‘Tis the season to be scary (or just about). October brings with it one of the best (if not the best) ‘holiday’ of the year: Halloween. People get dressed up, kids go trick-or-treating and Hollywood pushes out some horror films. This year is no different, with the release of the latest Halloween movie forty years after writer/director John Carpenter’s very first installment of the long-standing franchise. The 1978 original is just as famous for birthing one of horror and cinema’s greatest antagonists, Michael Myers (no, not the actor), as it is for launching the career of a then-nineteen-year-old Jamie Lee Curtis, whom Carpenter cast as his heroine, Laurie Strode. To mark this anniversary, and in preparation for the new release, I sat through all ten (yes, ten) incarnations of the franchise, films that often try to restart the story but that are all generally based around that fateful night on October 31st in 1978.
(Note: There are no specific spoilers ahead, however as Michael has always been advertised as the antagonist in each film [bar one] I’m not considering his deaths/disappearances as spoilers.)
Director: John Carpenter
I remember watching this sometime around the age of eleven or twelve, on Halloween night, and I was bored stiff. By modern horror standards, Carpenter’s original is really quite light on the terror and the gore is practically non-existent (we see more boobs than blood). The theme is overplayed throughout and the opening itself is laughable, setting itself up already for a bit of a fail. However, it’s clear to see why it was so popular and successful at the time and why it is still considered a classic. Carpenter’s Hitchcockian influence is plain to see, including that now very famous theme (reminiscent of 1960’s Psycho), the constant surveillance of a woman by a man (1958’s Vertigo) and a link to Janet Leigh (the female lead in Psycho), being that her daughter is Jamie Lee Curtis. For 1978 this would have been fresh horror, and it can still be appreciated for that now, particularly with Michael (originally known as ‘The Shape’, with that role being credited to Nick Castle and Michael Myers credited to Tony Moran) being such a terrific threat. But it no longer packs the same punch for people new to the franchise and used to a more modern standard of horror.
Halloween II (1981)
Director: Rick Rosenthal
The film opens as someone is watching 1968’s Night of the Living Dead, just as Laurie (Curtis) and little Tommy (Brian Andrews) were watching 1951’s The Thing From Outer Space in the middle of Halloween (Carpenter would go on to write and direct a remake, the cult classic and masterpiece in animatronic gore, 1982’s The Thing). As we know, Michael (Moran/Dick Warlock) did not die in the last film, surviving something no human really could, and so it’s really quite an apt way to begin Halloween II, as Michael becomes the embodiment of the ‘living dead’. That, and the way Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence) says Michael ‘can’t be human’. After wondering how the hell a person could still be alive after being shot so many times at the end of the previous film, this at least lets us now understand there could be something supernatural about Michael. Halloween II is set in a hospital, an idea that likely influenced similar settings in 1988’s Hellraiser II and 1987’s Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors, taking the idea of a place that’s supposed to be safe and quite cleverly turning it into a place of inevitable death. It’s here that Michael continues his raison d’etre, if there even is one, still on the same night as Halloween’s setting. Despite trying to refresh the setting and the character of Michael Myers, and there being a lot more gore in this film, the characters are weak with little to no depth, leaving Halloween II limping behind its predecessor.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
The only film of the franchise to step away completely from the Myers mythology, it is instead a story about a town made profitable by the Halloween mask-making factory owned by a Mr Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy). The town finds itself under attack from strange men in suits and latex masks that are killing people in the run up to Halloween. The entire film is quite the mess from beginning to end, the characters themselves behaving in a corny and often ridiculous way, the story bland and pointless with the occasional gore-ridden moment (although he took more of a back seat for this film, at times Carpenter’s influence from his foray into prosthetics and animatronics becomes apparent but not used to nearly as great effect as his efforts in The Thing). There’s even a moment when someone is watching television and a commercial for Halloween appears. Originally Carpenter’s idea was to do a Halloween movie each year with a totally different premise, but the critical and commercial failure that this film became says otherwise. At least it can’t get any worse than this(?).
