Halloween recently turned 40, a perfect occasion for a fresh installment (courtesy of David Gordon Green) and reappraisal of the series. I think it’s easily the greatest multi-director horror franchise. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a hot mess and there’s little solace for the purist, but if you’re willing to take each movie on its own and forsake all concern for continuity, it has many pleasures to offer.
Speaking of continuity, there are no less than five timelines in the franchise. It will be helpful to begin by laying them all out:
Halloween (Carpenter, 1978), Halloween II (Rosenthal, 1981), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Little, 1988), Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (Othenin-Girard, 1989), Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (Chappelle, 1995)
There’s a lot of lore surrounding the way the series was originally prolonged into multiple sequels and as a John Carpenter fan it’s easy to be annoyed by it, but the shit show that surrounded the production of these movies is what caused the later ones to turn out so distinctive and crazy. Basically, Carpenter wanted the Halloween franchise to be a disconnected anthology of Halloween-themed horror movies, but the public and the studio wanted more Michael Myers. He was contractually obligated to write part 2 and he made the screenplay deliberately bad out of disdain for the task. Tommy Lee Wallace, Carpenter’s right-hand man, was supposed to direct but washed his hands of it after reading the script. Rick Rosenthal felt differently, however, and directed the ever living shit out of Carpenter’s script. Carpenter got his way with part III, which broke away from the Michael Myers timeline in an attempt to turn the series into a disconnected anthology. It sadly flopped and so part IV brought back Myers, retconned the ending of II and proceeded to rehash the original. IV was more successful than III, and so V and VI continued on the same timeline. The productions for parts V and VI were notorious disasters and the story veers off into outstandingly bizarre directions in these entries (which I personally love). One thing the movies that make up the original timeline have in common is that they all feature Donald Pleasence as Loomis. If you ask me, Pleasence is the best element of the entire franchise. He just totally rules. He’s the British Klaus Kinski.
Season of the Witch Timeline
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Wallace, 1982)
Halloween is a movie in the Season of the Witch universe. This is the only entry without Michael Myers. It’s a totally independent story about a nefarious scheme involving Halloween masks and Stonehenge. It flopped and was long neglected, but it’s been reappraised and is now considered a horror classic.
Halloween (Carpenter, 1978), Halloween II (Rosenthal, 1981), Halloween: H20 (Miner, 1998), Halloween Resurrection (Rosenthal, 2002)
After the last couple entries in the original timeline were box office failures and the story had been irreparably written into a corner, the H20 reboot was launched with Jamie Lee Curtis back in the fray (her first appearance since part II). The narrative developments of IV-VI were discarded and on this timeline Laurie Strode (Curtis) survived her youth and has taken up at a secluded boarding school. Michael was thought to have died at the end of part II, but he has been alive all along and returns 20 years later to pursue Laurie. Resurrection does not have Jamie Lee Curtis, but it does continue directly from the end of H20,
Halloween (Carpenter, 1978), Halloween (Green, 2018)
David Gordon Green and Danny McBride’s reboot for Blumhouse discards the narrative developments of all the sequels. In this one, Michael Myers hasn’t killed anyone for 40 years and has been locked up the whole time. Jamie Lee Curtis is back and Laurie Strode is more like Sarah Conner in this version, having long alienated her family with her Michael Myers-prepper lifestyle.
Halloween (Zombie, 2007), Halloween 2 (Zombie, 2009)
Zombie’s Halloween remakes the original Carpenter film and has a timeline all its own. It begins before the events of the original and fleshes out Michael’s origins further. In the original, Michael is from a suburban middle class family. In the Zombieverse, he’s white trash. Zombie wanted to focus on this prequel material, but he was forced to include a quick rehash of the plot of the original film in the second half of the movie. His Halloween 2 goes off in a totally different direction from the original timeline. It has strong thematic continuity with Zombie’s other work.
It probably won’t surprise Strohltopia readers to learn that my ranking of these movies is a bit heterodox. I’m just being honest. Let me be very clear that *I love all of these movies* and for the most part it’s very hard for me to rank them.
