There was no way to predict that a low-budget, independent horror movie with a no-name cast would go on to become one of the most influential films in cinematic history. But 40 years ago, John Carpenter built the framework for one of the most successful franchises ever and helped create the “slasher” genre with the 1978 smash Halloween.
In the ensuing years, Michael Myers (aka “The Shape”) became one of culture’s preeminent boogeymen, Carpenter’s haunting theme continued to set an ominous mood and the fictional town of Haddonfield dealt with a serious body count problem. While the motivations for Michael’s actions grew more convoluted, he remained a terrifying force four decades later.
Now, with a new installment from director David Gordon Green and writer Danny McBride, featuring original star Jamie Lee Curtis as the ultimate survivor, back in theaters, ET decided to look back on the franchise to determine which film is a dull butcher knife and which is tops in terror.
11. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
Plot: Terror ensues when an internet impresario decides to livestream from Michael Myers’ childhood home on Halloween night.
Body count: 11
A candidate for the worst movie of all time, this fiasco effectively killed the franchise in its original lineage (and Tyra Banks' acting career), before Rob Zombie took the reins five years later with his reboot. This is a film in which Busta Rhymes gets into hand-to-hand combat with Michael and yells “Trick or treat, (expletive)!” It’s one in which you can see Curtis going through the contractually obligated motions during the prologue. And it’s one that helps you realize that even though many of the sequels to the original film were bad, none of them were this bad. This one is only for die-hards.
10. Halloween II (2009)
Plot: One year after the brutal Halloween attacks, Laurie tries to put her life back together while Michael continues to torment her.
Body count: 18
While his initial take on the franchise was relatively restrained, Zombie’s second go-round brought out the worst of his scuzzy, redneck impulses in a sequel that manages to be both extremely brutal and thematically scattered. Zombie gives a large portion of the film to Deborah Myers (who just so happens to be played by his real-life wife, Sheri Moon) thanks to Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) experiencing weird dreams of her mom and a white horse. Given the freedom to take the franchise in a new way, Zombie instead ran it into the ground with his own misguided vision.
9. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Plot: Tommy Doyle and Dr. Loomis team up to stop Michael Myers, who appears to be driven by some sort of supernatural force.
Body count: 17
The lore behind the sixth film is more interesting than the final product, but it gets major props for the screen debut of the always charming Paul Rudd as Tommy Doyle, the kid Laurie was babysitting in the first movie. For years, fans clamored for the elusive Producer’s Cut of the film, which was supposed to be markedly better, but don’t be fooled: This is still one of the weaker entries, with a ridiculous subplot that supposes Michael is being controlled by pagan rituals. This was the last film appearance of Pleasance, who died during production.
8. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
Plot: A toy store owner attempts to bring back witchcraft by killing children who are wearing his popular masks. And, oh, yeah, there’s no Michael Myers.
Body count: 23
The red-headed stepchild of the series, this film proved that audiences of the time were not having a Halloween film without Michael Myers. Originally intended as the first of an anthology series using the title, those plans (and John Carpenter’s direct involvement) were scrapped after the failure of this film. But taken on its own, this third film is a creepy sci-fi tale that has a lot of prescient things to say about consumerism while also delivering some ghoulish treats for horror fans. In this case, the title was more curse than blessing.
7. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Plot: Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield to kill his niece while Dr. Loomis tries to stop his former patient’s carnage.
Body count: 12
After the surprisingly good Halloween 4, this quickie sequel squandered most of that goodwill with a by-the-numbers affair that manages little surprise. Danielle Harris remains a strong suit as Michael’s niece Jamie, spending the first half of the film mute before regaining her voice during the climactic showdown with Michael. Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis has an appropriate I’m-too-old-for-this vibe, but this film features what most Halloween fans agree is the worst Michael mask in the series.
6. Halloween (2007)
Plot: An unspeakable evil stalks a teenager and her friends on Halloween night.
