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"Halloween: 20 Years Later" Review

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I have a weakness for cheesy, "so bad they're good" low budget horror, sci-fi or action movies. I watch'em so you don't have to!

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Halloween: 20 Years Later (aka "H20," 1998)

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, Jodi Lynn O'Keefe

Directed by: Steve Miner

The Halloween franchise was in dire need of resuscitation by the late 1990s. Despite continued, near-universal praise for John Carpenter's original 1978 film and its well-received 1981 follow up, the series had been on shaky ground as it was watered down by far too many nonsensical, shoddily executed sequels.

A third, in-name-only installment (1982's not-nearly-as-bad-as-you've-heard Halloween III: Season of the Witch) unsuccessfully tried to turn the Halloween franchise into an annual anthology of standalone films, without serial killer Michael Myers. When that idea tanked, producers brought Myers back to the screen in 1988's strictly average Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. The next several installments (1989's awful Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers and 1995's execrable Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers) attempted to create a "backstory" for the mysterious madman, re-imagining him as the Earthly idol of an underground Druid death cult...or some such nonsense. Box office dollars dwindled with each new installment, and the series' continuity quickly became a jumbled mess. There was only one thing to do... go back to basics.

In 1996, the smash hit Scream re-ignited interest in classic slasher films by shining a light-hearted spotlight on the genre's many conventions and cliches. Dimension Films, which owned the rights to both the Scream and Halloween properties, approached Scream scribe Kevin Williamson to help them reboot the aging Halloween saga to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original.

Williamson and two other screenwriters devised a new continuity for the seventh film, which wisely chose to erase the "Cult of Thorn" nonsense from the prior three installments. This film picked up the action where 1981's Halloween II left off. Fans rejoiced at the news that Jamie Lee Curtis was returning to the franchise to reprise her role as Laurie Strode, and the stage was set for Halloween: 20 Years Later—the first true Halloween sequel in more than 15 years.

Trailer

The Movie...

In H20's opening scene, it's two days before Halloween 1998, and we are re-introduced to Nurse Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), who was last seen in 1981's Halloween II, assisting Dr. Sam Loomis (the late, great Donald Pleasance ) in his pursuit of Michael Myers. When Marion comes home from work, she discovers that her house has been broken into. She calls the police, but while she waits for them to arrive, she receives a long overdue, fatal visit from Michael Myers ... and this is before the opening credits even roll! During said credits, we learn that Nurse Chambers had been caring for the late Dr. Loomis in his declining years, and the reason Myers dropped by was to ransack the doctor's files in order to find out what happened to his sister, Laurie Strode.

Laurie, meanwhile, seems to have done pretty well for herself. Thanks to the Witness Protection Program she's living in California under an assumed name ("Keri Tate"), and serving as the headmistress of Hillcrest Academy, a posh private boarding school in the hills. Her teenage son John (Josh Hartnett, making his film debut) is the only one who knows her dark family secret, and that her confident exterior hides a woman who depends on a steady diet of pills and booze to keep the constant nightmares and flashbacks at bay.

It's Oct. 31st at Hillcrest Academy, and as the rest of the student body prepares for a school-wide camping trip to Yosemite (Do private schools really do such things? Never mind, it's just a convenient plot device to empty the campus so the real action can start), John and his girlfriend Molly (future Academy Award-nominee Michelle Williams, fresh from TV's Dawson's Creek) and their friends Charlie (Adam Hann-Byrd) and Sarah (Jodi Lynn O'Keefe) are plotting to stay behind and throw their own private, lovey-dovey Halloween party in the basement of the main campus building.

Laurie/Keri has no idea that her son is still on the school grounds and is settling down for a romantic evening of her own with her boyfriend, the school's guidance counselor (Adam Arkin). Eventually, of course, the kids' secret celebration is interrupted by a certain Mr. Myers, who has been sneaking around the campus for the entire day waiting to strike. Charlie and Sarah are quickly done away with, and John and Molly run screaming to Laurie/Keri's front door with Michael right behind them, causing Laurie's Mama Bear instincts to kick in. Needless to say, that's when the fun REALLY starts. This is what we bought our tickets for—to watch Laurie Strode finally cast off 20 years of post-traumatic stress disorder and kick her brother's ass!!

I won't spoil the rest of the film for you in case you haven't seen it, but suffice to say that the last 20 minutes or so of Halloween H20 is very satisfying stuff. Laurie and Michael put each other through the wringer in a cat-and-mouse battle that encompasses the entire school before a finale that would've...and should've...been the perfect ending to the Halloween series once and for all. (Of course, then they had to make Halloween: Resurrection in 2002 and screw it all up. *SIGH...*)

The showdown we waited 20 years for is about to begin!!

The showdown we waited 20 years for is about to begin!!

Summing It Up...

H20 is a heck of a lot of fun. It is leagues ahead of any of the three preceding films. Director Steve Miner also has two Friday the 13th films on his resume, so he knows a thing or two about setting up a slow burning slasher flick that builds to an action-packed finale. Curtis seems to be having fun slipping back into the role that made her famous, and though the younger cast members do their jobs well enough, only Hartnett and Williams have enough screen time to show much personality. Rapper LL Cool J, meanwhile, is wasted in a mostly thankless bit part as the school's security guard.

