It’s almost Halloween, and if you’re anything like me, that can mean only one thing: it’s almost time to watch Halloween!
Ah, but which Halloween? The original 1978 John Carpenter game-changer called Halloween? The Halloween from 2007 which is the ninth entry in the series and actually a reboot of the original? Or are we talking about Halloween, the eleventh entry in the series and a direct sequel to the first movie called Halloween?
This can all get confusing fast, but luckily I’m here to help. With two more sequels coming to the franchise in 2020 and 2021, called Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends respectively, I figured now would be the perfect time to rank the current entries. This way, you can just skim down to the best entries and save yourself the trouble of wading through the morass of the lesser entries. Still, I’d argue that the series as a whole has a lot to offer, especially if you can compare and contrast what the best films manage to get right with what the worst films manage to get so, so wrong.
Speaking of the worst films…
- Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
Where to begin with this mess of a movie? Probably at the beginning, where the series heroine, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is unceremoniously killed off in the opening to pave the way for a warmed-over attempt at cashing in on found footage, reality TV, and the recent ubiquity of the internet. The movie is so by-the-numbers that most of it instantly slides off of your mind the moment you watch it. There are a couple of memorable moments — Busta Rhymes karate-kicking Michael Myers is at least noteworthy, and there’s a visual reference to Peeping Tom which is unexpected but welcome — but the majority of the film is the same kind of generic horror as dozens of other early-aughts horror we had to suffer through and nowhere close to as good as this series can get.
- Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
I want to like a Halloween sequel that stars Paul Rudd as a grown up Tommy Doyle. I swear, I do. Unfortunately, we got this movie. It’s stuck in a strange midway point between the throwback style of the original few Halloween films and the slicker, MTV-editing of ‘90s horror. First of all, I feel awful for Jamie Lloyd (J.C. Brandy) as a character. She’s been through a lot and, like Halloween: Resurrection did with Laurie Strode, it’s a pretty brutal ending to a sympathetic character. Everything surrounding the Cult of Thorn could be interesting, but it just isn’t. We never get a true sense of them, even though we spend a lot of (too much) time with them. On the plus side, Donald Pleasence as Dr. Loomis is always welcome, especially in Halloween, and Rudd doesn’t do a great job but he pulls some funny faces. That’s pretty much all I have for this entry.
- Halloween: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
The good news is, this is where theses movies have more good than bad in them! I still wouldn’t say I’m a fan of Revenge, but there’s a lot to like. As is typical for these lower-tier films, they do a beloved character really dirty by offing them early and awfully. Rachel Carruthers (Ellie Cornell) isn’t a household name, but she was a decent presence in the film before this one, and her relationship with Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) was nice. I guess what I’m getting at is that only the Scream series seemed to be able to kill off cool characters from the previous entries without souring the proceedings. The movie itself is fine. A lot of it is pretty by-the-numbers after a very silly opening where Michael Myers is nursed back to health by some hermit in the woods in a nod to Frankenstein that reminded me more of Homeward Bound. Donald Pleasence is fittingly unhinged, and I did enjoy the depressing cliffhanger finale. It’s too bad this movie was followed up by the previous entry in this ranking.
- Halloween II (1981)
This entry in the series has probably fallen the farthest from where I would have ranked it when I was, like, 12. Some of that has to do with new movies coming out and being pretty cool, but I also ended up appreciating other entries a lot more during rewatches. But I still enjoy Halloween II! It’s a direct continuation of the original and it has a lot of great Dr. Loomis action, an absolutely brutal death of some innocent teen named Ben Tramer — who Laurie Strode incidentally was crushing on — and a couple decent kills. It loses points for keeping Jamie Lee Curtis out of the action for a huge portion of the film, but there are smaller moments that make it kind of fun. Moments like the introduction of the “Samhain” stuff, or continuing the “Halloween” theme by including a kid who bit into razor blade-filled candy during the hospital segment. Overall, it’s a step down in every department, but it’s nowhere near as bad as a direct sequel to one of the greatest horror movies of all time could have been.
- Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
I know that there are some fans of the franchise who would rank this as the second or third best film in the series, but I definitely can’t go that far. That being said, it slowly crept up the ranks for me. When I saw it as a kid, I didn’t care much for it, but I think it’s pretty great now. It has a made-for-TV aesthetic that I can’t completely get behind, but it still manages to deliver some arresting, iconic images. It even has the rare Blonde Michael! Return ostensibly kicks off the Cult of Thorn storyline, but it’s also a return-to-form for the series by being a straightforward “Michael hunts a girl in Haddonfield” plot. The filmmakers knew what people wanted by giving us a ton of Dr. Loomis, and it pays off. Halloween II gave the character a noble end, but saying he survived and turning him into an obsessed loonie is a much better take on the character. There’s a reason Rob Zombie took that characterization for Loomis in his remake.
