Horror Marathon: The Halloween film series

To celebrate 40 years since the release of influential horror film Halloween, I recently rewatched it… and then delved into all the sequels, spin-offs and reboots. It was often fun. It was often dispiriting. And that was just trying to keep track of all the times films ignore previous entries in the series. Here’s my journey into darkness…

Spoiler warning: Minor plot points may be revealed.

1. Halloween (1978, John Carpenter)
Fifteen years after he murdered his sister, psychiatric patient Michael Myers escapes hospital, returns to his home town and targets a group of young friends…

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It’s a staggeringly simple story – a ruthless, seemingly unstoppable killer picks off victims one by one – and has been copied endlessly ever since. But the first modern slasher film is still the best. Made for just $325,000, it’s a stripped-down, economical movie: trim, taut and terrifically constructed. Carpenter’s script has no flab on it and his shooting style is a masterclass in how to create mood and suspense. The widescreen anamorphic format keeps you looking for threats and danger in every corner of the frame, while long Panaglide shots give scenes a formal, elegant beauty. (The latter also sometimes act as Michael’s point of view, such as in the film’s bravura opening: a four-minute long take as he stalks and murders his sister.) But for a film about a violent killer, there’s actually little gore on display; Halloween is more about tension and scares. In her first ever movie, Jamie Lee Curtis is very good as virginal lead character Laurie Strode, one of the horror genre’s definitive final girls. Donald Pleasance adds a bit of class as Michael’s manic psychiatrist, Dr Loomis. And the excellent incidental music (written by the director) is both creepy and catchy.
Nine jack-o’-lanterns out of 10.

2. Halloween II (1981, Rick Rosenthal)
Later that same night, Michael Myers continues to terrorise teenagers in the town of Haddonfield…

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This direct follow-on picks up at the very moment that film one finished. John Carpenter co-wrote the script and produced, but later said he didn’t think he did a very good job. An injured and shaken Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis again, though given far less to do this time) spends most of the film in the world’s quietest hospital as Michael’s killing spree continues. Meanwhile, Dr Loomis continues trying to hunt Michael down. It’s a shlockier film than the original: there’s deliberately more gore, because the horror genre had moved on swiftly in the three years since the original, and more nudity too. But it’s still tense and scary enough to be basely entertaining. The imaginatively staged deaths are far more interesting than the new sacrificial characters, while the incidental music is again fantastic.
Retcon alert! In the first film, Michael targeted Laurie simply because he happened to see her near his childhood home. But we’re now told that they’re siblings: Laurie was adopted at a young age by the Strode family after older brother Michael went loopy. Not even Dr Loomis, Michael’s long-time psychiatrist, knew about the link until this film.
Six hydrothermal baths out of 10.

3. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982, Tommy Lee Wallace)
A doctor and a grieving daughter investigate a mysterious toy company… 

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The oddity of the Halloween series: a self-contained horror story that has nothing to do with Michael Myers, Laurie Strode or the town of Haddonfield. In fact, it’s not even a slasher film. Season of the Witch is more like the kind of plot later seen in The X-Files – there’s horror and there are deaths, but it’s a conspiracy thriller about a spooky business run by a man with a secret, and the film is more about computers and CCTV cameras than a crank with a carving knife. It’s *wonderful*, a real gem that deserves a much better reputation. There’s a fantastic oddball tone to the whole thing (while still being scary), as well as an amazing score by producer John Carpenter and some very classy camerawork by cinematographer Dean Cundey (Halloween, the Back to the Future series, Jurassic Park).
Retcon alert! The original Halloween film actually exists in this story’s fiction – characters watch a TV advert for an upcoming screening.
Eight Shamrock Novelties masks out of 10

4. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988, Dwight H Little)
On the tenth anniversary of his killing spree, Michael Myers escapes once again and returns to Haddonfield to target his seven-year-old niece…

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He’s back. After Season of the Witch’s attempt to morph the series into an anthology of different threats, Michael Myers was resurrected and wheeled out for a third iteration of the same basic slasher storyline. It’s 1988, 10 years on from the events of the first two films, and Michael learns that his sister Laurie has died in a car crash. (Jamie Lee Curtis, by now a huge star thanks to world-class comedy turns in Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda, didn’t want to come back.) So instead Michael goes after her young daughter, the aptly named Jamie played a not-bad Danielle Harris. Meanwhile, poor old Dr Loomis gives chase again, this time with a scarred face and a walking stick after the trauma he suffered in film two. Original co-writer/director John Carpenter had left the series after Season of the Witch, which may explain why this film is so plodding and why most of the deaths lack the shock factor of the original or the flamboyance of Halloween II. But let’s give the movie an extra mark for its unsettling – and genuinely unexpected – ending.
Retcon alert! Both Michael and Loomis were patently killed in Halloween II, but now we’re told that they were ‘nearly’ burnt to death.
Five roofs out of 10

5. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989, Dominque Othenin-Girard)
A year later: the presumed-dead Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield (again) to continue his persecution of his niece…

