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A beginner’s guide to the ‘Halloween’ franchise

From Michael Myers to Busta Rhymes.


C.D. Carter


Posted on Oct 27, 2016   Updated on May 25, 2021, 5:16 pm CDT

If ’80s slasher flicks are a family—a sad, washed-up family that talks incessantly about glory days long past—then the Halloween franchise is the dour teenager. The kid who has no time for the jocularity of his silly, un-serious cousins, Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street

“This is my art!” Halloween screams before stomping off to its room, where it quietly fumes about not being taken seriously since the early 1980s. The Halloween series is not self-aware, it has no fun, and it— perhaps more than any other slasher series—yearns for when it was seen as something more than a faceless franchise led by faceless leading man, Michael Myers. 

Many of you have seen at least one of the 10 Halloween movies that have been made since the seminal effort in 1978, which raked in a cool $47 million since John Carpenter and Debra Hill were given a $300,000 budget. 

I’ve seen every entry in the unfortunately lengthy Halloween series more than a few times, including the abominable reboots made by Rob Zombie, who should be imprisoned for crimes against the franchise. I’ve become a human pop-up video while watching these movies, as my friends can confirm. And yes, I have friends. Two of them. 

I know too much about this franchise. I even own the series of Halloween comics that so desperately tried to fill in gaping holes in the official franchise canon. I hate comics.

My knowledge may or may not have inspired a fan fiction short story that took me three months to write in 2009. My mom read it and said it was good, and that maybe we should keep this one in the family. But mom, I said, THIS IS MY ART. 

Below is a beginner’s guide to the Halloween franchise, from the first film to 2002’s Halloween Resurrection, which might be a metaphor for our expansive, all-seeing surveillance state—or just a terrible movie.

I’ve included the best quotes, which are brimming with dialogue so bad you won’t know whether to laugh, cry, or get more intoxicated than you already are. The third option is the correct answer. 

Halloween (1978)

Remember that at one point, people found this movie scary. Not just scary, but terrifying on a visceral level. I’ve talked with a few baby boomers who remember seeing Halloween in theaters, emerging genuinely shaken from the experience. Thanks to the desensitizing effects of our hyper-violent, death-obsessed entertainment culture, not even a small child would find Halloween frightening today. But I digress. 

The short of it: We see through the eyes of 6-year-old Michael Myers as he murders his naked sister with a butcher knife, while Michael looks at the plunging knife like it has a mind of its own, like it’s compelled by something beyond himself (evil, the answer is evil). Michael is locked up, assigned a doctor named Loomis who tries unsuccessfully to convince others that Michael should be locked away forever. 

Michael eventually escapes Smith’s Grove Sanitarium, seems to know how to drive despite staring at a wall for 15 years, and makes his way back to his hometown, Haddonfield, Illinois, where he stalks and kills local teenagers. He can’t quite dispatch with the one teenager who isn’t having sexual relations (Laurie Strode, played by Jamie Lee Curtis), and is shot six times by Dr. Loomis. Michael then disappears because you can’t kill evil (people forget that) and the series is birthed into what would become the empty void of ’80s pop culture. 

Classic quote: “Kids playing pranks, trick-or-treating, parking, getting high.” – Sheriff Brackett 

Halloween II (1981)

This entry marks the beginning of Halloween chasing Friday the 13th and other series that ramped up the gross-out effect in the earl ’80s. There was no blood in the first Halloween. There’s blood splashed everywhere in this one—very fake-looking blood, at that. Michael is given decidedly robotic traits in this one, just as Jason Voorhees has the humanity removed from him in the middle of the Friday series. But this one has it all: gratuitous nudity, sex-crazed male nurses (which were huge in the ’80s), a guy walking around with a boom box on his shoulder, cheap cat scares, and a scene propagating the myth that Halloween candy is laced with razor blades. 

