In early 1978, filmmaker John Carpenter and his then-girlfriend/producer Debra Hill were undergoing filming for an independent horror film in South Pasadena and West Hollywood. With a budget of less than half a million dollars and a then-unknown actress by the name of Jamie Lee Curtis, the world had yet to be introduced to a new horror icon, Michael Myers. When released, Halloween became a box office hit and gained reverence amongst horror fans alike, turning it into a modern staple of slasher films.
Forty years later, Curtis has returned to her career-making role in Halloween, a direct continuation of the first entry, but with the same name (so for the purposes of this article, we’ll call the film Halloween 2018). This film has been established as a clean slate for the franchise, wiping out all previous continuity from the sequels. Directed by David Gordon Green and produced by horror sensation Jason Blum, Halloween 2018 has been met with a hugely positive reception and grossed over $90 million on its opening weekend.
So what has been the appeal of Michael Myers after eleven films in 40 years?
Behind That Boy’s Eyes
There will be SPOILERS AHEAD for all Halloween films including the latest one.
While most fans would cite Psycho or The Texas Chainsaw Massacre for birthing the slasher subgenre of horror, it was Halloween that brought it into mainstream appeal. It’s often credited for the popularity of A Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th. Halloween began with producers Irwin Yablans and Moustapha Akkad wanting to make a film about a psychotic killer who stalked babysitters. After viewing Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, they approached him with the idea and eventually went to work.
The script was originally titled The Babysitter Murders but then changed to Halloween in order to fit the setting of the story. It started with a young Michael Myers murdering his sister on Halloween night 1963, then being incarcerated for fifteen years until finally breaking out in 1978 for a reign of terror on babysitters in Haddonfield, including teenager Laurie Strode (Curtis). Not much is known about Michael’s motivations to kill, but according to his psychiatrist Dr. Samuel Loomis (played by the late Donald Pleasance) he is simply an unstoppable force of nature, “purely and simply… evil”.
Operating on a shoestring budget, Halloween employed several unconventional filmmaking techniques in order to achieve its frightening atmosphere and tone. This includes the opening POV shot of young Michael murdering his sister lasting nearly five minutes, simple suburban backdrops, long wide shots with a then-new Steadicam, a $1.98 Captain Kirk mask, and a memorable musical score composed by John Carpenter himself. The film grossed nearly $70 million, a lot of which was attributed to word-of-mouth at the time. Because of this, Halloween is often cited as a strong influence in independent filmmaking.
But how has it lasted as a franchise?
Was That the Boogeyman?
There are now officially five timelines in the Halloween franchise: I, II, H20, and Resurrection; I, II, 4, 5, and 6; III standing out on its own; the Rob Zombie remakes; and I and the 2018 sequel. Halloween II, released in 1981, picks up where the first film left off. This one was notable with the famous revelation of Laurie Strode being the younger sister of Michael Myers. This was meant to be the original conclusion of the Myers story, according to John Carpenter. From there, the intention for the rest of the franchise was to be an anthology series of different Halloween-related stories. This is where Halloween III: Season of the Witch comes in, centering around a plot by an evil corporation using Halloween masks to kill children and a doctor (Tom Atkins) and his patient’s daughter (Stacy Nelkin) trying to uncover the truth. Season of the Witch has had a notorious reputation over the years due to the absence of Michael Myers but has gained some critical recognition for being a standout piece.
In the ’80s, slasher films were all the rage with villains like Freddy Kreuger and Jason Voorhees cutting their way into the big screen. So in 1988, Moustapha Akkad returned to the roots of Halloween and released Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. This time, instead of Laurie Strode, audiences were introduced to her daughter Jamie Lloyd (played by fellow scream queen Danielle Harris), who has now become a new target for Michael Myers. Much like Season of the Witch, time has been kinder to The Return of Michael Myers, as it gained somewhat of a cult following over the years. What fans remember most is the twist ending, when after Michael is “killed”, Jamie herself is revealed to be a killer and now following the same path as her uncle.
This lead to many possibilities for Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, with potentially Jamie as the new Michael. Unfortunately, it’s seen as another forgettable slasher sequel, with the opportunity to explore Jamie’s evil wasted. The same could be said for Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, which many fans consider to be amongst the worst in the series, due to a troubled production and a clumsy attempt at revealing the truth to Michael’s madness. It was also the last appearance of Pleasance as Dr. Loomis before he passed away in 1995.
