Last year I sat down and watched every single Nightmare on Elm Street film and splurged my thoughts about them on the internet. It was an endeavour that went from the dizzying heights of the first film to the genuine surprise of Dream Masters and New Nightmare to the absolute horror of Freddy’s Dead. It was also great fun. So, this year I decided to do the same and delve into another slasher franchise, Halloween. Now, obviously this would have made a lot more sense around a week ago, but there are ten fucking films so give me a break. (I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum, but when discussing an entire franchise there will be the occasional titbit dropped.)
What can you say about Halloween that hasn’t been said before? John Carpenter’s original wrote the blueprint for the slasher genre, and it still chills to this day. It’s the minimalism of this film that makes it unique. Myers is more of an idea than an actual character and despite the glimpses of an almost childish personality (him dressing up as a ghost being the obvious example) we never really get a grasp on him which serves to make him all the more terrifying. It’s a film that has more in common with Alfred Hitchcock than Friday the 13th, and it’s all the better for it.
We could spend thousands of words going into Carpenter’s direction and that still iconic score – which thankfully pops up time and time again throughout this franchise. However, as mentioned, it has been said before. Instead, we’ll finish up by praising Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance as Laurie Strode and Dr Sam Loomis respectively. Myers is only as scary as the characters around him make him, and they sell him as the epitome of hell come to life.
Halloween II suffers in comparison to the original in that rather than being a genre-defining classic it comes across more like a good slasher. Here Myers is a lot more brutal in his killing technique and the hospital which he rages destruction in sees him racking up a much higher body count. Once again, though, it’s the combination of Jamie Lee Curtis and Donald Pleasance who sell the monster and turn him from a faceless killer into a faceless monstrosity.
The problem is that is retreading ground that the first film already covered with Carpenter and co-writer Debra Hill being accused of going through the motions when they put together the script. While that is harsh, there is no denying that this film isn’t as unique as the first, but it’s still a damn fine slasher despite that.
The black sheep of the family, Halloween III does away with Michael Myers and the slasher genre and instead gives us haunted Halloween costumes and Dan O’Herlihy as a businessman who wants to kill the world’s children. Not ridiculous at all then.
Yet, Season of the Witch is Halloween’s hidden gem. The storyline is suitably bonkers, but it is also weird and creepy and has a song that is somehow even catchier than Carpenter’s original theme. It’s an attack on America’s consumer culture and was supposed to turn the franchise into an anthology series where each film revolved around a different horror tale taking place on Halloween. Considering what was to come next, it’s a shame that the poor critical reception and box office failure saw them return to Myers rather than explore that idea further.
As the title suggests, Halloween IV brought back Myers and his trusty knife. Donald Pleasance also returned as Dr Loomis, but Jamie Lee Curtis was killed off-screen, and we meet a previously unmentioned niece, Jamie Lloyd. Unfortunately for her, Myers discovers her existence and comes a-murdering, and she also seems to have some weird psychic link to the masked big bad.
Yup, this is when Halloween goes all mystical, and while this particular storyline won’t be adequately explained until Halloween VI, it is the start of a slippery slope. Jamie Lloyd is also about eight years old meaning Michael is now terrorising children.
There isn’t much to say about this one. It’s bad, but it’s not awful, feeling like a slasher produced by committee with nothing memorable occurring until the final scene.
That final scene is the moment where Halloween IV takes a risk and harks back to the original in an intriguing way. It gave me hope that maybe Halloween V would see the series regain its mojo.
Except, of course, it didn’t because the first thing that The Revenge of Michael Myers does is retcon that scene right out of importance. In a series that takes a lot of missteps, it might be one of the biggest, and it leads to this weary trudge of a film.
Set a year after the last, Jamie Lloyd is still a cute child, but has been traumatised by the events of the first film and rendered mute. Sadly, big Mike ain’t too worried about that kind of thing, and he’s coming back to finish the job (although by this point it’s clear that for a guy so proficient at the stabbing he ain’t that great at stabbing the folk he wants to stab.) His attempt to finish the job is hindered by Jamie’s psychic connection to him having strengthened, meaning she knows he’s on the way.
Once again this is a generic slasher with only one scene – involving Jamie hiding in a laundry chute – standing out at all. It also makes the baffling decision to introduce a couple of comedic cops who are introduced by silly sound effects. I’d love to know who came up with that idea and ask them what the hell they were thinking.
It all finishes in the most garbage way possible with the introduction of a mysterious man in black who is about to take us down even further down that mystical route, joy of joys.
If Freddy’s Dead is Nightmare on Elm Streets lowest point, then The Curse of Michael Myers is Halloween’s. The mystical crap that has been building up over the last few films comes to a head here, but if you are looking for a good explanation, then you might as well not bother. It’s all curses and mumbo jumbo and tries to explain Myers away as the root of all evil or something like that. Look, it’s bollocks.
