Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998)

Steve Miner

STARRINGJamie Lee Curtis - Laurie Strode/Keri Tate
Josh Hartnett - John Tate
Michelle Williams - Molly Cartwell
Adam Arkin - Will Brennan
Jodi Lyn O-Keefe - Sarah Wainthrope
LL Cool J - Ronny Jones
Adam Hann-Byrd - Charlie Deveraux
Janet Leigh - Norma Watson
Chris Durand - Michael Myers

Year - 1998

Score - 2.5 Howls Outta 4

In 1995, Dimension Films bought the rights to the HALLOWEEN franchise and released the series' sixth installment, HALLOWEEN: THE CURSE OF MICHAEL MYERS, into theaters. The film bombed at the box office, as it was an overly-edited mess of a film that was a shadow of its much better original version, The Producer's Cut. Another factor in its failure was the stagnation of the horror genre [slasher films in particular] during the early 1990s. The horror genre had wore itself out with countless versions of the slasher film in the 1980s, alienating people who were tired of watching the same film over and over [even though they had different titles and characters]. Also, the teens who had watched these films in the '80s had grown up and were more interested in more mature subject matter that these films were not providing. Comedies, dramas, and especially fantasy and science-fiction films were on the rise and considered the mainstream, leaving horror films out in the cold.

This all changed in 1996. Dimension Films and famed horror directed Wes Craven decided to reinvent the horror genre by infusing self-referential humor, more character development, less gore, and more A-list actors. The beginning of this new wave of slasher films started with SCREAM, where the characters were fully aware of the slasher films that horror fans loved and even made reference to them in the very film. At the same time, the characters would die in the same way those slasher characters they made fun of would. With the use of well-known actors from film and television, SCREAM was a smash hit out of the gate, making over $100 million at the box office. Along with 1997's I KNOW WHAT YOU DID LAST SUMMER, these two films put life back into the horror genre, creating a new audience and bringing back an old one that was interested in these films again.

In 1998, Dimension Films and executive producer Moustapha Akkad decided to make another HALLOWEEN sequel to cash in on the success of SCREAM. While there were many ideas on how to proceed with another sequel, the two different endings of the previous sequel left the production team at a stand still. The answer would come from an unlikely source: HALLOWEEN's original scream queen, Jamie Lee Curtis. Curtis, by at this time was now an A-list actress with alot of success in dramas, action, and comedies, wanted to thank the fans who made her a success in the first place: the HALLOWEEN fans. Disliking HALLOWEENs 3-6, Curtis suggested to forget all that Thorn and Jamie Lloyd nonsense and make the next HALLOWEEN a direct sequel of HALLOWEEN II. She wanted both John Carpenter and P.J. Soles to be a part of the project, but they refused for various reasons. So FRIDAY THE 13TH PART 2 & PART 3 director, Steve Miner, was given the job to direct. Miner agreed with Curtis' wanting to make the film a continuation of her nightmare as the younger sister of Michael Myers while ignoring the sequels that did not involve her character of Laurie Strode. So it was settled and HALLOWEEN H20: TWENTY YEARS LATER was greenlit for production. DAWSON'S CREEK creator and SCREAM writer, Kevin Williamson, was hired to oversee the screenplay for the film, bringing along young faces to the cast including Josh Hartnett, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and DAWSON'S CREEK cast member Michelle Williams. This would be a reinvention of the franchise, as critics and the public gave the film the most positive reviews the franchise had in years, becoming a critical and commercial success. The film made close to $100 million at the box office in the U.S. alone, FINALLY making Michael Myers a pop culture icon. And rightfully so, because while HALLOWEEN H20 isn't the perfect or greatest HALLOWEEN sequel, it does a lot more right than it does wrong.

Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is still suffering from her traumatic experience at the hands of her older brother, serial killer Michael Myers (Chris Durand), after 20 years. Changing her name to Keri Tate, Laurie is now a headmistress at a posh private boarding school that her 17-year-old son, John (Josh Hartnett), is a student. John is tired of Laurie's pill-popping and alcoholism, wanting to get out of her protective wrap to enjoy life with his friends, including girlfriend Molly (Michelle Williams). Just when Laurie starts calming down and easing up on her obsession with Michael Myers, The Shape comes back into her new world. Not only does Michael want to finish the job he had started with Laurie back in 1978, but he wants to do the same to her son [his nephew] as well. Tired of being a victim, Laurie decides to confront Michael one-on-one in a fight to the finish [at least until the next sequel that is].

REVIEWHALLOWEEN H20, while not a great film, is a good return to form for the struggling HALLOWEEN franchise. Its short running time [88 minutes], simple story, and interesting characters are very refreshing after the two horrible sequels that preceded it were filled with convoluted sub-plots and annoying characters. It's not a perfectly made film [I'll get into why in the next few paragraphs], but the performances, the humor, the homages to both HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN II make it a must-see sequel.