The short of it: Michael, riddled with bullets, makes his way to Haddonfield’s hospital, where Laurie Strode is taken after being attacked by Michael hours earlier. A drunk doctor—most medical men were at least buzzed on the job in the 1980s—tends to Laurie before having a needle shoved in his eyeball. Various hospital staff are slaughtered, including Budd the nurse, who is so inappropriately horny as hell as the small town of Haddonfield comes to grips with that night’s atrocity. Budd don’t care. Budd wants sex. Instead he gets strangled to death and his girlfriend is boiled alive in a hot tub. Michael, after being shot in both eyeballs, is blown up by Loomis, who flicks his lighter in a room full of some sort of flammable gas. 

The Halloween mythology began with the second installment, as it’s revealed that Laurie, who is adopted, is Michael’s sister. This was the age of “Luke, I am your father,” and Carpenter and Hill had to come up with some plausible reason for Michael to pursue Laurie to the ends of the Earth, or at least Haddonfield. Carpenter and Hill, then, decided to make Laurie and Michael siblings. Michael’s sister obsession spiraled into a variety of story lines in later Halloween movies.

Classic quote: “You don’t know what death is!” – Dr. Loomis 

Halloween III (1982)

You’ll hear many people disparage this movie because many people are stupid. Come into this movie with no expectations and a longing to escape the horrors of thinking, and you’ll be satisfied by the time the credits roll. 

I first watched this in 2003, upon renting it from Blockbuster expecting to see a Michael-centric sequel to part two. Michael is nowhere to be found. 

But Halloween III is fun; if you disagree, I invite you to argue with your refrigerator magnets. Forget that the protagonist is a barely functional alcoholic who has inexplicable sex appeal to every woman he sees, and go with it.

The short of it: This one is about a corporation run by an unscrupulous madman trying to kill the American public with his products. So, you know, a run-of-the-mill corporate CEO. 

Classic quote: “I’ve seen lots of people on drugs. The man was in complete control. He looked like a businessman.” – Dr. Challis 

Halloween IV (1988) 

This movie is perfect—unassailable—until the opening credits end and it devolves into one of the many ’80s slasher flicks with shallow characters who only exist to be massacred in some over-the-top way that makes us scream with delight because we’re sick and it’s no fun until someone dies. The ominous fall scenery in the opening credits is the best part of Halloween IV, in other words. There’s also a loony prophet of the apocalypse who rants and raves about damnation and evil, representing the Trump electorate 28 years before the businessman made his bid for the White House. 

The short of it: Laurie Strode, having perished in a car crash shortly after the events of Halloween II, has left behind her daughter, Jamie Lloyd, with an adoptive family that includes an older stepsister who is supposed to be a protagonist, but is in fact a horrible, vacant human who refuses to call Jamie her sister. God, she’s terrible. 

The geniuses who run the local penal system decide it’s optimal to transfer Michael Myers from his hospital bed in a dank steam room—steam rooms with broken pipes were so big back then—to a maximum-security lockup even though Michael hasn’t moved since he was caught in an explosion at the end of part two. Michael of course wakes up during the transfer—upon hearing that he has a niece in Haddonfield—and promptly sticks his thumb into the forehead of a medical professional. 

Havoc takes hold, the entire Haddonfield police force is brutally murdered (which evokes a subtle head shake from the police sheriff who should be vomiting and screaming for God to take him now) and Michael proceeds to kill a bunch of teens, one of whom is having sex with the sheriff’s daughter. She wears a “Cops Do It By The Book” T-shirt. What does it mean? I don’t know. Who cares. I need it. 

Classic quote: “Jesus ain’t got nothin’ to do with this place.” – security guard 

Halloween V (1989)

This is the bottoming out of the franchise. They gave control of this movie to a French director who, in the DVD extras, all but admits that he intentionally undermined the series and made a bad movie because it was already a garbage franchise. This entry in the series shows better than any other that the angsty, artsy teenager that is Halloween can’t even have fun when it tries to have fun. There’s a pair of cops in this one who are supposed to be comedic relief from the film’s humorless horror, but thanks to the goofy music and cartoon sound effects that play when they make their appearances, this zany law-enforcing duo is a depressing reminder of how bad this movie is. Get intoxicated for this one, folks. You might die otherwise. 

