When John Carpenter and Debra Hill conceived Halloween, there was no intention of creating a franchise that would span nearly 25 years [plus another 7 years and counting if you throw in the reboot franchise], though that may seem unusual today. Sure, Halloween ends with a cliffhanger, but The Shape disappearing from death says more about the nature of evil than it does about the need for more narrative. If there had been more films in the series, it’s been told that Carpenter would rather have created something like an anthology, allowing up-and-coming young filmmakers to tell any type of spooky story set around our favorite holiday—the once hated, now rediscovered Halloween III: Season of the Witch shows something close to what the vision may have been. But Halloween became a huge surprise box office hit and the studio pressure for more Michael Myers won out.
As I mentioned in my Opening Statement this week, I didn’t grow up with an interest in the Halloween franchise, and perhaps because of that, I never cared to see any of the sequels. While none of the major horror franchises are known to have great longevity, I’ve never heard much from horror fans on the Halloween sequels except for the resurgence of Season of the Witch, a Halloween sequel in title only. Even the worst and silliest A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th films move the needle for the most hardcore horror fans—even just to remark how incredibly bad Jason X is or that moment when Krueger kills Breckin Meyer in a video game.
Similarly, stacked against the growing personality of Freddy and the insane kills of Jason, Michael never got a foothold for me. I love his presence in the original film, as well as Nick Castle’s [and others’] performance, but character is purposefully generic in terms of his evil that it could easily become bland. There are basically two different ways I could see the franchise taking the character: make him way more complicated than originally intended [most likely through overly developed backstory] or focus on his brute mentality and risk him becoming a Jason clone. In different ways, both of those fears would play out.
Watching the entire Halloween series in a little more than a week isn’t ideal, but that’s what I did. No matter the quality of the films, their narratives are bound to blend together. And when few of Halloween’s sequels have any definitive quality, that doesn’t help. With that said, take the ride through the evolution of Michael Myers and the Halloween franchise with me.
Halloween II [Rick Rosenthal, 1981]
Picking up with a recap of the final minutes of Halloween, part two is among the rare sequels which are direct continuations. Laurie has been taken to the hospital [which is surprisingly quiet, allowing for the staff’s terrible work ethic], but it isn’t long before Michael Myers tracks her down. We learn that there is a familial link between Laurie and her pursuer, a link which doesn’t have any bearing on the original film but charges the entirety of the franchise—Laurie is apparently Michael’s younger sister, adopted away after the events of Halloween’s memorable opening scene. Halloween II takes place almost exclusively at the hospital, which is a fun location for a horror flick, though it doesn’t really make the best of it. While being technically more limited than the original, it isn’t nearly as claustrophobic.
In a lot of ways, Halloween II has the same structure as the original. Michael Myers saunters around, slaughtering the over-sexualized and any other unfortunate folks in the way. Though he’s looking specifically for Laurie [which is made the actual plot here], he doesn’t manage to find her again until the last 20 or so minutes of the film. Dr. Loomis is again on Michael’s trail, always a few steps behind. This structure is much less effective in almost every way, more rambling, less purposeful, and the Loomis subplot is more disconnected.
It is also much sillier. A normal car accident explodes like an atom bomb; Michael kills a couple by turning up the temperature on a water tub; after he’s shot in the head, he blindly flails around with a scalpel like a dummy for minutes on end; “Mr. Sandman” plays as the credits begin to roll.
Perhaps its worst offense is, despite being much more gruesome, Myers is much less creepy—a trend that continues through much of the sequels. For some reason, the presence looks physically smaller, less menacing. There is only one really effective use of “The Shape,” which is basically a complete recreation of a shot from Halloween—the white face slowly fading in from total darkness. For some reason, the series never got the look of Michael Myers right again. This is a testament to the subtle performance of Nick Castle [who never play Myers again], but completely inexcusable.
Is Halloween II a terrible horror film? Nah, it is far from the worst in the series, but it is definitely misguided. And in comparison to the original, it doesn’t come near to the sweet spot of superb filmmaking and genuine creepiness. Knowing that Carpenter and co-creator Debra Hill never intended another Michael Myers story doesn’t help. Neither does seeing their vision in Season of the Witch, which isn’t a perfect horror film or particularly scary, but works much better in comparison.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers [Dwight H. Little, 1988]
Season of the Witch was such a financial and critical disaster that it took six years for another sequel, one which proudly reassured the franchise’s disaffected fans right in its subtitle. Somehow both Michael Myers and Dr. Loomis [one is supernatural, the other must be, too] survive the hospital explosion at the end of Halloween II, lengthening their complicated relationship for another film.
The fourth installment of the franchise is the debut of Danielle Harris as Jamie Lloyd, the daughter of Laurie and niece of Michael—I’m guessing Jamie Lee Curtis asked for more money than the production could afford, so they wrote her out of the series at this point. Harris, 11 at the time of the film’s release, is actually pretty fantastic as the monster’s new muse; she’s at least very convincing while screaming for her life. Having a child as the film’s main victim seems like a pretty fresh idea [Child’s Play, perhaps the best example of this, was released later in the same year] and Halloween 4 definitely plays with the audience expectation of what this monster could do to a child.
