THN HalloweenFest Day 31: Halloween Franchise

‘It’s Halloween, everyone’s entitled to one good scare.’ 

After 30 entries into HalloweenFest – THN’s celebration of all things horror – I find myself under a great deal of pressure. After all, I did volunteer to write up the finest suspense film of all time, which quickly turned into a rundown of the whole damn franchise.

Yes, I’m a huge HALLOWEEN fan and own every film/version (good or bad). I even refuse to part with my gorgeous gatefold laserdisc of the original movie, despite no longer having a machine on which to play the bugger. When it comes to horror there’s no one I like to see dispatching wayward teens more than Michael Myers.

So after 30 horror-tastic days, it’s time to relive the night (all right, nights) he came home…

HALLOWEEN (1978) dir.  John Carpenter

After 15 years locked away, psychopathic Michael Myers escapes and returns to the town where as six-year-old child he murdered his own sister. He returns, of course, to complete his murderous masterpiece. It’s very straightforward stuff. And so it should be – HALLOWEEN is the slasher genre in its truest form, largely due to Carpenter’s simplistic approach to suspense. Each viewing springs a surprise as our ‘bogeyman’ often appears out of thin air, lingering in the shadows with his blank, white mask – truly disturbing. Myers haunts each frame, moving with a lack of urgency that makes his motives all the more mysterious and terrifying.

But it’s not just about the visual scares. Carpenter’s synthesised music score is as iconic as anything in film, and his writing is perfectly lean – ‘The blackest eyes, the devil’s eyes,’ Dr Loomis says of Myers, who grows from disturbed child to silent but determined nut-job. The film also made Jamie Lee Curtis (playing Laurie Strode) a scream queen superstar, but it’s Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Sam Loomis that gives HALLOWEEN its psychological and human edge, with his obsessive attempts to recapture his escaped patient and warn the town it’s in for one hell of a night. Also, the ambiguous, supernatural-esque conclusion is masterful…’Was that that the Boogeyman?’ ‘As a matter of fact, that was.’

HALLOWEEN II (1981) dir. Rick Rosenthal

The plot this time explains why Myers targets Laurie Strode – she’s his sister as it turns out – and it actually works quite well (despite the now short-haired Curtis’ dodgy wig). The new revelations feel natural and have since become ingrained into popular culture and the overall franchise. What’s great about this first sequel is that it follows directly after Carpenter’s original, with Myers following survivor Laurie to Haddonfield Hospital to finish the job.

To get the best out of this movie – ‘More Of The Night He Came Home’ – means watching it straight after HALLOWEEN and view it as one complete experience. It has the same atmospheric feel, which is possibly due the Carpenter’s involvement as both co-writer and producer alongside Debra Hill. However, behind the scenes, trouble was stirring after Universal acquired the rights and hired Rick Rosenthal to helm. Though Carpenter was happy enough to step aside, he became increasingly despondent with the direction of the film (he stepped in and directed a number of key scenes which give HALLOWEEN II a much needed lift). As expected with most sequels, the studio pressed for more gore, and have Myers dispatch victims with much more bloodshed and ferociousness. During filming, Carpenter also shot a number scenes to be included in his extended television cut of his first film, which adds a fascinating dimension by hinting at the family connection between the two characters.

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH (1982) dir. Tommy Lee Wallace

The franchise took an entirely Myer-less turn with production designer Tommy Lee Wallace (and close friend of Carpenter) making his directorial debut for this science-fiction-styled offering. SEASON OF THE WITCH recently featured in our ‘Guilty Pleasures’ season (which you can read more HERE) and sees maniacal toy-maker Conal Cochran (Daniel O’ Herlihy) conjure up a fiendish plot to murder the entire child population of the US by using his newly-designed latex masks, all to continue a centuries old tradition. What a bastard!

The film was a major box-office dud as most audiences expected more murderous mayhem from Michael Myers (as did I), something that left me hating HALLOWEEN III for years. It’s now looked upon as the ‘black sheep’ of the franchise, which is a shame because the film really is an underrated gem. Yes, looking back it’s dated badly, but as a standalone effort, it has an unsettling edge and dared try something different to most franchises in the genre. Plus, it has the great character actor and Carpenter regular, Tom Atkins headlining… always a bonus!

