Michael Myers and His Legacy of Terror
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by Jason F. Koenigsberg
The Halloween movies have been part of our pop culture lexicon for the past 40 years. The name itself is as synonymous with the films as it is the October 31st holiday they were named after. A perfect blend of realistic suspense mixed with supernatural terror, they have become one of the genre-defining horror franchises that inspired many followers (Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser) and ushered in an entirely new era of slasher horror throughout the latter part of the twentieth century.
A few weeks ago an eleventh film in the Halloween series had its trailer premiere and it is one of the best cut trailers of 2018 so far.
It is hard to watch that trailer and not get excited about the newest Halloween entry. But it should be noted that this is one of the more disappointing film franchises in cinema history. Only the first one is really worthy of praise and admiration, the other films try to do different things with their stories, creating a mythos around Michael Myers, Laurie Strode, Dr. Loomis and all of the characters that inhabit the world of Haddonfield, Ohio, originally inspired by Haddonfield, New Jersey, the home of original writer and producer Debra Hill. The lore surrounding the characters make the sequels better than they actually are as standalone movies.
The sequels themselves have been inconsistent even with the timelines of the films in the franchise. The new one will set a completely new timeline and presumably erase the events of all the previous sequels. This is not a new trend for Michael Myers and the characters he terrorizes. There is one timeline that goes 1, 2, 4, 5 and 6. Then came H20 in 1998 and that started a timeline that went 1, 2, 7, 8, omitting the events of 4, 5, and 6. Then Rob Zombie directed his two films so that is a whole other separate timeline with no connection to the other 8 films in the series. But now it appears that this new Halloween film is meant to directly follow the events of the first one or maybe only the first two thus creating another whole new streamline in this long-running series. So audiences have 11 movies and presumably 4 different timelines within those movies. Consistency has not been one of the strong points for the series.
Make no mistake, the original 1978 Halloween directed by John Carpenter is a bonafide horror masterpiece, worthy of the 40 years of praise it has received and deserving of all the comparisons to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960). It was at the time the most successful independent movie ever made, ushering in not only a new wave of cheaply made horror films but helped champion other independent films throughout the next decade.
With Halloween‘s 40th anniversary right around the corner and with a new Halloween movie coming out this October, let’s take some time to reflect on the Halloween series and where each film ranks from worst to the very best. I know it is July and not really close to Halloween season, but we can pretend.
10. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
This movie is truly as toxic as its reputation. It basically killed the franchise and whatever goodwill was left for the series, leading producers no choice but to reboot the series if they wanted to keep going, which they did with the two Rob Zombie movies. Why is Resurrection so bad you might ask? If you are asking that, it means you have not seen it. If you have seen it then you know exactly why it is the worst of the ten films. For one thing, Busta Rhymes is in it and the early 2000’s people actually thought he could be a good actor. He starred in the Shaft remake (2000) and even shared a few scenes opposite Sir Sean Connery in Finding Forrester (2000). But they really pushed it too far in Resurrection when they had him do kung fu on Michael Myers dressed up as Michael Myers. That alone should kill an entire franchise but Resurrection piles on even more crap they expected the audience to sit through. It was the infancy of ‘reality TV’ and Halloween‘s writers and producers tried to cash in on that trend before it blew up and became what it is today. The plot involved a bunch of young, good-looking teens staying in the haunted Myers house and they would be scared systematically on live television but of course, Michael Myers escapes and finds his way home to knock off the teens one by one. Whatever good vibes the previous film H20 garnered from critics and audiences went right down the toilet with Resurrection. Jamie Lee Curtis even tried to get out of starring in it since the screenplay was so terrible. Since she was contractually obligated to appear they had the tackiest of openings with her dying at the hands of Michael Myers before the title appears onscreen with the limpest of explanations as to how her brother Michael survived the end of H20. The lowest point in the series and that is saying a lot. Both Halloween: Resurrection and Jason X were released in 2002, clearly marking an end to the once dominant 80’s slasher era.
9. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
This film was rushed into production after the surprise success of Halloween 4. Unfortunately, it shows and created a number of glaring flaws with part 5 that are never properly addressed in this movie of part 6 which audiences had to wait an excruciating six years to find out what actually happened at the end of 5. Halloween‘s most rabid fans rip into this movie more than most. They hold part 4 up on such a pedestal and feel that 5 tears down everything 4 created. They also complain about the mask and it is very cheap looking indeed. The biggest problem with this movie is the cliffhanger ending that left audiences hanging for six years because of legal issues. Then when it was finally revealed who that mystery man was and what his tattoo meant audiences were pretty confused and underwhelmed. Like Resurrection disappointed fans after the positive reception of H20, this bummed out the fans just as much after such a refreshing part 4. Danielle Harris is back as Jamie and she does as good of a job as she did in the previous film and it was nice to see Donald Pleasance back as Dr. Loomis. He is a welcome presence in all of these sequels despite their various shortcomings. The script just felt unfinished and the whole film had such a rushed quality that fans would have been willing to wait another year for the filmmakers to decide what they were actually going to do in this entry. They even misspelled the director’s name in the opening credits, that is how rushed this movie is. A special shout out to Frank Como and David Ursin as the bumbling Keystone Cops-esque comic relief and it was nice but turned into overkill having Michael Myers lurking or lumbering in the background of practically every shot. This is a perfect example of what not to do when making a sequel and your only hope is to cash in and make a lot of money real quick. Everyone would have benefited and probably made more money if they handled the material properly with the same TLC that they gave part 4.
8. Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998)
This was apparently the savior of the franchise to many people, however, I for one never liked this film and more than any of the other films in this series it is a product of the decade that it was made and that is not a compliment. This felt like a Dawson’s Creek episode with Michael Myers killing off the cast. Remember the 90’s were a rough decade for horror. The Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street franchises were on life support and so was Halloween, but Kevin Williamson was the flavor of the month screenwriter for horror with his scripts for Scream (1996) and I Know What You Did Last Summer (1997) which were both huge hits so he helped doctor the screenplay for the newest entry of the Halloween series marking the films 20th anniversary. The result was a film that felt exactly like the aforementioned films only instead of Ghostface or the Gorton’s fisherman killing teenagers, it’s Michael Myers. The shape itself is a letdown much like the cheap mask in 5. This movie shows his eyes too often and takes away the allure of what is behind it. It was nice to see Jamie Lee Curtis back as Laurie Strode with a definitive final showdown with her brother Michael Myers. I thought the film had an abrupt ending but at least it felt like a final ending until of course Resurrection completely ruined it. This was a very 90’s film and for a horror movie that is not a compliment. It is understandable why people liked it and embraced it so much at the time, they were starving for a good Halloween picture and after the massive disappointment of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) a movie that pretends parts 4, 5 and 6 never happened was exactly what fans were ready for at the time. I did not care for it when it was released and still think the flaws of the film sink an unimaginative run-of-the-mill slasher flick.
7. Halloween II (2009)
This was Rob Zombie’s chance for redemption after infuriating fans with his vision of Halloween two years prior. Too bad it was not as successful at whatever it was he was trying to create, passing the torch of evil from Michael Myers to Laurie Strode. The white horse was a bit of an obvious symbol and it was not particularly scary and thrilling, nor was it much fun but moved at a slower pace than his previous Halloween. The saving grace for Rob Zombie’s Halloween II is that at least this time he was not butchering or tampering with a beloved classic. It did not receive the same viral hatred of his first Halloween but it also did not receive much praise or affection from fans either and that is mostly because his second Halloween is pretty forgettable. People really love or hate the first Rob Zombie Halloween, nobody ever talks about his sequel, it is probably the most forgotten film in the entire series. Maybe one day it will find an audience like the next film on this list, but otherwise, it is just sort of there. Most of the cast is back for this one as long as their character survived the first film and even then we see Sheri Moon-Zombie as his mother in flashbacks. Scout Taylor-Compton, Danielle Harris, and Malcolm McDowell are all welcome presences, it is just a shame that the second time around they were not really given anything interesting to do. Plus having Michael Myers come back after what felt like a surprising and permanent demise at the end of the previous film hugely diminishes the effectiveness of that film and this one since Michael Myers does not really have much to do other than continue killing people in a slow and systematic manner for no real reason.
6. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
The last Halloween sequel with John Carpenter involved as a producer and the only one in the series that dared to try and be something very different. But it bombed and people were outraged that they made a film called Halloween and it did not involve Michael Myers. John Carpenter was finished with the story of Michael Myers terrorizing Haddonfield. He produced the sequel and killed Myers thinking that would be the end of the story. Carpenter’s new plan was to produce a new Halloween film each year, release it in October and tell a different scary story each time. The fans did not respond kindly to his idea and a Halloween movie without Michael Myers was a one and done exercise. So when people complain that they keep making all these superhero movies and all these remakes and sequels, you need only point to the Halloween franchise as a perfect example of how much audiences wanted to see the same thing in different variations 9 times and completely rejected the one film in the series that dared to be different and stand on its own. Plus, when Halloween III was released it was before Michael Myers emerged as a cultural icon in horror cinema. The Friday the 13th series were just hitting their stride. Friday the 13th Part III had just been released a few months prior to Halloween III and it was the first film to introduce Jason with his iconic hockey mask and Nightmare on Elm Street was still two years away from introducing the world to Freddy. The people behind the Halloween movies did not know what they had on their hands and could not predict the future and what Michael Myers would mean to 80’s slasher cinema. This probably seemed like a good idea and the time but blew up in their faces. However, time has been good to Halloween III and is often looked at and discussed fondly on the internet as being a cult horror film and it has found an audience of fans that appreciate it. I still think it is a mediocre movie at best. A good idea about a creepy commercial with subliminal messages making kids want to buy these masks that they cannot take off without dire consequences. It just left me with an indifferent feeling the way it was executed. Halloween III is not thrilling enough to be scary or wild enough to be fun, it is just a semi-decent time killer.
5. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers-Producers Cut (1995)
The two most important words in this section are ‘Producers Cut’. Without that this sixth entry in the series would probably be ranked 8 or 9. The rights to the Halloween movies were up in the air with a lot of people bidding on them which is only one of the reasons why there was a six-year delay between part 5 and this film. The other reason is because it was butchered in post-production after negative reactions in test screenings. This was a common move for disgraced Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein who bought the rights and distributed the film through his Dimension line. The scripts heart was in the right place with a lot of homages and references to the original Halloween as it attempted to explain the origins of Michael Myers and why he went from a young boy to an unstoppable killing machine as they explained his mission involving some voodoo cult that they cursed on Michael Myers when he was a baby. The film was messed with so much that from the script stage it never amounted to what it could have. The theatrical cut is almost incomprehensible. The producers cut improves it but still does not salvage a major mess of a movie. At least this way viewers can follow along and know what is happening. The theatrical cut replaced plot and character development for more gore and blood. The producers cut still does not make for a good sequel or a film that can stand on its own, but it has its charms and it at least watchable. Paul Rudd is good in his motion picture debut, he made this before Clueless but Halloween 6 was mired in so much rigamarole behind the scenes it was not released until about three months later. It marks the final film of Donald Pleasance and is obviously the last time we see him as Dr. Loomis. This film answers some of the questions they left unanswered in part 5, however, those answers are incredibly underwhelming. Once again the producers cut version explains the mythology they tried to create in part 5 much better but still, there was no helping this film. The producers cut is a curio of a horror movie and one that should be seen and will be appreciated only by the most fanatical Halloween fans.
4. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
The one that is often ranked as the second-best among the franchises most ardent fans. To me, it was just another excuse to make a horror movie in hopes of having Halloween compete with the franchises dominated by Freddy and Jason and cash in on the horror craze of the 80’s. Those films even got Leatherface to come out of retirement and attempted to make The Texas Chainsaw Massacre a movie series to compete with those two juggernauts Freddy and Jason. The result was just another unimaginative horror movie, a film of its time. However, to the real Halloween fans, this was just the jolt of electricity the franchise needed. To me, the electric jolt felt more like desperation but the film does have its merits. There is no safe feeling for the characters in Haddonfield making the audience more on edge because nobody in the entire town is impervious from Michael Myers attacking at any moment. It has a good opening credits sequence that sucks you in and Danielle Harris dominates this film. Her acting should always be in the conversation of great child performances from a horror film, or any movie for that matter. It was nice to see Donald Pleasance make his return as Dr. Loomis although he has some subpar scar make-up that he is stuck with throughout all of this film and part 5. The best aspect of four is the ending, how the evil is passed from one Myers to another in a surprising and eerie way very reminiscent of the first time we see young Michael Myers kill his older sister in the original Halloween. The opening, ending scene, and performances almost save this otherwise mundane horror movie. It works because it delivered to the fans what they wanted after missing their favorite serial killer in the previous Halloween movie.
3. Halloween II (1981)
This is the equivalent of Rocky II (1979). Just more of the same as the first film only with a more fan-friendly conventional ending. Rocky defeats Apollo and wins the title in Rocky II and here Michael Myers is killed apparently for good at the end of this film. Otherwise, it is exactly the same as the first film only not as bold and invigorating. Both Rocky and Halloween are genre-defining movies for their ilk, both of their first sequels are basically remakes with happier endings. The shape and the mystique of the character is not quite there with the movement of Michael Myers in this one. The murders were a little more premeditated and far-fetched from the creepy coldness of the original. In the end, Halloween II is not a terrible movie like some of the films on this list, just an average one that felt more like an obligation to everyone involved than a need to continue the story. It is not particularly memorable, but nothing about it is really bad either. Once again this movie was before the Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street franchises really took off and dominated horror throughout the decade. The creators did not know what a cash cow they had on their hands and did not treat it as something they wanted to revisit over and over again. It is revealed in this film that Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is Michael Myers’ sister and she continues her journey from responsible teenage babysitter with a good head on her shoulders to more of a scream queen and heroine. I also like how even though this was made three years after the events of the first film it picks up right away from the moment the original Halloween ended. A novel strategy to start the sequel although some fans have complained about Jamie Lee Curtis having a noticeable wig. Overall, Halloween II is a passable movie for its time, but not timeless like the best horror movies are.
