The Number One Movie in America: Halloween II
By Sean Collier
October 9, 2020
I have ominous news for “Halloween Kills,” the forthcoming sequel to 2018’s revival of “Halloween.” There is a curse. (A curse of Michael Myers, if you will.)
For as enduring as the franchise is — even among the sequel-happy horror genre, few series have managed Michael’s total of 11 films and counting — things only really work out periodically. Oddly, on a very specific rhythm.
Once every 10 years, Michael Myers has a big hit.
The 1978 original, of course, was immensely popular, grossing $47 million against a budget under $400,000. After the man in the white mask was unceremoniously booted from the series, via the unrelated “Halloween III,” 1988’s “The Return of Michael Myers” brought him back; it wasn’t exactly a financial bonanza, but, at $17.7 million earned against a $5 million budget, it was the most profitable of the franchise’s lean years.
Ten years later, “Halloween H20” (named to reference the 20 years since the series debuted) set the new high-water mark by retconning the previous sequels and reviving Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode. “H20” earned $55 million — a figure not to be broken for another ten years, when Rob Zombie rebooted the series and pulled in $58 million.
Okay, okay — Zombie’s “Halloween” actually came out nine years later, in 2007. He couldn’t even get that right.
The pattern held true in 2018, when the latest “Halloween,” the one that retconned everything between itself and the ’78 original, more than doubled the series record, earning $159 million.
Once every ten years, a “Halloween” hits. In between, things always dip.
That assessment is perhaps a bit unfair when evaluating “Halloween II,” the second film in the series; while it only pulled in about half of the original’s total, a $25.5 million cume in 1981 wasn’t exactly terrible. And the film is pretty good, too. Picking up at precisely the moment “Halloween” ends, the sequel depicts the growing chaos that continues when Michael Myers disappears from Laurie’s lawn — in spite of six bullets to the chest.
Dr. Sam Loomis (early franchise hero Donald Pleasance) frantically runs around town trying to get the police to search for the presumed-dead boogeyman. Laurie, meanwhile, is taken to a curiously understaffed hospital that starts experiencing a dramatic uptick in murdered employees.
“Halloween 2” introduced two elements which would bog the series down in subsequent years: the supernatural origins of Myers’ endurance (removed from canon by “H20”) and the sibling relationship between Laurie and Michael (retconned by the 2018 film). Other than those narrative miscues and one or two hokey sequences — watch out for a wacky blood-pool pratfall — it’s an effective and exciting sequel. Too few horror franchises are bold enough to pick up where the previous film ended off, instead opting to flash forward a few years and repeat the same formula verbatim. (Both the “Child’s Play” and “Friday the 13th” series actually ended up canonically taking place more than 10 years into an apparently indistinguishable future, due to all the time jumps.)
Most importantly, as the only movie other than the original with all three of Laurie, Loomis and Myers, it has most of the elements that made the classic film so great.
With such a dramatic downturn in box office for “Halloween 2,” however — perhaps exacerbated by releasing the film on Friday, October 30th, giving it precisely one prime weekend — the franchise moved in another direction with the unrelated “Halloween III: Season of the Witch.” That film, which does not feature Myers or any other characters from the original, was meant to turn the series into a grand-scale anthology. Obviously, it didn’t work; Myers made his first comeback on the 10-year anniversary of his original rampage.
He has done the same thing, once every 10 years (with some duds in between), ever since. Hopefully the upcoming “Halloween Kills” can avoid this fate; if the producers want to play it safe, however, they could wait until 2028.
If the studio delays keep going the way they have been, that won’t be much of a challenge.
“Halloween II” is the subject of the latest episode of The Number One Movie in America, a look back at past box-office champions. Each episode’s film is drawn at random from a list of every number-one movie since 1977. Please listen and subscribe!
Next time: My Dad always said that the nuns who taught him at elementary school were scary, but I don't think this is what he meant.