11) Halloween: H20 (Miner, 1998)
This one is definitely last. I do love it, but it’s the one that gives me the least joy. Lots of people who dislike IV-VI think that this entry saved the series, and some people even think it’s the best sequel (I see that the ever detestable “Rotten Tomatoes Critics Consensus” summary blurb makes this claim). I could not disagree more strongly. Yes, it does get back to the series’ roots in certain ways, but Halloween purism is off the table as far as I’m concerned, since literally none of the sequels do the original justice. Once you let go of the purist impulse and embrace the absurdity of IV-VI, H20 just looks tepid. It’s technically an R but at heart this is bloodless PG-13 horror. Not one kill stands out and we see Michael Myers doing very un-Michael things like stealing someone’s keys at a rest stop and just taking off when he could have easily murdered their entire family. I’m only being negative because I find the claim that this is better than IV-VI so irksome. Even with its flaws, it’s still delightful to see Jamie Lee Curtis again and her performance makes this worthwhile.
10) Halloween Resurrection (Rosenthal, 2002)
I find it agonizing to rank Resurrection so low, because IT RULES. People hate it, but they are wrong. It’s great. The premise is that none other than Busta Rhymes has a reality webseries called Dangertainment (!) where he live-streams people doing something dangerous. (NB, given that this was made in 2002 it looks pretty prescient about the direction the internet was going.) A bunch of teenagers agree to spend the night in the abandoned Myers house. Of course, Michael himself shows up.
The problem that Resurrection does have (which I find easy to overlook) is that the abandoned house doesn’t have any lights and so there ends up being way too much stumbling around in the dark. It gets repetitive. But this is easily the funniest Halloween movie and it has no delusions about its own limitations. It’s having fun with itself. I suspect that some of the humor actually went over the heads of the Tomato critics who haughtily panned it. For example, there’s a scene where the Smart Girl is about to hook up with the Meathead Guy in the cellar. In a moment of escalating passion, he requests, “say something smart!” and she blurts out, “existence precedes essence!” I frickin’ lost it. Also, you better believe Busta Rhymes attempts to use kung fu against Michael Myers.
9) Halloween (Green, 2018)
The Blumhouse Halloween (written by David Gordon Green and Danny McBride) reboots the series, discarding the narrative developments of all the sequels. The first act is a pleasantly acrid satire of true crime podcasts and then we meet up with Laurie Strode, who has become a sort of Sarah Conner 40 years after the events of the original. Michael has been incarcerated the entire time.
I did not much care for this the first time I saw it, but watching it again after a fresh rewatch of the rest of the franchise changed my opinion. My original complaint was that it felt like mostly lazy rehash. I realize now that while it is indeed rehash, it is far from lazy. This movie is extremely dense fan porn. While it discards the narrative of the sequels, it makes at least one reference to every single one of them. By the end I had noticed allusions to every installment except IV and I started to despair “am I just missing the reference to IV? what kind of horror geek am I??” but then the final shot is a pitch perfect Halloween IV nod. I’m generally not into Easter Eggism, but this movie is so hardcore about it that I’m impressed. For example, there’s a scene in the original where they couldn’t afford rights to music so they just had Laurie and John sing a made-up song “I wish I had you all alone…” Green had a frickin’ band record this song and then played it on the radio in a parallel scene. And the sets are packed full of props from the other entries.
The finale very closely mirrors certain aspects of the finale of the original and the first time I saw it I was annoyed by this. I realized on my second viewing that it’s actually doing something much more precise and purposeful than I thought. It reenacts all the most iconic moments from the original’s finale, but with the power dynamics between Michael and Laurie swapped. This sort of thing doesn’t exactly blow my mind (we are up to our ears in gender-swap remakes) but as a fan porn exercise it’s pretty cool.
My overall opinion is that this is decent as fan service but also limited by the modesty of its ambition. On the plus side, the opening is *amazing*, the random bits of writing where Danny McBride’s sense of humor shines through are bizarre and delightful, and I welcome the brutality of many of the kills. I appreciate the way the rest area scene deliberately corrects the tepidness of H20. This is a movie that should please franchise fans, and I’m looking forward to the sequel. At the same time, it can play as reasonably effective jump-scare horror for multiplex audiences who won’t catch all the geeky references.
8) Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Little, 1988)
There’s a lot to love about IV: some great kills, funny jokes, excellent Loomis, and terrific child acting from Danielle Harris. I have a pretty low threshold for annoyance at child protagonists in horror movies, but Harris doesn’t register as even slightly annoying. In fact, her performances in this and V are among my very favorite child acting performances. On the downside, though, IV is the least imaginative of the original timeline. It’s pretty straight rehash of the original, but with a cheekier tone that reflects the direction the genre had gone in the 80’s. But also, the ending is amazing. Some people discount this consideration because V takes it back, but I don’t see it that way. Taken on its own, the ending is great, but then it had to be undone so that part V could do an incompatible thing that’s also great.