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After a recap of film four, which has some new footage to explain that Michael actually survived a hail of bullets and crawled away into the woods, we cut to a year later. It’s Halloween again and the town of Haddonfield is tempting fate again by celebrating it. After her trauma in the last movie, young Jamie (Danielle Harris, impressively intense throughout) is now in a children’s hospital. She’s troubled, mute and scared, while Dr Loomis (a frail-sounding Donald Pleasance) is still keeping a watch over her. And we meet a whole new gang of kids for Michael to kill: a desperately drab gang, one of whom is a prick who dresses up as Michael Myers *as a prank*. This film was directed by Dominique Othenin-Girard, who later made the appalling Omen IV. He does a terrible job. It’s shot and cut like a TV movie; many scenes feel rushed or abrupt; Michael’s first kill is confusing because the camera ‘crosses the line’; there’s precious little tension; the story is forgettable; and the deaths lack theatricality. The script is atrocious too.
Retcon alert! Not so much a contradiction, more a confirmation, but Michael’s supernatural quality is finally made explicit in this film. In earlier films we’ve been invited to question whether he’s something more than a man – he’s repeatedly survived being shot and burnt, for example. But now we learn that he has a psychic connection with his niece.
Three comedy cops (scored by cartoon incidental music) out of 10

6. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995, Joe Chappelle)
Michael escapes from a secretive cult who have been holding him prisoner for six years and continues his quest to murder his family…

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Decidedly unscary and exceedingly boring, this film sees the series sink lower than ever before. Jamie (recast with JC Brandy) is now a teenager and has been held captive by ritual-loving weirdos for six years. She gives birth, then escapes with her baby. So uncle Michael gives chase – back to Haddonfield (again)… A lost-looking Paul Rudd (Clueless, Friends, Ant-Man) plays Tommy Doyle, a character who was a child in the original film; he’s now an adult with a Michael Myers obsession who pervs at his next-door neighbour who just happens to be related to Laurie Strode and lives in Michael’s childhood home. A visibly unwell Donald Pleasance returns for a final time as Dr Loomis (the actor died before the film was released), and the plot picks up hints from Halloween II that there’s a supernatural reason why Michael always strikes on 31 October. But this is a truly abysmal film. The script is half-arsed horseshit, and it’s directed with the nuance of a wrecking ball. There’s an obsession with empty, artificial, horror-movie clichés, for example, while none of the characters feels even remotely real.
Retcon alert! At the end of Halloween 5, we saw a mysterious ‘man in black’ character take Michael away but leave Jamie behind. Now, we’re told that he kidnapped Jamie too – and both have been locked away in an underground bunker ever since.
Two radio phone-ins out of 10

7. Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998, Steve Miner)
Having faked her death, Laurie Strode is living under an assumed name and working as a school headmistress. But then, two decades after her encounter with brother Michael Myers, he returns…

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Laurie Strode is living under a new identity, having gone into hiding after the events of Halloween II. She has a 17-year-old son, who goes to the secluded private school where she works, but she’s dogged by nightmares and has a drink problem. On the 20th anniversary of her encounter with Michael, her brother shows up again intent on killing her, so Laurie decides to fight back… A *galactic* leap up in quality from the previous few movies, this project was instigated by Jamie Lee Curtis. The script has life and bounce to it, while there’s a confidence and a competency to the staging. Because it’s the postmodern 1990s, we also get plenty of knowing references to other horror films – the Friday the 13th series, Scream 2, Frankenstein, Psycho… (Among several nods to the granddaddy of slasher films is the casting of Jamie Lee Curtis’s mother, Psycho star Janet Leigh, in a small role.) The school setting, teenage characters and funny dialogue are also reminiscent of TV’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, while a more-interesting-than-usual guest cast (Adam Arkin, Michelle Williams, LL Cool J) only add to what is a very enjoyable slasher movie.
Retcon alert! The last three films are wiped from the narrative slate completely. Laurie’s off-screen death, Laurie’s daughter, Michael’s extra killing sprees – all are now ignored. This presents the oddity that Michael and Dr Loomis’s deaths in Halloween II are being retconned for a second time.
Eight ice skates out of 10

8. Halloween: Resurrection (2002, Rick Rosenthal)
A group of kids take part in a reality show filmed inside Michael Myers’s childhood home. But they don’t know he’s in the house too…

