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Legends of Horror, Ranked: Halloween

On week two of our tour of the “Big Three” icons of the slasher subgenre, we’re taking a look at the granddaddy, the OG, the king of the strong, silent type-brand of masked killers: Halloween, and its designated mass-murder, the butcher of Haddonfield himself, Michael Myers.

If you’re even a casual fan of movies, the word “slasher” likely conjures one of two images: Either the hockey mask of Jason Voorhees, or the bone-white, featureless expression of Michael Myers’s face of choice. And there’s good reason for this. Both exemplify all of the most famous, and infamous, tropes and archetypes that the genre has to offer. The main difference between the two, however, is the fact that, while Friday the 13th may have been an early adopter of these tropes, Halloween was the film that made them famous in the first place.

While Black Christmas is technically speaking the first true slasher film, at least in its currently recognizable form, Halloween was really the first franchise to embrace the archetype in the mainstream. John Carpenter’s original 1978 entry is a bona fide classic, and absolute perfect distillation of what makes the subgenre so enduring and successful. It’s a slow, methodical film, one that revels in suspense and tension rather than explicit violence. In fact, there’s barely a drop of blood in the entire film.

It was such an effective and successful film, both commercially and critically, that it spawned a whole plethora of copycats, one of which being the original 1980 Friday the 13th. The creators of that film were even explicitly told by their investors to copy elements of Halloween wholesale, and it shows. It’s safe to say that the slasher film as it exists today wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for Carpenter and that iconic ivory mask (which, fun fact, is actually just a slightly modified version of a William Shatner Captain kirk mask).

But, as is the case with all of these great slasher franchises, that expert craftmanship that John Carpenter brought to the original Halloween film wouldn’t last. What followed was a series of convoluted, watered-down attempts at continuing the franchise for purely monetary reasons, some of which would have nothing at all to do with the plot of the original. The franchise would see multiple reboots and remakes, eventually culminating in a pretty fantastic relaunch in 2018 that picks off after the first film, ignoring the cavalcade of terrible sequels that spawned in its wake.

Regardless of the overall quality of the franchise itself, Halloween is such a brilliantly iconic film that it would be absolutely criminal not to pay it its due. So today, let’s count down the best-of-the-best in all things Michael Myers, and see if any of the films that followed the original can stand up to its legacy:

(Spoiler alert: Not really)

11. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

Coming in at the very bottom of the list is, appropriately, the bottom of the barrel in terms of both quality and entertainment value. The sixth film in the original Halloween franchise, Curse is concrete proof that they were definitely running out of ideas by the franchise’s midpoint. With a plot that features a nonsensical conspiracy by Celtic cultists to make Michael Myers… immortal or something, this movie commits the cardinal sin of schlocky horror films: It’s just boring. There’s no suspense, no mystery, no scares of any kind. Just a by-the-numbers, weak attempt at a slasher film that somehow managers to make Paul freaking Rudd dull and lifeless. It that’s not a mark of shoddy filmmaking, I don’t know what is.

10. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

Part of a sort of self-contained trilogy with Curse and The Return of Michael Myers (which we’ll get to later), Revenge insist on adding way too much unnecessary lore to the franchise. Michael Myers is scary because he’s an enigma. He’s the shark from Jaws: He kills because it’s in his nature, not because of any tragic backstory or supernatural chicanery. Well, until now, that is. Revenge posits that it’s actually some secret cult that has been manipulating him every since the beginning of. It’s exactly as stupid as it sounds, and it goes absolutely nowhere. Plus, the film strikes one of my biggest horror pet peeves by rather unceremoniously killing one of the two survivors of the previous film, on of the franchises more likable leads, and leaves the other rendered mute and inactive. Myers also looks ridiculous, and I posit that any film that plays cartoon sound effects to indicate that a character is supposed to be an idiot doesn’t deserve to exist.

