The Halloween franchise spans ten films and about 17 hours of screen time.
According to my Kindle, I could read about half of Infinite Jest in that time. But I’m not reading Infinite Jest. I’m watching ten Halloween movies.
As it turns out, I am susceptible to poor decision making, particularly when those poor decisions are self-generated.
What follows is, at best, a cautionary tale. At worst, it’s a fairly indefensible waste of time and a healthy pair of eyes.
Without further ado, is 4,000 words on how not to spend one's life.
In wholly unsurprising news, John Carpenter’s original Halloween is still great. But it’s especially interesting to compare it to what horror movies look like today. 37 years on and it would seem downright quaint if it weren’t still so terrifying. Over the years, mainstream horror movies have become so loaded up with high concepts, cartoonish gore, and nauseating editing that the long shots and slow build make Halloween feel like an art film. The majority of Michael Myers’ killing spree doesn’t even kick off until the last half hour of the movie. By then Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis has seemingly been wandering around the quiet suburbs of Haddonfield, Illinois wide eyed and packing heat for the better part of a day.
That Halloween is so effective and scary nearly forty years on is a testament to the potency of a simple concept executed well. Phenomenal, restrained direction and an iconic score from John Carpenter, an excellent script by Carpenter and Debra Hill, great performances from Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance, and a cinematic dynasty launched by a spray painted rubber William Shatner mask. What’s not to love?
Halloween II (1981)
Maybe under a more skilled hand Halloween II wouldn’t be such a turd, but unfortunately, it is. To be fair, getting a clean read on it immediately after watching the first one may just be impossible, but what a chore of a movie.
There are some reasonably decent elements here. Temporally, it’s an interestingly placed film, taking place immediately following the events of the first film, as Haddonfield attempts to wrap its collective head and infrastructure around the terror just visited upon it. But ultimately, promising seeds are sown in inhospitable crops. The direction is clumsy, Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis are present, but are largely shown in brief scenes while we get a cast of paper thin slasher movie stereotypes to deal with.
It mostly takes place inside a hospital, where Laurie is recuperating. Through a dizzyingly stupid turn of events, Michael Myers is presumed dead, so the authorities aren’t exactly putting the town under martial law, despite the protests of a delightfully histrionic Dr. Loomis, whose oft-ignored ramblings are probably the best part of the movie.
Michael lumbers around Haddonfield, making his way to the hospital. One of the scariest things about Michael Myers is that he walks everywhere. His lust for murder is such a single-minded propulsion that it doesn’t matter how quickly he reaches his target; if he wants someone dead, they will be dead. But it doesn’t seem like the makers of Halloween II had really figured that out. Rather than stalking the shadows, Michael lurches around like a drunk Frankenstein, making it pretty difficult to take him seriously (though all the stabbing helps his case).
This is probably most clear in the film’s climax. Laurie, after playing hide and seek with Michael for what feels like a series of eternities, shoots him in the face. Bleeding from… somewhere in the head/face (unclear, as there isn’t a discernible wound, Michael begins stumbling around the room, swinging a scalpel in the hopes of hitting something. Perhaps it’s a commentary on Michael’s wasted life, returning him in the audience’s eyes to the tender young age at which he took his first victim, because the man looks like a drunk baby. He hits nothing, Laurie runs out of the room, and Loomis takes advantage of a large amount of combustible gases stored in the room and blows them both to kingdom come.
Ultimately, Halloween II feels like the answer to the question “What would Halloween be like if you surgically removed everything that was good about it?”
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Somewhat famous for the absence of Michael Myers, Season of the Witch is a deeply weird experience. It stars Night of the Comet’s Tom Atkins as an emergency room doctor trying to unravel a conspiracy by an Irish-Californian toy company to manufacture killer Halloween masks to mass-murder children using the power of a meteorite according to old Irish folktales.
