The Halloween Franchise: From Worst to Best Part 2
“The strongest human emotion is fear. It’s the essence of any good thriller that, for a little while, you believe in the boogeyman…”
In this part I will cover what I consider to be the five best films of the Halloween franchise. Besides the first one and possibly the second one, these are going to be controversial picks. Many established fans dismiss the bonkers third one because it doesn’t include their favorite devil-eyed serial-killer, while others loath the psychological layers given to him in the 2007 remake and its 2009 sequel.
I can understand these grievances and I know that none of them, besides the first one of course, are exactly masterpieces. But throughout the years, I have found myself consistently drawn to these four later movies, all for different reasons.
Even with all their flaws — and some are quite apparent — I feel there’s much more ambition and heart to be found in these sequels. One is the epitome of a solid horror sequel, it might not break any new ground but it wraps up everything neatly.
Another introduces a new brand of evil of the Halloween festivity, a menacing force of both the occult and modern capitalism. While two other movies, the ones we are starting now, tries to explain what makes the boogeyman tick.
The series might be a bumpy ride to get through but I love these films. Here’s hoping the David Gordon Greene/Danny McBride scripted sequel/reboot of Halloween might become one of them.
#5: Halloween (2007)
Michael Myers needed his dignity back. Any respectability he regained from H20 was subsequently (literally) beaten down in Halloween: Resurrection. He stopped being scary. The boogeyman is not supposed to get his ass kicked by Busta Rhymes.
During the horror-remake craze of the 2000’s, possibly instigated by Marc Nispel’s inspired remake of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, it was only a matter of time before some producer suggested to redo the story of ‘Haddonfield’s Most Wanted’.
A radical voice was needed, a bold risk. Eyes were set on Rob Zombie. Zombie was a metal-musician, who had success in the horror-movie genre, particularly from his wonderful seventies/western/slasher exploitation tribute The Devil’s Rejects.
Zombie’s initial idea was to make two films back to back. One about Myers’ youth and rise to serial-killer stardom, the other being a straight remake of the original film. This ambitious idea was a little too much for the financiers at Dimension, mostly because this would mean that the iconic killer (or more his iconic look) would be off-screen too long.
So instead, they meshed the two separate films together. Rob Zombie’s idiosyncratic cinematic style was mingled with the classic beats of John Carpenter’s original. Its reception was uneven to say the least, numerous critics and fans were appalled by the result. The subtleness of the original was replaced by exploitation sleaze. Zombie’s in-your-face style and expletive ridden script tired many viewers.
Many of these critiques are justified. The script has many laughably over-the-top moments. Making Myers a text-book psychopath, starting with torturing and killing little animals, takes away the mysterious and indomitable evil of the character.
At the same time, I do disagree with the notions that the film blames his troubled youth for his psychotic behavior. No amount of bad parenting could make a kid enjoy harming and killing animals. The bad genes were already inside him. The lousy parenting just didn’t help.
The humanity can also be scary. This is an all too human Myers, but his ruthlessness is still there. There’s no bargaining with him. The casting of Michael Myers also helps. Doug Faerch is an excellent young Michael, portraying the childlike innocence mingled with the apathetic evil lurking inside. At the same time, Tyler Mane as adult Myers might be one of the greatest performers of the Boogeyman ever. His imposing physique besides, his soulful eyes can perfectly morph into the devil’s eyes we all know and love, while always retaining that little glint of humanity that’s hiding inside that mask.
Nobody can replace Donald Pleasence but Malcolm McDowell does a splendid job with the character. Instead of becoming his arch-nemesis, Loomis becomes more of a father figure to Michael. Their fractured relationship is the best thing of this movie. He’s not the great avenger of evil, he’s just a doctor who wants to help his patient, even though he knows there’s no helping him.
The film also boasts a supporting-cast that any horror lover will relish in: there’s Ken Foree, Danny Trejo, Sid Haig, Udo Kier, Clint Howard, Dee Wallace Stone and many more.
Zombie doesn’t quite manage to perfectly sync his style with that of Carpenter’s original, and some help with the screenplay could have smoothed out the rough patches. But it’s still one of the better horror remakes of the decade.
And even if you don’t like this film, you have to be honest: the mask hasn’t looked this good since the original.
#4: Halloween 2 (2009)
The fact that this film is so high on this list will surely piss off many fans. For a long time this film seem to be unanimously reviled by both critics and hardcore fans.
But as time went on, appreciation started to grow. Once you set aside your need for conventional ‘Halloween’ aesthetics, there’s an incredibly interesting film here. It’s a film that builds on the bloody aftermath of the first film, showing the psychological deterioration of the surviving cast.
