Ranking, dissecting the “Halloween” series

Halloween Main

“It’s Halloween. I guess everyone’s entitled to one good scare.”

John Carpenter’s Halloween is no easy (or advisable) act to follow. Heaven knows many have tried. Over forty years, all manner of reverent pretenders, well-intentioned imitators, and outright thieves have approached the throne, even a couple bearing Carpenter’s own tacit seal of approval. The now-eleven official Halloween films feed into a self-writing narrative concerning the blight and bloat of horror’s most lucrative, long-running franchises, and Halloween sits comfortably alongside Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street at the top of any list of genre royalty, whether as the target of praise or scorn. Though, outside of scattered moments in the first movie and its 2018 “sequel”, Halloween has always taken itself with the utmost seriousness, the franchise’s chronic issues with continuity, motivations, and common sense have become something of a running joke. The base story of a six-year-old boy who inexplicably kills his teenage sister and then escapes the mental hospital where he’s spent fifteen years as a subject of fascination, only to return to his hometown and his murderous ways on Halloween night, should be (and is) simplicity itself. Carpenter wisely presents the grown-up Michael Myers as a primal force – only overtly evil – instead of a human being, unreachable and unstoppable, unknowable but hardly unpredictable. As terrorized babysitter Laurie Strode, Jamie Lee Curtis describes Myers as “The Bogeyman” and is incredulous when, in Halloween II, she learns her attacker has been the stuff of local legend her whole life. This characterization is crucial. The Bogeyman is an aspect of fear that lives in the imagination of every child. The Bogeyman has staying power. The Bogeyman is eternal.

So how and why was Laurie notoriously, nonsensically retconned into becoming Michael Myers’ sister? Why wasn’t Judith Myers home babysitting her, instead of making out with her boyfriend on the night of Michael’s long-ago heel turn? Speaking of Michael – how did this still young man who had effectively affected catatonia since the age of six, doing nothing and interacting with no one, even know what “Samhain” was, let alone feel the need to break into an elementary school and cryptically scrawl the word in blood on a classroom blackboard? Why his deadly, all-consuming obsession with Strode’s own daughter Jamie (get it?) once Curtis decided she’d had enough of the character and allowed her to be killed off in the late ‘80s? Why not flip the script and just kill freelance for a while – you know, for the hell of it? How in the world could Myers or his own personal Captain Ahab, Dr. Sam Loomis, possibly survive that massive, climactic gas explosion at Haddonfield Memorial? What, beyond shocking contrast, was really the point of making the Myers parents boring suburbanites in one timeline and white trash in the reboot? How could former “Girl Scout” and honor roll nerd Laurie Strode not be observant enough as an adult to at least decapitate the right guy? When and under what circumstances exactly did Michael Myers become a hitman for a Druid cult?

How, in fact, did he know how to drive a car after spending almost his entire youth as a ward of the state? Loomis asks, Carpenter punts. Missing from the odd handful of scenes later shot to pad out Halloween’s initial broadcast version, I imagine, was the inevitable flashback to Michael taking a break from being a solitary mute freak long enough to steal a wistful glance at an issue of Popular Mechanics in the sanitarium library.

Please, no. Keep it simple, stupid. Michael Myers lost his essential humanity when he was six years old. He is a stalking, implacable agent of pure evil, and he’s coming to end you like he just ended your friends. Period. The lack of further explanation should (and does) only serve to make him more terrifying, while expository excess, no matter how simpering or sly, generally creates the exact opposite effect. Carpenter, who devised the rules in the first place, understood that for a while. He never intended the nascent series to actually become one, but the money offered by Universal Studios just proved to be too green. David Gordon Green understands it more or less. The nine films that fall between the sublime bookends they’ve provided make for a violently mixed, occasionally incoherent, but still generally entertaining goody bag of autumnal mayhem. To celebrate the fortieth anniversary of what is still my favorite horror movie – and one of my favorites ever of any genre – I’ll dump the contents of that bag onto my bed and try to sort them out. Grab some popcorn and settle in with me.

Halloween Welcome

1) Halloween

Year: 1978 (Act 1, original and revised timelines)

Director: John Carpenter

Tone: Patient (comma, inhumanly)

Halloween 1Nutshell: Even after all the imitations and homages, decades of water under the bridge and various grades of bloody schlock painting our movie screens, watching John Carpenter’s original Halloween is still an experience like no other. The shadow it casts on the “Slasher” subgenre it popularized and helped codify is more like an eclipse. The evocative small town setting, the exquisite widescreen compositions, the excruciatingly deliberate pacing, the mythic killer with his blank slate of a mask pursuing characters worth rooting for (for a change), the emphasis on brutal suspense over blood, the nerve rattling score, the masterful cat-and-mouse climax, the eerie, open-ended ending – everything is visualized and deployed with a keen understanding of what makes fear work in the gut of a viewer. When, in commemoration of DAE’s second ever Halloween, I had my own occasion to finally review the movie, I wrote almost 3000 words on it and, even then, still had to force myself to stop. I’m loath to risk repeating myself too much here with such an undertaking ahead of me, so I’ll largely let Halloween speak for itself. Forty years later, it is a masterpiece of atmospheric craft that plays as well as ever, as well as cinematic horror perhaps ever has, brimming with thoughtful, effective, elusive qualities that set it comfortably apart from contemporary and imitator alike.

Cast likeability/relatability: Halloween’s trio of chatty babysitters set a standard for the naturalistic portrayal of doomed teenagers that would last for decades, or at least, with Wes Craven’s Scream, until so much time had passed that characters who were themselves horror fans now paid the film explicit homage. Sympathetic to her core, a debuting Jamie Lee Curtis plays the virginal bookworm and prototypical “final girl” Laurie Strode, who sees (or imagines she sees) infamous killer Michael Myers all over town in the lead-up to a truly memorable Halloween night. Across the street babysits Laurie’s best friend, Annie Brackett (Nancy Loomis), smart-assed daughter of the local sheriff. Their mutual friend Lynda (P.J. Soles) drops by with boyfriend Bob in tow after Annie’s evening has already ended prematurely, but, buzzed, horny, and giggly, they hardly notice. Sheriff Brackett (Charles Cyphers) competently continues the proud tradition of movie lawmen who are grouchy, counterproductive skeptics right up until the last plausible minute. Donald Pleasance plays Michael’s nemesis, court-appointed psychiatrist Sam Loomis, as a sort of rare designer dog breed of scientist: the steely but emotional wild-eyed rationalist. Having spent fifteen years observing Michael Myers and internalizing the potential threat he poses, Dr. Loomis now works to convince others and, where he can, prevent loss of life, which is an admittedly difficult task when you’re busy chewing scenery.

Notables: Though only Donald Pleasence was a name at the time – he played Ernst Stavro Blofeld in You Only Live Twice, for heaven’s sake – almost every principal in this film has achieved lasting notoriety due to his or her association with it. Casting Jamie Lee Curtis, the talented daughter of Janet Leigh, in a movie that owed so much to Psycho was Halloween’s true coup, but P.J. Soles went on to co-star with Sissy Spacek and John Travolta in Brian DePalma’s Carrie and the frigging Ramones in Rock & Roll High School, in addition to what one assumes were multiple unsuccessful attempts to trademark the word “totally”. Charles Cyphers continued to benefit from a grandfathered position in Carpenter’s unofficial repertory company (with Pleasence, Nancy Loomis, Tom Atkins, et al), and was a sight for sore eyes as put-upon front office lackey Charlie Donovan in 1989’s Major League. Only Pleasence would truly cast his lot with the franchise going forward (though, to be fair, most of the remaining cast was “dead”), pursuing Michael doggedly in every sequel but one (more on that later) until his own death in 1995, but Curtis, despite trading in her “Scream Queen” status for a straight career, also found it hard to outrun The Shape for too terribly long, matching Pleasence’s output by eventually factoring into five Halloweens total, including the direct sequel and what I’m calling the “revised timeline” sequel, released three and forty years later respectively. Both of these, interestingly, featured Carpenter’s stuntman pal Nick Castle as one of the faces beneath Michael Myers’ famous bastardized Captain Kirk mask.

Number of kills: 6 (including one in the past, one offscreen, and a dog)

Originality of kills: It’s not so much about originality as it is impact, and, from there, staying power. Arguably the film’s most striking sequences – wherein Michael uses a ghoulish diversion to escape the Smith’s Grove sanitarium on a dark and stormy night, and where he bashes his way in after Laurie, who is hiding from him in a locked bedroom closet – feature no killing at all. Horror doesn’t get more iconic than Halloween’s opening sequence, a marvelous, unbroken, four-minute tracking shot that follows young Michael’s point of view as he lurks out in the yard, watching his sister make out with a not-exactly-doting boyfriend through the front window, enters his house, and selects a huge carving knife from one of the kitchen drawers, watches the boyfriend leave, and then slowly climbs the stairs, pausing at the top to put on a found mask that matches his Halloween clown outfit. Not only does the camera become obscured, filtering what it sees through two almond-shaped eye holes, we also begin hearing Michael’s labored breathing from inside the mask (yet another likely point of inspiration for Friday the 13th, and a mechanism on which the series would rely and return to often). We’re already unsettled by the time Michael accosts his sister Judith at her makeup mirror and begins repeatedly stabbing her, eventually leaving her bloodspattered and motionless on the bedroom floor. The POV Steadicam hurries downstairs and out the front door, breathing intensified, until a man half out of frame is heard saying, “Michael?”, and reaches down to remove the mask. Just as nobody in 1960 had quite been prepared for Psycho’s shower scene, or the fruit cellar reveal of Mrs. Bates, no one in 1978 honestly expected to be looking at a six-year-old in a clown costume here, brandishing a bloodstained knife almost as big he was. It’s a testament to Halloween’s commitment to suspense that the film never lags, despite the fact that Annie doesn’t die until the 54-minute mark, strangled and slashed in the front seat of her car. Carpenter exploits and manipulates the viewer throughout in much the same way his idol Alfred Hitchcock did, intent on fraying nerves over time rather than just deploying interchangeable jump scares. Often imitated, never truly duplicated (not even by himself), Carpenter’s Halloween is (still) an amazing exercise in organic but tightly controlled terror.

