Friday the 13th may be the series that popularized the slasher movie genre, but Halloween is where it started. Before Jason Voorhees, audiences were terrified by Michael Myers, also known as The Shape, and the Boogeyman. Unlike his fellow members of the genre’s “Big 3,” Jason and Freddy Krueger, Michael Myers’ story is one that has been re-imagined, splintered, and rebooted probably more than any other besides Universal’s stable of classic movie monsters like Dracula and Frankenstein. What follows is a look at the various films in the Halloween franchise, grouped by what’s worth watching sober to when a drinking game is necessary.
Classic Duology: Halloween I and II
Halloween is considered a classic, and the pieces are all there for one: iconic villain, haunting score, and a terrifying scenario are all present. Michael Myers may not be as flashy as Jason or Freddy, but he can be more frightening in his simplicity. John Carpenter’s original finds horror in the mundane, showing Jamie Lee Curtis’s character Laurie and her friends being boringly normal as Michael lurks in the background, unseen as his prey goes about their lives in blissful ignorance.
The formula slashers continue to follow to this day in some regard is laid out here as Michael stalks his victims one by one as the obsessed and arguably, equally unhinged Dr. Loomis tries to enact the solution he felt should have been used all along to end Michael’s reign of terror– murder. The climax is one of the most tense and horrifying in the history of the genre, as one madman tries to save Laurie Strode from another.
The second film continues where the first left off, but the influence of Friday the 13th’s success is blatant in the choices that were made for it. A lot of the action takes place in the hospital. The deaths are flashier, taking a cue from the more elaborate effects Tom Savini did in Friday, when compared to the first Halloween‘s simple stabbings.
Also added to the mythology is a family connection with the revelation that Laurie is in fact Michael’s sister. John Carpenter says that the idea for this came to him “at 2:00 in the morning in front of a typewriter with a six pack of beer,” but it still makes for an interesting parallel with Pamela and Jason Voorhees’ family-related murder spree in the Friday films. Intending this to be the end of Michael’s story, any potential loose ends were wrapped up, but the new direction for Halloween was not to be, for better or worse.
Post-Scream: Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later and Halloween: Resurrection
Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers came out in 1995. Like Halloween I and II before it, it was clear that another series had blazed a trail, and Halloween would once again only end up following it. Scream (1996), with its meta-humor and ironic self-deprecation, set a tone that Halloween would follow with H20 (what?). H20 goes off on a completely different direction for the series’ second reboot, continuing the Laurie Strode obsession from Halloween II while ignoring the details of 4 through Curse of Michael Myers. What they replaced the storyline with instead was 20-year-old teenagers with authentic teenage problems, and suddenly there’s a murderer.
This alone might not be much, but it’s used well enough as a background to continue the story of Laurie, and the time skip is justified well enough. I liked this movie because it displayed how Michael’s threat can only ever be escaped or fought, no matter how far or how long you run. I also liked that it made Laurie into a survivor, something Scream 3 may have taken note of with Sidney Prescott. Laurie survived Michael twice, and when it came down to it, after all of the safeguards she built up against him to try to have a normal life had been shattered, she was strong enough to end it herself, permanently.
And then the movie made money.
H20 (Whhyyyy?) was followed by Halloween: Resurrection. If A Nightmare on Elm Street 4 was the MTV-edition of its time, Resurrection was even more so than its immediate predecessor. Resurrection begins on the wrong foot with a retcon so implausible and disrespectful to Laurie’s character that I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s the reason one of Jamie Lee Curtis’s stipulations for appearing in this howling abyss of crap was that Laurie would be put out of her misery and killed.
The rest of the movie is about Busta Rhymes trying to film a pilot for TLC 10 years too early, about a bunch of attention-whores who wander around the house of a famous serial killer who is currently at large.
Surely that couldn’t go wrong.
The whole thing is, of course, being broadcast online, live, with viewers ironically taking the cannon fodder who were actually being offed as exceptionally gifted actors.
Obvious Final Girl and Contractually-Obligated-Not-To-Die-Rapper put down Michael once again, but not really, roll credits. A lot of people don’t like the Rob Zombie sequels, but really, the franchise had nowhere to go but up at that point, so something different had to be done. If it was good or not…well…
The Thorn Saga: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, and Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers
With the total failure of Halloween III: Season of the Witch, the producers were forced to fall back on a reliable formula that had pleased audiences and made money: Michael Myers Stabs People Some More. Return was made in the style of 1 and 2, while also continuing the plotline about Michael wanting to kill every last member of his family. Jamie, Laurie’s daughter and Michael’s niece, takes the place of Laurie as the inexplicable focus of Michael’s rampage. Mostly this is because Jamie Lee Curtis had better things to do.