One Good Scare
So how does Halloween get back up on its feet? By retconning the last three films and making Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. This one has been a favorite of Halloween fans and often considered to be the best sequel. The smartest move to breathe new life into the franchise was by bringing back an old face, Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode. This time, she’d been living under an alias for the last twenty years after the events of Halloween II due to faking her own death. H20 came out during a time when ’90s slasher films like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer were hugely popular with audiences, and it too became a hit at the box office. This prompted another sequel Halloween: Resurrection in 2002, which has been regarded as far worse than The Curse of Michael Myers. It killed off Laurie Strode in the first ten minutes, featured an uninteresting plot involving a reality show set in the Myers home, and did nothing to elevate the franchise to new grounds.
In the mid-to late 2000s, the trend of horror remakes was taking form and Halloween was on that list. Musician and filmmaker Rob Zombie was a big fan of the original film and this was his opportunity to create his own vision. Thus Halloween, the remake, was released in 2007. This is a film that has sharply divided fans over the years. It’s been described as exploitive, unpleasant, and downright unnecessary. But it was a hit and allowed Zombie to make a sequel, Halloween II. Much like The Curse of Michael Myers, it’s another muddled mess of a film that attempts to educate a new mythos of Michael Myers, but it’s ultimately unwatchable. Oh, and Michael speaks in the director’s cut. And it’s unsettling.
Fans of Halloween have always preferred the idea of Michael Myers being surrounded with mystery. He was unexplainably evil, to the point where trying to give him a detailed backstory takes away the horror of it all. Some of the strengths in the Zombie films include Malcolm McDowell (Alex DeLarge from A Clockwork Orange) taking over the role of Dr. Loomis, Brad Dourif (Chucky from Child’s Play) as Sheriff Brackett, and even Scout Taylor-Compton as Laurie Strode. And even though these films are deeply weak, you get a sense that Zombie loves Halloween and wanted to do it justice. But it left an already-flawed franchise dead in the dirt for years.
H40: 40 Years Later
Forget all the sequels, forget the Rob Zombie films, and forget about Michael Myers and Laurie Strode being related. In Halloween 2018, forty years after the events of the first film, Laurie is still living in Haddonfield, but in isolation and dealing with post-traumatic stress. Having distanced herself from her daughter Karen (Judy Greer) and her granddaughter Allyson (Andi Matichak), Laurie spends her days training with firearms and preparing for the eventuality that Michael Myers, who was captured that Halloween night in 1978 and locked away, would break out. She prays that she could face him once again so that she may finally kill him.
Halloween 2018 is the best sequel in the franchise, plain and simple. It goes back to the roots of what made Halloween great and made good use of Strode as a character. It also pays great homage to the original with several of Carpenter’s original shots and moments remastered for current audiences. So it presents not only some fan service but brings the saga of Myers and Strode full circle. The last third of the film, with the confrontation between Myers and Strode, along with her family, is the selling point. And best of all, it’s scary. It could be argued that Halloween 2018 is even redefining the slasher genre for a new generation as well know it.
Part of the reason why Halloween 2018 has become such a hit is the involvement and commitment of Jamie Lee Curtis and the return of John Carpenter, both serving as executive producers and the latter as creative consultant. Because who understands Halloween better than these two? And why not get fans of the original like David Gordon Green, Jason Blum, and even actor Danny McBride as co-writer to pay homage while creating a solid standalone piece? All of these ingredients make Halloween 2018 a familiar, but still a very satisfying treat.
Last Word on Halloween
Who knows what the future of the Halloween franchise holds? Despite the immediate success of the latest installment and John Carpenter currently under contract for a sequel, the franchise could just end on a solid note and fans would be pleased. Jamie Lee Curtis herself has been greatly celebrating the success of Halloween 2018 and has every right to do so. In a world full of sequels and updates to classic franchises, Halloween 2018 is a more-than-welcome installment that manages to live up to the original and stand out on its own. Films like these give people a reason to look forward to Halloween every year. Maybe we haven’t seen the last of Michael Myers, but it’s been great to see him again.
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