In the screenplay for Halloween, John Carpenter & Debra Hill repeatedly refer to Michael Myers as "the Shape." Featureless. Silent. Oppressively non-specific. Like the idea of the boogeyman, Myers is crafted as a blank canvas upon which the audience might project their own worst fears. There is no rhyme or reason to the boogeyman, he is simply whatever goes bump in the night. He is a stand-in for a mugger in an alleyway, a predator in the bushes at a public park, or a racist cop with an axe to grind. Carpenter knew that he couldn't manufacture any fears that would be worse than what lies in his audience's own subconscious, so he set the film not in Romania or some remote desert town, but in Haddonfield, Illinois, smack dab in the middle of suburban tranquility. He cast relatively unknown actors & he directed them to act ordinary. He shot in homes that could be found on any suburban street in America because he knew that fear came from within, not without.
Previous to Halloween, this was not the way that things were done.
Early horror films went to great lengths using elaborate make-up & special effects or extravagant set pieces to transport the audience to the terror. Films like Dracula & Frankenstein were set in places like Transylvania or Bavaria: far off lands, which made the films seem larger than life, but meant that the fear stayed at the theater. After viewing Halloween, however, the fear would follow the audience back to their suburban neighborhood. John Carpenter would shatter his audience's sense of security with a film that was every bit as revolutionary as it was ordinary.
But this is not a trick that you can pull off twice. The Shape is a character intended to be felt & not seen. So the more he appears, the more definition the character takes on, the more mythology is fleshed out, the less the audience is able to project their own fears upon him. And when the character himself begins to overshadow the viewer's own personal anxieties, it might as well be any other slasher film. Michael becomes a person in a time & place with specific motivations which may not pertain to the audience. And that makes him less scary. And it explains why the franchise has tried so many times, creating so many conflicting continuities, to return to the magic of the original film.
But even though the original Halloween may never be matched, there's plenty of great horror to be found within the sequels & reboots if you know where to look. So without further ado, here are the 12 Halloween films ranked.
12. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
Unsurprisingly, the Halloween entry released at the peak of the Pimp My Ride era comes in dead last. Resurrection reaches for an mTV audience, casting Busta Rhymes & Tyra Banks as enterprising reality web show producers who outfit the Myers House with webcams & invite a bunch of fame hungry teenagers to spend the night. Michael Myers is not amused. Chaos ensues in the cringiest of all Halloweens. Rating: 20
11. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Poor Paul Rudd's feature debut & Donald Pleasance's final performance as Dr. Loomis is marred by an overwrought occult narrative where pivotal plot points must be explained like it's a Scooby Doo show. The ending is so supremely anti-climactic that you have to imagine that even the crew were just in it to get the Thorn Trilogy over & done with. Rating: 28
10. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Halloween 5 marks the moment that the franchise careens off into the truly absurd as it doubles down on Michael's supernatural relationship with his niece, Jamie Lloyd. Any pretense of exploring the psyche of a psychotic murderer is completely abandoned as the series turns instead to obtuse occultism. Danielle Harris tries her best to will this film into watchability as the now mute Jamie Lloyd, but there's no compensating for filmmakers who display open contempt for the source material. Rating: 42
9. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
Michael Myers returns to Haddonfield, this time to murder his six year old niece in the first entry of the Thorn Trilogy. In many ways, John Carpenter's attempt to tie up loose ends & explode Michael at the end of Halloween II set the stage for how ridiculous the sequels would become. In other words, the degree to which Carpenter tried to provide finality to Halloween II dictated the lengths to which Halloween 4 would have go to supernaturally explain Michael's return. And the film ultimately buckles under the added weight of supernaturality, explosions, car chases, & vigilante townspeople. Jamie Lloyd & Rachel Carruthers are two of the most likable protagonists of the series, & Donald Pleasance does an admirable job attempting to provide continuity with the earlier films, but even the casting can't save a film that was made in spite of its predecessors. Rating: 52
8. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