This is the point of the franchise, though, where quality sharply wanes. The biggest problem is again Michael Myers, who has already become incessantly dull. The icons of the other horror mega franchises at the time [Freddy and Jason, before they versed each other] grew infinitely broader, but arguably more interesting—not that it necessarily helped the quality of those franchises. Myers, on the other hand, continues to be less scary, even an awkward presence.
If The Return of Michael Myers has anything going for it, it is an actually fantastic final scene. I won’t spoil it for you in case [heaven help you] you ever want to see the film, but I will say that it is a nice tribute to the original film. That might be the last nice thing I can say…
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers [Dominique Othenin-Girard, 1989]
Like Halloween II, The Revenge of Michael Myers picks up in the final moments of Halloween 4. We’re shown how Michael slumps away from certain death only to be discovered and cared for by an old miser in the woods in a fairly ridiculous scene. Meanwhile, Jamie has been transported to a children’s care facility after the shocking conclusion of Halloween 4 has left her mute. But for what she lost in speech, she gained a direct link to Michael Myers—she can feel his movements, know his whereabouts.
Halloween 5 is a complete mess. The psychological link between Jamie and Michael, while promising, is under explained and under explored. It’s never clear how this link was established nor the rules of its power [not that there could be any reasonable explanation]. Worse, the film’s tone is all over the place, with the first attempts at broad comedy, including the inclusion of two bumbling police officers accompanied by goofy soundtrack music. Most of the horror elements are some form of fake out, usually with a random character in a Michael Myers mask misrecognized as the killer.
Among the big problems at this point in the series is sadly Dr. Loomis, once the Shakespearean voice of Michael’s evil, now a stark raving lunatic. This direction is unfortunate, but could have been somewhat redeemed if it was more built into the narrative. The series no longer knew what to do with the character once the Myers mythology became more complicated.
Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers [Joe Chappelle, 1995]
The series continues to get wacky with The Curse of Michael Myers, though it is a bit more fun than the few films which preceded. The film opens with a scene more suited for the Nightmare on Elm Street series: the birth of a young boy in an underground cult ritual. We quickly learn that the mother is all-grown up Jamie Lloyd, who escapes with the baby. By The Curse of Michael Myers, the title killer has become something of a social icon around the small suburb. He’s a shock jock talk radio topic of choice and inspires a demonic cult that becomes just as much the villain throughout the film.
The biggest piece of trivia about The Curse of Michael Myers is its young lead, credited as Paul Stephen Rudd, who plays an adult version of Tommy, Laurie’s charge in the original film. Through his experience, Tommy has grown up a bit unbalanced. He is now obsessed with Michael Myers, keeping a close eye on the old Myers house [now inhabited by the Strodes in a bit of a necessary plot stretch] and any news of a sighting. As an actor, Rudd is incredibly raw here, not helped by the jittery nature of the character. You certainly couldn’t see the future star, but it is a fun bit of recognition.
This is also surprisingly the first of the series with victims that are meant to be actively hated, a common trope in the other big horror franchises. You could argue that Laurie’s friends in Halloween were grating, but they are nothing like the truly annoying or terrible people slain here—there are no redeeming qualities or reason to for them to survive, unlike Annie and Lynda. Still, their deaths are completely disposable, so it is also much less fun to watch them killed off.
The Curse of Michael Myers is the last film to feature Donald Pleasence, who died before the film’s release. Truthfully, Loomis was never the strongest character, but it is difficult to forget the way he talked about Michael’s evil depths in the first few films. It is unfortunate the the films couldn’t do more with the character as the series went on—it is hard to escape the feeling that the actor was only used to bolster a cheapened franchise, to keep the hardcore audience engaged without trying to progress the character in any interesting way.
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later [Steve Miner, 1998]
Director Steve Miner and screenwriter Robert Zappia made a concerted effort to strip away the excess of the Halloween franchise and return to something like the original with the awkwardly titled Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. In that way, it is something like a reboot, obviously trying to appeal to the post-Scream generation of young horror fans. The problem, however, is that the remains are pretty bland—almost nothing happens in H20.
We are reintroduced to Laurie Strode and told she faked her own death and changed her name to escape her demonic brother once and for all. She moved to Northern California, became the headmistress at a private Catholic school, had a son, and lived her life peacefully—except for one day a year, the 19 Halloween holidays that have passed since, where she nervously anticipated the return of her psychotic kin.