Who IS Michael Myers?: A quiet little boy with a clown mask and a knife. A grown-up enigma. A masked killer. Not (exactly) William Shatner. A psychopath. A legend. The Shape. THE Bogeyman. Loomis sums him up best, of course, first in a famous monologue and, second, in response to a perhaps even more famous question:

(Loomis:) “I met him, fifteen years ago. I was told there was nothing left: no reason, no conscience, no understanding, and even the most rudimentary sense of life or death, good or evil, right or wrong. I met this six-year-old child, with this blank, pale, emotionless face and…the blackest eyes. The devil’s eyes. I spent eight years trying to reach him, and then another seven trying to keep him locked up, because I realized what was living behind that boy’s eyes was purely and simply…evil.”

(Laurie:) “Was it the bogeyman?”

(Loomis:) “As a matter of fact, it was.”

Final Word: Perfection (Totally) (4/4 stars)

Read my full review of “Halloween” (1978) here.

2) Halloween (a.k.a. Halloween: Forty Years Later and Halloween: H40)

Year: 2018 (Act 2, revised timeline)

Director: David Gordon Green

Tone: All Business

Halloween H40Nutshell: Ah, Millennials. They just instinctively think that everybody, even terrifying, expressionless, mute behemoths, can’t resist a chance to be on camera. Consider the unofficially named Halloween: Forty Years Later – officially, confusingly, (also) called Halloween, and which I will henceforth abbreviate as H40 – an entertaining, if needlessly elaborate, joke on them, in addition to all its other ascribed signifiers: as a #metoo anthem, the ultimate cinematic homage, a waterlogged cash grab, or among the greatest pieces of outright fan fiction ever to make it to screens. As an entry point for modern audiences who were either oblivious to the down times – Taylor Swift wasn’t even born until a year after The Return of Michael Myers – or have lived in an impenetrable haze for decades, and, as a result, forgotten every single thing that happened after Michael Myers came this close to killing Laurie Strode on Halloween night 1978, the exploits of two well-meaning if hopelessly naive documentarians – reintroducing through stilted “interview” attempts of first Michael Myers at a maximum security institution and, second, Laurie Strode at her rustic, doomsday prepper Embassy Suite of a home, before becoming casualties of the very forces they didn’t set in motion – constitute an unexpected gift. Self-professed superfans David Gordon Green and Danny McBride take the reins for a reverent, relevant, very often pulse-quickening update of the franchise to current day that wisely considers only the 1978 original as canon. By removing forty years of intervening noise, the film gains exponential potency, presenting a stark contest of wills between attacker and survivor that has stewed in its own juices longer than either Laurie’s estranged daughter or conciliatory granddaughter has been alive. In between the aforementioned portentous opening passages and harrowing, extended cat and mouse climax (wherein the principals switch species more than once), Green and McBride also have the good sense to insert fifty or so minutes of the best standalone Halloween movie since 1978, buoyed by outstanding acting, writing, and visualization. Assured and assaultive, H40 gets so many things right in terms of characterization and overall mood that a late second-act twist from out of nowhere feels particularly jarring. Luckily, the damage is only temporary. I’ll never understand why this ostensible sequel – again, not a reboot – to a trans-generational film classic should have the nerve to position itself as some sort of equal by sharing the latter’s name. H40 is not the equal of Halloween, because nothing is. Tense and trenchant, it is, however, still, on its own merits, a bloody brilliant time (comma optional).

Cast likeability/relatability: Off the chart. Laurie’s multigenerational clan is obviously the catalyst of H40’s surprising emotional heft, and Curtis’ mere presence would still make all the difference in the world following three increasingly nihilistic movies from which she was absent even if she didn’t also act her ass off. A self-professed “basket case with two failed marriages”, her Laurie may have much the same general pathology and post traumatic stress as the version in H20 but has used it as the fuel for a drastically different life, that of a grim survivalist living in a booby-trapped, reinforced compound. Judy Greer is excellent as Laurie’s adult daughter, who spent her wide-eyed childhood internalizing fatalistic warnings and teachings before being removed by Child Protective Services at age twelve, and has spent seemingly every moment since clawing her way to some semblance of a normal life. Both Andi Matichak, as granddaughter Allyson, and her small cadre of friends/subtle callbacks – including babysitting bestie Vicky, mildly controversial boyfriend Cameron (the son of Lonnie Elam, young Tommy Doyle’s chief 1978 tormentor), and pesky hanger-on Oscar, who wants to slide their relationship status from platonic to romantic – are beyond reasonable facsimiles of authentic teenagers, which is about the best that could be asked, though Allyson’s warm if conflicted relationship with Laurie, having largely bypassed her mother’s ingrained defenses, has the real ring of truth. Jibrail Nantambu, as Vicky’s street smart babysitting charge Julian, walks away with the entire movie in maybe five minutes of total work. His thoroughly logical plea to “Send Dave first!” to investigate the monster in his closet should be the basis for an even bigger meme than I’m sure it already is.

Notables: Co-writer McBride (Eastbound and Down, Your Highness) is arguably a bigger name than anyone else in the movie, and co-writer/director Green was a thoughtful and lyrical independent darling (George Washington, All The Real Girls) before graduating to bigger budgets and wider audiences with the above-line stoner action comedy Pineapple Express. H40 is just more proof, if any was needed, of the folly of attempting to pigeonhole him. Greer has popped up in recent years in blockbusters like Ant-Man and Jurassic World, but her roots are in the gut-busting anarchist comedy of Archer and Arrested Development. British actor Jefferson Hall enjoyed kickass-sounding bit parts in Game of Thrones and Star Wars Episode VII before getting his face caved in here by the world’s angriest bathroom attendant. Longtime Carpenter confidant Nick Castle, who steps back on a limited basis into the role of Michael Myers four decades after defining his physical style of murderous minimalism, actually wrote Carpenter’s classic Escape From New York in addition to directing The Last Starfighter. One of Michael’s O.G. victims, Lynda, gets a word in edgewise as well, as the great P.J. Soles, heard but not seen (it’s TOTALLY her though), appears in one of the film’s countless allusions to 1978 as Allyson’s literature teacher, prattling on, as they all seem to do in this series, about “fate”.

Number of kills: 16

Originality of kills: The quaint pair of British filmmakers – sorry, ahem, podcasters – who, after amazingly failing to land their all-time exclusive interview, make the mistake of stopping for gas in Haddonfield instead of hightailing it for the next time zone get bashed into every nook and cranny of a dingy women’s restroom. The interior shot that cuts from Michael’s feet in front of a locked stall to his hand scattering bloody teeth over top of its door like sprinkles on a cupcake is spectacular. H40, for all its calculation, is absolutely brimming with moments like that. Vicky learns about the bogeyman up close and personal after inspecting Julian’s room and finding that its closet door won’t shut. She is later discovered by police shrouded in a bedsheet bearing ghost eye cut-outs, like the one Michael wore while killing Lynda long ago. Another policeman is found with his face ripped off and draped over a flashlight like a jack-o-lantern over a flickering candle. Yep! The aforementioned twist comes in the form of a fairly shocking murder, but I won’t discuss it here. Even as I’m able to rationalize it after multiple viewings, the whole thing still annoys me at its core. Oscar professes his affection for the unimpressed Allyson in an ill-advised moment of drunken bravado as they’re cutting through a backyard toward home. He innocently and pitifully commiserates with a large, silent man in a Halloween mask for a few moments before realizing the gravity of his situation and attempting to run away on his freshly broken ankle, then gets impaled on a wrought iron gate for his efforts. Kid can sure scream though.

Who IS Michael Myers?: Lost in the justified hubbub over Curtis’ triumphant return to the role that made her famous is H40’s fairly fascinating consideration of the 61-year-old Michael Myers. Since we never see his face, I’m not entirely sure whether the towering statue with close-cropped, balding white hair and matching neck scruff on tethered display in the institution exercise yard is James Jude Courtney or Nick Castle – I imagine the former – but the contrast between that glimpse and the one we once caught upstairs at the Doyle house is striking. Rob Zombie may have taken subconscious direction from the escalating physical absurdities of the later Friday the 13th series and made his Michael Myers into an ogre, but the Michael of H40 is still a beast. His mask, presented in the film as the O.G. edition with forty years of mileage, is about as good as we should expect to ever see again, thoroughly weathered and even frayed in spots, a perfectly balanced, expressionless prism through which to regard acts of utter barbarity. H40 conjures the old magic. It was nice to see The Shape at work again.

Final Word: Feel something hit of the autumn (3/4 stars)

3) Halloween: Twenty Years Later (a.k.a. Halloween: H20)

Year: 1998 (Act 6, original timeline)

Director: Steve Miner

Tone: Self-assured

Halloween H20Nutshell: For all the upsetting and moronic turns it took before eventually, mercifully sputtering out, I am still beyond grateful that the original timeline lasted long enough to give us Halloween: Twenty Years Later, if, for no other reason, than as a demonstration of the simple potency of the original idea done unimpeachably well. Known colloquially – on purpose, mind you (thanks, Dimension Films!) – as Halloween: H20, and, therefore, affectionately in some fan circles as “Halloween: Water”, the movie marked Jamie Lee Curtis’ triumphant and poignant (initial) return to the role of Laurie Strode and, in a perfect world, might have also marked a satisfying end to the series. Though it doesn’t explicitly repudiate various later Michael sightings the way H40 did, H20 still feels set well apart. At the very least, there is no way Laurie could’ve conceivably been Jamie’s mother as presented and still keep her cover story intact. Oh, but I digress. H20 finds Laurie Strode having fled cross-country from Illinois to the fictional hamlet of Summer Glen, CA, where she lives a pleasant but rickety life of academic domesticity under an assumed name, with a seventeen-year-old son, a doting boyfriend, the plum role of headmistress at a gated prep school, and an overstocked medicine cabinet that, ominously, includes pills to treat “nightmares”. She sees Michael Myers in the reflections of random windows as she passes by and has to close her eyes and will him away. When The Shape himself turns up on campus during fall break, having ransacked the home of the late Dr. Loomis’ nurse to uncover information on Laurie’s whereabouts, the stage is set for the kind of ferocious, conclusive final confrontation between resilient sister and implacable brother that Halloween II wanted to provide. The air is thick with subtle self-awareness here in the immediate aftermath of Scream, whose writer Kevin Williamson both co-produced H20 and, one supposes, provided a note or twenty. There is also a palpable emphasis on isolated moments of effective suspense for the first time in what only seems like forever – a terrified woman and her young daughter survive a close encounter in a rest area bathroom; a character idly probes the depths of a garbage disposal by hand with Michael lurking in the background; Laurie’s son and girlfriend are trapped between an outer gate and a locked door with Michael systematically trying keys in the lock as they scream for help, eventually bringing a stunned Laurie face to face with her brother through a small, circular window – that honestly does more to recall the spirit of ‘78 than would any number of quick-cut confetti shots of Michael ripping or tearing. Expertly helmed, in a delicious twist of fate, by Friday the 13th Part 2/3 director Steve Miner, H20 is almost a casualty of its above-average writing, smooth editing, and uniformly brisk pacing, which conspire at times to make it feel a bit too slight. Miner fortunately knows when to pump the brakes and when to give the movie gas, however, and its climax, for better and worse, would become the series’ second most talked about for at least two decades – for better because of its sheer strength, for worse because of what it unwittingly begat.

