In the weird and wonderful annals of horror filmmaking, few have left a cultural impression quite like Michael Myers. In the hand’s of creator John Carpenter, Haddonfield’s most infamous offspring was a colossal figure: patient, elusive and as swift and brutal as they come.
Down the years, it all got just a little bit silly, but in spite of The Shape’s dwindling mystique we followed him through thick and thin, hoping that a movie would one day come along and revitalise the franchise. Almost half a century later and we are still clinging to that hope, a series of sequels, prequels and reboots unwilling to let Carpenter’s creation rest.
The road that led us there was a peculiar, often perplexing journey featuring multiple timelines, character resurrections and a shift in tone that robbed the franchise of its identity. In spite of this, Michael’s commercial shadow continues to loom large, and though there has been much to question during four decades of death and destruction, for fans it is all a part of the fun, with a longevity that is testament to the perennial appeal of the character.
In this article, VHS Revival ranks the odyssey that is the original Halloween series. How many do you agree with?
8. Halloween Resurrection (2002)
Over the years, much has been made of New Line Cinema‘s handling of the Friday the 13th series. For close to a decade Paramount would present the same annual slashathon with a few superficial gimmicks thrown in for good measure, but in their quest to realise a money-spinning Freddy vs Jason crossover New Line neglected the core principle of the series. Not only did Jason Goes to Hell give us a convoluted premise that killed the movie’s sense of irony, it eschewed our marquee killer for a body-swapping tale that left Jason fans choking on their own sense of injustice.
Almost a decade later they would right some of those wrongs with the audacious yet largely respectful Jason X, but the same cannot be said about Dimension Films, who in their late-90s pomp decided to take the series meta, giving us a veritable Scream clone that was high on sheen and low in identity. Four years later the production company who had changed the face of horror in the 90s took a second punt on the franchise, one that scrapped the moribund Scream formula for a reality TV gimmick that left the Myers character with very little purpose beyond the unabashed slaughter of random teenagers.
After quickly killing off Jamie Lee Curtis‘ Laurie strode for the second time in the franchise (she was contractually obligated to appear and agreed as long as that appearance was swift), Michael would return to his childhood home, presumably for a much-deserved nap following a quarter of a century of relentless slaughter. Unfortunately (or not) for him, the house was full of thinly-sketched teenage fodder lined up for a tepid, 15 certificate massacre, as ruthless TV execs exploited their airhead cast by throwing a fake Michael into the mix shortly after the real deal shows his pallor. The fact that the house is still standing in 2002 is a miracle in itself. Not only has it been abandoned for a quarter of a century (in this movie’s timeline, at least), it is a veritable monument to murder that has left generations in mourning. In a sane world the whole town would have been bulldozed to the ground a long time ago.
Halloween Resurrection is infamous for the appearance of Busta Rhymes and a quite laughable karate sequence that makes fickle fare of Michael’s indestructible frame, proving beyond any shadow of a doubt that celebrities do not belong anywhere near the franchise. The use of reality TV camera techniques may have been vaguely novel at the time, but almost fifteen years later they are severely dated and kind of distracting. Add to this a spate of half-assed kills and a protagonist who may as well not exist and you’re looking at a franchise that is two decades past its sell-by-date. Bland, subdued and instantly forgettable.
Our killer’s mask has undergone quite the makeover throughout the years, and although not the worst in the series this one kind of makes him look like he just heard the doorbell ring while sitting on the toilet, and while painted-on eyebrows may have been all the rage for a brief period, Myers is in serious need of understanding the subtleties of cosmetics application.
7. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
It was advertised as the saviour of the series, a chance to wipe out the perplexing plot developments of the two previous instalments, a movie that would pick up where the first Halloween narrative left off. For many, this was a shot at redemption. Michael Myers, the once formidable entity who had been disfigured beyond all recognition by lousy corporate parenting would go face-to-face with his original nemesis, now a headmistress and mother mired in alcoholism who has spent the last two decades dreading the return of the infamous Shape, the omnipotent ogre who would change the course of her life forever.