Everything about H20 is piggybacking off of the success of Scream, which was released two years earlier. It is self-aware, with more intentional humor than any of the previous films, and features a hot, young ensemble cast. Amazingly, H20 discovered Josh Hartnett [at his dreamy yet disaffected teenage peak], Michelle Williams, and a post-Angels in the Outfield Joseph Gordon-Levitt. Hartnett basically plays a slightly less badboy version of his The Faculty character a few months earlier [he even has the same cowlick]. Oh, LL Cool J show up, too, as comic relief.
After a laborious hour into the sub-90 minute film, Myers finally shows up for the final showdown with Laurie [I would love to see his cross-country journey; perhaps that’s something Rob Zombie can make]. Overall, it is actually a pretty decent finale, all things considered, with a fun environment and a few good horror moments. The very final sequence, where Laurie gets the upper hand, is in itself enough to make H20 one of the more interesting sequels, though it is still more of a snooze than not.
Halloween: Resurrection [Rick Rosenthal, 2002]
It isn’t a good sign when the opening scene of a sequel completely rewrites the ending of the film before, but that’s exactly what Halloween: Resurrection does [and through inconsequential character exposition, no less]. So, we move on from the definitive closure of the Halloween franchise to what can only be assumed was a desperate cash-grab given the circumstances. With that, the long failing Halloween franchise goes out with muffled gurgle.
The premise: a group of college students are selected to take part in a reality show where they will spend the night in the fabled Myers house. Part House on Haunted Hill part Big Brother, it is a sharply divergent high concept—the kind of film that is an original script retrofitted to a franchise. It is also incredibly dated by the handheld technology and the novelty internet live stream. As we follow a group of kids at a party watching the horror unfold over the stream, Resurrection desperately wants to make a comment about how we watch and love violent films, but it is hollow and obvious.
The idea of Michael Myers as cultural icon continues in Halloween: Resurrection. But unlike the otherwise terrible The Curse of Michael Myers, nothing is really added—within this narrative it is almost a macguffin. Producer Freddie Harris, played by Busta Rhymes [yes, that Busta Rhymes] stocks up the decrepit Myers’ house [despite it having regular inhabitants only two sequels ago] with clues of a deranged upbringing and history of murder. This, of course, couldn’t fool anyone who has seen any other Halloween film. Why would mutilated toys still exist thirty years later, for example? This turns the legend of Michael Myers into myths.
After Resurrection had a modest box office showing, there were rumors of another sequel. The series had totally run out of steam, though. There was no longer a connection between Myers and a family, nothing to keep him in Haddonfield. If it had continued, Halloween could have turned into Myers killing random teen after random teen. Even if the mythology of Michael Myers isn’t the most coherent and completely worn out, it at least gave him something of a purpose.
Halloween [Rob Zombie, 2007] & Halloween II [Rob Zombie, 2009]
As you might expect in the hands of rockstar turned exploitation filmmaker Rob Zombie, the franchise reboot is much more extreme right from the start. We spend much more time with the young Michael, seeing his troubled upbringing. He tortures and kills small animals. His mother is an inattentive stripper. His mother’s boyfriend is a total prick. Michael escalates quickly, beating a random classmate to death before coming home and slaughtering his older sister, her boyfriend, and his mother’s boyfriend in increasingly savage ways—he stalks his older sister Judith down a hallway as she’s covered in blood and he continues to stab her body. The news footage describing the murders likens them to Charles Manson.
It is clear that Zombie has much more interest in understanding who Michael Myers is, why he becomes such a sadistic force. Unlike Carpenter’s film, which centers the film around Laurie and her friends, Michael gets a majority of the narrative. Even after the opening killings, Zombie continues to examine 10-year-old Michael in the care of Dr. Loomis [played admirably by Malcolm McDowell]. The film actually goes on to sympathize with Michael, as His mother cries over home movies with sad music playing in the background. The “Fifteen Years Later” title card comes 40 minutes into the 2-hour director’s cut version of the film.
The adult Michael Myers is presented as a complete force of nature, though the humanizing does dull the supernatural elements of the franchise. The transition from creepy kid to 7-foot freak is unintentionally humorous—how did he become this giant? Does unknowable evil turn a man into a professional wrestling action figure? That said, you can’t argue Michael became frightening again, even if he became nothing more than an unadulterated force.
Zombie’s Halloween II explicitly explores the “nature vs. nurture” question. In doing so, the film turns Loomis into a secondary villain as he becomes a minor celebrity off of the tragedy. The only people angrier than over Loomis profiting on memoir sales are those who think he’s responsible for creating the monster [or at least not stopping it through years of therapy].
These rebooted films fall in line with the harder edged, bloodier trends of mainstream horror that Zombie had a part in creating. Overall, they aren’t nearly as interesting as the original films from the director [especially The Devil’s Rejects], but they are actually a nice change of pace from the increasingly dull franchise. You can see that Zombie loves Halloween and wanted to take it into a much different direction. Really, that’s all you can ask out of a remake. The efforts are ultimately misguided, though, and the series seems to have come to an end. Michael Myers will always live on with John Carpenter’s masterpiece and we probably should just remember him that way.