horror

H40: The Five Timelines of Michael Myers and “Halloween”

Cue the haunting piano music: Michael Myers is back in theaters this October with a brand new Halloween sequel. In true 21st century filmmaking fashion, this sequel is also somewhat of a soft reboot – a sequel that is technically in the same timeline, but retains many of the classic beats (and the title) of the original.

But which timeline? The Halloween franchise first began in 1978 as an independent horror film written and directed by John Carpenter (and produced and co-created by Debra Hill) and was an instant classic. The silent, hulking serial killer Michael Myers became a Hollywood icon as he murdered babysitters and their boyfriends in a painted William Shatner mask. Halloween quickly spawned a series of sequels, spin-offs, and remakes — all of which interweave with distinct continuities.

Here then, are five different timelines of the Halloween franchise in its first 40 years — who knows how many more retcons will come about in the next four decades!

Timeline #1
Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers

This could be considered the original timeline, as it incorporates the first six films of the franchise (with one exception, which we’ll get to.) The first two films are very closely linked, filmed close together, with the same leads, taking place all in the same night (October 31, natch.)

After a brief departure from Halloween III, the real star of the franchise — Michael Myers — came back due to popular demand. He wasn’t joined by lead actress Jamie Lee Curtis, however, who had gone onto movie stardom in the 80s with smash hits like Trading Places and A Fish Called Wanda. Fortunately for the producers, veteran actor Donald Pleasance, a big get for the first two films, stayed and helmed the series as Michael’s psychiatrist Dr. Loomis for the next three films.

Jamie Lee Curtis’s character, Laurie Strode, was killed off-screen in a car accident and the fourth film shifted focus to Laurie’s niece, Jamie Lloyd. Halloween 4 was released ten years after the original, in 1988, and quickly followed up with Halloween 5 in 1989.

The timeline finally came to an end in 1995, with Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. The movie expanded the franchise’s mythology and dove deep into the supernatural, dark mystical side of Michael Myers. One of its stars was a very young Paul Rudd playing Tommy Doyle, a character from the first two films. The movie ends with the death of series constant Dr. Loomis, and was dedicated to the memory of Donald Pleasance, who died just a few months before its release.

Timeline #2
Halloween III: Season of the Witch

The reason the franchise is called Halloween and not Michael Myers is because John Carpenter envisioned the series as an anthology of distinct horror stories, each set in their own universe with nothing to do with each other — much like Twilight Zone, Black Mirror, and the Cloverfield films.

However, the huge success of the first film led to a direct sequel, Halloween II, which came out in 1981. This film started the notion that Michael Myers was superhuman, which was continued and explored in the rest of Timeline #1 (see above.)

But by the third film, Carpenter finally wished to move away from Michael Myers and the town of Haddonfield, Illinois. Halloween III: Season of the Witch, produced by John Carpenter and Debra Hill, came out in 1982, and had none of the cast or characters from the first two films. It was also a completely different story — about evil Celtic magic from Stonehenge and androids that wish to kill the trick-or-treating children of a Northern California suburb.

Halloween III most certainly doesn’t take place in the same universe as Michael Myers. In fact, one of the characters in the movie is watching a commercial for the original Halloween, meaning the Jamie Lee Curtis films are just as fictional in the world of Season of the Witch as it is in ours.

Timeline #3
Halloween, Halloween II, H20: 20 Years Later, Halloween: Resurrection

It was only three years in between Halloween 6 and H20, but filmmaking was already evolving and Wes Craven’s Scream had upped the horror genre for moviegoers everywhere. In 1998, to celebrate two decades since the dawn of Michael Myers, the franchise released another sequel, with Jamie Lee Curtis returning to the role of Laurie Strode for the first time since 1981.

With the return of Jamie Lee Curtis, the series had to retcon her character’s death, and so this film takes place after Halloween and Halloween II — but NOT Halloweens 4, 5, and 6. While this brings Laurie Strode (and presumably, Dr. Loomis) back to life, this change in the continuity did not bode well for Nurse Chambers, a character played by Nancy Stephens in the first two films. She appears again as the character in the opening scene of H20, where she is quickly dispatched by a middle-aged Michael Myers.

By the end of the film, Myers has attacked Laurie Strode and her family, but is decapitated by her to make sure he never comes back. He does come back, however, in the film’s sequel, Halloween: Resurrection.

