A Satisfying Final Chapter?: "Halloween H20 : 20 Years Later" (1998) Movie Review
The title of the article is misleading you. Why? H20 is indeed a satisfying chapter in the Halloween film series but is it final? Sadly, while it it was likely intended to be, something happened. The film was well received by audiences and most critics, so the studio decided to continue milking the franchise and created a follow-up to the film in 2002, which became the awful Halloween: Resurrection (more on that later). For now, let's focus on H20! The film was the first since 1981 to feature Jamie Lee Curtis and it shows : the production budget was considerably bigger and the project received much more attention than previous movies. Upon release, it grossed $85,000,000 out of a $17,000,000 budget and received good reviews. To me, it remains, along with Halloween II (1981), the only worthy sequel to John Carpenter's masterpiece.
First, a bit of history. It all started in 1978 with the release of John Carpenter's Halloween, a small independent film that broke box office records and is still known as one of the greatest horror movies of all time. Its huge success, along with the rise of popularity of copycat slasher films, meant that a sequel would be inevitable. Halloween II (1981) also became a huge hit and delivered what was expected; terrifying scenes and even some background info on Michael Myers. John Carpenter didn't return to direct but contributed as writer, producer and composer, perhaps being responsible for the film's high quality. Spoiler alert: it is revealed that Michael is Laurie Strode's (Jamie Lee Curtis) brother and he dies at the end of the movie. That is at least what Carpenter wanted, as the third entry, Halloween III (1982), revolved around a totally unrelated story. The film wasn't successful and Carpenter's idea of transforming the series in a horror anthology was scrapped. The studio got what it wanted and Michael Myers came back in 1988's Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, which introduced the storyline of Laurie's niece, Jamie (it would be explored further in Parts 5 and 6.) While Part 4 was a surprisingly good watch and featured a shocking strong ending (no sequel was needed), both Part 5 and 6 displayed a shocking drop in quality and the series seemed tired and out of touch with the times. Outside of Donald Pleasance's presence, 5 and 6 had few redeemable qualities. Despite all that, like its main character, the Halloween franchise seems unkillable and a 7th film entered prodcution in 1997. As the 20th anniversary of the original film approached, fans were in for a treat!
Following the disaster that was Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), the creative team behind the series had to make a decision; keep going in the same direction (the films were still somewhat successful at the box office) or erase everything and start over. They chose the latter and had an ace up their sleeve: Jamie Lee Curtis. Here she makes a triumphant return in the role of Laurie Strode, giving even more depth to her character than in the first two entries. I always thought that she was the most interesting element of the franchise and her return seemed to be the best way to rejunevate the series. Curtis was in 1998 a much bigger star than when she left the series way back in 1981, with the success of films like Trading Places (1983), A Fish Called Wanda (1988) and True Lies (1994) allowing her to shatter the "scream queen" persona in which she was stuck following the first Halloween film. In H20, she gets to play a severely traumatized Laurie and Curtis makes her struggle entirely believable while plenty of actresses could have make it look ridiculous. We get to root for her and the character appears as sympathetic as in 1978 with a new humorous and self-aware side as well. I especially love that exchange with Norma Watson (played by Curtis' mother Janet Leigh):
Norma : I didn't mean to make you jump. It's Halloween. I guess everyone's entitled to one good scare.
Laurie : I've had my share.
Janet Leigh's role is very small but should please horror fans ; her cameo is filled with references to Hichcock's Psycho (1960) as she is dressed like her Marion Crane character, drives the same car as in that film and a bit of the iconic Bernard Herrmann sountrack is even heard. H20 is the second time mother and daughter share the screen, the first being in John Carpenter's The Fog (1980). It's always something special to witness those two horror icons together. The romance between Laurie and Aaram Orkin's Will Brennant is surprising and feels true. The two actors share great chemistry on screen and Brennant's grisly death comes as a shocking moment in the film. My favorite moment occurs when Laurie and Michael finally get face to face. It is very powerful and never fails to send shivers down my spine, just like their final showdown when she decides to hunt Michael down for good. The shift in her persona between traumatized victim and strong heroine doesn't look too forced either.
