Halloween: Making sense of horror's most confusing and complicated franchise.
One of the most interesting things about the Halloween franchise is it's confusing as hell timeline. Where do we even begin when trying to pick this one apart? First up, you’ve got the original 1978 classic, directed by horror master John Carpenter, and often credited as being the film that spawned the formula that would go on to inform the wildly popular slasher sub-genre of the 80s
As a film, Carpenter’s classic works as its own standalone story about a psychotic masked killer who returns to his childhood home on Halloween night, 30 years after murdering his older sister, and brutally murders anyone who gets in his way. But it also works quite nicely (in my opinion, at least) as one half of a wider whole when placed with 1981’s Halloween II.
Directed by Rick Rosenthal, Halloween II does its best to continue to look and style of Carpenter’s original, picking up quite literally where the first film left off and continuing to follow killer Michael Myers as he murders yet more people in an attempt to track down and kill the 1978 film’s lead, Laurie Strode, played by the returning and ever-excellent Jamie Lee Curtis.
While the sequel isn’t entirely successful and tends to lean closer to the gory slasher tropes that had by that point in time become expected of slasher movies than Carpenter’s classic, what it does do is introduce a motive and a purpose. By revealing that Laurie Strode is, in fact, Michael Myers’ long lost sister and that this is why he is so hellbent on tracking her down and killing her, Halloween II raises not only its own stakes but retroactively raises those of the previous film as well.
When placed together (again, this is entirely my opinion) both movies work as a complete story, with the slow, atmospheric build-up of the 1978 movie eventually giving way to the faster-paced, gorier, and arguably more shocking climax that is the 1981 movie.
By the time we reach Halloween III: Season of the Witch, a film that chooses to drop the Myers narrative entirely and veer off in its own direction, there is already a sense of closure to the storyline. Season of the Witch, although poorly received upon release, has been subjected to a sort of reappraisal in more recent years, and rightly so. Although it does drop the entire continuity of the first two movies, it’s a fun and a genuinely nasty little movie that offers up some great moments and deserves more recognition.
Furthermore, when placed within the wider context of the franchise as a whole, Halloween III: Season of the Witch acts as a nice line in the sand for what is the first chapter in the Myers saga, and serves to separate Halloween and Halloween II out from the rest of the franchise as their own, standalone story.
This separation works quite nicely when we consider the direction the franchise would next take, with 1988’s Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers acting almost as an entirely different part one to a trilogy that also includes both 1989’s The Revenge of Michael Myers, and 1995’s The Curse of Michael Myers. Although this sort of mini-trilogy does refer back to the events of both Halloween and Halloween II, it treats both those movies far more as a sort of prologue than it does treat itself as a direct continuation, instead opting to almost reboot the narrative and begin again, introducing its own plot threads, central characters, and mythology.
Indeed, these three films stand out as tonally separate from the first two movies as well. Although Halloween II does introduce a more gory and violent element to proceedings, it still maintains a look and visual style that is consistent with Carpenter’s vision. By the time we reach 1988’s The Return of Michael Myers, the entire franchise has taken such a drastic left-turn that one could stick the fourth movie in first, follow it up with five and six, and still understand pretty much every aspect of the plot.
In a sense, then, up until this point the franchise has been relatively easy to follow. The first two are their own self-contained story, Season of the Witch a standalone tale, and an intermission, separating out that first story from four, five, and six’s mini trilogy. But then comes H20, and things start to get complicated.
Released in 1998, Halloween H20 ignores the events of all the films but the original and Halloween II and sees Jamie Lee Curtis return to the franchise for the first time since 1981. Set 20 years after the events of Halloween II, H20 continues that story. Laurie Strode is now alive and living under an assumed identity as a Headmistress in California, fearing that her brother may one day return to finish the job he failed to do all those years ago.
Although the film does veer away from the stylistic and atmospheric elements of both Halloween and Halloween II in favor of a more meta and Scream-like approach (the writer of Scream, Kevin Williamson, even worked on the film), so much of the film's plot is reliant on the viewer understanding the events of the first two movies that, unlike parts 4 to 6, H20 works best when placed alongside the original and Halloween II as their own separate mini trilogy.
When it comes to the next entry in the franchise, the much-maligned Halloween: Resurrection from 2002, the less said the better. Suffice it to say, though, that really the film is its own thing. The only ties to any of the previous continuity, other than the character of Michael Myers himself, is the hugely controversial opening sequence that sees Jamie Lee Curtis return on to be immediately killed off.
The film was poorly received and more or less killed the franchise instantly. If you really wanted to you could treat it as a sort of epilogue to the one, two, H20 trilogy, but I would advise against it. Because it’s shit.
After the disaster of Resurrection, we wouldn’t see another Halloween movie until 2007, when director Rob Zombie would remake the original film in his own style. Zombie’s remake, simply titled Halloween, would also receive its own sequel, titled Halloween 2, in 2009. These movies work entirely as their own separate thing and feature no continuity with anything that has come before.
Both the Zombie films were pretty poorly received upon release but have since been given their own sort of mini reappraisal and are occasionally recognized for the totally different approach to the story and the characters that they take. They can be watched completely apart from anything that came before as they do tell their own, self-contained narrative.
However, while the total reset of Zombie’s movies might seem like the sensible place to give up on the established continuity, the Halloween franchise seems to be happiest when confusing audiences and screwing up its own, already multiple, timelines. Entire 2018’s Halloween, directed by David Gordon Green and produced by modern house of horrors, Blumhouse.
Halloween 2018 ignores, rather bafflingly in my opinion, everything but the 1978 original. It once again sees Jamie Lee Curtis return to the franchise and once again has her, suffering from PTSD, face off against a returning Michael Myers. However, and here’s my biggest gripe, without the raised stakes of Halloween II, in which we discover Laurie is Michael’s sister and the kill count is raised substantially higher, Myers becomes somewhat unthreatening.
According to Halloween 2018, with its retcon of everything but Carpenter’s original, Michael Myers is a guy who, several decades ago, killed four people (five if you include his sister from 30 years before that) over the course of a single night, and was then shot and arrested and has remained in custody ever since. In terms of terrifying serial killers, although I don’t want to downplay the deaths of four people (five if you count his sister), America has far more deadly school children.
While I don’t dispute that the events of that night in 1978 would have had an effect on the character of Laura Strode, I struggle to believe that she would be terrified that he would escape, and even more so, that she would be terrified he would escape and come for her. Like… why? Why would he do that, Laurie? You’re literally just the person who happened to be in the next house he was going to 30 years ago.
As a film, Halloween 2018 works in that it takes the franchise back to its more atmospheric roots. It puts a lot of effort into building the Carpenter aesthetic and trying to make sure it matches up with what came before, but ultimately it doesn’t really make sense. Two sequels to it are currently in production, the awfully titled Halloween Kills, and Halloween Ends, and presumably, these three films together will form a sequel trilogy.
So, there you have it. That’s the complex and confusing timelines of the Halloween franchise. Does your head hurt yet?