In 2017, the Halloween franchise remains relevant for a number of reasons. This October, Rob Zombie’s divisive remake turns 10 years old, and David Gordon Green was recently announced as the director of a reboot to be produced by Jason Blum and the original mastermind himself, John Carpenter. With this news in mind, horror enthusiasts Mike Thorn and Anya Stanley decided to have a talk about the previous entries in the series.
Mike: Anya, I’m really intrigued by your appreciation of Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995). That’s a film that I didn’t connect with on a first viewing, but found strangely fascinating on a second watch. Could you say a little more about this commonly dismissed sequel?
Anya: I get a lot of flack for enjoying this film, but I don’t care. For me, it’s a fun departure from the usual Myers narrative. I found the Cult of Thorn plot to be innovative, sinister and highly entertaining. That it flies in the face of Carpenter’s “Don’t explain the evil” ethos is irrelevant; by the time we hit Halloween III: Season of the Witch, Myers is no longer Carpenter’s baby. The Akkad family were the franchise guardians at the time, and between them and Daniel Farrands’ script, I appreciate the ambitious turn they took with the backstory. I mean, come on: pagan rituals, the occult, mind control… that’s good stuff. Figuring out what made Myers such an unstoppable force of evil was the logical next step, and kept the series from devolving into a repetitive Friday the 13th routine and just picking off teenagers in Haddonfield. I should note that I’m referring to the infamous Producer’s Cut, which has the alternate ending that digs deeper into the coven rituals and is generally more fan-friendly. H6 really just picked up where the first two films left off with creating a mythology around Michael Myers. What did you think of the Cult of Thorn plot?
Mike: I’m all for this wild form of expanding character mythology. Since you brought up Friday the 13th, I’ll state outright that some of my favorite Jason Voorhees films are the ones that move away from Crystal Lake. I’m also into the Cult of Thorn plot — it lends Michael Myers with a backstory that feels wonderfully Gothic. As you say, it’s a logical next step for the series, especially considering all of the familial discoveries that come up in the previous sequels. With H6, the story moves into distinctly “return of the repressed” territory. What has been hidden? What unthinkable secrets lurk in the Myers’ past? I’m also fond of the movie’s emphasis on visual style (something that I think is maybe lacking a little bit in the fourth and fifth installments). Joe Chappelle uses color and lighting in a dramatic way that is unusual for the series.
Moving onto another title—I was happy to learn that you don’t completely despise Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007). This is a strange film, and I don’t think it’s effective as his 2009 sequel, but I still like it a great deal. Any further thoughts? What do you think works about it? What doesn’t work?
Anya: It’s definitely a strange film, but it’s still consistent with Zombie’s body of work. I didn’t like it when it first came out, but I really think that was a nostalgia bias at play. My main gripe about it back in ’07 was everyone’s gripe: “This is nothing like Carpenter’s vision! Zombie explained too much!” And to an extent, that’s correct. It’s not Carpenter’s ’78 movie, it’s a re-imagining. Zombie made the movie that he wanted to see, and I can’t fault him for that. The one thing I absolutely love in the ’07 version is the role of Dr. Loomis. There’s no replacing Donald Pleasance’s performance, and Malcolm McDowell doesn’t try to. He and Zombie worked together to make Dr. Loomis a much more tangible character than in the original. In Zombie’s reboot, we sit in the psychiatric facility with Loomis and young Michael, and watch the boy’s steady descent into darkness. We hear the reports, and see the doctor’s failing efforts, both to reach Myers, and to communicate the gravity of his evil to authorities. Thus, later on in the film, we understand that frustration when no one takes him seriously until the body count rises. He’s less of a raving obsessive and more of a deeply concerned professional whose valid warnings go unheeded until it’s too late. In that respect, I applaud Zombie for what he brought to the story.
Mike: You’ve made a lot of great points. I think Zombie’s Halloween entries play best as Rob Zombie films, rather than as standard Michael Myers movies. Zombie is obviously conscious of the franchise mythology and history, but he’s providing new context by dealing so intently with the psychological effects and origins of violence. I think Halloween ’07 is excellent, but it still feels kind of contained by the parameters of its source. It also seems divided, in the sense that it contains these kinds of questions that are specific to Zombie’s version, but it’s also beholden to a pre-established structure. In my opinion, Halloween II is where he conducts his bizarre, almost experimental, purely Rob Zombie-style study of Michael Myers. That film has to be one of the most unusual in mainstream American horror. It’s almost devoid of standard “scares” and more concerned with a thorough and far-reaching analysis of trauma and lineages of violence. It always sits with me after I watch it, but the affect is more sadness than fear.
While we’re on the subject of franchise outliers, where do you stand on Tommy Lee Wallace’s Halloween III: The Season of the Witch (1982)?
Anya: Love it. I understand that it was part of Carpenter’s original plan to create a series of Halloween-set films, each with a different story. It could’ve been marketed better so that fans understood the lack of Myers beforehand, but the story itself was a great one, and who could hate on Tom Atkins? I look at H3 the same way I do A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. Solid entry, but it broke the flow and is better looked upon as a tangent to the franchise and canon.