9. Halloween: Resurrection

This one stars Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks. That should pretty much tell you all you need to know. Barely a Halloween film at all, Resurrection follows a group of teenagers as they explore the old Myers house for a Halloween livestream, all at the behest of a sleazy TV producer. I have a sinking suspicion that this wasn’t even originally meant to be a part of the franchise in the first place, as Michael Myers is just sort of… there. He has no reason to be, and he doesn’t really do anything. And the internet streaming gimmick just screams of a studio mandate to appeal to teenagers. The only reason that this ranks above Curse is that it occasionally has a few, scattered moments of early-2000s charm (which are mostly just complete rip-offs of American Pie). Oh, and yes, Busta Rhymes does have an extended karate fight against Myers, in case you were wondering.

8. Halloween II (2009)

Oh, Rob Zombie. Halloween II (the second one, that is) is a sequel to Zombie’s 2007 remake, and it’s an absolute travesty of a film. I’ve been pretty vocal about how much I hate this movie. It’s ridiculously over-the-top, overly serious, and makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. It’s about as far away from a standard Halloween film as you can get, and I would honestly rather get a cavity drilled than to ever have to sit through it again. But, unlike the previous two entries on this list, it at least tries something. It’s meant to be a thoughtful, gritty exploration of trauma, exploring its effects on both the survivors of the previous film as well as Michael Myers himself. It fails miserably at this, but again, it tried. That’s much more than I can say for Curse and Resurrection.  

7. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

After Halloween III (wisely) dropped Michael Myers altogether, audiences loudly protested. How dare they make a Halloween film without the original’s star killer (despite the fact that he was going stale even by the second entry)? Well, after Season of the Witch bombed in theaters, the producers learned  their lesson, and Myers was back in action by Halloween 4. Which, frankly, only proves that the producers were right to shelve him in the first place. A fairly generic slasher, which started introducing some of the franchise’s more outlandish plot contrivances, Return manages to save itself by featuring some incredibly likable leads in Ellie Cornel’s Rachel and Danielle Harris’s Jamie Lloyd, who’s now nearly as iconic as Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode amongst Halloween fans. The return of Donald Pleasence as  Meyer’s nemesis Doctor Samuel Loomis also helps make this film at least feel like part of original’s legacy, especially since the films that would follow Return would largely stray further and further. Not a perfect film by any means, but still much better than its sequels.

6. Halloween II (1981)

The original 1978 Halloween was a smash hit, so naturally, a sequel followed suit. Picking up right after the first left off, Halloween II follows Michael Myers as he continues his hunt for Laurie Strode, who is revealed controversially in this film to be his long-lost sister. It’s a completely unneeded twist on the mythology, one that does nothing but muddle the comparatively simple themes of the original film, but it makes for a fairly effective substitute for a well-written story here. It would also set the stage for the nonsense that would appear later on in the series, which would only increase in ridiculousness with each passing film. But in 1981, at least, it was still balanced by a fairly tense pace and an aggressively violent Myers, far surpassing the original film in both body count and on-screen carnage. While not nearly as suspenseful, entertaining, or, well, good as the original, it’s still a passable slasher film, one that I think has aged a little better than many give it credit for.

5. Halloween (2007)

Halloween (2007) Directed by Rob Zombie Shown: Tyler Mane, Scout Taylor-Compton

Yay, more Rob Zombie. You know, as I’ve said, I originally had quite a bit of disdain for this 2007 remake of the Carpenter original. It was overly violent, needlessly overburdened with backstory and lore, and had just about as much subtlety as an exploding semitruck. And yet, after having seen the rest of the franchise back-to-back in a short time span, I have to now reluctantly admit that Zombie’s version of Halloween is far from the worst. At the very least, it manages to be far scarier than most of the later sequels in the original timeline, and is backed by some solid performances by Brad Dourif, Malcolm McDowell, and Scout Taylor-Compton, who steps into Jamie Lee Curtis’s shoes as the new Laurie Strode. It may not have the same atmosphere as the original, and panders a bit too much to the new-wave torture porn aesthetic that was plaguing the horror genre at the time, but it’s a faithful enough retelling that it gets points for that alone. If you can’t be the best, steal from it instead.

4. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later

Deciding that the previous batch of sequels had become a little too out-there, the producers behind the franchise got together with a surprisingly enthusiastic Jamie Lee Curtis to try and reign the series in a bit, taking the story back to the barebones necessity of the original, while still managing to update and refresh the premise for the new age. The result is H20, a half-retrospective, half-reboot of the franchise that brings back Laurie Strode and her now-teenage son as Michael Myers returns to seek vengeance after two decades missing in action. The result is a funny, charming, shockingly sincere love letter to the original and more-than worthy successor to the mediocre Halloween II. Replacing the slow, methodical, reverent pace of the original film with a slicker, more modern, Scream-like sense of self-awareness and genre savvy, H20 is probably the most surprising entry on the list. No late-game sequel like this should work as well as H20 does, and yet here it is, a shining example of why sometimes stripping a franchise down to its base qualities is a good idea every now and again.

3. Halloween III: Season of the Witch

A lot of people hate this film, and I understand why. After two outings for Michael Myers, John Carpenter had decided that enough was enough. He couldn’t think of any more reason for Myers to still be around (a prophet, that man), and decided instead to turn Halloween into an anthology series. Season of the Witch kicks off the aborted series with a fun, campy, creepy story about killer Halloween masks and a scheming Irish businessman named Conal Cochran. It’s goofy and fairly silly, but it’s got some incredible effects, excellent performances, and a near-perfect balance between the cheesy and the spooky. It’s easily the most Halloween-feeling Halloween film. Plus, you’ll have the Silver Shamrock jingle stuck in your head for days afterwards. It may not have Michael Myers, which audiences at the time loathed, but frankly, it’s better off without him, and I’m willing to die on that hill.

2. Halloween (2018)

Once again we’re going back to basics, only this time in a much more satisfying manner. Like H20 before it, 2018’s confusingly-named Halloween once again resets the timeline in a not-quite-a-sequel, not-quite-a-reboot that ignores all other films in the series save the original Carpenter classic. Shedding all of the unnecessary canonical baggage of the later films in the franchise, Halloween gets back to the simple, effective horror that made the first film so effective. No occult shenanigans, no ancient pagan curses of immortality, and best of all, no soap-opera familial twists. Just a good, old-fashioned slasher that once again pits Jamie Lee Curtis’s Laurie Strode against her masked arch-nemesis. Only this time, she’s ready. An exceptionally well-made movie, full of scares, laughs, and badass action that’ll have you cheering at the screen, this rebootquel is the first in a planned trilogy which, if this first film is any indication, may give us the best run of films that the franchise has ever had.

1. Halloween (1978)

What else could the number one slot be but the original? Despite how watered-down and generic (or conversely, batshit crazy) the later sequels, remakes, and reboots would be, John Carpenter’s original 1978 classic is built to stand the test of time. Delightfully moody, nail-bitingly suspenseful, and relentlessly scary, Halloween is the quintessential slasher film, the mark to which all others should be held to. It’s restrained, methodical, and deliberate in its horror, never once resorting to the cheap, excessive gore of its sequels and imitators. And yet, despite never once depicting any unnecessary gore, it somehow manages to still be the most frightening entry in the entire franchise. It was scary in 1978, and I suspect it’ll still be scary in another 50 years, too. Quite literally a perfect film.

After way more internal debate than I was expecting, this is eventually the order I came up with. I’m sure, if you have any connection to this franchise at all, that you vehemently disagree with some of my choices, which is great! Hooray for subjectivity!

(I will fight you over Season of the Witch, though. That movie is great.)

And with David Gordan Green’s Halloween Kills releasing later this month, I’m sure I’ll have to amend it soon anyway. But if you feel like I gypped your favorite, or perhaps gave more credit to a particular film than it deserved, let me know! I’d love to hear what you think!

Unless you think Rob Zombie’s Halloween is better than Carpenter’s. Keep that to yourself.

Happy Halloween!

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