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Director: Dwight H. Little
Well, it’s certainly not quite as bad. At least (at least) Michael (George P. Wilbur) is back. The opening credits are slightly more interesting and deviate from the now-familiar theme tune (which in turn has a bit more synthesised variance throughout the film), but the story it leads into is much weaker than previous Myers-based instalments. This one focuses on Laurie’s daughter Jamie (Danielle Harris) and Michael’s fixation on getting to her and killing her. Once again he has somehow survived his previous ordeal, which really just further emphasises the theory that there is something supernatural about him. That’s really all you can take away from this movie. As it’s a late eighties-set movie a lot more work on prosthetics and gore has gone into it, but its usage once again borders on the ridiculous (Michael really just rips people’s faces off, his trusty knife taking a break now and again). A pretty weak film overall, but at least (at least, at LEAST) the franchise is getting back on track somewhat.
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Director: Dominique Othenin-Girard
This one really might as well have been shortened and taped onto the end of the previous film. Although it’s set a year later it continues on directly from Return. It has slightly more of Michael’s (Don Shanks) classic stalking and skulking, which is appreciated, but its fear factor is still relatively low. He’s still after Jamie (Harris), and after the previous film’s events they appear to have some psychical bond that pre-warns Jamie when Michael is about to attack. Donald Pleasence is back in his fourth appearance as Dr. Loomis, but this time Loomis appears to be the most obsessed he’s ever been with Michael, driving him to near insanity. The film lightens up more in its tone, with the character of Tina (Wendy Foxworth) being the most likable character since Laurie, and the inclusion of stupid and hormonal teenagers again. It adds a small fun factor that the series hasn’t had before. The female characters, both lead and supporting, are also not the damsels in distress as they may have previously been, so the film does have some things going for it, but unfortunately it is still somewhat of a snorefest overall.
Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Director: Joe Chappelle
Well hello, Paul Rudd (credited as Paul Stephen Rudd), who hasn’t aged a tiny bit, in his first movie role. This one sees Laurie’s relations move into the old Myers house where Michael (Wilbur) originally murdered his sister. We also see the return of Tommy (Rudd), the boy Laurie babysat in the first movie. He’s been tracking Michael since first meeting him, and it brings him into contact with Dr. Loomis (Pleasence, in his final appearance). Both characters then join forces with Kara Strode (Marianne Hagan) when Michael returns to Haddonfield. It puts the focus squarely on the occult forces behind Michael’s apparent immortality, but to poor effect. It’s really scraping the barrel with a plot full of holes that goes no way to giving any explanation as to why and how Michael keeps returning. It also has a very disappointing ending for one recurring character who really could have had a lot of potential in the future of the franchise. It’s not quite as bad as Season of the Witch, but it still feels like it was made purely to capitalise on the Halloween name (as I’m sure a lot of the instalments are).
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
Director: Steve Miner
It’s in this one that we can finally feel like the franchise has somewhat dispensed with the light and cheesy horror of the 70s and 80s. There’s also some familiar faces, with a cameo in the beginning from a baby-faced Joseph Gordon Levitt, the film debut of a young Josh Hartnett playing Laurie’s son John, an early appearance from Michelle Williams as John’s girlfriend, a small role for LL Cool J and the long-awaited return of Jamie Lee Curtis, as well as an appearance from Janet Leigh. This film is a direct sequel to Halloween II and goes on the premise that Laurie (Curtis) faked her death and took on a new identity away from Haddonfield in order to escape her past and Michael (Chris Durand), but it’s all for naught as he tracks her down again after twenty years. It’s still not the most horrifying of films, with the involvement of teenage perspectives giving it that teen-movie vibe which keeps it from getting too heavy and gory, but there’s a much darker and sinister tone that the series hasn’t had since the very first film. Michael is back to being a formidable opponent and less the butt of the joke; in a strange way it’s nice and almost refreshing to have Laurie back as his nemesis. His appearances are few which brings back that sense of unease and unknowing. It’s still not a great film, critically speaking, but it is the best one we’ve had in many years.
Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
Director: Rick Rosenthal
Oh dear. I really didn’t think it could get worse than Season of the Witch. This one is awful, though not in the same way as Witch. This film completely undoes the semi-good work H20 did: it may not have been the best, but it was getting the series back to somewhere familiar. Resurrection goes back to overusing the theme, overusing Michael (Brad Loree), and generally overdoing everything. Michael stalks a bunch of teenagers taking part in a reality web show in which they explore the old Myers house. It certainly plays on the popularity of teen movies, reality shows and the growing use of social media, technology and the internet that was all coming into force around the late 90s/early 00s. It may even have resonated with a few youngsters back in 2002 (in my early teens at the time, I can’t say this film interested me at all), but it absolutely does not stand the test of time. The story is pointless, the plot is boring and there are no likable characters. Laurie (Curtis) has a brief appearance in the beginning, but even that was very disappointing, which really sums up this entire film. For once, I found myself rooting for Michael.
