The Perfect Horror Movie That Inspired Countless Imitators

The original Halloween painted a frightening vision of suburban life. None of its sequels has managed to do the same.

A masked Michael Myers stands on the porch of a burning house
Ryan Green / Universal Pictures

The 1978 film Halloween, for all its notoriety, seems almost quaint compared with the countless slasher movies that have followed it. In John Carpenter’s singular masterpiece, we watch a masked serial killer named Michael Myers murder four people in the fictional town of Haddonfield. In the opening scene of Halloween Kills, the latest edition in this indestructible franchise, a group of plucky firefighters rescues Myers from a burning building. He promptly annihilates 11 of them. But the quantity of victims, unfortunately, doesn’t improve the quality of the film.

The firefighters will not be long-remembered in Haddonfield, nor will the many other people whom Myers dispatches in Halloween Kills. The Halloween universe now includes 12 movies, released over the course of 43 years. In a typical franchise, each installment builds on what’s come before it; the appeal is that new information is woven in seamlessly with the old, adding complexity. This series, by contrast, has been drawn haphazardly—as if on a dry-erase board, with new directors and producers coming in when they please, keeping what they want, and removing what they dislike. Michael, the gloomy, white-masked avatar of evil, is always involved, and he’s usually chasing a teen girl, but filmmakers keep trying to find some new twist worthy of Carpenter’s first edition. They never do. Carpenter’s vision was so frightening because it was delivered with so much control. He didn’t need a double-digit body count to communicate the message that got under people’s skin: Suburban life, despite all of its comfortable trappings, offers only the thinnest veneer of safety.

Numerous contradictory plotlines have branched from Carpenter’s original film. Halloween II, in 1981, established that Laurie Strode—a babysitter whom Michael targeted, played by Jamie Lee Curtis—was actually his sister. Halloween III told a stand-alone story, but then a fourth, fifth, and sixth movie each involved Michael chasing Laurie’s daughter. Halloween H20, in 1998, brought back Curtis as Laurie—and erased the events of Halloween 4 to 6. Laurie was killed off in a sequel to Halloween H20, and then—after yet another reboot series—David Gordon Green directed the 2018 Halloween, which ignored every version except the first.

Green’s 2018 film at least attempted to realistically confront the events of the 1978 movie: It established that Michael had been imprisoned, and that a traumatized Laurie had become a heavily armed survivalist preparing for his return. Much of it was unsurprising—Michael escaped and stalked around town, stabbing partying teenagers. But Curtis’s relish for the acting challenge, especially toward the end of the movie, was enough to make it compelling.

Halloween Kills, Green’s sequel to his 2018 film, is also focused on the past—but it doesn’t add any interesting layers. Michael, who seemingly perished in a fire in the previous movie, has of course survived. Laurie, wounded in her battle with him, spends most of the movie recovering in the hospital. Green brings in actors who played more minor parts in the 1978 film, and Anthony Michael Hall steps into the role of Tommy Doyle (originally played by Brian Andrews), the little boy Laurie babysat in the original film. For super-nerds of the series, it’s a clever homage. But it means Halloween Kills can’t quite escape the gravity of the movie to which it’s so indebted.

Instead of conversing meaningfully with the original, Green and his co-writers, Danny McBride and Scott Teems, use flashbacks to fill in marginal plot details and throw in irrelevant subplots. When the town tries to enact mob justice on Michael by forming an ill-equipped posse, doing more harm than good, it tonally clashes with the visceral horror of Michael’s murders; pondering whether the townspeople are ultimately their own worst enemy seems silly when Michael, the knife-wielding maniac, is clearly their actual worst enemy. After 105 exceedingly bloody minutes, Halloween Kills ends by teasing yet another chapter—Green and company are already working on Halloween Ends, due for release in 2022. But even if they try to kill off Michael Myers once and for all, other filmmakers will keep working to find new angles on the same inscrutable villain. Halloween will never end.