“Halloween” horror franchise is back and in a big way.
That old walking, stalking figure of pure evil, Michael Myers, returns in director David Gordon Green’s new sequel “Halloween Kills” (in theaters and streaming on Peacock Friday), which follows 2018’s hit “Halloween” (which itself picked up the narrative 40 years after the original 1978 John Carpenter movie). Michael escapes a fiery trap and is on the loose in Haddonfield, Illinois, while Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), the former baby sitter and now heavily weaponized warrior grandma, is hospitalized while she recuperates from a severe abdominal wound.
There’s actually been a bunch of sequels and even some remakes in those four decades that delved into weird mythology (a Man in Black, really?) and also Michael’s extended family tree (which he pretty much wants to wipe out). Heck, one “Halloween” film doesn’t even have Michael!
Not that it was all bad. In honor of the latest installment, we’re ranking the entire “Halloween” franchise, though it’s safe to say there’s only one real classic in the bunch.
Review:‘Halloween Kills’ is a step back for Jamie Lee Curtis’ stab-happy horror franchise
Poor Donald Pleasence. As Michael’s main shrink, Dr. Sam Loomis went through a lot over the course of his “Halloween” run but this was the low point where Michael escaped a mine shaft to go after his niece Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris). The worst part? A mysterious Man in Black – hat, spurs and all – who inexplicably arrives at the very end to break Michael out of jail.
You don’t kill off Curtis, a bona fide national treasure, in a movie. You just don’t. But the rules apparently didn’t apply here when Laurie – in a moment of weakness – gets stabbed by Michael and thrown to her doom off the roof of a mental asylum. Fifteen minutes into the movie, no less!
The second half of Rob Zombie’s ambitious two-part reboot stumbled with a gore overload and Michael Myers (Tyler Mane) looking more like a gimmicky pro wrestler than “The Shape” of evil. One positive: The appearance of Deborah Myers (Sheri Moon Zombie) as a ghost mom (with a white horse!) who appears to both Michael and Laurie, aka Angel Myers (Scout Taylor-Compton).
This very odd little hiccup in the series is the result of a brief flirtation with “Halloween” as a horror anthology instead of a slasher fest. So Michael’s been shelved and in his villainous place is a novelty company that plans to use a mystical rock from Stonehenge to weaponize kids’ Halloween masks and slaughter millions. At least the bad guys had a creepily catchy jingle.
This one is the guilty-pleasure entry. It’s among Pleasence’s final roles: He died seven months before it came out. And it’s Paul Rudd’s second film role, as the kooky Tommy Doyle (one of the kids saved by Laurie in the 1978 flick). There’s a slight “Footloose” angle, with a Haddonfield ban on Halloween. And to make the franchise truly bonkers, it introduces the “Curse of Thorn” and a cult to explain Michael’s bloody anti-family bent.
It took some major chutzpah to say, “Let’s remake John Carpenter!” But Zombie’s brutal modern take added some cool backstory about little Michael’s murderous tendencies and extra story foundation before a slash-happy climax. (Also: Malcolm McDowell is a tremendous Dr. Loomis. Worth a watch for him alone.)
In addition to her recent franchise return, Curtis’ Laurie Strode also came back to celebrate the 20th anniversary. After faking her death to avoid Michael, her old foe finds Laurie working at a private school, and they have a showdown wherein she chops off Myers’ head. (Fun fact: Totally wasn’t him.)
Curtis actually is underutilized in the first sequel, which picks up where the original left off with Laurie’s hell night. Dr. Loomis is preoccupied with the cops looking for Myers, and Haddonfield’s residents start to freak out when they realize a killer’s on the loose,. Meanwhile Michael is busy tracking Laurie to a local hospital (which will be a frequent “Halloween” setting going forward). Oh, yeah, and Laurie is apparently Michael’s sister. Surprise!
The whole bloodline angle gets wonky in these movies, but the fourth installment does some good in giving Michael a relative in young Jamie (Harris). Naturally, she’s the target of the villain’s latest rampage, yet there’s a little bit of Michael – and not just DNA – in Jamie that gives the series a whiff of freshness, as well as a shock ending.
Laurie’s back in the hospital in this gory do-over of “Halloween II.” Curtis’ heroine turns philosophical as her daughter (Judy Greer) and granddaughter (Andi Matichak) debate going after Michael, Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) vows vengeance in a subplot centered on mob justice, and Myers evolves past just being a masked essence of evil.
The hit follow-up and direct sequel to the ’78 original is a not very scary but often funny throwback to the simpler slashers of yesteryear while also being a modern look at tragedy and trauma. Like 40 years prior, Haddonfield is totally not ready for Michael, although Laurie is, and Curtis is the best thing about it as a middle-aged woman who’s just not taking it anymore.
By far the best, no question. When Carpenter opened the movie from the point of view of 6-year-old Michael stabbing his sister to death, then caught up with him 15 years later creepily following Laurie (and unleashing unholy hell on suburbia), it brought the fright factor through an audience’s front door for the first time: How do you escape an unstoppable maniac in your house? And it’s just as timeless now as it was four decades ago.