Director: Rob Zombie
The first of two Rob Zombie (he of House of 1000 Corpses and its sequel The Devil’s Rejects) remakes, this story recounts basically the same as Carpenter’s 1978 original, but with some extra back/origin story on Michael (Daeg Faerch as young Michael, Tyler Mane as older Michael) and the Myers family. It’s the first time we really hear Michael speak, or really see his face, even if it’s just as a child. Malcolm McDowell takes on the mantle of Dr. Loomis, but he pretty much just impersonates Pleasence’s exact character. Despite Carpenter telling Zombie to make the film his own, he recreates a lot of scenes from the original and pinches a lot of famous lines too, so it feels like a remake to make the most of modern filmmaking techniques and new levels of gore. Zombie attempts to humanise Michael, which has been attempted in small ways before, but all it does is demystify him and make him less terrifying. It’s become psychological rather than supernatural, which is all well and good, but it means that there’s no legitimate explanation for him to be coming back after being knifed or shot a hundred times – at least being a supernatural entity gives room for imaginative resurrections. There’s no real reason for him to be coming after Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) now either (this version of the character not quite as ballsy or likable as JLC’s). Zombie’s Halloween is a fair attempt to breathe some life into an aging franchise, but at times it’s just too crass, the violence unnecessary and no real reason for Michael to return.
Halloween II (2009)
Director: Rob Zombie
This was probably the hardest one to sit through. It’s so bad that it’s not entertainingly bad, it’s just bad. Michael (Chase Wright Vanek as the younger, Mane as the older) is back and still chasing a depressed and very unlikable Laurie (Taylor-Compton), and we’re still unsure if he’s actually trying to kill her. This time though Zombie has decided to really go in on Michael’s psyche, to the point of being metaphorical but instead patronising his audience with his singular “vision”, the only reason he wouldn’t give up this sequel to another director. But Zombie has lost whatever it was he found in his vision for the previous movie. It’s unnecessarily crass again at times, most characters’ vocabularies stunted, marking them as unable to venture beyond expletive-ridden dialogue. Although it’s perhaps the goriest of all the Halloween movies, Michael’s killings have become boring and redundant, his victims haemorrhaging blood in the same way this movie haemorrhages credibility. There’s never been a method to Michael’s madness and that’s what gave him the fear facture, but Zombie is scrabbling for reason in this movie, to no avail. We see Michael’s face more than ever before, hear his voice as he grunts when he kills, turning him into something less than he was. Even Dr. Loomis has become a sleazy minor celebrity, out to make money off of his experiences with Michael. At this point, as an audience, we’ve completely lost touch with the franchise and the character of Michael Myers. What a disappointing end to this journey.
The Halloween franchise has been incredibly up and down over the years, but mostly down. So why do filmmakers keep bringing back Michael Myers? And why are we, as an audience, still so fascinated with and/or terrified by him? Perhaps Andy Crump explains it best in his article for the Hollywood Reporter, in which he states: “Michael Myers can’t be reasoned with, but worse than that, there’s no reason with Michael Myers. He simply is. That’s what lets him endure as a character.” Fear is illogical, fear is debilitating, and Michael is fear personified. He is the embodiment of pure evil, he is the Boogeyman, and you can’t kill the Boogeyman. Although the stories surrounding Michael are often terrible, the fact he remains is testament to Carpenter’s original creation. He intended to make Halloween with Michael Myers a one-off (hence his step back from all other films after 1978), but creating someone (something) like Michael can’t be a one off. And if the early reviews on David Gordon Green’s 2018 instalment are anything to go by, Michael may have just gotten a little scarier.
If you plan on seeing this year’s Halloween (trailer below) but are in need of some back story, I highly suggest you just watch the first movie, as it’ll give you everything you need and this new one is intended to be a direct sequel to that one anyway. Happy Halloween!
Jut a quick note to say thanks to my mother who gallantly sat through all ten movies with me. Granted she had no say in the matter, with her final chemo session having relegated her to being horizontal on the couch for a couple of days, but I don’t think anyone else would have sat through them all as willingly as she had, especially considering what she’s been going through, and with nary a whine or a moan (except maybe after Rob Zombie’s Halloween II, which is understandable). Laurie Strode may be a badass, but she has nothing on my mother.