40 Years of Terror with the ‘Halloween’ Film Franchise
By Michael Crosby
As of this writing, I am 47 years old. Since my batshit crazy mother started taking me to movies when I was 3, I’ve had a pretty unique privilege most people my age do not: I’ve seen a lot of older films in theaters during their original runs. The films range from classic blockbusters like Jaws (1975), Star Wars (1977), and Superman: The Movie (1978), to cult classics like Madman (1981), C.H.U.D. (1984), and Orca (1977). I’ve been fortunate (or unfortunate, as the case may be), to experience the slow death of neighborhood theaters, drive-ins, and second-run houses as the box chains grew large enough to eat them whole until the rise of cable and the home video revolution finished the job for good. I’m guessing most of you reading this never had the pleasure of that experience, so I thought it might be fun to take a series I love and examine what it was like to follow those films throughout a lifetime. I’m talking about Halloween.
I was 6 years old. Although my mother had allowed me to see Jaws, The Omen (1976), Burnt Offerings (1976), and Jaws 2 (1978), amongst others, she still had the sense to heed the warning of an R rating. So, she put her foot down when Halloween came around. It’s kind of ironic, considering Jaws was far more graphic than John Carpenter’s holiday classic. Horror was already in my blood, Halloween was my favorite holiday, and I was primed by the TV and radio ads to love this film. I begged. I pleaded. I took out the trash. Still no luck.
Enter my older delinquent sister.
I was an “oops baby,” meaning I was a surprise. My brother and sister were already in their late teens when I was born. This worked out great for Mom since she had a pair of built-in babysitters and chauffeurs. Not so great for my siblings. One thing that did make it enjoyable for them was my love of horror, which meant that they could scare the living shit out of me on a regular basis and pretty much get away with it. We had a single mom and no dad in the picture (according to family lore he was locked up in an asylum somewhere in Florida…heh-heh). If a rare Friday night rolled around where mom had a date, one or the other unlucky babysitters was stuck with me. One such Friday rolled around and my sister, who knew how disappointed I was about not getting to see Halloween, struck an unholy deal with her little brother. If I promised not to tell Mom that it was Halloween we went to go see, and if I wouldn’t tell Mom that my sister’s boyfriend — the one Mom hated — went with us, then my sister would take me. Of course, I said yes.
We jaunted to the only drive-in within 20 miles away, a few towns over. Even then, the drive-ins were losing business and beginning to shutter. My sister and her boyfriend sat in the front while I sat in the back. I was excited about my first drive-in experience, but I remember being nonplussed by the terrible picture and audio quality. I also found out pretty quickly why my sister’s boyfriend had to come with us. After 15 minutes of the movie, they swapped seats with me. Now I sat in the front while they were in the back. I didn’t care. I was mesmerized and hooked by the film. For the first time since Jaws, I had a new favorite movie.
It still is to this day.
Halloween scared the living shit out of me, especially the ending where Michael disappears. To my young brain, Michael Myers was the living embodiment of the Halloween holiday. As a kid, sometimes you see something and it just sticks, all the way to the bedrock. It sticks for life. Halloween and Michael Myers did just that.
In the years between the first and second films, I cultivated my Halloween obsession. I wore out copies of the novelization. I had discovered Fangoria magazine by early 1980 so I had some great pics and an article featuring the film’s director, John Carpenter.
Halloween II (1981)
After slasher films started jumping on the bandwagon and raking in the money, Universal Pictures announced a sequel. Universal distributed the original film nationwide with a TV, radio, and print advertising blitz. The original film debuted on NBC with additional scenes to connect the original with the new sequel. Fangoria featured the sequel on its cover (Issue #15). I soaked it all up like a sponge. By this point, I had the green light to see any film I wanted. So, I was ready when Halloween II premiered in 1981. And oh man, that poster…one of my favorite horror images of all time.
My hometown never had its own theater. I saw the majority of films at The Showcase Cinema in the neighboring city of Woburn. Unfortunately, Halloween II didn’t play there either but played at a two-theater independent movie house in Medford instead. This time, it was my brother who got sucked into my vortex. It was also a time I never forgot.
