With the trick-or-treat holiday fast approaching, it seems an ideal to remember and rank the franchise that carries the name Halloween, and began with the efforts of legendary director and genre icon, John Carpenter.
Without further ado, here — ranked worst to best — are all entries of the ten-strong horror franchise. As always, your mileage may vary (and that’s okay).
10. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
This underwhelming final entry in the “original” franchise is so bad that it led to the decision to re-boot the whole bloomin’ thing in 2007.
But worse than that, Halloween: Resurrection looks horribly dated in 2015, focusing on a Web 1.0 reality series and the callow youths (including one played by Katee Sackhoff) who star in it, exploring the abandoned (though staged…) Myers House in Haddonfield.
If the premise of a web-cam MTV-style show set in the Myers House isn’t lame enough, then one need only remember the cringe-worthy climactic scene that witnesses Busta Rhymes kung-fu fighting Michael Myers to the death.
Last but not least, Resurrection also kills off legendary Final Girl Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) when it could have chosen instead to make her the new “anchor” for the franchise, following the demise of Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis.
If that was not a possibility given Jamie Lee Curtis’s lack of desire to star in an ongoing horror franchise, then Halloween: Resurrection still fails resolutely for offering no new protagonist to become invested in; one who can take the franchise in a new direction.
I suppose the film is disappointing too, because it followed immediately after Halloween H20 (1998), an entry which is considered a latter-day high point for the saga.
- Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
One great virtue of the overall Halloween story is simplicity. The franchise involves, on a very basic level, a relentless, unstoppable antagonist; one who, Terminator-like, hones in on a target (preferably a babysitter) on October 31st, and then stalks, and stalks.
The sixth entry in the franchise totally forsakes the simplicity of the saga for a byzantine and confusing new mythology. Here, a grown up Jamie Llloyd — a leading character in entries IV and V — is all grown up, and somehow has been impregnated by Myers while in the captivity of a cult. She escapes from the custody of the Thorn acolytes, dies early in the proceedings, and before the end of the movie we see a lab where the cult seems to be making more “Michael”-like beings with unknown green chemicals.
It’s not just that the film’s plot is overly complex; it’s that The Curse of Michael Myers is so bad it doesn’t make clear why certain events occur.
The Curse of Michael Myers also forsakes any sense of suspense or build-up, and so there is a cursory, rushed feel to the whole enterprise. This is a sad last entry for the great Donald Pleasence, one as faulty in narrative as it remains in execution. Once upon a time, an alternate cut of the film (known as The Producer’s Cut) was promised as a superior version of Curse, but the truth is that it’s not really any better.
8. Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007)
The reboot makes a crucial creative mistake: it forgets the cardinal rule of horror movies that we aren’t afraid of what we know, but rather what we don’t know. Alas, the film goes to great lengths to show us Michael Myer’s youth and home-life as an abused child in a white-trash family.
By giving us this back-story (and motivation for his behavior), we lose all sense of Michael as “The Shape,” or possible Boogeyman. A character who was once electrifying in his inscrutability and ambiguity is now made wholly “known” — and understandable — because of the decision to tell us everything about his formative years. As a result, fear and terror bleed out of the picture, and we’re left with no real scares.
I like Zombie’s films (including his balls-to-the-wall Halloween sequel), but his flawed reboot is further undercut by the choice to re-stage many of the set-pieces of the 1978 original. In terms of composition, pacing and impact, these scenes look like pale, half-assed imitations of the work of a genuine film maestro.
Zombie is a guy with vision, and filmmaking chops, but it ill-suits him to ape Carpenter’s (superior) sense of film style.
- Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
I am abundantly aware that many vocal fans absolutely love this film, the only Myer-less entry in the entire Halloween canon. Furthermore, I agree that — in theory — the film should have been good, inaugurating different Halloween/seasonal themes (and horror genres) in each outing.
But good intentions can’t mask the fact that this film itself is utterly ridiculous. It involves an early 1980s town, Santa Mira that is miraculously controlled by super-advanced humanoid androids that are indistinguishable from human beings. You can even have sex with them, as the film’s hero, Challis (Tom Atkins) learns, without even knowing they are not human.
