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How to Watch the ‘Halloween’ Movies

Well, at long last, my favorite month of the year has arrived. October brings with it the cool, dry High Country air that should answer any questions about why in Heaven they dream of Boone, and with that mountain breeze comes a change of season that turns our cherished Blue Ridge into an Autumn flame so beautiful you can never quite take it all in. But this is also the month of Halloween, and most importantly … of horror movies.

Oh, how I love me some horror movies; monster movies, slasher movies, zombie movies, found footage movies, ghost movies, cannibal movies… Outside of joyless, nihilistic torture porn (“Hostel,” the “Saw” sequels), when it comes to the horror genre, as long as the spectacle is entertaining, I’m not too terribly picky.

And I especially love The Stars of the genre: the Frankenstein monster, the Wolf Man, Dracula, the Mummy, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, Freddy, Jason, Damien, Norman, Chucky, and most especially Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, Val Lewton, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing, Christopher Lee, and Lon Chaney Jr.

The beauty of home video is being able to program your own festival. What’s especially fun is focusing on one particular star and binging through the entire series. You haven’t lived until you’ve sat through all 11 “Friday the 13th” movies, or all 7 of Christopher Lee’s Dracula Hammer classics. Life is short. Why spend it on Twitter or delivering meals to the elderly?

My most recent binge was the “Halloween” collection. One of the great things about being an adult is that you can stay up as late as you want, eat Frosted Flakes for supper, run with scissors, and watch all 10 “Halloween” films in, uhm, September … which is exactly what I did … which is why I can now present to you this handy-dandy, indispensible guide that explains the only correct way to indulge in this extraordinary film canon.

Phase One – The Story of Laurie Strode

Halloween (1978) – Director/co-writer John Carpenter changed the genre forever with what is still one of the most profitable movies ever made, and one so perfectly crafted it is still a pleasure to watch long after the scares wear off. Without a motive or explanation (more on this later), Michael Myers escapes from a mental hospital and starts slashing away at hot-looking babysitters. The music (composed by Carpenter), Donald Pleasance’s performance as Dr. Loomis (the only man willing to call evil by name), Jamie Lee Curtis as virginal survivor Laurie Strode, and a supernatural conclusion, are all beyond perfect.

Halloween II (1981) – Carpenter co-wrote the script (again with Debra Hill) with the fascinating conceit of having the story pick up at the exact moment the original ended. So what you end up with is a three-hour slasher movie. Set primarily in a hospital, the sequel can’t touch the original but is still a blast. The gratuitous Hot Nurse Nudity sure helps (remember when horror movies were fun?) as does the return of Pleasance.

One big drawback is that this is where the EXPLAINING of Michael Myers begins, this is where we learn that Laurie Strode (Curtis) is Michael’s sister. The Shape was scarier without a motive.

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998) – Pushing 40 and dealing with a drinking problem (expertly conveyed in a superb scene), Laurie Strode (Curtis again) is hiding out from her psychotic brother under an assumed name in California as the headmistress of a boarding school.

“H20” made two very wise decisions, beginning with ignoring the four sequels after “Halloween II.” The second smart move was hiring veteran horror director Steve Milner. The result is the best sequel of them all.

Halloween: Resurrection (2002) – The film’s opening act concludes the Laurie Strode storyline, the remaining 75 minutes, unfortunately, are a rather dull affair set inside Michael’s childhood home, which has been rigged with Internet cameras for a Halloween night reality show.

Phase Two: The Thorn Trilogy

Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) – Donald Pleasance returns, this time to save Jamie Lloyd (Danielle Harris), the ten year-old daughter of Laurie Strode (who we are told died in a car accident). After ten years in a coma, Myers returns to Haddonfield to run amok.

Pleasance is great and there’s a genuinely suspenseful conclusion (especially on a rooftop). The final scene is an absolute knockout that takes the franchise full circle to the opening of the original.

Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989) – Pleasance and Danielle Harris return, and the action picks up right where the last one left off before jumping ahead a full year. This is the chapter that introduced the mysterious Man In Black, who will not be explained for another 6 years. Other than the always welcome Pleasance, a fascinating confrontation between Michael and Dr. Loomis, and the building of the mythology that pays off in the next chapter, there is not much to recommend here.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) – There are two versions of this — a theatrical and a producer’s cut. Except for the ending, they are not terribly different. Overall, I prefer the producer’s cut because there’s a lot more Donald Pleasance. He died just a few weeks after completing the original shoot, which was a mess and required re-shoots for the theatrical release. But Pleasance had already passed so they had to shoot around him.

Michael is still chasing Jamie, who is now 18 and has just given birth. Her baby is taken by the Man In Black, who we learn is part of a Druid-like cult that controls Michael through the Curse of Thorn (which explains his immortality). Sadly, a teen-aged Harris didn’t return to play Jamie (though she would show up in the reboot), but Paul Rudd (Ant-Man!) arrives as a grown Tommy Doyle (the boy Laurie Strode babysat in 1978), and he is now a young man obsessed with understanding and stopping Michael.

I love-love-love this movie.

Phase Three: The One Without Michael Myers

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) – Using the “Halloween” imprimatur, the idea was to create an annual anthology series without Michael Myers. Big mistake. No one could believe anyone would have the gall to make a Michael Myers-less “Halloween” (including my 16 year-old self) and the movie died a slow, agonizing critical and box office death.

The decades, however, have been very good to this unfairly besmirched chapter. The story is stone-cold nuts (in a good way). First off, it’s not a slasher film. The evildoer is Conal Cochran (a superb Dan O’Herlihy), a toy manufacturer and something of a warlock. His company has taken over a small town populated by “believers,” so it’s all very reminiscent of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers.” Cochran ‘s evil plan is to kill as many children as possible using Halloween masks mixed with a commercial jingle that would make anyone’s head explode.

Besides utterly fantastic cinematography and a shameless story that puts young kids in danger, what makes “Halloween III” work is that it actually has something to say about corporatism and mindless consumerism.

I’m not sure I understand why Cochran wants to replace America’s children with robots or how exactly Stonhenge fits into it, but I was never bored.

Phase Four: Enter Rob Zombie

Halloween (2007) – Director Rob Zombie took over the franchise for the inevitable reboot and pretty much blew it. Michael isn’t just explained, he is over-explained, and we are supposed to believe he was raised in a double-wide by Deliverance-style rednecks in … Haddonfield, Illinois.

The more you explain Michael, the less scary he is. It’s just dumb. There’s a reason why Hitchcock waited until the end of “Psycho” to have Simon Oakland explain Norman Bates. And at 110 minutes, it’s also way too long. Once the backstory overkill is complete, Carpenter’s original is practically carbon-copied, which is, well, pointless.

Zombie’s only nice touch is casting Danielle Harris as Annie Brackett, one of the targeted babysitters.

If nothing else, this remake serves as a reminder of how slasher films have devolved in the 21st century. Sure, what came before could be gory and at times intense, but they were always fun. There was an innocence and freedom to the sex and occasional drug use, and the gore was intentionally over-the top; the killings would oftentimes make you gasp and laugh. There was nothing ugly about them. You walked out of the theater smiling, exhilarated like after a rollercoaster ride.

Zombie’s remake, like too many slasher films today, is punishing, oppressive, a soul-blackening experience, and not just with the violence. The sex scenes that were once naughty and sexy are now just dirty. Who wants to sit through that?

Halloween II (2009)

The first 20 minutes are pretty good. The rest is mind-numbingly brutal and ugly.

This is what they call a franchise killer.

The latest news is that Michael Myers will return, this time with John Carpenter as producer. Rest assure, we will update this post accordingly.

Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC