Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later
Director : Steve Miner
Screenplay : Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1998
Stars : Jamie Lee Curtis (Laurie Strode / Keri Tate), Adam Arkin (Will), Josh Hartnett (John), Michelle Williams (Molly), Adam Hann-Byrd (Charlie), Jodi Lyn O'Keefe (Sarah), Janet Leigh (Norma), LL Cool J (Ronny), Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Jimmy), Nancy Stephens (Marion Wittington)
"Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later" is a major disappointment. Touting itself as a "real" sequel to John Carpenter's masterful independent thriller that launched an entire genre of knife-wielding psychopaths and victimized teenagers, "Halloween H20" is really nothing more than a dull retread of worn-out cliches, buoyed only by the much-anticipated return of a familiar face.
That familiar face belongs to actress Jamie Lee Curtis, reprising her role as Laurie Strode, the sister of the unstoppable Michael Myers who killed many a teenager in Haddonfield, Illinois on Halloween night in 1978. Curtis played the role in the original "Halloween" (1978) and in "Halloween II" (1981), but did not appear in the other four sequels. Although her presence was sorely missed, her return in "Halloween H20" proves only one thing: the return of a single character is hardly enough to overcome a lackluster script, unrealized characters, and cheap gimmicks instead of real horror.
This latest entry, directed by Steve Miner, picks up more or less after the second installment left off, conveniently pretending like the other "Halloween" movies never existed. This is probably in the film's best interests, considering the low quality of the parts 3, 4, 5, and 6. However, it also places a burden on the film because, by ignoring the other installments, it makes the statement that it has something better to offer than they did.
This time around, twenty years have passed since Michael Myers was supposedly killed when his psychiatrist blew up an entire hospital with both of them in it. Curtis' character, after staging her own death, has changed her name to Keri Tate and works as the headmistress at an expensive, secluded private school in upstate California. She lives with her 17-year-old son, John (Josh Hartnett), who she is constantly smothering with protection.
You see, Laurie has never quite gotten over that Halloween night in 1978, and as a result she is a somewhat neurotic, pill-popping closet alcoholic haunted by Michael-induced nightmares and visions. This condition doesn't seem all that unlikely, considering what her character went through in the original film. However, the script (credited to Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg , although "Scream" scribe Kevin Williamson was a primary contributor) pays mere lip service to her psychological problems, inserting them into the film at random, and never creating a complete portrait of a women in constant battle with her inner demons. The movie wants to create a showdown between murderous big brother and his angry, victimized sister, but the underlying tension is never created. If this long-awaited battle is in any way successful in the viewer's mind, it is only from his or her residual memories of the original film.
At less than an hour and a half in length, it is readily obvious that "Halloween H20" is a movie in constant search of ideas. Unfortunately, few if any are found. The movie does feature a clever cameo by Janet Leigh—Curtis' real-life mother who got it in the shower in Hitchcock's "Psycho"—as a doting secretary who drives (surprise!) the same 1960 Ford her character drove in "Psycho."
There are also a few stomach-clenching scenes, especially one where John and his girlfriend, Molly (Michelle Williams), are caught in an enclosed porch, with Michael narrowly missing them with his butcher knife through the wrought iron gating. On the other hand, there are numerous lame sequences involving light switches that don't work and cheap you-thought-it-was-Michael-but-it-was-somebody-else scares that are used far too often.
One of the film's main problems is Curtis' character: she only bears passing resemblance to the Laurie Strode of the first film, and that is a series mis-step for a movie that is constantly trying to align itself with the superior original. In "Halloween," Curtis's character was a shy and timid, but nonetheless intelligent and resourceful character. The last job I would ever imagine her holding as an adult is that of a commanding headmistress at a private school.
And then, of course, there's the obvious question: where has Michael been for the last twenty years? The movie never bothers to even attempt answering that question, either out of contempt for the audience or because the screenwriters couldn't think up anything plausible. In the original film, Donald Pleasance's Dr. Loomis was always on hand to explain Michael's character, especially his nature of pure evil. In "Halloween H20," there's never any explanation for anything, and Michael Myers never transcends being a tall, lumbering man in a white mask who swings a knife.
Although the original "Halloween" was not a particularly inventive story, it stands as a prime example of the ability of art and technical savvy to overcome potentially weak subject matter. With skill and inventiveness, writer/director John Carpenter rose above what later turned into a mediocre-at-best genre (interestingly enough, a genre perpetuated with inferior series like "Friday the 13th," the second and third sequel of which were directed by Steve Miner).
Carpenter used innovative camerawork, good pacing, interesting characters, and Halloween itself as an evocation of the kind of primal fear that Michael Myers is supposed to represent. He is the boogey man, as the original film made clear, and the somewhat supernatural ending only helped confirm that. "Halloween H20" has none of this, and as a result, it feels no better than any of the hack sequels made over the past nineteen years.
Copyright © 1998 James Kendrick