I love the Halloween franchise. Its highs have been high and its lows have been low, but I’ve been there for all of it. I will readily admit that it’s an incredibly uneven franchise, maybe even more so than Friday the 13th. Halloween is one of the greatest horror movies ever made and none of the other entries in the series are necessarily at that level even if some of them are quite good. Friday the 13th on the other hand, started with a good slasher that led to some better slashers, some not quite as good slashers and some really bad slashers, but all were certainly watchable.
And I think each Halloween movie is watchable to some degree. I must, because I keep going back to the franchise over and over and watch even my least favorites at least once a year. But in preparation for this article, I sat down and I watched all ten. All in a row. Just for you.
While it might just be Stockholm Syndrome talking, there’s something about the Halloween franchise as a whole that captivates you even in the worst entries. There’s always something to watch for, whether it’s simply to see what Michael’s going to do next or whether it’s to listen for what point the iconic music will kick in and how slightly different it might sound this time.
When the Halloween series is great, it’s really great. There are at least three Halloween movies I rank among my favorite horror films of all time. The whole thing is a roller coaster in terms of quality, and it’s one of those ones coasters that’s ancient and wooden and should probably be condemned, but it’s still your absolute favorite to ride. That’s what the Halloween series means to me. Whether it’s the atmosphere, the iconic image of Michael Myers, the soundtrack or any combination of those things, I get more excited at the slightest announcement for a new Halloween than maybe any other franchise. That’s the attitude I have in mind when I go about splitting the series in half and ranking the five best and the five worst, as I am about to do.
Halloween is a masterpiece. It’s one of the films I hold closest to my heart, it means so much to me and is one of those things I can sit down and watch whenever I come across it, at any point, even though I already own at least four copies. Nothing has inspired me more than this movie. It is so lean, so simple but it makes the absolute best of that simplicity. Not a single frame is wasted. The music is absolutely perfect and it is so well shot. It’s one of the greatest horrors ever made. Everything about it still works. Almost forty years alter, it’s still incredibly effective. And the fact that it was made for next to nothing, so quickly, just makes it impossible not to admire. Even if people don’t like this feature, they admire what it did for the genre. That’s the showcase of something with tremendous impact and reverence.
I know Carpenter isn’t particularly proud of his work on Halloween II and I know none of the people who were involved the first time around really wanted to do it, but that kind of just makes it a stronger film in my eyes. Carpenter was so fucking talented in 1981 that this was the kind of script he wrote, the kind of producing he did and the kind of ghost-directing he did when he wasn’t giving a shit. The fact that all of those people had a “been there, done that” feeling and still produced something this good is amazing. It’s not the first movie. It’s much more of a straightforward slasher, mostly to keep up with the pressures of the industry. But it’s got an incredible visual consistency with the first. You believe that this is picking up seconds after the original. That’s the selling point and people tend not to realize how hard they must have worked to sell that, considering the fact that it was actually made three years later.
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
I love H20. Watching the series again, especially in a marathon, I was only reminded how much love and respect I hold for this film. I’m honestly glad we didn’t get Jamie Lee Curtis in 4, 5, or 6 because if she had, she would have been too worn out on the franchise to give the incredible performance she gives here. H20 is the story of a woman who is defined by one awful thing that happened to her. One terrible night that has defined her entire life and that she cannot recover from, and she realizes that the only way out, the only way to truly recover is to face that monster head-on. While Laurie Strode was a relatable, resilient protagonist in the original, we didn’t get too far into her psyche. Watching her struggling with this very real-world interpretation of trauma is amazing. Despite the infamous mask fiasco, I think Chris Durand is a great Michael Myers. H20 gets a lot of flack for wiping 4,5 and 6 out of continuity, but I think it’s just more focused on telling its own story than creating a separate timeline.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch
I hated this movie for years and years. Weirdly enough, it wasn’t when I first saw it that I hated it. It didn’t kick in immediately. I pretty quickly realized Michael wouldn’t be showing up, so I was just kind of disinterested in it. Seeing how mad other people were at it was kind of what made me mad at it. And I guess I was just angry at its existence. But a couple of things happened. 1, I began to think for myself and form my own opinions. 2, I revisited Season of the Witch and watched it as its own film rather than solely watching it as a part of the Halloween series. 3, I started noticing Tommy Lee Wallace as a filmmaker. It was one of my favorite things in my youth. Fright Night II is so underrated and Halloween III might be the pinnacle of underrated horror sequels. It’s well-shot, has a great soundtrack and is bursting with excellent commentary on early ‘80s consumerism.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Halloween 4 has always been a favorite in the franchise for me. It’s a great entry that suffers only from having a really bad Michael Myers mask. But when I was watching it this most recent time, I stopped caring about the mask. The movie’s got a lot going for it. There’s a high body count, but surprisingly little gore. One of the most underrated things about Halloween 4 is that it shows you just enough. This is an incredibly atmospheric film and aside from maybe Season of the Witch, it feels the most like Halloween out of any of them. The opening montage is absolutely excellent. The fact that it makes us wait until a few minutes in to actually give us the theme music is a really smart play. Then, of course, there’s Danielle Harris giving an amazing debut child actor performance. Sure, we have Ellie Cornell doing great as our new Laurie Strode figure, but we’re seeing the whole thing through this child’s eyes. Even literally, at the end.
