Horror movies always run the risk of ripping off other horror movies. We get that. After all, there is only so much you can do with a maniac in a mask. That’s why we believe it should never be taken as an automatic insult whenever you indicate some new terror tale heists the plot of a fellow genre classic.
When putting together the following list of Halloween “remakes”, we went into things with the utmost respect. Yes, there are a couple of efforts that suffer from quality control, but we would gladly boot up any of these for a party on October 31st.
After all, the original 1978 Halloween wasn’t exactly innovative. Black Christmas had been-there-and-done-that four years prior. And we’re sure Black Christmas didn’t just come up with the idea of a maniac stalking young women either, though it may have established many of the slasher movie tropes Halloween would popularize. So why isn’t this a collection of “Black Christmas remakes”? It’s simply a matter of context. Halloween was a smash hit and instantly recognizable, while Black Christmas would accumulate its audience over time. In other words, the films here were influenced more by Michael Myers than Billy and Agnes.
Also, you’ll notice Rob Zombie’s Halloween remake and its sequel are not on this list. That’s because they sucked too badly to mention. With that said, let’s get started with 15 Horror Movies That Are Really Halloween Remakes.
15. The Sleeper
The Sleeper is a film that fans of Golden Age slasher movies should enjoy. Filmmaker Justin Russell goes to great lengths to re-create the look and feel of a period piece, but he isn’t just trying to make a slasher flick set in the early 1980s — that’s been done pretty often — he’s trying to capture the look on film so you could conceive of this having been released in the glut of features that followed the original Halloween.
We could go into details about the movie’s plot, but that would already run the risk of being redundant. The closest tie this has to John Carpenter’s classic: a maniac stalks a group of women without motive in a smalltown community similar to Haddonfield, except here it’s college kids instead of high school, and it’s a lot bloodier. It actually has more in common with He Knows You’re Alone, a legit early ‘80s slasher, but that film was a carbon copy of Halloween, so welcome to the list, Sleeper.
14. The Dorm That Dripped Blood
The Dorm That Dripped Blood (also known as Pranks for some reason) centers on a group of college students who are tasked with cleaning out a soon-to-be-demolished dormitory over the Christmas break. Despite switching one festive fourth quarter holiday for another, TDTDB is a straight-up ripoff of Halloween, complete with a seemingly unstoppable killer, a quaint setting, and the holiday backdrop.
As with many of the films on this list, it goes overboard on the gore compared to its predecessor, and there’s seemingly no reason for the killer’s crimes other than the fact that he’s a few candy corns shy of a full trick-or-treat bag. It’s a clear degradation of quality, but the authenticity of the time period and the brutality of the kills are enough to warrant a look from you deadheads who like buckets of red stuff with your horror movies. This one was hard to come by in a decent print until Synapse brought it to Blu-ray a couple of years ago. Check that out if you can, because there is an impressive uncensored version with extended gore sequences.
13. The Mutilator
The Mutilator is a favorite of the black-market video scene. For years, sites like Revok had sold murky prints — first on VHS and later as DVD rips of old VHS — with additional gore. But it was hard to tell if a truly uncensored version of this thing was still floating around somewhere until Arrow took the reins on it last year. Even by today’s standards, The Mutilator has some nasty stuff going on; however, at its core, it’s just another Halloween remake.
Small group of young people. Isolated setting. One-by-one death sequences. Maniac who may or may not be trying to kill a family member (though the familial plot for Halloween didn’t come into play until the first sequel). The big difference here: this is a set-piece film built around kill sequences, and boy, there are some inventive ones. As the tagline says, “By sword, by pick, by axe, bye bye.”
12. Mischief Night (2013)
The best remakes reframe storytelling and shift around character dynamics in a way that makes them seem wholly original. Mischief Night is a sleeper in the realm of Halloween remakes that manages to do just this, digging deeper into its heroine’s past than the original Halloween ever did. Though her psychological blindness is a pretty lame angle that lends itself to her eyesight predictably returning in the climactic sequence, this flick does a phenomenal job playing with mood and setting as a masked stranger stalks our heroine around her home on the night before Halloween, aka “Mischief Night.”
The killer’s garb is full-on creepy, and most of the movie is pretty much just like the last 20 minutes of John Carpenter’s classic. This one should grow its audience over time. Make sure if you’re watching it that you don’t get it mixed up with the 2014 film of the same name, which featured the same plot but was severely lacking in execution.
Frayed is a movie most of you probably haven’t seen, and that’s an error that should be corrected at once if you’re a true horror fan. While you had to know remake-friendly Hollywood would get around to Halloween eventually — given the film’s immense popularity — it’s a shame the studio-authorized Rob Zombie remake turned out to be the end result. Frayed would have been perfect as a replacement for that trash because it follows the Michael Myers legend closely before it veers off in a bold new direction that nevertheless remains reminiscent of the original Halloween throughout.
