When Michael Myers catches up to Laurie Strode in the new Halloween, which recently hit theaters, we were told it’s a showdown 40 years in the making.
But of course, fans of the franchise haven’t really been waiting four decades for a continuation. There have already been two distinct timelines (the new film is a third) continuing from director/co-writer John Carpenter’s 1978 classic, plus two films from Rob Zombie that re-imagine the material, plus an aborted attempt at turning the franchise into an anthology series centered on the holiday.
So how do all these incarnations stack up? Here’s how I rank all 11 Halloween movies.
11. ‘Halloween III: Season of the Witch’ (1982)
While it’s perhaps true that Halloween III is disliked for not featuring Michael Myers, or even a mention of him, this attempt at turning the franchise into a horror anthology ranks last on my list because it’s not very good. The concept isn’t terrible, as 40-something doctor Daniel (Tom Atkins) and young woman Ellie (Stacey Nelkin) dig into the mystery behind killer Halloween masks. But what a convoluted mystery it is. The film flirts with smart sci-fi ideas such as a town that’s under constant surveillance, and does have decent gore effects when people’s faces melt thanks to magic pendants. But it’s so unfocused that it actually loses track Ellie for the sake of a late twist that’s not worth it.
10. ‘Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers’ (1989)
As bad as Zombie’s Halloween II is at portraying the psychic link between Michael and his last surviving relative, Halloween 5 is even more awkward. Harris does her level best in numerous scenes of Jamie squirming in her bed in abstract terror or going through the same physical motions as Michael. It’s a lot of teeth-gnashing to explain away the brilliant ending of H4, which seemed to set up Jamie as an apprentice to evil. H5 doesn’t even work as a fun slasher film, because it kills off the one teen we like – Jamie’s foster sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell) – leaving us with four teens who straddle the line between self-centered jerks and forgettable knife fodder.
9. Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween II’ (2009)
I’m a big-time apologist for Zombie’s first entry, but that’s too tall of a mountain to climb for the relentlessly morose sequel. Consider that the opening riff on the original Halloween II – where Laurie is stalked through the hospital by Michael – turns out to be a dream sequence. The hospital portion of the film plays as a thrilling take on the familiar material (much as Zombie’s first film did), but then we have to awkwardly adjust to the fact that it didn’t really happen. Yet there’s no relief, because Laurie (Taylor-Compton again) actually is still being stalked, and also psychically tortured by her connection to the killer. But it makes no sense that it has taken Michael a year to return to Haddonfield, since the ambulance crash happened right outside of town. Even without the messy plot, the film devolves into tragedy/misery porn without the sharp character explorations of Zombie’s original.
8. ‘Halloween H20: 20 Years Later’ (1998)
This film completes a Laurie trilogy (also including the first two films) as she finally stands up to her fears – in the form of Michael, who is back to his status as The Shape, since the intervening sequels have been relegated to a different timeline. Despite Jamie Lee Curtis’ return giving this film a good reason to exist, everything else feels rote, as Michael goes through his serial-killer motions. H20 is hampered by its post-Scream sheen: Michael swinging his knife at just-out-of-reach teens is so Ghostface, the teens drop F-bombs and S-words like they got permission from Scream, and LL Cool J is inserted as the requisite comic relief who somehow survives it all.
7. ‘Halloween: Resurrection’ (2002)
I’m not sure why Resurrection is widely loathed. It does something new with the saga by digging into a specific aspect: the Myers house. Today, stories about people purposely spending time in a haunted house to uncover its secrets are played out. But the concept was still fairly fresh in 2002. Fun and humor comes from the juxtaposition of the horror with the amusing scenes of high schoolers at a Halloween party wondering if it’s real or fake. While the college students in the internet reality show don’t quite pop – and Busta Rhymes’ Dangertainment producer becomes a bit much – the house itself is a memorable character, especially when we find the underground tunnels. This also answers the lingering question from H20 about Michael’s whereabouts for two decades.