Cast likeability/relatability: Significant. The kids are fine, the boyfriend solid, the night watchman chuckle-worthy. Watching the primary films in close succession (H20, H40, and, ahem, H00), I was impressed all over again by Jamie Lee Curtis’ interpretation of the adult Laurie here – where she is, who and what she values, and how she has learned to cope with the events and consequences of that long-ago night. It’s certainly the less flashy of the two Curtis vehicle sequels, but no less well acted or dramatically resonant. Little details – how Laurie uses her boyfriend’s bathroom break as an opportunity for advanced, clandestine day-drinking; accumulated, generalized fears for her son that nevertheless spring from specific, horrific experience; the palpable deja vu as she participates in the mirror image of Halloween’s famous classroom lecture on “fate”, only this time as the teacher – add up to a lot. It’s not that I completely prefer this interpretation of Laurie to the one in H40 – I mean, I do, but that’s not the point – it just feels more plausible based on my conception of who she was in 1978. H40 writers Green and McBride might well have thought so too, and therefore decided to go another way to properly distance themselves. Both versions have merit and grit, and both kick ass in their own ways. For a time it seems this Laurie will forever be the girl who invariably drops the knife in disgust, but finally she comes to the realization – you can see it dawn – that she is tired of running. She entreats the kids to drive away so she can stay behind to deal with Michael, spitting curt instructions pointedly similar to those she gave Tommy and Lindsay back in 1978. Being a good babysitter is like riding a bike, apparently.

Notables: The farther away the Halloween series inched from its independent origins and/or spirit, the greater the number of familiar faces assembled, whether or not they happened to be at the time. Halloween H20 is an early high Water mark in this respect, boasting not just the returning Curtis and her even more famous mother – Janet Leigh, as Laurie’s secretary, drives a car similar to her getaway ride in Psycho, and even paraphrases Brackett’s line about “one good scare” during a well-intentioned pep talk – but also acclaimed TV actor Adam Arkin (Chicago Hope, Sons of Anarchy) as Laurie’s guidance counselor boyfriend, and a debuting Josh Hartnett (Pearl Harbor, 30 Days of Night) as her headstrong son. Former Smith’s Grove RN Nancy Stephens resurfaces as Loomis’ personal nurse, though why she and the late doctor alone should know Laurie’s witness protection whereabouts is a little puzzling, however dramatically convenient. Superfan Joseph Gordon Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, 3rd Rock from the Sun) has a fun cameo as the neighborhood teen who checks out whilst checking out the nurse’s home for intruders. Also featured, though sorta just along for the ride, are multiple Oscar nominee Michelle Williams (Venom, Brokeback Mountain) and rapper turned actor LL Cool J, the series’ only principal who might just make it into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame one day. Sorry, Busta. Sorry, Rob.

Number of kills: 6

Originality of kills: Not terrific, but the surrounding structure is strong enough to allow H20 to endure some comparatively pedestrian slashings. Levitt is found by Loomis’ nurse with an ice skate half buried in his face, which is A) an unquestionably awesome way to start and B) already the pinnacle of what the movie will offer in that arena. I guess with H20 it’s not so much about the kills themselves as the presentation. There is an excess of stabbings and merely slit throats amongst the already modest body count, but, still, cast your mind and imagine innocently opening a old-timey dumbwaiter only to find your boyfriend’s corpse stuffed inside. Said girlfriend also suffers a gruesomely mangled leg in her struggle to escape and is later found hanging amongst live, exposed electrical wiring. Michael stabs Laurie’s boyfriend and lifts him up off the ground, perhaps in tribute to the poor Halloween II nurse who spent so many of her final moments airborne she eventually surrendered her slippers to the laws of gravity and comic timing. Laurie eventually delivers the unkindest cut of all (with a single axe stroke… anyone who’s seen Halloween II or H40 knows she’s just a crack shot) to her brother and ends the movie howling in cathartic defiance. If only they’d had the sense to leave things that way.

Who IS Michael Myers?: With its abundance of well-known faces and well-written, two-dimensional characters, Michael Myers is oddly among the least interesting individual aspects of Halloween Water. His own profile boasts more weird lines and subtle angles than a white cypher’s mask arguably should, with hair teased to the point of absurdity by either a runaway stylist or direct exposure to an electrical socket. It frankly looks like somebody gave the rough police sketch glimpsed in the opening credits to a Props Department fabricator unfamiliar with the series – or horror movies, or Halloween masks – and simply wished him luck.

Final Word: (Temporary) Closure (3/4 stars)

4) Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers

Year: 1989 (Act 4, original timeline)

Director: Dominique Othenin-Girard

Tone: Showy

Halloween 5Nutshell: The preferred Halloween sequel of my youth enjoys a generally rotten reputation in most critical (and many fan) circles, and I kind of get where they’re coming from. It introduces a gimmicky and, frankly, unnecessary supernatural element to the ongoing trials of its young protagonist, requires Michael to spontaneously awaken on Halloween from yet another extended hibernation, features a fraught climax fought in a spooky structure that, despite repeated contrary claims, is most definitely NOT the Myers House, plus a subjectively terrible ending (especially if you know where the series is headed). Let me preface any discussion of Halloween 5 by saying that the open mind I tried to bring to all the fresh viewings necessitated by this project only stressed me out on this one occasion. What if not only had I been completely wrong about the movie, but completely wrong for 28 years? I legitimately came in expecting to now somehow hate Revenge, but instead found (almost) all my good memories validated. Directed by Swiss visual stylist Dominique Othenin-Girard, The Revenge of Michael Myers is both companion piece to Part 4 and grim antidote, a slick, sinister confection that is far and away the most intense installment of the post-Carpenter/ pre-Zombie era. Instead of picking up directly from its predecessor like Halloween II did, Revenge sees Michael survive Part 4’s climactic hail of bullets because the well or mineshaft or whatever the hell he fell into abuts a nearby river that he could use to float downstream to relative safety. Michael convalesces in the hovel of a parrot-loving, Good Samaritan hermit (seriously) for exactly one year before waking back up to renew acquaintances with Jamie Lloyd, who is now a mute basket case in the care of the all purpose Haddonfield Children’s Clinic, beset by night terrors, day terrors, violent seizures, hallucinations, and death threats from those in the local community who haven’t yet overlooked that the ever-strengthening psychic bond with her murderous uncle first manifested when, at the end of Part 4, she attempted to kill her adopted mother with a pair of scissors. Revenge admittedly doesn’t make a ton of sense, but it also doesn’t try to, prioritizing at all times sensation over sense and visual oomph over coherent plotting. Shot after shot lingers in the subconscious (Jamie accosted by looming shadows in the clinic basement; Jamie fleeing an oncoming car through the waist-high grass of a foggy, moonlit field; the ridiculously tense lead-up to her emergency tracheotomy; the moment where, cornered in the attic, she settles into a child-sized coffin and asks to see Michael’s face unmasked), and one particular set piece – the child’s POV laundry chute assault and escape – is maybe the series’ best since Laurie fled the Doyles’ upstairs closet. Part 5 is, indeed, almost sunk by its nonsensical cliffhanger ending, wherein a mysterious “man in black” brings his duffle bag of heavy weaponry into HPD Headquarters and springs the captured Myers, but I won’t hold it against Girard. All that mess is honestly the next installment’s problem, the very least of a cavalcade.

Cast likeability/relatability: The surprise early death of Rachel Carruthers – greatly upsetting to this then-fifteen-year-old admirer – after what must be said is a nicely suspenseful extended back-and-forth between predator and prey thrusts her histrionic friend Tina (Wendy Kaplan) into the spotlight. While far from a perfect fit, Tina isn’t the stock character she initially appears either, balancing her unrepentant party-girl exterior (“I’m never sensible if I can help it!”) with tender affection for her best friend’s adopted sister. Speaking of Jamie, Danielle Harris does heroic work here in a role that basically requires her to operate at a level of peak, screaming trauma for ninety uninterrupted minutes. She’s even given a little suitor in the person of shy, stuttering Billy (Jeffrey Landman). Aww. Girard introduces two prominent local deputies – let’s call them “Herp” and “Derp” – with what could most accurately be termed a “bumbling idiot” theme, complete with horns and slide whistles. They later fall victim to a technically innocent prank that almost – thankfully, almost – turns deadly, and a shaken Derp confides, gun still drawn, “Luckily, we’re lousy cops.” I wouldn’t necessarily call him likeable, but Part 5 features for my money the best Donald Pleasence performance of the series outside of the 1978 original, even if it’s generally just a lot of Loomis trying to intimidate an already terrified little girl into giving up secrets to which she might not even be privy. He has a pretty great moment toward the end where he reasons with the jittery local cop he’s holding at gunpoint: “Charlie! Michael Myers is out-side. Stay with the little girl. PLEASE?!”

Notables: Almost the entire surviving cast of Part 4 returns, which is fortunate, since this is otherwise the most anonymously acted episode in series history. Clearly Jonathan Chapin, who plays Tina’s self-possessed douchebag boyfriend Mikey here, had a line on that sort of behavior, since he turned the volume down a few notches to play a similar terminally cool delinquent in Sixteen Candles.