Halloween: Resurrection, released in 2002, is very much of its time, with a story revolving around webcams and the Internet, and the then-brand-new medium of Reality TV. It also stars Tyra Banks and Busta Rhymes, who might play the only character in any of the timelines to karate kick Michael Myers through a window.

The film opens with a cameo by Jamie Lee Curtis, once again portraying Laurie Strode, who dies for a second time in the franchise — this time on screen as she falls from the roof of a psychiatric hospital.

Timeline #4
Halloween (2007), Halloween II (2009)

Sound familiar? These two films take the exact same titles as the original two, but they are 100% remakes in the truest sense of the word, and which was very much in fashion at the time. Fresh off his critical gorefests House of 1000 Corpses and The Devil’s Rejects, Rob Zombie decided to tackle the Michael Myers franchise next, remaking Halloween in 2007.

Dr. Loomis is back, this time played by yet another British veteran actor, Malcolm McDowell. Zombie’s Halloween has much more focus on Michael Myers before his breakout and All Hallow’s Eve killing spree. It’s also more of a tension-builder and slower horror film, very much in style then and even still now.

The film received mixed reviews but made a decent amount of money at the box office, enough to warrant a direct sequel and the tenth film overall in the franchise. This new Halloween II harkens closer to the convoluted plotlines of Halloweens 4-6 than it does the original sequel though, dealing with hallucinations and flashbacks and revealing, like Timeline #1 eventually does, that Laurie Strode is actually the sister of Michael Myers. It ends with the death of Dr. Loomis (that makes two for him) and with Laurie now committed to a psychiatric hospital (that’s twice for her.)

Timeline #5
Halloween, Halloween (2018), ???

After considering a sequel to Zombie’s films or yet another reboot, the rights holders and producers of the franchise decided to do a sequel to the original Halloween. This film, once titled Halloween Returns, would have followed the first two, just as 4-6 did in Timeline #1. Soon indie director David Gordon Green and frequent collaborator Danny McBride (yes, that Danny McBride) came on board to work on the film.

In the writing process, Halloween II was taken out of the continuity, so that this sequel, which takes place forty years after the original (and twenty since the release of H20) is a direct sequel to only the original Halloween, and ignores the events of every other Halloween film that follows it.

The film will harken back to the original in plot and tone as well, as Myers will slowly make his way around town on Halloween night, picking off babysitters and anyone else who gets in his way.

It also brings back, once again, Jamie Lee Curtis as character Laurie Strode, who, as far as we know, isn’t the sister of Michael Myers. Whether Laurie Strode will die for the third time in the series or live for yet another sequel remains to be seen.

It’s doubtful Busta Rhymes will be back to karate kick Michael Myers through a window.

How Horror Movies Have Changed Since Their Beginning

Dracula with blood on his mouth

Terrifying people through stories? It’s been a pastime of we humans since antiquity, with a large swathe of folklore centered around things that go bump in the night (particularly supernatural goings-on, or anything related to—and exploiting—our innate fear of death.)

With such a strong precedent in literature and oral history, it’s no surprise that the horror genre was very quick to get its feet under the table soon after the advent of cinema.

Over the course of a century, film horror as it appears in film has gone through many peaks and troughs, leading us into the somewhat contentious period we find ourselves in today.

Where the genre will go over the next hundred years is anyone’s guess, but sometimes it’s good to look back on the long road we’ve traveled to get to this point.

The First Ever Horror Movie?

The origins of horror as a film genre begin with—as with many things in cinema history—the works of George Mellies.

Just a few years after the first filmmakers emerged in the mid-1890s, Mellies created what is widely believed to be the first ever ‘horror’ movie in 1898, complete with cauldrons, animated skeletons, ghosts, transforming bats and, ultimately, an incarnation of the Devil.

While not intended to be scary—more wondrous, as was Mellies’ MO—it was the first example of a film (only just rediscovered in 1977) to include the supernatural and set a precedent for what was to come.

The Literary Years

Between 1900 and 1920, an influx of supernatural-themed films followed with many filmmakers—most of whom still trying to find their feet with the new genre—turned to literature classics as source material. The first adaptation of Frankenstein was released by Edison Studios in these early days, as well as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and The Werewolf (now both lost to the fog of time.)