John Carpenter was reportedly offered to direct but his asking price of $10,000,000 was considered as too much by the studio. One can only wonder what could have been... Nonetheless, Steve Miner proved that he was a very capable director, offering us some thrilling setpieces and great throwbacks to Carpenter's classic. The plot is quite simple: H20 centers on a post-traumatic Laurie Strode living in fear of Michael Myers, who attempted to kill her all those years ago. When Michael eventually appears, Laurie must face evil one last time, while the life of her teenage son hangs in the balance (wikipedia). The film, obviously influenced by Scream (1996) is much more polished than previous sequels and doesn't look like a cheap project. It even features some humor, brought by the witty script or even LL Cool J's character. The opening sequence is effective (look out for a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt) but I especially love the ending of the film. Unlike most slasher and horror movies, the heroine doesn't make the dumb mistake of looking away everytime the monster appears to be dead. This time, Laurie wants to be sure and she decapitates him. The moment wisely plays with audiences expectations and is a perfect way to end the Laurie Strode storyline. It is sadly revealed in the next unnecessary sequel that the ending was not as triumphant as it seemed ; the man behind the mask was a paramedic and Michael escaped, only to come back and kill her in the asylum where she is imprisoned. I refuse to think that this is how the Michael-Laurie saga ends and in my mind, H20 offers the definitive conclusion to the Halloweeen series.
The big question: being a horror movie, is H20 scary? Not really but that is not the point anyway, as the real star of the film is Laurie Strode. Anyway, Michael Myers stopped being scary a long time ago as he is now part of pop culture, along with Freddy and Jason. To me, those characters are parodied so often that the originals lost their initial menacing appeal. Also, Michael looks especially ridiculous in H20 (just look at the picture down here). His mask was much scarier in the first two instalments! Apart from his appearance, the character remains the same as in the 1978 classic. Chris Durand successfully replicates Nick Castle's original performance. The mask is not my only complaint about the film. It uses way too many cheap jump scares where characters only bump into each other or come out of the dark. This is a overused horror movie trope and is simply frustrating. The film obviously features its lot of dumb teenagers, who are there only to be killed one by one by Michael. However, they are not as annoying and bland as in part 5 and 6. Josh Hartnett plays Laurie's teenage son and is quite effective in the role except that he looks his age, being 20 when filming. His presence adds some emotional weight in the chase scenes. The other teens are your usual bland cliché (they want to party, have sex and get killed). Nonetheless, H20 remains a much superior sequel when compared to Parts 3, 4, 5, 6 and of course 8.
Main Theme by John Ottman
John Ottman was hired to compose H20's musical score, which also featured additional music by Scream composer Marco Beltrami. He successfully adapted most of Carpenter's original themes for the film with a more robust orchestral sound for the first time. Despite all the respect I have for Alan Howarth, his scores for Part 4, 5 and 6 were barely noticeable in those films and he didn't bring anything new to the series' musical identity. The iconic Halloween theme is instantly recognizable and its original 1978 rendition remains the best but here Ottman managed to give fans something that is both fresh and extremely enjoyable with his orchestral version (you can listen to a snippet below). The rest of his score fits the film very well and does its job beautifully, while giving the series a much-needed musical update for the late 90's. Fans will recognize the song Mr. Sandman, which was used to great effect at the end of Part 2, in the opening credits of the film. I always thought that was a nice touch!
Watch it !
Following H20's succe$$, another sequel was sadly released. To me, the film in question is like a middle finger to everything H20 achieved and put back the franchise into the realms of mediocrity. Halloween : Ressurrection (2002), starred Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks and the plot revolved around a TV show. Enough said. The first 15 minutes are somewhat interesting because Jamie Lee Curtis is there but her character meets its end in a very frustrating way... The film received awful reviews and failed to live up to its predecessor at the box office, resulting in the series being rebooted by Rob Zombie in 2007. I think the Halloween franchise is a victim of its sucess. The studios kept releasing the films in quick succession and with what seemed to be little concern for quality (especially parts 4, 5 and 6), resulting in underwhelming sequels thay fail to even try to live up to Carpenter's classic. Luckily, H20 stands out as a wonderful oddity. Thank you Jamie Lee Curtis!