I was the fattest kid in school for most of my life. I was bullied and beaten regularly. My brother was no saint; he tortured me also, mostly in a big brother way. So, he was more than happy to see me get the shit scared out of me. The Medford theater was the closest a Boston suburb could come to New York’s 42nd Street grindhouses. A tiny hole-in-the-wall wall theater? Check. Sticky floors? Check. Grimy, unusable bathrooms? Check. Three overworked employees? Check. Teens smoking cigarettes and pot in the theater? Check. All great stuff. At one point, I got up and left my seat to get a drink. Someone yelled out “fucking fat piece of shit!” My older brother got up, calmly walked over to the guy who had yelled the insult and proceeded to pound the guy’s face into his own seat. I was overwhelmed. My best memory of my brother to this day.
None of that stopped me from seeing Halloween II again in the theaters. I also had the sequel’s novelization by acclaimed horror writer Dennis Etchison (writing under the pseudonym Jack Martin). Indie record label Varese Sarabande released a soundtrack album largely marketed for mail-order through Fangoria. Guess who had that too?
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982)
After the success of Halloween II, Universal struck a deal to make yet another sequel. This one was titled Halloween III: Season of the Witch. The novelization, again by Dennis Etchison (using the pseudonym Jack Martin), was released a couple of weeks before the film. I didn’t quite get it. Michael Myers gone? Is this an alternate universe? I was confused. Still, I was ready to see this Halloween film.
This time around, the film premiered at the Woburn multiplex which meant four screens back then. I saw it opening night, but the entire experience was different from the previous one. Unlike Halloween II, this theater experience was dark and not a lot of fun. No screaming teenagers. The theater wasn’t even half full. Everyone that did show up was just kind of sitting there like a lump taking in the film. You could hear a pin drop in that theater. A dark nihilistic audience, which was appropriate since Halloween III is a dark nihilistic film.
While I did enjoy the film, it wasn’t nearly the same experience I had last time. I loved the novelization, I loved the poster art, I loved the Fangoria cover, and I even had two of the three masks featured in the film (skull and pumpkin), but it seemed a downer ending to a series I hoped would go on forever. At the same time, Friday the 13th was moving full steam ahead with new films almost every year (1980, 1981, 1982). I loved Jason Voorhees but was so sad to see Michael Myers exit. I managed to catch Halloween III on a double bill with Halloween II a couple of months later, but the third film was the last gasp of the franchise, and, much like its murderous star, it went into hibernation.
The return of Michael Myers would take only six years to happen, but that was an eternity in my life. It was the difference between being 10 years old and 16 years old. Everything changes, for better or for worse.
Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
While the Friday the 13th franchise notched up six films, and the Nightmare on Elm Street series was already working on its third by 1986, partners Moustapha Akkad, John Carpenter and Debra Hill began discussing ways to bring back their classic Boogeyman. Akkad was adamant that Michael Myers return since a fourth film would not be made without him. Carpenter and Hill, not exactly averse to making large chunks of money, enlisted the services of novelist Dennis Etchison, who had previously worked with the pair on the novelizations of The Fog (1980), Halloween II, and Halloween III: Season of the Witch, to write the script. Imagine my delight when I opened my August 1986 issue of Fangoria to see that apparently shlock distributor Cannon Films would be releasing the fourth installment in the coming year. Talk about excited! I was 13 by this point and the hormones were beginning to run wild — I was immediately jacked. I couldn’t wait. Sadly, it was not meant to be. Akkad rejected Etchison’s script as “too cerebral.” (Incidentally, “too cerebral” turned out to be a euphemism for “batshit crazy.” I won’t spoil it, but if you’re a Halloween fan, it’s readily available online and you need to read it. It’s gonzo.) Carpenter and Hill bailed out of the project and sold their stakes in the franchise back to Akkad, ensuring they would see a nice profit from any further sequels. Akkad was free to do as he wished.
