Halloween – John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 classic – introduced us to the formidable and iconic Michael Myers at the centre of an engrossing and brilliantly effective horror picture. Its unique but subtle technical skill and apparent themes of innocence and evil was something to be lauded over by critics and theorists, while thrill-seeking audiences came in their droves to witness the hair-raising, Hitchcockian suspense.
However, as the general rule goes in Hollywood: with success comes serialisation. For better or worse, Halloween’s mass influence on culture rendered it into a viable franchise, boasting seven sequels, two remake films, a hoard of merchandise, and a newly released reboot-sequel.
However, blatant cash grabbing, studio tinkering, bizarre ideas, continuity issues, and bankruptcy of imagination have given the series an odd (yet intriguing) life. Though Michael has not yet been to space, he’s nonetheless had quite the wild career over the decades. Starting from rock bottom, here are the various triumphs and blunders of this uneven franchise.
11. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
In retrospect, the sixth Halloween film arguably feels the most disconnected from the rest of the series. Although foreshadowed in Halloween 5, Curse represents the needless attempt to supply the films’ with some kind of elaborate mythology. The story regards an adult Tommy Doyle (played by a laughably monotone Paul Rudd) who aids Dr. Loomis and the Strode family (now oddly living in the Myers house) as Michael reappears in Haddonfield, this time backed by the mysterious “cult of thorn”.
Therein lies the major issue with Curse from a story perspective. Rather than a mysterious force that acted solo, Michael is instead revealed to merely be the pawn of a druid cult. His status in Halloween is reduced to a henchman; his motivation is fleshed out and his immortality is explained, which consequently removes all of his mystique and intimidation. Relative to Halloween 4 and; 5, Curse generally feels more ambitious, but the attempt is misguided and the result feels awkward and botched.
The essential premise is just not good in any respect, and heavy re-shoots and editing fared the film no better. The ‘Producers Cut’ is the preferred version amongst fans, but would nevertheless start off of this list.
10. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Of all the Halloween films, Revenge holds the distinction of feeling more like a Friday the 13th movie, yet without the schlocky fun. Right off the bat, the film deflates us; the filmmakers decided to undermine Halloween 4’s shocking finale and write off young Jamie Lloyd as having a telepathic link with her uncle.
This plot, as loose as it is, loses itself quickly in the second act. Michael momentarily discards his initial desire to kill his niece, in favour of messing around with a bunch of irritating teenagers. When the story finally returns to Jamie in the last third of the picture, we’re too mind-numbingly bored and annoyed to try and muster any kind of sympathy for her, even when she now has two maniacs on her tail: Michael, and the ever-raving Dr. Loomis (a nicely hammy Donald Pleasence).
The teenage body count and gory kills give Revenge its Friday the 13th feel. Curse is overall worse because of its shoehorned mythos, but Revenge is so banal that it’s barely worth discussing much further.
9. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
In similar lists, the revered honour of last place is typically reserved for the ironically titled Resurrection – the death knell in the original line-up of Halloween sequels. It’s certainly not difficult to see why, as this movie yields some of the silliest moments in slasher history. But really, this is what saves it from being resoundingly dull like Revenge and Curse.
Like Revenge, it weakens the finale of its predecessor. Although it was always the filmmakers’ intention to resurrect Michael, bringing back Laurie Strode for her death scene feels not only tacked on, but also is a much too quick and weightless finale for such a beloved character. Then without batting an eye, the film morphs into a plot very telling of its early 21st century setting: a group of students agree to host a live webcast of the creepy, dilapidated Myers house – a project spearheaded by a Karate-chopping Busta Rhymes.
It’s arguable that Resurrection best fails to hide the cynicism of its filmmakers. The “tech”-oriented plot fronted by a young and hip cast seems like a desperate ploy to broaden the audience and stretch out a series that was as good as dead. If you can get past that kind of thing though, the film is enjoyable to laugh at.
Revenge is bland. Curse is bland and stupid. Resurrection is just stupid. And that’s a good thing.
“Trick or treat, mother f**ker!”
8. Halloween (2007)
After the universally hated Resurrection, rebooting the series seemed a logical course of action from a producer’s standpoint. Although the idea of a flat-out remake angered fans from the outset, Malek Akkad’s choice of director would only further divide the Halloween fandom.
If you’re familiar with the stark and blunt films of Rob Zombie, then you may have vividly imagined this movie in your head before he had even shot it. Take all of his usual tropes (excessive gory violence, heavy rock songs, long-haired dudes, loud and shrill characters), clumsily insert them into Carpenter’s original classic, and you essentially have Rob Zombie’s Halloween.
