Sacred Walloween: Ranking The ‘Halloween’ Franchise

IT’S SACRED WALLOWEEN, Y’ALL! That’s right, the spookiest time of the year is finally here, and as we do every October, we turn our attention to a variety of horror and Halloween-themed lists! And because I’m looking for something simple, yet sufficient to kick things off, I thought we could go with something fun and straightforward: Ranking Every Halloween Movie. That’s right, I’m breaking down the iconic Halloween franchise, from John Carpenter’s original slasher classic to the Rob Zombie remakes to the Busta Rhymes Doing Kung Fu. This ranking will be based on actual filmmaking, level of scares, use of tension (as opposed to jump scares), acting, and occasionally, how fun-bad the film is (I’d rather watch campy archetypes get killed in dumb ways over something sullen, edgy, and grotesque). So, with no Honorable Mentions to tie us down, why don’t we jump straight into the Definitive Ranking of Halloween films!

11. Halloween: Resurrection

Halloween: Resurrection is the dumbest, most painful Halloween film in existence. You’ll know almost immediately how much contempt the film has for its fan base from the opening sequence, where Michael successfully kills off Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode, the heart of the series. Things grow worse as the film goes on, as the entire film is based on the premise that a reality show is being held inside Michael’s house to “find out what makes him tick,” with fans watching in real time on the Internet. Now, my issue with the film is not in this premise. There’s something clever in this unique setup: a commentary on the state of reality TV, with drunken high school students watching a live feed of the contestants and shouting advice to them. That also provides a satiric look at how horror audiences respond, interact, and criticize the characters in movies. No, my issue with Halloween: Resurrection is the way it sacrifices strong ideas for cheap laughs and over-the-top violence. As much as I hate the use of jump scares in horror movies (particularly a series known for avoiding them), it says a lot that Resurrection can’t even do that right. I mean, if you want evidence that the film hates its characters and its audience, look no further than the scene where a television producer played by Busta Rhymes goes toe-to-toe in a kung fu battle with Michael Myers – a fighting technique Rhymes only knows because of Bruce Lee movies. And he wins. That is an insult to the menace of Michael Myers and to horror fans in general. I’ll give Resurrection credit: it’s perhaps the funniest Halloween film to exist. The problem is it shouldn’t be.

10. Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers

Here’s where things get tricky. On the one hand, Halloween V: The Revenge of Michael Myers is objectively a better-made film than Resurrection. But it’s also far less fun. In fact, I’d go as far as to call it the most unpleasant Halloween film of the lot. The Revenge of Michael Myers lacks anything resembling pleasure, whether through well-executed scares, thrilling tension, or likable characters. From the get-go, you realize why the film is so upsetting: unlike the previous Halloween films, Revenge wants you to root not for the innocent teenagers trying to enjoy their carefree night, but instead for Michael Myers, a sociopathic, borderline magic serial killer. Not only does it attempt to overdo every death in a Jason Voorhees-style manner (effectively stealing from a lesser version of this franchise), but it attempts to curry favor by forcing the teenagers to overact and generally annoy the audience, forcing you to root for their deaths. The only likable character from the middle films of the franchise, Ellie Cornell’s Rachel Carruthers, is killed off in the film’s first third, leaving you with her sex-crazed, obnoxious friends. And in between these murders, we the audience are subjected to the dumbest cops ever to be put on film. The buffoonish officers, who explain that they failed to stop Michael Myers because “Honestly, we’re just really bad at our jobs,” play like an homage to The Last House on the Left. But while the cops in Last House are designed to satirize 70s government inefficacy, here they’re just dumb because…reasons? Whatever, it’s a dumb film with dumb subplots and dumb action. I rank it above Resurrection because it is objectively better-made, but honestly, if you’re going to watch one of the two, the edge has to go to the lesser film. At least it’s entertaining.

9. Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers

Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers is, in a lot of ways, just as bad as Resurrection and Revenge. The difference here, however, is that it is as well made as Revenge (not a high bar, but never mind) while remaining as so-bad-it’s-good as Revenge, giving it a leg up on the others. Unlike the first film in the franchise, which was brilliant in its simplicity, or the fourth film, which built upon a narrative, The Curse of Michael Myers dives headfirst into a complicated and convoluted world of curses, magic, and more. Because the 90s believed the best way to scare people was to add “magic” to the mix, The Curse of Michael Myers decides to explain that not only is Michael Myers cursed with immortal life (as opposed to being a figure of darkness like the previous films), but this same curse forces him to try to kill his family, explaining his obsessions from the previous films. However, this twist is not only nonsensical – it’s terrifyingly unneeded. In between this story of a curse, we are blessed with a horribly miscast Paul Rudd as Tommy Doyle, the young boy from the first film all grown up, now a moody stalker carrying around a random baby. Meanwhile, Laurie Strode’s adopted family has grown up into abusive, Lifetime-esque parents, named offensively after series creators John Carpenter and Debra Hill. The editing is incoherent, the story illogical, and the ending punts rather than attempt to do or say anything interesting. You could probably skip it and be just fine; but honestly, you could do much worse in the franchise than this nightmare.

