The Entire Halloween series (1978-2022) – Blecchh! I’ve see ’em all!

| October 24, 2022

Halloween Movies Ranked from Worst to Best

I have a theory that if you stare at enough bad movies, you can see infinity.  I mean that’s kind of obvious. Staring at enough bad movies, you’ll find yourself wishing for eternity.  This has generally been my experience when I am trapped in a theater between a movie that dares me to be entertained and the prospect of embarrassing myself by returning to the box office to ask for my money back, thereby admitting that I made a mistake and plunked down actual legal tender to see Let’s Be Cops.  Given that prospect, you want your mind to find a holding pattern, at least until something more nutritious comes along.

Did I expect the movie to be good?  Well, it must have been worth something to me otherwise I wouldn’t have wasted the gas.  I could just as easily have waited for basic cable, but then I’d be sitting here complaining about the 90 precious minutes shaved off the end of my life while I stared at the movie blankly from my living room couch.  I consider this a no-win scenario.

Great movies are a grand experience, the great and fruitful crossroads of art and commerce where the fields of true imagination are ripe and fertile.  Bad movies are like a kid’s birthday party where the moon-bounce sprung a leak, the cake tastes like a hospital sponge, the clown was drunk, and the neighbor’s dog took a whiz on your pants leg.  Am I being cynical?  Well, look, I just sat through 13 Halloween movies – you’d be grumpy too.

Which brings me to the issue at hand.  I’ve spent the last few weeks going back over this series and . . . well, boys and girls . . . I can safely define the term ‘diminishing returns’.  A quick Google search finds this definition: “proportionally smaller profits or benefits derived from something as more money or energy is invested in it.”  What is says to me is, “This isn’t going to get any better, chief.”

As a guy who regularly watches at least five movies a week, and has either seen or at least heard of most of the movies ever made, I can admit only a slight familiarity with this never-ending Halloween hoo-ha.  For the most part, it seems to be oddly disconnected series of movies focused on the adventures of a hulky guy wearing a bone-white William Shatner mask and dark coveralls whose mission is to dispatch a small cast of supporting characters in accordance with the Hollywood Celebrity Food Chain.  His weapon of choice is a kitchen knife that is rather Freudian in size and, unless I missed something, keeps getting bigger in every movie.  By this point, it’s almost a broadsword.

Anyway, there are dozens of ways to explain this apparently unstoppable maniac, and none of them make a lick of sense.  To the victor go the spoils and the spoils of victory for the survivors of Michael Myers’ rampage have resulted in him being shot, stabbed, burned, crushed and strung up by his Buster Browns.  And yet, no one seems able to take off that stupid mask – no one!  My theory is that it must have been a childhood accident.  Some wiseass in his homeroom put superglue inside the mask before Myers donned it on Halloween, and he’s never been able to get it off.

Anyhoo, let’s get into the series because . . . I mean, that’s why you’re here, right?  If you’ve made it this far (thank you, by the way) then I’ll let you know now that the Halloween series is – how to put this nicely? – mmmostly terrible.  Yeah.  This was a struggle to sit through the grand total of 18 hours and 9 minutes which leads my wife to question how I am spending my time, and me to question my life choices (day by day, brother . . . day by day).  At any rate. what we have here is a series recap of each film followed at the end by my personal ranking.  So, let’s get started.

You aren’t likely to find too many people who disagree that John Carpenter’s original Halloween is the best film in this entire series, and very likely one of the best horror movies ever made.  For one thing, it’s a real movie, the kind that almost defies genre and probably defies all the movies stand for today.  I mean, here is a slasher movie that is self-contained, thrilling, tense and builds to its own ending.  Yeah, I mean, there’s room for a sequel but the movie leave the door cracked just a bit rather than shoving us through it.

What is special is that it feels lived-in, like this is actually happening – you’re in Haddonfield on Halloween in the afternoon and into the night but there’s a very real environment here.  There’s a sense of the buzz of Halloween night – scary movies, carving pumpkins, trick or treaters.  You can feel the environment of that night – the crunch of the leaves under your feet, the not-quite-winter clothes and the bite of the autumn air.  There’s something in the quiet, empty spaces that fuels the tension.  Carpenter allows for a lot of air in the moment, a lot of pitch black backgrounds, before the murders happen.  This is helped by Carpenter’s use of wide-shots.  The killer could come from anywhere.  You know . . . good, clean family fun.

