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This weekend sees the opening of David Gordon Green’s Halloween. Or is it Halloween 2: The Third Version? Halloween 11? In truth, it’s a combination of all of the above. Of course, we all know by now that the latest entry of Halloween, the 11th movie in a series of broken continuity, restarts and reboots, is only a sequel to John Carpenter’s original film from 1978, ignoring all the others. Yet, Halloween (2018) is also the first entry in what is rumored to kick off a new franchise of Halloween films, making Green’s feature a “requel” in its position as sequel and, in terms of its refreshed creative drive, a reboot. This isn’t the first time the Halloween franchise has pulled such tricks in hopes of box office treats.
The Halloween movies have a long history of rewritten continuity, setting the stage for what has since become a common Hollywood practice. From horror franchises like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and A Nightmare on Elm Street to power players Batman, Superman, X-Men, Star Trek and The Planet of the Apes, the viability of altered canon is clear. And what’s more, with quasi-reboots and requels for Robocop, Alien, Terminator and Conan in various stages of development, these shifting cinematic timelines are here to stay. Still, it’s worth considering the creative benefits of these buzzword labeled sequels. Surely some of our best genre features have resulted from screenwriters and directors wielding cinema scissors and cutting films free of the past, or parts of it. But what do we lose in this process? Is it at times more than what we serve to gain? The sequels, requels and reboots to John Carpenter’s seminal horror film chart an interesting story that’s more pertinent now than ever.
When Halloween III: Season of the Witch opened in 1982, it ignored Halloween and Halloween II (1981) in the hope that the franchise could move away from Michael Myers and become an anthology series of movies centered around different aspects and horrors of Halloween night. In Season of the Witch, the original Halloween is a movie, one with ads playing across TV screens. This anthology approach didn’t last long and Michael Myers returned, sans any involvement from John Carpenter and producer/co-writer Debra Hill, in the aptly titled Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988). Ignoring Season of the Witch, Halloween 4 followed the canon established by the first two films, but also served as a slight reboot, before the term entered studio lexicon, by shifting away from Jamie Lee Curtis’ Laurie Strode (killed off-screen) and focusing on her daughter, Jamie (Danielle Harris). This entry, and the subsequent Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) managed to hold down an unbroken continuity, along with taking the franchise in a new direction by introducing a druid cult-driven subplot with mixed results.
But the Jamie-centric entries were all wiped clean by Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), which took a similar approach to Green’s film by refocusing on Curtis’ Laurie and the trauma she’s dealt with over the years, while keeping Halloween II in continuity. While it would have made for an effective, though not timeless final chapter, H2O was followed by Halloween: Resurrection (2002), which used the same timeline established by H20, but then veered wildly off course to become something that barely feels like a Halloween movie. It barely feels like a movie if we’re being honest. And then, after five years of dormancy, Rob Zombie offered a clean slate with his remake, Halloween (2007) which started from scratch and received a sequel of its own, Halloween II (2009). When looked at as a whole, the Halloween series is a beast of narratives, and that’s not even counting the comic book series that attempted to follow some of the divergent and erased timelines. While it’s a common concern now when rebooting a franchise, or subbing out old sequels for newer, shinier ones, if audiences will be able to make sense of it all, they’ve been doing it since 1982. Only then the sequels weren’t attached to labels and went largely unnoticed outside of horror circles.
This comic book method of removing storylines, retconning characters and rewriting canon may have taken hold in horror, but it was superhero films that truly cemented the concept for general audiences — though it took some getting used to. When Batman Begins (2005) was first announced, many film blogs referred to it as a prequel. But prequel implied that Christopher Nolan’s grounded Batman would somehow become Tim Burton’s gothic Batman, and if the thread were to continue, inevitably Joel Schumacher’s Batman, which meant that Batman, however awesome Christian Bale’s portrayal would be, would eventually be George Clooney with bat-nipples dodging ice puns. Even upon the release, questions about the place of Batman Begins in the Bat-franchise timeline still cropped up among moviegoers and on chat forums. The ending of Batman Begins, which set up the Joker, was believed by some to be a lead into Batman (1989), despite the fact that this wouldn’t make narrative sense either. Of course, this was all sorted out among audiences and The Dark Knight (2008) set the stage for a new era of superhero movies, as well as a studio race to reboot properties with the hopes of landing their own “grounded” and “gritty” Dark Knight. So did we lose anything by not connecting Batman Begins to WB’s prior Bat-franchise? Not at all, as both the time gap and Nolan’s style wouldn’t gel well with a series that had played itself out and was commonly believed to have betrayed the characters at the core by its end.
