Happy Halloween, Trailers From Hell miscreants!
Roughly 17 million folks stateside as of this writing have seen the latest Halloween film (based on its current $159.3 million domestic box office take divided by the average ticket price), which premiered to stellar reviews and brisk business. Upon leaving their local theater, I’m sure a lot of those 14 million folks had questions. Some people inevitably asked themselves, “Wait — I thought Laurie Strode was Michael Myers’ sister? And that she died in a car accident, orphaning a daughter named Jamie (Danielle Harris) to fend off her evil uncle?” Still others, I expect, asked themselves, “Wait — I thought Laurie Strode was Michael Myers’ sister? And that she faked her death in a car accident, and she and her son John (Josh Hartnett) ably fended off her evil brother?” Well, both those realities are true. As is the universe where Michael and Laurie share powerful psychic visions of Michael’s deceased stripper mother on a white horse, ordering them around from beyond the grave. Plus the universe where the first Halloween exists as a movie, in a terrifying reality where witches and warlocks own sinister mask manufacturing plants.
Of the 11 Halloween movies, only two of them “count” as official canon right now — the original John Carpenter-Debra Hill classic Halloween (1978), and the new, confusingly titled Halloween (2018), directed and co-written by David Gordon Green. Because the unyielding slasher series has retconned most of its sequels and remakes out of existence, it essentially now operates across five different chronological strands. In the spirit of today’s spooky holiday, this Michael Myers aficionado has opted to (a) separate and track each strand, and subsequently (b) rank them all in terms of quality. Continuity gaps abound even across supposedly connected movies, as we’ll see below. Be warned — spoilers abound below. If you want power rankings of each individual film, then you’re in luck! We have a list for that, too.
5. The Zombie Timeline: Halloween (2007) and Halloween II (2009)
As you’ll soon see, in an additional list, this writer did not loathe the first Rob Zombie-helmed Halloween remake. Things quickly fell apart with his Halloween II, but the 2007 Halloween works when viewed under the guise of functioning within a wholly separate, parallel timeline to the original movies. The conclusion of the Zombie Halloween II is deeply confusing and murky, with both Michael Myers (the 6’8″ Tyler Mane) and his sister Laurie Strode at the mercy of their ghost-mom (Sherri Moon-Zombie)’s unclear whims. Laurie seems to absorb her brother’s homicidal tendencies and approach an ailing (possibly dead) Dr. Sam Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), before being gunned down by some trigger-happy Haddonfield police officers. This timeline resolves with Laurie eerily breaking the fourth wall in a padded cell, the familial bloodlust clearly transferred.
Now that the current franchise trajectory has effectively reinstated the original Halloween as the “definitive” timeline going forward, the more frustrating components of the Zombie Myers universe can be enjoyed free of that responsibility. In a considerate nod to Halloween heads the world over, Zombie keeps an inspired casting choice in the family. Danielle Harris ably transitions from playing Laurie Strode’s daughter Jamie Lloyd in the fourth and fifth Halloween series entries to playing one of her sexed-up best friends, Annie, here. After the traumatizing events of the first Zombie Halloween, Laurie (Scout Taylor-Compton) shacks up with Annie and her father, Sheriff Lee Brackett (Brad Dourif), and takes to a nasty drinking habit while working at a record shop and berating her therapist (Margot Kidder).
The strongest element of this universe is the fact that Rob Zombie doesn’t feel too beholden to the tone of the Carpenter original. Where several sequels (especially the fourth, fifth, sixth and eleventh entries) strive to essentially parrot the events and tone of the original, Zombie’s movie deviates distinctively in style. As in most Zombie flicks, his universe is populated almost entirely by either deviant hicks straight out of Texas Chainsaw Massacre, or punk-rockers straight out of a White Zombie music video. This is not a bad thing, and a refreshing change from a lot of the sequels. Zombie especially handles the events leading up to Michael Myers’ escape from Smith’s Grove and his babysitter killing spree with plenty of psychological intrigue.
The tragic relationship between Deborah Myers (Sheri Moon Zombie), young Michael Myers (Daeg Faerch), and Dr. Loomis serves as the first (and best) Zombie Halloween‘s twisted, beating heart. The Taylor-Compton vintage of Laurie stands as a big distinguishing feature of this timeline: she is overtly and aggressively sexual (when we first meet her, she does unspeakable things to a bagel to get a rise out of her mother at breakfast) where the Curtis Strode was shy, bookish, and virginal. Taylor-Compton is abrasive and pretty much the same as all her friends, where Curtis stood out.
4. The Halloween III Timeline: Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1983)
Halloween III operates within a totally separate, completely self-contained timeline, wherein the original Halloween (1978) is watched on TV, twice, by barfly ladies’ man Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins). Beyond that, there are plenty of talent corollaries in front of and behind the camera connecting Halloween III to its predecessors. The Michael Myers from Halloween II (1981), Dick Warlock, plays an evil robot henchman to our main baddie Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy). Jamie Lee Curtis plays the voices of a PA system announcing curfew and a phone operator. Nancy Loomis (Annie in the first two Halloween movies) plays the Atkins character’s irritable ex-wife.
