Worst 2 Best: The HALLOWEEN Franchise
Part 2 of 2

Halloween: Worst to Best

The Halloween series is one of the biggest franchises in modern horror cinema. That being said, it is also rife with completely unrelated story-lines and sequels of diminishing value, both in regards to their technical competence and enjoyability. While the films’ various strengths and weaknesses can be argued over and over, the power of this franchise, and the popularity of its slasher-star Michael Myers, is pretty much cinematic fact. While it is uncertain when we will see another entry in to the journey of Haddonfield’s least favorite son, John Carpenter’s original Halloween, and its sequels, will live on in the hearts of horror-fans. This is the continuation of a two-part article that can be found HERE. This look at the Halloween franchise assumes familiarity with the films in question, and therefore contains spoilers.

5. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988, d. Dwight H. Little, w. Alan McElroy)

halloween4

Four times the Michael!

Now we start to get to the really good stuff. Yeah, the other films all have something to like (hell, I’ll say this, the first 10 minutes of Halloween: Resurrection were at least semi-enjoyable except for the inherent invalidation of H20), but Halloween 4 is actually a damn good movie.

For starters, director Dwight H. Little (director of the Robert Englund Phantom of the Opera) and screenwriter Alan McElroy (Wrong Turn) get the atmosphere spot on, thrusting us deep into autumn in Haddonfield during the opening credits. From there, much of the film is smooth sailing. Performances are solid all around; Donald Pleasence returns in top form as the increasingly mad Dr. Loomis, adding credibility to the proceedings every time he graces the screen. Danielle Harris is great as Michael’s niece Jamie, and, as a child actress, gains our sympathies with a strong and entertaining performance. Ellie Cornell is solid as Rachel, and makes a great final girl. Dazed and Confused’s Sasha Jenson and Bride of Re-animator’s Kathleen Kinmont are both shine in their supportive roles, and Beau Starr acts as a nice foil to Dr. Loomis as Sheriff Meeker. I’d be remiss to fail to mention George Wilbur’s performance as the Shape, who makes for a decent boogeyman.

There’s really not too much for which I can take Halloween 4 to task; the film is a strong entry into the franchise. After the Myers-less mindfuck of Halloween III, fans were thrilled to see their favorite slasher return, and what a return it was. The scene where Loomis has to hitchhike to Haddonfield and is picked up by a vagabond preacher is an amazing bit of character work, and Michael’s assault on the Sherriff’s house is truly terrifying. This film is the favorite sequel of many fans, and I can definitely see why.

To me, the only reason to rank it under the films below is personal choice. It doesn’t mean for one split second that I think any less about this film. Halloween 4 is an excellent Halloween film, and it’s quite frankly much better than most films whose titles are followed by the number “4.”

halloween2original

And we have lift-off!

4. Halloween II (1981, d. Rick Rosenthal, w. John Carpenter & Debra Hill)

All right – admittedly, the audience seems very split on the original Halloween II, and if I’m being completely honest, I give this movie a lot of slack. A LOT. OF. SLACK.

I love Halloween II for many reasons, not the least of which is that its action begins immediately after the events of the first film. Carpenter got us through the first half of Halloween night, and here we continue into the darkest part of that hellish fall evening. Halloween II is, like the fourth entry into the series, very atmospheric, with the empty halls of Haddonfield Memorial Hospital giving the Shape ample hiding places to aid him in his pursuit of Laurie Strode. The continuation of the story and original characters adds scope to the narrative, and the suspense of the first film is mixed with, not replaced by, some brutal violence and a few gory shocks. Some people will argue that this detracts from the film, but others welcome it (and the fact that, by today’s standards, the film is not really gory). Michael’s mask is particularly scary here – and the portrayal by Dick Warlock (great fucking name) is full of malice and fury. The same great Carpenter score, aided by contributions from Alan Howarth, is excellent, building on Carpenter’s original, as is the similarly consistent cinematography by Dean Cundey. Donald Pleasence starts to ramp up the crazy as Dr. Loomis (“Six times! I shot him six times!”), and new cast members Ana Alicia, Pamela Susan Shoop, Tawny Moyer, Leo Rossi, and Lance Guest are all great in supporting roles. There are some iconic scenes that resonate throughout Halloween fandom: the nurse’s heels dropping from her dead body as she’s being held aloft via scalpel by Michael Myers, the water-therapy-hot-tub-boobies scene, and the climactic fiery inferno that engulfs Michael and Dr. Loomis. It’s a fine Halloween film, and for this, and the fact that I watch it a few times a year, leads me to hold it a little higher than some of the other sequels…

BUT.

