The still-going series has played fast and loose with continuity over the years; the one constant is always masked maniac Michael Meyers, with Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode and Donald Pleasence’s Dr. Loomis also making frequent appearances across films of varying quality. But how do they all stack up against each other? Grab yourself a bag of candy corn and get spooky season started right here, right now.
The original Halloween is an exercise in minimalism. These two remakes by Rob Zombie, a huge fan of the more-is-more approach, are not. They are noisier, more casually brutal, filled with characters so stridently awful you’re actually glad when Michael starts taking them out, have excessive runtimes, and are overloaded with story elements that don’t add much depth. In the first film, not only do we get a backstory that hammers home Michael’s unhappy childhood, we also get a literal lecture from Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) on all the reasons why Michael became a killer, as if it hadn’t already been made patently obvious.
These movies aren’t all bad—the casts are cult-movie cool as hell, with McDowell, Brad Dourif, Udo Kier, Dee Wallace, Danny Trejo, Ken Foree, Danielle Harris, Margot Kidder, “Weird Al” Yankovic, Sid Haig, and all the Zombie regulars popping up throughout. And while the first film echoes the 1978 original fairly closely, the second film follows its own narrative to some intriguingly batshit places, though your mileage may vary depending on your fondness for Sheri Moon Zombie. But if you can’t get past the heavy-handed Rob Zombie-ness of them—how is it possible that beloved horror heroine Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) can be transformed into someone so utterly unlikable?—there are so many other Halloween flicks to choose from that you can just kind of pretend they don’t exist.
The “return” in the title of this tepid 1988 entry refers to the fact that the third Halloween movie did away entirely with the Shatner-masked villain. But as advertised, he’s back for some repeat business in this one, which picks up 10 years after the fateful night chronicled in Halloween and Halloween II. It also refers to Michael’s journey home to Haddonfield, Illinois, which he easily achieves despite being doped up and restrained as part of an ill-advised October 31 psychiatric inmate transfer. His target this time: Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), the young daughter of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis, glimpsed only in photographs; her character is explained to have died in a car crash a year prior), who’s been taken in by a new family including the teenaged Rachel (Ellie Cornell).
There’s really not much that’s remarkable about Halloween 4 as far as style or story goes (director Dwight H. Little’s other feature credits include another not-great sequel: Anacondas: The Hunt for the Blood Orchid), and one can sense that returning star Donald Pleasence, who plays the weary, Michael-obsessed Dr. Loomis, might have some regrets that his character survived the inferno at the end of Halloween II. The film tries to pass the torch from Michael to Jamie in its final scenes, and while the little girl’s creepy clown Halloween costume is a nice homage, it all feels a little too obvious. The idea that Haddonfield’s resident good ol’ boys would leap off their barstools to organize an anti-Michael vigilante posse, however, is actually a pretty clever one.
A year after Michael’s most recent shit show—a year he’s spent in a coma, tended to by a parrot-owning hermit who’s completely out of the loop on Haddonfield’s escaped-serial-killer-still-at-large situation—he wakes up and sends a brainwave to poor Jamie (Harris), who’s unable to speak and has been living in a clinic for troubled kids since wounding her adoptive mother at the end of the fourth film. Once Dr. Loomis picks up on Jamie and Michael’s ESP connection, he pressures the girl into helping him track down his former patient, who doesn’t waste any time after his latest revival before he starts killing again (the last film’s final girl, Rachel, doesn’t make it out of act one).
Director and co-writer Dominique Othenin-Girard’s 1989 film improves on The Return of Michael Myers because it has a distinctly unhinged tone, between Jamie’s psychic freakouts, Loomis’ wild-eyed intensity, and other details that just feel off, like the way the film casually swaps in a random Victorian house to portray Michael’s iconic childhood home. If you imagine that The Revenge of Michael Myers is taking place in an alternate reality from the previous Michael films, or is perhaps a Loomis nightmare playing out in long-form, your viewing experience may be improved. However, you might also want to save that strategy for the next film on this list.
