Why ‘Halloween’ Is the Greatest Horror Franchise Ever (Even Though It Isn’t)

It’s hard to imagine the kind of rights clearances and materials logistics that must’ve gone into Shout Factory and Anchor Bay’s new box set Halloween: The Complete Collection; it assembles ten films (and their copious special features) that were made over 31 years by several different studios and independents. Yet all those legal hurdles were cleared so that Halloween fans could have every single iteration of the series in one compact box — although it’s almost a pyrrhic victory, since the most striking impression from viewing these films alongside each other is how wildly inconsistent the series is. Halloween is my favorite horror franchise, but there’s more than one movie in the series that’s awful enough to make me question that very devotion. But then again, aren’t all horror franchises like that?

My connection to the series goes deep, back to my early teens, and begins — obviously — with John Carpenter’s original 1978 masterpiece. I first saw it when I was 12 or 13, when it aired on our local UHF station; I tuned it in on a “loop” antenna connected to my tiny black-and-white bedroom television, and even under the less-than-ideal circumstances presented by broadcast television editing, commercial breaks, and desaturation, it still scared the bejesus out of me. (In fact, as I’ve noted previously, the black-and-white may have even improved the experience.) I then sought it out at my local video store, along with its 1981 sequel; from then on, I was hooked.

If you’re unfamiliar with the series, here’s the briefest possible summary: The original film concerns Michael Myers, a little kid who kills his sister on Halloween, gets locked up for years, breaks out of the loony bin on Halloween night, and goes back to his hometown to kill again; he is outfoxed by one smart babysitter (Jamie Lee Curtis) and pursued by the rather overzealous Dr. Loomis (Donald Pleasance). Second movie picks up exactly where the first left off, continues that Halloween night at the hospital where poor Jamie Lee Curtis has gone to recoup, and awkwardly shoehorns in a big twist where, come to find out, she’s also Michael’s sister. It ends with what looks like the death of both Michael and Loomis, and the third is an entirely unrelated story about an evil mask manufacturer with a plan to kill all the children who are wearing his masks on Halloween night (it’s an odd mash-up of sci-fi and horror, with robot people and lasers and Stonehenge thrown in, for some reason).

Jamie Lee Curtis in "Halloween H20: 20 Years Later"

Fourth movie brings back Michael and Loomis, who — ha ha — weren’t killed at the end of II, just burned up real bad, and Michael escapes again and kills again, and Loomis yells a lot, and it looks like Michael gets killed, but his killing spirit is passed on to his niece (the Curtis character is dead, we’re told). Fifth one picks up a year later, and wouldn’t you know it, Michael wasn’t killed, but rescued by a hermit, who nurses him back to health so Myers can kill him and a bunch more people before escaping, with the aid of some goddamn cowboy man. Sixth movie picks up six years later, with his little niece giving birth (the math is fuzzy at best!) and trying to escape some sort of druid cult that both Michael and the cowboy are in, which is meant to totally explain why he’s so evil, and Dr. Loomis either becomes part of the cult or is killed by Michael (depending on which version you see). Seventh movie brings back Jamie Lee Curtis, who WASN’T DEAD AFTER ALL (that’s kind of a refrain in the series), so Michael tries to kill her some more, and she finally kills him for good — until the eighth movie, where it turns out he (all together now) wasn’t dead after all, and then he really kills Jamie Lee Curtis, and then he kills a bunch of webcasting teenagers, and Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks are somehow involved. (This is far and away the worst fucking movie in the series.)

And then they “rebooted” the series under the direction of writer/director Rob Zombie, who made two movies that are kinda like the original, except with a lot more unnecessary backstory and a whole lot more of Zombie’s signature sex-crime-tinged white-trash schtick.

As you can tell from these thumbnail sketches, the series is a bit of a mess. It’s chock-full of giant continuity errors and copious “ret-cons,” and the way that they keep trying to end movies with Michael’s death, only to have the next movie begin with him narrowly escaping that seemingly definitive ending, is very “he didn’t get out of the cockadoody car!” The notion of canon is laughable throughout — everyone just tries to pretend that all that cult stuff in the sixth film (and, to some degree, the fourth and fifth too) didn’t actually happen, and the third movie is so far removed from the rest of the series that it actually includes scenes where the first movie is showing on television. Some entries (particularly the first) are ground firmly in a house-next-door reality; later movies inhabit the realm of pure fantasy, particularly with regards to Michael’s durability and superhuman strength.

When you lay out the movies, you have one outright masterpiece (Halloween); two pretty damn fine follow-ups (Halloween II and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later); four that are varying degrees of kinda-sorta watchable, maybe (Halloween 4, Halloween 5, and the two Zombie entries); one a bit worse than that (Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers); and two that are just terrible (Halloween III and Halloween: Resurrection). Of course, that’s just one fan’s view. Others might rank those entries higher or lower, and I’ve even seen people fiercely defend Halloween III. (Nobody defends Halloween: Resurrection. That’s the Busta Rhymes one.) But no one will tell you the franchise is anything approaching consistent, and as you can see for my rankings, there are only three out of ten that I actually consider good enough for repeat viewings. That’s three outta ten. Thirty percent.

Yet, if asked, I’ll happily tell you that Halloween is my favorite horror franchise, and leave it at that. And I’ve encountered many, many fans who feel the same way, either about this franchise or others. A Nightmare on Elm Street only has three great entries (the first, the third, and New Nightmare); Friday the 13th is barely interesting after the first two; Paranormal Activity and Saw fall apart even more quickly than that. That’s my take, at least — their fans will tell you different, and if those are their favorite horror series, they probably have a similarly personal story about how they encountered those movies at a young and impressionable age, and have pledged allegiance to them ever since.

The longer I live with my inexplicable love for Halloween, the more I come to understand a mindset I’ve never quite been able to grasp otherwise: that of the sports fan. I haven’t watched an entire organized sporting event, live or on television, since I was maybe 15 years old, so I’m befuddled by the desire to plop down in front of a television or head out to a stadium for several hours on Sunday, and spend the days in between arguing stats and rivalries.

Or am I? After all, faithfulness to a team is basically what my Halloween fandom is all about — I became a follower early on and have stuck with them ever since. We have occasional bad seasons (sequels). Every once in a while, we stage a comeback (Halloween: H20). And we make fun of our competition, even when they “beat” us (more movies or not, Jason’s nothing but a JV Michael in a hockey mask). Within that framework, I can understand the euphoria of Cleveland fans when LeBron James came back; that’s how we all felt when we heard Jamie Lee Curtis was returning. Hey Jets fans, were you disappointed when Tim Tebow came in with all that fanfare and didn’t deliver? That’s how we felt about Rob Zombie.

You get the idea. So this Halloween night, I will take out the new box set, load up Halloween, turn off the color, and press play; I’ll probably watch II after, and then maybe H20, if it’s not too late. Next October 31, I’ll do the same thing — I’ve done it for years. And the other seven discs will sit in their trays, undisturbed, seldom played and mostly disregarded, like baseball cards from a season where we didn’t even make it to the damn playoffs. But they won’t matter, because this is still my team, through thick and thin.