October means Halloween, and Halloween usually means one of two things depending on who you are: it’s either a chance to dress up and panhandle for massive amounts of teeth-rotting candy, or it’s a horror movie franchise with a masked killer hell-bent on stabbing some random babysitters…or his sister…or his niece…or a bunch of white trash stereotypes that, frankly, won’t be missed. In truth, the Halloween franchise is a jumbled mess of convoluted plot lines full of cult members, reality TV, hillbillies, and witches. The newest installment (due out next year) is only going to muddy the waters further by introducing a new timeline to the mix — the third one in the series to branch off from the original film. Three different timelines, and that’s just in the main series; if you count the two Rob Zombie-helmed remakes it becomes four. Add in the Halloween-in-name-only Halloween III: Season of the Witch and the total comes to five. Five different narrative threads in one franchise! The only other series that even comes close is the X-Men franchise, and at least those movies can use time travel as an excuse.
Even with this handy-dandy flowchart from Trouble City, it’s still pretty complicated.
It’s tempting to just dismiss all the various Halloween sequels by writing the series off as another never-ending stream of generic stabathons where the only thing that ever changes is the teenagers, but honestly, the slasher movie sub genre is possibly the only genre where multiple sequels aren’t just warranted, but expected. Some of these series, like Friday The 13th, don’t even get watchable until they’re several movies in. Jason waited three movies just to put on his iconic hockey mask, and even then he didn’t become the rotting, undead super zombie we know and love until Part 6! Child’s Play didn’t reach its full potential until Bride of Chucky, when it finally embraced the absurdity of its premise. Even Nightmare on Elm Street, which didn’t exactly start out with a clunker, arguably didn’t hit its peak until A Nightmare On Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors. The point is, sequels to horror movies aren’t necessarily a bad thing in and of themselves. Sequels to Halloween, however, are.
Why single out Halloween? It might seem like a weird argument to make; after all, slasher movies (even the good ones) aren’t exactly works of art. There’s nothing offensive about making a copy if the original is just garbage entertainment to begin with, right? That would be true, except that John Carpenter’s original Halloween is a work of art in a way that Prom Night or Leprechaun could never be. Sure, that might be my pretentious opinion, but it’s not just my pretentious opinion. In 2006, The Library of Congress deemed Halloween worthy of preservation and added it to National Film Registry for being culturally, historically, and aesthetically significant. It’s essentially a government-sanctioned classic. Halloween is the often imitated but never duplicated father of the slasher genre, and it introduced many of the tropes that we now take for granted in our horror films. It’s a visceral exercise in terror that manages to create an unsettling atmosphere using a minimum of blood and a surprisingly low body count, and it does so with the barest of plots and no explanation whatsoever for Michael Myers’ exploits, something the sequels fail to do.
Halloween is about a six-year-old who snaps on October 31st and murders his teenage sister for no reason. Fifteen years later, he breaks out of an asylum and decides — again, for no reason — to stalk and kill three random babysitters. The end, roll credits. The horror of Halloween lies in its ambiguity. Michael Myers is a cypher, a blank slate for you to project your fears onto. He’s your neighbor, your uncle, he’s everybody and nobody at the same time. Michael Myers represents chaos and the harsh truth that sometimes bad things happen to good people for no reason. The minute you try to explain why he’s killing people, he ceases to be the boogeyman and becomes just another serial killer.
Many critics chastised Rob Zombie’s 2007 Halloween remake when it came out for trying too hard to explain Michael Myers, and for good reason. Zombie wastes the first half of his movie giving Michael Myers a back story as a troubled youth to the detriment of the second half — a modern retelling of the original Halloween — which ends up feeling rushed as a result. When it comes to establishing a motive for Michael’s blood-lust however, Zombie is hardly the most egregious offender. John Carpenter himself set a precedent when he made the mistake of revealing Laurie Strode to be Michael’s sister, a decision he later regretted. Having Michael and Laurie be siblings retroactively gives the events in the original Halloween an unneeded subtext and sets up a modus operandi for Myers — the complete extermination of everyone in his family — that has carried him through 8 sequels. Ironically, the Myers-less Halloween III -often considered the worst of all the Halloween sequels — is the only one that doesn’t weaken the original with its very existence. Turning the series into an anthology was an interesting idea but unfortunately not a very popular one.
