The ‘Halloween’ Franchise: From Worst to Best Part 1
I’ll be honest, as a horror-geek, the Halloween franchise is one of the hardest to get through. This is only because the original has been such an inspiration to the genre, to the slasher icons that were to come. I’m used to the fall of grace of horror franchises, the inevitable self-parody.
I’ve seen Freddy become a wise-cracking clown. I’ve seen Pinhead venture into the bottom-of-the barrel VOD fodder. I’ve seen the infamous great White Shark trying to avenge his slaughtered kin by chasing the human offspring all the way to the Bahamas — in a film that also co-starred Michael Caine as a character named Hoagie.
But there’s something especially grueling about the decline of the Halloween franchise. There’s something about the continuous soulless appearances of one of cinema’s greatest monsters, Michael Myers, that really leaves a real bad taste in my mouth.
Admittedly, Halloween is not an easy film to build a franchise from. It doesn’t have the expansive mythological lore of Hellraiser or A Nightmare on Elm Street. It’s central conceit is a subtle one, it doesn’t lend itself to the over-the-top silliness that the Friday the 13th franchise became imbued with. It’s central monster isn’t nearly as colorful as Chucky.
Which is also why the original author, John Carpenter, wanted to turn it into a horror anthology series. The first sequel, Halloween 2, also officially killed its two main characters, Myers and Dr. Loomis, the series equivalent of Dracula and Van Helsing to wrap up the storyline.
But when the second sequel, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, had an underwhelming box-office returns, Meyers and Loomis were promptly resurrected.
To state that they missed the point of the original is an understatement: gone was the subtle and well-orchestrated suspense, instead it continued to leach from the slasher clichés it had originally incepted. It became an endurance test of watching a group of unlikable characters getting killed off one by one.
Most frustratingly, they couldn’t even get the Michael Myers mask right. Remember, the original mask had been a two-dollar Captain James T-Kirk mask, painted flat-white, its signature facial features removed, it shouldn’t have been that hard to recreate…
Only the thespian presence of Donald Pleasence saved many of the derivative sequels. Then there was the welcome return of Jamie Lee Curtis, which was then cruelly followed by a kung-fu kicking Busta Rhymes. Then Rob Zombie took a rather idiosyncratic stab at the Haddonfield’s infamous monster. And now, with the cinematic talents of David Gordon Greene and Danny McBride — as well as the musical talents of John Carpenter — the Shape will be back. As well as Laurie. And, judging by the early buzz, his return has been warmly praised.
So let’s look at the Halloween franchise, the ups and downs of our favorite faceless ghoul, starting from the worst and ending with the best — I’m sure it’s not hard to guess which one is the best.
#11: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (Theatrical Cut)
This shouldn’t come as much of a surprise for anyone who is familiar with the production insanity that preceded it. There were back-and-forth rights disputes, script-rewrites and the bad test-screenings filled with fourteen year olds that prompted producers Harvey and Bob Weinstein — yup those two — to order reshoots which diminished any aesthetic ambition the original end-product had.
The Producer’s Cut, which was the initial cut of the film, is certainly a flawed film but it has some intriguing ideas and features more Donald Pleasence as Donald Loomis — which would also be Pleasence’ final role, as he died months before the film’s release. The theatrical cut is the epitome of soulless studio-meddling: the initial attempt to return the suspense of the first film is replaced by mindless gore –– though it does feature one intriguing head-explosion — it has quicker pacing so the story barely has time to breath, character development is cut out and the film is hurt mightily by epileptic flashes and obnoxious sound-effects to make the film feel more ”extreme” — which instead becomes incredibly annoying.
The best thing about this film is Dr. Loomis but many of his scenes were cut out. Apparently, original director Joe Chappelle thought he was ”boring”.
