Documentary Review: Halloween: 25 Years of Terror (2003)

Bleh. That’s the taste in my mouth after watching the 2003 documentary Halloween: 25 Years of Terror. It’s written and directed, in part, by the man I previously mentioned in my short story review, Stefan Hutchinson. It was obviously released to coincide with the 25-year anniversary of the original 1978 film, and incidentally, it came a year after the last sequel in the series.

I’m pretty certain when I was a teenager, I saw this documentary or something similar to it because a lot of it feels familiar, at least. The documentary has a lot of the directors, writers, special effects individuals, actors, including those who played Michael Myers, film critics, studio heads, and super fans commenting on the history of the franchise from 1978 through Halloween: Resurrection in 2002. In that time, there was Halloween II in 1981, Halloween III: Season of the Witch in 1982, Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers in 1988, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers in 1989, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers in 1995, and Halloween H20: 20 Years Later in 1998.

So, eight films in 25 years. That’s quite the franchise output, although not the most. The Friday the 13th franchise actually had 10 in a 22-year time span from 1980 to 2002. A Nightmare on Elm Street franchise had seven films in a 20-year time span. If you add in Freddy vs. Jason in 2003, that’s 11 in 23 years and eight in 21 years, respectively.

The documentary follows through the Halloween franchise’s ups and downs, which are numerous. Before I get into that, let me just say, Halloween (1978) is the greatest horror movie ever, and one of my favorite films ever. I also love the sequels, excluding Season of the Witch since it’s not a Michael Myers film. None of the sequels from 1982 to 2002 touch the original. Some get close in aesthetic, scares, setting, direction, story and characterization, but as a whole product, none get close. That said, I find all of them fun to watch despite whatever flaws they may have.

But let’s do a quick overview of the problems with the franchise. First, Halloween in 1978 is what directly influenced other slashers, including Jason Voorhees in Friday the 13th two years later. I’ve written at length about that influence. So for Halloween II to come out a year later, and try to be a Voorhees copycat because John Carpenter, director of the original and sequel, believed that’s what the market wanted, was disappointing. In short, he made the film bloodier and more gory.

Then they made the mistake of not realizing what made Halloween so popular: Michael Myers, in part. But they wanted to do an anthology type deal, so that’s why we get Season of the Witch in 1983 ostensibly under the “Halloween” banner, making people think that it’s another Michael Myers film, and it’s not. So, that’s annoying. I still haven’t seen that movie all the way through. I remember watching it on TV wondering when the heck Michael Myers was going to enter the film.

Fortunately, they realized their mistake and brought Michael Myers back (and included as much in the title) with Halloween 4 in 1988, and then yet again, make the rather bold decision to “transfer his powers” to Laurie Strode’s daughter Jami Lloyd. They make the mistake of rushing to Halloween 5 after Halloween 4’s success ($17.8 million at the box office on a $5,000 budget is extraordinary), and released it within a year. The director wanted more violence, didn’t seem to get Michael Myers, and then we get the first inklings of the awful curse of Michael Myers storyline with the mark of Thorn, which is the explanation used for why Michael Myers is like he is, and that gets further expanded upon in Halloween 6, which is most remembered for having a young Paul Rudd in it.

And the fact that that script was written by a super fan of the series absolutely kills me. He can say that the studio changed things, and that the producer’s cut is better (I haven’t seen it, but I’ll watch it soon), but for a super fan to be so … off … about Michael Myers and what made Halloween great is frustrating, to say the least.

The other notable thing about Halloween 6 I learned from the documentary is that Quentin Tarantino was actually close to writing a script for it. Could you imagine a Tarantino take on Halloween and Michael Myers? I’d be quite intrigued to see that.

Then three years later with Jamie Lee Curtis returning to reprise her role as Laurie Strode, they go, you know all those movies we did from Season of the Witch to the Curse of Michael Myers? Never mind. Those don’t count. This movie, H20, takes place after the events of the first sequel. Then they kill Michael Myers! Hey guys, you already tried that in the first sequel and it didn’t work. Still, I will admit, that whole sequence is great.