Motive aside, it simply makes no sense from a story aspect for Michael Myers to keep returning. Unlike his contemporaries, he’s not a supernatural being (that Cult of Thorn crap from The Curse of Michael Myers doesn’t count). Freddy, Jason, and Chucky are set up as immortal killing machines almost right from the beginning (okay, Jason took a little while, but he eventually got there), so resurrecting them again and again doesn’t really create any narrative problems. Sure, the scrappy final girl always finds a way to “kill” Stabby McMaskerson by the end of the movie, but it’s never permanent, and often doesn’t even last until the next installment (horror movies love their little end-of-movie sequel teases). It actually makes a sort of weird sense when you think about it: how do you “kill” a soul inhabiting a doll? Can’t it just find another doll to possess? (Answer: yes, yes it can.)
Michael Myers has never been anything but mortal, and when bringing him back requires hoop jumping and doubling back on the part of the screenwriters in order to undo whatever “death” he faced at the end of the last movie, it’s probably best to just leave him for dead. Halloween 5 begins by showing Michael Myers being run over, shot, falling down a mine shaft, crawling out of said mine shaft just seconds before an explosion, falling unconscious into a stream, and floating along until finally being found by a hermit. The hermit then takes Michael back to his ramshackle trash-hut, and nurses him back to health for a whole year until the masked killer is healthy enough to get up and slit the poor guy’s throat. Take that and compare it to the beginning of Friday the 13th Part 6, where Jason is hit by a bolt of lightning and instantly gets up feeling tip-top and ready to kill some promiscuous camp counselors. It’s not like the filmmakers themselves don’t realize just how ridiculous justifying Michael’s continued existence is either, or otherwise we wouldn’t have one timeline consisting of Halloween 1,2,4,5, and 6, and another one consisting of 1,2, H20, and (Sideshow Bob shudder) Resurrection. Maybe they should have just turned Michael Myers into a zombie years ago and been done with it.
There is still hope for a decent Halloween sequel though, one that doesn’t tarnish the memory of the original. It’s been reported that next year’s Danny McBride and David Gordon Green-penned reboot, simply titled Halloween (that’s going to get confusing), will ignore everything but the first film (something we should all do). Not only does that mean that we can pretend that Busta Rhymes never attacked Michael Myers with Kung Fu while yelling “Trick or Treat Mother******!”, but it also means that for the first time since the original Halloween, Laurie Strode will not be Michael Myers’ sister. That means Michael Myers no longer has any sort of biological imperative to murder his family, freeing him up to be scary again. Of course, there’s no guarantee that McBride and Green won’t try to craft some other equally demystifying back story for Michael Myers — leaving things up to the viewer’s imagination seems to be anathema to twenty-first century filmmakers — and even if they don’t, anything they come up with, no matter how good, will still be unnecessary.
Some movies create a world so vast and interesting that it just can’t be explored in one film. Other movies introduce a character so interesting and charismatic that to throw them away after just one adventure would be a sin. Halloween is not one of those movies. Halloween is a feeling, an experience that just can’t be captured twice, let alone eleven times…but they’ll keep trying anyway. As long as studios continue to make money off of that iconic white mask and butcher knife combo, there will be new Halloween sequels. I guess we should at least be thankful that they haven’t sent Michael Myers to space…yet.
For anyone who was hoping for something to argue about in the comments, here’s the obligatory list ranking all the Halloween sequels in order from worst to…least worst. None of them are great, but some are decidedly less painful to watch than others.
9. Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers
8. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers
7. Halloween Resurrection
6. Halloween II (1981)
5. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers
4. Halloween 3: Season of the Witch
3. Halloween (2007)
2. Halloween: H20
1. Halloween 2 (2009)