Retrospective: Halloween: H20

Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) almost really did it, meaning it was almost responsible for the death of the series. This might be considered hyperbole by some, but it seemed that a direct-to-video future was unavoidable. In fact, a release was already being prepped in this regard. However, something unexpected happened. Jamie Lee Curtis was getting the scream queen itch again, and it had been a while since her career had taken off from its humble roots. She had the bright idea to reunite as many of the original Halloween’s cast and crew so she could to make one more final showdown between Michael Myers and Laurie Strode.

After years of decreasing relevance, the horror genre was back in a big way after Scream (1996) was a smash hit, and that film’s distributor, Dimension Films, was more than ready to capitalize on some of its other horror properties. Curtis’ idea was enthusiastically approved, but she did have a problem with regards to her initial plans.  Nobody else from the original Halloween (1978) was particularly interested. Apparently, John Carpenter requested a substantial director’s fee, rumored to be near twenty million, to come back to the series he created. Dimension turned that down, and Carpenter walked away. Instead, the film would go to Steve Miner, director of Friday the 13th Part’s 2 (1981) and 3 (1982) with a screenplay reworked from the direct-to-video version by Robert Zappia and a story credit by Scream writer Kevin Williamson.

Halloween: H20. Dir. Steve Miner.

The film is interesting because even before Curtis got involved it was decided there wasn’t anywhere left to go with a continuation of the story left from the previous installment. Instead, the story picks up twenty years after the explosion from Halloween II (1981). Michael’s body was never found, and he hasn’t been seen since, despite rumors and theories that he’s still at large. Laurie, now knowing the truth about Michael being her brother, has faked her own death and gone into hiding; she now holds the position of headmistress at a secluded private school in California under a different name, Keri Tate. Laurie lives alone with her teenage son, John, as she has issues connecting with others. There is one person never far from her mind, her brother, and she fears he is coming.

Halloween: H20. Dir. Steve Miner.

Halloween: H20 (1998) is two separate films, one bad and one good: a generic slasher flick and an exploration of trauma, respectively. The generic slasher elements are typically a mixed bag at best and boring at worst. With that being said, Laurie’s story is completely riveting. A lot of this has to do with Curtis’s performance, which really sells the idea of Laurie living in fear on a daily basis. Her trauma carries the film, and when the focus is elsewhere the quality dips. Laurie has lived a hard life since that Halloween night twenty years ago, and even in hiding, she has not been able to overcome it. It’s described that she isn’t able to sustain a personal relationship, with the sole exception being the one who can’t get away from her. That person is John, her seventeen-year-old son.

Halloween: H20. Dir. Steve Miner.

John is a unique presence in H20 in that he can be a burden and an asset from scene to scene. That depends on what other characters he happens to be sharing those scenes with as well. When he appears on-screen with his mother they not only elevate their performances as actors, but also provide a deeper dig into their characters. Laurie brings the best out of John, and John brings the best out of Laurie. The rest of the time, John is saddled with the film’s teenage crew, and their characters could have been pulled from a list of slasher tropes. There is a level of talent here behind these characters, including a young Michelle Williams, as John’s girlfriend Molly, who was just starting out in her career. There is not much for her to do aside from lame romance, referencing moments from the original, watch Scream 2 (1997), or listen to Creed (yeah, that Creed). The other two just stick to talking about food and sex until Michael has his way with them.

Halloween: H20. Dir. Steve Miner.

Oh yeah, that guy. Michael Myers is in this movie. The film begins with Michael tying up loose ends with the death of Nurse Marion Chambers, the smoking lady from Halloween and Halloween II. It’s there he finds out that his favorite stalking victim faked her death and is living out west under a different identity. This first scene is quite effective, actually, and while I’m sure the mask he’s wearing plays a part (it was the design from Halloween 6), it’s well shot as well. Unfortunately, that can’t be said for the rest of his appearances; Michael is shown way too much.

Chris Durand is under the mask this time, and he tries his best to emulate Nick Castle from Carpenter’s original film.However, just like how Michael seems to switch masks at any given moment in the movie (four were used including a crude CGI rendering), the performance is disjointed. It mostly comes off as a bad impression, and this results in Michael being as threatening as a kitty. This may have been somewhat of the intent to match him more evenly with his sister, but it’s a shame nonetheless. He has some great moments peppered throughout the film, but the role of Michael (like many sequels before) is just another slasher villain.

Halloween: H20 – Michael Myers Montage

While the audience may hope for the return of the “true Shape” in regards to Michael, most of the blame isn’t on Durand’s shoulders and is something generally reflective of the entire film. He is overly lit, and the camera does not take enough advantage of the toolbox of shots this character offers. H20 often gets compared aesthetically to Dawson’s Creek, which is a bit hyperbole, but the film could pass for a TV show at times. The goal of the filmmakers was to be as commercial as possible (they were quite successful there), so the film just kind of looks bland compared to the stylistic approaches of all of the previous installments in the series. Instead of carving its own visual identity, it seems to crib from the more popular horror flicks at the time, but just not as good. Similar to the visuals, the score has this problem as well.

John Ottman was hired as the composer, but after turning in his work, the people in charge thought the score was inappropriate and somewhat whimsical. Only a few of his tracks show up in the film, with the biggest inclusion being the main theme, which is a complete success. Ottman took Carpenter’s synthetic masterpiece and went big with an orchestral arrangement; it is the perfect companion to Laurie and her conflict. It sounds sinister but somewhat adventurist, and helps supply H20 with two of its best moments. The rest of the score is compiled from songs composed by Marco Beltrami for other productions such as Scream, Scream 2, and Mimic (1997). Despite the attempts to keep the film from inappropriate music cues, this decision ultimately led to those very issues. Another big audio component is the use of jump scares, which are completely unbearable in H20. They come all too frequently and with the volume always cranked, which desensitizes the audience to their effect, especially when the moment itself doesn’t merit it.

Examples of the constant jump scares, all from the first half of the film.

Luckily for Halloween H20, there is one major component aside from the arc of Laurie Strode that completely elevates the film, making the whole somewhat better than the sum of its parts. This refers to the climax or the long-awaited meeting between Michael and Laurie. While the first encounter between them is the kind of moment filmmakers beg for, what Laurie does soon after is just as incredible. After getting away with her son and Molly, she instructs them to drive away and get help while she stays behind. After hesitating, they ultimately do what she says (anyone would after hearing Curtis’s delivery) and she locks herself in with her brother. This is important to note, because H20 is actually the first sequel to take advantage of Halloween II’s twist of Michael and Laurie’s relation. She then turns, grabs an axe, and walks towards the school. The moment when she screams out her brother’s name and the theme kicks in is one of those moments that makes the viewer start banging chairs against the wall in excitement. The twenty years it took for the characters to reach this point are felt. From then on, the final stretch of the film stays in high gear and mostly never lets up, reaching a cathartic and final ending. Bravo.

Halloween: H20 is a film that struggles at times. With numerous bland elements taking up a good portion of screen time (characters, writing, visuals, Michael Myers), it has everything going against it. However, Jamie Lee Curtis displays so much talent that the film is carried on her back. Credit also goes to Kevin Williamson and Robert Zappia for nailing the essentials of this evolution of the Laurie Strode character and providing an arc that is fulfilling and relevant. With a final act that tears the house down and sends the audience home happy, Halloween: H20 is able to leave behind enough of a legacy to be remembered, despite its drawbacks. With that, the series can finally rest in pieces; it would be a shame if someone were to “resurrect” it.

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