The legacy of the film might seem to have been diluted by the mass glut of inferior slasher films that would follow (I’m looking at YOU Friday the 13th!), and the volley of sequels, it might be important to put all of that out of your mind and just look at Halloween on its own.  This is a movie fueled by its randomness.  It opens on Halloween night in 1963 when little Michael Myers murders his sister with a butcher knife.  Why?  With all of the nugatory reasonings wrought by the sequels to explain his motivations, it’s really far creepier that a kid just went berserk one night and did a horrible thing.  And when he comes back 15 years later, it makes more sense that after escaping a mental asylum he finds and murders a series of random kids in his old neighborhood.  That’s scarier than any plot twist.

Money talks, and so I suppose that this just had to happen.  Given the enormous response to John Carpenter’s first Halloween (money wise, I mean), Hollywood’s portly, cigar-chomping executives began rubbing their hands together while dollar signs danced about their bald pates.  Thus, Halloween II, which is a sequel in every sense of the word, given that it takes place immediately following the events of the first movie and all on the same night.  Really, I’d call it a 92-minute unnecessary epilogue.  Here the novelty of the first movie is diminished, to say the least.  Much of it takes place in the corridors of a hospital and so all of the atmosphere – the dark spaces and the wide-open lawns – are missing. 

Plus, since this is a movie with a bigger budget, it is also a slightly bigger film.  While it maintains the tone of the original, it is populated with a larger cast of characters – too large to be honest.  Many of the side characters are cartoonish and are largely just fodder for Michael’s mayhem.  Unlike the first movie, where we got some sense of the people involved, here they are more cookie-cutter.  I’m thinking of an elderly couple, a portly police officer, a horny paramedic.  These characters are more indicative of the kinds of people you’d see in many of the Halloween imitators.

The plot here is rail-thin, but Carpenter and co-screenwriter Debra Hill update things by adding a plot twist that would haunt this series forever after – Michael Myers and Laurie Strode are brother and sister.
Well, that’s just stupid.  It dislodges the randomness of Michael’s crimes in the first movie, and it becomes a burden that the other sequels will have to carry.

Much of the movie has Brother Michael chasing Sister Laurie up and down the corridors of a local hospital while she screams and shrieks like I do when I step on a LEGO with bare feet.  Of this, I finally get to say – And you thought your relatives were weird!  I’d love to see these two at Thanksgiving.  Anyway, Dr. Loomis saves Laurie’s life by setting himself and Michael on fire in an explosion just short enough that it misses Laurie by five centimeters (I know, I checked). 

The only real take-away is Vaughn Monroe’s 1954 hit song “Mr. Sandman,” which eases into the closing credits.  It’s a fitting irony, a hack-and-slash horror movie is capped by a romantic ballad that, I promise, will become your next earworm.  It’s wriggled its way into my auditory canal like that worm that Khan laid on Chekov in Star Trek II.  That’s not helped by the fact that the folks responsible for the sequels kept bringing it back!

But, put that continuity on hold because . . . 

The closing of Halloween II is a reminder of the days when filmmakers made movies that weren’t meant for sequels (the first one did it better, but . . . there’s a profit to be had, kids).  Dr. Loomis and Michael go up in flames and, the story ends.  Done!  Over!  Finished!  Ka-put!  End of story!  Close the book move on!  Given that, John Carpenter got a wacky idea.  What if the next Halloween movie had nothing to do with Michael Myers, Laurie Strode or Haddonfield?  What if we turned the sequels into an anthology of films about Halloween!  You know . . . an original idea.

