Director: Joe Chappelle
Writer: Daniel Farrands
Not even Paul Rudd can salvage the mess that is Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, a shockingly misguided sequel that seeks to explain Michael Myers’ seeming immortality and his desire to keep slaughtering family members. It involves a Druid cult and the curse of Black Thorn, and if your eyes aren’t already rolling back in your head, you’re a stronger person than I. Curse doesn’t even feel like a Halloween movie, and that’s partly because the familiar characters have been recast: Rudd takes over as Tommy Doyle, the kid Laurie babysat in the first Halloween, while J.C. Brandy replaces Danielle Harris as a grown-up Jamie Lloyd. But mostly, the problem is how mired the film gets in exposition, answering questions no one needed answers to and ditching all the horror and suspense in the process. There’s a significantly different producer’s cut of Curse that supposedly corrects its mistakes, but it also implies that Michael (George P. Wilbur) is the father of his niece Jamie’s baby, a deeply upsetting plot point that was obviously cut for a reason.
Director: Rick Rosenthal
Writers: Larry Brand and Sean Hood
Nearly every other Halloween ranking will deem Halloween: Resurrection the absolute worst, and that’s entirely fair: This is a bad, bad movie. But it just barely surpasses Curse for the sole reason that it’s occasionally dumb enough to enjoy. Resurrection is a cavalcade of impressively stupid decisions, but at its best, it has the camp to earn midnight movie status. Conceptually, Resurrection was probably ahead of its time — it follows a group of college students filming a livestreamed reality show in Michael Myers’ house — but that doesn’t make the execution any less ham-fisted. The biggest crime the film commits is the retcon of Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) decapitating Michael at the end of Halloween H20. Turns out, she just offed an innocent paramedic, allowing Michael (played by Brad Loree here) to return and kill her in the opening scene of Resurrection. It’s downright tragic that Curtis’s swan song was in this P.O.S. — and her kissing Michael on the lips before plunging to her death adds insult to injury. Oh, and the second-biggest crime this movie commits is cutting Tyra Banks’ death scene.
Director: Dominique Othenin-Girard
Writer: Michael Jacobs, Dominique Othenin-Girard, and Shem Bitterman
The only thing you really need to know about Halloween 5 is that, at the end of the film, Michael (Don Shanks) removes his mask for Jamie (Danielle Harris) and — this is not a joke — cries a single tear. (Side note: Remember when Laurie shot both of Michael’s eyes out in Halloween II, and then it was never mentioned again? Cool.) Harris is the best thing about Revenge: She has the difficult task of playing mute for most of the film, but she delivers a grounded and believably terrified performance that’s even stronger than her work in Halloween 4. Donald Pleasence is also delightfully intense, as always, but Revenge does an exceptional job of exposing what an awful psychiatrist he really is. At one point, he essentially threatens Jamie that if she doesn’t share what she knows about Michael’s whereabouts, Michael will kill her. Samuel Loomis: great with kids! This isn’t the lowest point in the series, but it’s clear Halloween writers were running out of ideas. There aren’t really any surprises here, and there’s very little in the film that wasn’t done better elsewhere in the franchise.
Director: Tommy Lee Wallace
Writer: Tommy Lee Wallace
The problem with Halloween III isn’t that it has nothing to do with Michael Myers — it’s that it’s a completely muddled mess. This is a film called Season of the Witch that isn’t about a witch at all. It’s a haunted mask movie where most of the killing is done by androids. The villain’s evil plan involves microchips that contain fragments of Stonehenge. The more you try to explain Season of the Witch, the less sense it seems to make. So while there are individual elements that work reasonably well here, the overall effect is confusion (and yes, the fact that Michael is nowhere to be seen certainly doesn’t help with that). The idea of an anthology film series, linked only by the general theme of Halloween, is not a bad one. Unfortunately, the mistakes of Halloween III and the cold reception it earned forced producers to return to the slasher formula and the familiar adversary of the first two films. And so, the third Halloween movie ends up being worth watching only as a novelty. As long as you’re not looking for logic, watching an obnoxious family get overrun by snakes and insects is at least entertaining.
Director: Rob Zombie
Writer: Rob Zombie
As far as 21st century reboots of classic slasher films go, Rob Zombie’s take on Halloween is easily one of the most innovative. At times, it’s actually quite successful — not the slow burn suspense of the original, but a uniquely styled modern slasher that captures Zombie’s eye for artful gore. The problem with this Halloween is that it’s also something of a prequel that tries to explain where Michael (Daeg Faerch as a child, Tyler Mane as an adult) went wrong. And it’s largely a waste of time. Frankly, it’s scarier if we don’t know why Michael snapped: Overexplaining his motivation drags everything out, and the attempt to get the audience to sympathize with the monster is futile. (Zombie did a much better job at forcing compassion for serial killers in his best film, The Devil’s Rejects.) The parts of Halloween that are more directly a remake of the original actually work quite well: They’re familiar, with a distinct Rob Zombie flair. Scout Taylor-Compton’s Laurie is an exceptional Final Girl, and her showdown with Michael is the high point of the film. Danielle Harris also makes a glorious return, now playing Annie Brackett.
