The Halloween franchise has always seemed a bit of an anomaly to fans and non-fans alike. Though the first film has been critically appraised since its release in 1978, each subsequent sequel was more reviled than the last, and the box-office success has been sporadic, at best. Yet, somehow, the franchise has officially spawned 10 separate films over the course of 37 years, with even more iterations on the way. Why do people keep making these movies, and why do nerds like me keep watching them?
Of course, every franchise (particularly those in the horror genre) endures peaks and valleys in the quality of its films. Look no further than Nightmare on Elm Street for evidence of that, which had nearly as bad a case of incessant sequel-itis as Halloween. The difference, however, is NOES made far more money than Halloween, and it actually did pretty well with film critics every few films.
Quite the opposite, nearly every Halloween sequel was universally reviled, with the exception of one (maybe two, if we’re being generous). How, then, do you compare the quality of films who seem equally lacking in quality?
Ask a fanboy, obviously! With the titular holiday approaching, I think it’s as good a time as ever to revisit one of the most iconic – and terrible – franchises ever. Whether you’ve never seen a Halloween movie and need to know which ones are worth watching or you’re already a Michael Myers junkie who just wants to geek out a little, here are all 10 Halloween movies ranked from the absolute best to the worst of the worst.
1. Halloween (1978)
The original John Carpenter classic will forever be the most effectively constructed film of the bunch. Until Rob Zombie’s reboot, it was the standard that each subsequent director in the franchise would attempt unsuccessfully to emulate. In a sense, that’s been the problem with the franchise all along; for as innovative, eerie, and important as Halloween is to the history of horror, it’s not actually a great movie.
Don’t misunderstand: I love it and respect, but part of what makes it – and John Carpenter – so great is that it’s essentially an anti-movie, a cheaply made labor-of-love that’s more tone-poem than concrete narrative. Its characters are thinly drawn, its villain’s motive are broad at best, and they play that damn musical theme no less than 178 separate times. John Carpenter’s talent, however, is using asinine ingredients to create something profound (and legitimately terrifying). Once it was decided for later sequels that these elements were the cornerstones of the Halloween story, other directors weren’t able to work beyond them to create something fresh.
2. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
If you’ve somehow never seen a Halloween movie, your best bet is to watch the first film and just stop there. If you finish that movie and think, “I’d like to explore this universe further! I hope the sequels do a good job of exploring the Michael Myers mythology in a way that’s true to the original without completely rehashing everything I just watched!” then, for your own sake, skip all the other movies and jump to this one.
As the title suggests, this film is set 20 years after the first one, and it confirms what everyone suspected all along: A Halloween movie isn’t a Halloween movie without Jamie Lee Curtis. H20 is no where near as revolutionary or scary as the first one (in fact, it’s kind of the Halloween franchise’s response to Scream 2), but it’s easily the best of the sequels and acts as a satisfyingly conclusive counterpart to the original film (it also ignores the nonsense of sequels four through six).
3. Halloween II (1981)
Literally none of the other movies left to discuss are what anyone with a rational mind and reasonably critical eye for cinema could even attempt to describe as “good” (unless there is some some seriously heavy drinking involved while watching them). That’s not to say the rest of movies aren’t enjoyable in their own right, but they are often lacking in certain objective standards of quality filmmaking (i.e. good acting, plots that make sense, etc).
As the first direct sequel to the original, Halloween II was heavily criticized at the time for how much it paled in comparison to its predecessor. Roger Ebert, among others, criticized it specifically for what they felt was an undue increase in violence and gore. These critics are largely correct, but little did any of them know how much worse the franchise would get. In hindsight — especially compared to the turds that would come later — this movie has a lot going for it. John Carpenter was at least somewhat involved in the production, it brings back Jamie Lee Curtis, and it’s where we find out that Laurie Strode is Michael Myer’s sister.
4. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Reintroducing Michael Myers to the franchise six years after Halloween III ditched him (don’t worry, we’ll get to that later…), Return essentially kicked off a trilogy of sequels centered around Jamie Lloyd, the orphaned child of Jamie Lee Curtis’s character Laurie Strode. While it’s certainly a terrible movie, there are enough interesting things about it — particularly in the convincingly disturbing performance from child actor Danielle Harris — to make it at least somewhat watchable. The ending, in particular (where a traumatized Jamie Lloyd stabs her adopted mother with a pair of scissors) helps make it a memorable sequel, and an interesting addition to the series mythology. For no reason whatsoever, it’s also the first sequel to ditch Roman Numerals in the title.