The Halloween franchise was right to abandon the Michael Myers story after its conclusion in Halloween II, but Halloween III fails to create the same sense of high stakes terror as the original. It's a great sci-fi mystery on its own, but as a Halloween film, it never treats the children, who are placed in imminent danger by deadly Halloween masks, as anything more than necessary plot devices. No, you can't recreate the original. But you can get a lot closer than this. Rating: 58
7. Halloween II (1981)
In Halloween II, Michael follows Laurie Strode to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital to finish the job he started. But though the story takes place on the very same night as the original film, copycat films like Friday the 13th & the Burning had been released in 1980 & 1981, upping the ante for blood & guts. Halloween II falls victim to this corn syrup arms race, introducing new characters ostensibly for Michael to slash his way through in increasingly gory ways as he hunts down Laurie. As a mindless slasher, it holds its own. But like the other copycat films, it remains a pale imitation of the original. Rating: 68
6. Halloween Kills (2021)
Halloween Kills is a mixed bag. It's gorgeously shot, Michael Myers' vengeful rampage is thrilling, & a number of the Haddonfield rando vignettes are terrific. But the the film spends so much time & effort needlessly backfilling 40 years of history that even the great parts feel rushed. There's parts that are genuinely funny, but then campy stretches that feel completely out of place. There's a good movie in here. You just have to look for it. Rating: 78
5. Halloween (2007)
Rob Zombie's Halloween is not a perfect film. And, in fact, it's ham-fisted at times. But his key insight into the franchise was that simply telling the original story twice will not be scary. You must approach it from a new angle & Rob chose to explore how dysfunction & trauma breed violence. There's an element of familial chaos, borrowed from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre. A toxic maternal devotion from Friday the 13th. And the institutional incubation from the original Halloween. And in exploring the psyche of Michael Myers, Zombie lands somewhere much closer to Carpenter's original rumination on the Mask of Sanity than previous sequels, which sought supernatural explanations for Michael's psychopathy. Zombie leans into it. And despite a number of valid criticisms, he creates a very successful reboot. Rating: 80
4. Halloween (2018)
David Gordon Green's Laurie Strode is all but unrecognizable from the Laurie Strode we're introduced to in the original film. She is a woman re-shaped by by one Halloween night, padlocked in a doomsday shelter, awaiting her destiny: a rematch with her abuser. If the original Halloween is about fear, this sequel is about trauma. If the original is about survival, this one is about revenge. And as a movie of the #metoo era, it provides every bit of the catharsis that a society dealing with predation & victimhood was looking for. But, despite the overtly heavy themes, it doesn't take itself too seriously. It's actually the funniest Halloween film. And that's a tough balance to strike, but they make it work. Rating: 83
3. Halloween II (2009)
Zombie digs deeper into pain & trauma in one of the most darkly beautiful entries in the franchise. Michael interprets his mother's suicide as a cleansing moment, an escape from the bullying & objectification of this world, & sets out to offer the same to his sister, reuniting his family in tranquil death. This confusion between love & hate, the righteous & the profane, is the backbone of the film, offering a new dynamic as Zombie finally escapes the studio's pressure to recreate the original. Rating: 85
2. Halloween H20 (1998)
In many ways, Keri Tate is the most believable evolution of Laurie Strode. It seems natural that bookish Laurie would escape to California, change her name, & become the dean of a prep school, drowning her trauma in tall glasses of white wine. And so when she's confronted by Michael after so much time, it feels intimately familiar. Parts of the cat & mouse sequence could be scarier. (Most of the cafeteria scene could've been left on the editing floor & it would be a better movie.) But despite its flaws, Halloween sets high stakes because of the sense of continuity.
For 20 years, Halloween was like most horror franchises: surviving off of the success of the original, delivering sequels that were each worse than the last, & straying further & further from what once made the franchise unique. But H20 proved that a sequel could be more than a knock-off. It proved that you could revisit what made the original so good & create something new by adding the perspective of time. H20 is--more than any other Halloween film--firmly planted in both the past & the present. It acknowledges the past, but never dwells on it. And in doing so paved the way for two more decades of Halloween films. Cheers to that. Rating: 88
1. Halloween (1978)
The film that changed horror. Michael Myers escapes from a sanitarium on Halloween night & returns to his hometown to continue the killing spree he started at 6 years old. Rating: 99