It’s an interesting premise but just like the previous film, Zombie can’t quite manage to fully explore the potential of the original conceit. There are moments of genuine heartfelt depth, of raw emotional celluloid. The script just needed to some breathing space, the ideas needed to settle more. I think the biggest problem is that the film was rushed in production. There was a seven month span from production to release. The remake was the most successful the whole series and the producers were hungry for more.
Zombie had initially refused to do a remake but when he heard about the initial ideas for the sequel, he became annoyed as these ideas conflicted with his original vision for the characters.
At the same time his own directorial pet-project, Tyrannosaurus Rex — which despite its title does not feature any dinosaurs — fell through, so the itch to return to Haddonfield and its deeply dysfunctional characters started to grow. Lucky for him, the producers had trouble finding a satisfactory replacement and Zombie was given the freedom to make the sequel with little studio-interference.
The only catch was that he had to make it all happen, from writing the script to pre-production to its eventual release, in seven months. I truly think that if this film had more time to breath, it could have been something truly special.
But the producers still got what they paid for: a pure Rob Zombie movie. It’s balls-to-the wall, no-holds-barred. Any trace of the original John Carpenter touch is completely gone. If you happen to watch the director’s cut, you won’t even hear the infamous theme song.
The character that suffers the worst from the rushed production is Dr. Loomis. I don’t mind the idea of Loomis becoming a celebrity feeding on the murderous reign of his infamous serial-killer subject. This negative trait was already introduced in the first one, but after his near near-fatal encounter in the previous film, he only descended further into ego-mania. But his character-arc just isn’t entirely convincing. It feels like Zombie had too much fun watching McDowell playing a jerk than doing the character justice. His supposed redemption in the end doesn’t feel entirely earned.
At the same time, Danielle Harris and Brad Douriff shine in this movie. The events of the first film has made the promiscuous teen Annie (Harris), who is riddled with facial scars, into a damaged but strong woman. Besides the scars on her face, you feel how the experience has changed her. At the same time her father, Sheriff Bracket (Douriff) tries his best, fulfilling his moral duty by taking in Laurie and wanting to be a good father for Laurie and Annie even if he doesn’t know exactly how to.
Both these characters are involved in the film’s most effective and heart-wrenching scene. It especially gets to me when we see footage of a young Danielle Harris, which surely made many Jamie Lloyd fans choke a few tears.
The relationship and psychic connection between Michael and Laurie works too, even if I wish Zombie would have lessened the sting of some of his characteristic dialogue writing. The psychic connection is sometimes shown with dream-sequences that harps back to Ken Russell’s style of cinema and while that may be too strange for some, I do like the weirdness of it.
Zombie took a risk and went for it. He made his kind of movie. For some reason I keep coming back to it. For me, it’s a sometimes frustrating, but always fascinating watch.
#3: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
The second Halloween sequel was the franchise first and last foray in the horror anthology format. If this would have continued, all the stories would center around Halloween and all the horrors and ghouls that accompany it. Tommy Lee Wallace reworked the original script by science-fiction writer Nigel Kneale who demanded his name to be cut out from the credits after his story was changed drastically, mostly to add more gore into the plot.
Instead of a knife-wielding maniac, the evil force of this film would be a darkly conspiracy centered around Halloween. As most fans know, Michael Myers only appears briefly on a TV-screen in the film itself, where the main character is sitting in the bar watching a TV trailer of Carpenter’s original Halloween. This means that the events of the previous two films did not occur in this film’s universe. It’s an entirely new story. The only story link is the Halloween theme and the involvement of original creators Carpenter and Debra Hill.
The fact that this film was completely different frustrated many. The financial disappointment that resulted in this proofed that people just wanted the same thing. They just wanted the white-faced killing machine stalking people in the dark. They wanted see him slay numerous unsuspecting teens. They wanted the final girl to come across all his victims in the end. They wanted to see the thespian talents of Donald Pleasence, monologuing about the great evil of Michael Myers. They wanted to hear the original theme song.
And so this wonderful bonkers science-fiction/horror movie was dismissed. In time this film rightly received more of the appreciation it deserves. While many hardcore fans still ignore this movie, simply for including their favorite cinematic mass-murdering psychopath, I personally consider this my second favorite Halloween sequel.
The great Tom Atkins stars as alcoholic physician Dr. Daniel Challis, who begins investigating the violent murder of one of his patients as well as the perpetrator’s explosive suicide. All the clues lead to a Californian small-town of Santa Mira, which economic prosperity solely comes from the toy-manufacturing corporation called Silver Shamrock Novelties, led by charismatic CEO Conal Cochran (a deeply menacing but oh so entertaining Dan O’ Herlihy).