Thus, unsuspecting audiences were broadsided by Halloween III: Season of the Witch, an outlier to the series, trading in Michael Myers for a lead-footed plot involving an alcoholic shit-heel doctor (Tom Atkins) who abandons his kids to help a hot babe (Stacey Nelkin) solve her father’s murder.  The diabolical plot involves a wealthy Irish toymaker (Daniel O’Herlihy) with the sadistic plan to engineer a series of masks that will melt the brains of the country’s children via a television signal that will be broadcast on Halloween night.  That signal, by the way, is rendered through a jingle that’s even more of an earworm than “Mr. Sandman.”  Check it out!  It wouldn’t surprise me if this jingle alone wasn’t the source of Michael Myers’ rampage.

Say what you will, this was a new idea.  This is one of those movies that no one under oath could really call “good,” but it’s such an oddball story and has so many hilarious inconsistencies (why did Nelkin pack a sexy nightie for a road trip to solve her father’s murder?) that you just kind of find yourself admiring it for just how wonderfully batty it really is.

Alas, when John Carpenter cried out to the masses, “I have a new idea!” the masses poo-poo’d his newness and cried “Nay! Nay!” and thus Halloween III disappeared in a cloud of shame and disappointment (though it did make its money back).  As the years went on, the social media generation would give this lost little puppy a home, and it became a cult hit.  And, rightfully so, I mean, what’s more original?  A killer hacking up teenagers with a butcher knife or a toymaker melting kid’s brains with evil masks?  It’s a sad statement that these are the choices that we’re given.  Moving on.

The public rejected Halloween III for its exclusion of Michael Myers, Laurie Strode and Dr. Loomis and Carpenter was so disgusted that he announced that he was out of the Halloween business for good.  Thereafter the series would become a waffling wasteland of retreads, reboots, remakes and country-fried do-overs – seriously, there are now three movies just called Halloween!  And it all started in 1988 with the corporately titled Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, another bold experiment that asks the question: What if we took the original Halloween and remade it without mood, tension, thrills, scares or characters.  Basically, what would it look like if the first one sucked?

That’s pretty much this movie, a vanilla-flavored, machine-made sequel to Halloween II that invents a new continuity wherein Laurie Strode has shuffled off this mortal coil but has left behind 9-year-old daughter Jamie (Danielle Harris) who becomes the target of Uncle Michael after he wakes up from a 10 year coma.  The rest of the movie is, basically, Michael laying siege on Haddonfield in order to get to the child that we already know will not come to any harm.  Michael at this point, you see, is tracking down members of his family.

It is hard to find anything of note about this movie, save for one memorable kill involving Michael getting his hands on a dead cop’s shotgun and impaling his victim with it.  Okay . . . I mean, I’ve never seen that before.  Point for originality.  And there is something in Michael knocking out the power grid and leaving the whole town in the dark leading to a hillbilly lynch mob that wants him dead.

Largely though, this movie feels desperate.  Nineteen Eighty-Eight was a year teeming with over-wrought big-budget slasher movies of questionable value – Friday the 13, Part VII, Nightmare on Elm Street 4, Child’s Play, Hellbound: Hellraiser II, Poltergeist III, and this is really no different.  Rivals Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street were wearing out their welcome and Halloween 4 is really no different.  Tack on a simple-minded title (by marquee standards) and give the film a lot of in-studio production values and it loses something of the renegade status that make Carpenter’s films so memorable.  Tragically, it only gets worse from here.

Referred to in every listing with the subtitle The Revenge of Michael Myers, except in the actual movie, Halloween 5 was rushed into production after the success of the previous film without a complete script but firmly set on chucking out what the previous movie had set up.  The cliffhanger ending of the last one had Jamie kill her stepmother, bending to the idea that she would now be the killer.  But producer Moustafa Akkad changed all that (Jamie is a now a mute living in a children’s clinic, and the stepmother was only wounded).  Also, the ending in which the hillbilly lynch mob filled Michael full of lead and dropped him down a mine shaft is followed here by having him washed down-river and nursed back to health by an old hermit . . . whom he kills .  Thanks for nothing.

Then the movie really gets stupid.  It seems that the reason that Jamie tried to kill her mother is because she has a psychic Elliot/E.T. connection with Michael so she knows where he is and what he’s doing.  It is not clear if it works the other way around but it really comes to nothing, and neither does Jaime’s muteness which is cleared up and never mentioned again.