Things were starting to roll at this point as we move into…

Title card from The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari

The Golden Age of Horror

Widely considered to be the finest era of the genre, the two decades between the 1920s and 30s saw many classics being produced, and can be neatly divided down the middle to create a separation between the silent classics and the talkies.

One the silent side of the line, you’ve got monumental titles such as The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) and Nosferatu (1922), the first movies to really make an attempt to unsettle their audience (with the latter title being Rotten Tomatoes’ second best-reviewed movie in the horror genre of all time and cementing just about every surviving vampire cliché in the book.)

Once the silent era had given way to technological process, we had a glut of incredible movies that paved the way for generations to come, particularly in the field of monster movies – think the second iteration of Frankenstein (1931), The Mummy (1932) and the first color adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (1931).

The 30s also marked the first time in the industry that the word “horror” was used to describe the genre—previously, it was really just romance melodrama with a dark element—and it also saw the first horror “stars” being born. Bella Lugosi (of Dracula fame) was arguably the first to specialize solely in the genre.

And as well as unnerving its viewers, the genre was starting to worry the general public at this point with heavy censoring and public outcry becoming common with each release. Freaks (1932) is a good example of a movie that was so shocking at the time it got cut extensively, with the original version now nowhere to be found. Director Tod Browning—who had previously created the aforementioned and wildly successful Dracula—saw his career flounder at the hands of the controversy.

The shock value of Freaks is one of the few that has aged well up until present day, and is still a highly disturbing watch.

The Atomic Years

Somewhat ironically, Freaks was banned for thirty years in the country that really came into its own during this period: Great Britain.

The Hammer horror company, while founded in 1934, only started to turn prolific during the fifties but when it did, it was near global dominance (thanks to a lucrative distribution deal with Warner and a few other U.S. studios). Once again, it was adaptations like FrankensteinDracula, and The Mummy that put the company squarely on the map, followed up with a slew of psychological thrillers and TV shows.

And, of course, you can’t mention British horror without paying respects to Alfred Hitchcock, singlehandedly responsible for establishing the slasher genre, which we’ll see a lot of as we travel further forward in time.

Another hallmark of the 40s-50s era of horror came as a product of the times. With war ravaging Europe and fears of nuclear fallout running rampant, it’s of little surprise that horror began to feature antagonists that were less supernatural in nature—radioactive mutation became a common theme (The Incredible Shrinking Man, Godzilla), as did the fear of invasion with The War of the Worlds and When Worlds Collide, both big hits in 1953.

The latter marked the earliest rumblings of the “disaster” movie genre, but it would be a couple more decades before that would get into full swing.

Freaks movie poster

The Gimmicky Years

3D glasses? Electric buzzers installed into theatre seats? Paid stooges in the audience screaming and pretending to faint? Everything and anything was tried during the 50s and 60s in an attempt to further scare cinema audiences.

This penchant for interactivity spilled over into other genres during the period, but quickly died down in part due to the massive amounts of expense involved.

For horror in particular, this gave way to the opposite end of the spectrum: incredibly low budget productions.

From the late 60s onwards, so insatiable was the American appetite for gore that slasher films produced for well under $1 million took hold and were churned out by volume. That’s not to say that there weren’t some masterpieces produced during this time, though; George A. Romero emerged triumphant and kickstarted zombie movies in this period, having produced Night of the Living Dead in 1968 with just over $100k.

It went on to gross $30 million, and the living dead rose in its wake.

The Exorcist

All Hell Breaks Loose

Literally.

Occult was the flavor of the day beween the 70s and 80s, particularly when it came to houses and kids being possessed by the Devil.

The reason for this cultural obsession with religious evil during this period could fill an entire article on its own, but bringing it back into the cinema realm we can boil the trend down to two horror milestones: The Exorcist (1973) and The Omen (1976).

Supernatural horror was now very much back in vogue, and harking back to its cinematic origins, literature once again became the source material.

This time, however, it wasn’t a Victorian author whose work had fallen out of copyright, but a gentleman named Stephen King.

Carrie (1976) stormed the gates, and The Shining (1980) finished the siege (with 1982’s supernatural frightfest Poltergeist following soon afterward).

With these hallmarks of horror now firmly established, the foundations were laid for…

Leatherface running in Texas Chain Saw Massacre

The Slasher Years

If there’s one trope that typifies the 80s, it’s the slasher format – a relentless antagonist hunting down and killing a bunch of kids in ever-increasing inventive ways, one by one.