Nothing more was heard until mid-1988, when to my delight, Fangoria’s Monster Invasion detailed the upcoming release of Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. By this point, I was almost 16 years old, a full-blooded teenager and a world away from my 10-year-old-self watching Halloween III in a quiet and dark theater. The video boom with tons of horror titles was firmly in place. My core identity had taken shape: I was a full-blown horror fan, heavy metal was in my blood, I had long hair, wore black leather, and Alice Cooper ruled. I read splatterpunk authors like John Skipp, Craig Spector, David Schow, and whatever Stephen King was putting out.
I went opening day, first showing. I was encouraged to see a fairly decent crowd, maybe half-full, at such an early show. This was back when there were no Thursday night screenings, no advance ticket sales and no word of mouth on the internet — just a brief trailer and a few TV spots. Even more encouraging was the film itself. A return to form, Halloween 4 was really enjoyable. I remember being nonplussed by the Myers mask this go-around, plus a larger and lumbering George Wilbur seemed a nod to Jason Voorhees’s popularity, but for the most part, the Halloween atmosphere was back, the characters weren’t morons making dumb slasher film mistakes, and the performances (and ending) were all pretty much top-notch. The film debuted to a #1 opening weekend, held that spot for a second week, and raked in about $22 million, firmly cementing Michael Myers at the top of the slasher heap once again alongside the likes of Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees.
Halloween 4 came near the end of the 80s slasher boom, but now it faced some stiff competition. Though it was beginning to run out of gas, the latest entry in the Friday the 13th franchise, Part VII: The New Blood (1988) still managed to score a $20 million gross and a #1 debut earlier in May. Then, in August, A Nightmare on Elm Street 4: The Dream Master (1988) blew apart industry predictions to gross over $50 million, ironically eclipsing the original Halloween as the most successful independent horror film of all-time (New Line was technically still an independent studio at the time).
Another large change for me, apart from being 16, was my introduction to marijuana the year before. I saw Halloween 4 while high as a kite — twice in theaters. It helped that it was released a week or so before Halloween itself. The days were getting colder, my favorite holiday was approaching, and I’ll never forget walking my neighborhood with the newly released soundtrack in my headphones, surreptitiously smoking a joint and smelling wood smoke in the air from freshly fired up stoves.
Horror and heavy metal were my saviors. In the year that followed, I had picked up a bass guitar and was on my way to mastering it and becoming a full-fledged musician. It didn’t last long though.
Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
Pet Semetary was a horror hit in early 1989, but by late summer of that same year, the bloody handwriting was on the wall for the genre. The horror genre began suffering setbacks that would put it in mothballs for the most part. Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989) was the first sign of serious trouble. Gifted with a $5 million budget, this franchise entry saw a return of what was, at the time, the series’ weakest box-office to date: a scant $14 million. Two weeks later, although still the most popular slasher at the time, Freddy Krueger’s relentless overexposure during the previous year led to A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (1989) becoming the lowest-grossing entry in the franchise since the original and with an embarrassing take less than half of what its predecessor scored a year previously.
Producer Akkad failed to feel the direction in which the wind was blowing and immediately fast-tracked a sequel to Halloween 4. Between the rushed schedule and creative differences between the director and his producers, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers turned out to be a mess, and that feeling was amplified during the screening I attended. A best friend and I dutifully attended opening night. The theater was mostly full. Unlike Halloween 4 that attempted to make its characters believable and intelligent, Halloween 5 embraced every crappy slasher cliché it could, and the audience responded with groans. The audience literally booed the ending out of the theater. Everyone was grumbling as they left. This proved what bad word of mouth can do for a film. I would never not be happy to see a Halloween film, and I was happy Michael Myers was still around, but this film was less than a positive experience.
Following the Summer Of Death in 1989, New Line’s soft reboot of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre franchise, Leatherface: Texas Chainsaw Massacre III (1990) opened to empty theaters. Horror disappeared from theatrical screens for the most part. Films like The Addams Family (1991) and Batman Returns (1992) began to grace the covers of Fangoria. Nirvana and Pearl Jam would usher in the grunge movement, knocking my beloved bands like Alice Cooper and Queensryche out of relevancy for years. Horror and heavy metal were dying.
