John Carpenter’s original Halloween is a masterpiece. It remains the gold standard of stalker/slasher films; no other film has gotten near it, and certainly none of the sequels or remakes have. Yet I have seen every last Halloween film. Why? Why didn’t I quit in disgust after Halloween 5 (which must be in the running for the worst sequel ever made)? Hope springs eternal, I guess. Also, Michael Myers is fun to watch looming in the shadows. Anyway, just in time for Halloween, here’s my take on all ten Halloween films to date.
Halloween (1978, John Carpenter) – See full review
Halloween II (Rick Rosenthal, 1981) – “I shot him six times! I shot him in the haaaht!” As advertised, it picks up where the original left off (“More of the Night HE Came Home!”), and just about everyone is back, but this is little more than a pallid attempt to make lightning strike twice. (It did do well at the box office — better than The Fog.) There are some good bits plus a hilarious continuity fuck-up involving an innocent masked guy who gets squashed between a police car and an ambulance. The vehicles burst into flame, the corpse slumps over, we cut away, and when we next see the corpse it’s standing fully erect between the vehicles! This sort of thing really shows how much care went into the movie. Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasence return, Dick Warlock is Michael, and Lance Guest is the kindly Jimmy, who lives or dies depending on whether you see the theatrical or network version. With Alan Howarth reworking John Carpenter’s original score and Dean Cundey returning as cinematographer, it looks and sounds like Halloween, but it ain’t. Director Rick Rosenthal later made Halloween: Resurrection.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (Tommy Lee Wallace, 1983) – This box-office flop was co-producer John Carpenter’s attempt to depart from the stalker-slasher genre, which by ’83 had gotten utterly out of control. An evil maskmaker (Dan O’Herlihy) puts computer chips from Stonehenge rocks into his masks to control and destroy the children who wear them. Tom Atkins is the would-be hero, who watches a commercial for the original Halloween on a TV in a bar. That marked Michael Myers’ only appearance in this extremely derivative sci-fi/horror film that suckered people into thinking that it was in fact a Halloween movie. (“The night no one comes home,” explained the ads.) This was to be the first of a series of unconnected films dealing with Halloween myths. It was also the last. A noble failure ripe for reappraisal among contrarian Halloween fans — what could be ballsier than admitting you liked it? (Admitting you liked the next five turkeys.) This killed the franchise for a while, until Halloween 4 slithered up five years later. “Eight more days till Halloween, Silver Shamrock!”
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (Dwight H. Little, 1988) – As advertised. The dead Laurie Strode’s little daughter Jamie (Danielle Harris) telepathically lures the hospitalized Michael Myers (her uncle) out of a coma. For a guy with no eyes who’s been motionless for a decade, he’s awfully spry. He rises and kills lots of people. Donald Pleasence (looking real tired) shuffles around in burnt make-up, mentally spending his paycheck. With a decent scene involving multiple Michaels, a dumb shock ending, and stunt man George Wilbur as Michael (in a different, less scary mask). Enough people went to see this lame, belated sequel that another one came a year later, though I know of nobody who wanted it.
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (Dominique Othenin-Girard, 1989) – A drooling moron of a film. Absolutely the worst. This movie is why I didn’t get all that upset when Rob Zombie remade the original film. Danielle Harris returns, as does Donald Pleasence, who supposedly gets killed off (little did he know he’d be pressed into service again six years later). Michael (Don Shanks) shreds people until he’s caught and thrown in jail; then a mysterious man in black (his brother? uncle? Tommy Lee Jones? Will Smith?) sets him free. End of movie. Even undiscriminating horror fans were disgusted by the way this sequel (and series producer Moustapha Akkad) so cynically expected moviegoers to come back for Halloween 6 to find out who this guy is. A disgrace unworthy of its title. Coinciding with the film’s release was a special “Save Michael’s Next Victim” interactive hotline. Classy. I actually called it and it was scarier than the movie. You guided a terrified-sounding woman through a house and heard her discovering corpses: “Oh God, he…cut off…her head….”
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (Joe Chappelle, 1995) – Painless but pointless, this universally reviled sixth entry is smoothly directed but suffers fatally from pre-release butchery. It really plays up the Celtic angle, to no good effect. Michael (hefty George P. Wilbur) is now controlled by some evil Druid sect and programmed to kill every last member of his family. He warms up by slaying his now-grown niece Jamie and spends the movie trying to destroy her baby son. One of the kids from the first film, Tommy Doyle, is now an unhinged twentysomething (Paul Rudd) who tracks Michael’s activity and finds the baby hidden in a public bathroom. He teams up with young unmarried mom Marianne Hagen (Laurie Strode’s cousin) and her little son Devin Gardner. Donald Pleasence, in an unworthy swan song, has what amounts to an extended cameo as Dr. Loomis. It’s rather sad to see this great actor reduced to hobbling around in meaningless scenes and sounding terribly tired.
After one bad preview screening, Dimension re-edited the film and made the ending even more incomprehensible than it already was. Series producer Moustapha Akkad denounced the result and swore to retain more control over future sequels. Kim Darby and Bradford English appear as Laurie Strode’s aunt and uncle — named Debra and John (ha ha, too funny). The sad part is that this seems to have been made not by uncaring hacks, but by hacks who love the original. This was apparently the best they could do, and Dimension’s meddling didn’t help. Handsome cinematography by Billy Dickson; score by Alan Howarth. Also with Keith Bogart, Mariah O’Brien, and Mitchell Ryan as the mysterious Man in Black from Halloween 5. I know I was breathlessly anticipating this revelation. Director Joe Chappelle later did the Dean Koontz film Phantoms.
Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (Steve Miner, 1998) – Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the role that gave her a career in this sequel that ignores all the previous sequels after Halloween II. Hyped incessantly in the wake of the success of Scream, and eagerly awaited by horror fans, the movie turned out to be the kind of bland dud that killed horror back in the ’80s. Curtis’ Laurie Strode is now a traumatized alcoholic, but you wouldn’t know it from her lightweight performance; she had more gravity as a 19-year-old in the original than she has twenty years later. Laurie has a teenage son (Josh Hartnett) who throws a secret Halloween party with a bunch of dumb, expendable friends (including Michelle Williams, Adam Hann-Byrd, and Jodi Lyn O’Keefe). Michael, of course, returns and does his stuff until the absurdly abrupt finale. Obviously rushed, probably trimmed, and definitely dull. Score by John Ottman; cinematography by Daryn Okada. With Adam Arkin, LL Cool J, Chris Durand as Michael, cameos by Janet Leigh and Nancy Stephens, and a Donald Pleasence soundalike delivering the “evil” speech over the opening credits.
Halloween: Resurrection (Rick Rosenthal, 2002) – Almost worth it for the sight (or sound) of Busta Rhymes dressed like Michael Myers and ranting “Got-damn, what I gotta do to get some decent help up in here?” (His voice coming out of Michael’s mask is so incongruous it’s probably the funniest thing in any of the Halloween movies — it looks like something off a gag reel.) Other than that, this is a fairly tired cyber-haunted-house affair in which a group of college kids with webcams strapped to their heads spend the night in the old Myers house for scholarship money. Michael shows up, does a lot of damage, takes even more damage. Does he die? Does Moustapha Akkad shit in the woods? The lengthy pre-credits prologue, with Michael tracking down Jamie Lee Curtis at a mental hospital, is deftly handled but seems to belong at the end of a different movie. Generally it’s the crap you’d expect, but those who called it the worst of the series obviously hadn’t seen Halloween 5.
Halloween (Rob Zombie, 2007) – See full review.
Halloween II (Rob Zombie, 2009) – See full review.