For some, changing leaves and crisp fall air signals the advent of pumpkin spice lattes and chunky knit sweaters. For others, it’s the annual re-screening of John Carpenter’s Halloween. It’s a masterpiece of horror and moody, low-budget brilliance. October just isn’t October without watching a mute man with his mechanic’s suit and mask murder some Midwest teens. Since the original, ten more Halloween movies have been produced (with two more on the way). Some installments are excellent. And some are not so super.
To put all the Halloween movies in context, here they are in order, as ranked by the ever fabulous Rotten Tomatoes. For fans of horror, they’re all worth checking out at least once, but if you’re deciding which ones to include in your annual re-watch, now you know which to hit yearly, and which to let quietly die.
1. Halloween (1978)
“Everyone’s entitled to one good scare.”
The original spawned not just its own franchise but a horror movie legacy that lives on every time a merciless, motiveless killer stalks the innocent while a pitiless score plays on. Made in twenty days with a minuscule budget, Halloween holds up as a masterpiece of mood and foreboding punctuated by moments of genuine terror (part of us is still hiding in that closet). In 2020, it’s still one of the best horror movies out there, which isn’t surprising to anyone who’s seen it, but might have surprised the tiny crew back in 1978 as they leapfrogged lighting equipment from room to room because they couldn’t afford extra lights.
2. Halloween (2018)
“There’s a reason we’re supposed to be afraid of this night.”
For the 2018 installment, we just pretend all previous sequels don’t exist. Picking up 40 years after the end of the first movie, Michael Myers is institutionalized for his killing spree and Laurie Strode is understandably paranoid, living in a super fortified house. When a prison transfer goes wrong, Myers is back. And Laurie is ready. For fans of the first film, and horror fans in general, it’s a satisfying tribute with its smart script that manages to be freshly terrifying. Postponed due to the pandemic, two sequels by the same team are headed our way in October of 2021 and 2022.
3. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
“You can’t believe that after all these years, he’d still be coming after you.”
In third place, Halloween H20 also ignores many of the sequels, this time taking place twenty years after the events of Halloween II. Laurie Strode has since faked her death and is hiding under an assumed name, working as a teacher at a boarding school. But you can’t hide from Michael. After tracking her down, the chase begins. With plenty of inventive teenage slashing and a Scream-like dose of cool, it’s a fun (and extra 90s) addition to the franchise.
4. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
“It’s almost time, kids. The clock is ticking.”
You never really know where Michael is (unless he’s actively murdering someone). But in Halloween III, you can stop looking because he doesn’t show. The idea was to focus the franchise, anthology style, on different horror stories, each connected by their October 31st date and this was the next story in the series. Here, kids’ Halloween masks are really devices created by evil witches to bring on ritual sacrifice. Androids, killer snakes and bugs, Stonehenge, and murderous TV commercials also play their part in a creepy, extra cult movie that’s not afraid to get real weird with it.
5. Halloween II (1981)
“I’ve been trick-or-treated to death tonight.”
The original was an insane success, making a sequel inevitable. Taking place the same night as the original film, Michael Myers is hunting Laurie Strode in the hospital where she was taken, but a little backstory now tells us why: Laurie is Michael’s sister — and we know how he feels about sisters. With jangling music and stand-up performances, Halloween II delivers on the franchise’s trademark white-knuckle tension, while upping the blood and gore generously.
6. Halloween 4: The Return Of Michael Myers (1988)
“You can’t kill damnation, Mister. It don’t die like a man dies.”
When Halloween III’s deviation from a Michael-based story wasn’t the commercial success everyone hoped, Halloween 4 brought him back. After being in a coma for ten years after the end of HII, Michael wakes up during a hospital transfer when he finds out he has a ten-year-old niece. The stalking begins anew, but this time Michael has a few more opponents protecting his target. Keeping close to the feel of the original, the fourth installment finds a few good scares of its own, and a twist ending that you don’t see coming.
7. Halloween (2007)
“This is going to be a long night.”
At this point, reboots are nothing new, but the trend really kicked off in the aughts (See: Bond, Batman, Hulk). With Rob Zombie at the helm, Halloween from ‘07 returns to the original premise — a masked dude with a knife murdering Laurie Strode’s friends — but this time Michael is more than just The Shape, he’s got a backstory. Knowing more about him does nothing to make him any less terrifying. It’s important to note: RT assesses this at 27%, but 2007’s reboot gets a 6/10 on IMDb and a 47 on Metacritic. It’s dark, unsettling, and a worthy reimagining of the franchise.
8. H2: Halloween II (2009)
“Only a river of blood can bring us back together.”
Doubling down on his dark vision from the first remake, Rob Zombie’s second installment piles on the violence and gore. Taking place one year later, the sequel finds Laurie Strode dealing with her trauma, as Michael steadily makes his way back to her.
9. Halloween 5: The Revenge Of Michael Myers (1989)
“If you want to get rid of this rage, Michael, go home.”
This one picks up one year after H4 which ended with Michael riddled with bullets by an angry mob and thrown down a mine shaft. Recovered, he heads back to Haddonfield in time for his favorite holiday. His niece Jamie is in a children’s mental hospital for stabbing her foster mother and now she seems to have a psychic connection to her uncle. Michael’s long-suffering shrink hopes the connection will be enough to end the masked killer’s reign for good. But we all know it’s not.
10. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
“Are you afraid to die, Michael?”
Retconning Michael’s decapitation at the end of H20 with a body-swap, Resurrection starts off three years after the murders at Laurie Strode’s boarding school. When he comes at her again, she almost gets the upper hand, but hesitates. With Laurie dead, Michael returns to his abandoned childhood home in Haddonfield. When he finds out it’s being used for a reality webseries in which contestants lock themselves inside for the night, Michael does the only thing he knows how.
11. Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers (1995)
“You know it is not wise to play Halloween pranks.”
Rob Zombie wasn’t the first to try to explain why Michael was the way he was. In the least-well-received installment, The Curse of Michael Myers brings in druid cults, curses, and supernatural rituals to explain Michael’s murder sprees — and indestructibility. In part, the 1978 original was so effective because Michael had no motive. No reason. No background. He was a force, a shape, relentless evil. And that was always enough.
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