In this week's installment, we’re honoring Halloween by honoring... Halloween.
For 40 years now, the series that was kick-started by John Carpenter's terrifying original has been a staple for fright-night fans. Michael Myers remains one of the scariest things anybody has ever seen at the movies, and the sinister simplicity of its premise has inspired plenty of sequels and reboots — not to mention myriad bad slasher-movie copycats.
In total, there are 11 Halloween films, but we decided to spotlight the five best. There may be some arguments with our rankings in general, but no way anybody's gonna dispute what's No. 1.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
OK, hear us out.
Yes, yes, Halloween III was such a disaster at the time that it nearly killed the franchise entirely, and it obviously killed John Carpenter and Debra Hill's idea of making this an anthology series. But, you know, that wouldn't have been the worst idea, particularly in the hands of those two. And there is something particularly committed about a plot that involves a big corporation that's trying to use witchcraft — through mass-marketed masks — to murder all of a town's children.
The movie is pretty silly in execution, but we still love the idea so much that we cheer the fact that they went for it in the first place.
Halloween II (1981)
This is the sequel that invented the oft-repeated canard that Laurie Strode was actually Michael Myers' sister, and while the new movie is smart to toss that idea out the window, it does have some thematic lasting power. (As evidenced by the fact that the idea lasted 37 years.)
The whole gang is back from the first film, though Carpenter merely co-wrote the thing rather than directed it, and while it doesn't have the oomph of the first film, it is a perfectly serviceable sequel... though it still feels mostly like the cash grab Carpenter himself admitted that it was.
This is the much-debated, polarizing Rob Zombie version of Halloween, in which we're given a Michael Myers backstory (a full half-hour's worth) and are soaked in all the Zombie hallmarks, with twisted gore, freakish weirdoes, and the sensation that we are both supposed to revel in and be repulsed by all of this.
It's an ambitious, odd-duck left turn for the franchise, and while it doesn't entirely work — and it's probably better not to know Myers' backstory, all told — Zombie is such a fascinating, feverish filmmaker that you follow him down the rabbit hole anyway.
Erasing all the sequels and reboots — and kicking to the curb the notion that Laurie and Michael are siblings — director David Gordon Green's direct sequel to John Carpenter's original pays homage to the source material by not screwing around. (That's somewhat surprising considering that, in movies like Pineapple Express, Green has demonstrated the ability to screw around in fine fashion.)
This Halloween refuses to offer us insights into Michael: he is evil, he is madness, he is murder, pure and simple. When Michael is finally unleashed, there's no delight in his killings — there’s nothing "badass" about him. That makes the film grimly appropriate for our troubled times in which terrorism and school shootings are everywhere.
When people talk about iconic suspense scores, Psycho and Jaws are, understandably, mentioned. But, c'mon: the menacing piano that powers John Carpenter's Halloween theme is right up there with those other classics, instantly setting the mood for the terror and paranoia to follow.
As for the film, the producers just wanted a cheap exploitation picture. Instead, Carpenter gave them an electric, minimalist stunner that paved the way for Freddy and Jason and Chucky.
In Michael Myers, Carpenter and co-writer Debra Hill conceived of a villain who was technically human but conveyed none of the qualities we associate with our species. Faceless, remorseless, emotionless, Michael can't be bargained with or rationalized away.
Halloween stabbed at the seeming tranquility of suburbia, and Jamie Lee Curtis fashioned an all-time horror heroine in Laurie Strode. Decades later, this film still winds you up and freaks you out.
Every sequel has tried to harness its power — none have come close.