But while his films are not agreeable to everyone, he’s certainly not a filmmaker without a vision, no matter how sordid and misguided it might be.
While it attempts to be a much more psychological piece, Zombie’s clunky style is far too eclectic for the film to be very effective. Michael is rendered as a relatively complex and tragic figure, but this is ultimately redundant as none of the characters are terribly interesting or rounded out, psychologically speaking.
Despite an overwhelming amount of hate from fans, it’s better than a lot of other modern horror remakes. Overall though, it’s probably equally unfulfilling and we ultimately come away thinking, “What was the point?”
7. Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (2009)
You may think this is ranked absurdly high on the list, but Zombie’s Halloween II scores points across the board for attempting to be somewhat boldly different, not to say it has no fundamental issues.
On paper, the premise sounds nicely refreshing. Rather than a straight generic slasher, Zombie once again tries his hand at something more character-driven, as Laurie quickly descends into madness after her ordeal in the last film. Loomis meanwhile, delves into egotism as he promotes his latest book, and Michael himself makes his way cross country to reunite with his sister.
Horror fans will appreciate the numerous cameos and references; Brad Dourif returns and Margot Kidder pops up, and the films centre set-piece is a Rocky Horror party. As with its predecessor, Zombie aims for something deeper in the character department, but lacks the skills to make his characters likeable or relatable; there’s not much emotional depth to anyone beyond shouting and swearing.
The surreal visuals are somewhat imaginative if try-hard and hollow, but the character arcs go nowhere and the ending is anti-climactic. The movie’s a shallow but admirable endeavour.
6. Halloween H20 (1998)
In what we would now call a soft reboot, H20 thankfully ignores the ‘thorn trilogy’. Curse may have seemingly represented the funeral deutsch for the slasher genre, yet Wes Craven’s Scream was around the corner to revive it and Halloween in turn. This, coupled with Curtis’ return, naturally amped audiences up for a special chapter in an infamously tired franchise. At its core though, H20 makes for a mostly disappointingly conventional slasher.
Unlike the other sequels, you get a sense of some real care for the series, courtesy of Curtis and director Steve Miner. They try their best to present a slower pace before the killings really start, yet it skimps a little too much on the psychological aspects. The film’s really a missed opportunity; while Laurie is a fundamentally interesting character, she doesn’t have too much do to in the first half of the film other than to hallucinate or be constantly startled by numerous side-characters.
Then everything halts in the third act for the slasher stuff to begin. Michael’s “death” is a real crowd pleaser and almost makes up for a film that’s only mediocre. Indeed if Resurrection were plucked out of existence, then H20, despite its weaknesses, would have served as a fitting enough end to the original series.
5. Halloween II (1981)
There’s always something interesting about sequels that take place immediately after their predecessors. On the positive side, they satisfy the overwhelming curiosity and disappointment we always feel when a great film leaves on a cliffhanger. In this sense, Halloween II proves as a worthy companion piece, but it indicates those same holes that the series was to stumble around for the next two decades.
Primarily, the film gives us more of the same; simply put, this is the original film but set in a hospital. It’s also the first attempt to flesh out Michael’s motivation, revealing him to in fact be Laurie’s older brother. It’s an interesting if contrived twist; it makes sense to retain Laurie as the film’s focal point, but ultimately, this was the first instance in treating Michael as an actual character, as opposed to the mysterious force of nature in the original film.
But nothing is severe enough to totally hinder the movie. Thanks to DOP Dean Cundey and director Rick Rosenthal, Myers himself remains nicely haunting – illustrated by a number of eerie and creative shots: streams of blood gushing down from his empty eyes, a reveal shot in a car wing-window, and stepping out to attack while bathed in Argento-esque red lighting.
4. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1998)
In terms of quality, Return is probably equal to Halloween II, but trumps it by having a more refreshing vibe. Spearheaded by a different creative team, it fairly acknowledges the events of first two films, but by mixing in new characters and some decent ideas, it was consequently responsible for renewing interest in the series.
As young Jamie Lloyd mourns the untimely death of her mother Laurie, Michael awakens from his 10-year coma and heads straight for Haddonfield, once again tailed by the ever-persistent Dr. Loomis, who also (somehow) survived the inferno from II.
As slasher films go, the characterisation is pretty good. Early on, we spend some brief but wholly necessary time with Jamie Lloyd and her foster sister Rachel, who after Laurie and Loomis, stand as perhaps the most memorable characters in the entire series. Our affection for them makes for some genuine suspense when they are put in danger – something that is irritatingly absent from the other movies. Loomis even, has a nice character moment while hitchhiking with an eccentric priest.
