Halloween: H20 (1998)
Written by Robert Zappia & Matt Greenberg (Kevin Williamson uncredited)
Directed by Steve Miner
It was clear from the box office returns that the Thorns trilogy of Halloween was not a success, particularly the final butchered entry of The Curse of Michael Myers. It just so happened that the series’s twentieth anniversary was coming up in 1998, so it seemed appropriate to recapture some of the original film. Unfortunately, Donald Pleasence had passed away in 1995, so he wouldn’t be part of the story. This meant the producers would have to try and lure back Jamie Lee Curtis, who had distanced herself from the series. It also meant the last three films would be retconned out of the timeline.
H20 opens with Laurie Strode (Curtis) working in California as a private boarding school headmistress. She has changed her name to Kari Tate, been married and divorced, has a teenage son (Josh Hartnett), and is beginning a relationship with a colleague (Adam Arkin). It’s never explained where Michael has been for these last twenty years, but suddenly he wants to find Laurie and kill her. He discovers a file in the late Loomis’ house which leads him on a road trip. For the first time since the franchise started, Michael is leaving Illinois. He eventually arrives at the school; the students are on a weekend trip to the Grand Canyon, and he goes about killing his way through a limited number of people to get to Laurie. However, this time Laurie is working to make sure the story ends here (narrator: it doesn’t)
The influence of Scream is wildly apparent here. Kevin Williamson was Dimension Pictures’ horror darling at the time and was even brought on to punch up the story. I wouldn’t say H20 is as clever a movie as Scream, but it certainly benefits from his influence. The film feels fresher than the last entry, moving into the new millennium. It won’t pan out well, though, but more on that in our review of Halloween: Resurrection. One of the things I noted about H20 is that its runtime is only 86 minutes. This means we don’t really get too much Michael vs. Laurie. That’s held for the last twenty minutes of the movie. Instead, most of the film spends its time with Laurie, letting the audience in on what sort of person she has become. It’s not the best character development in the world, but it’s undoubtedly refreshing at this point in the franchise.
There’s no way to watch a Halloween film without comparing it to the original. That first picture made by John Carpenter and Debra Hill is just so perfect in its simplicity and atmosphere. As I mentioned above, the Scream influence is evident, and that isn’t always positive. The teenage characters here feel incredibly shallow, and I would find it hard to believe an audience member would ever give a damn about them getting killed. There’s a powerful sense of dread in the first film when Michael strikes, and you are rooting for Laurie. Here when her son’s friends are getting murdered, it’s basically shrug-worthy.
I think there are some fantastic Michael scenes; the rest stop bathroom stands out in particular. Funny enough, it’s a scene where no one dies. Instead, it centers around the audience’s knowledge and expectations versus a mother’s and her child’s obliviousness. The scene uses our own fears of Michael and the isolation of the setting to play up the horror. However, it defies what we expect from the moment and propels Michael further towards Laurie. The scene also underlines how serious he is about killing Laurie as he forgoes two very vulnerable victims for that endpoint.
Ultimately, there’s very little meat on the bones of this movie. Having Laurie back is fantastic, but our time with her is so short-lived. I wanted to know a little more about her life, but the movie has a pretty breakneck pace. Films like Halloween always work better when they are shorter, so in the end, that’s a good decision. We get an ending to the series if you stop right here. However, the producers wouldn’t let the franchise stop, so we have a direct sequel a few years later. It will be the hands-down worst Halloween movie ever made. Oh boy.