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
During the 6 years between the fifth and sixth films in the Halloween series, I went from ages 16 to 22, lost all of my weight, started getting laid, had girlfriends, and played in a band that hit all of the best clubs in the Boston area. I never lost my love for horror, but it got pushed deep into the background. I had pretty much given up on a new Halloween film happening any time soon. I had moved on.
One film that did capture my heart during this period was Alex Proyas’ The Crow (1994). Imagine my shock and delight when I rented the video and there it was: the trailer for Halloween 666: The Origin of Michael Myers. Hooray! By this point, I had met my girlfriend Maureen, who is still my lady to this very day some twenty-four years later. Our first real date was a trip to Spooky World and then a midnight showing of what was now titled Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. The theater was well-attended. Even though it’s a pretty terrible film overall, it had elements I really enjoyed: the Halloween atmosphere was back, the mask looked good, and Paul Rudd was the best thing in the movie. We had a good time. Most of the people attending seemed to as well. But something was missing.
Between 1990 and 1996, I hadn’t been going to the movies much. First off, I was usually broke, and secondly, I could wait for home video for nearly all non-horror flicks. However, those six years really cemented the changes that had been ongoing since the 1980s. Drive-ins were near non-existent. Half-price second-run houses were gone. Every theater had become homogenized and gentrified, cookie-cutter stone emporiums encased in strip malls or surrounded by roughly 10 miles of a parking lot. Forget about trying to sneak a cigarette, let alone weed. Sixteen-year-olds were carding us while buying tickets, making absolutely sure we were seventeen before deeming us worthy to buy popcorn and soda at outrageous mark-up prices. Independent cinemas were nearly gone. So was some of the magic, sadly.
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998)
By the time Halloween H20: 20 Years Later rolled around, I was a full-fledged, bona fide 25-year-old in official adulting mode. As happens to so many of us with aspirations to the arts, life simply got in the way: working and paying for an apartment, a car and two cats became imperative. That didn’t stop me from being excited about the news that Kevin Williamson of Scream (1996) fame would be writing the next Halloween film, AND that Jamie Lee Curtis was returning as Laurie Strode. Apart from 2018’s reboot, this film was the most anticipated sequel in the franchise for me.
Then I heard the title. Then I saw the bland Scream-inspired poster that was prevalent in the late 1990s. Holding out hope, we saw Halloween H20, as always, for the first showing on opening day. Dimension Films came up with the not-so-brilliant idea of releasing the film in the summer, and it was extremely odd to see a Halloween film in a theater full of people wearing shorts and sandals. It was only one wrong note among many, and while I was happy with the last 15 minutes of the film, the first hour bored me to tears.
Halloween H20 is very much a product of its time and will always bring me back to the horror resurgence started with Scream from a few years earlier. It never fails to bring me back to that time and place, when we were young, eager, and full of piss and vinegar, taking on the world and life head-on and not doing too badly at it. For that reason, this film lives in my memory.
Halloween: Resurrection (2002)
It was no surprise that Akkad and Dimension would go back to the well again with Halloween: Resurrection. What was disconcerting, however, was a troubled post-production. Halloween II director Rick Rosenthal, hired at the last minute, had to contend with test audiences, constantly shifting release dates, dealing with reshoots and the meddling Weinsteins.
No amount of reshoots or meddling could save this mess, and ultimately my memory of Halloween: Resurrection is enjoying the air conditioning in the theater because a July heatwave had knocked out the power in my neighborhood. That’s literally my strongest memory of seeing it. So bland, so blah, and so underwhelming.
It was pretty clear after this fiasco that the series would be getting mothballed again. Halloween H20 had been a moderate hit, grossing over $55 million, but Halloween: Resurrection, along with the dismal creative results, barely cracked $30 million at the box office. Coupled with the surprise death of Akkad and his daughter in a 2005 terrorist attack, the franchise seemed deeply troubled, if not completely done.