The film starts on a child’s birthday party. Young Kurt (who so easily could have been young Michael) exhibits antisocial behaviors, then, in a shocking turn of events, brutally murders his own mother within view of a running home video camera. After that, the film dials back the violence — seriously, the scene is so graphic, it needed to — but it replaces it with a haunting family drama that unfolds as Kurt (seriously, why couldn’t it have been Michael?) escapes the sanitarium where he’s been locked away for 13 years. The film ends in a different place than the original Halloween, but it delivers an equally weighty emotional punch getting there. Check this one out.
10. He Knows You’re Alone
Three of the most stunning damsels-in-distress from early ‘80s slasher fare — Caitlin O’Heaney, Elizabeth Kemp, and Patsy Pease — are being stalked by a silent maniac, who seemingly targets women at random. The killer (Tom Rolfing) has a little method to his madness though, unlike Michael. His targets are women engaged to be married. Other than that, he and Myers are birds of a feather.
He Knows You’re Alone replicates Halloween with more than just the setup, however. O’Heaney is the bride-to-be, and she begins seeing visions of the unnamed killer at a distance. Because no one else sees him, she begins to think it’s her mind playing tricks on her. One friend-of-a-friend psychology student (played by Tom Hanks!) even tries to psychoanalyze it as some kind of Freudian sexual desire. But as the film progresses, the “hallucination” proves all too real, as her stalker begins targeting the people in her life one-by-one.
9. Happy Hell Night
Unstoppable killing force in human form? Check. Group of dumb young people as victims? Double check. Killer returning to the scene of his past crimes? Triple check. Yes, Happy Hell Night has all the hallmarks of a Halloween remake.
This late-in-the-game slasher flick — it was made in 1992, a few years after the genre died out — follows the murderous and quite possibly demonic priest Zachary Malius as he breaks free of the State Asylum 25 years after killing seven college students. Happy Hell Night has a creepy pale-faced killer and even takes place on Halloween night. You can’t get any less subtle than that.
And just to point out an interesting parallel…the original Halloween was a bit of a career starter for Jamie Lee Curtis and some of her co-stars that prominently featured a veteran actor. Happy Hell Night does the same with up-and-comers Jorja Fox (CSI) and Sam Rockwell (Moon), who appear opposite the late great Darren McGavin (A Christmas Story, Billy Madison).
8. Silent Night/Silent Night, Deadly Night
Silent Night is a remake of Silent Night, Deadly Night, and truth be told, both films share much in common with Halloween aside from the opposing holiday. SNDN has a more original approach to how it sets up its characters than the remake does, but both remain simple tales of costumed killers with troubled pasts cutting a swath of violence across their communities while tying their ropes firmly to the pylons of a beloved holiday.
The original has a bit more in common with Michael Myers’ cinematic debut as far as the setup goes. Billy doesn’t kill as a young child, but he witnesses horrific events that cause him to take up arms as he grows into maturity. The remake takes over from there, offering up a killer with concealed face, hidden behind a Santa mask and prepared to do all kinds of terrible things. Both the original and the remake aren’t for the squeamish. It’s as if both sets of filmmakers realized they couldn’t recapture the Halloween magic, so they needed to make the death scenes as memorable as possible.
7. Friday the 13th — The Sequels
We’re going to exclude the original Friday the 13th from this entry, since the motivations of its killer’s psychosis are significantly different than what you see in Halloween. Still, it does follow bits of the Halloween formula — act of violence, setup, setup, setup, unseen killer, and thirty minutes or so of slicing and dicing to finish things up.
Now skip ahead to Friday the 13th Parts II, III, IV, etc., and you have a series that more closely resembles what the original Halloween established. Jason Voorhees is a masked killer who can’t be stopped and kills as if driven by an impulse he has no control over. He and Michael are not so different when you think about it. Also, Jason typically saves his kills for one particular day of the year, and most of the attacks are focused on the place where he grew up (i.e. Campy Crystal Lake vs. Haddonfield, Ill.). One big difference, however, is that Jason loves his mommy, and Michael wants to kill pretty much anyone who is a blood relative.
How much the upcoming/long-delayed reboot of the series will adhere to Halloween tropes remains to be seen.
6. Lover’s Lane
Lover’s Lane tries to throw remake-detectives off the beaten path by transferring its tale of an escaped maniac to Valentine’s Day. But all the familiar tropes Halloween helped to establish are inarguably present, right down to the psychiatrist who never wants his “patient” to see the light of day.