Sharp-eyed genre fans will appreciate an in-joke featuring the great Janet Leigh (Jamie Lee Curtis' mother) of Psycho fame.

Similar to how H20 erased the fourth, fifth, and sixth installments from Halloween series continuity, the 2018 Halloween reboot deleted the events of H20 (and every other film except the '78 O.G.). I actually thought the 2018 film's plot had a lot of similarities to H20, just with a grimmer tone and a higher body count.

Last I checked, Halloween H20 can still be found on DVD from the budget-line Echo Bridge Entertainment label for around five bucks. Their single-disc DVD is bare-bones and lacks any special features, but for such a bargain price, most fans aren't likely to complain. As far as I'm concerned, this film and the first two are the only Halloween flicks you really need.

© 2011 Keith Abt

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Comments

Laura Smith from Pittsburgh, PA on April 19, 2018:

I just rewatched this the other day, and I agree. This movie definitely benefits from the 90's resurgence of slasher movies. You can see Scream's influence, and it helps to update the franchise while maintaining its classic tone. And since Scream was inspired by Halloween, the two go hand in hand.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on July 14, 2015:

I don't know much about Carpenter's limited involvement with H4 during its planning stages, other than he was supposedly offered the director's chair but he wanted too much money. Haha

Boxcar123 on July 14, 2015:

Just too bad Jaime Lee decided to return after Donald Pleasance had passed away......and that she couldn't convince John Carpenter to return. I enjoyed this one more than the previous sequels (H4-H6) but still felt it didn't live up to the first two films....It felt like a different Michael Myers to me. Always bothered me that they could never get the mask right as well. Another intelligent and fair review by FatFreddy. Have any thoughts on the Halloween 4 script that Dennis Etchison and Carpenter worked on that was rejected by Moustapha Akkad? Be interested in what you have to say about that idea that never got pursued.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on October 02, 2012:

Hi Shawn -- yeah, I wonder what Michelle Williams thinks of this film when she looks back on it.

I just saw the other major female character, Jodi Lynn O'Keefe, on the TV show "Castle" last night. I hadn't seen her in years, had wondered where she'd disappeared to.

Shawn Dudley from Los Angeles, California on October 01, 2012:

This one was good. It was nice to see Jamie reunited with her mother (Janet Leigh who was in The Fog) and it was a fresh enough take on the story to make it interesting again (after a long drought).

I have to mention that Michelle Williams has come a long way since this film, she's now one of the most critically respected young actresses in Hollywood with many memorable indie films to her credit.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on October 18, 2011:

I'm sure I'll get around to it eventually, but to be honest, I've seen "6" enough times that I don't really need to see it again anytime soon, even if it is a different version. Haha.

Skeelo from Scotland on October 17, 2011:

Yeah that's the general consensus. I've only seen the Producer's Cut and I thought it was a good movie. I don't know how much it differs from the original version but you should check out (the full movie is on Youtube).

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on October 17, 2011:

I've never seen the "Producer's Cut" of 6, I'm told it's a lot better than what was officially released tho.

Skeelo from Scotland on October 16, 2011:

Lol dude, I'm actually one of the few people who loved the 6th. I loved the Producer's Cut anyway. I don't know how much it differentiates from the original version though.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on October 16, 2011:

Ardie - if hearing Michael Myers' theme song freaks you out, then that means it's doing what it's supposed to! (Bwahahahahahahahaha!!!)

Sondra from Neverland on October 16, 2011:

I've never been able to watch any of the Halloween movies - they creep me out majorly! But I also really love horror flicks. So how do I deal with the contradicting love of scary movies and hate of Michael Myers? Easy - I still watch scary movies but freak out if I hear Michael Myers' music or if I see a picture of him looking in a window at an unsuspecting female. ((Shudders))

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on October 16, 2011:

Hey Robwrite - I agree with you to a certain extent, there was really no reason for "H20" to be made in the first place except to suck more $$$ out of the fans (haha) but at least they went "back to basics" and tried to close the book on the saga rather than drag out the "Druid Thorn Cult" crapola for another movie.

As I said in the article, this would've been a fine ending to the Halloween series altogether... but nope, they had to make another stupid sequel after this one ("Resurrection") and painted themselves into a corner again. They had no choice but to hire Rob Zombie and do the "remake" thing.

Rob from Oviedo, FL on October 16, 2011:

I never really liked any of the franchise entires after the second. The series rolled quickly downhill. H2O wisely erased everything after Halloween 2 and was better than anything in between, but I still feeli it was another unnessesary sequel. Nowhere near the calibre of the original.

Rob

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on October 16, 2011:

Be thankful you started with "H20" and not the godawful "5" or "6." Haha.

Skeelo from Scotland on October 16, 2011:

Nice review dude. I really liked H20. It was the 1st movie of the franchise I watched and one of my favourites to this day.

Keith Abt (author) from The Garden State on October 15, 2011:

Cool, glad you enjoyed it. I'm always watching scary movies during the Halloween season, so it was inevitable that I'd write up one of the "Halloween" films sooner or later. :)

Brittany Rowland from Woodstock, GA on October 15, 2011:

Great review, and perfect for the upcoming Halloween. I've seen Halloween I and II, and parts of this one, but I might have to check it out again (along with some other scary classics to get in the right mood this October).

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