Ranking the Halloween films

When John Carpenter made his low-budget horror, about a masked man stalking babysitters, he couldn’t have predicted it’d lead to ten more (with another one likely to be on the way) and kick-start a whole subgenre. No, Halloween was not the first slasher. Yet it was the most important, setting a template for countless to follow. Nonetheless, as a franchise it rarely comes up as a favourite, with misters Voorhees and Krueger getting more of the plaudits despite having equally inconsistent sets of films. This is maybe due to the more immediate interest of a dream-slayer and even a raging idiot compared to a calculated hunter who works best as a blank canvas. I also suspect this is partly down to the series’ blatant disregard for its own chronology, and the way the lore has been gutted over the last forty years. Now with four established timelines, and the latest cut still being fresh, it felt a good idea to revisit Haddonfield and reacquaint myself with Michael. Read on to see the definitive (to some) ranking. Note that an earlier version of this article was published before Halloween (2018) was released.

11. Halloween 6, The Curse of Michael Myers (1995): The night he was manipulated by a cult. Unquestionably the weakest film to bear the Halloween name, and probably one of my least favourite horror sequels of all time. While it perhaps gets more right than part 5 in the scares department, with Joe Chappelle creating an at times chilling mood, the retconned explanation for Michael is dire. The Shape gets less interesting the more we know about him, and somehow this entry screws up the character even more than the Zombie ones. I get that, when this was made, the slasher genre was as dead as a cheerleader, so the writing team had their work cut-out for them making Myers matter again. But the explanation for him as the summation of an ancient druid curse is unsatisfying on so many levels. We’re supposed to buy that young Michael was marked as part of a tradition involving blood sacrifices, symbols and an ancient order. This frankly baffling premise makes for a dull, and unrewarding viewing experience that leads up to a dire climax which ultimately disrespects its sadly dead star Donald Pleasance. The only reason I could think of recommending it is to see Paul Rudd’s strange turn as a now grown up Tommy Doyle: one of the only ways this turgid mess stays true to its roots. Some claim the producer’s cut is far better, but I don’t remember it well enough to comment and have no interest in seeing it again to check.

10. Halloween 5, The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989): The night he used telepathy. Sweeping the cliff-hanger ending of part 4 under the rug, in favour of a convoluted mess about siblinghood, a mysterious man in black and an inconsequential thought transference. While I’d normally applaud a genre sequel for doing something new, it raises questions it doesn’t answer and is seemingly more interested in setting up the next installment than delivering this one. Danielle Harris is great, again, as Jamie Lloyd, and Donald Pleasance gets to yell about those 15 years again. Moreover, director Dominique Othenin-Girard (the similarly poor Omen IV: The Awakening) has a reasonable eye for stalk scenes, and just about captures the time of year. But same time the pacing is off from the start, with a very boring midsection, and the new characters are about as likeable as a squirrel in your pumpkin patch. Then there’s the comedy cops, complete with a derpy tuba and whistles. The sort of movie you’d only watch during series marathons.

9: Halloween Resurrection (2002): The night he fought Busta Rhymes. Labelled Resserectum by some, this one is best known for killing series lynchpin Laurie Strode in the opening minutes, and featuring a not-even-trying turn from the aforementioned rapper. The series’ eighth installment is disappointing on many levels, yet still finishes above 5 and 6 because for its many flaws it’s really watchable. A semi-satire on reality TV, the movie sees a small selection of boring contestants stay the night in the Myers home. Cue more false than real scares, a goofy misunderstanding and the frankly bizarre sight of Busta Rhymes saying “trick or treat motherfucker” before kicking Michael in the face. There’s not much in the way of plot, and save for Rhymes’ tacky producer character Freddie (who learns to hate his own show) not a single character has an arc. With one exception, the death scenes are also lifeless. For the final entry in the second timelines (which skips parts 4-6), it’s an anti-climax. But as a guilty pleasure, it’s quite good fun.