The only things of note about this movie, are the ending, in which Michael is sprung from jail by a mysterious figure with steel-toed boots and yet another looney performance by Donald Pleasance whose appearances in these movies, by this point, illicit no less than “Oh . . . you again!”

Worse, the movie points to The Cult of Thorn subplot which is dealt with in . . . .

So . . . get this.  Apparently, Michael Myers is under the influence of The Cult of Thorn who, in order to preserve their tribes, place a curse on a newborn child that will compel it to murder its family.  This means that Michael has been a pawn of the cult since childhood, hearing voices inside his head that order him to kill.  As the curse is apparently about to be lifted, the cult tries to pass the curse onto another newborn – the son of 15-year-old Jaime.

And they said the midi-chlorians were stupid.

Out to thwart the cult’s devious scheme is Tommy Doyle, the kid that Laurie Strode was babysitting in the first movie.  He’s played by 26-year-old Paul Rudd who probably leaves this off of his resume.  Either way, Tommy and Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasence in his farewell performance) try to . . . blah, blah, blah.

This movie is notable for having a “Producer’s Cut” which clears up the problems with the theatrical cut by showing scenes that actually explain important plot points and keep the movie from ending abruptly.  It helps a little, but it really only illustrates what a half-assed movie this really was to begin with.  I mean, trying to explain Michael’s origins is pointless anyway.  It was much more effective when it was just a hulking killer who went berserk as a child and then came back to stalk and murder random teenagers.  I mean, I appreciate the effort of trying to make something out of essentially nothing, but the efforts were really in vain.  Proof is that audiences hated, which led to a complete wipeout of this entire storyline, leading to . . . .

Relieving us of that Cult of Thorn nonsense, the series ignores that last four movies and veers off to a different path (it does that a lot), thus the Halloween movies become Major Motion Pictures.  H20 is a sequel to Halloween II, wherein Laurie Strode is not dead, she’s just gone into hiding under the name Keri Tate and now works as a professor at a gated California boarding school where she can not only hide out from Michael, but also keep an eye on her son John (Josh Hartnett – remember him?).

Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, which was pitched under the much less corporate title of Halloween: The Revenge of Laurie Strode – because, that’s what it is – finds Laurie hidden away, hoping to raise her son and develop a life that isn’t full of darkness and shadow, but soon Michael figures out where she is and drives from Haddonfield, Illinois to Summer Glen, California.

Okay, so, where has Michael been for 20 years?  How has he been sustaining himself?  Did he ever take off that stupid mask?  Was he, as Roger Ebert theorized, perhaps working as a mime?  Maybe a fast-food chef?  He keeps to himself and is reeeeeal handy with a knife – just don’t get on his bad side.  And what do you think a guy like that smells like?  He never changes those coveralls.  Ewwww.

Balancing those unwholesome questions is the story of Laurie Strode.  This is really Jamie Lee Curtis’ movie and its way more interesting when she’s just dealing with having to live in fear.  That actually takes up most of the movie.  Less interesting is when Michael gets to the school and begins carving up a bunch of gorgeous WB actors one by one, and then goes one on one with Laurie.  Curtis saw this as a fitting end to the series.  Let’s end it!  So, she chops off his head.

Until . . .

. . . we find out that Michael Myers – that crafty devil – crushed the larynx of a hapless paramedic and switched outfits with him.  Therefore, Laurie actually chopped off this poor guy’s head instead of Michael.  It is not really explained why the paramedic didn’t simply pull off the mask, but here we are.

Halloween: Resurrection opens with Laurie in a mental institution where she fakes being in a coma (not entirely possible) and fakes taking her drugs.  She hopes to lure Michael in so that she can (once again) put an end to all this repetition.  They fight to the finish, and Michael finishes her off . . . I guess.

That’s the prologue!

The rest of the movie is a stupid plot involving Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks hosting an internet reality show called Danger-tainment (a thinly veiled version of “Mtv’s Fear”) wherein they invite a group of obnoxious white kids (one of whom is played by pre-BSG Katee Sackoff) to spend Halloween night in Michael Myers’ old house.  Aaaaand naturally, Michael comes home.