Number of kills: 11 (including yet another dog offscreen)

Originality of kills: Spotty. Girard seems more consistently concerned with lighting tricks and camera angles than with approaching the homicidal heights of either Halloween II or III, but I never minded all that much because everything just looks so damned good. Rachel is stabbed with a pair of scissors (ala Mrs. Carruthers) at the end of an effective, extended game of hide-and-seek. Tina’s aforementioned d-bag boyfriend watches his precious convertible being defaced before taking the same offending three-pronged garden hoe to the face. Business picks up around the one hour mark with prankster Spitz receiving a pitchfork to the gut mid-coitus and his girlfriend Sammie getting slashed with the cruel swing of an oversized wheat scythe. Never have sex in a barn in a horror movie, boys and girls. Having already culled much of the Haddonfield PD in Part 4, Michael seeks to finish the job, repeatedly ramming the head of one cop into the steering wheel of his car and hanging another from a “Myers House” upstairs window, having fashioned the rope with which he was attempting to escape into a noose. Herp and Derp die offscreen via gruesomely slit throats.

Who IS Michael Myers?: Despite being presented as a direct extension of the Halloween 4 incarnation, Revenge’s Michael Myers, played this time by Don Shanks, is far more imposing, both in terms of physicality and ferocity, than his immediate stuntman predecessor. Of course, the mask still really doesn’t look anything like it’s supposed to – or even particularly like Part 4’s –  more like a white lion that was just hosed down by his handlers at the zoo, but the extra attitude helps minimize distraction. I also really got into the scene where Jamie temporarily succeeds in a desperate attempt at outflanking her uncle, Tommy Jarvis-style, by appealing to his underlying humanity. Not too many complaints here overall, though I suppose it’s too much to ask Michael Myers to consider tucking in his mask? Don’t be the inverse serial killer equivalent of that guy, proudly walking into a sports bar wearing a football jersey tucked into his jeans.

Final Word: Cold-blooded (3/4 stars)

5) Halloween II

Year: 1981 (Act 2, original timeline)

Director: Rick Rosenthal

Tone: Off-key

Halloween 2Nutshell: At the time of its sequel’s release, Halloween was the most successful independent film in history, an unimpeachable classic single-handedly responsible for unleashing upon cineplexes a flood of formulaic, highly profitable, low budget horror movies featuring mad killers dispatching dim, horny teenagers. Conventional wisdom holds that Friday the 13th became the breakout hit of this new “Slasher” wave in part because it was most adept at brazenly repurposing Halloween with a novel setting and explicitly gory kills, though it should be said the campfire exploits of Mrs. Voorhees likely proved just as inspiring in return. The version of Halloween II that made it to theaters noticeably upped the ante on its predecessor’s comparatively modest carnage, even if that sort of amplified bloodlust arguably came at the expense of the more intangible qualities that helped make it great. Cleverly presented as a immediate continuation of the original “Night HE came home”, Halloween II is the proverbial case of an artistic interpretation that knows the words but not the music. The scene here shifts to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, a structure so desolate it practically comes pre-haunted, where Laurie Strode, as seemingly its only patient, has been admitted with a shoulder laceration and cracked ankle, and Michael Myers roams the halls, making strategic use of grainy security camera footage as a theoretical suspense generator and picking the distracted staff off one by one on a circuitous route back to his bedridden target. Unsubtle changes, if not necessarily in mood then in approach, abound, and are noticeable from the opening credits, which keep Carpenter’s famous 5/4 time theme but replace its piercing piano with the mutant xylophone of longtime series composer Alan Howarth, buttressed by overbearing synths. There are wistful callbacks and some scattered great individual moments, but, overall, cinematic approximation doesn’t come much more bald-faced. I say this, well aware of how bad things would get once the accumulated distance from 1978 finally allowed producers enough leverage to stop caring altogether. Compared to some of what would follow, Halloween’s little brother is the undervalued treasure it always imagined it was.

Cast likeability/relatability: With Laurie incapacitated and Loomis off leading the police goose chase far afield, Halloween II is left too long to coast on the charisma of its largely anonymous cast of young nurses and paramedics, many of whom I was happy to see found steady television work in the years after. They break down into three often overlapping categories – amorous, well-meaning, and overwhelmed – and though none of them are standouts, none particularly grate either. Charles Cyphers plays a heartbreaking moment beautifully when Sheriff Brackett is forced to identify his murdered daughter, Annie, and the marginal subplot saga of the little boy who finds a razor blade in his candy provides the truest horror in the entire movie. With Laurie laid up for a time, Loomis kicks into gear as an agitated, highly theatrical exposition engine, inadvertently bringing the various assembled press outside the Wallace house up to speed with his rantings. His later “Samhain is the unconscious mind” monologue is admittedly kind of cool, but still seems phoned in from a different movie in an effort to give him something to do. I didn’t find Laurie quite as engaging this time around, owing partly to her sedation, and to the fact that she often but not always seems to be wearing a weird, forehead-lengthening wig. She brings it as always in the finale, however, displaying great resourcefulness in extricating herself from a basement boiler room and proving herself a crack shot with a display of close-up marksmanship that must be seen to be believed. I’d call that last item foreshadowing if Halloween’s two official sequels existed on the same timeline.

Notables: Curtis was a bona fide star by this point, boasting (slightly higher} lead co-billing with the returning Pleasence. She would go on to star in quality movies like Trading Places, True Lies, and A Fish Called Wanda before what she admits was a payday lured her back to face Michael Myers again, one last time for the first time, in 1998’s Halloween: H20. Smitten paramedic/low grade stalker Lance Guest played the titular video game ace turned galactic savior in 1984 cult classic The Last Starfighter. I was also delighted to find that Gloria Gifford, who played the no-nonsense head nurse Mrs. Alves, later had a bit role as the TSA worker who manned the metal detector for Derek Smalls’ notorious airport check-in in This is Spinal Tap.

Number of kills: 10

Originality of kills: Returning to a hospital environment, this time as a visitor, seems to have really brought out Michael’s innate industriousness and creativity. Whenever he’s not out in the parking lot slashing tires or cutting the fuel lines of every single car in sight, he’s inside orchestrating some incredibly ornate and memorable murders. There are garden variety slashings, of course, with the trusty carving knife, found claw hammers, medical scalpels, etc., but Halloween II is remembered most for its out-of-the-box kills. Consider the drunken doctor who is discovered (in a very Mrs. Bates-like reveal) with a hypodermic needle protruding from his right eyeball; or the nurse essentially boiled alive in a scalding hot hydrotherapy pool; the drunken teenager (later ID’d as the infamous Ben Tramer, Laurie’s dream date for the Halloween dance) hit by a police car while crossing the street, rammed into an ambulance and blown up, leaving him to dramatically burn while wearing the suddenly ubiquitous Michael Myers mask (you can find ‘em in any store!); or, in a gruesome nod to the original’s elegance, the nurse who is discovered motionless and visibly untouched except for an I.V. hooked into her forearm that is draining her entire blood supply out onto the floor one drop at a time. Bonus points for having Boy Scout paramedic Jimmy discover her and be in such a mad rush to escape that he slips on the crimson floor, concussing himself in the resulting fall.

Who IS Michael Myers?: Despite its status as one of the horror genre’s truly iconic items, Michael Myers’ mask has undergone more cosmetic changes over the years than can be sanely catalogued. Halloween II’s edition is certainly more reverent than would come to be the case, but there is still something…off about it. The head is just a little too bowling ball-shaped, with dramatically downplayed hair (practically slicked back, but without the sheen) and facial features so stark they look chiseled out of marble. Having largely eschewed his trademark carving knife for a medical scalpel, this Myers, though still appropriately threatening, is also glacially slow and almost too robotic. Perhaps his wholesale replacement in Halloween III by a small army of actual machines was intended as some sort of half-assed homage?

Final Word: Synthetic (2.5/4 stars)

6) Halloween III: Season of the Witch

Year: 1983 (Non-sequitur intermission)

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace

Tone: Wackadoodle

Halloween 3Nutshell: Depending on which interview you’re currently reading, John Carpenter usually leads with either his artistic instincts or his crusty, abiding love of commerce. Directing the original Halloween put him on the map and earmarked him as a Hitchcockian master of suspense, but it didn’t really pay the bills. As mentioned before, Michael Myers was never actually intended to survive the night he returned to Haddonfield, but Universal Studios and its squad of accountants had a terribly persuasive counterargument to make. Having further compromised his original vision a few times during the process of making Halloween II, Halloween III saw co-producer Carpenter, who’d already jettisoned the “director” appellation before also ceding writing duties to director (and, as lore suggests, original finder of the iconic Captain Kirk mask) Tommy Lee Wallace, arrive at a crossroads. As far as canon was concerned, Michael Myers was a pile of ash, alongside his doting doctor. How then to proceed? Carpenter and creative partner Debra Hill seized upon an audacious gambit: to make the Halloween series into an ongoing anthology, a spooky brand name instead of the tale of one specific killer. Though, with Halloween III: Season of the Witch, this plan died in its infancy, the underlying movie is not particularly bad – and nowhere near the feature-length insult its reputation long suggested – just deeply, deeply weird. Wallace’s tale of a California doctor who, while investigating the mysterious death of an ER patient, stumbles into the all-encompassing orbit of a mad toymaker who schemes to use his mass-marketed Halloween masks as the mechanism by which he might slaughter North American children en masse is clunky and goofy – sort of an Ed Wood meets Roger Corman meets John Carpenter atmospheric cheesefest – cheerfully violent and subtly subversive. The pervasive anti-consumerist thinking is surprisingly compelling, as the inescapable “Silver Shamrock Theme”, a teeth-grindingly obnoxious television jingle counting down the days left until Halloween, may well have you endorsing a spot of random murder against your own better judgment. Pre and post-internet trolls who periodically emerged to deride the original “Halloween Theme” as childish and repetitive tripe should recognize, and hang their heads in shame.

