Worst to First: Halloween

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2018-10-17 01:40
Ask any longtime horror fan to rank their favorite franchises, and they’ll greet you with some variation of a familiar cliché: “well, this could change on any given day, but here goes.” Being exceedingly basic, I’ll cop to this, especially when it comes to Halloween. In fact, it might be the series where I’ve had the widest variance over the years: indeed, this list would have looked a lot different a decade ago when we first launched this site. During that time, I’ve come to especially embrace its more questionable efforts, while old favorites have fallen, well, out of favor. Let that serve as a fair warning: things are about to get a little weird up in here: maybe not “Michael Myers suddenly sports a mysterious tattoo after a Halloween night bender” weird, but prepare to raise your eyebrows a bit.

10. Halloween (2007)

    This list basically organizes into the following tiers: entries that I find to be a chore to revisit, those that remain annual, nostalgic favorites, the untouchable upper echelon—and then there’s this, easily the most misguided effort the series has seen so far. Not much about Rob Zombie’s bold—if you can even call it that, given how he punts halfway through and simply remakes the original—reimagining works too well: the trite backstory, his juvenile dialogue, a brutish, behemoth Myers that flies in the face of the enigmatic, spectral evil of The Shape. With the exception of the often terrific cast, the only aspect that garners much praise is the very idea of handing the reins over to Zombie in the first place. For better or worse (mostly worse), this isn’t some flavorless, forgettable remake: granted, you might remember it for all the wrong reasons, but I find that preferable to something that just evaporates from memory. In fact, I’ve tried a few times to come around on it to no avail, which is more than I can say for a lot of its remake brethren.

9. Halloween H20 (1998)

    I know. I can feel your judgmental eyes squinting in disapproval right now, and believe me, 20-year-old me would be just as appalled. However, if there’s one Halloween film that’s aged poorly, it’s this one. I hate to resort to the trite observation that H20 is simply Halloween masquerading as a Scream clone (that’s to be expected, given the context in which it was hatched), but there’s some truth to it: simply put, it’s quite unforgivable that this doesn’t feel much like a Halloween movie at all. Not only does it substitute a generic score for a more traditional, franchise-appropriate one, but there’s hardly any holiday trimming at all: in fact, there are long stretches where it’s easy to forget this takes place in October at all. It’d be easy to overlook this if the film otherwise did much to distinguish itself, but Miner’s breezy follow-up flits by without much incident. Obviously, it’s nice to have Curtis back and the general premise is sound—it’s just that precious little is done with such a terrific setup outside of some nice, rousing bookending sequences.

8. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

    To be fair, I could probably switch this an H20 out at any given moment (there’s that cliché again). With my latest revisit, though, this one gets the nod on the grounds that it’s an unrepentant slasher movie in the spirit of the earlier sequels. There’s no pretense here beyond gathering a bunch of dopes at the Myers house and slaughtering them. Yes, I’m aware that one of these dopes is Busta Rhymes, who at different points curses out and roundhouse kicks Michael Myers. I’m also aware that this entails further nonsense, like a climax where our heroine wields a chainsaw and some egregious dialogue to finally dispatch The Shape. As will become clear as this list rolls on, though, I’ll gladly embrace this kind of nonsense. If you’re checking my math, this means I’m in favor of the dumb sequel that mimics the other dumb sequels, not H20, the sequel that tries to be more in the spirit of Carpenter’s original. Please do not ask me to show my work.

7. Halloween II (2009)

    Probably the toughest film to slot on this list, Zombie’s sequel actually manages to edge out of the “chore” category; at this point, I always feel at least a little bit intrigued to revisit this one, if only because Zombie fully embraces his idiosyncratic sensibilities here. Rather than give up halfway through and hastily copy Carpenter’s homework, he plunges directly into his own headspace. Again, this is for better and for worse, though in this case, the former wins out, as the sheer brutality, nightmarish atmosphere, and Zombie’s commitment to hovering on his characters’ reaction to trauma manages to outrun the hokey story decisions and some clumsy dialogue. Yes, it’s arguably even more sacrilegious from a franchise standpoint than his first film, but there’s something admirable about his attempt to slaughter his own sacred cow. I won’t begrudge anyone who prefers the aforementioned sequels on the basis that they’re at least (mostly) recognizable as Halloween films because I was once among them; over time, however, I’ve come to respect this one on a purely cinematic level. It simply boasts better, more distinctive filmmaking than those other, forgettable efforts, and I like it a little bit more with each new viewing.