This is a crummy, irritating, badly-made thriller that probably needed to be part of this series even less than Season of the Witch.  It feels less like a Halloween movie then the hundred or so post-Scream millennium-era would-be meta horror knock-offs.  Most everyone hates it, and it adds nothing.  Maybe it would have been better if it were directed by Rob Zombie?  Probably not . . . but speaking of . . .

The question of exactly why Rob Zombie felt compelled to remake an iconic slasher picture that was just fine in the first place will, perhaps, remain up in the air.  He really didn’t need to call his movie Halloween because this two-level retread feels less like a Halloween movie and more like the current strain of young serial killer movies, but even at that, I much prefer We Need to Talk About Kevin, Dahmer, Gus Van Zant’s Elephant and the Australian drama Nitram.  There are plenty of real-life serial killer stories.  Fictional ones just feel pointless.

Still, points for trying.  This isn’t exactly a remake, at least for the first hour, which is a study of how Michael grew up a dirty kid with a reprehensible redneck family that abused and neglected him until he elevated his love of torturing small animals into a full-blown familial massacre in his own living room.  Tack that onto Zombie’s disturbing obsession with hillbilly gore and you have one half of a Young Serial Killer movie and one half blood-and-guts rehash of Carpenter’s classic.  It’s ugly, unpleasant and kind of pointless.

Zombie’s Halloween II – aside from being the sequel that no one asked for – is technically better than his original.  It begins as a terrific reimagining of John Carpenter’s Halloween II as Laurie Strode (Scout Taylor-Compton) is stalked in a hospital by Michael Myers in scenes that are paced well, and given some sense of weight.  Zombie clearly has ideas here, particularly a curious student-film-style scene in which Michael follows his mother’s ghost who is, for whatever reason, partnered with a white horse.

Too bad the prologue was all a dream!

The second half gets mired in tone problems as it wobbles back and forth between Michael trying to kill Laurie and an embarrassing pseudo-comic subplot involving Dr. Loomis (Malcolm McDowell) going on a press-tour of his new book about the Michael Myers murders while dealing with accusations that he is profiting off the misery of grieving families.

There’s a good movie in here.  There are ideas here, but maybe too many.  Halloween II is a competently-made movie from a director who never seemed to settle on what kind of movie he wanted to make.  Give is filmmaking palette, let’s just thank the Heavens above that he never remade Halloween III: Season of the Witch.

Behold . . . the THIRD MOVIE in this series to be called Halloween.  After Rob Zombie said ‘Nay’ to remaking Halloween III, the series was handed over to David Gordon Green, Universal and Blum House for yet another reboot . . . and with it more diminishing returns.

Even still, I’m confused.  Halloween ignores the events of ALL of the sequels, which means that this immediate sequel to Halloween is called . . . Halloween!  Actually, I might have liked it better if they just added an exclamation point.

At any rate, this rub-scrubbing of the sequels includes Carpenter’s Halloween II which means that Michael Myers is no relation to Laurie Strode and has been kept, Hannibal Lecter-style, in a maximum-security facility chained to a cinderblock and watched by gads of security cameras and armed guards, all for the murders of four people.  People get life sentences for this, but they don’t usually find themselves chained to cinderblocks.  This confinement would make more sense in the wake of the 90+ people that Michael has murdered throughout this series.

Also, we catch up with Laurie Strode who has bought a remote house in the woods and turned it into a near-parody super-fortress complete with bars, fences, alarms and a panic room.  This too seems excessive when relieved of the four encounters that she and Michael have had over the course of this series.  Michael has been locked away for 40 years and hasn’t seen the outside world.  What is she afraid of?

Naturally, given the nature of this series, Michael is due to be transferred from Smith’s Grove Sanitarium to a Maximum Security Prison and – wouldn’t you know? – the bus crashes, everyone is brutally murdered and the hulking Michael is nowhere to be found.  Of that, we get yet another battle between Michael and Laurie which isn’t nearly as potent as it was in H20, but certainly has more gravity than that Looney Tunes-style nonsense of Resurrection.