Cast likeability/relatability: The scene where Dr. Challis and Ellie Grimbridge, having checked into a fleabag motel full of human muppets that he rightly termed “a zoo”, discuss whether to book separate rooms or stay together to keep up the appearance of a married couple and end up sharing a tender, if less than plausible, kiss is a testament to the B-movie charms of actors Tom Atkins and Stacey Nelkin, whose easygoing chemistry defuses the patent ridiculousness of any number of later moments in which, the former invariably pulling the latter by her hand, they flee exploding rooms or killer automatons. Toymaker Conal Cochran’s nefarious plan gets an ‘A’ for originality, for brilliant scientific achievement – albeit in a “do we really need this?” kind of way – and for pointless convolution (why was it necessary again to import actual Stonehenge monoliths into a sub-Bondian evil lair?). Cochran tries to bring it on home with more grandiose talk of Samhain and how the planets being in alignment signals that the world is about to change, a change he’s only too happy to usher in as a massive joke on the human race in general and its children in particular. On that point, again, I kinda agree. Seriously, let the little brats choke on those masks, nationwide. That’s what they get for sitting like sheep a foot in front of their televisions, gleefully bobbing their empty heads to that awful song.

Notables: Tom Atkins would of course go on to become one of the beloved sci-fi/horror icons of the 1980s and a hot ticket on the convention circuit, having also starred in Creepshow, Carpenter’s The Fog and Escape From New York, plus Night of the Creeps. Silver Shamrock scion Dan O’Herlihy would dabble, often on TV, in various cult interests for the rest of the decade as well, most notably as The Old Man in Robocop. Annie Loomis, who played Annie in the 1978 original, pops up here in a fun cameo as Atkins’ humorless scold of an ex-wife (named Linda – though, sadly, without a “y” – can you stand it?).

Number of kills: 26 (approximately, including humans and non)

Originality of kills: Kite-high. With no Michael Myers in sight, Season of the Witch abandons even Halloween II’s pretense of creeping suspense in favor of a jolly cavalcade of creative mortal ends. It’s honestly where much of the movie’s charm comes from. This section and the death tally just above it contain a pungent mix of strangely midwestern Californians, unapologetically cornball out-of-towners, and a battalion of business-suited Silver Shamrock cronies that not only look like Agent Smith from The Matrix but, to a man, move and act so rigidly, that I was sure, until they were revealed as human-looking androids handcrafted by the malevolent maskmaker, they must be under some manner of mind control. Since the killer masks, once activated, work by essentially frying the heads of the little tykes wearing them, then somehow spontaneously erupt in oozing snakes, crickets, and nightcrawlers (R.I.P., Buddy, Jr.!), it’s pretty imperative that there should be no fall-off in the murder department elsewhere. Season delivers on that front with gusto. The initial whistleblower (“They’re going to kill us all!”) has his eyes gouged out with extreme prejudice by an Agent Smith while lying in his hospital bed. The assassin then proceeds to self-immolate in the front seat of his car. Two Agent Smiths accost a loose-lipped wino and basically tear his head off. Another Agent Smith tracks down Challis’ assistant and lobotomizes her with a cordless power drill. Another ‘bot is later beheaded by a tire iron. Challis dumps a boxful of Silver Shamrock trademarks off a catwalk as the subliminally triggering commercial is underway and uses the resulting electrical reaction to summarily cook Cochran’s entire cadre of robotic minions, followed by the man himself (though, as he sort of just dissolves, Cochran is oddly granted a Jedi Master’s death).

Who IS Michael Myers?: In this movie? Barely an afterthought. The only reference to Michael Myers whatsoever is an oblique but fairly clever one, with him descending the Doyle staircase as part of a TV advertisement for a showing of the “immortal classic” (sponsored by, you guessed it, Silver Shamrock Novelties). Beats the hell out of the company’s other commercial. That theme song, played on an endless loop, could realistically be used as an enhanced interrogation technique. It’s almost deadlier on its own than is Cochran’s cockamamie evil plan.

Final Word: (Extreme) Palate-cleanser (2.5/4 stars)

7) Halloween (a.k.a. Zombiween)

Year: 2007 (Act 1, reboot timeline)

Director: Rob Zombie

Tone: Sadistic

Halloween Rob1Nutshell: If all this was inevitable, I remember thinking at the time, then at least they found the right guy to do it. My thinking on the matter now is necessarily more conflicted. Polarizing and pulverizing, Rob Zombie’s reboot of Halloween is two movies for the price of one, a reasonably thoughtful, occasionally moving, just as occasionally scuzzy, wholly unnecessary origin story, followed immediately by a brutal, close-to-the-bone, linear retelling of the 1978 original, skewed in spots but never enough to leave doubt as to either its source or intentions. The two movies share an uneasy coexistence. The end result I’ll here be referring to as Zombiween for taxonomy purposes is every bit an auteur’s movie as John Carpenter’s original, and probably even more so. Guignol grandmaster Zombie apparently took with all seriousness the bit of lip service that critics invariably pay every pointlessly reverent reboot of a film classic: “Make it your own. Show me something new or don’t bother.” Zombiween, if nothing else, is worth seeing to witness that larger maxim put into forceful action, though far from without its compromises. Its first thirty minutes, a myopic, tortuous examination of The Literal Bogeyman’s thoroughly rotten childhood, demonstrate what Zombie might have been able to accomplish with a production mandate, a little more applied character depth, and a different title. He does get lots of little details right, and man are they depressing. So strangely compelling is The Phantom Bogeymenace toward its end that it’s jarring when the movie proper – the movie we were promised – finally begins, as all of Zombie’s obviously deeply felt and probably well-intentioned observations about who morose little Michael was and the posse of bullies that made him that way are basically thrown out the window in favor of a bloody, terribly rushed metalcore cover band version of the 1978 Halloween. Zombie deserves plaudits for trying to do something different with the character, though the practical considerations inherent in naming your movie Halloween keep him from the sewerrific character study he really wanted to make. Instead, we get a sort of Michael Myers – The E! True Hollywood Story as precursor to the larger movie, reaching present day at the 36-minute mark and not introducing grown-up Laurie until we’re fifty minutes in. That leaves Zombie roughly an hour with which to get to work approximating Halloween. All the big beats are present, but with the suspense requirement removed, and the surrounding violence ratcheted up to at times uncomfortable, other times comical, degrees. A shotgun marriage of emotional nuance and physical extremity, Rob Zombie’s Halloween doesn’t truly work on any level unless it is chopped in half, and, even then, the results are nominal.

Cast likeability/relatability: Lots to unpack here. Because this is a Rob Zombie film, nobody’s too terribly likeable. Michael’s mother comes the closest, as the guilt-wracked, emotionally devastated survivor forced to come to grips with her son’s depredations while clinging to his essential humanity. The rest of his home life is already a horror show. I was done thirty seconds in, before his truly vile stepfather had even finished a single sentence. Malcolm McDowell makes a solid Loomis on paper, and does well with the scenes where he tries to connect with young Michael, but the later characterization is all over the place. Scout Taylor-Compton as Laurie is a little too smart-assed and self-impressed – not to mention not being all that great a babysitter – but I guess that’s being a teenager. She has nothing on the rest of her Babysitter’s Club friends. A montage that juxtaposes sullen young Michael eating candy corn alone on a stoop before casually slaughtering his family with his stripper mother going through the motions onstage probably puts too fine a point on his blooming homicidal depression…much the same way that Zombie provides a close-up of Loomis’ own fidgety eyes as, hocking his book at a personal appearance fifteen years later, he talks gravely about “The eyes of a psychopath”. If parents can be trusted to avoid being assholes, and kids nurtured and encouraged to resist being bullies, maybe your child stands a better chance of growing into a balanced and productive adult instead of savagely murdering his family at the age of ten. Try it some time.

Notables: Rob Zombie’s innate gift for overheated stunt-casting is in full effect here. Every star of his grindhouse classic The Devil’s Rejects gets at least a bit part, though it’s up to wife Sheri Moon-Zombie, as Michael’s mother, to provide this new interpretation of Halloween with its emotional center, and she more or less succeeds. A Clockwork Orange’s Malcolm McDowell makes all the logical sense in the world as the new Loomis. He’s British, he’s ostentatious, he’s excitable. And though he’d go full slimeball in the sequel, he here walks a precarious line between conditional selflessness and blatant self-interest. Danny Trejo (Machete, Con Air) plays a friendly orderly at Smith’s Grove. The soon-to-be late security detail in charge of Michael’s patient transport includes head Reject Bill Moseley and Leslie Easterbrook of Police Academy fame. Ken Foree from George A. Romero’s Dawn of the Dead plays the chesty trucker who involuntarily provides Michael with his trademark coveralls. Professional cameo Clint Howard plays one of Loomis’ Smith’s Grove colleagues who calls him with the bad news. Z-movie royalty Sybil Danning and Udo Kier play an institution nurse and the head of Smith’s Grove, respectively. Dee Wallace Stone (E.T., Cujo, Critters, The Howling) plays Laurie’s adopted mother. Oscar-nominated character actor Brad Dourif (One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, also Child’s Play, Mississippi Burning, LOTR trilogy) is a nifty choice to play Sheriff Brackett. Captain Spaulding himself, Sid Haig, completes the Devil’s Rejects trifecta/larger cast reunion as the caretaker who leads Loomis through the cemetery to the desecrated grave. Still, I suppose the biggest coup, or at least the most meta, probably lies with getting grown-up Danielle Harris, who played Michael’s niece Jamie in both Return and Revenge, back into the fold as Laurie’s friend Annie. It’d almost be shorter to list the also-rans, but that’s not how these sections work.