HALLOWEEN IV: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS (1988) dir. Dwight H. Little 

I was nine years old when I passed a cinema that had multiple posters for HALLOWEEN 4 plastered on it’s doors. To me, that was like Christmas, knowing another HALLOWEEN was on the way, and this time with Myers back! I know what you’re thinking, nine years old and excited about seeing a man murder people, that’s a disgrace! Tell that to New Line Cinema, who turned a horrifically scarred nonce into a child’s plaything with their Freddy Kruger merchandise… Unable to tempt Curtis back to the series, the film sees Laurie’s young orphaned daughter Jamie (Danielle Harris) try to integrate herself with a new family after her mother’s fatal car crash. It’s made all the more difficult by the arrival of Uncle Michael. Having supposedly been stuck in a coma after the burning conclusion of Part II, an idiotic decision to transfer him upstate on a certain calendar date sets him on another rampage – and he’s about to pay little Jamie a visit.

HALLOWEEN 4 is preposterous fun, attempting to play out as a straight follow-up to HALLOWEEN II – seeing Pleasence back as Dr Loomis is the highlight. It kind of works and I have to be on honest and say I loved it initially and still hold a fondness for it even now. It does the right things when it needs to but the new design mask is pretty shite and loses the blank, soulless impact of the Shatner original (Google it if you don’t know). The original mask was used on the promotional posters and video jackets to hook you in – the lying bastards. The beginning of the end but a welcome return nonetheless.

HALLOWEEN V: THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1989) dir. Dominque Othenin-Girard 

Set (and shot) a year later, HALLOWEEN 5 sees the emotionally scarred Jamie now holed-up in a children’s home after her sinister transformation in the previous film. She’s damaged (much like us by the conclusion of this effort) and Michael’s body has yet to be found after last year’s explosive conclusion. Of course, Myers awakens from his slumber to slice and dice on Halloween night, leaving Jamie to wonder will he come back to kill or keep her. (‘And why the fuck did my parents audition me for such crap?’ she must be asking herself).

Attempting a similar stance as the first two films with a quick turnaround of the events (and production), all three significant characters, Jamie (Harris) Rachel (Ellie Cornell) and Loomis (Pleasence) from HALLOWEEN 4 return but THE REVENGE OF MICHAEL MYERS is staggeringly shit. The film is easily the worst in the series and whilst HALLOWEEN Parts I and II feel like companion pieces, Parts 4 and 5 couldn’t feel any further from each other despite the returning talent. We actually have ‘comedy sound effects’ for Haddonfield’s inept cops, no continuation of location, and a plot as thin as the blade of Myers’ kitchen knife. The ‘surprise’ ending attempts to explain the killer’s actions over the series so far; he’s apparently some supernatural cult’s human puppet. Why? Fuck knows, because it never works.

HALLOWEEN VI: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS (1995) dir. Joe Chappelle

A frail Pleasence came back six years later for one final confrontation with his former patient and sadly passed away during filming, which probably explained why we saw his character shoddily finished off. THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS improves on the previous mask design but once again follows the dire ‘controlled-by-cult’ plot. We also follow a grown-up and troubled Tommy Doyle (Paul Rudd), one of the children Laurie babysits in the original film – it seems he’s become increasingly focused on finding out the truth behind Myers’ motivations, and just who it is pulling the strings. Of course, Michael is about to resurface for more murderous shenanigans involving Jamie.

Again, it’s supposedly set in Haddonfield with the final act following characters to the now unfamiliar-looking Smiths Grove Asylum. But it doesn’t quite have the same spirit of first two features or a nerve-shredding climax, although it’s a seizure inducing one (strobe-lights). The suspense factor has long since disappeared with another hulking stuntman now playing Myers, who also wields the odd hatchet in this instalment. Utter bollocks.

HALLOWEEN: H20 (1997) dir. Steve Miner

Steve Miner did a great job with this reboot-like sequel thanks to a script by SCREAM and I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER screenwriter Kevin Williamson, who pays homage to his all-time favourite genre film. It erases the previous four films and plays as a straight sequel to HALLOWEEN II, with Jamie Lee Curtis returning as Laurie – it’s years later and she’s now an overprotective mother and high-school principal, still struggling to cope with ‘the night he came home’ (though she tries her best with a few stiff drinks). The great future talent on show certainly helps the film along, with Michelle Williams, Josh Hartnett and Joseph Gordon-Levitt cropping up as victims. There’s also a number of intense and creepy set-pieces, particularly the impressive head-lopping finale.