Even above the familiarity and repeating of scenes from the original, Halloween fails on the basic filmmaking level.  Despite the production crew which included John Carpenter, Jamie Lee Curtis, Danny McBride and David Gordon Green, this is a very badly constructed movie.  It is edited so badly that we are introduced to new characters almost at random.  The movie drops us in and out of scenes so quickly that often we don’t have a moment of establishment to figure out what we’re looking at or what we have just seen.  The bad editing feels as if it the movie is impatient to get to the killing parts, as if tone and mood and the establishment of characters and motivations were superfluous to those in charge of the production.

Halloween Kills is an upfront reminder of the sad state of American horror films.  What is, and can be, a genre blooming with outrageous ideas and a renegade spirit – as it existed in the 1970s – has now lost its way.  Mired in a sad cycle of reboots, remakes, retreads, copy cats and marketing gimmicks, I think our filmmakers have forgotten what a horror movie looks like anymore.  Truth be told, I haven’t seen originality in this genre since It Follows back in 2015.

Halloween Kills is one of the worst offenders, a direct sequel to the 2018 Halloween, both movies take pride in shedding the dead weight of all of the sequels and then spends 106 minutes referencing, acknowledging and throwing in would-be clever in-jokes referring to the rest of the series, including Season of the Witch.

The plot is potentially intriguing.  It starts just minutes after the 2018 movie with Michael escaping Laurie’s burning fortress and going on a killing spree – because what else is he going to do?  Meanwhile Tommy Doyle (Anthony Michael Hall) and the rest of Haddonfield are slow to realize that Michael has come home again and form a lynch mob to track him down.

See, there’s an idea there.  It’s just too bad that David Gordon Green is too preoccupied with references and in-jokes that he can’t be bothered to write a story that you actually care about, or to manage a tone that keeps our interest.  Truthfully, the only thing anybody really cares about with Halloween Kills is just how little Jamie Lee Curtis is in it!  She spends 99% of this movie in a hospital bed, safe in the knowledge that she killed Michael once and for all.  But we know that’s not the case – there’s a profit to be had, which brings me to . . . 

Yeah! Yeah!  Sure! Sure!  Halloween Ends.  Right!  Just like Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter and Freddy’s Dead: The Final Nightmare.  Stay tuned.  I’ll be the guy with my arms folded and the look of haughty derision when the next one comes out in two years.  We’ll see.


As for the so-called Halloween Ends, I’m a little bit divided.  David Gordon Green tries something new in diverting from the stalk-and-slash mayhem of this series by introducing something new, a withered and potentially dangerous kid named Corey whose Young Serial Killer inclinations may be more subtly disturbing then Michael Myers.

The story, if that seems a bit confusing, takes place four years later and involves the kid who accidentally kills the child he was babysitting in a prank gone wrong, leading to a cascade of violence that puts him in the path of Laurie Strode who is now living with her granddaughter and trying to finish her memoir.  How this all dislodges Michael Myers from his four-year hidey-hole is a long mix of coincidence and hilariously bad writing.

And yet, I am torn on how I feel about it.  Halloween Ends can be credited for trying something new, but I have trouble admiring it because DGG does not deliver a movie that you feel has taken the steps to be great.  It’s another entry in this series, one that you want to admire more than Green’s screenplay will allow.  I guess I can have no hope that the next Halloween movie will improve things, but again, we’ll see.

The Results

The bad news in ranking the Halloween movies is that its relative to picking peanuts out of shit.  The good news is that its relatively easy.  I’ve seen all of these movies and that makes it easier to see which ones are good and which ones are, well . . . rank.

1. Halloween (1978)
2. Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
3. Halloween II (2009)
4. Halloween II (1981)
5. Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998)
6. Halloween Ends (2022)
7. Halloween (2007)
8. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
9. Halloween (2018)
10. Halloween Kills (2019)
11. Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
12. Halloween 5 (1989)
13. Halloween Resurrection (2002)





About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
Filed in: Horror