The framework is sufficient, but the movie never takes its attributes far enough. Once the Michael mayhem starts, the film loses its steam as our two heroes are confined to one room of a house, just so the other characters can be killed off.
But thanks to a surprise ending and classic mid-western spirit, Halloween 4 is a worthy favourite among fans.
3. Halloween (2018)
Currently in cinemas and breaking records is the simply (and infuriatingly) titled Halloween. The series’ third (or fourth, fifth?) instance of ret-conning, it’s the alternative to everything that has transpired in the franchise since 1981. An overdue clean slate or a lazy disregard of history? Take your pick, but the gushing fan reactions would indicate that this is the best since the original.
In many respects, they’re probably correct, but it’s not exactly the alleged “return to form”. The polar opposite of Curse and Resurrection, Halloween does display a genuine attempt to return to its humble roots, and also further the story in a compelling way. Comparisons to H20 are wholly fair, as Halloween succeeds and falters in similar areas, mainly in sacrificing its drama to fulfil those slasher tropes we’re all so tired of by now.
The script undercooks Laurie and her strained relationships in favour of spending time with Michael’s new kill-list – another batch of disinteresting teenagers – while a few twists pepper the story but ultimately disservice the film’s central conflict.
A relentless pace leaves little room for atmosphere, and while an engaging finale makes up for the film’s shortcomings, some elements feel oddly familiar to previous sequels (specifically II and H20). Rather than a clean ret-con, Halloween is more like a salvaging of ideas and motifs that worked before – a kind of “best of” compilation for the past 10 films.
But there are highlights. Some clever visual references illustrate an affectionate regard for the original film without falling into the pitfall of obnoxious fan-service. The simple narrative, Curtis’s performance, Carpenter’s score, and perhaps our decade-long break from the series, gives the film an unmatched appeal.
Overall, it balances out to be as good as a Halloween sequel can be. It’s decent.
2. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
The Halloween sequels all share one of two inescapable problems – they can only blandly repeat the original, or worse, elaborate on elements that were better kept mysterious. John Carpenter and Debra Hill realised these dangers early on, and sought to eradicate them entirely for Halloween III.
The Halloween movie that neither includes Michael Myers, nor is even a slasher, naturally proved irritating and befuddling to audiences at the time, who were not aware of the filmmakers’ intentions to turn Halloween into an anthology series. Granted, the film is no masterwork in genuine terror or even cohesive storytelling, but Witch likely endures today because of its enjoyably outlandish premise, and most delightfully, its near-perfect Halloween tone.
Instead of a run-of-the-mill slasher, director Tommy Lee Wallace made what he calls a “pod” movie – something less Psycho and more Invasion of the Body Snatchers. The plot is too silly and convoluted to go into detail, but in an all-too simple nutshell involves television, Halloween masks, Stonehenge, paganism, robots, the Irish and not a whole lot to do with actual witches. But with cult favourites Tom Atkins and Dan O’Herlihy, Carpenter’s pulsating synth score and an off-kilter atmosphere, this is an oddly pleasing product of ’80s pop-horror.
1. Halloween (1978)
Surprising to no one, first place goes to the immortal classic – John Carpenter’s Halloween. After years of fan discussion and critical scrutiny, there’s almost nothing new to say about the film, only reiterate why exactly it works.
From literally the opening sequence, the film epitomises the phrase ‘simple but effective’. It takes ingenuity to make use of a small budget, and Carpenter and co. wisely discarded the idea of bloodshed and shock value (utilised by so many low budget horrors) and instead relied on tension. From the school of Hitchcock, Carpenter took the classic ‘bomb under the table’ scenario to heart, turning Michael more stalker rather than slasher.
But suspense is just the lacing around Carpenter’s agenda. Thematically, Halloween represents the idea of lack of humanity and personified evil. Through Loomis’ speech and Michael’s elusiveness, Myers is established as something much less concrete than a simple serial killer.
Appropriately named “The Shape”, he is not just a killer without reason, but a form without substance – a “force of nature” in Carpenter’s words. Ever-present and invulnerable, The Shape is even able to possess and corrupt innocuous Haddonfield, gliding through houses and neighbourhoods unafraid and unnoticed, preying on naïve but friendly babysitters. On a deeper level, Halloween represents the uncomfortable juxtaposition of an impenetrable darkness over idyllic Americana.
In the climactic montage, the film smartly but subtly reinforces the disturbing notion that evil is ubiquitous; it stalks before it strikes and no one can be protected from it. Like evil itself, The Shape is inhuman, immortal, intangible… and everywhere.