8. Halloween II (2009)

Being fair, Halloween II has just enough interesting things to say to be worthwhile. And I’d go as far as to say it could be a good movie. The problem is that it’s a) not effective as a Halloween film, and b) not effective as a film for me. Picking up where the reboots left off, with Laurie Strode (here played by an adequate Scout Taylor-Compton) having survived the attack and seemingly killed her brother, the sequel attempts to tackle two incredibly fascinating issues. The first is something never addressed in the Halloween films until the 2018 revamp: the effects of violence and trauma on a small community. We see the aftermath of the violence on Laurie as she suffers nightmares and flashbacks constantly. Meanwhile, we see the hushed tones of the town, the way they all turn out horrified as the bodies are wheeled away, and the general sense of unease that a psychopath’s rampage would have on an average Midwest town. Meanwhile, the more interesting idea at play surrounds Laurie’s own mental health, as she begins to succumb to the same demons as her brother Michael, and we see how genetics and trauma can trigger dark demons inside of individuals. I raise no qualms with these ideas, and Rob Zombie does an ok job portraying them. No, what makes this a bad Halloween film is Zombie’s obsession with giving up on his interesting ideas to show terrible people get brutally murdered. We are forced to watch beloved icon Octavia Spencer get stabbed forty gut-wrenching times. We watch as Danielle Harris’ Annie gets stripped naked and butchered, only to die in Laurie’s arms. And we watch as beloved staple Dr. Loomis has his face split open and his throat slashed – not that we care; this Loomis is one of the most unlikable characters in horror history. Although this terribleness does give us a great sequence where he is confronted by Lynda’s father. And have I mentioned yet that Michael Myers hides behind a tree not once, but twice, to effectively murder someone? Unnecessarily gruesome and horrifically grotesque, I cannot endorse Halloween II.

7. Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Technically, I shouldn’t even rank Season of the Witch. Michael Myers isn’t even in this one – it was John Carpenter and Tommy Wallace’s attempt to relaunch the series as an anthology horror. But it still bears the Halloween name, so here we are. The thing about Season of the Witch is that, for much of its runtime, it plays exactly like so-bad-it’s-good classic Troll 2. There’s terrible effects, weird ancient curses involving Stonehenge, cheap-looking masks, and a subplot involving city folk going to rural small towns run by evil. They even have social subtext underlying the film. However, as much as people hate on Halloween III, it isn’t quite as bad as people make it out to be. Oh, don’t get me wrong, it’s not great. It’s just not nightmarishly bad. The film possesses an interesting notion surrounding corporatization, commercialization, and a general disdain for big business destroying mom-and-pop shops. After a man on the run is mysteriously murdered by a mysterious government figure, the doctor who treated him and the man’s daughter travel to a small town to investigate Silver Shamrock, a massive conglomerate who possesses access to the airwaves and has a Big Reveal planned for Halloween night. As it turns out, the company is run by ancient wizards who want to sacrifice the kids of America and replace them with robots (not sure why robots matter, but who cares). They do this by brainwashing them with an infuriatingly catchy jingle, which triggers the Halloween masks to implode the children’s heads. The plot is often hard to follow, and the effects are often downright terrible. But, if I’m being honest, the thematic material is rather interesting, Stacey Nelkin is terrific as Ellie, the aforementioned daughter, and the final fifteen minutes of twists and turns are incredible, leading up to a dark, fascinating ending. Halloween III isn’t great – it’s not even good – but I respect it for trying new things.

6. Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers

I have incredibly mixed feelings on Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers. For all intents and purposes, this is the most Friday the 13th-esque Halloween outing there is – it follows the ridiculous formula of slasher films, the murders are hilariously cheesy, and it doubles down on the “sex equals death” dynamic that the series had always avoided and would later define a genre. And yet, the film kind of works by doubling down on this goofiness. Having done away with any sense of nuance and thrill, The Return of Michael Myers brings back the general narrative – Michael Myers stalking someone and killing anyone that gets in his way – and embraces the camp in its general premise. It is here we see Michael Myers single-handedly murder an entire police force, leaving justice to the hands of the town’s rednecks. We see characters leap from rooftops to escape, generally unharmed. And despite the threat of violence at every turn, the teenagers are more obsessed with a cheating scandal than with the potential homicidal maniac following them in the dark. However, as goofy and as obnoxious as this film can be, there’s a lot to appreciate in the film. Particularly, I adore Danielle Harris’ performance as Jamie Lloyd. The orphaned daughter of Laurie Strode, Jamie is bullied for her relationship to the infamous murderer, Jamie is the perfect naïve, lovable protagonist…until the end, that is. Despite the series’ disinterest in the brilliant angle, Halloween IV provides fans one of the series’ greatest moments: when a horrified Dr. Loomis discovers a catatonic Jamie standing in a clown outfit with a pair of bloody scissors, just as her infamous uncle had done all those years ago. It’s a warning sign that Jamie may be more like her uncle than her mother, and it helps make The Return of Michael Myers one of the slightly better entries in the franchise.

5. Halloween (2007)

We’re reaching the point where these films start to turn a corner from “average to bad” to “mixed but good.” And no film marks that strange dynamic more than Rob Zombie’s bizarre remake Halloween. Released in 2007 – one of the most staunchly demoralized years in Hollywood history – Halloween is an interesting, if flawed, experiment. Instead of focusing on the scares and the seedy underbelly of suburban life like the original, Zombie uses his outing to explore the makings of a psychopath, and what sets a seemingly normal boy over the edge to become one of the greatest mass murderers the screen has ever known. Now, I want to give the film credit: Zombie’s direction is distinctively clear. Gone is the ugly editing of the predecessors – instead we get a clear, distinct vision of how mental illness, criminal abuse, and bullying create a cesspool for evil to manifest. While the film came out before the massive influx of school shootings, they were still frequent enough for the film to feel timely and prescient. And at least in the first outing, Zombie understands how to deploy Michael Myers effectively: you often see him hiding in the outer frames of the shot, just as he did in the best outings of the series. Unfortunately, Zombie also buries his brilliance below poor character decisions and bafflingly bad story choices. The first forty minutes, while the most creative of the film, are so mind-numbingly dumb that you just want to fast-forward. This is best exemplified by Michael’s rampage being intercut with his doting mother stripping to “Love Hurts”, or an excessive sequence where adult Michael is set off by redneck security guards raping a woman inside his cell. And the second half, even more infuriatingly, acts as a remake of the original, albeit with every character becoming far less likable. The Halloween remake is admirable in its attempts to shake things up, but ultimately fails as an homage and a remake. Just stick with the original (we’re getting there, I promise).

4. Halloween II (1981)

I’ve always been mixed on Halloween II, the first direct sequel to the original 1978 classic. While Carpenter and Hill hated the idea of continuing their series, and admittedly created ideas they loathed (we’ll get to that in a second), the film does build on its own mythology relatively well. The film maintains the sense of tension that made the original film so iconic, including a terrific opening sequence and a vast landscape for Michael to stalk inside an empty clinic/hospital. And even the decisions I’m disappointed in work relatively well, in a technical sense. As disappointing as it is in terms of Michael’s mythology, the twist of turning Laurie into Michael’s sister is clever. Having Laurie interact with a boy from school who has a crush on her adds an interesting dynamic to the film’s climax. And the climactic ending, when Loomis sacrifices himself to kill Michael (seemingly effectively) would have made a dramatic conclusion if the series had chosen to end there. Unfortunately, the goodwill developed from the tension and scares is lost when you drown it all in excessive, unnecessary gore. Now, I’ll cut the film some slack – it clearly is inspired by the Italian giallo filmmakers, as can be seen in the hot tub scalding scene inspired by Deep Red. But while Deep Red’s violence is brilliant and shocking, here in Halloween II just feels gross and exploitative – as if it were inspired by Friday the 13th as opposed to its own legacy. And let’s not forget that likable Dr. Loomis (the great Donald Pleasance) straight up murders a kid and never thinks twice about it. Halloween II is the perfect mix of flaws, triumphs, and misdirects, and it is these choices that make it one of the more confusing, but impressive entries in the Halloween canon.