5. Halloween (directed by Rob Zombie) (2007)
This movie has a very devoted cult-following. I am not in that following; however, I do enjoy the complex ideas that Zombie brought to Michael Myers’s backstory. Rob Zombie’s Halloween came two films after H20, and was the first to completely reboot the series. Though he still focused the story on Laurie Strode and Michael Myers, a significant portion of the film lingers in the troubled childhood home life of a young, lower-class Myers family. Rob Zombie injected child abuse and poverty into the Michael Myers story, which is undoubtedly an interesting take, in theory. Unfortunately, Zombie’s preoccupation with exploitative violence detract almost entirely from the worthwhile parts of the movie. Still, though, he gets credit for trying, and the results are more interesting than most Halloween endeavors.
6. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Without question, this is the sequel that strays furthest from the world of the original. Up until this film, it was accepted without explanation that Michael Myers was pretty much always going to get back up no matter how many times you shot him, stabbed him, or set him on fire. As the sixth installment of the franchise, Curse finally attempted to explain the question that no one was asking: Where does Michael get his apparent immortality? The answer: a Druid curse. Zero sense is made, but the film concludes Jamie Lloyd’s story arc in spectacular fashion and even stars a young Paul Rudd (who, let’s face it, has a knack for making terrible movies at least somewhat watchable).
7. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
The story behind this sequel will remain forever baffling. Apparently, the idea was that the Halloween franchise — having definitively killed Michael Myers in a face-melting explosion in the previous film — would become an anthology series that explored different tales of horror with each subsequent sequel. The result? A convoluted story about a Halloween mask factory owner who’s trying to kill kids on Halloween through the masks he makes… but also through their TV’s? It’s a confusing weird misfire that has literally nothing to do with Michael Myers; in many ways, this is the worst Halloween movie, but ultimately it delves into the so-bad-it’s-good territory far more successfully than the rest of the drivel coming up on this list.
8. Halloween II (directed by Rob Zombie) (2009)
Yeah, that’s right: I think Halloween III is a better damn movie than this one. Generally speaking, I’m not prone to the Rob Zombie Halloween‘s, but I’m especially against this one. The first one bludgeoned the senses with horrifically unmotivated violence and gratuitous depictions of sexual assault, but at the very least it had some big ideas about class and child abuse at the heart of Michael’s storyline.
If Halloween II had any big ideas beyond Rob Zombie’s obsession with glamorized torture-porn, I genuinely don’t know what they are. In fact, the only thing that lifted the film out of its mundane parade of obscenity is a really lame and recurring image of Michael’s mother on a white horse that seemed to symbolize Myers’s inner-child… Just thinking about it makes me want to stab myself in the face.
9. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
By Halloween III, the franchise had become like that friend who you know is drinking too much but you don’t say anything because you think they’re just going through a phase. By Halloween 4, it was like, “OK, they’re still drinking too much, but I think they’re getting their act together, so I’m still not going to say anything.” With Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, the breaking point had been reached: It was time for a serious intervention.
This movie is not only offensively bland, but it completely abandons everything that was interesting about the somewhat promising cliffhanger of H4. Worst of all, it introduces the totally off-the-wall plot device of Jamie’s metaphysical psychic connection with her uncle, but doesn’t fully commit the storyline in any way that could potentially make it interesting. Go home, Halloween 5; you’re drunk.
10. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
So many problems, so little time… Not even Jamie Lee Curtis, herself, could save this offensive mess. Then again, how could she? One of the biggest sins committed by this so-called movie is its swift and unglamorous murder of Laurie Strode in the first 10 minutes. It’s set three years after H20, which had ended with Jamie Lee Curtis kidnapping Michael’s supposedly dead body and chopping off his head with an axe, bringing to an end his 20-year reign of terror. Halloween: Resurrection, a supremely dumb title, presupposes that the body she kidnapped was not that of Michael Myers; instead, Strode inadvertently killed an innocent man and has now been institutionalized.
Had the movie stayed with that plot line, it maybe could have been interesting. Maybe… Instead, they kill the movie’s biggest draw immediately, at which point we switch focus entirely to watch a bunch of really annoying teenagers get killed by Michael Myers for even less reason than usual. In a way, this movie is a somewhat interesting, albeit hokey, short film that brings the 23-year saga of Laurie Strode to a dark conclusion, followed abruptly by a 72-minute teen slasher film that inexplicably stars Tyra Banks. Watch the Jamie Lee Curtis portion, but only if you must.
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