H20 would banish all memories of telepathic nieces, pagan cults and ‘Men in Black’ (not the alien-busting kind) but would ultimately give us something much less authentic. Back in 1996, Wes Craven would redefine the horror genre with meta classic Scream, a movie which, like Carpenter’s original Halloween, would inspire a half-decade of half-assed imitators. Production company Dimension Films would take that now moribund formula and tie it to the Myers juggernaut, an unholy matrimony that guaranteed them millions in revenue.
As a 90s horror flick, Halloween H20 is as slick as they come, but the movie is high in Hollywood sheen, low in Myers Mystique. In fact, asides from the money-spinning title, a few returning characters and the perennial Carpenter theme, H20 doesn’t feel much like a Halloween movie, its fast-paced sparkle transforming Michael into a veritable Ghostface clone.
A movie that a returning Jamie Lee Curtis would describe as a ‘money gig’, Halloween H20 is a big production, low authenticity thrill-ride, the addition of popular celebrities such as LL Cool J further embellishing what would be nothing more than a corporate run-out, one that robbed the Myers character of his once ominous aura. Made at the turn of the reality TV revolution, the movie would prove a huge box office smash, but with their first foray into the realms of Haddonfield Dimension Films would disfigure the series beyond all recognition.
Franchise saviour indeed!
Halloween: 20 went for style over substance, resulting in a formula that didn’t quite fit the bill beyond its commercial superficialities. An apt summary of the relatively characterless, sometimes CGI mask on display here.
6. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Any movie which opens by presenting the end of the previous instalment as a dream and/or psychotic delusion is not doing itself any favours. After quirky non-Myers experiment Season of the Witch ran out of commercial steam, Myers would take a six-year hiatus before returning as a thinly-veiled Voorhees imitator in Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, a movie that would see our black-eyed monster succumb to the type of artillery that could take out an entire platoon.
A year later Myers would return for Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, a movie which began by showing Michael’s unlikely post-‘death’ escape and year-long rejuvenation under the watchful eye of a random old codger who would ultimately succumb to the irrepressible evil of his patient. For a character who thrives on mystery, this was instant overkill in a movie that begins our antihero’s most infamous two-instalment odyssey.
The man responsible for that odyssey, Dominique Othenin-Girard, seemed to have the best intentions. Unhappy with the standard the previous instalment had set, his desire was to make a movie that was more than just a marketable who-can-top-this? splatterfest. His idea was to humanise Myers and restore some of the character’s dwindling identity with a movie that in his own words would “retain the structure of the original Halloween from Carpenter/Hill; a structure following the Hitchcock rules of suspense, not mixing the genres like the script they had given me.”
This is evident to an extent, but while the movie scraps the idea of Myers niece Jamie becoming a slasher successor, the substituting narrative lacks conviction. On the one hand it largely retains the POV menace and brooding visuals of the original, but a narrative involving telepathy and the incongruous and wholly unnecessary ‘Man in Black’, who is neither explained nor accounted for on any serious level, makes a mockery of proceedings. Add to this the fact that producers got exactly what they wanted with a series of standard genre kills and what we have is a muddled affair which achieves all of its goals while not really achieving any of them.
Perhaps the movie’s biggest crime is its superfluous expansion of the Myers character, resulting in a monster who is far too human for his own good.
The director’s intention was to humanise Michael, and humanise him he does. So human is Michael’s mask that he looks like an unappreciated poet sitting under a lovely oak tree pondering the unabashed cruelty of the world.
He’s seen enough of it, I suppose.
5. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
The 1990s was a strange period for Haddonfield’s murderous offspring, with arguably more damage done to the character than the rest of the sequels combined. The decade would end with Michael as a commercially viable clone of Ghostface, a late entry in a meta-infused generation of squeaky clean horror that would dominate the industry, but creatively 1995 would see him slip into a veritable land of Oz.
Five years had passed since 1989‘s The Revenge of Michael Myers, a movie which led our black-eyed monster down a mystique-crushing cul-de-sac from which he would never return. After Halloween 4‘s promising sequel setter hinted at a successor in Myers niece and copycat killer, Jamie, the series would return to explain that shock finale as a dream, the first in what would become a trend of scrambling exposition as the series stumbled from one creative failure to the next. Instead of curbing this kind of convolution, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers would expand on it and then some.
