5) Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
[88 minutes. R. Director: Dwight Little]
After III baffled audiences looking for another Michael Myers entry, Halloween was rebooted long before Rob Zombie came along, with Return functioning as much as a thinly-veiled remake as a series continuation. The surprise of this third sequel is its overall improvement [sic] over Carpenter’s film (the pace zips along with whipcrack efficiency; the suspense isn’t sabotaged by musical cues), with director Dwight Little and writer Alan McElroy remaining reverent to the Myers mythos while moving the series forward in a respectable way. It’s also modestly stylish – the shot compositions, in terms of horrific impact, are frequently compelling. Perhaps some of the plot details are a bit far-fetched (the NRA-supporting bar buddies who form an impromptu lynch mob when the police station doesn’t answer their call), but the film is so fast-paced, it’s hard to nit-pick. As improbable as both Myers’ and Loomis’s return may seem (from a narrative-logic standpoint), it’s nice to see them go head-to-head in an entry that doesn’t just cynically use their characters as a hook to sell tickets. This also marks the screen debut of Danielle Harris (as Michael’s niece, Jamie), so there’s also that.
4) Halloween (2007)
[121 minutes. Unrated. Director: Rob Zombie]
The fact that Rob Zombie’s formal remake was met with a mix of reactions – confusion, disdain, and, in some cases, legitimate praise – is a sign that he succeeded. I’ve argued my preference for this Halloween over Carpenter’s for nearly a decade, and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. No, the film isn’t perfect. And the deleted scenes and alternate takes on the Blu-ray special features go a ways in backing up the stories of post-production reshoots (it’s a miracle it didn’t wind up as execrable as Curse or Resurrection). What shines about Zombie’s take is the unflagging commitment to character and aesthetic – while the backstory of Michael Myers’s rise to infamy is Pop Psychology 101 (kid has lousy home life; kid tortures and kills animals; kid grows up to be heartless killer), it shows an interest in developing a character that Carpenter seemed indifferent toward (all the tired “evil”-speak of the ’78 film is at least given fleshed-out justification here). Michael’s “lost years” at Smith’s Grove are explored – albeit in an abbreviated way – but these details provide the sort of shading that was lacking in the original. Buffered by a supporting cast of familiar genre faces (Richard Lynch; Dee Wallace; Ken Foree; Clint Howard; Udo Kier), Zombie does a respectable job of balancing the backstory against the more familiar remake elements that inform the film’s final half. While the nixed Alternate Ending is much better than what Dimension ultimately went with, it doesn’t detract from the rest of the film. It’s refreshing to see a once-simple slasher premise given a soulful and compelling voice; my biggest complaint may be its mad rush to cover so much ground in too limited a time (the Director’s Cut is 2 hours, but could have easily stretched longer). The game-for-anything Malcolm McDowell is brilliant as Loomis 2.0, and Scout Taylor-Compton makes for a fine Laurie Strode.
3) Halloween II (1981)
[93 minutes. R. Director: Rick Rosenthal]
Before Rick Rosenthal helped deep-six the series with Resurrection, he did a damn fine job of following up the ’78 film with this efficient, suspenseful, and wildly violent sequel. Picking up moments after the original, the tone diverges drastically from its predecessor – namely, its position at the forefront of ’80s slashers results in a gorier film that thrives on its body count. Despite top billing, Jamie Lee Curtis is reduced to a bed-bound, near-catatonic state, leaving the viewer to follow around a group of graveyard-shift hospital personnel (The Naif; The Sleazebag; The Slut; The Good-Hearted Kid) while a frantic Loomis (Pleasence) pursues Michael Myers. The budget is bigger and the scope is more ambitious, leading to an experience less rooted in a single location. While the story detours (a random girl who’s introduced just to be Michael’s next victim; an angry mob at the Myers house; an inexplicable break-in at an elementary school) sometimes seem extraneous to the actual plot (it bears noting that the Celtic mythology introduced here is played up in Revenge and Curse; and the unrelated Season of the Witch), but at least the film moves this time. The final confrontation in a dead-end OR is fantastic, with the Michael-Loomis-Laurie triangle coming together with surprising pathos.
2) Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
[98 minutes. R. Director: Tommy Lee Wallace]
By virtue of its own resistance to succumbing to the law of diminishing returns; by virtue of its own bonkers, ’50s sci-fi-styled ingenuity, Season of the Witch plays much better when compared against the mediocre-to-awful Myers-centric sequels that followed. In 1982, though, I could understand audiences’ confusion and resentment toward it. A woolly sci-fi premise (sinister mask-manufacturer wants to laser-fry the kids of America on Halloween night) dressed up in a horror-Noir business suit, the film was to continue the Halloween franchise as an anthology series of unrelated stories. Since none of this was explained to viewers expecting more Michael Myers, the film died at the box office; the Silver-Shamrock-lining is that it has gained a well-earned following in the ensuing years. (For more thoughts on Season of the Witch, check out Crash Palace Productions in the near future for my extensive appreciation of the film.)
1) Halloween II (2009)
[119 minutes. Unrated. Director: Rob Zombie]
Rob Zombie’s follow-up to his 2007 remake is a psychodrama in slasher clothing; an intricate and brilliant exploration of damaged minds and physical scars; PTSD and fighting to escape an unknowable past manifesting some ugly present-day impulses. Its visuals (captured by DP Brandon Trost) are appropriately desaturated in the metaphorical presentation of mist-shrouded fields; torrential downpours; and the periodic image of snowfall on macabre dreamscapes. It’s the two-year anniversary of Laurie’s (Taylor-Compton) confrontation with Michael Myers (Tyler Mane); haunted by nightmares, heavily medicated, and seeing a psychiatrist (Margot Kidder), Laurie resides with Sheriff Brackett (Brad Dourif, giving a career-best performance) and homebound Annie (Danielle Harris, also excellent). Meanwhile, Loomis (McDowell, in a reduced-capacity – but nonetheless pivotal – role) is on a national book tour, basking in an egotistical, exploitative celebrity that nonetheless gets derailed by the media speculation that Myers is still alive. The way these characters triangulate in the third act is the result of circumstance, altruism, and atonement for wrongs that informs their eventual fates; there is a death near the end that is so tragic and awful, it put a genuine weight in my chest (something I didn’t feel with any other entry in the series). Therein lies the difference of Zombie’s film versus any other bearing the Halloween brand, and a sign that he really understood the story and characters better than anybody gave him credit for – he made these icons his own, exploring their damaged psyches and past transgressions (the “secret” Brackett confides to Loomis in the 2007 film is a major plot point here) instead of opting for the same old monotonous stalk-and-slash that killed the initial series. Freed from the expectations of preexisting material, Zombie took advantage and branched off onto a daring path that presented reality as the worst thing it can possibly be: an inescapable nightmare. When done well, horror films have the capacity to move the viewer as greatly as drama, and Halloween II ranks as one of the best of its kind.