At the very least, it’s an interesting trip. The masks manufactured by the Silver Shamrock company use the metorite’s power and a hypnotic TV commercial to essentially turn their wearers’ bodies into fetid menageries of snakes and slimy bugs, which, at least in the demonstration we’re shown, also set about killing anyone else in the room. Atkins, the unlikely lothario, has to take a break from running game on two unsuspecting women to try and convince the world of this android-laden conspiracy he’s stumbled into, lest a significant portion of the world’s children all die instantly on Halloween night. Oh yeah, there’s robots. A lot of robots.
With the primary antagonist being a brilliant, ultra-powerful inventor with an arsenal of deadly technology at his hands, it almost turns Atkins into a kind of low-budget Californian James Bond.
Season of the Witch was apparently the result of John Carpenter and Debra Hill thinking that the Halloween franchise could become fertile ground for an anthology of horror films, not necessarily connected to the original two Halloween movies. It’s a pretty interesting idea, but one that wouldn’t see any action beyond this third entry due to poor box office and critical reception, which is too bad. While it’s not a perfect film, Season of the Witch extends itself beyond the traditional and often staid spectrum of the average horror movie. It has a truly weird premise, some beautiful cinematography, a solid score, and a pretty decent cast. Writer/Director Tommy Lee Wallace probably hit the nail right on its proverbial head when he lamented Season of the Witch being sent into the world as a Halloween entry. Perhaps it would’ve been best served simply being the only player in its own strange sandbox.
Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
In the aftermath of Season of the Witch’s disappointing showing at the box office and with critics, it would appear that the only sensible solution to keep the Halloween franchise alive would be to bring back Michael Myers.
Halloween IV is a fairly decent slasher movie. It doesn’t harbor any loft aspirations and gets down to business pretty quickly. Every scrap of important plot DNA is contained within the title: Michael Myers is back! It doesn’t really matter how or why.
This is where we start to see the more supernatural elements that would come to be part of the Myers mythos. For reasons that I don’t think are ever explained, he’s super strong now; crushing bone and cartilage with his bare hands when there isn’t a giant chef’s knife nearby. After a few years in a coma following the events of Halloween II, Michael escapes the mental hospital he’s been held in, cocooned in gauze, strapped to a gurney with truck tie downs like a piano in a moving truck. He escapes and ever the staunch traditionalist, makes tracks for Haddonfield.
Halloween IV is also where we start to see cracks in the franchise narrative smoothed over with offscreen deaths and characters implausibly explained away to make room for actors that agreed to appear in the film.
We’re told that Laurie Strode died in a car accident, but not before having a daughter, Jamie Lloyd, now living in foster care. Naturally, this makes her Michael’s niece, so she must die.
Having the ostensible plot of this movie make it clear that Michael’s mission is to destroy his bloodline, one starts to wonder what his plan is for when it’s all over. Vacation? Retirement? Long days at the dog track sipping watered down Cutty Sark and 7-Up? Maybe he has a secret nest egg, a piece of land in Ensenada, or a line on a hot deal on an all-inclusive week at Sandals. I may not be the voice of the majority here, but I want to see that movie.
Somewhere, in a drawer in Culver City, there’s a script for Halloweekend at Bernie’s that the world may just never be ready for.
Halloween IV isn’t great, but it’s not awful, either. Donald Pleasance is unhinged as ever as Dr. Loomis and the rest of the cast does a pretty commendable job with what’s basically a fairly run-of-the-murder-mill slasher flick.
Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
There’s an important lesson to be learned from the fifth Halloween: if you don’t have an idea for a movie, it’s completely acceptable to just not make a movie.
This installment is notable for showing a brief glimpse of Michael’s face, though that outcome seems almost likely after watching an oversized, lopsided mannequin face dangle off his melon for 90 plus minutes. One would think that the Michael Myers mask would be a prop that would be of paramount importance to get right when making a Halloween movie, but that thought didn’t appear to cross the minds of those responsible for Halloween V.