- Halloween (2007)
Speaking of Rob Zombie … Man, I think this movie is really good. It’s tough to remake one of the greatest horror movies of all time. Just ask Gus Van Sant (I’d probably be able to find a way to defend his Psycho too, though). Zombie was damned if he did and damned if he didn’t. I’m glad he fully leaned into his own aesthetic, even though that turned a lot of people off. But we’ve seen Michael Myers as The Shape, the Boogeyman, the Druid-cursed murder machine. So it’s a nice novelty to get a look into what made Michael, even though I think that’s a bit of a red herring. Zombie’s Michael is just as inscrutable as John Carpenter’s; we just spend more time here with young Michael Myers. The second half of the film is less original, so it’s more bland. Luckily, Malcolm McDowell ably takes over as Dr. Loomis and plays it from the beginning as a pompous, egotistical rockstar. It’s fantastic. He’s also supported by Brad Dourif as Sheriff Brackett, so even though the finale isn’t particularly memorable, we care enough about the characters to care about what they do.
- Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
This is the first time the series decided to promote a movie with Jamie Lee Curtis returning to face down Michael Myers! H20 has a good director, a good cast, a solid story, and a quick-as-hell runtime — a whole 86 minutes — and it’s all the better for it. The movie actually opens with something I was railing about: Nurse Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens) from the first film is killed by Myers. But it works here, because it doesn’t feel gratuitous, it feels like a stepping stone for the rest of the film. Laurie Strode in this movie is a mess personally — professionally she’s the headmistress at a private school, so she’s doing all right — and, fitting the themes of the film, her trauma comes back in a very literal sense once her son (a pretty useless Josh Hartnett) is the same age as she was in the original. I don’t want to rank Curtis’s performances in these films, because she gives it her all in three of them, and this is absolutely one of them. Plus, LL Cool J is in it, and you know that’s a recipe for a great horror movie (see: Deep Blue Sea).
- Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Halloween III: Season of the Witch is in a weird position, where it was underrated when it was released because people expected and wanted more Michael Myers, but now it’s a little overrated because of people compensating for that initial reception. Luckily, I don’t care for the term “overrated,” so I can say unreservedly that I love it. A true expression of what a Halloween series was supposed to be, Season of the Witch has a lot of what I love. Tom Atkins is the lead, and he’s exactly the kind of Tom Atkins I’m looking for: really, really sleazy. The guy is a total creep, and it works for the character. He’s not an everyman; he’s the worst man. But we still end up rooting for him … kinda. It also has some brutal effects — the family, kids included, get their heads destroyed is pretty strong stuff — and a plot about moving Stonehenge that’s glossed over with a line like “devil of a time getting here.” Nigel Kneale, the creator of the Quatermass series, was asked to write the story because John Carpenter was a big fan; however, Kneale ended up disliking the final product and asked for his name to be removed. But I definitely see his personality in the work. I love the Quatermass films, and I love Halloween III: Season of the Witch.
- Halloween (2018)
This is the second film to use the nostalgia for Jamie Lee Curtis’s performance as Laurie Strode as the major marketing push! I was equal parts excited and cautious when it came to this brand new direct sequel to the original film. I was excited to see Curtis as Laurie again. I was excited to see David Gordon Green tackle a horror film. But I was wary about them shitting all over the Rob Zombie films. Luckily, the movie actually follows them really well! It eschews any kind of big-budget slickness and doesn’t copy the original’s aesthetic, but it still feels like a piece. It deals with the generational effect of trauma in an interesting way, even if it ends up being too generic — or, paradoxically, too twisty — to truly be a character piece. But there are some amazing sequences, including a direct reference to Return and some incredible turns on the imagery from the original film, and I can’t wait for the next two movies from this creative team.
- Halloween II (2009)
Rob Zombie could have course-corrected after the mixed reception to his first Halloween film by skewing closer to the other entries in the series. Instead, he decided to shoot the film in 16mm, recreate Halloween II in the first 15 minutes, turn Michael Myers into a maskless hobo murderer, and actually explore the grief and trauma of surviving an incident like the first Halloween. One of the best, most memorable moments in any Halloween film is when Brad Dourif’s character finds his daughter (Danielle Harris, returning as a different character) dead on the floor, and we get an extended sequence of his silent, howling grief punctuated by home movies of his daughter as a kid. It’s direct and obvious and effective. Zombie didn’t give a shit about appeasing anybody with this movie. It shows. And it’s all the better for it.
1. Halloween (1978)
The one, the only, the original Halloween. It’s hard to beat one of the greatest horror movies of all time, especially when it’s from a director who’s just starting one of the best runs of quality films any director will ever have. Halloween created an iconic horror heroine with Laurie Strode and an iconic horror villain with Michael Myers. There are plenty of famous moments in this movie — the entire finale, Michael behind the bushes, Michael behind the laundry on the line — but there’s a lot of lesser moments that deserve some attention, too. Laurie seeing Michael while she’s spacing out in class (which has been emulated in Scream and It Follows among others), the entire Annie Brackett murder scene, and everything to do with Donald Pleasence. It’s a film that’s endlessly rewatchable, and it’s the main reason why the series is so effective and long-standing. There wouldn’t be a franchise without Halloween.
If you want more of my stupid opinions about these films, I went through the Halloween series on RoguesPortal.com, and I plan to give my thoughts on Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends when they come out, too. Hopefully this series will continue to reinvent itself, and Michael Myers will continue to terrorize generations to come.