Halloween 5 would leave fans of the franchise scratching their heads after the introduction of the infamous ‘Man in Black’, a seeming Myers advocate who wandered on the periphery of events before petering out without explanation. Was this a relative of Michael’s? Perhaps an Untouchables-style gangster looking to use ‘The Shape’ as a decoy for a series of murders? Unlikely, I know, but that was the best I could come up with during the much welcome interim. Suddenly the focus was off the movie’s marquee attraction. For a character who would thrive on less is more, what on Earth was director Dominique Othenin-Girard attempting?
In the end, the ‘Man in Black’ would be introduced as the leader of a pagan cult who had protected Myers throughout his psychotic tenure. Michael was not “pure and simply evil” as franchise mainstay Dr Samuel Loomis (Donald Pleasence) had once famously proclaimed. In fact, Michael was actually the victim in the equation, a revelation that cheapened the Loomis character by making a complete and utter idiot out of him in a movie that would be the actor’s last before his death, and that wasn’t all the ignominy he would suffer thanks to the kind of final twist that will leave you dumbstruck with incredulity. The movie also stars Paul Rudd in an early role as the returning Tommy Wallace, a grown up and seriously twisted incarnation of the boy Laurie babysat in the original.
Othenin-Girard’s previous instalment is undoubtedly the better movie in a traditional sense, but if you’re going to do silly then you may as well go the whole hog, and as pathetic as ‘Curse’ sometimes is it pips its predecessor for pure morbid curiosity.
Perhaps the most ludicrous mask in the series sees Michael develop a rather large pair of sticky-out ears. For the large part he looks like a bedraggled stoner who just wandered out of a Halloween fancy dress party. Utterly ludicrous.
4. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Whatever your opinion of franchise anomaly Season of the Witch, one thing is for certain: when it comes to the Halloween franchise, audiences demand Michael Myers. For more than a half-decade the character festered in commercial purgatory, finally brought back from the dead and flung into a heavily-censored slasher landscape dominated by the likes of Myers clone Jason Voorhees and fritter-faced child killer Fred Krueger, who had undergone something of a commercial makeover since his terrifying debut back in 1984.
By 1988, the slasher movie had changed to such an extent that it was almost unrecognisable to the template that Carpenter’s original Halloween had set ten years earlier. Whether it was the meta-infused Jason Lives!, the practical effects laden Dream Master or the zany satire that was Maniac Cop, one ingredient of the slasher formula remained the same, and that was an emphasis on kill count.
Back in 1981, Halloween 2 had upped the gore at the behest of Carpenter, who already understood the marketing needs of a sub-genre which had spiralled beyond his control, but Halloween 4 was the first instalment to truly implement the mindless murder ethos, while also transforming Myers from a nigh-on indestructible entity into a commercial plot device whose mortality was solely dependent on the studio’s ability to sell tickets. Never has a horror franchise experienced such longevity based on past glories.
Having said that, as a standalone slasher Halloween 4: The Return of Micheal Myers is one of the best in the series. It is a largely mindless seek-and-destroy vehicle—closer to the Friday the 13th series than the original Halloween—with an interesting (if a little dubious) angle involving his niece, Jamie, who would become one of the most notable characters in the original series with three appearances.
Interestingly, the movie was planned as something else entirely, the original screenplay centred on a ban on Halloween in Haddonfield with the return of a now adult Tommy and Lindsey, the kids who Laurie had rescued from the long-fabled ‘Boogeyman’ in the original. The movie’s proposed theme was ‘repression versus acknowledging the bad things in the world’, and may have proven rather interesting if screenwriter Dennis Etchison hadn’t been nixed at the last minute in favour of the studio’s more marketable vision. What we got instead was a by-the-numbers slasher with a cool final revelation and a set-up that was ultimately never realised. Halloween 4 may have been anticlimactic, but on the whole it’s a pretty enjoyable ride.
