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I was 9 years old when I saw the original Halloween in 1978. My parents took me. Yeah, they're not going to win win any Parent-of-the-Year awards anytime soon. They did cover my eyes during the naked parts, but they left them uncovered for all the stabbing and choking.
I didn't sleep at all that night. But I loved the movie. It still ranks as my all-time favorite horror movie.
Then I saw the sequels... Yeah, let's just say the quality dipped.
But how do the movies rank? Here's my list—by no means definitive aside from the entry in the top spot, of course—of the very best of the Halloween franchise to the very worst. (I'm not counting the Rob Zombie movies here, just the ones in the original franchise.)
'Halloween'—The Original, 1978 (Of Course!)
OK, so no one's surprised by this. Yes, the original 1978 Halloween is the best of the batch. In fact, it's not even close. The drop-off from this film to the second entry on the list? It's gigantic.
Why? What makes Halloween such a classic?
Start with the score. The haunting Halloween theme is unforgettable. It still gives me goosebumps whenever I hear it.
Then there's the simple skill of the movie. Halloween has one goal: It wants to creep you out. It does that, and then some.
What's most impressive is that much of the movie actually takes place in broad daylight and is still terrifying. Remember Michael Myers suddenly appearing in that backyard, standing there amid clothes blowing on a clothesline? That's a great scare, and it happens with the sun shining brightly.
Halloween doesn't rely on gore, either. There isn't all that much blood shown throughout the movie. There aren't even that many kills, at least not compared to the countless slasher-movie copycats that came after Halloween. But each sequence is filmed to maximize the audience's unease. You never quite know where Michael is, or where he'll suddenly appear. It makes Halloween a truly nerve-wracking experience.
Other positives? The characters, though not exactly deep, are likable, which is something you usually can't say about the body fodder in most slashers. And you do care when characters such as Annie Brackett meet their ends. It doesn't hurt that the story's two leads protagonists are played by Jamie Lee Curtis and the extremely entertaining Donald Pleasance. These actors stand shoulders above most of the acting talent in slasher films.
Finally, there's that chilling ending. When the camera pans down to the empty lawn where the dead body of Michael Myers should be? It's unforgettable. And then that haunting score kicks in. A great ending to a great movie.
'Halloween 2,' 1981
By the time Halloween 2 came out, three years after the original Halloween, slasher films had flooded movie theaters. The Friday the 13th series had already gotten its start, and the slashers following it relied more on gore than on suspense.
Unfortunately, Halloween 2, while better than most slashers of this time, follows that same basic formula.
Myers is still creepy, and Donald Pleasance is still great. But the kills in this movie are far more graphic, and outlandish, than in the first film. Most notably? Scenes in which Myers drowns a victim in a scalding hot tub and another in which he rigs an IV to completely drain the blood out of another victim. These kills don't match at all the simple stabbings and stranglings that Myers relied on in the first film.
It's understandable that Halloween 2 would up the ante a bit. It almost had to if it wanted to compete with the more graphic slashers hitting theaters in the early 1980s. The problem? This turns Halloween 2 into a standard—if serviceable—slasher, a far cry from the original movie's style and craft.
This movie also wastes Jamie Lee Curtis, who spends most of the running time nearly catatonic in a hospital bed. It's not until the end of the film that Curtis' character shows the same spark she demonstrated in the first movie.
I remember when watching this movie for the first time that it just had a different feel to it. Yes, some of the camera angles and cinematography were similar to the original film. And the score was still great. But... this movie felt more like an especially good Friday the 13th entry than it did a successor to Halloween.
'Halloween 3: Season of the Witch,' 1982
A lot of people hated Halloween 3 when it came out in 1982. The main reason? No Michael Myers (save for a brief cameo on a TV set playing in the background in one scene.)
Yes, Halloween 3 did not feature the emotionless killer. The plan was to turn the Halloween series into an anthology, with each film bringing a new story to the screen.
Fans didn't like this idea, and this movie nearly killed the Halloween series.
But when you watch the film today, you might be surprised: It's better than you remembered.
Sure, it's goofy, with snakes pouring out of Halloween masks, that dang Silver Shamrock jingle playing all the time and robots doing most of the killing. And, yes, the plot of the main villain doesn't make much sense.
Still, this movie has a real Halloween feel to it—It's filled with trick-or-treaters, dark shadowy spaces, and a sense of dread. You can almost feel the cold October air as you watch it.
