In 1982, one of the greatest horror movies was released. I say this as a fan of John Carpenter, and as someone who really loves Halloween: John Carpenter’s best film by far is The Thing. The film can be seen as a masterwork, both in terms of paranoia/suspense and in terms of practical effects at work. That said, upon initial release – The Thing did not fare well. Many critics (Roger Ebert included) were grossed out by the film’s excessive gore, and found the effects to be a little too real. Carpenter’s The Thing went on to be a box-office flop… with fame and deserved acclaim not being bestowed for many years.
A prequel with the same name. Makes… absolutely no sense. So why did it happen? The short answer is: I don’t know. After spending a few hours digging, I have not found an answer beyond this: they did not want the film to have a “:” in the title. Makes sense right? These days there is little that implies Hollywood marketing the way that a colon can. For example, take a look at this unofficial poster art for (one of) the upcoming Jungle Book movie:
That’s right. They’re making two Jungle Book movies at the same time. One is not made by Disney, however, and so it is titled Jungle Book: Origins to differentiate… and to let audiences now that the studio is hopeful for a franchise. Well, I do agree with director Matthijs van Heijningen Jr.The Thing: Origins or anything like that would have sounded pretty dumb.
While 2011’s film was no remake, Carpenter’s sure as heck was. Really, all three films have shared the same basis, and that is the Who Goes There? novella written by John W. Campbell. Say, Who Goes There? would be a great title for a horror movie… oh but it doesn’t have The Thing in it. And everyone knows that, if a movie is to be financially successful, it must name the money-making property behind it.
So, while the director says one thing – I believe another factor strongly went into influencing the title for The Thing: Studio interference. This happens a lot in movies and happened a ton on this one. For example, one of the greatest criticisms leveled against the 2011 film was the effects. Gone were the brilliant practical effects of the 1982 classic, replaced by cheap, fake-looking CGI. What was the director thinking?
Pretty cool looking (although still nowhere near as bloody as 1982). Yet apparently, for whatever reason, the studio did not feel confident in this look. CGI is all the rage after all. ‘Cause this:
Looks so much better than this:
Also, The Thing (2011) lost its original ending, as the studio felt it was too confusing. The original ending featured many more alien designs, and has been dubbed “the pilot ending” by the director. In case you were wondering, we got “the Tetris ending” in the theatrical cut.
The point is: this movie had more than one master, and sadly that usually never works out in the film’s favor. I also know for a fact the script went through at least one complete rewrite from a scriptwriter whose other work has been.. less than stellar.
From the research I have done it appears that two goals were in mind. The first (from the director and crew) was to create a prequel that paid tribute to everything that makes the Carpenter film fantastic. The second was a bid to update The Thing for modern audiences in the 21st century, without risking grossing audiences out this time.
How did it turn out? The Thingbombed at the box office… again. History repeated itself, at least in that respect. Sadly, I don’t believe the 2011 prequel is destined for the same late recognition as the 1982 original, in part for the abysmal effects. The film is simply nowhere near the level of its predecessor, and I don’t believe it would be even if the effects were left alone. The paranoia isn’t there, the performances aren’t there. It is simply… lesser.
This was a film that started out pure but was then corrupted and taken over by an outside force, and in that respect – the title actually makes sense.
That’s right, just the original eight films. No Rob Zombie here. To be honest, the main reason that the Rob Zombie remake series is not being included is due to the fact that I have not seen Halloween II. Also, with the immanent announcement of Halloween III, that is not a series that has yet been completed. The first series however, the one that began in 1978 with John Carpenter and ended in 2002 with Busta Rhymes (not joking); that series has come and gone and can be looked at with a sense of completion. Everyone (or at least every horror fan) knows what a classic the original is. Spoiler warning: it is my number one. What of the rest of the series? Are they even worth watching? Let’s get into it, going best to worst.
1. Halloween (1978)
What a shocker. In previous posts over this past month, I have made no secret what a masterpiece I personally feel this film is. There is perhaps no better movie that illustrates the difference that an excellent soundtrack can make with a film. It is not simply score either, throughout the film director John Carpenter uses little sound queues to add the element of the supernatural into Michael Myers’ character. While some of the dialogue is not strong, Jamie Lee Curtis shows her acting chops as a leading lady. She is so perfect at being normal, so easy to understand. It sets up an excellent contrast between her and Myers. Donald Pleasence is also excellent and Dr. Samuel Loomis, sort of the modern-day Van Helsing foil to Myers’ evil. The film works without a lot of blood, without a ton of kills, without having to go to any extremes at all (take a lesson, Rob Zombie). Halloween is driven by pure talent at every level. Essential viewing during the October horror season.
2. Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
The fact that this film is number two is a testament to how much the series’ quality drops off after the original. Do not feel that my placing this film second is in any way an endorsement of it as a good film. Halloween H20 (stop snickering, it is a serious title!) picks up twenty years after the events of the first two movies. It completely ignores the continuity set in the three films before it in an effort to return to the roots of the franchise. Jamie Lee Curtis even returns to star in the film. The reason this movie places second is due to its short run time (86 minutes) and its fun, over-the-top ending. That said, this is a film that suffers from multiple false jump scares. It is strongly debatable whether a single false jump is too many, but this movie features ten in about as many minutes. The resulting effect strips the film of any sense of tension and leaves the audience feeling bored and actually, kinda chuckling along at how many there are. Maybe this was the director’s intention. In any case, if you can survive the first half: H2o pulls a fun ending that somehow managed to feel like a satisfying end to the series. Being the 7th film, Michael Myers was getting pretty old at this point.