Responsibly, director Jon Ward and writers Geof Miller and Rory Veal take a detour from Myers’ tale long enough to throw in a twist ending. Aside from that, though, you have a masked maniac with a singular weapon of choice (a hook in this case, as opposed to Michael’s butcher knife) and a virginal “final girl” in the socially awkward Mandy (Erin J. Dean). There aren’t too many differences to be found here.
One special note for horror fans: if you haven’t seen this 1999 slasher, keep your eyes peeled for a cheerleader by the name of Janelle. She is played by none other than Anna Faris, who’s best known for starring in the slasher film parody franchise, Scary Movie. Also, WKRP in Cincinnati fans should enjoy seeing Les Nessman (Richard Sanders) in a more serious role.
5. The Prowler
A few decades and hundreds, if not thousands, of slasher movies have graced the silver screen and home video players, but few can hold a candle to The Prowler (aka Rosemary’s Killer) in terms of gore and ferocity. At its core, this tale of a masked slasher, who resurfaces during a school dance after 25-or-so years of lying dormant, is a souped-up version of Michael Myers.
However, throw in steady direction from Joseph Zito (Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter) and Tom Savini (the Godfather of Gore himself!), and you’ve got a film and a killer who stand out in spite of their close relation to John Carpenter’s pioneering effort.
Seriously, horror newbies, you don’t know how good you’ve got it. The Prowler can now be seen on many streaming platforms in all its uncut glory. That was not a luxury anyone had until the turn of the century, when the rise of DVD and the easing of censorship attitudes made it possible to abandon the black market copies and get crisp, clear versions of gore-drenched flicks like this one.
4. Edge of the Axe
Edge of the Axe is another late-in-the-game slasher flick made in 1988 that doesn’t get enough credit. Yes, it’s a blatant ripoff of Halloween — seemingly un-killable guy in a white mask slicing people up one-by-one for no discernible reason — but it’s also great at arranging its set pieces (i.e. kills) with a fair degree of suspense-building before the buckets of blood take over.
Another similarity to Michael that we’ve discussed in previous entries on this list is the killer’s weaponry preference. Our guy in this film isn’t above calling an audible, but he really likes to use his axe, if only these jackass victims would cooperate. Unfortunately, Edge of the Axe is a film you still have to look pretty hard for. You’ll probably be able to track down a copy from a sketchy source or two, but it’s likely going to come on VHS. Depending on the print, it’s worth the effort.
3. Killer Party
Killer Party follows the Halloween structure established by John Carpenter pretty closely, keeping the killer largely unseen while sprinkling in violence in small doses, resulting in a body-count finale that is well worth your time if you’re into that sort of thing (and why wouldn’t you be if you’ve made it this far?).
The killer’s motivations in Killer Party have to do with a past trauma and a desire for vengeance against young idiots. These are also closely related staples that shined through with Halloween’s establishment of the slasher genre. This one didn’t really launch any careers, but it wasn’t from a lack of trying.
2. Final Exam
If not for the No. 1 item on this list, Final Exam would easily be the most blatant ripoff of Halloween there is. That doesn’t mean it fails to be fun, but it does mean Carpenter could have probably sued the living hell out of the filmmakers.
Final Exam features a hulking, silent killer. He doesn’t wear a mask, but he doesn’t really need to, as the camera is stingy with granting you glimpses. What you do see is a blank mask lacking in emotion.
Also, he kills non-discriminately, without backstory, and his target is a specific college campus that we know there is some connection to. We’re just left uncertain as to what that connection is. Made just three years after the original Halloween, Final Exam was quickly forgotten in part because it dropped the same year as Halloween II, which featured the most badass of the Michael Myers portrayals as well as the return of the original cast. With odds like that, this film never stood a chance.
1. Nightmares in a Damaged Brain
We’ve finally arrived at the most blatant replication of the original Halloween there is! Nightmares in a Damaged Brain (aka Nightmare) came out three years after Halloween, but what a difference those three years made! Mainstream horror had gone from suspense and smatterings of violence to full-fledged bloodbaths, and this is perhaps the most brutal example — especially with the opening kill.
The story focuses on a mental patient who goes on a murder spree after escaping from the asylum. His current spree is connected to a past trauma in which he butchered a couple as a young child. Toward the end of the film, he breaks out the creepy old man mask and fixates on one specific set of victims without much rhyme or reason. (He’s crazy, after all.) Until the sequels came along and screwed up the Halloween mythos with that BS Laurie Strode-as-sister scenario, this was pretty much a carbon copy. Throughout its history, this one has been banned or chopped up worse than its killer’s victims. Thanks to the wonders of modern civilization, however, you can now catch it uncensored on DVD.
So there you have it, readers. Next time you find yourself getting burned out on Halloween viewings, consider working in a few of these 15 “remakes” to your scary movie lineup. You (mostly) won’t regret it.