Body count: 18
Zombie’s “reimagining” of the Carpenter classic is a surprising cinematic experience during its first hour, choosing to dive into the backstory of what made Michael snap as a kid, with Dr. Loomis (Malcom McDowell) growing increasingly concerned about his patient’s mental state. Once Michael breaks out, it basically turns into a straight remake of the first film, as the classic mask is donned and the stalk-and-chase of Laurie (Taylor-Compton) occurs. But it’s hard to copy what Carpenter did in the original, and the remake suffers for it.
5. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Plot: After a long absence, Michael is back in Haddonfield to wipe out his family line by killing his niece, with Dr. Loomis on the case.
Body count: 17
Seven years after the release of Halloween II (and 10 years since the events of that film), Michael wakes up from his coma while being transferred to the sanitarium and heads back to Haddonfield to continue his rampage. This time, his target is his young niece Jamie (Harris, in her screen debut en route to becoming a scream queen and new star of the franchise). It’s interesting to see Michael brought into the true slasher era, as Jason, Freddy and countless others had picked up the knife in his absence, and it neatly fits in with the other ’80s-era horror flicks.
4. Halloween II (1981)
Plot: Picking up immediately after the events of the first film, The Shape continues to stalk Laurie at Haddonfield Hospital.
Body count: 9
Carpenter didn’t want to make a sequel, but the power of the dollar was too much to resist for studio execs. Carpenter ceded directing duties to Rick Rosenthal but stuck around to write the script, which introduces that Michael and Laurie are siblings. The horror genre had changed seismically since the first film, and the sequel’s blood and gore content reflects that. Still, this is more thriller than horror, and Curtis is excellent again. The “TV cut” of the film, while heavily edited, fleshes out more of the story and even changes the fate of some characters.
3. Halloween: H20 (1998)
Plot: Twenty years after surviving her brother’s murderous rampage, a post-traumatic Laurie must face down Michael again.
Body count: 7
It was downright shocking when word came out that Curtis would reprise her role as Laurie for this sequel, which ignores films four through six. Even more surprising was that the film would turn out to be good. Yes, H20 follows the Scream formula that was popular at the time, with glamorous teens -- Michelle Williams, Josh Hartnett, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe -- spouting snarky dialogue, but this film primarily focuses on Laurie and her issues. The final 30 minutes of the film are top-notch, and when Michael and Laurie finally meet after 20 years, it’s an electric scene. Too bad the awesome finale was spoiled by the ensuing sequel.
2. Halloween (2018)
Plot: Laurie comes to her final confrontation with Michael, who has haunted her since she escaped his killing spree on Halloween night 40 years ago.
Body count: 17
Made my Carpenter fans for Carpenter fans, the new Halloween is the closest thing to a faithful sequel of the original that fans could have ever hoped for. The countless nods to the original will have diehards shouting with glee, while Jamie Lee Curtis gives the performance of a lifetime as the most badass grandmother cinema has ever seen. Michael Myers is scarier than ever as he goes back to his roots in aimlessly stalking babysitters on Halloween night, and the new generation of Strodes (scream queen novices Judy Greer and Andi Matichak) prove worthy adversaries. This is not just a great Halloween sequel, it’s also just a great slasher film.
1. Halloween (1978)
Plot: On Halloween night, a babysitter and her friends are stalked and attacked by a masked killer, who has escaped a mental institution.
Body count: 6
The haunting, simplistic theme song. The creepy mask, created from a William Shatner costume. The performance of Curtis’ plucky, virginal Final Girl. The omnipresent force lurking around every corner. These elements of horror movies have become so iconic, it’s understandable to forget how groundbreaking these ideas were when Carpenter unleashed them on unsuspecting audiences 40 years ago, working with a meager $300,000 budget. Over the years, it was often imitated and never duplicated, as the original film remains by far the best in the franchise and one of the best horror films ever made. Sound, lighting and cinematography all play a huge role in creating the tension, as you perceive what’s happening much more than you see it. Of course, it helped to have a star-making turn from Curtis (in her movie debut) anchoring the film and none of the backstory and convoluted plot twists that bogged down the sequels. This is a lean, mean movie that succeeds in making you scared, which is easier said than done.
Originally published Oct. 2017, this list has been updated and revised to reflect the new installment of Halloween franchise.
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