Four more days till… Halloween : H20 (1998)

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Laurie Strode: My brother killed my sister.

Will Brennan: How did he do that?

Laurie Strode: With a really big, sharp kitchen knife.

After almost 20 years of trying to escape her fate as the ultimate scream queen, at long last Jamie Lee Curtis decided to return to the role that made her famous. Setting aside her well-known distaste for the genre that had made her, she zealously came onboard to this sequel, hoping for a full reunion including original director John Carpenter.
Although for years Carpenter had been absent from the series as well, he agreed to return to the director’s chair for a nominal fee of $10 million. An exorbitant amount in the eyes of producer Moustapha Akkad, despite the fact that Carpenter’s original had grossed over $55 million on a budget of $300,000 back in 1978. In 1998, however, Carpenter remained adamant that he deserved to earn from his creation one way or the other and stood his ground.

That said, the director they finally brought on for the film was Steve Miner, a veteran of the early Friday the 13th films, who had recently worked with Jamie Lee Curtis on Forever Young. A script that abandoned all of the convoluted elements from the previous sequels was written by Robert Zappia, and was later polished by the ubiquitous-at-the-time Kevin Williamson. Considered a direct sequel to the events of Halloween II, it was meant to return the series to it’s roots as the suspenseful creation it had once been.The film was released on August 7th,1998 boasting the biggest budget yet in the history of the franchise.

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While it seems very odd to just abandon the entire notion of everything Danielle Harris’ character of Jamie had gone through in the intervening years, the film quickly acknowledges that Laurie did indeed fake her death in a car crash before establishing a whole new life and continuity for the character. When we first see Laurie Strode all these years later, she is a tightly wound headmistress at an all-girls school, suffering from severe nightmares and barely keeping her functioning alcoholism under control.

Despite the fact that the film-makers all claim to have the intentions of returning the film to it’s humble beginnings, the script is one that tries too hard to be clever. The omnipresent in-jokes which populate the film, combined with distracting stunt-casting threatens to overwhelm the carefully built undercurrent of tension. The film is mostly successful, and ultimately much more satisfying than any of the previous sequels, if only for the delight the audience gets from returning to one of modern horror’s most beloved characters.

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The connection to the original 1978 film is immediately established in the opening scenes of the film, as nurse Marion from Halloween 1 and 2 finds her office ransacked and robbed. The file on Laurie Strode has gone missing, and young neighbor Joseph Gordon Levitt gets an ice skate to the forehead for his efforts to help, while Michael makes a bee-line for his sister’s new home in Northern California. The opening credits roll with a haunting re-recording of Dr. Loomis’ chilling speech from the original, and all of this helps to make the audience feel that we are in familiar territory.

Laurie has a comfortable albeit jittery life at the school under the name Keri Tate, including a teenaged son and George Clooney-lookalike boyfriend. The aforementioned stunt-casting rears it’s head here for both better and worse. The good is in the form of Janet Leigh, Curtis’s mother and veteran of Hitchcock’s Psycho, as Laurie’s secretary still driving the classic car from her iconic appearance at the Bates Motel all those years ago. It is a great nod to the things that came before. Where the casting goes horribly wrong is rapper L L Cool J as the security guard of the school, with aspirations to become a romance novelist. His scenes and performance are hokey and distracting.

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The film as a whole is without a doubt a product of it’s time. The slasher and franchise films were seemingly dead, and the Scream series (also written by Williamson) had debuted with a self-referential splash just two years before, changing the face of contemporary horror. So, obviously, more “homages” and references to the past populate the film, but it rarely distracts from the meat of the story, which is pretty lean and mean.

Although H20 does take it’s time getting to the finale that audiences had been clamoring to see for years, the slow and steady pace is in fact more reminiscent to the first film than any of the previous sequels ever came. It is also a bold move to change the setting completely from the streets of Haddonfield to a wide open and vacant boarding school, lending itself to some new ways to thrill the audience.

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When Laurie comes face to face with her persistent brother at last, it is a showdown that works to great effect. When Laurie finally decides to stop running and go on the offensive, calling out for Michael while brandishing a fire axe, it is a rewarding sequence for fans of the films, a pay off twenty years in the making. The fight between them is decidedly epic, and leads to a touching moment between the disparate siblings a moment before she removes his head with a satisfying swing of her fire axe and fades into the credits with a ridiculously out of place Creed song.

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Definitively ending the saga of Laurie vs. Michael which had begun two decades before, H20 was the most satisfying entry since the first one, and should have ended the series once and for all, with class and a soulful 90’s power ballad. But no, even decapitation couldn’t keep Michael down, as we will learn tomorrow when we take a look at the single most insulting film in the whole series, Halloween : Resurrection.

This new disc in the complete Blu-ray collection includes a brand new commentary with director Steve Miner and Jamie Lee Curtis, along with an all-new featurette, The Making of Halloween H20. Also included are some vintage interviews, the original trailer, and an interesting collection of scenes using the original, largely rejected score by John Ottman, which interestingly change the tone of the film quite a bit.


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