Has Michael ever looked so cute? Not to my recollection. Sometimes you don’t know whether to flee in fear or cradle the big lump in your arms and peck him on his rubber pallor. Perhaps all he ever needed was a little TLC.
3. Halloween 2 (1981)
Even at a time when sequels were not a prerequisite for horror movies, due to the success of the original Halloween and the multitude of sleazy Sean Cunningham clones it would inspire, it was only inevitable that the legendary shape would return to the horror landscape. Carpenter never intended to make a sequel to his genre high point, but with Friday the 13th Part II leading the way a few months prior with the introduction of their own masked killer, the temptation was just too great.
Directing duties would be passed to first-timer Rick Rosenthal, but the presence of Carpenter and long-time collaborator Debra Hill was palpable, the former even re-shooting several sequences that he wasn’t happy with. Legendary cinematographer Dean Cundey would also return to further bolster the sequel’s legitimacy, and what we get is one of the best slashers in the entire genre, a direct continuation of the original narrative which still oozes foreboding, and which leaves our omnipotent beast largely in the shadows.
To be fair, the crew could have done very little else to further capture the style and tone of the original, and even an amplification in gore would on the whole remain respectful to the Myers legend, but a sequel is still a sequel, and what we inevitably get is more of the same. While the original is sparse and purposeful without an inch of fat, Halloween II is baggy around the edges. Although the movie is roughly the same length of the original at around 90 minutes, it feels much longer. This is because what we essentially have is a three-hour narrative, turning the tantalising mystique of the original into a 180 minute slog. The ingredients are there but in a sense we seem to be dining on the leftovers. This is less a criticism of the movie’s presentation, more a realisation that no sequel was necessary.
A character like Jason may thrive on more of the same, but Myers is a completely different entity. The Friday the 13th series was devised as a cheap rip-off, and the cheaper it became the more we grinned along with it. Myers was established as a deadly serious entity. He was elusive, fantastical, but strangely real—an aura that thrives on less is more. Like all sequels, it also forces characters to make stupid decisions. Why would residents continue to isolate themselves on the same night of the biggest mass murder in Haddonfield history? Why would cops leave Laurie doped up and unattended with Myers still on the loose? The answer: because a little pragmatism would see the sequel end before the first act was even through. Also, the original’s cast of thinly-sketched yet relatable characters are replaced with vacuous nurses who look like they’ve wandered off the Camp Crystal set, making for largely fickle fare.
A fine exercise in slasher filmmaking, but ultimately unnecessary, and at its heart it seems to be aware of this on some level.
Continuing its loyalty to the original movie’s aesthetics, the mask from the first Halloween is retained. Since the narrative is a direct continuation, I suppose Carpenter and co. had no other choice. As for the ranking, I’m afraid you’ll have to wait for this one.
2. Halloween: Season of the Witch (1982)
The fact that the only instalment not to feature Myers comes in at second speaks volumes about the precariousness of a character who thrives on mystique. That’s not to say the movie isn’t a treat in its own right, because it is. However, Myers is one of horror’s most remarkable creations, and the fact that a movie that wouldn’t look out of place on a terrestrial horror show proved more rewarding than every other sequel to bear the Halloween name is almost criminal.
Still, Halloween: Season of the Witch—a franchise anomaly about killer androids and Halloween masks designed to wipe children off the planet—is a low-key schlock-fest of pure delight, and the kind of horror movie the month of October was made for. For one thing it stars genre legend Tom Atkins as the movie’s gruff protagonist. Then we have the show-stealing Dan O’Herlihy as crazed nemesis Conal Cochran, whose repetitive mind-warping ditty proves more infectious than a vacuous pop record. For those of you who have seen this movie, I imagine its still ringing in your ears. *Author gives reader a moment to pull themselves together*.
The original idea was to release a new film every year under the guise of the original franchise. Each movie would have a new story and cast of characters, allowing Myers to bow out with his reputation still in tact, but in a video arena dominated by stalk-and-slash horror a masked killer was all anybody wanted. Still, it would be a long time before the legendary ‘Shape’ returned to our screens. One can only imagine the possibilities of the Universal experiment that sadly never was.