There’s a dark secret at the center of this corporation and anyone who becomes a threat to it are violently dispatched by Silver Shamrock’s robotic goons. The ultimate reveal of the great conspiracy leads to a wonderfully insane and ominous climax.
Besides featuring a wonderful atmospheric soundtrack by Carpenter and Alan Howarth, there are tons of neat practical effects — though admittedly, some of the effects are now very dated somewhat. Conal Cochran is also a fantastic villain, worthy of admiration in the series.
The story is completely nuts, but that’s also part of the charm. The film ends on a perfectly haunting note and is my second favorite ending of all of the Halloween movies — besides the first one of course.
#2: Halloween II (1981)
Let’s start with a little honesty: John Carpenter didn’t want to write this one. For Carpenter there wasn’t much story left. The creeping ambiguity of Michael Myer’s supernatural abilities as he survived being shot multiple times was a perfect way to end the story. There was the notion that he was still out there. Lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike at the right time.
But the original made so much money so a sequel had to be produced. While Carpenter refused to direct it, he opted to write it instead together with original co-creator Debra Hill. The writing process was infused with self-doubt and alcohol. Days went by as Carpenter struggled to continue the story of the night Michael came home. By his own admission he didn’t do such a great job.
But I disagree, as many others would. It could never reach the groundbreaking heights of the original but as a sequel, this was deeply satisfying.
The film takes place straight after the first one, showing the franchise’s tendency to include retcons already, such as showing Michael falling off the front-balcony yard, instead of the back as was shown in the original. Loomis’ surprising glare is replaced by panic, as he goes into the night, hunting this great evil, raving about how he shot him “six times! I shot him in the heart!… This guy… This man.. He’s not human!”
Laurie is brought to the hospital, where she receives the romantic interest of paramedic Jimmy (Lance Guest, whose fate is left unknown in the original version but is shown to have definitely survived in the TV-cut). Myers continues doing this thing, retrieving sharp weaponry and stabbing any unsuspecting victim.
The big twist in this version is that Laurie is revealed to be Myers’ sister. This would become Myers greatest motivations in the later sequels, with him either hunting down any family member or, in the case of Rob Zombie’s Halloween films, trying to connect with them.
Dean Cundey’s dark cinematography is recreated in this sequel, which makes this visually the greatest companion piece to the original. The film does differ in gore as blood flows frequently in this sequel. The original, despite its impact on the slasher genre, is relatively bloodless.
The film ends satisfactory, with Loomis mortally stabbed and sacrificing himself, taking Myers with him. Pleasence might be famous for his monologuing, but his subtle acting is often dismissed. Just take his final moment with Michael in this movie, the way he poignantly and mournfully states “it’s time, Michael…,” then takes himself and Michael out — it’s one of the film’s highlights. It just adds a little but strong amount of emotion to the climax. It’s not just the final victory over the Boogeyman, it’s a man accepting his fate in order to destroy evil.
So now let’s go to the film which was obviously going to be number one…
#1: Halloween (1978)
What needs to be said that hasn’t been said by countless critics, film-students and filmmakers? Next to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho and Bob Clark’s Black Christmas, it’s the film that birthed the Slasher genre and all its familiar tropes as we know it. Halloween is probably the most significant of the three as it truly popularized the genre. It was what made the audience hunger for more hapless teens getting slaughtered by masked madmen.
It gave true fame to one of our finest directors, John Carpenter. He might have made one classic film beforehand — Assault on Precinct 13 — but this was the one that truly made cemented Hollywood’s trust in him (even though he would usually fail to provide them with the box-office gold they had hoped for).
It also introduced the world to not only one of cinema’s greatest scream-queens, but one helluva actress Jamie Lee Curtis. Curtis would continue to show her appreciation for Halloween and the impact it made in her career,appearing in numerous sequels and soon, she will return again, 40 years later after the original, to fight off the Boogeyman once more — only this time, she will be ready for him.
How about the film’s status as a piece of independent cinema? For a long time, this was the most financially successful independent film ever made. Made from only a $325,000 budget, it would eventually gross $70 million altogether. It would take over twenty years, with the found-footage shenanigans of The Blair Witch Project, to top it in the realm of independent cinema.
There’s a good chance you’ve heard about this too. It’s a film that is an important of cinema history and will always be remembered so long as people watch movies. It came at a perfect time. It changed so much. Every horror director and horror lover owes some sort off debt to it.
Next week I will look into the newest Halloween film and talk how ranks among the franchise. I know it won’t be able to top the original, but there’s a good chance it might be able to sneak its way into the top five.
Let’s just wait and see…
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on the Halloween franchise? Comment down below!
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