It's also a surprisingly cruel film, featuring a very disturbing death of a child in front of his parents. Not nice at all.
So if you want something a bit cheesy but surprisingly dark, give Halloween 3 another try: You might be surprised.
'Halloween H20: 20 Years Later,' 1998
This movie had an interesting idea: It would ignore all of the sequels to Halloween except for Halloween 2. That was a great idea: Halloweens 4, 5 and 6 range from mediocre to horrible.
The film also brings back Jamie Lee Curtis, older now and scarred by her previous encounter with Michael Myers.
So, all the pieces were in place for the sequel that the original Halloween deserved. Unfortunately, the film doesn't quite deliver.
The scares are solid here. But there's something missing. Maybe it's the fact that the drinking problem that Curtis' character has—understandable, given her past—makes Curtis look like a loon for much of the film. Or maybe it's that so many of the characters are introduced just to be killed.
Here's a good way to sum up Halloween H20 (which is a terrible title, by the way): It looks like Citizen Kane compared to Halloweens 5 and 6, and is a bit better than Halloween 4. It's a bit worse than Halloween 2 and a lot less memorable, or chilling, than the original Halloween.
The verdict? It's not a terrible slasher movie. But it's far from a great one, too.
'Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers,' 1988
Halloween 3 killed off the franchise for a good six years. But then someone got the idea to bring Michael Myers back. Sounded like a good idea.
But the execution? It's not great.
The best thing you can say about Halloween 4 is that it's the last in the series that isn't horrible. I know that's faint praise, but at least it's not Halloween 5 or 6.
The plot isn't overly complicated: Instead of dying at the end of Halloween 2, Myers simply fell into a coma. In the meantime, Curtis' Laurie Strode character has died, leaving behind a 7-year-old daughter.
That kid gives Halloween 4 its biggest problem: It's not much fun watching a slasher trying to kill a little kid.
There are other problems, too: Donald Pleasance returns and cranks his Dr. Loomis shtick up a few notches. This should be a positive, right? Not this time. His histrionics have lost their charm by this time. What was fun back in 1978 is grating by 1988.
Also, a surprising amount of the action—and by action, I mean killings, of course—happens off-screen in this film. There is plenty of off-screen mayhem. But there's a lot that goes on after the camera moves away, too. It can be jarring.
Overall, Halloween 4 is ... just OK. It's not a joke, like the rest of the sequels. But if you're looking for style or subtlety? You won't find it here.
I will say one thing, though: That end scene? That's pretty darn dark. (I won't spoil it here. You'll have to sit through the film to see it.)
'Halloween 5' (1989) and 'Halloween 6' (1995)
Yes, I'm lumping Halloween 5 and Halloween 6 together here because they're both so awful. I'd bet that many people don't even know that these movies exist, that's how forgettable they are.
There is one bit of interesting trivia, though: Paul Rudd got his start in Hollywood in this movie, playing the grown-up version of the kid Jamie Lee Curtis was babysitting way back in the first Halloween.
So... that's at least one reason to watch, maybe.
Which of these movies is worse? Probably part 6, which focuses largely on why Michael Myers is a killing machine. Turns out, it has something to do with a mysterious man in black, introduced in part 5, and runes. That's right. And, yes, it's every bit as stupid as it sounds.
In fact, the only reason these two movies aren't at the very bottom of this list is because someone decided to make yet one more film in this franchise.
'Halloween Resurrection' (2002)
And that film was 2002's Halloween Resurrection.
What makes this movie so terrible? Well, just about everything.
First, they bring Michael back to life in a retcon from H20 that is so incredibly dumb it borders on parody. Secondly, they kill off Jamie Lee Curtis' character during the first 10 minutes of the film, a depressing end to the most famous heroine of the franchise.
And then they fill the rest of the movie with an inane plot centering on a reality TV show filming an episode in Myers' old home.
This means that the film takes on a found-footage vibe, at least a little bit. And it's annoying.
The only thing more annoying? The characters. These are supposed to be reality-TV stars, so of course they're going to be annoying. But who wants to watch characters like this for more than an hour?
So, Resurrection brings an end to the original Halloween movies, and a sad one at that. It's amazing how quickly a series that started out with a horror masterpiece turned to garbage.
It's like that last piece of Halloween candy still sitting on our kitchen counter at home, a banana Laffy Taffy. No one wants to eat that.