Tuesday, July 31, 2018

HALLOWEEN H20: 20 YEARS LATER 20 Years Later

by Adam Riske
This column was worth it just to write that title.

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (I’ll call it H20 from this point on for both yours and my sanity) is the most James Bond-y of the Halloween franchise. The Bond series is interesting in part because the entries take on the cultural identity and filmmaking trends of their time. They feel modern during their release and like time capsules upon revisit. No movie feels more 1998 than H20 – the cold open on-screen murder of a known actor (a staggeringly annoying Joseph Gordon-Levitt), the hip young actors fresh to the big screen, the comic relief character played by a rapper, and the alt-metal single (in this case “What’s This Life For” by Creed) commissioned to play over the end credits. While H20 is probably my fifth favorite in series, it’s the one in which I feel the most personally attached. This movie feels like I’m going to my high school reunion.
When H20 was released, it was a very interesting time for horror. In just the short span between the previous entry, 1995’s Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, and H20, the horror genre and Dimension (the studio distributing the series at this time) had morphed into something drastically different. Scream happened in December ‘96 and virtually every slasher movie for the remainder of the ‘90s was chasing that juggernaut and borrowing its signifiers. H20 was no different. The best thing about H20 is that it works as a Halloween movie and as a Scream movie. The industry had this formula down to a science by H20 and the film’s confidence, energy and slickness make it enjoyable to revisit in 2018. It was a commercially driven, smart, creative decision. Scream 2.5 with Michael Myers as Ghostface is more appetizing than continuing The Cult of Thorn storyline from The Curse of Michael Myers. This trendy approach led H20 to a $55M domestic gross ($108M adjusted for inflation), or 3x the take of Curse of Michael Myers. In the words of Blockbuster Video: “Wow! What a difference.” The dead franchise had sprung back to life like its masked killer every time you put him in an ambulance.

The continuity of the Halloween franchise is frustrating. H20 was unofficially the final chapter in the Jamie Lee Curtis “Laurie Strode Trilogy” following the original John Carpenter Halloween and its sequel, Halloween II. These films had the arc of Laurie Strode conquering her demon(s). There’s also a multiverse “Laurie Strode Double Bill” with Rob Zombie’s Halloween films. 2009’s Halloween II interestingly takes the opposite approach and makes Laurie’s (played now by Scout Taylor-Compton) journey into a tragic death march she’s fated to complete. In both scenarios, Michael Myers is Laurie’s brother. Weirdly (and I’ll reserve judgment until I see the movie), the upcoming David Gordon Green Halloween is a direct sequel to the original Halloween, stars Jamie Lee Curtis again, but ignores the brother-sister storyline from Halloween II and the events of that first sequel and H20. This is a trend in Hollywood I don’t like (i.e. requels or sidequels), where Hollywood types act embarrassed about films that are perfectly fine (Curtis has called H20 a money gig despite starting with the best intentions) and ask the audience to indulge their do-over. Then again, I’m speaking out of both sides of my mouth here, because sometimes those types of films work. An example is, ironically, H20, because it ignores Halloween III, IV, V and VI. I give up.
It’s too bad that Jamie Lee Curtis is down on H20, because she’s never been better as Laurie Strode than in this film. She’s a functional alcoholic, letting her murderous brother live rent-free in her brain. Laurie is always waiting for the other shoe to drop and her nesting of her son, John (Josh Hartnett), leads to some of the best acted and written scenes in the movie. Their mother-son dynamic feels lived-in and urgent: John is at wits end with his mother’s overbearing nature and Laurie, by the film’s end, has had it and wants her saga with her brother over once and for all. That’s one of the best aspects of this movie: it feels like we dropped in on Laurie’s story at the most crucial time in her life. She can either go on the offensive or let the defensive define her present and future. And when she does go on the offensive, she kicks major ass and cuts the fucker’s head off. This might sound sacrilegious to devotees of the original Halloween, but what I’m saying is watch H20 and then go back and watch Halloween ’78. Laurie has a poignancy and depth now in those earlier films (the original and Halloween II) that H20 enhanced. H20 turns the two-dimensional Final Girl into a three-dimensional woman named Laurie Strode. Therefore, H20 is a good Halloween movie.
The remaining performances are mostly solid. Michael Myers (Chris Durand) lurks around for the first hour, leaving us with lots of time to hang out with the rest of the cast: Curtis and her boyfriend/shrink (George Clooney clumsily operating an Adam Arkin robot); a romance novel writing security guard (LL Cool J, worse than Busta Rhymes #ComeAtMe); and the teen foursome of Hartnett (who had that swag), his girlfriend (Michelle Williams, looking uncomfortable), horny boy (Jumanji’s Adam Hann-Byrd, dating out of his league) and the perfect woman (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, slumming with Hann-Byrd, which makes her even hotter because she gives us normals a chance). It’s a very likable, hip, predominately young cast in a stalking killer movie from Dimension that re-uses (and/or is inspired by) some music cues from composer Marco Beltrami’s Scream scores. Therefore, H20 is a good “Scream factory” movie.
Durand shines the most in the kick ass climax making up the last 20 minutes of the film. He’s flipping over tables, hanging on pipes, falling over railings, crashing through windshields, etc. The best bit is, of course, Michael’s final moments. Laurie purposely crashes the van she’s driving (Michael is on the hood) and the vehicle tumbles down a steep hill. Michael is pinned against a tree by the van (there’s a visual boing-oi-oi-oi-oing effect that’s very satisfying) and sadly reaches out for Laurie. She’s not having it and gives the film the drop the mic moment that convinces you the movie you just watched kicks 50 percent more ass than it probably does.

H20 is a well-oiled machine and an enjoyable revisit. It was very aware of what a mainstream horror audience wanted in a 1998 Dimension horror film as well as checking the boxes for fans of the Halloween franchise. What is H20’s legacy 20 years later? Unfortunately, it's lost in the mix of Halloween sequels when it’s a cut above all but a few of them. 2002’s Halloween Resurrection certainly took the wind out of its sails and reversed the franchise’s momentum back to where it was pre-H20. Then again, that might not be a bad thing, because otherwise we wouldn’t get the fascinating experiments Rob Zombie contributed to this series. If you were a fan of H20 back in ’98, give it another look. I think it held up well. Hopefully fans will revisit it while they get ready for the next Halloween film this October. Requel quibbles aside, I’m rooting for it (Judy Greer!) because if it’s good, the franchise is re-energized and given life again 20 years after 20 Years Later.


  1. I do like this idea of every Halloween sequel getting it's own redo. H20 is another shot at Halloween 3. This new one is another shot at Halloween 2. I look forward to Halowwen 3 getting a proper sequel, where Tom Atkins wanders around in an Irish-hating, Children of Men-rescue hellscape.

    1. I'm not going to argue with my phone about the difference between esque and rescue btw. I'm sick of it I'm sick of it.

  2. Thank you for this! I loved H20 when it came out and remember people, myself included, generally considering it a return to form. I feel like it's suffered the opposite of Halloween 3, wherein people are reevaluating it as not good. It's not perfect, but you captured what makes it so good and fun. It's a decent Halloween movie, but it's a great Laurie Strode movie. I guess, as you pointed out, Resurrection was just so gowdawful it retroactively made H20 seem worse.

  3. Well said, might be controversial opinion but this and Zombie's Halloween 2 feature the most interesting and complex takes on Laurie Strode. And those are the only two of the series that are actually about her journey rather than Michael's.