3. Halloween: H20

And now we come to the three best Halloween films in existence. And I’m ready to start this list off with the controversial, yet highly entertaining pick of Halloween: H20. Yes, H20 is far from perfect, but it’s hard not to enjoy the film’s distinct, different take on the Michael Myers legend. The film is notable for three distinct reasons. First and foremost, it brings back Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode. Having rewritten her fate to fake her own death, Curtis walks a thin line that she would later perfect in the #2 film on this list. She keeps the snark of the first film and her 90s persona, but combines it with both a sense of trauma and vengeance. The second reason the film works is the cast. The film somehow assembled a murderers’ row (pun intended) of talent to scare and terrorize. Nancy Stephens returns as Loomis’ nurse Marion, and Adam Arkin appears as school guidance counselor Will, but it’s the teens I care about: there’s Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Josh Harnett and of course Michelle Williams. LL Cool J shows up as a security guard that makes history as both the first comic relief and first African-American character to survive a horror movie (and he’s not obnoxious like Busta Rhymes!). And in a clever touch, Janet Leigh appears alongside her daughter to advise her while a certain Bernard Herrmann score plays. But perhaps most important of all is the uncredited work by Kevin Williamson. The creator of both Dawson’s Creek and Scream, Williamson was known for giving horror its distinctive ironic edge in the 90s. He fills H20 with clever references, witty one-liners, a sense of self-referential irony, and actual terror for the first time in twenty years. It elevates the film to a sense of fun that may not be in line with the original, but certainly makes the series enjoyable for the first time in decades. Thanks to its balance of fun and classic terror, Halloween: H20 stands out as one of the best entries in the franchise.

2. Halloween (2018)

One of my favorite aspects of the horror sequel is when the franchise chooses to ignore the crappy sequels and start from scratch. It gives things an edge, allows them to eliminate decades’ worth of bad filmmaking decisions, and generally provide fans with something quality for the first time in ages. Such is the case with David Gordon Green’s revamping of the Halloween franchise, eliminating everything else we’ve seen on this list thus far, including the “Laurie Myers” reveal from 1981. 2018’s Halloween is a film that only fails when it betrays its own thesis (which I’ll get to in a minute). It rewrites the series to no longer focus on Michael Myers, instead returning the focus to Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode. In a realistic twist that feels more in place with the original, Strode is now a survivalist truther, having spent her life practicing with martial arts and firearms, booby trapping her house, and alienating friends and family in her quest to prepare for Michael Myers’ return. It’s a brilliant arc, and it builds to a finale that is breathtaking in its homage to the original (when Michael panics upon seeing Laurie’s body disappearing after falling off the roof, it feels cheer-worthy). Meanwhile, Michael himself is no slouch – played once again by Nick Castle and Tony Moran, the film returns a sense of malice to the character. He is a wild card, killing upon instinct, and using tension as his primary weapon, as opposed to jump scares. A one-shot of him walking through a neighborhood killing at random is one of the best sequences in modern horror history, and I adored a sequence where he attacks babysitter Vicky (played by Virginia Gardner, the film’s best character). Now, the film isn’t perfect – it too focuses too much on the gore, and the teenagers are some of the most unrealistic in the series (including Revenge). But thanks to some nifty themes and some terrific tension, Halloween stands out as the second best of the franchise, just below…

1. Halloween

Ok, yeah, I know, it’s obvious. But of course John Carpenter’s original classic was going to top this list. Most of these films are average-to-good slashers, while the original Halloween is a horror masterpiece. Halloween is a film that works if you look at it for depth or if you look at it as a simple story well told. In terms of depth, the film is John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s satiric look at the faux-fraternity of the suburbs. Both filmmakers grew up in small Midwest towns that prided themselves on how they were the epitome of “love thy neighbor,” but also covered up for everything from racism to child abuse. Not only is Michael Myers bred and covered up by the average suburban lifestyle, but when Laurie Strode – here an average teenage girl – is hunted down by a creepy stalker at midnight on Halloween, she is turned away and cursed out by every neighbor she attempts to contact. But we need not look at depth here – Halloween is, first and foremost, a straightforward story about survival and terror. Unlike the films it would go on to inspire, Halloween lacks blood and jump scares. Everything scary in the film you see coming – we know Bob is dead when Michael puts on the sheet, we know Michael is alive in the background when Laurie thinks she’s safe, and we know the car is unlocked when Annie gets in unsuspectingly. Carpenter deploys the scares and the three-note score with a mastery of dramatic irony, and it helps put the film on par with Psycho and the foreign horror films that inspired him. Meanwhile, the film also works thanks to the actors and writing creating three-dimensional, relatable teenagers – we care about Laurie, Annie, and Lynda because they are relatable to us. They are funny, horny, compassionate, and friendly in the exact same way every teenager is, and none of these traits are rewarded or condemned in any way shape or form. Halloween is a perfectly structured, perfectly executed example in how to make a horror film, and it stands tall as the finest film in its own franchise.

 

And that concludes our look into the Halloween franchise. Michael Myers remains one of the greatest horror villains of all time, and looking through these films, it is easy to see why. I hope you enjoyed this look at the Halloween series, and I hope you’re as excited as I am for next year’s Halloween Kills. Sacred Walloween is upon us, you guys. Now, if you’ll excuse me, if I have to have it stuck in my head, you should too.

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