When John Carpenter made the original “Halloween” in 1978, it was just another in a long line of low-budget horror movies. But the blockbuster about a masked killer murdering babysitters made “Halloween” a cultural institution, spawning legions of imitators and codifying the slasher genre as we still know it. Let’s look back at all of these classic (and not so classic) films in the franchise.
12. “Halloween: Resurrection” (2002)
The worst “Halloween” movie commits two cardinal sins. First, it nullifies the intense and satisfying finale of “Halloween H20” by striking Laurie Strode’s personal victory from the record; now, not only did she kill an innocent man instead of Michael Myers, but Myers destroys her instead. Second, and perhaps more laughably, the eighth film in the series desperately tries to be “hip” and “now” by building a limp narrative around an online reality TV series set in Myers’ actual house. “Resurrection” isn’t smart enough to be meta, nor is it scary enough to be engaging. (But Busta Rhymes does roundhouse-kick Michael Myers in the face, so it’s not a total waste.)
11. “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers” (1995)
In the sixth “Halloween,” the franchise completely flew off the rails by introducing the Cult of Thorne, a supernatural organization that needs Michael Myers to kill every member of his family to stave off the apocalypse. Paul Rudd stars as Tommy Doyle, the little boy who survived Myers’ attacks in the original “Halloween,” and Donald Pleasance returns for one last film as Dr. Loomis -- only to be (confusingly) killed off-camera during the closing credits. “The Curse of Michael Myers” is confusing, choppy, and utterly absurd.
10. “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers” (Producer’s Cut)
The substantially different “Producer’s Cut” of “The Curse of Michael Myers” was a bootleg cult commodity for many years, and it was officially released on home video in 2014. It’s still a fundamentally strange motion picture, but at least this version makes more sense, revealing more disturbing truths about the Cult of Thorne and giving Dr. Loomis an interesting cliffhanger to go out on, as opposed to the frustrating anti-death in the theatrical release. The “Producer’s Cut” still isn’t good, per se, but it’s a lot more effective and entertaining.
9. “Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers” (1989)
Michael Myers returns to finish the job he started in “Halloween 4,” by killing his niece, Jamie, once again played by Danielle Harris. This time, Jamie is trapped in a mental hospital, and she’s got psychic powers, which don’t always help her friends survive Myers’ latest murder spree. The scene with young Jamie trapped in a laundry chute is genuinely terrifying, and Pleasance adds some real emotion to his climactic confrontation with Myers. It’s an eccentric, somewhat enjoyable slasher sequel, but the goofiness ultimately bogs it down.
8. “Halloween” (2007)
Rob Zombie rebooted the whole “Halloween” franchise with a remake that tried, for better or worse, to get inside Michael Myers’ head. The remake shows Myers growing up in an abusive household, flashing early signs of becoming a serial killer, and then relegates the majority of John Carpenter’s original film to a third-act murder spree. Did Zombie completely miss the point by trying to explain the unexplainable, making Myers just another serial killer? But by not repeating what had been produced before, he did try to preserve the original film’s integrity. Taken on its own, Zombie’s “Halloween” is a satisfying, albeit cynical and depressing horror movie.
7. “Halloween II” (1981)
The first “Halloween” sequel picks up right where the original left off, with Michael skulking into the shadows and resuming his murder spree. It’s a lean, mean slasher, but it’s also where the franchise’s problems started to develop. The revelation that Laurie Strode was Michael’s sister had the same impact as Zombie’s “Halloween,” revealing too much about the killer’s motives and telling the audience that they’re basically safe unless they’re either related to the killer or standing near someone who is. Throw in some frustrating pacing issues, and you’ve got a sporadically satisfying but flawed follow-up.
6. “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” (1982)
John Carpenter envisioned “Halloween” as a series of unrelated horror movies set on or around October 31, and if they’d released “Season of the Witch” instead of “Halloween II,” he might have gotten away with that approach. But after two Myers movies, fans balked at Tommy Lee Wallace’s unusual flick, about evil Halloween masks designed to murder people in a mass pagan sacrifice. And yet time has been relatively kind to “Season of the Witch,” a highly entertaining and spectacularly weird movie with a killer ending, oddball performances and memorable murders. It’s no match for the original “Halloween,” and it’s exceptionally hard to take seriously, but it’s a hoot.
5. “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers” (1988)
After sitting out a season (of the witch), Michael returns in “Halloween 4,” an impressively scary, rock-solid slasher. Myers is back to kill the rest of his family, specifically Jamie, the daughter of Laurie Strode (who died between films), and it’s up to her babysitter to save her. Creepy cinematography and suspenseful set pieces help bolster a film that builds to a terrifying finale… which “Halloween 5” almost completely ignored. Taken on its own, “Halloween 4” is one of the best and scariest films in the series. It sticks to the fundamentals of the franchise and reaps all the rewards.
4. “Halloween II” (2009)
Rob Zombie played with fire by remaking John Carpenter’s “Halloween,” one of the most celebrated horror movies ever made. But the “Halloween” sequels were always a hodgepodge of disjointed ideas, and Zombie’s effort to condense all those weird elements into a single film is a major improvement. “Halloween II” shoves the hospital attacks, psychic connections, scary evolutions of innocent characters and Dr. Loomis’ strange post-Myers adventures together and creates a hypnotic, trippy, disturbing movie that could have sent the whole rebooted franchise into a fascinating new direction. (Even though it didn’t.)
3. “Halloween” (2018)
David Gordon Green’s “Halloween” isn’t the first film to ignore the majority of the franchise’s continuity, and it’s not the best either. But it’s an impeccably stylish slasher thriller, in which Myers returns to Haddonfield 40 years after the massacre, where Laurie Strode is waiting for him along with her estranged daughter (Judy Greer) and her loving granddaughter (Andi Matichak). The scares are freaky, the dynamic between all three generations of the Strode family is honest and mature, the cinematography and score are absolutely spectacular. If only the story weren’t so contrived. And if the film’s themes were actually explored instead of awkwardly spoken aloud, it might have been the second best film in the series.
2. “Halloween: H20” (1998)
The first “Halloween” film to completely reset the franchise continuity (and to depict Laurie Strode as a traumatized woman living in fear of Michael’s return) is a slick and emotionally satisfying finale to the franchise -- even though it turned out not to be the finale. Myers finally tracks down Laurie, living under a new name and working at a private school, where her son (Josh Harnett) and his girlfriend (Michelle Williams) are hiding out for Halloween when they should be on a field trip. Myers attacks and gets a few bloody kills in before Laurie rescues the kids and walks right back inside, with the sinister “Halloween” orchestral theme now playing as her empowering ballad. The slasher elements are above average, but it’s Curtis who brings “H20” to life by delivering one of the finest performances of her career.
1. “Halloween” (1978)
Turn off the background noise of the sequels, reboots and retcons, and just watch John Carpenter’s “Halloween” for what it always was: a terrifying urban legend come to life. Carpenter films the hell out of “Halloween,” with eerie Panaglide shots from Myers’ POV, giving him a wraithlike quality, and then masterfully edits his shots to build the suspense until Myers’ wrath finally, brutally breaks the tension. It’s a smart, earnest, believable horror movie that has always been terrifying. It probably always will.