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
I don’t hate Halloween 5. But that doesn’t mean it’s a great film. Halloween 5 does not make much sense. When you break it down, the movie doesn’t really have a protagonist. Jamie is silent for most of the running time. Rachel is killed off at the very beginning. Tina becomes a surrogate protagonist halfway through, despite being clearly designed as a stock victim, and is killed off a good twenty minutes before the end. Dr. Loomis gets to feel like the protagonist for awhile, but he’s honestly kind of a dick in this one. There are too many unanswered questions to get into, even the ones Curse of Michael Myers couldn’t haphazardly explain. Examples include why a vagrant kept Michael’s unconscious body for an entire year and why the Myers home—which looks the same in every other sequel—is suddenly a Victorian mansion.
I would like to say that I think Rob Zombie’s Halloween 2 is the better of the two because it is so purely his own thing from beginning to end, but I think the remake kind of holds up better despite itself. This remake doesn’t always work, but when it does work, it’s because this is Zombie’s own version of Halloween. This is not John Carpenter’s version. It’s a very different thing and it establishes itself as a very different thing from the get-go, so that there’s no room for confusion. I prefer that much more than trying to walk in Carpenter’s footsteps. This shows more respect for the original, I think. I’d put this nearer to the middle if it weren’t for some dialogue that doesn’t fit the material at all, some lines that are written to be somewhat different so that they just sound like bad misquotes of classic Halloween lines. And for the fact that it’s only really a remake for the last forty minutes, and a rushed one at that.
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers
In 2014, the unthinkable happened. Fans got the one thing they never thought they were going to see: the official release of the Halloween 6 producer’s cut. Upon having it, they quickly discovered that—while absolutely interesting—it doesn’t make The Curse of Michael Myers much better. This thing is still an absolute mess. It tries to explain Michael’s supernatural nature by giving him a convoluted and needlessly complicated origin story that sounds like the sort of thing you expect from an online conspiracy theorist. In fact, that’s exactly what Tommy Doyle—played by newcomer Paul Rudd, actually doing a really good job—is in this movie. Again there’s great atmosphere, there’s good kills, but none of it makes sense. And the problem with the Producer’s Cut is that it makes too much sense, clearly explaining that this cult has been manipulating Michael from the beginning and has total control over him, and made him put a baby in the belly of his teenage niece, even though his one and only motivation is to see the end of his own bloodline. At least the theatrical version has Michael slaughtering all the cultists, proving their conspiracy theories are just that.
Halloween II (2009)
Again, there are great ideas here. I love that the characters are taken in this interesting new direction that completely separates them from their original counterparts. I love that Laurie is seriously unraveling in a very realistic way, that Annie is afraid to even leave the house, that Loomis has disappeared into his own ego to try and shut up his enormous guilt. It looks great. This is really well shot. But, as realistic as it tries to be, it makes no sense and works even less because of that. The realism of the characters and the surrealism of the overall tone and style don’t juxtapose well. If Laurie is meant to be having the same delusions her brother suffered and her hallucinations are supposed to be just that, how is she seeing the exact same things Michael is seeing? How is she seeing visions of her mother, when she only learns that Dee Wallace isn’t actually her real mom over halfway through the movie? And why oh why does the best, most riveting, most interesting part of the whole thing have to turn out to be a dream sequence?
Resurrection is without a doubt the worst offender of the franchise because with everything else I can at least tell that their heart was in the right place. Every other movie started with good-to-great intentions. Meanwhile, Resurrection just feels like Studio Note: The Motion Picture. From storyline to casting everything feels like a specific note made to cater to a demographic. It’s basically a whole feature that’s written by numbers. Oh, let’s cast another rapper because people responded to LL Cool J. Let’s center the whole plot around the internet because, man, it looks like that thing is really taking off. People hated the mask last time, so let’s give Michael a mask so meticulously groomed that he looks like Judi Dench. Even on top of all of that, it undoes everything that H20 did in its epic, final confrontation between brother and sister, and kills off Laurie in the opening scene.