Director: Dwight H. Little
Writer: Alan B. McElroy
Here’s where we first meet Danielle Harris as Jamie, Michael’s niece and his primary target in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. The film never reaches the heights of the original Halloween or even Halloween II, but it’s at its best when it’s a cat-and-mouse game between Michael (Wilbur) and Jamie. There are some genuinely thrilling moments in the film’s final act, including Jamie and her foster sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell) trying to evade Michael on a roof, and Michael stalking Jamie through a school. If Halloween 4 focused on these simple but effective scenes, it would be a triumphant return to the series for Michael. But there’s too much else going on here: The vengeful rednecks who are out to rid Haddonfield of its boogeyman and Rachel’s fight with another girl over a boy make the film feel like it’s spinning its wheels. To be fair, once Return does reach its conclusion, it’s a very good one. Michael getting shot repeatedly after being hit by a truck is overkill, to say the least, but Jamie donning his mask and appearing to pick up his murderous mantle is a wickedly dark twist.
Director: Rob Zombie
Writer: Rob Zombie
Rob Zombie’s sequel to his Halloween reboot is much more clearly a Rob Zombie film, which works to its advantage sometimes and holds it back at others. Other films in the Halloween series have toyed with the idea of exploring the consequences of violence — Laurie ending up institutionalized in Resurrection, Jamie getting stabby in Return, etc.— but Halloween II is the darkest look at what horrific trauma actually does to people. Laurie is broken, a hysterical, pill-popping mess who can’t help lashing out at Annie, who is also physically and mentally scarred from her run-in with Michael. (Again, Taylor-Compton and Harris do great work with the material.) Zombie also exaggerates the worst qualities of Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), reconceiving him as a shameless profiteer and fame-hungry egotist. But Halloween II also exposes Zombie’s weaknesses, like his fascination with incessant violence (did we really need to see a guy’s face stomped into oblivion?). The worst aspect of his sequel, however, is the ghostly presence of Michael’s mother (Sheri Moon Zombie), who keeps popping up with her damn white horse.
Director: Rick Rosenthal
Writers: John Carpenter and Debra Hill
The original sequel to Halloween picks up immediately after the first film, with Laurie (Curtis) rushed to the hospital and Michael Myers (Dick Warlock) missing. While the first film was admirable for its restraint, the sequel gets to be a little more playful. And so we see canoodling nurses and doctor’s assistants, a little boy with a razor blade in his mouth (recall the urban legend about apples on Halloween), and murder by hot tub. But even if some of these additions can be a bit much at times — I repeat, murder by hot tub! — the tone of the movie is very much in line with the first. Rick Rosenthal is no John Carpenter (I mean, Carpenter didn’t have anything to do with Halloween: Resurrection), but he still knows how to maintain the right level of suspense. And while Laurie certainly knows more here than she did in Halloween, her loopy, drugged-up state gives her inevitable showdown with Michael a nightmarish feel. It’s worth noting that it was this film and not the first Halloween that revealed Laurie to be Michael’s sister, and while that’s a fun twist, it was almost better when Michael was stalking her just for the hell of it.
Director: Steve Miner
Writers: Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg
Horror went through some major changes in the time between 1981’s Halloween II and 1998’s Halloween H20: With Scream, the slasher genre became more self-aware, and the Final Girl became less of a victim and more of a vampire slayer. And so, when Laurie and Michael (here, Chris Durand) face off in H20, the film becomes an action movie, with Laurie pummeling Michael relentlessly. She is the aggressor, pursuing him whenever she can gain the upper hand. In the end, she purposely flips a van and nearly kills herself in the process, all so she can make sure that Michael is gone for good by chopping off his head. It’s glorious to watch. But H20 also works in the moments Laurie isn’t kicking Michael’s ass — with clever homages to the original two films and a return to what worked in the first place, it’s surprisingly scary and a lot of fun overall. Oh, and the cast is an embarrassment of late ’90s riches: Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, LL Cool J, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Not to mention Curtis’s mother Janet Leigh’s cameo, another nod to slasher film history.
Halloween is smart, brilliantly paced, and — perhaps most impressively — still one of the most terrifying movies ever made. No subsequent film in the series has ever really come close to it, and few other horror franchises have reached its heights either. The slasher genre owes a tremendous debt to Halloween, which refined ideas put forward in earlier films like Psycho and Peeping Tom and laid the groundwork for the ’80s slasher revolution. What’s striking about Halloween when you watch it now, especially if you’re used to the more frenetic, blood-soaked horror films of the last couple decades, is what a slow build it is. Aside from the murder of Judith Myers (Sandy Johnson) in the opening scene, Michael (Nick Castle) doesn’t kill anyone for the first 53 minutes. It’s all about building tension: Michael lurks and he watches, and that’s far scarier than his actual attacks. When Laurie and Michael finally do come face-to-face, there are less than 15 minutes left in the movie. But they are harrowing, from Laurie screaming for help as Michael calmly pursues her across the street to the terrifying scene where Michael finds her hiding in the closet. Altogether, Halloween is pretty close to perfect.