This sixth entry in the series came out in 1995, making it part of the last gasp of first-wave slasher movies before 1996's Scream revitalized the genre with its self-referential approach. Directed by Joe Chappelle, The Curse of Michael Myers tries in its own way to take the Halloween mythology in a new direction, picking up on something Dr. Loomis (Pleasence, in his final screen appearance) said in Halloween II about Michael’s connection to the ancient festival of Samhain and running amok with it. To boil down a lot of mumbo-jumbo, there’s a cult operating in Haddonfield that believes Michael is the key to unlocking unlimited powers of evil, and they’ve apparently been watching over him—and an aged-up Jamie (J.C. Brandy), who gives birth to an infant the cult intends to sacrifice, then is anticlimactically killed off—waiting for the right cosmic moment for their ritual.
Um, also, relatives of Laurie Strode are somehow now living in the old Myers house, and the kid Laurie was babysitting in the first movie, Tommy Doyle (played by a then-unknown Paul Rudd), lives next door and has become a full-time, Loomis-level Michael obsessive. There are some fleetingly clever elements in The Curse of Michael Myers—Haddonfield’s approach to Halloween shows us how Michael has been elevated from local legend to serial-killer pop culture icon—but mostly it’s a nonsensical mess. Some may find that frustrating, but others may be highly entertained, which is why the entry widely regarded as the worst in the series isn’t rock-bottom on this list. Fortunately for Paul Rudd, Clueless also came out in 1995, ensuring he still had a career after this delicious pile of pumpkin poop.
Set a few years after the events of Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, this sequel opens with Laurie institutionalized and most definitely not OK after decapitating Michael at the end of that film—except, as we soon find out when Resurrection frantically scripts itself into justifying its existence, it wasn’t Michael! He pulled a Hannibal Lecter and swapped places with an EMT! Michael is still aliiiive! And the first thing he does is... kill Laurie. Booooo!
Halloween logic dictates that Michael’s next stop on the murder train should be John, Laurie’s son in this continuity (played by Josh Hartnett in H20), but nah. Halloween: Resurrection instead embraces the newfangled world of livestreaming, shifting to a narrative in which college kids participating in a reality competition called Dangertainment are locked inside Michael’s old home for a Halloween stunt while the cameras roll. Little do they know Mr. Myers himself has been squatting in the sub-basement—presumably since 1978, with a side trip from Illinois to California to chase after Laurie in H20.
More than any other movie on this list, Resurrection feels quite dated thanks to its eager embrace of the finest technology 2002 could provide, and there’s some humor that feels backward by 2020 standards. But at least it injects a little something new into the narrative—and there’s some fun sprinkled in the cast, with a pre-Battlestar Galactica Katee Sackhoff playing a fame-hungry contestant alongside Busta Rhymes (who gets to deliver the line “Trick or treat, motherfucker!”) as Dangertainment’s very excitable producer.
Halloween: Resurrection director Rick Rosenthal made his feature debut with this 1981 entry in the series, which picks up exactly where the 1978 original left off: Laurie’s just fended off the boogeyman, and Dr. Loomis is horrified (but not all that surprised) to find that shooting his monstrous patient six times isn’t enough to slow him down, much less kill him. Though Halloween creators Carpenter and Debra Hill returned to co-write and co-produce, and the film has the same general vibe as the first film—same Carpenter music, same streets of Pasadena passing for Haddonfield, Jamie Lee Curtis in peak scream-queen mode—there’s a perceptible drop in quality. The plot doesn’t innovate much; once again, Laurie tries to evade her stalker while Loomis frantically tries to hunt him down. And while levels of gore and luridness are increased (Laurie’s in the hospital, so you know there’ll be a “sexy nurse meets a gruesome end” scene, though the “trick-or-treater vs. razor blade” situation glimpsed in passing is maybe the most shocking thing in the movie), actual frights are harder to come by.
Halloween II is probably best known as the movie that introduced the “Laurie is Michael’s long-lost baby sister” twist—thus giving Michael a motive for his madness. Subsequent installments (until the 2018 reboot) were then obligated to tap into that information for their own plots. But looking back now, keeping him an enigma would’ve been way scarier.