Behind the scenes, Halloween III was produced by original Halloween director Carpenter and original Halloween producer Hill. Writer/director Tommy Lee Wallace had served as production designer and co-editor on the original Halloween. The MVP Award of Halloween franchise holdovers, though, has to be shared among three people: Halloween II composers Carpenter and Allan Howarth, responsible for Season of the Witch‘s brilliant soundtrack, and Dean Cundey, cinematographer on each of the first three Halloween movies. Cundey’s signature ominous ambience, conveyed through muted tones and plenty of wide shots, goes a long way towards making Halloween III feel of a piece with its predecessors, even though it occupies a supernatural horror/thriller space, as the story of a demented warlock mask maker, whereas most of the Michael Myers movies are strictly pragmatic slasher fare.
The Season of the Witch timeline, then, rises and falls on a single movie’s merits, unlike the other four timelines in this ranking. Halloween III is a solid entertainment, in the vein of foreboding Twilight Zone episode. Our antagonist’s motivations behind his cruel, commercial-cued child-murdering plot, as well as its basic execution (Will it be broadcast on every station, all over the world, or just in North America? Will it only affect the kids and families who own TV sets, and aren’t using them to watch something on a VCR?), are fairly indecipherable. Atkins and his leading lady Stacey Nelkin also lack the character depth of Laurie, Annie, Lynda and Dr. Loomis. It’s best not to think too hard about this stuff, and rather let the moody imagery and tonal synth score wash over you.
3. The Jamie Lloyd Timeline: Halloween (1978), Halloween II (1981), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
In which Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode and her anonymous husband die offscreen at some point in the 1980s, leaving behind a daughter, Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris in Return and Revenge, and, for about 15 minutes, JC Brandy in Curse), with a psychic connection to her hard-breathing uncle. It’s important to note, also, that we’re led to believe Michael Myers has been shot in both eyeballs at point-blank range by Laurie Strode at the conclusion of Halloween II — not to mention being burned to death by Dr. Loomis at Haddonfield Memorial Hospital. This is an issue that pops up again in the H20 Timeline (see below). Are we to believe that Laurie somehow missed Michael’s actual eyeballs, but instead shot him in the brow immediately above the eyeballs? Geographically, that’s the only other feasible location that could produce that kind of bleeding, no?
This timeline is rife with movie-to-movie retcons. For instance, we are expected to believe that both Myers and Loomis actually expired at the end of that movie, and yet, just in time for Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, both Loomis and Myers make their return. Despite being a bit crispy, with mild scarring on the face and hands — following the explosion — neither is particularly worse for wear.
If this timeline just took into account the first two, near-perfect Halloween movies and the very good Halloween 4, it might have climbed as high as #2 in these Timeline Power Rankings. Unfortunately, we also need to factor in Halloween 4‘s quickie followup, which sort of retcons its predecessor’s own daring ending. After Jamie Lloyd, Michael Myers’ nice, watches Myers get shot to death by a squadron of gunmen overlooking a small river, she swaps his oversized knife from the scene of the crime. Return ends with her having brutally stabbed her foster mother, wearing a similar clown outfit to the one her uncle wore while murdering his older sister in 1963. Like that moment in the original film, much of this attack is witnessed with some terrific POV camera work from behind Jamie’s clown mask, replete with immersive, panicked breathing. Perhaps its follow up would sport a female Myers?
Unfortunately, that’s not where Revenge wanted to go. immediately revives Michael, claiming that he slipped away and traveled down the stream. Jamie did not kill her foster mother, but merely maimed her in a moment of temporary insanity. Revenge and Curse spin the Michael story into the supernatural, claiming that Michael Myers has been mandated to kill due to the dictums of an ancient race of Druids, and that his supervisor at Smith’s Grove in the first Halloween, Dr. Wynn (Robert Phalen in the original, Mitchell Ryan in Curse), has been overseeing Michael’s murders behind-the-scenes. An increasingly unhinged Loomis essentially covers his greatest hits of explanations from prior franchise entries. Pleasence and Harris are terrific, but even they cannot save the incessantly silly Revenge. Curse was re-edited by producers after bitter tonal disputes with director Joe Chappelle, and after Pleasence passed during production, and it struggles to thread together a cogent ending.
Trying to explicitly explain Michael’s evil with protracted familial connections and this Druid plot line is doubly superfluous. What made Michael so creepy in the first Halloween was the fact that his victims were apparently selected at random.
2. The Blumhouse Timeline: Halloween (1978), Halloween (2018)
The new Halloween was produced by Jason Blum and his hitmakers at Blumhouse (Get Out, The Purge). The current storyline is basically a new crack at Halloween II, but because there have already been two Halloween II titles (in 1981 and 2009), this movie’s creators decided to call the latest franchise entry… Halloween. That means there are now three movies called Halloween in the Halloween saga (1978, 2007, and 2018). Points deducted. Halloween (2018) screenwriters David Gordon Green, Danny McBride and Jeff Fradley opted to eliminate every Halloween sequel and reboot, and make their new franchise entry a direct followup to the original. Thus, Laurie Strode is no longer Michael Myers’ sister in this universe, and has a daughter again, albeit a wholly different daughter than the one she had before. The daughter here, Karen (Judy Greer), is a tightly wound therapist who blames her mother for a rocky childhood. Karen’s daughter, Allyson (Andi Matichak), is a popular, hip, honor roll student without any of the apparent hangups of her mother or grandmother.