The disappointing aspect is the inclusion of a ‘comic-relief’ character, with rapper L.L. Cool J appearing in his acting debut as a ‘loveable’ security guard, lightening the mood when there is really no need. It’s also worth pointing out the new sleeker mask didn’t sit well with Dimension Films, who ordered reshoots for a number of close-up shots with a design closer to the original. Unfortunately, it’s edited together poorly and you’re often able to spot their lesser mask during many cutaway scenes before it was replaced. Carpenter’s theme music also is given a more orchestral feel and just doesn’t feel as if it belongs to the franchise. Still, HALLOWEEN H20 is easily the best since Part II by some distance.

HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION (2002) dir. Rick Rosenthal

The working title (MICHAELMYERS.COM) of Rick Rosenthal’s return to the series should tell you all you need to know about the absurdity of where next our villain would venture. The alternative home-movie opening, which was scrapped just before it hit cinemas (but can be viewed HERE), showed some genuinely disturbing promise but ultimately undid the previous good work of Miner’s film. Curtis is cheaply dispatched in the opening minutes after we discover she’d not taken Michael’s head off at the end of H20, but the head of an ambulance driver. A year later, she’s institutionalised and expecting Michael’s return, finally succumbing to his determination.

The rise of the Internet sees the plot centre on a willing group of participants eager to spend a night at the notorious Myers house for a live web show – only for Michael to crash the party, naturally. This is where the dynamic (pathetic) duo of Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks come in, smearing excrement on the screen (not literally, although they may well have) and expecting us the buy into their plight. Had Myers not dispatched them, I would have happily murdered them myself.

HALLOWEEN (2007) dir. Rob Zombie

After enjoying the hell out of Rob Zombie’s intensely savage HOUSE OF A 1000 CORPES and THE DEVIL’S REJECTS, I was overjoyed to see his name attached this remake of the original 1978 classic. I felt he’d bring something refreshing to a franchise now teetering on the brink of desperation – at the time it seemed like a reboot/remake was needed.

Tonally, it’s a much more in-your-face effort than Carpenter’s unsettling original, attempting to examine a serial killer’s early beginnings, his ascent to a seven-foot psychopathic mute, then offering a new sexually graphic interpretation of his escape. The first half certainly feels like a new chapter and shows promise, but the decision to rush and retrace the original’s steps in the last 50 minutes and cram in as much massacring as possible is misjudged. Also, the character development feels stretched, removing any emotion felt for the victims – it becomes cold and indifferent.

Zombie’s insistence on casting a number of genre veterans and cult favourites (including stunning wife Sheri Moon and Dannielle Harris from HALLOWEEN 4 and 5) also distracts from the story, meaning you’re attempting to place the face rather than enjoy the film. Still, unlike many other filmmakers, Zombie stamps his authority on the film by giving us his harsher take on the original material. A CLOCKWORK ORANGE’s legendary Malcolm McDowell as Dr. Sam Loomis comes across as an asshole, and has since admitted to having never seen the original or the terrific performance from Donald Pleasence. McDowell apparently wanted to give his own interpretation – not seeing how the brilliant original played out is a bad move.

HALLOWEEN II (2009) dir. Rob Zombie

Contractual obligations forced Zombie to return for the sequel (something he was really unhappy about) with H2 seeing masked maniac Myers return a year later as a long-bearded hobo with a mother complex – her ‘ghost’ guides him on a path to finish the job he started. It comes across as a desperate effort with the decision to include wife Sheri Moon (after her character’s suicide in the first remake) never engaging at all and consequently, it’s easily Zombie’s weakest film.

McDowell is back as Loomis, and is even more of an annoying prick this time. Again, there are surplus appearances from his genre/cult faves, but the all-new original story (and not a retread of the original sequel) is truly dire. Perhaps bringing Zombie back was a mistake if his heart was never really in it – he’s clearly more comfortable with his own original, twisted tales.

If you’re looking to view any of these films for the first time or possibly for a horror marathon tonight, I suggest it’s best to line-up HALLOWEEN (1978), HALLOWEEN 2 (1981) and HALLOWEEN H20 (1997), to get the best of Michael’s murderous mayhem.

Check out the rest of out HalloweenFest here. Happy Halloween!

Craig is leading the charge as our north east correspondent, proving that it’s so ‘grim up north’ that losing yourself in a world of film is a foregone prerequisite. He has been studying the best (and often worst) of both classic and modern cinema at the University of Life for as long as he can remember. Craig’s favorite films include THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION, JFK, GOODFELLAS, SCARFACE, and most of John Carpenter’s early work, particularly THE THING and HALLOWEEN.

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