John Carpenter's 1978 original is a horror classic, but the sequels and remakes that followed have been mostly unwatchable. So why is it coming back?
Earlier this week, Hollywood Reporter got an exclusive bit of news about the future of the Halloween franchise. Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunstan, the writers behind Saw IV, V, VI, and VII will be creating a new version of the story.
In what's described by sources as a "recalibration" (whatever the hell that means), the duo are working on a new story about the hulking figure in the white mask. No further details about plot, possible cast, or a director have been leaked, but I can say with authority that this is going to blow.
Written by John Carpenter and Debra Hill and directed by Carpenter—who hasn't made a movie in more than five years but is instead making music—the original, 1978 Halloween reshaped and re-routed the trajectory of horror on film. If you haven't seen it before—you've seen it, right?—it follows the story of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) as she's stalked and attacked by Michael Myers, a mask-wearing, near-invincible killer.
Since then, the history of the Halloween franchise has been beset by terrible sequels and two clunky remakes. If we use the past as a barometer for the future, there's no way Michael Myers is going to stalk the screen with the gusto he had while under Carpenter's direction.
The original Halloween had a production budget of $325,000 (a shoestring, even in 1978), and if it had just scraped by, or made a small profit, that would have been that. No more Michael Myers. But Halloween was the first major horror blockbuster, with a domestic gross of around $47 million. And because of that sweeping success, we were quickly treated to Halloween II. This is as close as we ever got to a watchable sequel, with Carpenter and Hill writing the script. It's... fine. It takes place seconds after the events of the first film, and is just a continuation of the story. It doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it doesn't suck either.
After Halloween II things got hairy. The third installment in the franchise, Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, was an attempt to break away from Myers as their main slasher. Focusing on an Irish mask maker who steals a hunk of Stonehenge and uses magic to melt the heads of children, the movie made $11 million less than II. Personally, I think this is one of the most imaginative entries in the series, and even though Witch doesn't feature Michael Myers, it's the last film in the series that was remotely watchable.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers and Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers were both what we call in the movie biz "garbage"—4 has an aggregated Rotten Tomatoes score of 29 percent and 5 has an appallingly low 14 percent. Their plots—which center around a young girl who ends up being Michael Myers's niece—are full of holes, gaps in logic, and cheap scares. The fifth movie is about the little girl being so traumatized that she can't speak, but (believe it or not), she finally overcomes her fear and speaks (meanwhile Michael stabs, stabs, stabs). By the time Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers came around (with an astonishingly awful 6 percent on Rotten Tomatoes) it's safe to say that no one really even noticed how bad it was.
They dragged Jamie Lee Curtis back for Halloween: H20, which brought in tons of money in the box office, but the film just feels like a modernization of a classically 1970s story. And if you did, for some reason, care about the sequel storyline up to that point, you'd probably be annoyed that H20 ignored the plots set up by a bunch of its predecessors. The final "official" sequel, Halloween: Resurrection, is so boring it doesn't even deserve any mention here.
Then it was horror-metal-dude Rob Zombie's turn to try his hand at the franchise. Mr. Zombie tried—he really, really tried. He took the original concept, made it more fucked up, and created scenarios that should have been terrifying. But Halloween (2007) is a boring rehash of the original masterpiece. It didn't bring anything new to the table. It exists as a glossy remake that wants to be grimy, but misses the point (It's like Orgy's cover of New Order's "Blue Monday," or, more appropriate, the 2011 remake of Carpenter's 80s classic The Thing).
And the sequel's no better, continuing the mythology Rob Zombie wanted to rewrite without keeping the immediacy of Halloween II. This is a filmmaker who clearly loves what he's doing... he's just not doing such a great job.
It's been a rough road, for sure. But the entire franchise, which cost around $83 million to produce, has raked in, worldwide, around $363 million.
And that's one of the major problems with the Halloween franchise: Even though the sequels and remakes pale in comparison to the original, they still make assloads of money. We viewers continue to shuffle into the theater every few years to watch the big dude in the white mask stab women. So all my hooting and hollering doesn't matter, right? The flick still rakes in money for the studio, and its investors are paid big time on their initial investments.
So, no matter how lukewarm the response to Zombie's two remakes, the legacy of Michael Myers will continue. Like the hulking Shade himself, the franchise can never really die, right? And with two Saw writers behind the wheel, I've got low, low expectations. But even though I'm not expecting much, you'll see me in the theater about a week after it comes out, because I love horror, and I love popcorn, and the original Halloween is so good that I'll go see shitty remakes just to remind myself of how good Carpenter's original was.
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