Moustapha Akkad’s son Malek Akkad filled the role of executive producer for Trancas Films. He boldly decided to cut bait with the long-running storyline and simply start over. The remake craze of the 2000s was still in full swing, and it simply seemed a matter of time until Halloween’s number was called. Needless to say, I was appalled at the idea of a Halloween remake. While I enjoyed some of those films from the remake craze (I was frankly shocked that The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) was as good as it was, and found Alexandre Aja’s The Hills Have Eyes (2006) to actually be an improvement from the original), I couldn’t fathom the notion applied to what I still perceive to be the best horror film ever made, Halloween. When it was announced that Rob Zombie would be writing and directing…well, let’s just say it wasn’t a happy day in the Crosby household. Zombie’s aesthetic seemed geared more towards a Texas Chainsaw Massacre vibe than the sleepy Midwestern suburb of Haddonfield.
As the release approached and the publicity machine went to work, I slowly came around to having some hope. Michael Myers looked great. Malcolm McDowell, on paper at least, seemed like the ideal choice to replace Donald Pleasance in the Loomis role. I was also increasingly curious to see the storyline played completely straight with no hint of the supernatural in sight.
Another hot summer, another incongruous Halloween release, this time on Labor Day weekend no less. Maureen had to work that day, so my best friend and I went to the first show, then I took Maureen to the midnight show. It’s a good thing the midnight show was packed with screaming teenagers because at least they kept me awake. The second show confirmed my feelings about the first: every fear I had going in was paid off in spades. Zombie Haddonfield was filled with the same long-haired, foul-mouthed, knuckle-dragging characters as his first two features, and while I was impressed with Tyler Mane’s Michael Myers and happy to have Pasadena back doubling for Haddonfield, the film turned out to be the very antithesis of everything I thought made a good Halloween film work. Also, at that first show, it committed an unpardonable sin: it bored me to sleep. I’ve fallen asleep to two, exactly TWO films in my entire life. The first was The Faculty (1998). I could use the excuse that I was on painkillers at the time, but I won’t — The Faculty was dreadful. The second was Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007). I wasn’t surprised to learn later that the ending was completely reshot after the scene where Loomis confronts Michael and Laurie in front of the Myers house because that’s exactly where I slipped into a coma.
Despite many negative reactions besides my own, Halloween (2007) managed to take in the largest Labor Day weekend opening in history at that point, pretty much ensuring another sequel. $80 million worldwide was nothing to sneeze at, and though the film was pasted by critics, Rob Zombie and the franchise had its biggest hit ever (not adjusting for inflation). Zombie, completely burned out by his experience dealing with Dimension, swore off a sequel, so the producers began scouring the field for new writers and directors to pick up the story.
And in that span of time, my own world began to collapse.
Halloween II (2009)
While a rejuvenated Zombie began filming his sequel (simply titled H2 for months), the economy had begun to meltdown, and Maureen and I found ourselves at ground zero of the devastation. First, it was Maureen’s job. Unemployment was less than half of what she made. Then it was my job, and while I didn’t lose it entirely at first, my hours were sharply cut. Jobs had dried up. Retail was our bread and butter, and it went down the tubes. We were evicted. The judge had given us a couple of months to move along. Unable to find another place we could afford, we went with a motel room at a local seedy and infamous place that has thankfully since been torn down and replaced with a bowladrome. The day we moved to the motel? September 1st, 2009, one day before Rob Zombie’s Halloween II (2009) was released.
You might be expecting a diatribe here considering my reaction to the first Zombie Halloween film, but surprisingly, that’s not the case. I realize I’m vastly outnumbered, but I liked Halloween II (2009) a whole hell of a lot better than the first. It was vicious; it was dark; it delved into the effects of violence and trauma on victims. The production’s move to the tax-incentive-friendly South gave the film a cold, Fall-like vibe and the acting was surprisingly much better, particularly from Scout Taylor-Compton and especially Brad Dourif who had appeared to be sleepwalking through the first film. Sure, there were a bunch of misfires here, but I liked it overall. I still think it’s the tragic and dark tone that stuck with me. These characters were all doomed, and so were we.
