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Fischer: Choose your own horror

By Travis Fischer,

It’s Halloween time again and what better way to enjoy the spooky season than with some good ol’ slasher movies.

Appropriately, there is a brand new Halloween movie to sate that need. The newly released “Halloween Ends” is the 13th film in the Halloween franchise, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you need to watch all 13 entries in order to get the whole story.

Fischer: Choose your own horror
Travis Fischer

In fact, Halloween is distinctly unique in that its semi-regular soft-reboots have created a convoluted map of branching timelines and side movies. It’s like a Choose Your Own Adventure for horror movies.

So, just for fun, let’s do a rundown of the franchise history.

Halloween Begins

We start our journey through the terror of Haddonfield with 1978’s “Halloween,” considered to be among the progenitors of the modern slasher genre. This is the first movie in the franchise and the story that sets the stage for almost every movie that follows.

The plot is simple. Michael Myers is essentially a shark in human form, killing his way through the neighborhood. Donald Pleasence plays Dr. Loomis, a psychiatrist bent on getting Michael locked back up, while Jamie Lee Curtis makes her debut role as Laurie Strode, the ultimate target of Michael’s knife.

Laurie escapes the boogeyman, Michael vanishes into the night, and audiences are left to wonder what happens next.

They don’t have to wonder for too long, though. 1981 gives us the appropriately titled “Halloween II,” a direct sequel picking up immediately where the first leaves off. The story is largely more of the same. Laurie is hospitalized after Michael’s initial attack and has to survive a second round against the killer as he slashes his way through the hospital staff.

However derivative the sequel is though, it does introduce a plot point that will define the franchise for years to come. The revelation that Laurie is Michael’s long lost younger sister, giving a personal connection between stalker and victim that drives his motivation for several future movies.

But first, a detour.

Season of the Witch

In spite of two back-to-back movies featuring the same storyline, producers John Carpenter and Debra Hill thought they could turn the franchise into a horror anthology series, telling a new story with each feature.

This gets us 1982’s “Halloween III: Season of the Witch,” which features no Michael Myers, but instead centers on a plot to use computer chipped Halloween masks that turn kids into monsters.

It’s not a great movie, but it’s also a difficult movie to judge fairly. I like the idea of Halloween being an anthology series, but it may have been too late. They’d already established Halloween as Michael Myers’ franchise and audiences rejected the change.

I wonder if things would have been different had they committed to the anthology concept immediately, rather than try to shift gears after the first sequel.

Regardless, this movie will forever have an asterisk on it as an entry in the franchise.

The Thorn Trilogy

Learning their lesson, the next three Halloween movies are all Michael all the time. “Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers,” “Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers,” and “Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers” make up a trilogy of movies that run from 1988 through 1995.

Taking place years after “Halloween II,” Michael returns to hunt down yet another family member. This time the victim de jour is his young niece, the orphaned daughter of Laurie Strode.

Jamie Lee Curtis doesn’t re-appear in these movies, so her character is killed off screen in a car accident. Instead, Donald Pleasence takes the lead, protecting Laurie’s daughter from her homicidal uncle.

The trilogy dives a bit into world building, tying Michael’s obsession and nigh-immortality to a magical curse and a cult of druids. None of it really seems to be that well thought out, ultimately resulting in less than favorable reviews and rapidly diminishing box-office returns.

Time for a shake-up.

Jamie Lee Returns

This is where things start to get confusing.

To mark the 20th anniversary of the franchise, Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the role of Laurie Strode for 1998’s “Halloween: H20.” Oddly enough, in spite of the title, water doesn’t play any significant role in the plot. More noticeably though, neither do the previous three movies.

“Halloween: H20” ignores the Thorn Trilogy completely and establishes itself as an alternate sequel to “Halloween II.” One where Laurie goes into hiding for 20 years until Michael returns to hunt down her and her son.

In other words, this is the second sequel to the first sequel of “Halloween.”

“Halloween: H20” eventually spawned a sequel of its own in 2004, “Halloween: Resurrection,” where Michael wanders into a reality TV show and gets into a karate fight with Busta Rhymes.

I’m a fan of that movie, actually, but I understand why they decided it was time for another shake-up after that.

Rob Zombie

In 2007, the Halloween franchise gets a full-on reboot under the direction of director Rob Zombie.

Re-imagining the story of the original movie, with all of the crassness you would expect from Rob Zombie, the reboot is definitely a different take on the concept. The core difference being that Zombie’s movie spends a fair amount of screen time establishing the environmental conditions that resulted in Michael’s obsession with murder, whereas the original Michael offers the disconcerting notion that sometimes people just go bad and stay bad for no reason.

You can debate which approach is better, but I appreciate having both options.

As an aside, Danielle Harris has a role in the movie as Laurie’s best friend after originally playing the role of Laurie’s daughter in the fourth and fifth movies in 1988-89. It’s a neat little touch.

Zombie’s remake got its own sequel in 2009. The less said about it, the better.

A third movie was in the works, but never got off the ground. Instead, the franchise lingered for nine years until its next shake-up.

The Blumhouse Trilogy

In 2016, Dimension Films lost the rights to the Halloween franchise, which were picked up by Blumhouse Productions.

With John Carpenter’s involvement and the return of Jamie Lee Curtis once again, a new set of movies has been developed, this time ignoring every previous movie in the franchise outside of the first one. Which brings us to the following glorious sentence.

Take a deep breath now.

“Halloween” (2018) is the sequel to “Halloween” (1978), not to be confused with “Halloween” (2007).

In this particular timeline of the franchise, Michael Myers went on his initial 1978 slashing spree and was then institutionalized for four decades while Laurie Strode, who is no longer his long lost sister, prepared for his inevitable return.

“Halloween” (2018) has now spawned two sequels of its own, “Halloween Kills,” and, the latest movie, “Halloween Ends.” So in order to get caught up on the most recent incarnation of the franchise, you only need to watch the first film and the three latest ones.

Where will things go from here? Who knows?

Maybe in a few year’s well get a sequel to “Halloween III: Season of the Witch” and really make things confusing.

– Travis Fischer is a news writer for the Charles City Press and wonders when Disney will buy the franchise and incorporate Halloween into the MCU multiverse.

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