The short of it: Michael survives being shot with dozens of close-range bullets at the end of the fourth installment, crawls out of some sort of 20-foot grave, and floats down a river until he’s rescued by a survivalist who owns a parrot. Michael is comatose for a year until—miracle of miracles—Halloween eve, when he awakens and reignites his search of Jamie Lloyd. Jamie, meanwhile, is mute for some reason as she lives in what looks to be a children’s hospital. Dr. Loomis has become completely unhinged by part five, dictating medical procedures and law enforcement strategies while being an unrepentant asshole to the townspeople. Loomis is awful. I said it. He’s unlikable just like everyone else in this series. Loomis tries to convince local teenagers not to go out on Halloween night, including a stern warning for what is, without a single doubt, the most irritating character of the 1980s: Tina Williams. Tina is annoying, grating, idiotic. 

Tina’s friends engage in barnyard sex (don’t Google that) that ends with a sickle plunged through the sternum of the guy who plays Titus on the TV series, Titus. There’s a kid with a stutter because that was shorthand for cognitive disability in the ’80s. There’s an alpha male who gets a garden tool slammed right in his face. Back to the movie: Everyone dies and Michael escapes from some cut-rate prison cell as even more police officers are shot, stabbed, and dismembered. Blue lives matter, folks. 

Classic quote: “You might not understand but when you’re older there are people you’re gonna meet who make you feel like connected. Like your heart is made of neon and when you find them you have to be with them.” – Tina Williams 

Halloween VI (1995) 

The powers that be in the Halloween franchise had quite literally turned to fan fiction by the sixth installment, asking fans to submit their ideas for a script six years after part five tanked in theaters. One submission that was taken seriously involved Michael Myers becoming a tool for the CIA, before the agency loses control of him, he kills a bunch of agents, and is promptly blasted into space. This idea was tossed and Friday the 13th swept in and made it the centerpiece of Jason X.

Halloween VI features an incredibly handsome, young Paul Rudd, playing Tommy Doyle, who survived the killing spree in the original Halloween while Laurie Strode babysat him. He’s become an anti-social weirdo with a great internet connection in 1995. Probably those things are not unrelated. Michael finally does away with Jamie Lloyd, who is played by a different actor in this one because the original Jamie was so horrified by her death scene that she refused to do the flick. “This is my art,” she reportedly said. 

Part six introduces the Thorn cult, which controls Michael and strives to help him carry out heinous Samhein rituals that have apparently driven him to murder over all these years. I think they could have pulled off this attempt to explain Michael’s evil if the director and producers hadn’t caved to bad reviews from focus groups composed of idiot 15-year-old boys who said they didn’t like the cult angle and wanted more blood and gore. The makers of part six quickly inserted three hilariously bloody scenes, with electric guitars screaming over the killings. You can almost hear some old guy saying, “The kids will like this, yes?” as he chomps on a cigar and the fan fiction script writer who penned the cult-centric story screams into a pillow, “THIS IS MY ART.” 

The short of it: Michael pursues Jamie’s newborn baby, who is born in captivity and could very well be Michael’s child—which, well, is problematic. Part six has Michael’s babysitter from part one, who is unseen in the original film, but still, a cool idea wasted on a bad movie. Michael is more robotic than ever on part six, and he’s put on about 40 pounds, which is distracting as you’re trying to remember that this cultural icon was once considered frightening. There’s some good ol’ fashioned misogyny, domestic violence, sex with candles everywhere (no one has time for that), and a Howard Stern stand-in who is cut into pieces and placed neatly in a tree at a Halloween festival, where the Stern character’s blood drips onto a little girl in a fairy costume while the girl tells her mom about warm rain coming from above. What else could you ask for?

Halloween has been banned in Haddonfield since the end of part five—a much better starting point for the plot. Repression breeds scary stuff: That could’ve been the plot of part six and it would’ve had an identity, rather than trying to be everything to everyone. Paul Rudd injects green stuff into Michael and beats him with a steel pipe in the final minutes of the movie. Loomis, who kicked the bucket during filming of part six, dies at the end of the film. Or something. Greg’s father from Dharma and Greg is the evil mastermind behind the Thorn cult. He’s a stunning silver fox though, so it’s whatever. 