Judging by the empty theater at the first show and the not-quite-full audience at the midnight showing, most were not agreeing with my assessment. Halloween II (2009) suffered a dismal opening and even sharper second week drop off, pulling in less than $40 million during its entire run. It was enough to keep Dimension moving forward with another sequel, but Zombie was finished. At that point, we were too.
After Zombie, the Weinsteins and Malek Akkad attempted to move forward with Halloween 3D using the writing/directing duo of Todd Farmer (Jason X, 2001) and Patrick Lussier (My Bloody Valentine 3D, 2009). Halloween 3D quickly collapsed (although it did result in a wild screenplay that’s worth perusing online), and with it, the idea of continuing Rob Zombie’s storyline. Faced with making a new film or losing the rights to the franchise, Dimension hired Saw franchise stalwarts Patrick Melton and Marcus Dunston to make Halloween Returns, what was meant to be a direct sequel to 1981’s Halloween II. This script is also an interesting read and worth checking out. It introduced some concepts that were carried over to the 2018 film. For whatever reason, it didn’t happen, and Dimension lost the distribution rights to the series.
As for me personally, Maureen and I were in a fog during this whole period. What happened with the Halloween films was a distant concern for us. Maureen and I attempted to dig ourselves out of our situation to no avail. We had enough to cover our motel room but nothing else to save. With only 2 payments left, our car was eventually repossessed. That killed the job I did have. My first screenplay sale gave us a few more months. There were no jobs. None. We spent the entire financial crisis living in a motel until July 2013 when we became homeless on the street and terrified. We were thrown into a system that is abusive and does not work. We’d spend all day long at a local McDonald’s, eating as cheaply as possible. We never had any real money. We spent nights sleeping at the local shelter in their winter cots program, surrounded by some good people and some thoroughly evil ones — people who make Michael Myers look like Santa. I’m talking about pedophiles and criminals. I was beaten a couple of times and robbed more times than I can count. We slept on cement in the outdoors. All the while we just focused on getting through the day. Every day. One day at a time. We’ve been fighting that fight for 6 long years since, and it’s a tale that could fill a book of its own. Over time we’ve learned to manage the homelessness in some ways, but it’s always there, leaning over us, grinning in the dark.
As it turns out, so was Michael Myers.
First came the rumblings that Blumhouse had acquired the rights to the franchise. After that, the news got better and better. An honest-to-God filmmaker was writing/directing this time around. John Carpenter was involved with the film’s score. Jamie Lee Curtis was back. This might sound ridiculous to some, but it gave me a spark of hope. It gave me something to look forward to. By this point, Maureen and I hadn’t seen a film in theaters for over 5 years. Our last was Star Trek: Into the Darkness (2013). I saved; every spare dime went into the Halloween (2018) fund. While we were unable to continue our tradition of seeing the first show on opening day, we were able to see it in the theaters.
On a FREEZING cold October day, we trekked to the local theater, had popcorn and a drink, and took in our first eye-popping digital projection and audio experience with stadium seating and comfortable chairs. Though it was early on a weekday, the film had a respectable audience. While I could never truly relax and enjoy the film as I would have during a better time in my life, it was still wonderful to see Michael Myers return to his roots.
Halloween Kills (2020) | Halloween Ends (2021)
Now, with the 2018 film’s spectacular level of success, we have not only one, but two sequels on the way with everyone coming back to craft the new chapters: Halloween Kills (2020) and Halloween Ends (2021). It gives me something that I’ve needed since I was a child, waiting in line to see my favorite movie continue with Halloween II in 1981; it gives me something to look forward to. I now have a reason to make it to October 2021.
I have horror, but I also have hope. 🩸
Michael Crosby was a contributing writer for Manor Vellum. He passed away on December 5, 2020, and we miss him dearly. His articles remain on this site in his honor.
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