Oh wow, this film has problems. Big fucking problems. Where the hell are the staff and patients of Haddonfield Memorial?!?!? This is the most deserted hospital I’ve ever seen – and with a psychopath on the loose, I find it hard to believe there would be no police presence on hand. I accept the fact that this was most certainly done for atmosphere, but it’s asking for a fairly big suspension of disbelief, even for a film following an unkillable boogeyman. However, this is the least of the problems. John Carpenter has repeatedly lambasted his own script, owing much of it to financial motivation and nights in front of a typewriter with a six-pack on hand. The decision to reveal that Laurie Strode was actually Michael Myers’ sister is an addition that, in my opinion, is the first fray in the thread of series that, ultimately, led to the series’ unraveling plotline. In the first film, Laurie (and Annie and Lynda), triggered Michael’s memory of his sister, and, to them, became the boogeyman – he ceased to be, or never was, “really” human – he was “the Shape,” (as Clive Barker puts it, “the idea of a man”). Having Laurie be Michael’s sister made the story a bit rote; Halloween inspired many slasher knock-offs, and, in the cold light of day, Halloween II was the greatest of them.

Even being as critical as I have been (and I could go further into it: things like Rosenthal’s “scary as an episode of Quincy” (John Carpenter’s words) that inspired Carpenter to shoot his own re-shoots), Halloween II is a damn-sight better than many of the other films in the series, and I consider it to be a fun slasher film and one of my favorite Myers outings.

halloween3

Ready for the big giveaway?

3. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982, d. Tommy Lee Wallace, w. Tommy Lee Wallace, from an original screenplay by Nigel Kneale)

Halloween III: Season of the Witch has been unfairly treated since its release, and the only reason for it is the fact that the film has “Halloween” in the title. As most fans know by now, Carpenter & Hill decided that Michael Myers’ story ended with the explosion in the original sequel, and intended to make the Halloween franchise into as series of different stories set on October 31st. People are quick to write off the Myer-less third entry, but these people are mostly idiots and/or Republicans. Yeah, ok – I’d understand it if it was 1982 and you went into the film expecting to see the Shape hackin’ and slashin’, but c’mon – everyone knows that this film is the “one without Michael,” so to act disappointed at this point is ridiculous.

The plot wraps up something like this: Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy), an Irish-toymaker-turned-corporate-ghoul, plans to sacrifice the children of America on Halloween night by harnessing the power of a stolen piece of Stonehenge to turn their heads into masses of insects and snakes via booby-trapped masks. Still with me? Yeah, admittedly, this kind of shit could only happen in the 80’s, but c’mon – Halloween III might be batshit insane, and you might not think it’s a very “good” film, but I tell you this – it’s never boring, and most of the time it’s a lot of fun. I’d argue that it’s just as focused on the actual holiday of Halloween as the first film, if not more so – Conal Cochran’s speech about Samhain (correctly pronounced “Sow-wen” in this film, thank you) is a high point. In fact, I’d argue that Conal Cochran is one of the best villains of 80’s horror, if not horror in general.

I’d be remiss not to mention Tom Atkins as the hard-drinkin’, lady-lovin’ Dr. Dan Challis. Atkins is a blast to watch in anything, and in Halloween III, he’s at his most macho. The rest of the cast is fine, and the direction by Tommy Lee Wallace (editor/production designer of the original film, as well as the Stephen King mini-series It) is effective and sharp. The film feels quite a bit like the first two entries in the series, due mainly to the cinematography of Dean Cundey and the pounding synth-score of Carpenter and Howarth.