Despite being basically a retread of Halloween IV, a lot of this movie is forgivable. It’s pretty run-of-the-mill slasher fare, with Michael laying waste to a lot of frolicking teenagers. Donald Pleasance is back and is as Biblically wide-eyed as ever, a boon to the series. Danielle Harris turns in another commendable performance, particularly for being such a young kid, but the story is so unremarkable, it’s hardly worth watching. The entire Myers mythos is furthered but also bafflingly undone when for no reason whatsoever, Loomis switches gears in the last few minutes of the film and decides Michael should be captured rather than slaughtered, negating his efforts for four entire films at this point.
I’m beginning to get the feeling that there might be too many Halloween movies.
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
I’ve never been more happy to see Paul Rudd.
Aside from Season of the Witch, The Curse of Michael Myers might be the strangest installment in the original Halloween series. It turns out that Michael survived the end of Halloween V and kidnapped Jamie, taking her to live underground with some sort of twisted Druid death cult that worships Michael. Years later she is impregnated and upon giving birth, escapes their underground lair. She is mercifully released from this convoluted nightmare and we’re left with Paul Rudd as a Myers expert and various members of the Strode family, who are now living in the Myers house.
God love him, Donald Pleasance is back guns blazing. Despite being very near the end of his days when this film was made, he turns in another great performance as Dr. Loomis. If there’s some kind of championship or honorary degree for great acting in execrable movies, it should be named after Donald Pleasance.
The Myers death cult is an intriguing idea, but unfortunately it’s half-baked and never really explored by the film. Paul Rudd gives a computer-aided monologue about Druids that might actually explain some of their significance in the film, but I can’t remember if it does. I just finished the sixth one of these things in a row and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little punch drunk.
That this opened against and was defeated at the box office as Se7en certainly feels indicative of a change in what constitutes exciting serial killer fare. While the production values certainly appeared more robust than its predecessors, David Fincher has had half-remembered dreams about wet farts that are more visually groundbreaking than The Curse of Michael Myers.
I think I might take a short break before diving into the seventh installment to gaze longingly at my college diploma or look into different kinds of societally valuable volunteer work I could do to atone for this.
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
After the successes of films like Se7en and Wes Craven’s Scream, it would’ve appeared that the American moviegoing public was ready for another Halloween movie, but this one would have to be different. It would need to be smarter, more engaging to an audience that had outgrown the rote old tricks of 80’s slasher movies. It would need to be dynamic, and poke fun at the inherently ridiculous trappings of the horror genre itself. It would, essentially, need to be Scream.
Halloween H20 is not Scream. Though producers hired Scream screenwriter (Screamwriter?) Kevin Williamson to rewrite H20 once Jamie Lee Curtis expressed interest in resurrecting Laurie Strode, he ended up only being credited as an Executive Producer. None of this really matters except to illustrate that the filmmakers were at least aimed in the right direction.
Laurie Strode was back, having faked her own death, and is now the headmistress at a remote California boarding school. The smartest thing about H20 is that it jettisons a lot of potential franchise baggage by pretending Halloween 3-6 never happened. No death cults, no Jamie Lloyd, no labored exposition. In a stroke of mercy, that narrative streamlining helps make H20 the shortest Halloween movie.
Halloween H20’s flaws are many, but at the end of the day, it’s a pretty decent horror movie. The deaths are fairly creative, the return of Jamie Lee Curtis obviously netted the production a respectable budget, and the cast is littered with actors like Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, and Joseph Gordon Levitt, that would go on to become established performers in their own right. A cameo by Curtis’ mother, Janet Leigh, of Psycho fame is also a very nice touch.
It’s not a remarkable entry in the series, but compared the the last few, it’s a relative triumph. From what I can gather, it’s not looked upon fondly by Halloween fans, but I have a soft spot for it. At the very least, it won’t take up too much of your time.
It also begins a short-lived tradition of Michael Myers fighting rappers with LL Cool J playing the campus’ lone security guard, Ronny. This tradition would only last long enough to reach a stirring crescendo in the next installment.
Seven down and no one’s burst into my house to kill me. I can’t decide whether or not this is a positive or a negative.
Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
All due respect to the Flipmode Squad, but if the best part of your movie is Busta Rhymes, your movie might have some problems.