7) Halloween (Zombie, 2007)
I go with the director’s cut for both this and the sequel. It’s more important for the sequel. I love Rob Zombie’s Halloween, though it clearly could have been better. I especially love the gritty, grimy first half, with William Forsythe’s glorious performance as the abusive stepdad and all the Gummo-esque adolescent nihilism. The second half, where the story of the Carpenter original is rehashed, is a big letdown (though hurray for casting Danielle Harris!). Zombie didn’t want to do this part and it shows. Also, his style here is immature compared to the sequel. He’s still doing Hellabilly-infected Tobe Hooper karaoke at this point.
6) Halloween 2 (Zombie, 2009)
This movie was a huge leap forward for Zombie. Here he developed a very distinctive style that he further elaborated in 2012’s Lords of Salem (which I think is his best film). He shot this on 16 mm and it looks awesome. Grindhouse meets arthouse. The director’s cut is absolutely mandatory here; anyone who just saw the theatrical version is missing out. Zombie picks up from the end of his remake and takes the story in a totally different direction, much more like The Devils Rejects than the original 1981 Halloween II. With respect to mise-en-scène, this towers above most contemporary horror. Many people, including my brother Josh, consider this to be one of the best Halloween movies overall. While I agree that it’s great, I don’t think it’s that great. I miss the aggressive grime of the first Zombie movie and I think the Loomis arc here is just straight bad. Malcolm McDowell is a fine choice, and while he’s no Donald Pleasence he does a good job with the first movie. The turn the character takes here totally loses me, though. He becomes a vain wannabe true crime celebrity and we lose all sense of his obsession with Michael, which is absolutely essential to the character (I guess we’ve found a place where I am indeed a purist). When he does confront Michael and seek redemption it feels hollow. Also, the title card explaining how to interpret the symbolism of the white horse is a bit on the nose.
5) Halloween II (Rosenthal, 1981)
“I shot him SIX TIMES!!! SIX TIMES!!! SIX TIMES!!!” Halloween II is all about the Loomis factor. There is so much Donald Pleasence waving a gun around and raving like a lunatic. Also, Rosenthal directs the ever living shit out of this. There are some seriously dope tracking shots. This does have some pacing problems and goes for more rehash than I would have preferred, but overall it’s a tremendous delight.
4) Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers [part VI] (Chappelle, 1995)
Producer’s cut mandatory! Here my opinions admittedly get a bit… eccentric. Let me emphasize again that the producer’s cut is the only version that counts here. It bombed with test audiences and some new footage was shot and cut into the movie. The new footage is crap quality (though it does include what would be the movie’s most memorable kill), and the theatrical cut seriously tones down the best aspect of the movie: the DRUID INCEST CULT. The purist complaint about this movie is that what makes Michael Myers so compelling is that he lacks a motivation beyond pure evil, and so any more detailed mythology can only detract. This is correct in principle, but that ship has sailed 10 times over. If Michael is going to get a richer mythology, I don’t think you could do any better than druid incest cult. Also: grown up Tommy Doyle is played by *Paul Rudd* and it is one loopy performance.
3) Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Wallace, 1982)
This is the only entry after the original that looks and feels like a John Carpenter movie. He did the music and it was directed by his right hand man. This is a sui generis entry, without Michael Myers, and it was an abject box office failure, with the result that Carpenter’s anthology idea was abandoned. As mentioned above, this has benefited from reappraisal and is now rightly considered a classic. I think the series is clearly better for containing this oddball installment. I mean c’mon, the plot revolves around Stonehenge and secretly nefarious masks for children (it actually does very loosely connect with some of the druid lore that is alluded to in II and developed later in VI).
2) Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (Othenin-Girard, 1989)
This is an indefensible opinion, but it is very much my opinion. I accept that I am out on my own here (even Josh thinks this is ridiculous), but I am a total stan for part V. First of all, you’ve got Danielle Harris back for an even better performance than part IV, because now she’s gone all The Fury and has TELEPATHIC SEIZURES whenever Michael kills someone. But what really sends this over the moon for me is PEAK LOOMIS. Pleasence was totally shitfaced while filming this and his performance is truly spectacular. Also, there’s a mysterious and pivotal Man in Black and we get zero idea of what his deal is. They just left this for part VI to explain, which didn’t happen for six years. They had no plan. I love it.
1) Halloween (Carpenter, 1978)
Perfect in every way. You can safely dismiss the opinions of anyone who ranks the Halloween movies and doesn’t put this number 1.