8. Halloween (2007): The other night he came home. Splat-pack member Rob Zombie takes over the franchise to give us Michael: The White Trash Years. Part of Myers’ appeal was the almost supernatural way in which a young boy flipped. But here Rob gives him the same sort of abusive background you’d expect in any made for TV movie. As stated above, the more we know about Michael, the less interesting he is. And boy do we get to know about him. For the first half, we see him go for animal killing outcast with a hill-billy stepfather, to a violent mask making giant with all the gratuitous swearing and violence we’ve come to expect from its maker. The second is more traditional Halloween territory, with a condensed version of the original (featuring a returning Danielle Harris) down to some directly lifted scenes. To be fair to Zombie, for the most part he makes it his own. The relationship between its villain and Loomis is also a rewarding entry to the franchise, with Malcolm McDowell playing the psychiatrist as having failed Michael rather than thinking him an unstoppable fiend. But the stodgy script would have benefited from some tightening – particularly in the final act, which really drags. The grindhouse style mostly works for it, even if (as my buddy Sean pointed out) the characters all dress like they’re Rob Zombie fans. The fundamentals are there too. But when remaking Carpenter’s classic it’s a lose-lose situation.

7. Halloween II (2009): The night he saw a horse. Of all ten films, this was the one I most changed my mind about on repeat. Having forgotten most of it, aside from the surreal equine imagery and Myers chowing down on a dog, I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, some of the Michael and Loomis content was badly judged (Michael’s perspective scenes are too silly and Loomis is totally out of character). Yet the central drama with Laurie, Annie and the Sheriff was very well done and, getting past the usual Zombie fuck-this and fuck-that writing, even quite touching. There was also a good sense of forward momentum about it, with the last act feeling like a proper climax (unlike the first RZ movie), and while the series had done PTSD before it felt rawer and more real this time around. It is the all too rare moments of restraint that work best, with the off-screen death scene being a stand out. Again, Zombie let’s himself down with juvenile dialogue spoken by samey characters. Yet he manages to take a tired series, plus the slasher template this barely follows, to new places. Deeply flawed, but way better than I first thought.

6. Halloween 4, The Return of Michael Myers (1988): The night he came home… Again! A very welcome return by the boogeyman, with his attention having gone from sister Laurie (who is killed off-screen) to niece Jamie. This entry isn’t big on story, but it is on atmosphere with Dwight H. Little establishing a real sense of tension. He can handle close-quarters stalking and bigger set pieces, including a rooftop chase, alike. Particularly in the second act, where even armed officers and a vigilante group seem not match for Myers. Elsewhere, Danielle Harris is a revelation as Jamie, and it’s no surprise she’s forged a career in horror. However, the real stand out is Donald Pleasance who gives Loomis so much more passion than he had before, lending dramatic power to the same old slasher setup. Fantastic ending too – shame they bailed on it.

5. Halloween (2018): The night he came home again, again… Again. Forty years after the original, following a several botched angles and differing timelines, director David Gordon Green dismisses nine other films for a direct sequel. There’s a lot to like here, with some of the goofier elements of the franchise removed. The brother/ sister angle and the cult of Thorn have been ditched for back to basics horror, there’s no white horse and not a rapper in sight. We also have Laurie back, who has gone from wholesome high-schooler to a cross between T2 era Sarah Connor and the raving Loomis. She’s been waiting for The Shape to resurface so she can kill him off once and for all. Needless to say he does come back, more violently than ever before, during yet another attempt to move him. This revenge aspect, along with how she’s handled her trauma, are both very well done – making for a more dramatic Halloween than usual. But as a slasher it doesn’t really deliver. It’s hard not to feel excited when you see Michael stalk suburbia once again, whilst the classic theme kicks in (the returning Carpenter is by far the movie’s strongest assest). However, the film really lacks suspense, with only one proper babysitting scene and the bulk of our victims being nameless. The presence of cops and guns don’t help either, making the characters feel far less vulnerable than prior entries. Moreover, the house of traps takes away the any neighbourhood feel, and means the leads rarely feel against the odds. There’s also a plot twist as silly as anything the series has offered so far, that threatens to derail the third act with a frankly rubbish explanation for what keeps Myers and Laurie going. Speaking of which, when the final confrontation happens it’s a lot of fun, and by far the most exciting section – which is handy, given its what people are paying to see. Yet compared to the character journey in H20, and the way it ends, it feels oddly impersonal. Still, it’s great to see Meyers being both scary and mysterious again. I hope it’s not another 40 years ‘til he is again.