Halloween: Resurrection is a 94 minute slog through an unrelenting series of creative misfires and poorly executed everythings. Resurrection opens with some surprising and gut-wrenchingly badly delivered news: Michael Myers—despite being very clearly decapitated by Laurie Strode at the end of the last film—is still alive!
Apparently, Michael switched outfits with a paramedic and then crushed his windpipe so he couldn’t say to anyone nearby “HEY, I AM NOT MICHAEL MYERS DESPITE WHAT THIS MASK AND JUMPSUIT MIGHT LEAD YOU TO BELIEVE.” Why the paramedic then tried to kill Laurie while she was driving the coroner’s van and then made it all the way through the van crashing and then pinning him against a tree without making any discernible effort to identify himself is not explained.
Or why he didn’t just take the mask off.
Maybe there’s a deleted scene where Michael goes and melts down a bunch of horse hooves to make superglue and then superglues it to the guy’s face?
Doesn’t matter. The clowns that wrote this didn’t care, so why should I?
Laurie is now locked up in a mental hospital, mute, and irreparably scarred after decapitating an innocent man. Michael breaks into the hospital to finally kill her, and in a series of events that might as well have “Yakkity Sax” playing underneath them, succeeds. Jamie Lee Curtis is in this pile for a grand total of maybe three minutes.
It’s heartbreaking in a way, to watch a beloved franchise march resolutely toward utter irrelevance, but I would rather watch a movie about Michael Myers’ artisanal super glue business than Halloween: Resurrection.
The plot is pretty simple. A bunch of college kids sign up for a company that puts them in a cheap reality show in exchange for cash. The reality show is a sleepover at the Myers house, where unbeknownst to all of these idiots, Michael has been living underneath since the last film. The characters are all pretty contemptible and thinly constructed, the dialogue is dizzyingly stupid, and by the time they’re in the house, you’re ready for all of them to be swiftly and brutally dispatched. It’s probably possible to cut this movie down to a fun 15 minute short called Michael Myers’ Idiot Death House, but we play the cards we’re dealt.
The lone silver lining to this giant turd that’s shaped like a cloud is Busta Rhymes giving Resurrection 110% more effort than it warrants. As one of the two organizers of this endeavor, Bus a Bus chews scenery like a dog in a cat factory and takes his strangely highlighted obsession with kung fu movies upside Michael’s head. His lines are almost all totally absurd and the sight of him yelling “Trick or treat, motherfucker!” at Michael before crane kicking him in the chest is perhaps the sole joy to be had in this dream killing loser of a movie.
Closing in on 3,000 words and at this point I’m not totally sure this is even in English anymore. I should’ve done this with a live stream of an FMRI machine so I could have evidence of my frontal lobe turning to pudding.
I have a lot of admiration for Rob Zombie. This is a guy who said to himself “I want to live in a world where I’m constantly surrounded by robots and monsters” and then went out and created that world. There’s something legitimately amazing about that. He’s like a harmless Bond villain.
It makes me wish I liked his Halloween remake more.
He’s proven himself to be a talented filmmaker. House of 1,000 Corpses is a bit of insane fun and The Devil’s Rejects is one of the most soul-crushingly effective film experiences in recent memory. Zombie’s Halloween isn’t glaringly bad, it’s just extraordinarily unnecessary. He sets out to delve into the DNA of Carpenter’s original story, but the genuine article was a beautiful example of streamlined, purpose-built filmmaking that didn’t need fleshing out.
Michael Myers is best experienced as a silent, unstoppable death machine. The story doesn’t benefit from spending half an hour exploring The Murderer as an Angry Young Man. Carpenter accomplished the same thing in the ultra-brief P.O.V. sequence that opens his Halloween. It’s kind of funny to see The Monkees’ Mickey Dolenz as a redneck gun dealer who sells Malcolm McDowell’s Dr. Loomis his revolver, but it doesn’t add a thing to the story.