Number of kills: 18

Originality of kills: Not always so much about the originality here as it is about their dependable brutality. Coming of age in the eighties, but having already fallen behind his more popular contemporaries, the Michael Myers character was never really about gimmicky kills, and the ever-present link to the Carpenter original ensured that a premium on atmosphere would almost always prevail over baser theatrics. Zombie flips that script entirely, which is probably what a reboot should do, lingering in an almost unseemly way on the violence where even his feistiest predecessors might have bowed to unspoken decorum and cut away, as when young Michael flees after hearing Loomis talking to his mother about early warning signs of psychopathic behavior because he has an unscheduled appointment to beat his classmate bully to death in the woods with a large stick. Michael duct tapes “Ronny” to the recliner in which he’s already passed out and slits his throat with the family brand large carving knife, then removes his mask to stare into his stepfather’s eyes as he dies. Then he beats Judith’s boyfriend to death with an aluminum baseball bat before stabbing her, once in the gut and then repeatedly out in the hallway, as she tries to escape. Happy Halloween, indeed. Michael’s despondent mother kills herself much later while watching 16-millimeter home movies of happier times. A four-man security detail is, well, manhandled to death when Michael suddenly becomes Superman in the midst of a prisoner transfer and simply breaks the chains that bind him. Danny Trejo is half-drowned in a scrub sink and then brained with a television. Zombie nails every last main plot point once the movie proper starts, but cares enough to at least change up some of the specifics. For one, we finally meet Annie’s elusive boyfriend, Paul, who is found strung up in the Strode home wearing an authentic jack-o-lantern mask he didn’t get from Silver Shamrock. This version of the Myers house, where the climax takes place, has a surprisingly spacious murder-basement, as well as an in-ground swimming pool straight out of Poltergeist. Zombiween attempts to ramp up the terror by having its endgame start far earlier, actively involving the children in it, and offering up more screams (and hysterical crying) per capita than in the entire original timeline. It’s tough to argue Zombie’s keen visual sense, but how successful his outbursts of applied overkill are overall depends largely on what you’re seeking.

Who IS Michael Myers?: Cat killer. Gerbil killer. Bully killer. Stepfather killer. Sister killer. Killer of half the Haddonfield zip code. But what’s behind the mask? *sigh* Yes, yes, I know it’s supposed to be chilling when he puts on (and, obviously, imprints with, since you can get them in any store!) the classic Michael Myers mask Judith’s boyfriend (coincidentally) left behind before he kills her, but that big mask on that little body just makes young Michael look like a bobble-head or a Funko Pop figurine. Here he kills Judith not for some unexplained reason but because he’d already killed before (no judgment on the stepfather, I promise) and she was simply the last person left in the house. Despite its mad rush to demystify everything in sight, no plausible genetic explanation is offered for how a greasy, pudgy ten-year-old raised on junk food and omnidirectional abuse might grow into a hulking, seven-foot-tall Viking warrior. Revenge of the put-upon, I suppose. When orderly Danny Trejo – no petite dude himself – comes to move “Mikey” to another cell, the twenty-one-year-old mastodon takes up so much space that he practically spills out of the frame and off the screen. Michael is, of course, excellent at crashing through locked doors, old drywall, and windows of multiple types, and moves with much more purpose than had some of his quicksand-bound predecessors. Some of young Michael’s homemade papier mache masks wouldn’t look too out of place in Slipknot, but his adult mask is really something else, weathered from years of being hidden away in the floorboards of a rotting house and riddled with all manner of cool cracks that look like surgical scars.

Final Word: All warts (2.5/4 stars)

8) Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers

Year: 1988 (Act 3, original timeline)

Director: Dwight H. Little

Tone: Timid

Halloween 4Nutshell: Released to muted enthusiasm and general relief after five years of brainstorming and hand-wringing, the only problem solved by Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers among the many with which it is left appears right there in the title. The most strangely muted film in the Halloween series is notable as the one episode that seems to not only idealize the original’s underlying grace and infinite patience but seeks to expound on those qualities instead of just ramping up the killer and/or camera’s overall intensity. Outside of some decent performances, a pleasantly autumnal mood, one precarious action sequence (the safehouse rooftop escape), and a nonsensical twist ending that nevertheless succeeds in being both surprising and surprisingly effective, nothing much else is notable. When it’s not busy trying to overtly ape its untouchable forebear, Return, like so many other installments as the series progressed, is fairly consumed with callbacks and Easter Eggs – then a young phenomenon. Even the famous 5/4 title theme sounds oddly dainty when it finally kicks in. Though it turns out neither Michael Myers nor Dr. Loomis actually burned to death in the hospital explosion that ended Halloween II, the film still claims one prominent victim: Laurie Strode, dead in a car crash for just under a year as we open. Her nine-year-old daughter, Jamie Lloyd, newly adopted by the Carruthers family of Haddonfield, is wracked with nightmares that Michael Myers is hiding under her bed while she sleeps. In fact, he has spent more than half her life in a coma apparently equipped with a snooze alarm, so that when the state foolishly attempts to move him back to the Smith’s Grove sanitarium of his formative years on Devil’s Night, he predictably wakes up, pale, rested, and beyond ready to reassert himself.

Cast likeability/relatability: Loomis is the throughline for the series’ first, more consistent half, a figure of, well, not exactly stability, who nevertheless was a link to happier times and, thus, a dependably reassuring presence for fans. His dramatically scarred face and hands underline the near death experience that seems to have subtly softened him for a time, even if he still largely functions in his familiar role after Michael’s escape, equal parts pursuer and hype man. Early scenes establishing the Carruthers family dynamic have a stilted, Lifetime original movie quality to them, but the characters of Jamie and her adopted big sister Rachel (Ellie Cornell) bounce back on the strength of appealing, unfussy performances. Rachel’s dim, double-dealing boyfriend Brady and his more savvy hookup Kelly are essentially window dressing until called upon by the plot. To his credit, Sheriff Meeker (Beau Starr) believes Loomis’ warnings immediately and springs into action, expediently seeking reinforcements and working to curtail Haddonfield’s surprisingly active drunken vigilante element when spurred on by the dictates of logic and decency respectively. This puts him at or near the top of the Halloween lawman pantheon, which, admittedly, is neither a lengthy nor prestigious list.

Notables: Curtis’ replacement as target-in-chief was Danielle Harris, then a talented eleven-year-old with a real talent for screaming and crying, and a professional, generally sympathetic air that belied her age. She’d have roles in nineties B-movie signposts like Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead (no trace of irony there) before returning to the fold, this time as Annie in Rob Zombie’s reboot and its sequel. Ah, synchronicity. The late Michael Pataki, here Loomis’ boss at Smith’s Grove, was Ivan Drago’s state-sponsored promoter/ propagandist in Rocky IV. Rachel’s cheating boyfriend Brady was played by Sasha Jenson, better known as blissful, overalls-wearing meathead Don in Richard Linklater’s classic Dazed and Confused.

Number of kills: 17 (including another dog offscreen)

Originality of kills: So much for advanced muscle atrophy from extended periods of inactivity. Michael awakens from his medically induced slumber and immediately dispatches a four-person paramedic crew, though only one is killed onscreen via an overly intrusive thumb to the forehead. A third shift grunt named “Bucky” is hurled into an electric substation, deep-frying him and knocking out power to the entire town in one fell swoop. A policeman is found partially scalped, despite the fact that I don’t think Michael had located his beloved knife yet. Kelly is non-explicitly impaled on the business end of a shotgun. The vigilantes converge on and mistakenly execute a local man sight unseen based on the compelling evidence of, “hey, something’s rustling over in them bushes!” Aspiring stuntman Michael stabs three yokels and hurls them from the bed of a moving truck, then tears the posse leader’s throat out barehanded. Finally, fairly amazingly, Jamie channels her fan fiction inner psychopath and stabs her foster mother with a pair of scissors. Eyes like ice behind her clown mask, scissors slick with dripping blood, for a second there, Jamie almost looked like the legit future of the franchise. For another second, I was utterly content to let her be.

Who IS Michael Myers?: Halloween 4 demonstrates the short-sightedness of reducing Michael Myers as a character to just another anonymous maskfiller, rigid and slow. George Wilbur may be an outstanding stuntman – with credits that include Die Hard, Total Recall, and The Perfect Storm – but he’s a pretty crappy actor. Moreover, his incarnation just looks appreciably…wrong. So much of it is the featureless, literally dimestore mask, which, with its wide raccoon eyes – think department store mannequin with a mascara addiction, or Casper the Constipated Ghost – was a marked difference from the detailed visage that dominated Halloween 4’s promotional art. His physicality is off several degrees as well, which is a serious price to pay for theoretically enhanced stunt ability. Svelte rather than imposing, Stuntman Michael staggers around with permanently shrugged shoulders, like he forgot to remove a clothes hanger or two before putting on his jumpsuit, and spends a good five minutes of climactic screentime simply clinging to the roof of a moving pickup truck. Michael is actually way more visually striking in the wake of the ambulance wreck, before he finds the mask at all, wearing a bloodstained full head bandage as he looms over a soon-to-be former mechanic.

Final Word: False (re)start (2/4 stars)

9) Halloween II (a.k.a. Zombiween II)

Year: 2009 (Act 2, reboot timeline)

Director: Rob Zombie

Tone: Relentless

Halloween Rob2Nutshell: Those among the Halloween fanbase once enamored with the idea that Rob Zombie might energize the franchise by imparting it with a nasty edge heretofore unseen – count me among them, for a time – should rejoice, as, with Zombiween II, the last vestiges of the 1978 original are washed away in an ocean of blood and gristle. Laurie Strode, here introduced staggering, barely alive, down the middle of an empty street, caked in crimson and carrying a gun, is Zombie’s ostensible focus, and, in what probably proved an instructive misstep to the H40 creative team, his script doubles down on her as yet unrevealed kinship with the Myers family as both the source of her torment and, in a half-assed, pseudo-psychiatric way, possible salvation. Save me, instead. This leads to the repeated visual motif of an ethereal Mrs. Myers clad in white, playing Obi-Wan to her son’s Luke – Michael is presented as a murderous drifter who has apparently spent the year between Octobers walking the earth like Caine in Kung-Fu – and ends with several close-quarters hallucinations manifesting themselves in patently uncomfortable and implausible ways. Sincere kudos to Zombie for distilling almost the entirety of the original Halloween II into a painfully visceral fifteen-minute dream sequence that is just the latest iteration of Laurie’s ongoing nightmare, though, in retrospect, it might really have behooved him to just remake Halloween II in earnest instead of letting his overheated imagination run roughshod. Coarse and immediate, Zombieween II fatally misunderstands the balance of quality vs. quantity carnage that so often sets superior “Slasher” movies apart. FWIW, I remember being much more impressed leaving the theater in 2009. Big Brother and Little Sister, once the latter acknowledges the former (and before Loomis blunders into the climax like an incompetent hostage negotiator), are at least given permission to change, if not grow, and the ending approaches then deftly dodges poetry in a decidedly Astro Creep: 2000 kind of way. Despite all the pretense otherwise, these two movies seem to be a lot more about how Rob Zombie thinks and obsesses than they are about Michael Myers, which is reason enough for me to deem them noble failures. Though with his gift for quirky, phantasmagoric visuals, I’m legitimately sorry to see Zombie didn’t get the chance to offer his own take on Season of the Witch. That one might well have been a classic.