Ok – I’ll be fair. No reason to pull punches. This film makes no sense at all. None. It’s totally unrealistic and asks for an amazing suspension of disbelief. While showing Challis the stolen segment of Stonehenge, Cochran boasts, “We had a time getting it here. You wouldn’t believe how we did it.” You know what, Conal? Try me. Tell me how you successfully and covertly stole a huge piece of Stonehenge and got it to California (my guess is zombies dragging it under the surface of the ocean, but I digress). At this point, all attempts to build suspense have mostly gone out the window, with faces being blown up by lasers, gouged by robots, or reduced to a steaming pulp of snakes and cockroaches, but hell, at least the gore is fun.

Honestly, this is the film in the series that I watch the most, and nearly was my choice for second best film in the series. If you can get past the obvious faults of the film, there is quite a lot of fun to be had with Halloween III – it’s entertaining from start to finish, and it’s one of the more quirky and creative films of the 80’s.

halloween2zombie

The face of evil.

2. Halloween II (2009, d & w. Rob Zombie)

I bet I just lost half of you, with another quarter of you sticking around just to see how much of my damn mind I may have just lost. It’s ok – I’m not asking people to see the genius in Rob Zombie’s Halloween II that I see. I’m just here to give you my opinion, and I feel that this is one of the most original films in the franchise; it tosses a lot of Halloween tradition out the window, resulting in a film that, maybe more than the first Zombie Halloween, totally split fan opinion.

I almost feel like I have to justify my feelings about this film, and you know… I get it – it’s not really fair, but I understand. So here it is: like many/most of you, I’ve been a horror fan since I was really young, and the Halloween films were some of my favorite films growing up. I have nothing but respect for the series and, despite what I’ve said about every film (sans Resurrection), I actually like all of the Halloween movies. I like every nonsensical, stupid, diminishing-quality moment of them. I like the films in which a stupid, red-herring Man-In-Black is introduced, I like the films in which LL Cool J is supposed to be a believable security guard, and hey, I even like the films in which Michael Myers finds a brand new jumpsuit and mask every Halloween. Get my point?

So, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II tosses a lot of Halloween-as-we-know-it out the window – even more so than Zombie’s first entry in the series. It’s not a remake of the original Halloween II, but it does open at the moment the first film ends, and starts with a stalk-and-slash hospital sequence. It’s a dream sequence, yes, but my read of the film indicates that at least part of it actually happened – it’s never actually commented upon, and therefore left to interpretation. From there, things only get crazier:

Michael spends most of the film without his mask, only donning the rotting thing when going into kill-mode. He actually looks like Rob Zombie, with a huge beard and metal haircut, living as an evil transient. A departure, sure, but hey, how many times can he be locked up just to escape on Halloween night? He also has crazy dreams/visions of his dead mother, and he speaks to her via his younger self. In these sequences, there are surreal, avant-garde moments; much of Halloween II feels as if David Lynch decided to explore Haddonfield. Michael speaks (one word) at the end of the film, and Carpenter’s ever-present theme only is heard over the end credits. While people can accuse Zombie of painting by numbers during the last third of his first Halloween film, I don’t believe it’s arguable that anything here is rote or usual.

People hate these changes to the series; I couldn’t be more delighted. This is SO MUCH BETTER than Michael being drafted by a cult or fighting Busta Rhymes on the Internet. It amazes me that Halloween fans seem so vehemently opposed to Zombie’s Myers-movies (especially this film), but you never hear them ripping Rosenthal’s ass for the piss-poor shit-storm that is Halloween: Resurrection. Sure, in Zombie’s sequel, Laurie and Dr. Loomis have become broken, hateful people, but that strikes me as realistic – they are just as broken as Michael. Danielle Harris and Brad Dourif both continue to be awesome as Annie and Leigh Brackett. Halloween II also offers us the series’ first horror-host in the terribly bad Seymour Coffins, but hey, you also get a kick-ass psychobilly band (Captain Clegg and the Night Creatures), so quit complaining.

I also want to talk about the quality of the film itself. The look is amazing; I can’t believe a film in a franchise like this looks as good as it does. Zombie’s skill as a director has grown; Halloween II is much more reflective of this than his prior remake. The dream sequences are especially effective – my favorite of these evokes Halloween III with grotesque Halloween creatures. The kills are brutal and bloody, and the opening hospital sequence is notable for its squirm-inducing power.