Let's get the positives out of the way first. Jamie Lee Curtis being back in the role that made her a star makes this film work more than it had any right to. Just like in 1978, Curtis gives an incredibly real and powerful performance as the tormented Laurie Strode. Fans of the original HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN II would automatically be rooting for Laurie, as this is the Laurie Strode they identified with during her struggle against her maniac brother and her struggle to stop herself from being haunted by his memory and his return. Curtis brings some new life in this film and franchise, as she is the perfect foil for Michael Myers and does an excellent job carrying this film from beginning to end. Her chemistry with her on-screen son, Josh Hartnett, is also very believable, as you can almost feel as if they are this family who have differing opinions over Michael Myers until the dude returns to kill. And the final act of the film, where Laurie and Michael finally come face-to-face after twenty years - creepy and intense. When she starts yelling "MICHAEL!" over and over again, I get chills. Just brilliant choreography as the two go at it like two warriors fighting to the death. This time, Laurie isn't afraid, shy, and stupid enough to drop that knife. Laurie is strong, tough, tired, and holding on tight to any weapon she can find to end Michael Myers' reign of terror once and for all. And the ending - if HALLOWEEN II [while a great ending that was] wasn't the final period to the Laurie and Michael story, this should have been it. Just the way it was shot and acted was beautiful. But as you know, someone messed that up. I'll get to that soon. But as I was saying, Jamie Lee Curtis is wonderful in this film and when I saw this film in the theaters back in 1998, I was so happy that she returned to the franchise that made her famous. She thanked us in the best way possible with her awesome performance. You're welcome, Ms. Curtis. You're very welcome.

I also liked the rest of the characters, especially the teens. Usually teens in these kind of films are annoying and have no personality. But these teens do, thanks to writer Kevin Williamson. They speak like teenagers. They act like teenagers. And they react like teenagers. Josh Hartnett, in his first film role, is excellent as John Tate. His chemistry with his co-stars, especially Curtis and Michelle Williams, is credible and we know a lot about him in such a short time due to these two relationships. While we understand Laurie's protectiveness of her son, we feel bad for John because he's dragged into Laurie's emotional and mental distress. He just wants to be a normal teen. He wants to spend more time with his girlfriend. He wants to go on school trips. And he's tired of having to care for his mother, when it should be the other way around. Hell, when I was 17, all I wanted to do was bang chicks and have fun. I feel bad for the guy. Hartnett's argument scene with Curtis outside is extremely well-shot and acted very well. That was the moment I knew Josh Hartnett was gonna have a future in this business [even though it hasn't exactly gone the way many of us had previously thought]. And his facial expression when he first sees Michael Myers - great job as we know what he's thinking inside of his head. Just a great debut by Hartnett. And the rest of the teen actors are good here too. Especially Michelle Williams and Jodi Lyn O'Keefe. Williams did a good job looking sweet, acting cute, and crying on cue. And O'Keefe - man, did she die badly in this film or what? Michael Myers was pissed off at her! Kind of sad too, because her character was hot and was pretty funny too. Like Marilyn Manson once sang: "We're disposable teens. We're disposable."

I also liked the direction of the film. Steve Miner is no hack and he knows how to direct a horror film. The man sure loves his low angles and low-key lighting, as we get a lot of those to create a creepy mood in the film. We get a lot of long, slow takes in the beginning to establish characters and relationships, which was honestly refreshing in a horror film. It kind of reminded me of the original HALLOWEEN, where John Carpenter took the time out to give us a lot of character development for us to identity with the characters before he had The Shape pick them off one-by-one. The action scenes were also shot well, as we never missed out on anything that was happening in the film. The pacing was never an issue at all, as the short running time of the film allowed just enough room for development and then a balls-to-the-walls third act that felt just right. Just a well-directed film, although this horror film more like an action film until the last 15 minutes. And there were editing issues too, but I'll get to that soon as well.

And I enjoyed the homages to other films. From the late Janet Leigh's Norma [how clever] and her PSYCHO car, to the SCREAM 2 scene with Sarah Michelle Gellar, to the newspaper clippings and scenes from HALLOWEEN and HALLOWEEN II, to the Mr. Sandman song from HALLOWEEN II, to PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE being shown in the beginning of the film, and to the return of Marion Chambers Whittington from the first two films, it was well-done and didn't seem forced at all. HALLOWEEN H20 is just a smart film that showed appreciation to films that inspired it. Creative way for audience participation, I say.

And I gotta mention how the film didn't insult our intelligence as viewers. There are a couple of situations that the producers could have exploited, but didn't. Like when Charlie had his hand in the waste compactor to get a corkscrew. I was expecting his hand to be turned into mush, but it doesn't happen. Instead, his death is done off-screen by Michael. Or the scene where John and Molly are waiting for someone to open the door as Michael fiddles with the gate keys. It actually takes him a while to find the right one, making the scene totally believable. And when Laurie throws those knives at Michael. You think one would hit the guy, but none do. It creates a lot of tension and some of that predictability factor is gone. Just a well done job.