This means that Jamie Lloyd has been cruelly retconned out of existence twice in our #1 timeline. John Tate, Laurie’s son in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), also no longer exists. In addition to the headline-grabbing returns of Curtis (as Laurie) and Carpenter (as a composer and executive producer only) to their signature franchise, Halloween (which the terrific Consequence of Sound Halloween podcast Halloweenies has elected to call Hallo-Green) also boasts another welcome treat for fans. Nick Castle, who played Michael Myers/The Shape throughout most of the original Halloween, returns as an older Michael for one scene, where he and Laurie see each other for the first time in 40 years. Castle also supplied all the breathing sound effects.
Hallo-Green generally maintains the first movie’s minimalism — at times to the detriment of its character development. That said, it has several crackerjack action and horror set pieces and an exciting new take on the way Laurie Strode has been dealing with her demons all these years: she’s been booby-trapping her house into a survivalist den and teaching her family how to defend themselves. The biggest gripe this writer had with Hallo-Green‘s treatment of Laurie is that she remains somewhat distant and unknowable in a way that she was not in Halloween H20. We have no sense of what Laurie’s been doing for work in the 40 years since the initial Haddonfield murders. It’s also hard to believe that she would occupy the same town all this time later, especially considering how deep and traumatic an impact the death of her friends has had on her. Curtis, the Carpenter soundtrack and director of photography Michael Simmonds’ sinister camerawork all make this story feel simpatico with the first movie. After all of the prior movies’ strange twists and turns, it will be fun to see where the Blumhouse Timeline takes us next.
1. The H20 Timeline: Halloween (1978), Halloween II (1981), Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998) and Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
The H20 Timeline comprises, for my money, the three best Halloween movies. Yes, Halloween: Resurrection is bad, but at least it moves along well and tries to take the franchise into a new direction with a fresh reality show framework and new characters who bear zero strained connection to Laurie Strode. Resurrection isn’t an incoherent cutting room floor disaster like Curse, a far-too-wacky overreach like Revenge, or the abstract nihilist mess that was Zombie’s Halloween II. Sure, Busta Rhymes kung fu fights Michael Myers and yells “Trick or treat, motherfucker!” in wince-inducing moments of pure cheese. But trying to find any moment as memorable in Curse, Revenge or the Zombie II is a fool’s errand. That should count for something.
Really, though, the H20 Timeline lands at #1 because of its first three entries. In this universe, Halloween H20 resurrected Laurie Strode after the series waned following its inert fifth and sixth entries. Laurie faked the car accident that killed her some time between the events of Halloween II and Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, assumed a new identity (Keri Tate) and has become the head mistress of an elite private boarding school in Northern California. This is a cool position, and one that we feel the embattled survivor of the first two Halloween nightmares has truly earned. Seeing Laurie overcome the challenge of Michael Myers in Hallo-Green is satisfying, too, but we know he’ll be back in the inevitable follow-up. He always comes back. So that negates the power of her trapping and torching him at that film’s climax.Indeed, Nick Castle’s unmistakable heavy breathing envelopes the soundtrack after the Hallo-Green credits finish rolling. It’s more fun to find Laurie 20 years later, having overcome her trauma to some extent. That said, she still possesses some major flaws: a penchant for the sauce, and a significant heap of (justifiable) paranoia. This interpretation of Laurie is the stronger one.
H20 director Steve Miner, a veteran of Friday The 13th Part 2 and Friday The 13th Part 3, also decided to retroactively erase Laurie’s daughter Jamie (Danielle Harris) out of existence and replace Jamie with a son, John (Josh Hartnett). The original screenplay sported a scene where Laurie found out that Michael had murdered Jamie during Curse, but Miner insisted on a clean break from Jamie Lloyd and the Druid plot line.
The way Laurie offs Michael in H20, by stealing his body from an EMT truck, driving him down a hill and crushing him against a log with the force of the truck, then finally chopping off his head with an ax, occupies such an assertive power that it overwhelms the relatively ambiguous Hallo-Green basement burning. Granted, Resurrection instantly retcons this moment by claiming that Michael Myers crushed the larynx of the real EMT and switched places with him, causing Laurie to have a psychotic break. Because Curtis insisted on having Laurie die, she barely lasts 15 minutes during Resurrection (directed by Rick Rosenthal of Halloween II). Things fall apart from there, as Dangertainment reality TV producers Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks send a totally forgettable batch of horny coeds into Michael Myers’ childhood home, cover it with cameras, and are shocked to discover that Michael doesn’t take too kindly to strangers in house. Unfortunately, for my timeline rules, I have to honor every connected film across each timeline. Resurrection might leave a bitter aftertaste, but the thrills and chills of its direct timeline forebears are strong enough to make the H20 Timeline the best.
Reviewed by Alex Kirschenbaum