by producer Malek Akkad last week. But this isn’t going to be a “What If” piece. Anthony Michael Hall wound up playing Tommy Doyle in Halloween Kills and is probably my favorite thing about the picture. Now I just think it’s cool to have two great actors with two very different interpretations of Tommy. Who knew such a throwaway character could be so robust?

News of Rudd’s invitation confirmed something to me about director David Gordon Green’s Halloween (2018). One final bit of evidence that I had, in fact, been interpreting the “text” of his reboot correctly. While, yes, the 2018 film jettisons all sequel continuity, meaning technically there is no hospital explosion, or Jamie Lloyd, or the cult of Thorn, or Headmistress Keri Tate, or Dangertainment, Green, alongside co-writers Danny McBride, Jeff Fradley, and Scott Teems understand they cannot erase these installments from our collective consciousness. Nor do they try.

Here’s Eric Bana in a five second clip from Star Trek (2009) to explain:

“Erasing” the sequels trips some people up. For some, there’s an inability to understand how the characters of Halloween 2018 and Halloween Kills remain so traumatized all these years later by what amounted to five or six deaths on a single night in 1978. Forty years ago. Get over it, right?

I don’t agree with that criticism at all. Trauma doesn’t have an expiration date, and while the world might move on, people often do not. That’s the tragedy of Laurie Strode as the 2018 movie opens. The specter of the boogeyman looms large over her entire life, has in fact crippled every facet of it, including her relationships with her daughter and granddaughter, played by Judy Greer and Andi Matichak, respectively.

Karen (Greer) has rejected everything that Laurie stands for. She’s effectively plugging her fingers into her ears and insisting in defiance that the world is all sunshine and rainbows. Get a clue, mom! On the other hand, Allyson (Matichak) rebels against this rebellion and is drawn to Laurie’s outlaw presence. A true teenager. Anything to go against Mom and Dad’s wishes.

The actors are fantastic as they grapple with this dynamic on the night The Shape returns to Haddonfield. But what about the rest of the town? It seems at first that Haddonfield has moved on (at least until we come to Halloween Kills). A few people remember that night in 1978, but it’s ancient history, by and large. This is where Green relies on our audience knowledge of the franchise, those “nonexistent” sequels, to supplement his movies with a weight that must go unspoken (though not unacknowledged). He turns us into participants to a large degree, our memories filling in the blanks of what no longer happened (but totally did).

For example, the series had gotten progressively gorier, Michael, far more sadistic as a means of keeping up with changing times. So too has The Shape of 2018 changed. By the time we watch him stomp through a victim’s skull, turning brains into mashed potatoes, the point has been made. Is this the same “man” who committed a string of horrific (but bloodless) murders in the fall of 1978? Sure. But he’s also the logical continuation of the franchise, writ-large. A Michael who has grown more violent and sadistic as the years have gone on. We’ve already seen him do these hideously gory things, so he’s going to keep on doing them.

Green has no interest in erasing any Halloween film, and his canon is constantly bending over backwards to make that assurance. Need proof? Halloween 2018 remakes the earliest stalk-and-slash moments of Halloween II (1981). It also mirrors the way Michael retrieves his trademark overalls from the grease pit gas station in Halloween 4. Then there’s the dopey police officers straight out of Halloween 5, the nefarious doctor who intends to use Michael for his own purposes, a nod to the aforementioned Curse of Michael Myers, a sustained rest stop stalking sequence that could be a tip of the hat to either Halloween H20 or Rob Zombie’s remake, Laurie chugging a glass of wine to get her nerves under control, and another raging inferno to remind you of all those times The Shape has been burned to a crisp. This has all happened before. It will probably all happen again.

By the time Halloween Kills comes around, the town has had it with Michael’s reign of terror. Yes, we’re still technically only referencing the original 1978 Halloween, but again, Green knows you’ve seen them all. He’s drawing on your memories of the franchise, your favorite installments, as a way to make you relate to all the anger and frustration coursing through these townspeople. Michael hasn’t just haunted these characters for forty years, he’s haunted us for that same amount of time.

Green is even more overt about his delineation between canon and “legend” in Halloween Kills, actually cutting to a clip from Halloween II (1981) at one point. And when you consider his interest in bringing Paul Rudd back to the series to resume playing a character from a timeline that no longer technically exists, the “meta” canon approach is basically a foregone conclusion.

There’s no way to rationalize the events of each Halloween sequel so that they all fit snugly inside the timeline suggested by Green’s recent movies. But the key to “getting” these latest sequels is to approach them with more fluidity than perhaps the fandom at large is capable of assessing in this world of Marvel-locked continuity.

I can’t think of another franchise that has approached its complicated legacy as smartly, discarding canon while subsequently embracing it between the lines, winking and nodding to the audience as if to say, “I like them too.” And I believe it’s all genuine. Green could’ve just hit the press trail, lying through his teeth about his reverence for the material. Instead, he proved it by crafting two movies where said reverence is on constant display. You can’t fake that.

It’s my hope that Green will have even more fun with the upcoming Halloween Ends. I’m not expecting Ellie Cornell and Danielle Harris show up as Rachel and Jamie, but wouldn’t it be an absolute blast to see those actors in there, if only for a minute? “Fan service” shouldn’t interfere with the story Green is trying to tell, of course, but his movies suggest a world where anything is possible. A nexus point for the meta and the non-meta. I can’t even imagine where it will all end up, but Halloween Ends will probably be my last most-anticipated movie.

I’m already counting the days until it’s here and it hasn’t even been shot yet.

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