The androids are controlled by a James Bond-style “talking” villain, Conal Cochrane (Dan O’Herlihy) with a silly plan for world domination. In this case, that plan involves three of the most generic masks you’ve ever seen somehow transforming unsuspecting children into a stew of snakes and bugs on Halloween night thanks to a mystical chip containing material from Stonehenge.
But just ask yourself: if you could create perfect android duplicates, indistinguishable from any human being you want, would you really go with the whole let’s-turn-trick-or-treaters-into-monsters-shtick? Why not duplicate a Senator or two? Or the President?
The silly Cochrane plan also does not take into account the following facts:
That children may not want to go out trick-or-treating as a skeleton, witch or pumpkin — in those generic Silver Shamrock masks — but rather choose such perennially popular costumes as Batman, Wonder Woman, Dracula, Darth Vader, or someone else, instead. Those who do, won’t be impacted by Cochrane’s diabolical/idiotic plan.
So does Conal Cochrane just expect Ben Cooper and Collegeville not to compete?
Furthermore, not all kids will be home at 9:00 pm at night, when Cochrane sends out the signal transforming their faces into vermin stew. Some will be in bed; some will still be out; and some will have already taken off their masks.
So again, he’s only going to take out a percentage of kids.
Finally, immediately after the impacted children are killed, an investigation will follow, and it won’t take long to figure out all the corpses wore Silver Shamrock masks. And guess where they are made? Santa Mira!
So Cochrane hasn’t even covered his tracks.
I love that some people have nostalgia for this early 1980s movie, but that doesn’t change the fact that its plot-line is ridiculous, and internally-inconsistent.
- Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
This sequel begins the (unfortunate and unnecessary) process of complicating the Halloween mythos. The new retcon marks Michael Myers as part of the Thorn Cult (and we see a tattoo on his arm branding him as one of the group). The film also introduces a mysterious stranger in steel-tipped boots, tracking him at all times.
Continuity isn’t a great strong suit of this one, either. The Myers House — a key location in Halloween and Halloween II — is now a gigantic, Gothic-looking edifice, more appropriate for a haunted house movie than one set in 1980s American suburbia. Michael’s mask is also different than the one he wore in the previous film, and when he is finally seen without it, he is –miraculously — unscarred and un-burned. So, is Michael self-regenerating, self-healing?
The worst aspect, however, is the death of Rachel Carruthers (Ellie Cornell). She is established in the fourth film as a fierce defender of her adopted sister, Jamie (Danielle Harris), and a likable, intelligent protagonist. Revenge of Michael Myers instead sees her prancing about in skimpy clothing to bad 1980s tunes on the way to the shower, before Michael unceremoniously kills her. Adding insult to injury, Jamie hardly seems broken up about her death, apparently having moved on to befriend the ditzy Tina (Wendy Kaplan) instead.
The fifth film does possess some tense scenes, including one in which Jamie attempts to escape Myers by climbing up a vent shaft, but overall the film plays more like a middling Friday the 13th entry than a proper Halloween sequel.
- Halloween II (2009)
Rob Zombie’s sequel utterly debauched horror enthusiasts and critics around the globe in 2009, and has been reviled ever since.
It is not a fun horror film, like every other effort in the franchise. On the contrary, the movie is an absolutely unsparing and bleak, balls-to-the-wall expression of Zombie’s personal vision of humanity as irredeemably corrupt and sleazy. It is the cinematic equivalent of a middle-finger directed at the audience. The film is relentless, but also — surprise! — a totally original take on the material.
All the characters are unlikable, the violence is excessive, and no joy exists in this white-trash world of pain, death, betrayal, and murder: The bleakness goes even further, too. Zombie continues his systematic dismantling of the Halloween “brand” by removing Michael’s mask from most of the action and revealing him to be simply, a psychotic giant with a Grizzly Adams beard.