While I’m certainly not a fan of the cult-origin given to Michael Myers, at least the original cut has some sort of vision for it, giving it some sort of (albeit twisted) logic. The cult-subplot loses any of the mystique in the theatrical cut, making it feel entirely pointless. What little made sense in the original cut is gone in the theatrical cut as the entire third-act is reshot so that Michael Myers can kill a bunch of non-characters — most of it accompanied by epileptic flashes.
This is just a dumb slasher film, propagated by producers with little respect for their audience…and the fact that Weinstein’s name is attached to this, and that he had such creative control over this, just makes it so much worse.
#10: Halloween: Resurrection
While I’m not a huge fan of Halloween: H20, at least it gave the franchise a modestly dignified end. But the corporate hacks that owned the franchise knew that more money could be made. The right thing to do was to leave it alone.
But instead they made Halloween: Resurrection.
Halloween: Resurrection is nothing more than a painful cash-grab from start to finish. There’s nothing suspenseful in this film. There is no interesting gore. No interesting characters. And it even kills one of cinema’s greatest scream-queens, Laurie Strode, in the lamest way possible — and fifteen minutes in the movie to boot.
There’s also the reality-TV angle, which feels like a way to be ”hip” with the times but now comes over more dated than a Nightmare on Elm Street film featuring music by glam-rock band Dokken.
Then there is Busta Rhymes. While it’s easy to mock this film for having Busta Rhymes save the day by kung-fu kicking Myers, for me, he was the most entertaining aspect of this film — mostly because of how stupid it was. The scene where Busta tells Michael off, thinking that he’s talking to a colleague in a Myers costume instead of the real one, is so deliciously dumb that it at least made me feel something.
Other than this, you will mostly come off this film feeling absolutely nothing at all.
#9: Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
This is when things get ”really” bad. This was the moment the franchise truly went down the deep end. While 4 was certainly an unnecessary sequel, it did boast an intriguing climax, which could potentially lead to something interesting.
Instead, they quickly rushed out a sequel after the success of the fourth film. They were obviously not interesting in making something challenging or interesting, just on making the safest and dullest Michael Myers film possible — we also have to be honest that producer Moustapha Akkad has a lot of blame on his side for the ridiculous choices made in this franchise.
The film was so rushed in fact that they made up plot-threads for the film, such as the inclusion of a mysterious helper of Michael Myers known as The Man in Black, or having a mysterious thorn symbol on Myers’ wrist, without having a vision to where it would lead. They hoped it could make it make sense in the sixth film — not having a clear vision for a franchise is also causing problems for the current Star Wars franchise.
There’s not much to say about this film. Danielle Harris is fantastic, even though her performance is hampered by making her character suddenly mute. She’s the best thing about this film, besides Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis, whose obsession of stopping Michael Myers drives him almost to mental ruin.
The mask also looks particularly horrible in this one. Not sure if this is the worst mask of the series — It’s a contender between this one or the fourth one (but we shouldn’t forget about the CGI Myers Mask that appeared briefly in H20).
#8: Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (Producer’s Cut)
The producer’s cut of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers feels like such a different film that I had put it separately in this list. While both versions have received condemnation from fans and critics alike, the reception for the producer’s cut was far less savage. It’s certainly not without its faults. There’s still a lot of head-scratching moments. Recasting Danielle Harris, the second greatest aspect of the previous two films, was mindbogglingly dumb, especially for those attached to her character.
The idea of a Halloween-obsessed cult pulling the strings of the great Boogeyman can never be as satisfying as the terrifying randomness of his first appearance in 1978. The manner in which Myers is subdued in the end, by Paul Rudd and a bunch of rocks, is laughable.
But we also acknowledge that the filmmakers had to try to make sense of the ridiculous plot-points introduced in the fifth film. It was either retconning what came before or try to salvage what’s there. They tried and the result is middling to say the least.
At least this version feels like it was made by filmmakers who respected the original film. There’s more focus on atmosphere and suspense, rather than frantic editing and gore. The film ties all the way back to the original. It even explains who taught Michael how to drive.
The supporting cast, especially from Mitchell Ryan as Dr. Wynn is commendable too. He certainly oozes more menace in this version than the theatrical cut.