One gets the feeling Zombie includes a lot of these scenes out of reverence for Carpenter’s original. After all, it would be hard to believe a man with his public proclivities would undertake a Halloween remake without having a serious love for the one that started it all, but his approach is muddied by a lack of editorial zeal.
Halloween looks great, and it’s maybe the best Michael Myers casting job in the whole franchise with ex-pro wrestler and gigantic Canadian Tyler Mane, but Carpenter’s original casts a shadow that is simply inescapable.
Halloween II (2009)
Michael is dead, until Michael is not dead. After the coroner’s van crashes, Michael Myers takes to the countryside, enjoying a long, introspective walkabout. He grows a beard, hunts his own food, and while it’s not shown, I’d like to imagine he’s taken up a few wholesome pastimes like fly fishing and the acoustic guitar.
Michael Myers Finds Himself on a Gap Year is another phenomenal film idea suggested but not capitalized upon in this franchise. In between murdering territorial rednecks and eating dogs, Michael eventually circles back towards Haddonfield to make another run at ending the Myers bloodline.
Malcolm McDowell’s Dr. Loomis, portrayed as a genuinely caring psychologist in the first film has turned into a craven, fame-hungry prick, exploiting the murders in Haddonfield with a grisly true crime book and a media tour. For reasons that eluded me, he’s become a cynical, snooty diva and an insufferable douche. I suppose it adds some narrative propulsion to look forward to his inevitable demise, but every scene with him leading up to it is unpleasant at best.
The best part of Halloween II is Brad Dourif reprising his role as Sheriff Brackett. Brad Dourif’s great in everything that springs to mind, but he’s so great at playing total creeps that it seems like he rarely gets the chance to do much else. He plays Brackett as beleaguered but dedicated; trying to hold everything together under the psychic weight of the terror that befell his family and his town. He’s warm, but determined and manages to subvert a lot of stale horror movie stereotypes by turning in an emotional, three dimensional performance.
The rest of the cast is pretty decent, too, but most of the dialogue is people screaming about how psychologically scarred they are from the events of the first movie and then screaming because they’re being heinously murdered.
Zombie weaves in a few interesting threads by opening up the character of Michael Myers a bit. For the first time since the opening of the very first film, we see things through Michael’s eyes. As it turns out, becoming a mass murderer as a child and then re-upping your membership annually for a few years doesn’t leave one’s headspace free of turbulence. Michael is regularly visited by visions of his mother and himself as a child. The specter of his mother acts as a sort of guiding force for Michael, often clad in angelic white attire, she commands him to kill.
People go places, use the word “fuck” as punctuation, and seemingly wait to be killed. The lucky ones die, including Michael and Loomis, but Laurie survives. Cut down by a hail of Police gunfire after appearing with a comically large knife, the last shot of the film shows her recuperated, but in what appears to be a mental institution, kept company by an angelic vision of her grandmother and a white horse. A somber cover of “Love Hurts” plays, an audience vows to be more selective in the future.
Halloween II is ambitious, which I’ll nearly always praise regardless of the results. Visually, there’s some interesting and beautiful things going on, but in the end, it just doesn’t hang together. Like its forebear, it’s not outright awful, but it’s not great, either.
There’s not much more to say about it and honestly, after nearly 17 hours of this, I think there are worms eating what’s left of my brain. Neither the mind nor the body are willing to go on.
Clearly, this was a terrible idea.
Surveying the Halloween franchise as a whole is watching the systematic torture and murder of a good idea. A great premise is beaten to death and resurrected over and over, each time losing more of the essence that made it able to summit such remarkable heights to begin with. It’s the equivalent of watching the offspring of a minor celebrity say “Don’t you know who I am?” to a succession of bouncers at increasingly unimpressive clubs over the course of the longest night of your life. It coasts on unearned energy and misbegotten status and highlights some of the worst habits and laziest tendencies of the horror genre.
If you’re thinking about watching all ten Halloween movies in a row, I wouldn’t recommend it. This is a feat of lethargy on par with death. In short, it’s just something no one should ever do.
Go outside. Read a book. Hug a loved one. Watch a good movie.