3. Halloween III: The Season of the Witch (1982)
In truth, this film is consistently a better film than H2o, yet this is the sequel most hated by many Halloween fans. The reason: Michael Myers is not in it. Well, he sort of is, but only on TV. This is the only Halloween sequel to attempt to branch off and do something original. For the record, it is still not a particularly good movie. The plot, which involving an evil attempt to kill kids via Halloween masks, is interesting but resolved in a rushed way that does not feel satisfying. The characters work fairly well but they wear thin by movie’s end. Looking back, this film may have been more successful with a different name. It should not have included a “3” as that set up the expectations of a direct sequel. There are also zero witches in this movie… just saying. Another problem this movie has is Trick ‘R Treat. This 2007 movie does what Season of the Witch was trying to do… only much better.
4. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Oh man, we’re getting int the pure cinematic crap territory now. Halloween 5 is a mess. This is the second film that follows Laurie Strode’s daughter (A.K.A. Michael Myers’ niece) as she tries to survive her psychotic uncle. The film is a direct continuation of four but kills the other surviving character really quickly. This is a shame because this character was older and linked the niece with the rest of the teenage characters. Also, the audience was treated to the character “Tina” instead. Tina is not likeable, Tina is not smart or clever… in fact Tina purposely does things that the character acknowledges will get her killed. Sounds like a fun protagonist right? The plot is everywhere with a cliffhanger ending that makes no sense. The only reason this film is this high on my list is due to the over-the-top stupid nature of some of the scenes. It makes parts of the movie really fun to watch… and it also allowed me to remember parts of it. More than I can say for the next film down.
Watching Michael Myers slowly drive after a child with John Carpenter’s iconic theme blaring is nothing short of magical.
5. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
This movie is really boring. I should end the synopsis there. I will simply say that any “Halloween fan” who complained about Michael Myers’ absence in Season of the Witch got exactly what they deserved. A retread that brought nothing new or memorable to the series. Watch it or don’t: you won’t remember it anyway.
6. Halloween II (1981)
The direct sequel and follow-up to Carpenter’s classic… is really poorly constructed. This is the only sequel that John Carpenter had anything to do with. While he did not direct, he did help write the script. Unfortunately, the script is the main problem. Most story experts will tell you that a protagonist is needed to give the audience a person to root for. Halloween II does not have a protagonist until the final act. Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie returns from the original, but is unconscious through most of the movie. Dr. Loomis also returns but does little to impact the plot in the beginning. The result: Michael Myers killing a bunch of people no one cares about. I would have included this movie higher (than 4) if not for one thing: this is the movie that adds in the family motivation. Michael Myers is after Laurie because he is her older brother. Gone is the random killing of the Boogeyman, this Michael now has a human motivation. I never understood why Carpenter would write this for a man he made increasingly supernatural as the first film progressed. All the Halloween sequels and remakes would follow this narrative. I hate it. The Boogeyman should not care about his little sister.
7. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
If 5 was a mess, Halloween: the Curse of Michael Myers is a catastrophe. It does not help that there are two versions of this movie out there. The theatrical cut and a Producers Cut. I have never seen the Producers Cut, but it is hard to imagine salvaging a good movie out of what was presented in theaters. Nothing makes sense. There are characters who go nowhere (in both cuts) and plot lines that are hastily tied up from the previous movies. The only reason I could give to watch this movie is to see Paul Rudd beat up Michael Myers with a pipe. I’m not kidding – that’s how he dies this time around. This is also the last film to feature Donald Pleasence, but really it is just sad to see him in a film of this quality. I have no clue if John Carpenter ever saw this movie, but I imagine his reaction would be similar to one of the first lines of the film: “Enough of this Michael Myers bullshit!”
8. Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
I know, it’s hard to believe the one starring Busta Rhymes is the worst. Rick Rosenthal returns to direct Halloween: Resurrection after thoroughly underwhelming audiences with Halloween II. His directing talent did not improve in the twenty years between movies. What makes it sooooo bad? Apart from another stupid and nonsensical plot, Resurrection manages to undo all of the best parts of H20, namely the ending. Jamie Lee Curtis does not get to kill Michael Myers. Instead, she is offed very unceremoniously fifteen minutes into this film. The rest is done in reality TV show and contains roughly the same quality. Even the over-the-top, one-liner spouting Busta Rhymes can’t redeem this crap. Just how bad was it: bad enough to put the original Michael Myers in the ground for good.
So there you have it. Really. This is all the original series had to offer. Were there some great moments? Sure… all of them coming in 1978. Halloween has left a legacy that continues to live to this day. That is a mark of how great a film it was. You cannot judge a film by its sequels. John Carpenter is not responsible for what came after… although I’m sure he would agree that it could – at the very least – have been a little better than this.