I could go on forever about this film, and I probably should do a detailed review of the whole thing at some point – but this is not what I’m trying to do here. To me, Halloween II brought a lot of originality to the series, and mixed up many elements that had become standard (and arguably, less effective) by way of familiarity. While some people find fault in the fact that Zombie’s Halloween films wallow in their brutality and filth, thereby robbing the franchise of its fun-factor, I argue that it reigns in the ridiculousness that the series had reached. The director’s cut of Halloween II is Zombie treating the material as his own, and not relying on the framework set by Carpenter. It’s batshit crazy and unlike any of the other Halloween films, but I’ll argue that it is also fiercely original.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you liked Zombie’s Halloween II or not – just like the case of my extreme hatred of Resurrection, fans will just have to live with Zombie’s films. I know most of you won’t agree with me, and, in the words of Stuart Smalley, that’s ok. Different opinions are what make discussing films enjoyable. My opinion is this: Rob Zombie’s Halloween II drops 30 years of baggage and attempts something new; personally, I can appreciate the changes without fearing that it affects any of my love for the original film.

Speaking of which…

halloween

"I wish I had you all alone, just the two of us..."

1. Halloween (1978, d. John Carpenter, w. John Carpenter & Debra Hill)

C’mon! Did you really think any other film would be in this spot? I mean, I know I really, really like Zombie’s Halloween II, but I’m no heretic. John Carpenter’s Halloween is one of my favorite films of all time, and is, in the minds of most horror fans, one of the best entries in the whole genre. It is a film that continually stands the test of time, and is only strengthened by modern cinema’s quest for the bigger and louder. Carpenter’s Halloween is lean and mean, and beats the shit out of any multi-million dollar crapfest in your local muliplex.

I don’t even know what to say – I’m not writing a thorough analysis, or even a full review, but what can be said about Halloween that hasn’t already been said by its cast, crew, critics, theorists, and generations of film fans? Simply put, it’s Halloween’s success that was the catalyst for the rise of the slasher genre, and a triumph in the history of independent film. It’s proof that you don’t need anything but talent and drive to create a good film – no computer design skills are required.

Wow. The score. The lighting. The camera work. The cast. I love every element of the original Halloween. I love the fact that the audience isn’t pitted against the cast; Laurie, Annie, and Lynda are all likeable, identifiable characters, and Dr. Loomis is an immensely enjoyable adversary to Michael. I love the fact that more time is spent stalking than slashing – suspense and character-development build the horror, and then, when the violence does happen, in context, it seems much more explosive. Most of all, I love the simplicity of the film, and the 70’s aesthetic it carries – and even though much of the flora appears green, and once in a while a palm tree can be seen, I accept with all my heart and soul that this is fall in the Midwest.

Carpenter’s film is effective, and seems even more so when compared to the films that it inspired. The film isn’t saddled with any extraneous family ties or occult motivations – it is simply evil incarnate, stalking babysitters who’ve triggered recognition within its twisted psyche. I’d argue that this is the point – do we need all that extra bullshit? No – you need a man in a mask, you need a knife, and you need a virginal target for the man to torment before she turns the tables on him and strikes him down. That’s all you need, and that’s Halloween.

Maybe I’m oversimplifying it – and that’s fine: like I said before, there is much to say about Halloween – like any good film, you could fill a book with analysis exploring its motivations and meanings. What I will say is this – there is a reason that Halloween is a classic in the genre, and sequels/remakes be damned: nothing will rob it of its power to scare.


That’s it! I hope you enjoyed my journey through Haddonfield. Feel free to add your own list in the comments section, and let me know where you agree and disagree. Whatever you feel about the rankings of the sequels, I think we can all agree that there is much to like and to question within Michael’s various trips through Haddonfield, and if the series is anything like the Shape himself, it’s nearly certain that babysitters will once again be stalked on some eerie October 31st.

See Part One of this article HERE.

avatar

About Nathan_E

Nathan Erdel is a screenwriter. He wrote Headless and some other stuff. He likes beer, metal, pizza, and horror. He has three cats and one wife.

Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.

Social Widgets powered by AB-WebLog.com.