Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (Steve Miner, 1998)
It’s twenty years after Michael Myer’s first rampage through Haddonfield and the knife-wielding killing machine is back (with no explanation to what exactly he’s been up to for all those years or how he managed to pick up snacks at the local grocery store with that creepy William Shatner mask on all the time), now appearing in California, where his sister (and focal point for his murderous rage) Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis, reprising her role she last essayed in 1981) now runs an exclusive private boarding school (under an assumed name) that her son (Josh Hartnett) attends… a son who, it turns out, just turned 17, the same age Laurie was when her brother the Shape first came home and traumatized her life.
With how far away from the simply boogeyman concept the convoluted ‘Thorn Curse/Man in Black’ narrative of the last two films had taken the franchise, it made sense for the producers to pretend all that never happened and treat this latest entry as a continuation from the first two (superior) films (though I’m not including the clever and highly enjoyable Halloween 3: Season of the Witch in that comparison, as that’s a non-Michael Myers stand-alone affair… and hard to imagine it was even allowed to be made in the first place). However, losing all that narrative did unfortunately rub out a few good things along with the bad, such as the lone non-homicidal surviving Strode (with Laurie said to have died in-between films “3” & “4” – i.e., they weren’t willing to give her the money she wanted to return), that being Laurie’s tormented daughter Jamie, played with admirably conviction by Danielle Harris who goes through sheer hell in the films. She’s a screaming banshee in parts “4”&”5” (played with admirable conviction and gusto by a very young Danielle Harris) and gets whacked early in “6”, after being kidnapped and raped by her uncle Michael Myers at the demands of the Thorn Cult who want to develop a new vessel for the Great Evil the Shape carries (I told you it got convoluted – but, no worries, you can relax and forget all that now!). Maybe it’s just me, but I kinda felt bad for the cute little terrified tyke (okay, maybe not so cute when she is dressing up in Michael’s original Halloween outfit and repeatedly stabbing her adopted mother at the end of “4”, but, give her a break, she was under a lot of stress!) being callously erased from the mythos with “H20”.
When I first saw “H20”, I deeply disliked the super-slick style and LA casting conventions that had infiltrated the franchise, likely due to the recent involvement of the Weinstein Brothers, through their horror arm, Dimension Films. Watching it again, however, I found it all far less offensive then I had originally experienced. Even the annoyingly incessant use of ineffective jump scares didn’t seem to bother me so much. Perhaps, we’ve moved so much further into empty consumer product filmmaking today that a film like “H20”, that still has a muffled heart beating in their somewhere beneath the empty surface, now plays as relatively innocent today. It merely hints at what was to come… and what’s come has been far worse and emptier.
As much as Curtis is a decent enough actor, but I found there is an inordinate amount of time spent building up her story (one of the conditions required to get her back, I’m sure), including her (understandably) over-protective relationship with her son and her (also understandable) difficulty with getting intimate with a male of the species. In fact, even with the Michael hovering unseen in windows or standing in the background across the street of every other shot, almost an hour passes from the first opening murder(s) until Michael begins getting down to the business at hand and starts taking whacks at these high school students, which is just too long (which is saying something, as it’s a really short film – if you take out the closing credits, it’s a brisk 81 minutes).
There is some nice effort made in connecting the first film(s), including having Dr Loomis’ nurse character appear at the beginning, a secondary character who somehow survived the rampaging of the first two films (but when she comes home in Illinois to find her door suspiciously askew we know that oversight is about to be corrected). While they may have completely erased the fourth-sixth entries from the canon, they do throw a bone to it, with a quick newspaper article seen on a table top revealing that Laurie’s means of pretending death that allowed her to move into the witness protection program (or whatever she’s in) was a pretend car accident… the same way she was said to have died in “4”.
As much as it’s fun to include Curtis’ real-life mom Janet Leigh in a small bit (as she also did with her daughter in John Carpenter The Fog from 1980) playing a relatively superfluous character, in which she describes herself as acting like ‘a mother for a moment’ in giving Strode advice (get it?) as well as confessing that ‘we’ve all made mistakes we regret’ as she then turns and drives off in the exact same car (license plate number included) she drove for her ill-fated journey in Hitchcock’s Psycho, it’s a bit of an unnecessary film nerd interjection.
LL Cool J as a wannabe erotic romance novelist working gate security for the school annoyed me to no end for being the obvious capitulation to market research that showed a large black audience attended horror films (today’s indie horror scene tends to not only have the black guy, but make him gay, equally a capitulation, but one more towards today’s neo-liberal feel-good group-think, rather than the straight capitalistic greedy mind-set of before… and truth be told, I think I prefer the previous version… at least those guys knew they were full of shit), but, this time around, seeing how affable he is, I found myself kinda liking him (compared to the truly god-awful turn by rap gangsta Busta Rhymes showing up to ‘kick Myer’s ass’ in the next installment, LL should have gotten an Academy Award for “H20”).
I half-begrudgingly admit, while nowhere near as unforgettable as the first three “Halloweens”, or even as good as the fourth installment (as I said, Harris deserved more respect… and the director Dwight H. Little did a quality job creating mood), it’s not half-bad… certainly far less offensive than I remember. While the young cast is geared towards the modern cookie-cutter variety straight out Dimension’s big money-maker franchise “Scream” at the time (the four entries of which I’m currently showing to my daughter, so more on those later), it’s got a surprising number of soon to become famous faces (Hartnett, Michelle Williams and a very young Joseph Gordon-Levitt)… for whatever that’s worth.
And Michael Myers himself? I don’t know what’s happened there, whether it’s the performance by whatever latest stunt man, the blue workman’s overalls appearing more and more shaggy and baggy, an inability to find the same Shatner mask, or the lack of a director like Carpenter with an innate understanding of how to bring to life an iconic super-monster to burrow into our shared psyches – watching the emotionless Shape constantly hovering back there, or even when stalking directly towards us, knife in hand… I’m afraid just doesn’t quite hold the same power as it used to.
The ending, while making zero sense and being entirely absurd in execution, leaves us with a final face-off between Laurie and her beaten and battered brother (reaching desperately towards her). As silly as it was to get to this point, cutting to black on her final act of revenge would have admittedly served as a nice final culmination to the series (as John Carpenter’s original unforgettable Halloween theme, a driving piece of music as iconic as the Shape himself, introduced quite smartly for the first time in the film, acting as a nice circular motif back to the original 1978 film)… alas, based on the success of this one, that simply wasn’t gonna be. Not only is there still a Resurrection to contend with in my viewing travels but… the Rob Zombie ‘re-imaginings’. Not sure how I feel about this.