Michael proves not merely violent in this film, but brutally sadistic: he literally turns one victim’s face into unrecognizable pulp. And though, in Halloween, there was dialogue indicating that Michael Myers ate a dog, Zombie decides to show us that feast here. Zombie cross-cuts between a scene of Dourif’s Sheriff Brackett eating pizza with Michael Myers ripping apart the flesh of a dead dog…and eating it.
Again, it’s not scary…just nauseating. But nobody saw this sequel, and its nihilistic approach coming, and this time around Zombie follows his own muse, rather than trying to ape Carpenter’s (superior) moves. The result is the most challenging and offbeat Halloween film, perhaps, since 1978.
- Halloween II (1981)
This (first) sequel to John Carpenter’s Halloween actually looks and sounds like it was filmed at the same time as Carpenter’s landmark film. Donald Pleasence, Jamie Lee Curtis, and the Shape are all back for this sequel, and the film’s final chase through a hospital basement and parking lot is still remarkably tense, even decades later.
Sure, the film has some notable problems. Suddenly Michael is much more elaborate in his killing strategies, going so far as to drain the blood of one victim in an operating theater. The film is also set in the most dimly-lit, sparsely populated hospital in movie history.
But aside from such issues, the film makes for a great companion piece, or book-end, to Carpenter’s film. The denouement, with Loomis and Myers meeting their fates together, is poetic, and just about perfect. If the saga had stopped here, the sequel might be even more highly regarded by fans than it is now, as merely one in a near endless run of follow-ups.
- Halloween H20 (1998)
Although it is a bummer that Donald Pleasence passed away before this film was made, and therefore couldn’t resurrect Loomis or one more Myers hunt, Halloween H20 nonetheless gets so much right.
Most importantly, the film reconnects audiences with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and reveals how she has suffered from PTSD (not to mention alcoholism…) since that fateful night in 1978. Laurie’s transition from anxiety-ridden basket-case to Michael’s nemesis is absolutely rousing, and the last act – which dispenses with the supporting case and pits Final Girl against Shape — is great stuff.
The film’s final shots, involving an on-screen decapitation, are shocking and hard-earned. Following the decapitation, the Halloween Theme kicks to electric life, and suddenly all is forgiven for the scattershot nature of the franchise.
Short and sweet, lean and mean, this is a great 20th anniversary present to Halloween fans.
- Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
This film resurrected Michael Myers after the box-office failure of the previous entry, Season of the Witch. Jamie Lee Curtis isn’t back, sadly, but the film gives us a worthy heir in Ellie Cornell’s Rachel Carruthers, a resourceful final girl who must not only save herself, but her young sister, Jamie (Danielle Harris), from Michael.
Donald Pleasence is also here – at his wild-eyed best — but the film gets the most mileage out of its inventive Michael Myers gimmicks. For example, one scene sees features several “Shapes” closing in for the kill before revealing that they are just kids in costumes, pulling a prank. Another scene also promises an infinite regression of Michael Myers, as his murderous image is reflected endlessly in a series of mirrors. The film’s ending takes us right back to the beginning of Halloween in 1978, and promises that the Myers legacy of evil can continue for a long time, in one person or another.
A true return to form, and crowd-pleaser to boot.
- John Carpenter’s Halloween (1978)
This is a surprise, right? John Carpenter’s original film is in a class by itself. In part this is so because the film is trenchantly about the idea of “Evil” existing in a society looking to find psychological motives and diagnoses for anti-social behavior. Michael Myers evades any such diagnosis and is “purely and simply” evil.
Michael himself is a remarkable figure in this film, one whose real identity is obscured by that featureless white mask.
Is he just a developmentally-arrested “child” playing pranks, unable to conceive of the consequences of his murderous actions?
Is he a manifestation of the repressed Laurie’s Id?
Or is he, as the film suggests finally, really and truly the Boogeyman?
Halloween opens itself to all such interpretations (and more, actually…), and remains a relentlessly scary, relentlessly effective horror film, even decades after its premiere.