Best of all, there’s more Dr. Loomis. This Dr. Loomis, having survived his apparent stroke during the fifth film, is at first retired from chasing the boogeyman. He’s no longer obsessed with his former patient and his murderous case of sibling rivalry.
While there’s something poignant of Pleasence’s final scene before his ominous scream in the end of the theatrical cut, especially with his mournful gaze as he states that he ”has a little business to attend to” — and knowing that this was his last performance — his character arc in this version is much more interesting.
The cruelty of fate makes the good doctor the unwilling protector of his greatest nemesis. His hopeless scream cements the unrelenting presence of evil throughout the series. It’s such a great performance.
No matter how good the new Halloween movie will be, I know Pleasence will be missed.
#7: Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
This film didn’t need to exist. The story of Myers was over but after the financial disappointment of Season of the Witch, which introduced the original horror anthology concept, the studio went back to the moneymaking boogeyman. They killed Laurie Strode off-screen — the first massive sin — and introduced a new sibling, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris).
I know there are fans of the what fans unofficially hail as the ”Thorn” trilogy, which starts with this one, as producer’s resurrected the charred corpses of Dr. Loomis and Michael Myers.
While I wouldn’t call myself one — I just can’t stand that hokey mask — it did introduce horror fans to the great Danielle Harris. Having a young child becoming the target of Myers shenanigans was an inspired idea. Harris gives the role everything. You really feel her terror throughout the film.
It’s her and Pleasence that makes this film worthwhile. The film itself is a pale comparison of the simplistic brilliance of the original. It’s just a retread, repeating many aspects beat for beat, but with none of the atmosphere or suspense.
But Pleasence and Harris give these roles there all. The finale is one of the memorable of the series and it’s a shame they wasted its potential in the sequels.
#6: Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later
Halloween H20 was the first time Laurie Strode was resurrected, only to be then be killed off in the Halloween: Resurrection, and now she’s come back to the life, through the magic of box-office potential, to fight the boogeyman once again.
At the time of its release, H20 was considered a return to style, especially after all that cult-nonsense that preceded it. But over time, the 90’s aspects, stemming from the success of Wes Craven’s self-referential slasher franchise Scream, has made this feel particularly dated- and not necessarily in a good way.
The fact that Kevin Williamson, one of the original writers of Scream, did uncredited rewrites comes to no surprise. It’s chock-full of horror movie nods, from a welcome appearance of Jamie Lee Curtis’ real-life mother Janet Leigh (who appears in the movie accompanied by some of Bernard Hermann’s score of Psycho) to visual nods to the original (as well as a Hockey mask that will surely make people think of one particular Slasher Icon).
The film has also been criticized for its goofy humor, which admittedly, doesn’t always work. The film is also, simply put, not scary — unless jump scares terrify you.
But at least the characters, even if they talk in Kevin Williamson-esque ways, don’t feel like brainless murder fodder for Michael Myers. They all have their distinct characteristic. There’s more humanity to the supporting cast than from most of what we’ve seen in the preceding three movies — besides from Jamie and Loomis of course.
The best thing about this movie, the thing that makes it actually memorable, is the ending. The stand-off between Laurie and Michael is certainly crowd-pleaser. The final scene would have been decent way to end the franchise. It wasn’t perfect but hearing that sound-effect of the axe striking Myers’ head, and then hearing the theme song, was bloody satisfying.
Unfortunately, the greatness of this ending was ruined by what came after, which was also apparently concocted by Williamson. At least Laurie will be back once again. And while I certainly wouldn’t bet on it being the final Halloween film — rumors of sequels are floating around — their final reunion will be sweet, even if it might not last long.
In part 2 we will look into one rockstar’s grunge version of Haddonfield’s infamous serial-killer. Then we will ditch the boogeyman for robots and Stonehenge.
Then we will return toward the night that Michael came home.
Thank you for reading! What are your thoughts on the Halloween franchise? Comment down below!
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