Mike: Yes! Agreed. I sometimes think about what the series would’ve been like if they had allowed it to develop as a franchise of unrelated stories set on Halloween. And I have to second your love for A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge. It might play a little out-of-sync with the rest of the series, but it’s brilliant as a standalone horror movie.
Okay, now maybe we should work backwards — John Carpenter’s 1978 original. Is it your favorite of the series? Are you a Carpenter fan in general?
Anya: Oh, of course Halloween ’78 is my favorite. Nothing beats the original! It really was lightning in a bottle and still scares me today. For me, it’s the best horror franchise out there. I’m a huge Carpenter fan, and The Thing is my favorite horror film of all time. His Lovecraftian ethos (“Let the evil remain in the shadows, don’t explain it too much”) shows in his work, and he is a master of tension. He’s also one of the few filmmakers to consistently utilize the jump-scare correctly, as a way to relieve tension instead of as a crutch. Do you think his approach resulted in the best iteration of Michael Myers?
Mike: I definitely share your admiration for Carpenter. I can call him my favorite horror filmmaker with no hesitation. Prince of Darkness is my favorite movie in the genre, and probably my favorite movie in general. Halloween ‘78 is amazing. I’ve always been a fan, but it really clicked with me in a new way when I revisited it this past October. It dawned on me that this film is actually very sparse. It has an amazing sense of negative space, but it’s also noticeably sparing with its dialogue and with its deservingly famous score. Carpenter has the confidence in his material to allow for quiet. As he always does in his work, he achieves so much in this film simply by being attentive to what’s being contained in the frame, and where. I’ll also say it’s also my favorite in the series. Although, I must admit, Rob Zombie’s Halloween II is not far behind. I know this might be a scandalous pick, but I have to be honest.
How do you feel about Rick Rosenthal’s Halloween II (1981)?
Anya: I see Halloween II as on-par with the original, in every way. Like the first film, it still delivers the scares and hits every mark. Halloween II also features my favorite version of the Michael Myers mask!
Mike: I wouldn’t quite rank it with Carpenter’s original, personally, but I do like Rosenthal’s Halloween II. The mask is totally great!
Now onto the less “favorable” opinions. I know this is a pretty unpopular stance, but I don’t like H20 on any level. It feels like the most pandering, fan-servicey entry in the series. I have a soft spot for a lot of the post-Scream films that flooded the market in the late 90s and early 00s, but this one has always felt to me like a purely market-driven movie with no distinct characteristics. I know it has its defenders, but I can’t get behind it. Are there any installments in the series that you can’t stand?
Anya: Halloween: Resurrection, hands down. I didn’t even have to ruminate on that, it’s easily the most bland entry in the series. While the premise of live-streaming from multiple camera feeds for an internet show sounds promising, Resurrection failed to maintain the taut tension and chilling atmosphere of the previous entries in the franchise. Even my man Busta Rhymes couldn’t save that one.
Mike: I guess the best subject to round out this discussion is the recent announcement that David Gordon Green and Danny McBride are the creative forces behind the upcoming Halloween installment. It has been stated that this will not be a humorous approach, and that it will pick up where Halloween II (1981) left off. Green has an eccentric and eclectic filmography, so it’s difficult to say exactly what he might have in mind. Carpenter has vouched for this latest vision, and has even teased that he might compose its score. If the master himself is giving it his blessing, then I’m excited to see what’s in store. How do you feel about this news?
Anya: I’ll admit that when I first heard about a reboot of the franchise, I speculated with fellow fans about which names should and would get involved. To be honest, I thought Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush, Absentia) had it in the bag to direct. If not him, Adam Wingard (You’re Next, The Guest, Blair Witch) would’ve been another name I expected to see attached to the project. I was surprised along with everyone else when Green and McBride were announced as the ones teaming up to take us back to Haddonfield. The fact that they had the blessing of Carpenter himself softened the blow, but it still came out of left field for me. But after letting it stew for a few minutes, it feels like outstanding news. This is the same Green that gave us Pineapple Express, Compliance and Joe, among others. His films are a full spectrum of genre and tone, so I have no reason to believe that he isn’t capable of handling Michael Myers’ story. As far as McBride goes, horror fans will always balk at anything outside of what they’re used to, but comedy people know genre better than anyone. They can break down and reconstruct narratives with expert precision in order to access whatever emotion they want you to feel. This is what they do. This is why I’m hyped for Jordan Peele’s Get Out, and this is why I’m confident that Danny “Eastbound & Down” McBride will do right by Myers. Really, Carpenter is not the kind of guy to sugarcoat things; he’s known for his abrupt nature. If the pitch had him stoked enough to gush about it on social media, who am I to cast doubt?
Mike Thorn (@MikeThornWrites) is a lifelong cinema enthusiast pursuing his M.A. in English literature at the University of Calgary. His fiction has appeared in a number of publications, including DarkFuse, Double Feature Magazine, Turn to Ash and the anthology Creepy Campfire Stories (for Grownups). He has also written numerous articles for Bright Lights Film Journal. You can contact him through his website, mikethornwrites.com.
A.M. Novak (@BookishPlinko) is a horror enthusiast and contributor to Daily Grindhouse, 100 Films/100 Scenes, Horror Writers and 52 Weeks of Horror. When she’s not staunchly defending Halloween 6, she’s scribbling nightmares for the masses in the form of short stories.