Rob Zombie’s sequel to his reimagining of the original John Carpenter’s Halloween is set to carve its way into theaters next week, and based on the first remake, one wonders if it’s something to look forward to or not. So it seemed a good time for us to look back at the eight films that make up the original series of Halloween films. The saga began with John Carpenter’s classic fright fest about Michael Myers, a boy turned “bogeyman” determined to celebrate the title holiday by killing his baby sister (the scrappy Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis in her star-making role). The sequels that followed slowly devolved into a series of (mostly) standard slasher flicks, but we still find that the weakest Halloween entry is a step above your average “puree the teenagers having sex” splatter film. Here’s our take on all eight, listed from worst to first:
8. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
The one film in the series to avoid, “Resurrection” trashes the satisfying series wrap-up of H2O (see below) and clumsily tries to shove The Shape into the internet age. It opens with original star Jamie Lee Curtis housed inside a mental institution due to an insulting reworking of H2O’s plot. But she is almost immediately killed by Michael (talk about anti-climactic) before the masked one trudges back to his family home to celebrate All Hallows Eve. Unfortunately (for us) he finds the old Myers homestead infested with obnoxious college kids and countless video cameras, courtesy of TV producers Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks, there to create a live Halloween-themed internet reality show that quickly becomes a dead teenager movie. An unfortunate way to end the original series of films for sure.
WHY WATCH IT: Nothing else is on.
7. Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Nothing spoils a good horror movie more than too much explanation of the monster; monsters should be mysterious because that enhances the fear (a real problem with the recent Rob Zombie remake of Halloween, which may give us too much back story). A similar problem plagues this entry, with the producers trying way too hard to tie up Michael’s motivations and the earlier films’ plot points with hooey about Celtic rituals, cursed stars, and a secret society that worships the slaughter of families.
WHY WATCH IT: Despite the overwrought script, it does have its share of scary sequences and there’s a bootleg ‘Producers Cut’ floating around that some fans still swear by. We have yet to be convinced. Also, this entry marks the last appearance of Donald Pleasence in a Halloween film as Dr. Sam Loomis before his death in 1995.
6. Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1982)
Carpenter (as producer) made the mistake of trying to use the brand name of the series to introduce new Halloween tales, but since this film had no Michael, no witches or any kind of connection to the first two movies, Halloween III was a bust at the box office. Instead, we got the tale of a mad scientist/toy manufacturer, backed up by an army of skull-crushing androids, plotting to use a popular line of Halloween masks laced with fragments from Stonehenge to kill thousands of children via exposure to one of his TV commercials…huh? Exactly.
WHY WATCH IT: If you can get past the lack of Michael and the wacky plot, the film still offers many atmospheric moments and cool looking killings. Carpenter also created the eerie score.
5. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Here we go again. “5” picks up where “4” left off (see below), with Michael still hot on his niece’s trail, killing anyone who gets in his path. Another high body count, but not much imagination, the film steals set pieces from other slasher films, including a pitchfork impaling of a couple having sex. And it throws away the one interesting idea offered up at the end of “4”: that Michael’s niece might also be an evil bogeyman.
WHY WATCH IT: The movie is shot with a good dose of cinematic style (missing since the original), and the film ends with an unexpected twist as a mysterious “stranger” frees Michael for purposes unknown (until those reasons are unfortunately revealed in “6”).
4. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
The best thing about this film is spelled out in the title: it brought our beloved Michael Myers back to the screen after his absence in Halloween III. Unfortunately, he’s not brought back with any of the wit or murderous artistry of his original incarnation, and instead goes on a predictable Jason Vorhees-like rampage in search of what he believes to be his only other living relative, Laurie Strode’s daughter. The body count is very high in this entry, but I guess absence makes the heart grow fonder, especially if it’s carved out of a teen having sex.
WHY WATCH IT: Despite being blown to smithereens at the end of Halloween II, Donald Pleasance’s Dr. Loomis is also back, chewing up the scenery. There’s also the intriguing hint at the finale that Michael’s niece might end up transforming into an evil homicidal maniac just like her uncle.
3. Halloween II (1981)
Halloween II literally begins seconds after the original ended, fooling the viewer into believing they’re seeing the same stylish filmmaking of the original. But after about 10 minutes, you realize it’s not Carpenter behind the camera, as Michael methodically slaughters the few folk (nurse, doctor, security guard) who populate a strangely deserted hospital where Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has been taken after surviving the original attack. There’s not much to the plot beyond that, although this is the film that reveals that Laurie Strode is actually Myers’ little sister.
WHY WATCH IT: There are some pretty cool murders, a very effective chase scene as Michael stalks a drugged up Laurie through the empty hospital halls, a strong performance by Donald Pleasance as the determined Dr. Loomis, and a truly explosive finale (that future installments completely ignore in order to continue the series).
2. Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later (1998)
This film wisely ignores the sequels, giving it a clean plotline and making it an effective bookend to Carpenter’s original. Twenty years after surviving the original horror of the first two films, Laurie Strode is now a divorced, alcoholic single mom who has been hiding from her homicidal brother in Northern California under a new name. She sees phantom images of The Shape in every storefront window and around every corner, fueling her dementia. But when she comes to the realization that Michael is still alive and actually back on her trail, she decides that the only way to end her nightmare and protect her son is to stop drowning herself in booze and pills and face The Shape one last time. The film is propelled by Jamie Lee Curtis’ strong performance, leading to a strong climactic showdown.
WHY WATCH IT: That great moment when Curtis comes face to face with the real Michael for the first time, an extremely satisfying ending, and a fun cameo by Curtis’s mom, Janet Leigh, (the original shower scene victim of Psycho), still driving the same car she drove to the Bates motel.
1. Halloween (1978)
Influential, stylish, and above all, scary. Writer-director John Carpenter created his masterpiece about “the night he came home” without resorting to cheap tactics and obvious “boo” moments. Instead, he relied on visual storytelling, well drawn characters we really care about, and the brilliant use of framing, foreground and darkness. The scene where Laurie stands on top of the stairs after she thinks she’s killed The Shape, and then we see Michael’s white mask slowly float out of the pitch black behind her, is one of horror cinema’s greatest moments. Other filmmakers have tried to recapture the success and “formula” of Carpenter’s film but none had the artistry, resulting in the relentless string of hollow slasher films, best typified by the Friday the 13th series. Fortunately we always have the original to come home to.
WHY WATCH IT: The great opening murder sequence (filmed in one shot), the hide-and-seek games Michael plays with his sister’s friends before killing them, and the mind-twisting revelation at the climax that Michael is, indeed, “the bogeyman”. Along with Psycho, Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, this is one of the best modern horror films ever made, with bravura performances from Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance, and that iconic musical score by Carpenter himself.