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After an opening 15-minute sequence that’s basically an extended Jamie Lee Curtis cameo so she can be on the poster, we cut to Haddonfield University. A gang of students (all thoroughly dull except for Katie Sackhoff’s spirited Jen) win places on an internet reality show called Dangertainment. The plan is for them to spend the night in Michael Myers’s long-abandoned house and for people to watch them online. In other words, the postmodern pep of Halloween H20 has given way to noughties narcissism. Unfortunately for the contestants, Michael has sneaked into the house and rather slowly bumps them off one by one… It’s rarely tense or scary and you never really care what’s happening. But in the film’s favour, there’s some satire of reality shows – the producers have salted the house with artificial scares, for example, while viewers assume the murders are staged. There’s also a neat bit of writing when the murders kick off: a friend of a contestant is watching online, so texts her with guidance (‘He’s climbing up the stairs,’ etc). Meanwhile, Busta Rhymes plays Dangertainment’s producer and almost keeps a straight face when he confronts Michael: ‘Trick or treat, motherfucker!’ It’s not a great movie, but it’s not as awful as some of the previous ones.
Retcon alert! Halloween H20 ended with Laurie decapitating Michael Myers, but we’re now told that it wasn’t Michael. He’d earlier switched places with an unfortunate paramedic who was unable to tell Laurie who he was because his larynx had been crushed. (Why he didn’t remove the mask, though, is another matter.)
Five internet Emmys out of 10

9. Halloween (2007, Rob Zombie)
After a killing spree, a young boy called Michael Myers is committed to a psychiatric hospital. But 15 years later he escapes to go after his surviving sister…

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This remake of the 1978 original also acts as a prequel. It begins with more than half an hour focusing on Michael Myers as a child – a topic covered in less than five minutes by John Carpenter. We see him kill his elder sister, his stepfather and a school bully – all of whom have it coming because they’re so obnoxious – then his sessions with psychiatrist Dr Loomis (Malcolm McDowell). So rather than Michael being a character-less, motiveless ‘Shape’, we see events from his point of view and understand why he is how he is. All this means it’s nearly the halfway point before we meet teenager Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) and enter a dreary retelling of the 1978 plot. The grown-up Michael is played by the 6’9″ Tyler Mane, while Danielle Harris (Jamie in Halloweens 4 and 5) plays Laurie’s pal Annie and has to suffer the indignity of acting topless for several scenes after Michael attacks Annie while she’s having sex. That coarseness sums the whole movie up, really. This is the kind of horror film that’s all about a sustained tone of unpleasantness, a focus on suffering and pain, and characters who are pricks for no reason. It’s a dreadful, depressing couple of hours, full of caked blood and sharp edges and gore and rape and a grimy colour palette.
Retcon alert! Obviously, being a reboot, all the previous movies are ignored. In a change from the 1978 original, Michael and Laurie are siblings straight away here.
One taco deluxe supreme out of 10

10. Halloween II (2009, Rob Zombie)
A year later: Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield…

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Just like Rob Zombie’s first Halloween movie, this sequel has a fetishist fascination with gore, blood, suffering and general unpleasantness. The film goes intense and graphic early on, which means there’s never any chance of suspense or dynamic storytelling: if it’ll show *that* early on, you think, then it’ll do anything. After a looooong opening sequence which is then revealed to be a nightmare, the body of the film takes place a year after the events of the previous film. Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) has PTSD: she’s now a wild child and says fuck a lot. Meanwhile, Dr Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) is living off the fame of the Myers case, while the not-dead-after-all Michael Myers has been having Freudian dreams about his mother. (Soon, for some reason, Laurie’s having dreams about her too – a woman she hasn’t seen since being a baby.) Michael then heads back to Haddonfield and begins killing again… This dreadful, ham-fisted, charmless travesty has two light-hearted things of note. It’s the first Halloween film to mention Mike Myers, the Austin Powers actor. And, because she’s been to a fancy-dress party, Laurie spends the last third of the story dressed as Magenta from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Retcon alert! Michael Myers was shot in the face in the previous film, but now we’re told that no body was found.
One shaggin’ wagon out of 10

11. Halloween (2018, David Gordon Green)
Forty years after his killing spree, Michael Myers escapes custody and heads for the victim that got away: Laurie Strode…

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Thankfully, the latest entry in this up-and-doooooooown series is a really entertaining slasher film made with thought and craft and decent storytelling. Wisely turning its back on the humourless, hackneyed tone of the Rob Zombie reboots, this sequel to the 1978 original may be yet another Halloween film that pretends previous films don’t exist – but it’s so entertaining that doesn’t really matter… Forty years after Michael Myers tormented her, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is a hardened, embittered and lonely women. She’s kept at a distance by her grown-up daughter (Judy Greer) and has spent four decades preparing for Michael’s return. (In promotional interviews, Curtis likened this version of Laurie to doomsday preppers.) When Myers (inevitably) escapes and goes on another murderous rampage, Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) gets in the way… This is a horror film that never forgets that horror only works in relation to other stuff: we need to know and care for the characters; the darkness must contrast with the light. So we get plenty of moments of humanity and humour, and a well-cast and interesting group of characters. As well as Laurie and her family (all very good), Allyson’s babysitting mate Vicky and the young lad she’s looking after are especially fun. All that means that when the tension builds, it’s effective. And when the violence comes it’s savage. Add in some clever callbacks to John Carpenter’s original and you have a terrific way to cap forty years of carnage.
Retcon alert! Yet again, lots of previous sequels are ignored… including the last time Laurie Strode returned to the series and ignored previous sequels! Also, the fact Michael and Laurie are siblings is now downgraded to a rumour.
Eight basements out of 10

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