In between all of this is, and get this, 20 year-old teenagers with Authentic Teenage Problems. It’s pretty clear that they weren’t sure what to do with this one again, hopping from Dr. Loomis to Teenage Problems to Jamie in danger of being killed by Michael, hoping it’ll all hold together in the end. Replacing Michael was shown still on the agenda when the movie was over, as Jamie pulls a Tommy Jarvis and kills her foster mother in the same mask as her would-be murderer.
This went about as well as you can expect.
Halloween 5 would bring more of the same while introducing a subplot about Jamie now being mute with a psychic link to Michael, warning her of his approach. They make the choice to focus more on the hunt for Michael instead of Teenage Problems, which was wise, as well as dumping the Jamie-as-killer storyline. Things proceed in a similar fashion to the last film while dropping hints of a larger story going on with Michael’s killings with its twist ending.
The ending of 5 would actually be expanded upon in 6, beginning with putting poor Jamie out of her misery and killing her character. The rest of the movie is Paul Rudd getting dragged into the machinations of the Cult of Thorn, which is trying to make sacrifices so kids will kill their families for… reasons? The overall plot is one step forward, two steps back, as we get details, but no follow-up, until the next film at best. Ultimately it would be all for naught anyway as the series would be rebooted for the second time with H20 and the Thorn plotline, which had a modicum of potential, would remain unfinished. Three movies for nothing, followed by 2 more that went nowhere… surely this couldn’t get any worse, right?
The Zombie-verse: Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009)
With the franchise having once again bombed critically and fiscally, it was time for, you guessed it, another reboot. Having come off of House of 1,000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, Rob Zombie had earned himself a reputation in horror, and when Dimension figured it was time to get Michael back into the horror game, he was their choice to do the honors.
Zombie brings the “psychotic white trash” aesthetic from his previous works to Halloween, though it wouldn’t be as pronounced as it would be in his follow-up effort. The film plays like a remake of the first and second movies merged together, while giving Michael a new origin story that plays like a checklist for a real-life serial killer. This completely defeats the point of why Michael is scary, and may in fact be the reason any attempt to explain his story never succeeds: Michael doesn’t need a reason. Michael sees you, you’re dead – that’s the end of it.
The movie ends with a showdown between Michael being gunned down by the police in front of Laurie, who is naturally traumatized by the event. The sequel continues where the last one left off, with Laurie being even more screwed up than ever as she finds out her relation to Michael, invoking the stories of the original Halloween II and 4 with Laurie herself in place of Jamie, joining Michael’s homicidal insanity when the film ends.
Platinum Dunes, maker of reboots Friday the 13th (2009) and A Nightmare on Elm Street (2010), has taken over producing the series as of two years ago. Guess what they have in mind for Halloween. As someone who is a fan of the first film, I think it might be time for a new direction that isn’t treading old ground.
The Oddball: Halloween III: Season of the Witch
For many people, a Halloween movie means one thing, and one thing only: Michael Myers Stabby Time. This was locked in place by doing two sequels in a row starring him as villain. John Carpenter felt that Michael’s story was over with Halloween II (1981), and wanted to take things in a new direction. Season of the Witch was about an evil cult who ran the Silver Shamrock company, specializing in Halloween masks.
They didn’t know a thing about variety, with only 3 offerings, but they sure knew about marketing. With a creepy synth version of London Bridge as the melody for their jingle and a daily countdown to Halloween night featuring the masks prominently, every kid in the country soon wanted one. Unfortunately they had a deadly secret, and it was a race to Halloween night to keep them from killing thousands of kids nationwide for our protagonist Dan Challis.
Quite frankly, the story is bat**** crazy, and that adds to its B-Movie charm, but audiences revolted for a reason: It’s not what Halloween had been promised to be after two movies. Michael had already been cemented as the series villain after two films, and there was no going back once audiences knew what to expect. Season of the Witch entertains in its own right if you like 1980s schlock horror, but if you’re expecting a Halloween movie, it’s going to fail as soon as it begins.
Editor’s Note: also check out the previous installments in this year’s Halloween coverage at PJ Lifestyle:
Susan L.M. Goldberg: Think Pop Culture Doesn’t Matter? Visit Sleepy Hollow, New York
Susan L.M. Goldberg: 8 Reasons Why Jews & Christians Should Re-Think Celebrating Halloween
Ash Freeman: Ranking The Friday The 13th Films From Best to Worst
Robert Wargas: Would You Survive a Horror Movie?
Pierre Comtois: The 10 Scariest Movie Monsters of All Time
Jeremy Swindle: The 10 Worst Horror Films on Netflix: Drinking Game Edition