I do have negative things about this film though. One was the music. While the HALLOWEEN score sounded nice with its orchestral variation, it kind of ruined the mood of the film. I dunno...I just couldn't really get scared or into the murder sequences because I'm hearing string instruments while Michael Myers is stabbing Jodi Lyn O'Keefe in the back repeatedly. While classy, it didn't really fit in a horror film. And were there themes from SCREAM inserted in there? Lazy, I tell ya. At least the original HALLOWEEN piano theme is at the end of the film. That's the only time where the music worked for me. It wasn't bad music, it just didn't do a thing for me.

I also had a problem with the editing. Apparently, director Steve Miner had issues with Michael Myers' iconic mask. While Moustapha Akkad and Dimension Films wanted a mask similar to the spray-painted William Shatner mask of the first two films, Miner wanted the total opposite. So instead of one Michael Myers mask, we get three of them. Not including the VERY visible CGI mask when Michael confronts Charlie in the kitchen. Geez, it was like Michael's mask had a life of its own. I'm surprised it didn't get its own credit at the end of the film. Since I could tell when each version of the mask appeared, I call this bad editing. And the mask wasn't that great anyway, so go fig.

I also had a problem with the mood of the film. I think taking the series out of Haddonfield was a bad idea. That town is just as much of a character as Laurie Strode and Michael Myers are. There's history there that needs to be appreciated. I didn't see that here. Moving it to California, while a nice change of scenery, totally killed the HALLOWEEN mood for me. The cliches that Williamson added into the screenplay didn't help either. All this humor, fake scares, the scene where the car doesn't start even though it was running fine a few seconds ago, and the killer who wants to come back to life for one final scare made this film feel more like SCREAM than HALLOWEEN. Not that I have anything against SCREAM. I love SCREAM and I think it's a great horror film. But HALLOWEEN shouldn't feel like another film. It should have its own identity, and this film had an identity crisis of sorts. It was too smart for its own good, I think. It doesn't really annoy me like the multiple mask thing, but that HALLOWEEN feeling isn't there in H20. The lack of Donald Pleasance doesn't help either, but I don't blame anyone for that because the man was dead. That voice-over with that impersonator is insulting though. Why not just use sound footage from the original? Cheap bastards.

And there is the continuity factor. The fact that HALLOWEEN 4, 5, and 6 were pretty much unacknowledged in this film as if they never existed bothers me more than you know. From what I understand, the original screenplay did have mentions of these films. In one scene, Laurie was supposed to mourn for her daughter, Jamie Lloyd, feeling guilty for leaving her behind to deal with Michael all by herself. It's rumored that Jamie Lee Curtis felt this would just be confusing to the simple story of Laurie getting revenge on Michael [plus she hated those sequels to begin with] and had it cut out. Now, while I don't blame Curtis, or anyone for that matter, for wanting to forget at least HALLOWEEN 5 and 6, it still happened and it needed to be addressed. Sure, the Thorn storyline was a mess from the start. But not acknowledging that those 3 sequels didn't happen is insulting to me because I wasted my time watching those films for some kind of resolution to come out from them. Plus, what's this B.S. about Michael Myers not being seen since 1978? Um, the guy was burning in an explosion at the end of HALLOWEEN II. Are you trying to tell me that HALLOWEEN II didn't happen either? Michael Myers just got up and walked away from burning to death? Does he have non-flammable skin or something? John told Laurie that she "watched him burn". That happened in HALLOWEEN II, didn't it? If you see this film, just throw continuity out of the window because it doesn't exist here. I'm surprised the characters even realize it's 1998. Just a big mess that could have been resolved if there was a group meeting that would put everyone on the same page.

And I can't conclude this review without talking about the ending. The actual ending is fine and I have no problems with it at all. But the fact that the HALLOWEEN producers pussied out of an ending AGAIN pisses me off to no end. This is the THIRD time the Michael Myers story was ended perfectly, but after seeing the massive box office receipts, they decided to bring back the guy for a craptacular sequel that's pretty much the reason for the remake we're getting next week. Boy, that HALLOWEEN: RESURRECTION review is gonna be fun...

HALLOWEEN H20 is the last watchable sequel in the franchise. Jamie Lee Curtis is in fine form as the character she made iconic back in 1978 and gives the franchise the kick in the ass that it needed. Good direction, good acting, and a great final act make this film a definite rental and a possible buy for your DVD horror collection. It's not where near the greatness of the original HALLOWEEN or it's better sequels [HALLOWEEN II & HALLOWEEN 4: THE RETURN OF MICHAEL MYERS], but it's a worthy HALLOWEEN film that anybody can and probably will enjoy. Too bad there's still another sequel to go that ruined everything about H20. I feel another rant coming on...


  1. Halloween II happened on the same night as the first, which took place in 1978. So Halloween II wasn't ignored.

  2. What I meant to say was that the cops at the beginning of the film mentioned that they never found the Shape's body after he fell off the balcony when Loomis shot him. So how does that explain what happened in Halloween II when he was burnt to a crisp? That's what I was trying to say there. I know both films take place on the same night, but it was as if it didn't count and only the first one mattered [besides the sibling thing]. I think the continuity was fishy in this installment.


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