So what do they do in Resurrection in 2002? They bring Michael Myers back and … kill Laurie Strode! Gah. It’s also crazy to me that apparently, according to the documentary, the studio wanted Resurrection to be a Myers-less story? How would that have worked? Did that not learn anything from Season of the Witch? Totally bizarre.

And the documentary obviously doesn’t cover this because it was made in 2003, but the franchise would get retconned again with Rob Zombie’s remakes in 2007, and then retconned again in 2018 where that films only follows the events of the original 1978 film. The timeline is a mess.

The other issue is between what the directors envision and what the studio wants, and Halloween has changed hands a few times, but they do these screen tests, and if it doesn’t play well, they do a different ending or reshoots. That seems odd to me, given it’s one set of regular people that could change the entire direction of a film?

But let’s get to what my “bleh” issue is with the documentary because all of that behind-the-scenes stuff I just mentioned is actually interesting and informative. The bleh stuff is the rampant and blatant sexism evident in this documentary shot in 2003 and the way it colors the Hollywood of the 1970s and 1980s. It’s not a pretty picture.

For starters, let’s talk about John Fallon, one of the “film critics” used in the documentary to opine. He continually talks about how he’s just happy to see “hot chicks” on film and that’s enough for him.

No, John, I want a good story. John Fallon also gets indignant that Jamie Lloyd in the Halloween 5 film is “mute.” “Why is there a mute kid?!” he proclaims. For a film critic, he doesn’t seem to get the characterization there or the echoes of Michael Myers (also a mute).

Rob Zombie, who again, would go on to remake Halloween, also has a line about wanting to see chicks, not some dude screaming, and running from Myers.

But those are the rather tame examples, a sort of “soft sexism,” if you will. The even more troubling examples are Marianne Hagan, who played Kara Strode in Halloween 6, being told by executives that she was too skinny and her chin was too pointy. What the heck is that is that nonsense? It clearly bothered her.

I think it’s worth mentioning at this point that I believe Dimension Films, the production company who had the rights to the franchise, was under the purview of The Weinsteins, aka, Harvey Weinstein, aka a total scumbag.

Then there’s going back to Halloween 4, where Sasha Jenson, who played Brady, kept telling Ellie Cornell, who played Rachel Carruthers (his girlfriend in the movie), and Kathleen Kinmont, who played Kelly Meeker (the girl he cheats on Rachel with in the movie), that they needed to rehearse their kissing scenes off-set. He comes off like another Hollywood scumbag taking advantage of women and the Hollywood scene in the 1980s.

Speaking of taking advantage, let’s go back to the early 1980s with the sequel, where Pamela Susan Shoop played Nurse Karen Bailey. She has a scene with Leo Rossi, who plays Budd Scarlotti, where they are getting frisky in a hot tub. In the documentary, Shoop talks about how her contract guaranteed it would be a closed set, meaning, for her nude scene, there would be less than a handful of people on the set.

Instead, there were 20-some people, she said. Rick Rosenthal, director, with apparently no self-awareness nearly 22 years later in 2003, told her he and the crew would get naked, if it made her feel better. I can’t eye roll that statement enough. Rosenthal also disputes her account that none of the crew were naked by saying he was wearing a thong during the shoot.

I don’t know if Shoop herself felt it was creepy or BS or sexist, but it certainly reads creepy to me, and as another example of Hollywood taking advantage of women. There’s also the fact that her character has perhaps the most brutal death in not just that movie but the entire film franchise. It was unnecessarily over-the-top.

Finally, one last point that I could make an entire blog post of its own. I resent the idea that horror fans want to see women slaughtered, that we are somehow living vicariously through Michael Myers (or other slasher characters). I love the Michael Myers character. I love the aesthetic. I love the story. I love being scared. But I do not live vicariously through him when he’s trying to butcher women. I resent that notion. But maybe I’ll expand more on that in a different post.

Anyhow, if you’re a fan of the franchise, like I am, and can properly disavow the disgusting sexism and objectification of women, then on a film level, there are interesting tidbits in this hour and 23 minute documentary.

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