Ranking every 'Halloween,' from 1978 original to 2018's record-setting reboot

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John Carpenter’s original <em>Halloween</em> in 1978 introduced the horror icon Michael Myers. (Photo: Everett Collection)
John Carpenter’s original Halloween in 1978 introduced the horror icon Michael Myers. (Photo: Everett Collection)

Michael Myers can’t be stopped — as evidenced, once more, by this weekend’s record-setting Halloween, the 11th film in the 40-year-old franchise. For his latest go-round, the white-masked serial killer journeys, as usual, to his hometown of Haddonfield, Ill., where a PTSD-afflicted Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is waiting for him. The reboot has proven hugely successfully, raking in $77.5 million at the box office and, as Curtis gleefully noted on Instagram, setting many milestones.

It’s an old-school, back-to-basics sequel whose primary innovation is ignoring everything that followed John Carpenter’s 1978 original — including the idea (introduced in Halloween II) that Michael and Laurie are brother and sister. While such reinvention serves its story relatively well, horror fans may not be so quick to discard the majority of the famed series, which has endured its fair share of highs and lows since its legendary inception. In celebration of Michael’s reappearance on the silver screen (and, presumably, in moviegoers’ nightmares), we present our ranking of every Halloween installment to date.

11. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)

There may have been no lamer way to revive Michael Myers for the new millennium than to stick him in a reality-TV-drenched thriller, and yet Halloween: Resurrection does just that, having him stalk a bunch of insufferable twentysomethings who’ve been recruited to stay the night in Michael’s Haddonfield home for a live internet broadcast. That the online program in question is called Dangertainment and is the brainchild of Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks says it all — this is a shoddy third-rate endeavor that compensates for its dearth of terror by indulging in lots of loud-mouthed wise-cracking. Jamie Lee Curtis makes an introductory cameo as Laurie, thus closing the book on her Halloween H20 storyline, but she’d have been better served avoiding this disaster altogether.

10. Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

Who is the mysterious Man in Black that freed Michael from imprisonment at the end of Halloween 5? Apparently, he’s a druid whose cult has given Michael his undead powers (via a curse dubbed, laughably, “Thorn”), and which has also impregnated Michael’s niece Jamie Lloyd (J.C. Brandy). Her baby eventually winds up in the hands of Tommy (Paul Rudd, in his debut screen performance), the now-grown boy who survived Michael’s maiden massacre alongside Laurie Strode in 1978. The ensuing DOA story finds Michael pursuing Tommy and other relatives — and, of course, Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance, who died before the film’s release) — in perfunctory fashion, with director Joe Chappelle doing little to enliven Michael’s stale routine, even in the extended “Producer’s Cut.”

9. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)

Lest you think David Gordon Green’s new sequel is the first time the series has rewritten its history, let me call your attention to Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, which erased all but the first two franchise entries — and pitted a now-adult Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) against her homicidal brother Michael. Part of the late-‘90s post-Scream teen-horror boom, this tedious entry dispenses cornball scares and a faux-“final” showdown between its brute and heroine (who’s still traumatized by Michael’s 1978 reign of terror). With a cast that also includes Josh Harnett as Laurie’s son and Michelle Williams as his girlfriend, as well as LL Cool J as a security guard, it’s a dated reboot best left forgotten.

8. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)

Halloween 4 ended on a fitting back-to-the-beginning note in which Michael’s young niece Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris) took up her uncle’s mantle, meaning there was little non-financial reason to continue the saga. Nonetheless, Halloween 5 does just that, having Michael resume his hunt for Jamie, who’s now mute due to her prior traumatic encounter with the behemoth. Guided by Donald Pleasance’s sound-the-alarm pleading as Dr. Loomis, this chapter offers nothing new — save, that is, for the fact that, throughout his rampage, Michael is trailed by a mysterious Man in Black who, at film’s end, breaks him out of prison. That shadowy figure’s identity is left as a tantalizing cliffhanger, which is resolved, in dispiriting fashion, by 1995’s inferior Halloween 6.

7. Halloween (2018)

Sometimes you can’t go home again. Erasing all but John Carpenter’s 1978 gem (in a manner not unlike H20), David Gordon Green’s unoriginally titled Halloween finds Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) preparing for the inevitable arrival of Michael Myers, who is (thanks to the non-existence of Halloween II and its sibling bombshell) not her brother but, instead, just an epic monster. Though Green’s direction and Curtis’s performance are equally sharp, there’s a tired quality to these proceedings — in part because, for all of their mythology reconfiguration, they play by rather straightforward series rules. More admirable than outright scary, the film proves too polished for its own good. And its moments of self-aware humor don’t help.

6. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)

Halloween III’s poor box-office showing proved that audiences didn’t want stand-alone holiday tales — they wanted to see the masked fiend with the butcher knife carve up unsuspecting victims. The Return of Michael Myers definitely delivers on that score, having the killer travel to Haddonfield on another family-murdering mission — namely, to slay his niece (and Laurie’s daughter), Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris). Donald Pleasance’s reprisal of his role as Dr. Loomis only further makes this a give-them-what-they-want sort of effort, with predictably modest results. Director Dwight H. Little crafts a few decent suspense sequences, and Harris’s frazzled turn (performed mostly in a clown costume) prevents this sequel from unduly sullying its bogeyman’s good name.

5. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)

After Halloween II, John Carpenter and Debra Hill tried to turn the franchise into an anthology series, and while their first stab at a non-Michael Myers enterprise — Halloween III: Season of the Witch — didn’t connect with audiences, it remains far better than its box-office fortunes imply. Forgoing slasher tactics altogether, director Tommy Lee Wallace’s film concerns a doctor (Tom Atkins) who unearths a conspiracy orchestrated by Silver Shamrock Novelties president Conal Cochran (Dan O’Herlihy) to bring about an age of Celtic witchcraft via the use of children’s Halloween masks. Robots and Stonehenge are all part of this sinister stew, whose chilling finale remains as memorable as anything found in the Myers-entric sequels that arrived in its wake.

4. Halloween (2007)

The world didn’t need a Halloween do-over, and yet Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake takes a sturdy — and vicious — approach to Carpenter’s standard-bearer. For its first half, it’s a psychologically rich origin story about Michael Myers (Tyler Mane), detailing the wretched redneck home life and school-bullying upbringing that warped him into a titanic killing machine. In its latter going, it’s akin to a heavy-metal homage to its illustrious source material, with the writer-director ably wielding Carpenter-esque widescreen to create a sense of oppressive doom. Buoyed by stinging brutality and a strong Malcolm McDowell performance as Dr. Loomis, Zombie’s work finds myriad ways to not only justify its existence, but to bring something new and nasty to the table.

3. Halloween II (1981)

John Carpenter chose not to return to the director’s chair for 1981’s follow-up, but he and Debra Hill did write Rick Rosenthal’s film, which picks up in the immediate aftermath of the first story, with Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance) searching for the missing Michael Myers and Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) being taken to a local hospital — where she and others are soon preyed upon by the unstoppable villain. The big twist in Halloween II is that Laurie is Michael’s sister, thus providing a clear motivation for his killing spree. Better than that revelation, however, are stylish set pieces (including one in a hydrotherapy tub) that reasonably approximate Carpenter’s pioneering predecessor.

2. Halloween II (2009)

For 2009’s Halloween II, Rob Zombie plunges Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) and Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) into even darker territory, with the former plagued by David Lynch-esque visions of his mother (Sheri Moon Zombie) and a white steed, and the latter tormented by mounting inner demons. Ruthlessly segueing between hallucinatory dreaminess and battering-ram horror, it further develops its protagonists’ screwy psychology — including Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell), now peddling a book about his prior run-in with Michael — while dialing its bleakness up to unbearably intense levels. Freed from operating in Carpenter’s shadow, Zombie generates relentless, gorgeously grim dread and, in doing so, fashions the only great franchise entry besides the one that started it all.

1. Halloween (1978)

One of the most profitable indies ever made, as well as the film most responsible for giving birth to the modern slasher genre, John Carpenter’s 1978 groundbreaker remains the series’ inarguable crowning achievement. Introducing a figure of iconic evil in Michael Myers, who preys upon the residents of Haddonfield on the trick-or-treating holiday, it boasts horror’s most famous — and effective — musical theme, and made a star out of Jamie Lee Curtis (as babysitter Laurie Strode). Moreover, it continues to be a terrifying tale of unthinkable evil rampaging through a sleepy suburban idyll, energized by Carpenter’s magnificent widescreen cinematography and methodically menacing pacing. Toss in Donald Pleasance’s magnificent performance as Michael’s former psychologist Dr. Samuel Loomis, and you have a classic that, four decades after its debut, has lost none of its terrifying power.

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[Editor’s note: This story was original published Oct. 19, 2018.]