Arguably kicked off by The Texas Chain Saw Massacre in 1974, the output became prolific over the next decade. For every ten generic slashers, however, there was one flick that would end up becoming a cult classic even if critical success was mixed at the time—HalloweenFriday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street are the most prominent examples, which became so successful that they spawned their own long-running franchises (the first time in the history of the genre that multiple sequels became commonplace.)

Plenty of imitators and rip-offs followed too, particularly in the Holiday-themed department. Some were a lot better than others as the genre descended to its most kitschy.

The Doldrums

Suffering from exhaustion in the wake of a thousand formulaic slasher movies and their sequels, the genre lost steam as it moved into the 90s.

The advent of computer generated special effects brought with it a number of lackluster CGI monster titles that did little to revive the genre such as Anaconda (1997) and Deep Rising (1998).

But it was comedy that ended up saving the day. Peter Jackson’s early foray into filmmaking saw him taking the splatter subgenre to ridiculous extremes with Braindead (1992), and Wes Craven’s slasher parody Scream (1996) was met globally with overwhelming success.

The genre as a whole limped on without much fanfare into the 2000s save for a few box office successes.

The zombie subgenre, however, sprang back into un-life during this decade, arguably spurred on by the unprescedented success of Max Brook’s novel World War Z (later becoming a film in its own right.) The video game adaptaion of Resident Evil (2002) was among the first of the new wave, followed swiftly by 28 Days Later a few months later, Dawn of the Dead (2004), Land of the Dead (2005), I Am Legend (2007) and Zombieland (2009.)

Cabin in the Woods

The Present Day

The state of the horror industry is hotly contested. With the genre seemingly relying on churning out remakes, reboots and endless sequels, many argue that it’s languishing in the doldrums once again with little originality to offer a modern audience.

The resurgence of ‘torture porn’ is also derided as a subgenre, having come back into the fore in the wake of the 2000s Saw and Hostel franchises with no signs of slowing down.

On the other hand, glimmers of hope shine through with examples of extreme originality and artistry. Cabin in the Woods (2012) has been heralded as this decade’s Scream, and the recent releases of The Babadook and A Girl Walks Home Alone at Night (both 2014) have breathed new life into the genre.

The Future

With perhaps more subgenres than any other branch of fictional filmmaking, it’s difficult to see how anyone can expand or advance on anything that has come before in cinematic horror…

… but no doubt somebody will, and it’s highly likely that the film school students of today will become the Alfred Hitchcocks of tomorrow.

Want to prove your knowledge of Horror Movie history? Take NYFA’s Horror Movie Death Quiz now!

Horror On The Small Screen

Author: Glynis Rigsby Chair, Acting Department, New York Film Academy

The Walking Dead

With the massive success of shows such as American Horror Story, Dexter, and The Walking Dead, television programming and productions have begun to shift to capitalize on the upswing of popularity in serialized horror vehicles. Different from the Vampire/Werewolf craze of the earlier 2000’s, new shows such as Penny Dreadful, Salem and Bates Motel focus on the more horrifying and gruesome aspects of the genre that production by cable networks allow.

This new push towards the ‘grit’ of horror in a more serialized aspect has also brought a change in the acting style of modern horror. Previously, horror was considered a ‘camp’ genre but American Horror Story (an Emmy winning series) has drawn such heavy hitters as Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates to roles new to a genre that can now incorporate season-long arcs that allow the development of previously unseen character complexity in this genre. These new developments in modern horror allow continuous development of characters, living longer than their film counterparts and containing greater psychological complexity than ever before.

Actors traditionally known for their film work, including most recently, Timothy Dalton and Josh Hartnett, are finding success inside a blend of pulp fiction, horror comics and the winning development teams at HBO, Showtime and others. While these roles provide a challenge to actors in terms of complexity and depth, there is also the added challenge of having to act realistically amidst the blood and guts that lurk around every corner. Actors are faced with having to not only deliver an emotionally truthful scene, but to also believably shriek and scream when they’re stabbed at the end of it. Prosthetics and gallons of fake blood can take a lot of getting used to for an actor, and with the current wave of modern TV horror, it’s something that’s sure to be around for a while.