6. ‘Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers’ (1995, 2014)
A note of clarification is needed here: This ranking is for the Producer’s Cut, which came out in 2014. The theatrical cut devolves into strobe-lit nonsense in the final act in the sanitarium while abandoning all character development, even the titular arc about Michael’s magic curse, and that cut is easily the worst film of the franchise. But the Producer’s Cut gives a robust explanation for the supernatural stuff hinted at in previous entries, going back to Michael’s blackboard scrawl of “Samhain” in Halloween II. A cult called Thorn aims to control Michael – a perfect incarnation of pure evil – for their own ends. Tommy (Paul Rudd, in an early performance that hints at his Everyman charms) figures this out and stops Michael with rune stones. The recasting of Jamie, wonderfully played by Harris in H4 and H5, has always been a blow against this film, but thanks to the Producer’s Cut, it at least plays as a coherent narrative.
5. ‘Halloween II’ (1981)
Rather than going to the effort of building tension all over again, the first sequel cleverly picks up directly in the wake of the original for hospital-based horror. Despite struggling against the effects of anesthesia from her surgery and sharing screen time with a lot of side victims – erm, characters – Laurie is still the person we latch onto. The sibling relationship between Laurie and Michael is awkwardly grafted onto this film via dream sequences, and not much is done with the revelation for now. But as a slasher film, it certainly works; we root for Laurie’s survival instincts as she hides in various corners in bursts of energy before nodding off again.
4. Blumhouse’s ‘Halloween’ (2018)
H40, as I like to call it, starts with an air of purposefulness – director/co-writer David Gordon Green is making the definitive direct-from-the-original sequel while also paying homage to the other timelines. For example, Laurie’s granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak) tells a friend that the Laurie-Michael siblinghood is nothing more than a modern myth. Escaping during a bus transfer, as usual, Michael is still a mute “Shape” 40 years later. As in Halloween H20, Laurie (Curtis) is working through her lifelong fears, but in more robust fashion this time, and daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and Allyson also get decent development. The trick-or-treating in Haddonfield is lively, and I love how Michael walks around the jack-o-lantern-lit neighborhood in plain sight, as everyone assumes he’s a harmless reveler with poor costuming taste. Smart moments like that – along with an excellent twist involving the doctor (Haluk Bilginer’s Dr. Sartain) who takes the reins from Loomis — make Blumhouse Productions’ entry into something with staying power, rather than a mere 40th anniversary celebration.
3. ‘Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers’ (1988)
Although Curtis doesn’t return for this sequel and Laurie is unceremoniously killed off in a throwaway line, Laurie’s 9-year-old daughter Jamie (Danielle Harris, one of the best child actors ever) ably steps into the spotlight. The film’s dark cinematography sometimes works and sometimes is frustrating, but it recaptures a lot of the suspense of the original while giving us fresh set pieces. The highlight is when the sheriff smartly locks down his house against a Myers attack, but of course The Shape finds a way in. H4 boasts the best final scare of the saga, by far: Just as we’re relaxing into the epilogue, we see that Jamie has been influenced by her uncle’s evil and she stabs her foster mother with a scissors. Loomis screams “No! No! No!” (move over, Darth Sidious) as the credits kick in.
2. ‘Halloween’ (1978)
Carpenter’s original is a master class in suspense and tension, with the famous score serving a purpose similar to what the Jaws theme did three years earlier, except that Carpenter leaves us more unbalanced: Sometimes it signifies a Myers attack, but sometimes it doesn’t. I like the seasonal feel of falling leaves and trick-or-treating in the Midwest, and when Tommy gets teased at school about how the boogeyman is coming for him, the nostalgia for childhood is in full force. The formula is established here, such as Dr. Loomis’ (Donald Pleasence) dire warnings about Michael. Despite being 40 years old, Halloween’s scary moments still work, including a masterful scene where Laurie (early “scream queen” Curtis) comes upon one … two … three of her friends’ corpses, and then Myers’ white mask emerges from the shadows.
1. Rob Zombie’s ‘Halloween’ (2007)
Liking a cover more than the original is not something we’re supposed to admit to, and indeed, there’s no question that writer-director Zombie’s Halloween stands on the shoulders of Carpenter’s original. But honestly, I think it’s a meatier film, and it’s a blast to watch a more intense interpretation of familiar characters and moments. A lot of the depth of the remake portion in the second half comes from a viewer’s complicity with Michael Myers, as established in the first half. We see him killing nasty people like his stepfather and the school bully, and when he starts killing wholly innocent people and targeting his sister, sweet Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton, ably filling Curtis’ iconic shoes), we feel the wrongness of it.
John Hansen is writing in-depth reviews of all the Halloween films throughout October on his entertainment blog, ColdBananas.com.