2. Halloween (2007)
Now hold on a second, I know what you’re all thinking, “Blasphemy!”, “How could anyone possibly rank this as the second best Halloween in the series?”, “It was basically a slap in the face to the original classic!”. All those complaints are valid but hear me out… none of the sequels in this series are particularly good films. In some ways, Rob Zombie’s take on Halloween is a terrible movie, but in other ways, it is kind of a gonzo experiment in hillbilly horror done completely in the director’s vision. Hear me out, if you had seen Rob Zombie’s Halloween without seeing John Carpenter’s Halloween, or if the John Carpenter’s 1978 film never existed, Rob Zombie’s Halloween might work as a standalone slasher movie with a sick and twisted style that works as a hyper-violent gratuitous B movie. I remember walking out of the theater in late August 2007 declaring my hatred for Rob Zombie’s take on Halloween. That he went the same route as Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) by explaining too much about the origins of Michael Myers. Much like Darth Vader from the original Star Wars trilogy, he was a villain that symbolized the ultimate evil, one of the most iconic villains in movie history. But then, as Lucas did with Darth Vader, Rob Zombie did with Michael Myers, he was just a whiny kid from a broken home. The towering visage of terror that was Michael Myers was just a kid who got picked on at school and had nobody to take him trick-or-treating so in turn he lashed out and killed a bunch of people. From that perspective, Rob Zombie’s Halloween is incredibly lame. However, like Halloween‘s 3 and 4, time has been kind to this film and it holds up surprisingly well with a high level of rewatch-ability. The reason is because of Rob Zombie and his kinetic visual style not holding back on the violence, gore, sex, and nudity. Also, something should be said about the performances. He has a terrific cast of B and C level horror specialists acting their hearts out and they do deliver some intense performances especially Scout Taylor-Compton, Brad Dourif, Sid Haig, Sheri Moon Zombie, William Forsythe, Danny Trejo, Ken Foree, Tyler Mane as the adult Michael Myers, Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Loomis and I really loved how he got Danielle Harris back into the Halloween universe as one of Laurie Strode’s friends after making such a huge impact in parts 4 and 5 and then being ignored and replaced in part 6. The worst thing about Rob Zombie’s Halloween is the fact that it comes with the stigma of being a remake of the original classic Halloween. This movie certainly has its flaws and crams in an entire origin story plus all the events of the original Halloween and Halloween II basically into one movie. But it is more visually and acoustically stimulating than most horror films and the only one on this list that could work as a standalone film besides…
1. Halloween (1978)
The one that started it all is not only the best film in the series, it is one of the best horror movies of all time, and one of the best movies ever made, period. So much has already been written, spoken and dissected about this film. It is a horror masterpiece that should be treasured and has stood the test of time as being the greatest slasher film of its era. As stated above it ushered in a whole new era of boogie man horror films that lasted for about a decade and are still considered classics especially since horror films today are in a very different place than they were 40 years ago and our pop culture is extremely reliant on nostalgia. So much so that we have seen remakes of almost all of the 70’s and 80’s horror classics. John Carpenter’s Halloween is a landmark picture for horror and independent cinema and got his career his as well as many of the cast and crew a jump start into a long and successful run on Hollywood’s A-list. It is a metaphor for evil and the fear that we all have of the unknown that can never go away. Halloween still holds up as a superb film on its own and is more primal and scary than any of its imitators. It is a milestone in cinema. Only the label of it being a horror movie prevents Halloween from earning the legitimate respect from a larger audience and joining the ranks of other cinematic landmark films of its time like Best Picture winners Annie Hall (1977), The Deer Hunter (1978) and Kramer vs. Kramer (1979). All are outstanding pictures but I believe that more people have seen and rewatched John Carpenter’s Halloween more than they have those classics of the era, and younger audiences are familiar with Halloween and it has had a larger impact on multiple generations. I was not born when Halloween first premiered in 1978, but I like so many people my age found it and loved it, and I know many people born in this century that are familiar with Halloween and Michael Myers terrorizing people in the sequels. If there was a Mount Rushmore of horror, his iconic William Shatner mask would be on it.
Below is a tribute to Michael Myers from the Halloween movies set to ‘Sons of Plunder’ by Disturbed