When Did the "Halloween" Film Series Jump the Shark?
"Was it the boogeyman?" "As a matter of fact... it was."
John Carpenter's Halloween (1978) is one of those rare movies that you just can't throw sh*t at. It was critically acclaimed, scary as hell (for its time), and perhaps most importantly, it was a massive hit that set box office records for a small independent horror film. It's a movie that has held up well over time and still deserves every bit of its iconic status.
Halloween's deceptively simple premise - an escaped maniac stalking a group of high school girls babysitting on All Hallow's Eve, leading to a climactic battle with the lone surviving "nice" girl - has been copied so many times that its conventions have become well worn cliches. If it weren't for Halloween we wouldn't have had a Friday the 13th, a My Bloody Valentine, or any of the hundreds of other clones that jumped on the slasher bandwagon throughout the late 70s and '80s.
Unfortunately, Halloween was also the beginning of a "franchise" that encompasses a series of increasingly unnecessary sequels, remakes and reboots which have caused no small amount of audience frustration along the way.. To call yourself a fan of the Halloween series nowadays involves an almost masochistic urge to be consistently disappointed with each new installment.
Halloween (1978) trailer:
The Beginnings of Sequel Mania
Since it made a ton of money, it was inevitable that Hollywood would want a sequel to Halloween. 1981's Halloween II picked up moments after the end of the first film - with Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) still trying to escape the maniacal slasher Michael Myers, this time in a hospital setting. This time the film was made in conjunction with a major studio (Universal Pictures) rather than independently, and it had a noticeably larger budget and body count than the original. The onscreen blood and gore factor was also much greater than in the first film. John Carpenter wrote the screenplay and took part in the behind-the-scenes production of the sequel, but turned over the directors' chair to Rick Rosenthal. Halloween II wasn't quite the box office phenomenon that the original was, but its ticket sales were respectable enough that Universal demanded a third movie for the following Halloween season.
"Halloween II" (1981) trailer
Okay... so now what?
There was just one problem...(SPOILER ALERT) Michael Myers died at the end of Halloween II - burnt to a crisp when the heroic, self sacrificing Doctor Loomis (Donald Pleasance) blew himself and Myers up in a hospital operating room by igniting the oxygen supply. How could the series continue without its main boogeyman? John Carpenter suggested that they move the "Halloween" franchise away from its slasher-film origins, and turn it into an annual anthology series centered around the Halloween theme. It was a nice idea .... in theory. However, horror film fans stayed away from the not-nearly-as-bad-as-you've-heard Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) in droves as soon as word got out that there was "No Michael Myers" in it, and the movie died a quick box-office death.
A lot of fans will tell you that "III" is the point where the series jumped the shark, but y'know what? I actually kind of like that flick, it's a nice mix of creepy '50s paranoid sci-fi and '80s splattery goodness. If it had been released merely as "Season of the Witch" without the "Halloween" tag, I think it might be more fondly remembered today.
"Halloween III: Season of the Witch" (1982)
4th time's the charm?
The Halloween series lay untouched for six years after III crashed and burned, but The Shape was eventually resurrected for 1988's Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers.. I can only assume that the owners of the franchise had observed how much money the Friday the 13th gang was raking in by constantly re-animating THEIR guy in movie after movie, and said, "We can do that too!" In this film, audiences were supposed to swallow the idea that Myers and Dr. Loomis were NOT killed in the climactic explosion that ended Halloween II, though Michael has been comatose since that incident and a burn-scarred Dr. Loomis now walks with a cane. Since Jamie Lee Curtis' mainstream film career was at its peak by the late 80s, she declined to return to the series to reprise her role as Laurie Strode, so the creators of "4" wrote her out of the series by killing her off in an offscreen car crash. This time, when Michael Myers mysteriously "activates" on Halloween night, his target is Laurie's 8 year old daughter Jamie (Danielle Harris). How Michael is aware of Jamie's existence is left unexplained (since Laurie Strode was in high school when the two last met), but that's OK because Dr. Loomis comes running to the rescue, waving a pistol and screaming about "EEEEE-VIL!"
Halloween 4 may not be an especially great film, but it holds some nostalgic value for this writer because it was the first Halloween film that I was old enough to see in a theater. Either way, it looks like solid gold when compared to just about everything that came after it.
"Halloween 4" trailer (1988)
Michael hits the wall...
Slasher fans were happy to see their favorite Boogeyman on the big screen again so "4" made money despite its massive flaws in logic. Therefore, a "5" was naturally rushed into production for the next Halloween season. In my book, "5" is where the wheels officially came completely off the Halloween franchise. As "5" begins (subtitled: The Revenge of Michael Myers), little Jamie, still traumatized by the events of the previous film, has been institutionalized when her Uncle Mikey comes to call once again. The business-as-usual slice-and-dice scenes were nothing to write home about, but the end of the film was what killed the whole deal for me.
(BEGIN SPOILER ALERT)
After carving up a good portion of the teenage population of Haddonfield, Michael Myers is captured by the State Police... but as he waits in a holding cell for the Federal Marshals to pick him up, a mysterious "Man in Black" randomly busts in out of nowhere, machine-guns everyone in the police station to death, blows a hole in the cell wall and aids in Myers' escape. Fade to black.
(END SPOILER ALERT)
I can vividly remember sitting stunned in my seat at a Staten Island, New York movie theater when that ending unspooled and the theater lights came up. I was literally speechless for about a minute until finally I yelled at the top of my lungs:
"WHAT THE F***??? THEY RUINED IT!"
Halloween 5 did a fast fade from theaters in the U.S. and ended up being released directly to video outside of North America due to the toxic word-of-mouth from critics and fans. You would've thought that the Halloween makers might have realized that they'd hit the wall, but nope, they kept on truckin'...
"Halloween 5" trailer
Several more Halloween films followed - but none of them are really worth mentioning. 1995's Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers attempted to continue the "Man in Black" mystery by revealing that he was an agent of an ancient Druid cult which worshipped Myers as an Angel of Death -- or some such nonsense. The movie was subject to massive behind-the-scenes tinkering and last minute rewrites/reshoots, to no avail - it was another box office bomb, Even bringing back Jamie Lee Curtis and erasing the "continuity" of the previous three movies in 1998's Halloween: 20 Years Later didn't stop the bleeding, and the less said about 2002's Halloween: Resurrection, the better.
Eventually the Halloween team had no choice but to go the remake route. Fans remain divided over Rob Zombie's pair of Halloween retreads in 2007 and 2009 (I didn't hate the first one but the second one suuuuucked!) ... and currently, a long-rumored new Halloween 3D appears to be trapped in Development Hell. Maybe we should all be thankful!