David Gordon Green’s Halloween lands in theaters this Friday, with a big ask for fans of the franchise: forget the entire franchise. It rescinds the events of literally every sequel, reboot, and reboot-sequel that followed the original 1978 trendsetter, presuming that the story of slasher Michael Myers — who murdered his older sister at age six, spent fifteen years in a mental institution, and then escaped just in time for a Halloween-night killing spree — ended with his apprehension and re-incarceration that very night.
It’s an efficient way to clean up the brand damage wreaked by four decades of lackluster retreads, sure. But is every movie bearing the Halloween name worth dismissing? Only a bottom-to-top ranking of the entire franchise can say.
11. Halloween: Resurrection
On paper, the 2002 eighth chapter of the Halloween franchise sounded promising: it was picking up where the satisfying 1998 entry Halloween: H20 had left off, Jamie Lee Curtis was in for another go-round, and they’d even lured Rick Rosenthal, who helmed the decent first sequel back in 1981, back into the director’s chair. But Resurrection goes off the rails in its very first sequence — a Misery-style “he didn’t get out of the cockadoodie car” reversal of Michael’s death, so he can finally, really kill Laurie, effectively undoing all that was good about H20 — and continues to step on rakes for its entire 94 minutes. Among its crimes: an uproariously dated “internet livestream of the Myers house” narrative; charisma-free turns by the likes of Tyra Banks, Luke Kirby, Katee Sackhoff, and Thomas Ian Nicholas; and a moment in which star (star!) Busta Rhymes quips, “Trick or treat, muthafucka!” at Michael Myers, and punches him in the face. It’s the inarguable low point of the series, and Resurrection is the Batman & Robin of the Halloween franchise: a sequel so bad, they had to throw up their hands and start the whole dumb thing over again.
10. Halloween (2007)
But that didn’t go so well. The blame for this ill-advised remake/reboot should begin with whoever hired rocker-turned-filmmaker Rob Zombie to write and direct, because he delivered exactly what you’d expect: a Rob Zombie movie, replete with loathsome characters spouting white-trash dialogue — in the first scene with dialogue, a man says of his stepdaughter, “That bitch got herself a nice little dumper” — between scenes of depravity better suited to a geek show. (He also seems to believe that teenage girls discuss sex like 9-year-old boys.) The two key problems are that Zombie is so clearly a Texas Chain Saw Massacre guy rather than Halloween guy (down to the closing images of the hysterically screaming, blood-covered Final Girl), and Halloween films require characters an audience can like and root for, not a parade of degenerates. Even worse, Zombie elects to give Michael a full, dumb origin story, taking 38 minutes to do what Carpenter did in seven (i.e., introduce the character and make it clear that he’s evil) before moving in to full-on remake mode, with rote recreations of the original’s memorable scenes, but with the body count, brutality, and gore cranked up to levels of exhaustion. The performers (particularly Malcolm McDowell, Scout Taylor-Compton, and Halloween 4 and 5 vet Danielle Harris) do their best, but this one is downright intolerable.
9. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers
Though set only six years after Halloween 5, the sixth installment begins with little Jamie, now played by J.C. Brandy and apparently a decade-plus older, giving birth. Guess those were some tough years! That’s just the first of many howlers in this turgid installment, memorable only for, per the credits, “starring and introducing Paul Rudd” as the grown-up version of little Tommy Doyle, the boy Laurie was babysitting in movie numero uno. There are other, minor pleasures: one last run ‘round the track for Donald Pleasence, a pretty good Final Girl in the person of Marianne Hagan, less annoying teens than in entries four and five. But it’s all so paint-by-numbers — director Joe Chappelle does his best to basically remake the last half-hour of the original, and it suffers by comparison — up to a bafflingly stupid twist, and a third act that makes the fatal error of trying to explain where Michael’s evil comes from. (And to preemptively answer the film’s inexplicable fan base: yes, I’m talking about the “producer’s cut.”)
8. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
The quickie follow-up to the commercially course-correcting Halloween 4 starts off well: a cool credit sequence of borderline abstract knife-swipes revealing (surprise) the carving of a jack-o’-lantern, a Halloween II-ish opening that starts with the final moments of the previous picture and picks up right where it left off, and the surprise murder of a high-billed survivor of said film. But then it falls apart, thanks to the script’s unfortunate attempt to create some kind of psychic connection between Michael and little Jamie (did these people learn nothing from Friday the 13th: A New Beginning?); the frequent appearances of a pair of dopey local cops for “comic relief” (complete with zany music cues); and the endless pranks of the most obnoxious teens in the series (and that’s saying something). And by the end, there’s something unsettling about how much time and energy is spent really pursuing and terrorizing this poor little girl. You find yourself worrying about the actor rather than the character, and that’s a pretty reliable sign that a movie just isn’t playing.
7. Halloween III: Season of the Witch
After killing off Michael at the end of Halloween II (or so they thought), producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill had a bright idea: why not repurpose the Halloween brand, cranking out annual entries in an anthology series of genre movies, connected only by the holiday setting? So they hired Tommy Lee Wallace, who co-edited the first film, to write and direct the first of these proposed sequels-that-weren’t, an Invasion of the Body Snatchers–infused story of an evil mask manufacturer who plans to use his products to commit a mass child murder on Halloween night. Halloween III was so poorly received by audiences and critics that it put the kibosh on the entire grand plan, but predictably enough, a vocal minority has emerged in the passing years, insisting that Halloween III is secretly great, a misunderstood classic that was done in by the narrow expectations of unimaginative viewers. And it’s easy to defend the picture’s virtues: the customarily moody cinematography by Dean Cundey (who shot the first two films), the inspired score by Carpenter and Halloween II collaborator Alan Howarth, the ambitiousness of the entire enterprise. But ultimately, the original impressions are correct: it’s a terrible movie, irredeemably goofy (heads popping off, lasers shooting out of eyes, short-circuiting robots), saddled with a charisma-less leading man and an utterly ridiculous “love story.” Frankly, the earworm Silver Shamrock jingle alone should send all parties involved to movie hell, forever.
6. Halloween II (2009)
Zombie’s second stab at the Myers legacy is more successful, and paradoxically enough, it’s because it feels more like a Rob Zombie movie; freed of the chains of cosplaying scenes from the original, he’s allowed to do his own insane thing, jettisoning the hospital setting of the original sequel (save for a brief nightmare sequence early on) and pursuing a story that strikes his fancy. As with the original sequel, it benefits from picking right up without all the laborious set-up, going right at the viewer, relentlessly, from the beginning. And, consequently, it also benefits from fewer scenes of people mouthing Zombie’s inane dialogue; his attempts at teen-girl dialogue are still cringe-worthy, but he creates some memorable images and stylish sound-work, and the notion of turning Dr. Loomis into a straight-up blood merchant is inspired. (He also gives us what seemed like the inevitable destination of a Zombie Halloween movie: Michael’s visit to a strip club.) The dopey ending, which tries to turn Laurie into Michael, is a big miss, and there’s an inescapable sense that the director is taking pleasure in the extended death scenes, and expects us to wallow with him in the misery of his characters. But this is nevertheless a decent entry, with a credible number of good scares and creepy moods.
5. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
Five years after the failure of Halloween III, longtime producer Moustapha Akkad decided it was time to resurrect the series, and even took the extra step of assuring fans, right in the title, that their favorite slasher was back. Carpenter, Hill, Cundey, and most of the rest of the regulars declined to return, and as a result, Return — and several of the efforts that followed — has a decidedly low-rent, JV-team feel. But it’s not without its virtues: director Dwight H. Little has a good eye for compositions, particularly in the moody, music-free opening, a tableaux of rural Halloween decorations with an ominous blowing wind subbing in for the familiar theme; a solid score by Howarth, which saves the theme for just the right moment; charismatic performances by Danielle Harris and Ellie Cornell as, respectively, the (supposedly) deceased Laurie’s daughter and her foster sister; a typically unhinged Donald Pleasence turn; and an ingenious second-half device of a town-wide electrical outage, which cranks up the creepiness just a little more.
4. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
Jamie Lee Curtis’s first big return to the series came 17 years after Halloween II (and, as noted in the title, 20 years after the original). It was framed as much as an offspring of Scream; that 1996 megahit included clips and copious references to the original, and H20, which was co-executive-produced by Scream scribe Kevin Williamson, is full of little tributes to not only I and II (it pretends like parts four through six didn’t happen), but also Psycho, with Curtis’s mom Janet Leigh showing up, driving the same big Ford as in Hitchcock’s classic. Those winks hit and miss, and director Steve Miner, who somehow directed both Friday the 13th Part 2 and the Jamie Lee Curtis drama Forever Young, indulges in far too many damn jump scares. But there’s much to recommend here: it runs a tight 86 minutes, features a couple of undeniably unnerving sequences (hello, garbage disposal), Laurie and Michael’s first face-to-face is a bone-chiller, and the final scene is perfect. Too bad they couldn’t have left it there!
3. Halloween II (1981)
Carpenter and Hill didn’t particularly want to make a sequel to their hit, but when pressed, they opted to join in in order to ensure its quality (and, Hill admitted upon its release, “to make some good money”). Carpenter was concerned there was nowhere to take the story, so they decided to start right where they left off, moments after the end of the first movie, continuing that long Halloween night at (where else) the hospital where Laurie has gone to recover from her injuries. II’s continuity is its best feature, both in terms of chronology and personnel; though Carpenter didn’t direct (at least initially), he and Hill co-wrote and co-produced, Cundey returned to the lens, and Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence were back as well. Unfortunately, the continuity in all other areas makes the sudden surplus of copious gore — presumably an attempt to keep up with the blood-spattered imitators, like Friday the 13th, that had popped up in Halloween’s wake — feel all the more jarring. And though Michael Myers is an emotion-free killing machine who murders scores of innocent people, Leo Rossi’s sleazeball hospital orderly “Bud” (he of the ribald “Amazing Grace” parody song) is somehow the most loathsome character in the movie. Maybe the series!
2. Halloween (2018)
“There’s nothing to learn,” Laurie Strode insists, early in the franchise’s latest entry. “There are no new insights or discoveries.” And then director David Gordon Green’ proves her wrong. His new follow-up wipes out the events of all the above films (including Halloween II, which even H20 acknowledged), but with a purpose; it finds Laurie living a life of isolation, behind gates and locks and secret rooms, and the film thus interrogates the idea of victimhood and the psychological toll of survival in ways hinted at by H20 and Zombie’s Halloween II, but with far greater success. Green, a journeyman director, isn’t the kind of distinctive visual stylist Carpenter was. But he has his moments — and more importantly, he understands the difference between what Carpenter did (building tension, dread, and suspense, in anticipation of the kill) and what the franchise’s lesser directors did (ladling on jump scares). And Curtis is devastatingly good, bringing four decades of audience allegiance and emotional baggage to bear; by the time she finally, truly faces her bogeyman, this is no longer just some slasher sequel. It’s the kind of honest examination of genuine fear that its predecessor was, all those years ago.
1. Halloween (1978)
When assessing the value of Carpenter’s original, it’s easy to focus on the skill of the craft: the taut yet patient construction of suspense sequences, the masterful use of foregrounds and backgrounds, the way Dean Cundey’s deep black levels set off the white mask, the simple yet elegantly affecting movements of the camera. But those elements alone aren’t why the film has maintained its influence and power — it’s because of the human beings at its center.
Once the whammo opening is over, there’s hardly any violence at all until the concluding half-hour, in sharp contrast to the end-to-end kill-fests of the film’s sequels and imitators; Carpenter and co-writer Hill instead spend the intermediate hour building tension and making promises. But more importantly, they hang out with their characters, particularly the young women Michael will target, and key in on the ordinariness of their interactions: their unadorned but credible chit-chat about weekend plans, boys they like, parents they babysit for, and other elements of their everyday lives. And as a result of that time spent establishing their personalities, the danger they find themselves in packs a real punch; witness how long, for example, the film spends with Nancy Loomis’s Annie being stalked but not killed. We’re waiting for Michael to strike, and Carpenter knows it, and he makes us squirm — because we like her, and we don’t want her to die. So he keeps doing things that make us think she’s about to die, and then she doesn’t. And we sigh in relief. And then he strikes. Halloween works not because it’s scary, or bloody, but because of its quietly brilliant mixture of human empathy and technical precision. And it turns out, that’s harder than it looks.