4: Halloween 3, Season of the Witch (1982): The night he didn’t come home. One of the biggest clichés in horror circles is people declaring this would be a masterpiece were it to go by a different name. And whilst this is maybe going too far, it’s nonetheless an excellent piece of sci-fi horror. In an attempt to reinvent the series as a franchise of standalones, the third entry tells the tale of a psychotic millionaire trying to take over the world with enchanted masks. It’s darn good fun, with a real sense of intrigue and mischief wrapped up in an anti-corporate statement with an annoyingly catchy jingle. It’s also quite dark, with a kid getting killed in front of their parents among other unpleasantries. Tom Atkins makes for a charismatic lead and Dan O’Herlihy is a total delight as the villain. Not all of the plot lands, with the motivation and modus operandi not standing up to basic scrutiny, but you’ll be enjoying it too much to care. Recommended festive viewing.

3. Halloween 2 (1981): The same night he came home. Continuing where the first left off, the original sequel borrowed from the more visceral Friday the 13th series for a more vicious outing than before. Skin is melted off and blood is drained in the story that returning writers Carpenter and Hill allegedly wrote some six packs. There’s still plenty suspense alongside the gore, with the ironic hospital setting making for an unnerving maze of corridors. It’s very claustrophobic, and at times really adds to the pressure, with a crippled Laurie now barely being able to run faster than Michael’s signature pacing. Speaking of pacing, unlike the first outing there’s not a prolonged wait for the bodies to start racking up. However, the classic feel was very much still present, despite the more in yer face approach to the kills. At this point, the score was still sublime and the shape was still mysterious. Then somewhere along the way, a twist is dropped that ruins the rest of the franchise. Sadly, Jamie Lee Curtis is underused, with Laurie being bed-ridden for most of the movie. However, Donald Pleasance is done justice, with the increasingly paranoid Loomis going to great lengths to stop this figure he sees as the embodiment of pure evil.

2. Halloween H20 (1998): The night he came home again… Again. I may get some flack over putting this so high, but I really dug Halloween H20. It’s great to see Laurie’s return, as, Loomis aside, the franchise lacked a character the audience could really connect with, even if it means forging a new timeline. It’s two decades later and she’s a head mistress at a posh boarding school in sunny California, living on the surface a great life with her son. Unfortunately, it’s a bad time of year for her, and with the local kids dawning their masks she’s struggling to keep her’s on. Drinking heavily, and being scared by everyone around her, the thing she feared most happens when her murderous brother pulls up into town. Aside from being a great entry to the teen slasher subgenre that had been revived by Scream, H20 carries the weight of showing what happens next to a survivor. Laurie’s journey, from running away to confronting her past directly, is well handled and the stand-off between siblings is given a sense of emotional gravity that is seldom associated with this sort of film. Whilst I previously said this angle spoilt the series, in building up the final fight it finally seems worth it. Sure, some of the supporting characters are a little charmless, and the soundtrack is completely overblown. But former Jason-helmer, Steve Miner, knows how to stage a good scare and the third act is at once an intimate game of cat and mouse and an epic confrontation. If only it had ended here. But then in my timeline it does.

1: Halloween (1978): As if it could be anything else.

Halloween (2018) is at the cinema now.

About david.s.smith 398 Articles
Scottish horror fan who is simultaneously elitist and hates genre snobbery. Follow me on @horrorinatweet

1 Comment

  1. You claim that 5 seems to exist only as a vehicle to set up the next film. Not quite sure what you mean by that. The things that serve to set up 6 are basically just a few moments with the Man in Black on the periphery, and of course the ending. Meanwhile, the overwhelming majority of Halloween 5’s hour and forty-minute running time are devoted to the classic motifs of the series…5 features several of the strongest stalking sequences since the 1978 original(Rachel’s murder, Tina alone in the house, the barn sequence). It also features a couple of the finest pursuit scenes, as well, including the laundry chute sequence, which is as strong as anything, again, dating back to 1978.One of the finest performances from Pleasence as Loomis….some of the finest cinematography, with incredible use of light and especially color, and also one of the very best musical scores…terrific, innovative opening title segment…the sexiest lady in the entire series, Sami…From the big, obvious moments, right down to the most brief or trivial…Halloween 5 is EASILY among the finest films of its’ kind ever made. Among the sequels, it is rivalled only by Halloween 2, which I regard as its’ equal. 4 is also good. Nothing else is even in the conversation. After Halloween 5, this franchise has done nothing but devote itself to fixing things that were never broken.

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