6. Halloween 5 (1989)

    Finally, we arrive at the stretch of films I can enthusiastically defend without qualifications. Well, a ton of qualifications anyway—your skepticism is noted when it comes to this one. But really, the only major qualification here involves yielding to how unbelievably unhinged and dumb Halloween 5 is: once you accept that and see it for what it is—a brain-dead, drunk-off-its-ass redux of Halloween 4—it’s an enjoyable late-80s slasher movie that features Michael Myers hacking up teenagers in a barn with a scythe and Dr. Loomis acting like a total lunatic. There’s a lot more nonsense tucked in between those highlights that’s solidified Halloween 5’s place as annual viewing each and every October.

5. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

    It’s fair to say Halloween 6 is the black sheep of the series; while even the likes of part 5 or Resurrection merely dare to be very stupid, this one takes the extra step of losing its goddamn mind in attempting to finally account for Michael Myers's madness. The result is a genuinely bonkers addition to the franchise mythology, one that ascribes The Shape’s mystical power to a pagan cult looking to harness evil via ritual, familial sacrifice—or something like that. Look, don’t ask me to explain it, not when the film’s official theatrical cut can’t even make up its damn mind about it (not that the Producer’s Cut is a paragon of coherence, mind you). What really matters is that Curse embraces both the spirit of the holiday and indulges enough splatter movie shenanigans to earn the distinction of the last film in this franchise that I really love.

4. Halloween 4 (1988)

    Easily the most rock solid sequel, Halloween 4 arguably represents the best franchise course correction of all-time, at least from a box office standpoint. Coming off the heels of a bewildering, one-off digression in Halloween 3, this entry did exactly what its subtitle promised: return the series to form by resurrecting its iconic slasher wreak more havoc upon Haddonfield. It’s a bit of a redux of the original, only with newcomer Jamie Lloyd subbing in for her mom, Laurie Strode, but Dwight Little’s confident direction and a sharp script make this a safe, unfussy sequel. Halloween 4 doesn’t take any chances because it wasn’t supposed to. In 1988, the world simply needed to see this franchise embrace its roots and put Michael Myers back to work butchering teenagers, and this entry did so with aplomb.

3. Halloween: Season of the Witch (1982)

    No franchise sequel has taken the journey from “unfairly maligned, misunderstood entry” to “near-universal acceptance and praise” quite like Halloween 3. At one point, placing this one anywhere near the top of the franchise would have been tantamount to heresy; now, however, it’s just a matter of how high it ranks for most fans, and I wager that some grumps might be ready to break out the dreaded, disingenuous “overrated” label for this one. I’ll have none of it, though: Season of the Witch still totally rules with its strange, ultra-bleak tale of a madman with the most diabolical plan imaginable: ruin Halloween by orchestrating the mass murder of millions of children across America.

    Director Tommy Lee Wallace—here doing a fine Carpenter impersonation with assists from DP Dean Cundey and composer Alan Howarth—doesn’t shy away from the gruesome implication, going so far at one point as to turn a child’s head into rotted clump of insects and snakes. Unlike those other weird, daring franchise entries, Halloween 3 is a successful digression that evokes nostalgic pangs of childhood Halloween, no matter how twisted that might sound. Forget that old qualifying statement that this one would be better off simply being titled Season of the Witch: Wallace’s film has more than earned the right to be considered a Halloween film—and one of the best at that.

2. Halloween II (1981)

    The franchise’s first sequel is the one that has bounced around the most for me personally over the years: in my younger (read: not so bright) days, I put it on par with the hallowed original. Later on, I preferred Part 3 and 4, only to come back around in favor of Halloween II after all. While I can’t put it back on equal standing with its predecessor (I said it’d be getting weird here, but we’re not getting that weird), I can appreciate how it plays as the dark, midnight movie B-side to Carpenter’s original. Where the first film unfolds in the shadow of Halloween afternoon and evening revelry, Part II stretches on into the bleak, late, and sinister hours of the night. It’s the big comedown following the sugar rush of Halloween: a dreary, drowsy denouement defined by empty spaces, stifling silence, and mean-spirited gore. By the end, Halloween itself has come and gone, leaving its wake only the cold, unfeeling desolation of November 1st.

1. Halloween (1978)

    No controversy here: John Carpenter’s original is the only film in consideration for the top of this—and perhaps any other horror movie—list. An absolute masterwork of sheer, inexplicable terror, Halloween has it all: a lean, economical script, mesmerizing cinematography, authentic characters, and crucial holiday trimming that makes it the definitive film not only for this franchise but for the Halloween season itself. Many imitators arrived in the wake of Halloween but none came close to capturing Carpenter’s bewitching vision of heartland America infiltrated by a pure, unfathomable evil that slinks among its cozy streets like a phantom. Its slasher movie mayhem might result in an unforgettable thrill ride, but it’s that haunting vision of enigmatic evil lurking amongst us that allows Halloween to endure as one of the finest films ever made.
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