Cast likeability/relatability: Are you kidding? Zombie again assumes not only directing but writing duties here, and the result is not so much a double-edged sword as a cudgel with which to tune up his audience, and a procession of characters that either should be textbook yet actively defy sympathy, are barely glimpsed collateral damage, or else are too esoteric or blatantly awful to even invite consideration. Laurie’s day-to-day one Halloween later sees her still neck deep in a mire of post-traumatic stress, living with Annie Brackett and her sheriff father in a reclaimed upstairs bedroom tagged with so much nonsensical, pointedly antisocial graffiti that it looks like the men’s toilet at a punk nightclub. Just when you worry the ordeal might’ve robbed Laurie of her excess sass, we meet her proto-hipster friends at the anarchist bookstore where she works. The sight of three nubile eighteen-year-old girls taking a spontaneous work break, in 2009, to kick out the blissful jams (literally, to MC5) is something that probably exists only in Zombie’s imagination. In the movie’s other attempt at levity, the trio sharply dress as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, Magenta, and Columbia from The Rocky Horror Picture Show for a sprawling, second-act-encompassing Halloween party more elaborate than most thrown in Lincoln Park Chicago, let alone Haddonfield. Meanwhile, Loomis, who you’ll remember parlayed his fifteen years with Michael into a bestselling case study before getting sucked back into Haddonfield and almost killed trying to save Laurie, has, with the release of book two (recounting Zombiween I), completed his long day’s journey into night and is now a browbeating, superficial dirtbag. He stops in Haddonfield to use the facade of the Myers House in promotional imagery, arranges a contentious signing session in downtown Haddonfield because he’s now an amoral moron (Lynda’s father almost kills him in line), and charmingly berates the long-suffering assistant who tells him it’s in bad taste: “When I want your opinion, I’ll beat it out of you.” Loomis’ book, of course, contains the bombshell revelation of Laurie’s past as “Angel Myers”, which justifiably pitches Laurie off the deep end and into a self-destructive bender that leads to a thankfully final confrontation with her brother.

Notables: Holy (additional) Stunt Casting, Batman! That is, indeed, the late Margot Kidder (Superman, Black Christmas) as Laurie’s therapist. I also noticed famous South Ohio disc jockey Howard Hesseman as her boss at the bookstore, plus a then-unknown Octavia Spencer as a helpful nurse killed in Laurie’s hospital nightmare. Pretty much everyone who survived Zombiween, and even some about whom we weren’t sure, returns to the sequel to help pad its body count. Let’s just say their luck doesn’t hold. Two vets of Sons of Anarchy, Mark Boone, Jr. and Dayton Callie, play the lead redneck and slightly more humane county coroner, respectively. Pre-Talking Dead Chris Hardwick plays a talk show host who welcomes callous, two-time best selling “True Crime” author Loomis to his dais, then accuses him on national TV of (again) picking clean the lucrative bones of human misery. Tag team partner “Weird Al” Yankovic cheerfully heckles Loomis further from Hardwick’s guest couch.

Number of kills: 21 (including a cow, a dog, and three people in a dream)

Originality of kills: Welcome back to Haddonfield, Illinois! Established: 1883; Population: Dwindling. After the ambulance transporting him hits a cow, killing Dayton Callie instantly, Michael saws the other paramedic’s head off with a piece of broken glass. An elderly hospital volunteer is found strung up in a stairwell, eyeless. A precocious trio of rednecks picks a fight with the wrong drifter and winds up as so much bulk fertilizer. Zombie later juxtaposes Michael eating the rednecks’ dog with a pizza dinner at the Brackett House in an attempt at some sort of point about lost humanity. The manager of the Rabbit in Red strip club gets his head literally stomped flat and a stripper has her face rammed repeatedly into a wall length mirror. Annie is roughed up offscreen after Michael appears reflected in her bathroom mirror, is later discovered at death’s door, having given said bathroom a new coat of paint, and allowed to finally expire only after every bit of pathos could be wrung from her pitiful state. A Good Samaritan is thrown through the window of his own car before Michael flips it over and down an embankment. If there is a moral to the Rob Zombie Halloweens, it is, simply, do not assist Laurie Strode, ever. Michael produces a hunting knife the size of a sawed-off shotgun and stabs the everliving hell out of Loomis, then is shot by police snipers and impales himself in a lurch on some, um, sharp, protruding farm implements. We close on a hysterical Laurie, now rocketing toward any number of exciting new psychological diagnoses, who says a tearful, heartfelt goodbye to her brother before stabbing him hysterically, then exits the barn wearing his mask. Because Rob Zombie loves a parade. Bye bye, indeed, Michael. Good riddance, Loomis. And Bravo, Danielle Harris. It feels weird to say, and I don’t know what you could’ve possibly done to deserve such treatment. Whether as Jamie Lloyd or Annie Brackett, rarely has any fictional someone suffered so much for so little.

Who IS Michael Myers?: “Are you a giant?” asks the little boy innocently, staring almost straight up at the man looming before him. “Can I be your friend?” Towering, should’ve-been professional wrestler Tyler Mane (think WWE’s Kane, or former ROH/future NXT star Punishment Martinez) gets second billing here behind Compton’s Laurie, and is more of a traditional plot device than were his many ancestors, despite still functioning much as a self-propelled Roomba vacuum cleaner would if it was seven feet tall and equipped with spinning blades in place of bristles. Sure, Michael may be an anthropomorphic wood-chipper with a rapidly disintegrating mask and the full, scraggly beard of a Tolkein dwarf straight outta Erebor, but he is also racked with feelings he can’t express, and beset by persistent hallucinations (or is he/are they?) of his sainted mother and sanitized younger self cryptically beckoning him to protect “the family”. As with all else Zombiween, investing too much time in Rob’s various attempts at subtext yields penalties that range anywhere from mental exhaustion to cerebral collapse. Caveat viewor.

Final Word: Executioner’s Swan Song (1.5/4 stars)

10) Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers

Year: 1995 (Act 5, original timeline)

Director: Joe Chappelle

Tone: Random

Halloween 6Nutshell: And now, a bouquet of flustered observations about Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers that, even with minimal context or connective tissue, should still make at least as much baseline sense as the theatrical cut of Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers itself. We open on a sensibly never aired alternate universe episode of MTV’s Teen Mom, as 15-year-old Jamie Lloyd (according to melodramatic voiceover) gives birth to a baby boy under the sort of extreme duress one can only truly experience while in the care of a Druid death cult inside what appear to be the bowels of an abandoned hydroelectric plant. We are cruelly never told whether Little Billy from the Clinic was the father, and I, for one, cannot believe they dropped that narrative ball. Why, yes, thanks for asking. The fact that Jamie now has a baby does mean that even when she is inevitably killed, the Myers bloodline – through the, you’ll remember, also-late Laurie Strode’s newborn grandson – lives on to be snuffed out, giving Michael a fresh reason to sit up in the morning. *sigh* We move to Haddonfield, which sure seems festive and full of costumed children for a town that officially “banned” the celebration of Halloween after the events of Part 5, and the gnawing question of exactly who he might kill in the interim. To wit: here’s grown-up Tommy Doyle, survivor of Halloween ‘78 turned amateur sleuth, who certainly still loves to namedrop the bogeyman in casual conversation. Through him, and a hasty, soap operatic introduction, we learn of the Strode family, “relatives of the people who adopted Laurie”, despite the fact that…ugh, do I have to explain why Michael shouldn’t care? Kara’s a single mother trying to make things work! She’s moved back in with her parents (Laurie’s adopted father’s brother’s brood) with her own little moppet, who pulls a carving knife on his walking abscess of a grandfather in the midst of a typical knockdown breakfast table argument! And they’re all living in the “original” Myers House to boot! At least this one looks like a pale imitation of the 1978 version, and not just a vaguely gothic two-story the producer found on an episode of House Hunters. Questions abound: Couldn’t Loomis have languished in comfortable semi-retirement instead of sniffing around after his most famous patient this one last time? How easy is it to jump through a locked window? Also, I never did understand what was supposed to be going on in that mental ward operating room, but at least everyone in there died. Everything hums along much better than I’d remembered until the druids again intervene and completely hijack the film’s final quarter. You know, it’s almost a shame. Remove the extracurricular nonsense and this movie, while still punishing, instantly becomes at least 50% less overtly stupid and functions more or less like the middle-of-the-road Halloween sequel it always should’ve been. With its bookend trips off both the grid and the rails intact, it is a colossal, flaming mess.

Cast likeability/relatability: Gotta say I didn’t much care for them overall. Given the circumstances, I guess it’s hard not to root for adult Jamie, played this time by J.C. Brandy as a pixie-haired Winona Ryder type, though she’s still the same perpetually screaming terror magnet she ever was. I definitely felt bad watching her give up her newborn, only some of which having to do with said infant’s role as catalyst for the dumbest parts of the movie. Other than that, I didn’t/couldn’t get too invested. Marianne Hagen is reasonable as Kara, an assemblage of single mother cliches tasked with holding both the fractious Strode family and movie together. Asshole patriarch John Strode should definitely drink more at work while his wife at home desperately protects her kids from the madman targeting them for obscure reasons. Ebert’s Law of Economy of Characters practically dictates who the “Man In Black” from Halloween 5 will turn out to be, and it’s not an inspiring choice. Tommy Doyle – described by an ancillary character as a “13” on a ten-point creepiness scale – has grown from that precocious kid spouting playground hearsay about the bogeyman into a functioning adult paranoiac spouting full blown conspiracy theories about the bogeyman, which, for this movie, qualifies as an exquisite character arc. He makes a solid, if temporary, team with the slumming Loomis, who, though limited by his health and the script (in reverse order), is game as ever. With Donald Pleasance having already passed, Loomis appears to meet his maker offscreen as the movie closes, having bravely/ unwisely pursued a private tete-a-tete with Michael after helping the kids escape the halls of Druidia. That’s as close as Curse comes to elegance. Godspeed, good doctor. We didn’t deserve you.