With Halloween H20: 20 Years Later sort of faded from filmgoers’ memories, 2018 seemed a good moment to pick up 40 years later with a freshly retconned continuity. Here, only the 1978 film has happened, thus freeing Laurie Strode (Curtis) from being Michael’s sister this go-round. Director David Gordon Green justifies the re-use of the original’s title by sprinkling an abundance of references and hat-tips throughout the story, which imagines Laurie has never left Haddonfield and has spent her life preparing for Michael—who’s been locked up since 1978—to come a-knocking.
Laurie’s commitment to being a paranoid survivalist makes sense for anyone who’s seen Michael in action, but most everyone else in the movie, including her adult daughter Karen (Judy Greer), thinks she’s nuts. That’s 100 percent in keeping with the Halloween series’ ongoing theme of nobody taking the threat of Michael Myers seriously until it’s too late, but that doesn’t make it any less annoying here. Another weak spot in the film is the Dr. Loomis protégé (Haluk Bilginer as Dr. Sartain), whose bizarre plan to set Michael free goes against everything Loomis stood for and just feels unnecessary, especially since Michael has proven over and again how excellent he is at escaping without needing anyone to help him.
With direct sequels Halloween Kills and Halloween Ends already set for release in the next few years, we’re guaranteed more of this battle-scarred, traumatized, heavily armed version of Laurie—and since Curtis’ performance is the best part of this movie, that’s something to look forward to.
Just three years after the B-movie flailings of The Curse of Michael Myers, slasher movies were cool again thanks to box office sensations like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer. There’s a technical polish (and no doubt a budget increase) that elevates Halloween H20; it’s directed by horror veteran Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2 and Part III) and boasts an incredible cast capped by Jamie Lee Curtis’s return as Laurie Strode. For the O.G. horror fans, there’s also Nancy Stephens as Dr. Loomis’ longtime nurse, Marion Chambers, who appears in the first two Halloween movies, and a cheery supporting turn by Curtis’ mother, Psycho star Janet Leigh. For fans of late-1990s pop culture, you also get LL Cool J, Adam Arkin, Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.
H20's story retcon wipes away the previous three films, though it does keep the detail that Laurie “died” in a car accident—a cover story so that she can conceal her identity as a survivor of the infamous Halloween massacre, as well as hide her location from you-know-who. Laurie’s PTSD is explored here in a completely different way than in the 2018 Halloween; she has violent nightmares and is tenuously holding it together with the help of a semi-secret booze problem and a cabinet stuffed full of prescription meds. But she’s also the well-liked headmaster of a boarding school and is mostly functional in her relationships, though her 17-year-old son (Hartnett) thinks she’s way too strict.
When Michael materializes—the movie never specifies, but apparently he’s just been on the loose for 20 years—his showdown with his long-lost sister is an appropriately epic mano-a-mano that takes up way more screen time than their brawl in 2018's Halloween. And though there are more Halloween installments after H20, the movie ends on a sense of finality that feels extremely satisfying in the moment.
Released in 1982, Halloween III represents an attempt to re-start the franchise as an anthology series of films built around Halloween-themed stories. That idea started and ended with this film, but thank goodness Carpenter and Hill gave it a go because Halloween III—directed by Tommy Lee Wallace, a longtime Carpenter associate who’d actually donned the Michael Myers mask for a few key scenes in the first Halloween—is its own weird and amazing creation. This movie, which is unsurprisingly very stylistically evocative of Carpenter, has it all: a sinister plot hatched by an evil witch involving ancient magic stolen from Stonehenge; Halloween masks designed to murder children by making snakes and bugs ooze out of their brains; a catchy-ass advertising jingle that will burn itself into your brain forever; an army of killer androids; and a hilariously implausible romantic subplot that the movie takes 100 percent seriously.
And technically it’s not true that there’s no Michael in this one—in the world of Halloween III, the first movie gets a shout-out (“the immortal classic!”) thanks to a very meta TV commercial, which pops up solely to offer an exaggerated wink to the audience.
The groundbreaking original is not just the movie by which all Halloween movies must be measured—it’s one of the all-time greats of the entire horror genre: a frantic psychiatrist, an escaped maniac, and a babysitter, all on a collision course one Halloween night. Curtis’ performance as the no-nonsense high schooler called upon to fight the embodiment of evil anchors the movie’s heart, while the intense action is elevated to even more frightening heights by director Carpenter’s use of POV shots and his own nerve-jangling electronic score.
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