Having said that, the fact that Season of the Witch is a one-off makes it all the more special to fans of the movie. Ultimately, it is a movie that would prove divisive, and it is easy to see why given its low-key treatment. Also, for Myers diehards it served to damn our black-eyed killer to commercial purgatory for more than a half decade. Still, in the grand scheme of things it is easily the most inventive sequel to sport the Halloween name, and John Carpenter’s score, produced with long-time collaborator Alan Howarth, is a dystopian delight that is sure to stay long in the memory.
The Myers mask is here replaced by a plethora of gruesome Halloween masks which transform the heads of their unsuspecting victims into steaming piles of snakes and various other crawlies. Excellent stuff!
1. Halloween (1978)
Was there ever any doubt?
The Friday the 13th series may be one of the most divisive in history, horror fans may stake a claim for The Dream Warriors over the original A Nightmare on Elm Street, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone, anywhere, who prefers one of the many Halloween sequels and reboots to Carpenter’s seminal classic. With that in mind, let us take a moment to figure out exactly why.
Halloween may not be the original slasher (Carpenter actually got the idea from director Bob Clark having approached him regarding a possible sequel to 1974’s Black Christmas), but it is certainly the most memorable, and the reason why a multitude of copycat filmmakers picked up a camera and pursued their own money-spinning horror creation. The inimitable shape is a hard act to follow. Voorhees didn’t show up until Friday the 13th Part II, and was a character who actually developed for the better. The scourge of Elm Street may have been subjected to some lousy sequels, but the character remained interesting for a good run. With his character there was room for development, in spite of how ludicrous he would ultimately become.
Myers thrives on mystery. He was a wraithlike presence in a movie of sparse ingenuity. When he appeared on the periphery of an unknowing Haddonfield, he had a valid reason for returning to his old haunt, and in Jamie Lee’s Laurie Strode he also had a worthy foil who would grow to outwill her nemesis. In the first movie Michael was faintly supernatural, but he was also strangely believable. As unlikely as it all seemed, the concept of a murderous psychopath escaping for one final slaughter was within the realms of plausibility. This, along with a relatable picture of small town suburbia, made the concept tangible and as a result terrifying.
We also have John Carpenter, a then novice director who would always work best with his back against the wall. His budget for Halloween was minuscule, his time with veteran actor Donald Pleasence limited, but Carpenter was nothing if not resourceful. Painting green leaves brown to match the season, asking cast members to provide their own wardrobe, cutting the eyes out of a William Shatner mask and painting it white: these were all decisions borne of necessity, and they made for a fantastic movie.
Carpenter was no slouch either, even as an rookie. His use of space and shadows and devastating direction (as in when Michael sits up in the background as an unknowing Laurie weeps in the foreground) were inspired, as was his bloodcurdling original score, one of relentless foreboding, with the kind of exquisite pacing that made Halloween as terrifying in the drab of day as it was in the dead of night.
Most of all, Halloween was one of those once in a lifetime productions where everything just came together. You can have all the talent and ingenuity in the world, but you also need a dash of luck. Everything has to come together at a certain time and place, and the people have to feel it. All of this results in that tenuous, almost fantastical word: magic, and Halloween has it in abundance. It is the kind that every filmmaker and studio dreams of creating. But it cannot be manufactured, bought, or recaptured. It belongs to the few and is admired by the many. It is sacred, inimitable and reserved for particular moments in time. It is what makes movies like Halloween so indelibly special.
It began with William Shatner and it terrified a generation. It is blank, ominous and distinctly inhuman―everything the Myers character was meant to be. Krueger’s may be more gruesome, Jason’s may be more iconic, but what lies behind that mask is purely and simply evil, and it only takes one look at it to know.
Cedric Smarts: Editor-in-Chief and Art Director
Science fiction author, horror enthusiast, scourge of plutocracy, shortlisted for the H. G. Wells Award, creator of vhsrevival.com
Likes: 80s poster art, Vangelis, classical liberalism, dystopian allegories, dissident political activism, Noam Chomsky, George Orwell, George Saunders, John Updike, Kurt Vonnegut