Notables: Noted non-actor George Wilbur is back to don yet another subtly different mask and Make Michael Wooden Again. I respect Wilbur’s body of stunt work immensely, but his involvement here should have been a clue. Mama Strode was played by the delightful Kim Darby, who not only featured alongside John (Frigging) Wayne in the original True Grit but also enlivened the margins of one of my favorite ‘80s comedies, Better Off Dead. I can’t tell you how disappointed I was that she never got the chance to attempt to placate Michael with sentient blue raisin jello, or bacon boiled until it turns green. Prolific TV actor Mitchell Ryan, who played duplicitous Druid academic Dr. Wynn, featured in Grosse Pointe Blank and was technically a bigger bad than even Gary Busey in the 1987 action blockbuster Lethal Weapon. Unless your name is Jamie Lee or Donald (or Busta!), however, they don’t come more notable in the Halloween franchise than future Marvel superhero Paul (Stephen) Rudd, here making his auspicious film debut as a Tommy Doyle full of pensive, well-intentioned half measures, tin foil hat-adjacent motivations, and nervous laughter. He does…okay. Remember in my Friday the 13th Rankings when I dubbed fellow incongruous future Hollywood hunk Kevin Bacon “The Johnny Depp of Friday the 13th”? Paul Rudd is the Kevin Bacon of Halloween.

Number of kills: 15

Originality of kills: Jamie’s midwife tries to help her escape, only to receive the business end of a protruding – one assumes decorative? – wall spike for her efforts. While chasing Jamie, Michael gives the head of an innocent bystander a 180-degree twist. Poor Jamie is impaled onto some fairly nasty-looking farm equipment. Mama Strode is felled by an axe out amongst her freshly hung, though no longer white, linens. Papa Strode discovers his wife’s bloody clothing in the washing machine downstairs, then is electrocuted by prolonged contact with a fusebox (it’s movie science!) sufficient to make him foam at the mouth before his head finally explodes ala Scanners. After finding a conveniently laid machete out in the mental ward hallway, Michael channels his inner-Voorhees and slaughters every Druid in a nearby operating room. We’ve sure all been there before. The radio shock jock emceeing the Halloween Festival is merely stabbed in his car after announcing he’ll be broadcasting live from the Myers House following a few (more) messages from our sponsor. Somewhere the no less guilty writer of the equally cursed Halloween: Resurrection was probably listening and taking notes. The bastard.

Who IS Michael Myers?: Perhaps someday I’ll seek out the fabled “Producer’s Cut” that, depending on with whom you’re speaking, turns Curse into a watchable, coherent, even – dare I say it? – objectively good movie, but I can only work with what I’m given. Thank goodness that Curse’s middle third actually resembles a functional, though still comparatively low-grade, Halloween sequel, because it sure sucks watching Michael having to wade through all this Druidic nonsense otherwise. There’s a moment, when he suddenly emerges from a random side door in the long mental ward hallway in which the entire finale seems to take place that I had to catch myself, having legitimately forgotten for a time that he was even part of the movie. And, yeah, so, oddly enough, maybe the mask does get more right than wrong (though the face is still too wide and the hair at times distractingly frizzy). Should I throw you a parade? If your script can’t get out of its own way long enough to allow sufficient room for the inclusion of Michael Myers in the climax of a Halloween movie, you are beyond help as a writer. Go back to the commune and churn butter or something.

Final Word: Gobbledygook (1.5/4 stars)

11) Halloween: Resurrection

Year: 2002 (Act 7, original timeline)

Director: Rick Rosenthal

Tone: The Real World: Haddonfield

Halloween RezNutshell: Halloween: Resurrection can realistically be found lacking in so many varied and vital ways that it effectively camouflages the movie’s single greatest sin: its stunning illegitimacy. Resurrection’s existence is built on the flimsiest, most insulting, most nonsensical foundation I can recall in a major horror movie…and I’ve seen Friday the 13th: A New Beginning (several times, perhaps even underrating it comparatively). Jamie Lee Curtis returns, one last time for the second time, as Laurie Strode, now shockingly institutionalized following the events of H20, despite the fact that her triumph at that movie’s end had seemed both cathartic and conclusive. “Oh my god,” gasps an expository intern to the attending physician relating Laurie’s story as they observe her through a cell window. “She killed the wrong person!” The wrong person. The. Wrong. Person. As in NOT Michael Myers. She decapitated the wrong person, then screamed in triumph like she’d just conquered Everest. De-CAP-i-tated him. Yes she did. Let all that sink in for a minute, and then another, and then a minute more. I’ve long lamented the ill-advised thinking that reduces any actor portraying a slasher villain to “some random guy in a mask”, but Halloween: Resurrection takes the concept to a ludicrous extreme, then bets the farm its viewers won’t care. We are asked to believe that Michael Myers paused at a pivotal moment during H20’s climactic pursuit to dress up an incapacitated paramedic like a Thanksgiving turkey in a bone white William Shatner mask, presumably because he – a Babe Ruth figure in the annals of film infamy, remember – was concerned that his sister, a twitchy, mid-’40s boarding school headmistress, might, in fact, somehow murder him and he’d grown desperate for an escape route. Uh-huh. Nothing that happens in Laurie’s roughly fifteen minutes of screen time can touch that flashback for sheer lunacy, though the greater section piggybacks on the strength of Curtis’ presence and our lingering incredulity to become by far the movie’s most riveting. After Laurie is rudely dispatched, the action shifts back to the historic/notorious, dilapidated, barely recognizable “Myers House”, where a coed sextet of young, horny millennials has convened for a haunted sleepover at the behest of slick reality TV producer Busta (gulp) Rhymes, who wants to use invasive surveillance tech to document their every urge and scream for a jaded but amused web audience. From here, the movie essentially writes itself as an inelegant Y2K update of the William Castle/ Vincent Price classic House on Haunted Hill in Shakycam-laden cyber-drag, a closing memento of that fascinating time period when the fact that nobody in Hollywood really knew how the internet worked in no way curtailed their urge to exploit it. Halloween II director Rick Rosenthal pops by to lend the project a whiff of tacit legitimacy and only succeeds in playing the legendary “Halloween Theme” over the opening credits to a Halloween movie for the first time in over twenty years. He gets a cookie. Resurrection has no reason whatsoever to exist, and, conveniently enough, barely any greater reason to watch.

Cast likeability/relatability/Notables: I’m taking the (only) theoretically space-saving measure of combining these two categories since most every character in Resurrection is a caricature anyway, including several we’ve specifically seen before. First things first: Any film that gives Busta Rhymes top billing is preemptively destined for some manner of dramatic failure, so it’s actually damned impressive to watch him just go about his business professionally, leaning on his innate natural charisma and basically being the least annoying thing in the movie for 2/3 of its runtime. He underplays so dramatically compared to expectations, in fact, that it is fourth-degree whiplash when he finally swaggers his way into the endgame uninvited, bulletproof beneath body armor made from a lawn sprinkler’s supply of wince-inducing tough guy bravado and acting like a wannabe who got kicked off the set of a Shaw Brothers kung-fu epic for being obnoxious. Elsewhere are the lovely and reliably loony Katee Sackhoff, who played “Starbuck” in the 2004 Battlestar Galactica reboot, horny pest Thomas Ian Nicholas, the least memorable of many such contenders in the original American Pie series, and Barbershop’s Sean Patrick Thomas, who was, for reasons that currently escape me, such a big deal at the time that he was afforded a “Special Appearance” credit here. Supermodel Tyra Banks stops by to play a Tyra Banks type – telegenic producer and on-air talent, (figuratively) cutthroat and vapid – but gets lost in the shuffle alongside the good girl lead (with a scream that can literally break glass), a sanctimonious, secretly ornery college girl (let’s call her “Janie Briggs”, ala the Not Another Teen Movie protagonist), and another one of the middle series’ standard rebellious weirdos (howzabout “John Bender”, ala The Breakfast Club). Michael doesn’t fare much better, honestly, and it’s just another bad sign when one of history’s most notorious serial killers is an occasional afterthought to the dial-up modem shenanigans swirling around him. Seriously, Busta and Katee are like rubber-faced human cartoons. I’d pay a dollar for one minute of watching them try to out-emote one another.

Number of kills: 10

Originality of kills: Hit and miss, with a disappointing overreliance on “the hits”. A security guard gets decapitated (lots of that going around) and his head tossed into the facility laundry. Early on, the head cameraman is bayonetted in the neck with the oddly oversharpened leg of his tripod, and then never mentioned again. Michael bursts through an upstairs wall and Judith’s old makeup mirror, dispatching his doubtless surprised victim with a knife to the back of the head. Bye-bye, Miss American Pie. Janie Briggs is impaled on yet another in the franchise’s long-running series of conspicuously protruding wall spikes. Sean Patrick Thomas, in a callback to Lynda’s 1978 boyfriend Bob, is nailed to the wall of a stairwell with not one but two carving knives, while Tyra is found hanging from the control room rafters. John Bender gets his head crushed until he bleeds from the eyesockets. Starbuck gets one-swipe decapitated (lots of that going around) and her head rolls down the stairs, finally impressing upon our jaded Scooby Gang the gravity (and reality) of their situation. The internet generation, ladies and gentlemen!

Who IS Michael Myers?: Wait, is Michael wearing eyeliner here? Ye gods. This mask variant also displays such prominent cheekbones in certain shots that it makes one wonder whether dark grey rouge is something that exists. And those all-but-penciled-on eyebrows are officially out of control. Does everybody gotta look good for TV? Did I miss the red carpet pre-show coverage? Somebody tell these fools that it’s just the AOL internet, circa 2002. First 100 hours free? After little more than a single hour of this, you may want to kill yourself. Or your date for making the suggestion.

Final Word: Cyber-criminal (1/4 stars)

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