Classic quote: “I know things are different now in the ’90s: Gays in the military, cut off your husband’s dooginger and become a national hero, so I don’t see the point in bringing back Halloween to Haddonfield.” -radio show caller on the producer’s cut

Halloween H20 (1998)

This late-’90s entry in the Halloween series was birthed by Scream, which paid homage to the original Halloween and made the film relevant for a generation that grew up watching the mind-numbingly awful Halloween sequels. Scream made Halloween cool again, so Jamie Lee Curtis jumped back on board and made a sequel to Halloween II in which she has fled to California after faking her death in a car accident 17 years earlier. 

That’s right: The official Halloween canon does not include parts four, five, and six. They do not exist. Only the original, the second one, H20, and Resurrection compose the real story of Michael Myers and Laurie Strode. 

H20 brings back Dr. Loomis’ nurse from the original movies—a cool little treat tossed to the frothing diehards. And the Michael mask doesn’t suck for the first time since the first Reagan administration. This entry is chock full of references to the original, and includes a tip of the horror movie cap to Psycho, which feels like a cheap trick taken from Scream. It seems the horror genre, at that point, loved to reference how consequential it used to be, before it started making movies geared toward snot-nosed, mouth-breathing teenagers who want their sex and violence, and want it now. 

The short of it: Laurie, who goes by the pseudonym Keri Tate as the head mistress of a posh private school way out in the middle of Nowhere, California, is a functioning alcoholic who has her teenage son sift through her myriad prescription pills every morning when she wakes up soaked in sweat, screaming like a banshee, scarred from Halloween 1978. So things are going well for her. 

Laurie’s son, played by the aggravatingly disheveled Josh Hartnett, secretly stays on the school’s campus on Halloween night instead of going on a retreat with classmates. He’s subsequently hunted by his masked uncle, who drives a pretty badass retro pickup truck to the school, all the way from Haddonfield, Illinois. Michael Myers is persistent, if nothing else. 

Not nearly as many people perish in this movie, we get to hear LL Cool J read his romance novels and tell Hartnett to comb his damn hair, the boy from Jumanji is partially decapitated, we’re hit upside the head with half a dozen of the cheapest jump scares ever put on film, and we get what should have been a tidy little ending to the official Halloween story. But alas, there was money to be made, and a sequel slithered out from under the rotting corpse of H20

Classic quote: “I guess everyone’s entitled to one good scare.” – Norma Watson

Halloween Resurrection (2002)

Here’s how this movie was made: The late Moustapha Akkad, the longtime executive producer of the series, asked his son who the kids thought was cool. The son told Akkad that Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks were cool. Akkad said OK, let’s make them central characters in the sequel to H20. And that’s that—the final blow to the hollowed-out shell of a movie franchise that tried valiantly to revive itself in the late-1990s, only to die a crushingly sad death with Resurrection. Busta Rhymes’ Freddie Harris character does some sort of pseudo-martial arts on Michael Myers. That’s the end of the franchise. Burn it down. It’s time to go home. 

The short of it: This entry starts with Laurie Strode in a mental institution because of what transpired at the end of H20. Michael once again finds his sister, there’s a struggle, and Laurie dies. Or so we think. We never see her body, so the door remains open. Michael then returns to Haddonfield as a group of wild, fame-obsessed students are touring the dilapidated Myers house for an internet broadcast that would have been watched by precisely no one in 2002 because no one could stream video online. Details, details. The usual carnage ensues and Michael dies but doesn’t die. Who cares at this point?

Classic quote: “Looking a little crispy over there, Mikey. Like some chicken-fried motherfucker. Well, may he never, ever rest in peace.” -Freddie Harris 

The Halloween franchise is available to stream via iTunes and Amazon Video.

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*First Published: Oct 27, 2016, 5:00 am CDT