Halloween (1978) *
It is often the case that the more groundbreaking a film was, the harder it is to see what all the fuss was about a generation or so on, and it's surely the case here. But even with its innovations now commonplaces, this is still a good, scary piece of work, a Psycho-like confidence trick that works brilliantly once, though the longueurs certainly get longer with repeated viewings. John Carpenter's era-defining score, a nicely conveyed small town atmosphere and a fresh and likeable cast help the somewhat mechanical jolts and judders find their mark, and Donald Pleasence is a hammy delight as the obsessed psychiatrist. (All the same it's a pity both Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing turned the role down: had they not done so the transition between their era and the one this ushered in would have seemed a lot smoother and less confrontational.)
Halloween II (1981)
Straightforward second helping, prosaically rewriting the plainly supernatural implications of the original film's ending, and replacing the mood and suggestion with simple-minded blood and thunder. Don't fall into the trap of blaming that on stand-in director Rick Rosenthal, though: the extra splatter was added by Carpenter himself after principal photography was completed in an effort to goose the film up a little (just as he had done, rather more successfully, in The Fog). It's an ironic compliment to the influence of the original that in just three years a simple retread seemed unworkably stale.
It's nice to see Jeffrey Kramer again, after his immensely likeable work in Jaws and Jaws 2.
Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1983)
A major disappointment at the time, this curious effort to extend the series using 'Halloween' as a banner title for unrelated stories has subsequently become a cult favourite among later generations on television. The fact that the idea was deemed a mistake, and so this is the only film in the series with a plot totally unlinked to the others, makes it seem odder still today. Originally scripted by an uncredited Nigel Kneale, it's a campy fantasy about a deranged toymaker, with Tom Atkins returning in the lead after his good services in The Fog, and a ghoulish ending. As a time-passer, not too bad.
Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988) *
A new team revived the original concept after a five-year lay-off in an obvious programmer that nonetheless has enough pace, style and excitement to qualify as perhaps the most entertaining of the whole series, including the original. The twist ending is unexpected and clever, and Danielle Harris's performance is one of the best ever by a child performer.
Halloween 5 (1989)
Inevitable but undistinguished extension, which never justifies the need to spoil the ending of part four. Some noble attempts to revive the mysterious, supernatural aspects of the original help very slightly to hold interest in what is otherwise the standard recipe of mayhem and pursuit.
Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)
Released after the plainly ailing Pleasence's death, this sequel takes the original idea into some very strange areas indeed, and gamely clears up the mystery of the man in black that was introduced in the previous film and that, six more years down the line, surely nobody was worrying about too much. So weird it can't help but hold the interest to some extent, but the formula elements are routinely deployed.
Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998) *
Inanely titled but otherwise admirable reinvention of the original, made under the wing of Kevin Williamson, with something of the savviness of Scream but none of the self-mockery, and Jamie Lee Curtis making a splendid comeback in the lead (with mother Janet Leigh in support). The story ignores the bizarre developments of recent episodes, and after a tense first half turns into simple, excellently directed stalking and jumping out of dark corners.It's as formulaic as can be, but somehow it works all over again. As with the equally admirable Halloween 4, however, it finishes with a splendid last scene that shouldn't have been tampered with, but the film's success meant a further sequel was inevitable. Director Steve Miner had made some of the early entries of the rival Friday the 13th series.
Halloween Ressurection (2002)
A further extension, now firmly in the idiom of the post-modern, post-Scream self-referential slasher, with a reality TV subplot and an audacious death for Jamie Lee Curtis to kick things off. Nothing like as bad as it could have been or is reputed to be, but nobody's idea of essential viewing. Nice to see Rick Rosenthal returning as director.
The last of the series to date, the film was followed by a remake of the original in 2007, and a subsequent Halloween II that was not a remake of the original Halloween II - it would all be terribly confusing if it mattered a damn, but under the aegis of Rob Zombie the films were so wretched in both conception and execution that it's easier just to pretend they don't exist. The only point of interest was the return to the series of Danielle Harris, as a different character in each film.