It also sees Michael graduate from trying to slaughter eight-year-olds and instead move onto going after babies. The baby of that eight-year-old to be exact (she wasn’t eight when she had it thankfully, although the math still puts her as worryingly young age even if it is all a bit Rosemary’s Baby.) Throw in Paul Rudd seemingly acting in an entirely different movie from everyone else, and this whole thing is a disaster.
I am, however, going to take a few seconds here to pay tribute to Donald Pleasance. This marks his final appearance in the Halloween franchise as he died soon after finishing filming. By this point, the only film he hadn’t been in was Season of the Witch, and he is consistently the only decent thing about these latter attempts. He sells how terrifying Myers is right up until the end, even if everything else around him is quite frankly shit.
In fact, those films were so shit that Halloween H20 gets rid of them entirely. As far as H20 is considered nothing post-Halloween II ever happened. We once again meet Laurie Strode, now a grown woman with a son and a headteacher job, who is living under a false name after faking her death to put a certain psychotic killer behind her.
And thank god for that, Curtis brings a presence to the series that has been missing since the moment she left, and you suddenly go back to caring about the characters again. She plays a woman who has been driven to her wit’s end by this horrific figure, and it turns what is, in all honesty, another straight forward slasher into the first one that is actually worth your time since Season of the Witch.
It’s that ability from Curtis that makes the first ten minutes of Halloween: Resurrection watchable. It’s ten minutes that brings her ark in the Halloween franchise to an end and in all honesty, is the genuine highlight of this film
Which isn’t as backhanded a compliment as it might appear because despite being pretty dreadful, Halloween: Resurrection feels ahead of its time in its treatment of the internet. By this point, Myers has become a celebrity, and the film centres around an online reality show that sees a group of teens going into Myer’s childhood home and spending the night there on Halloween. I’ll give you one guess what happens next?
Unfortunately, the film doesn’t live up to the intriguing premise, and it features a Paul Rudd level performance from fucking Busta Rhymes as the producer of this fictional show. Katee Sackhoff and Tyra Banks provide another couple of familiar faces and are a hell of a lot better than Rhymes but can’t do enough to save what turned out to be the final nail in this iteration of the Halloween franchise.
When Halloween returned, it went right back to the start and handed Rob Zombie the reigns for the inevitable reboot. Zombie, who was told by Carpenter to put his own spin on the film, decided that he wanted his Myers to be less mysterious and went back to his childhood to kick things off.
Which in theory is a nice idea but here’s the thing. Not everything needs an origin tale. It’s something we see in cinema more and more, and the attempt to connect with Michael Myers damages his character more than it aids it. It changes Myers from a dark shape that lurks in the corner of your eye into a fucked-up human being who just happens to be a big cunt who likes stabbing folk.
The nicest thing I can say about this reboot is that if you like Rob Zombie’s films, you will probably enjoy it. Like much of his work, it is ultra-stylish, and the violence is genuinely shocking; however, that style (plus a lot of nudity and swearing) doesn’t make up for the complete lack of soul. Scout Taylor-Compton turns Laurie Strode from a sympathetic character into one we couldn’t give two hoots about, and it means that when the killing begins it is easier to zone out than try and care about what’s happening.
The one upside is that out of the many actors that play Myers, Tyler Mane might be the best. He has a physicality to him that makes him genuinely terrifying and is the one positive to this ultimately disappointing film.
Rob Zombie once again took the reigns for Halloween II (or Halloween X if you are keeping count) and stuck with his penchant for nudity and style over plot and substance. Unlike Zombie’s first film, this one jettisons the plot of the original, and the chase through the hospital is covered in the first ten minutes.
Instead, we zoom forward a year and Laurie’s gone off the rails. We can tell this because she has an Alice Cooper poster and wears some black. You’d think a guy who made his name playing heavy music would be able to avoid those stereotypes, wouldn’t you? Despite being pretty sure that Myers is dead, she is still haunted by him, and her sessions with her shrink aren’t working too well.
Meanwhile, Loomis (now played by Malcolm McDowell) has become a money-grabbing vampire living off the fame of Myers’ actions. It’s the one good idea in a film which also introduces the concept that Michael Myers is inspired to his killing by a hallucination of his mum and a white horse, an illusion shared by Laurie.
Take that kind of magical crap and combine it with a Rob Zombie film and you are always going to be in a for a bad time, and this movie delivers exactly that, ending the franchise (for now) on a sour note.
The comparison between Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street is an easy one to make. Both franchises go from the sublime to the atrocious. The difference is that Nightmare eventually refound itself (if we ignore the awful reboot) with New Nightmare, Halloween’s last decent moment was back with Seasons of the Witch. Ever since that film, it has descended into slasher movie cliches and botched mysticism. Even worse, there is no Robert Englund to stand out as the titular villain, and instead, the burden was placed on Donald Pleasance to save the day, and there is only so much that he can do. If unlike me, you are an ordinary person stick to one to three and then leave it there, because the further you go into this franchise, the more regret you’ll feel.
Verdict: A hell of a lot of shame but those classics mean it deserves a spot in the hall of fame too.