Terminator Genisys (2015) tried to pull off the time-travel reboot and mucked up the logic so much that it probably would have been better to just continue on from Terminator Salvation (2009). The hope is that 2019’s Terminator from Tim Miller, which brings back Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and ignores the sequels after T2: Judgement Day (1991), will right the franchise and find the same type of critical success as this year’s Halloween. Neill Blomkamp had a similar idea for an Alien sequel, which would bring back Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley and ignore everything post-Aliens (1986). After the idea stalled out, for now, Blomkamp is taking a similar approach to Robocop with a film proposed to ignore the sequels and bring back Peter Weller in the titular role.
But what about when sweeping maligned or less successful entries under the rug does more harm than good? To return to horror, Texas Chainsaw 3D (2013) tried to pull a Halloween trick by ignoring all of the sequels and reboots to Tobe Hooper’s first film and simply making it a sequel to the 1974 original. Well for one, the newly established timeline didn’t make sense in terms of the characters’ ages, but secondly, the film added nothing to the franchise. Texas Chainsaw 3D erased films that it ended up being no better than — and worse than in some cases — and became a less interesting addition because it didn’t have the franchise history to work with. This is the concern with soft reboots to Alien, Robocop and Terminator, again. Sure, removing the less-popular sequels from canon makes it easier for fans to feel like they’re being rewarded by a narrative of consistent quality, but perhaps it takes away from the creative possibilities of finding a way to make the prior sequels work or to explore what’s next when a fan-favorite character dies. We may be getting better films through the process of altered cinematic continuity, but are we losing forward motion?
Arguably the best example of a franchise that has managed to continue without hitting the reset button or replacing sequels is the Child’s Play, now Chucky, franchise. Just because Child’s Play 3 (1991) missed its mark and the fifth installment, Seed of Chucky (2004), proved to be divisive, didn’t mean erasing them from the overall franchise narrative. Instead writer-director Don Mancini has managed to weave those films into the later entries, and Curse of Chucky (2013) and Cult of Chucky (2017) are not only stronger films because of that but have allowed the franchise to go forward instead of trying to retread the past with precision. Even while MGM works on its unrelated Child’s Play reboot, Don Mancini’s franchise remains unhindered by it, which is a rarity in the world of franchises.
What’s interesting is that the two most complex examples for the argument for or against altered continuity come from the world of horror. Reboots, requels and replacement sequels are billion-dollar ideas, and yet it’s on the low-budget scale that we’ve been given the sense of their effect over time. More often, studios are choosing the Halloween route. And while we’ll have to wait to see how this pans out longterm, it’s worth considering the alternative, the Child’s Play approach. What would Spider-Man look like now if the same continuity from Raimi’s movies continued with the new actors and was then folded into the Marvel Cinematic Universe? Or what if Batman v Superman had stared Nolan’s Batman? These aren’t necessarily the right moves but are interesting to consider in terms of weighing what we lose and what we gain in the effort to get a fresh start and not be weighed down the baggage of previous films. Where would some of our biggest franchises be if they didn’t hit the reset button and instead opted for a comic book like writer Grant Morrison, in which everything, even the nonsense, is in continuity and thus creates a richer experience?
Sequels have undoubtedly become messier over time, but they remain Hollywood’s hottest commodity. Look at 2018’s top-grossing domestic films and you’ll find only two — A Quiet Place and Crazy Rich Asians — that aren’t part of a larger franchise. And it’s equally telling that both of those films have already gotten sequels greenlit. This isn’t a bad thing. As much as filmgoers like to bemoan the lack of original properties, there are original voices handling familiar IP. Take this year’s big grossers: Black Panther, Mission Impossible: Fallout and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Critical consensus aside, each of the filmmakers behind these films added their own voice to long-running franchises or cinematic universes. There is something to be celebrated about filmmakers like Ryan Coogler, Christopher McQuarrie and J.A. Bayona, who can turn the wheel and take franchises in a new direction, if only slightly. But they’re perhaps no less ambitious than David Gordon Green, or the prospective approaches of Tim Miller or Neil Blomkamp. There’s not a right or wrong approach to how the continuity of franchises is handled, but there is a precedent being set that allows both filmmakers and audiences to choose their own adventures and construct their own canon, which will undoubtedly have long-term effects on how we tell stories and interact with them.
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