I think, objectively, that the first Halloween film is the best movie across all the franchises that I’ll be looking at this month. The first entry in John Carpenter’s epoch-defining horror series is truly a work of art, not just in the horror genre but across filmmaking at large: the final girl, the music, the monster, the sheer, subversive, suburban horror of it all. The 1978 flick launched itself into the horror world with a menacing slash and landed a place in nightmarish history almost at once – and it deserves that place.
But also, less objectively, I have to admit that the Halloween franchise is my least favourite of the ones I’ll be writing about over the next few weeks. Yes, I love that first movie, but the downturn came fast and came hard for this franchise, and really never recovered.
And I think the biggest problem with this is Michael Myers himself, one of the most instantly iconic horror villains of all time: in that first movie, he is chillingly brazen, utterly unconcerned with being caught, using the sleepiness of suburbia as his cover – nobody would dare do would he was doing in a place like that, so he couldn’t be, could he? He is the embodiment of evil, relentless and fearless and invulnerable. And that’s great for one movie. But when it comes to a franchise? It swiftly turns dull.
As I mentioned in our look at the Rob Zombie remake of the original Halloween, for me, Michael Myers is by far the least interesting of all the big bads of this horror era. Pure evil is banal in a world of Freddy Kruegers and Deadites and Leatherfaces: within ten minutes of the second movie, Myers becomes nothing more than the conduit for a machete, no better or more inventive than much-maligned characters like Jason Voorhees. I’m not saying that horror has to be camp to skate by, but when you’re dragging out films for this long, the least you could do is give us a villain with some actual meat. Michael is, by neccessity, devoid of personality, and how in the name of holy hell are you meant to build a franchise around a character who’s nothing but a William Shatner mask over a blank slate?
But to focus only on Michael would be to overlook the other great horror icon born from the Halloween franchise: Laurie Strode. Played by Jamie Lee Curtis, Strode would lay out the groundwork for many final girls to come – resourceful, virginal, teenaged – but she’s also a hell of a lot more than that. And it’s her appearances in the series that elevate some of the later chapters out of complete mediocrity. In fact, it’s superb performance from Lee Curtis that rescues Halloween H20, with Strode returning as a PTSD-ridden mother trying to recover from the events of the original Halloween. And Strode is far from the blank slate that Michael is, especially when performed by the magical Lee Curtis; Laurie gives the films some real texture, one of the only returning final girls and with damn good reason. But she’s not in all of them, and her presence is sorely missed as the films spiral into gruelling averageness.
But at the end of the day, I have to admit that Halloween was the rewatch I struggled most with this time around. It feels as though the series was coasting by on the good faith of the first film (which was well-earned, as it truly can’t be overstated just how genre-changing and powerful it is) for far too long a time, and what we’re left with is a real dirge of a franchise that feels all but indistinguishable film to film. With the sequel (out later this week – check in for a review at the weekend), it seems as though director David Gordon Green has made the right choice in disregarding every film except the first one – if we’re being honest, it’s the only entry with any solid merit to build on.
Ranking the Movies, Best to Worst: Halloween, Halloween: H20, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Halloween II, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, Halloween: Resurrection
By Louise MacGregor
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(header image courtesy of filmstarts.de)