Halloween H20 (1998)

Author: Brett Gallman
Submitted by: Brett Gallman   Date : 2008-10-28 11:35

Written by: Robert Zappia, Matt Greenberg, and Kevin Williamson
Directed by: Steve Miner
Produced by: Moustapha Akkad

Reviewed by: Brett G.

"It's Halloween. I guess everyone's entitled to one good scare."
"I've had my share."

Halloween H20 is a difficult film for me to write about. In my review of Halloween: Resurrection, I detailed the bizarre path of the Halloween series and noted my distaste for this films disregard for previous entries. While mainstream audiences were probably largely unaware of this fact, it touched off quite a controversy among horror fandom. In fact, message board debates about the validity of the two canons erupted, and some fans even attempted to reconcile the two. Nearly ten years later, itís a debate that still wonít die; though it isnít as heated as it was before, itís still a topic that inevitably rears its head when discussing Halloween H20. This brings me to the relative difficulty of reviewing the film, as it is difficult to objectively look at the film itself without divorcing it from the continuity issues it raises. Thus, the following review is admittedly affected by such issues and should be taken within that context.

Some might ask how we got to this point in the first place. After the relative failure of 1995ís Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, the series was, by all accounts, headed to the direct-to-video market. However, Jamie Lee Curtis sensed the potential success of a huge event film that commemorated the seriesí 20th anniversary and reunited Michael Myers with his baby sister for another showdown. This, however, immediately causes continuity issues because weíd learned that Laurie Strode died a decade earlier in a car accident. Thus, it was decided early on by both Curtis and director Steve Miner that the only valid films were the original Halloween and its sequel, Halloween II, with H20 serving as a direct sequel to both. This conveniently allowed the film to dodge such sticky continuity issues because it effectively wrote Halloween 4-6 out of the canon, which means Jaime Lloyd and her story from the previous 3 films never existed.

All of this was common knowledge before the filmís release back in 1998, and it struck me as pretentious back then, and it continues to do so now, nearly ten years after its release. As a result of this approach, I was immediately predisposed to dislike this film, and itís a true shame because the filmís premise is excellent. Set twenty years after the events of the original film, H20 reveals that Laurie Strode never died in a car accident after all; instead, she faked her death and moved to California where she took the name Keri Tate and became a teacher at a private school. All is not well, however, as Laurie is still very much haunted by the events from twenty years ago, as she has become an alcoholic living in constant fear of the return of her psychotic brother. Furthermore, she now has a son, John, who believes his mother to be overprotective and paranoid. Of course, Laurie is soon validated when Michael inexplicably returns from obscurity to finish what he began.

All continuity issues aside, this story makes for a strong sequel, as it is very much tied to the first two films. Had the series gone direct-to-video, thereís no telling what might have happened, but I have a feeling that the series would have soon devolved into Michael hacking up a random assortment of teens (which did happen in Halloween: Resurrection). The film even starts out with one of the better sequences in the entire Halloween series, as Michael breaks into the home of Marion Chambers, Loomisís assistant from the first two films, to presumably find any information about Laurie. This sequence just feels like a Halloween filmóitís suspenseful, well-shot, and, most of all, shows us that The Shape is back. Everything from here up to the credit sequence is pure gold (with the exception of the Donald Pleasence impersonator thatís reciting Loomisís lines in the original).

Unfortunately, however, the film begins to decline here a bit, as it never manages to recapture the intensity and suspense with the exception of a couple of scenesóthe rest stop sequence and the final confrontation at the end of the film. One reason for this might be the lack of the aforementioned Pleasence, who passed away during post-production work on Halloween 6. While all of the films featuring Pleasence featured other main characters (Laurie and Jamie, for example), I always felt like Dr. Loomis was ostensibly the hero and Michaelís true nemesis. Halloween H20 makes the mistake of believing that Laurie Strode can fill such large shoes. While the Laurie is no doubt important to the Halloween mythos, her presence doesnít come close to filling the void left by Pleasence. In short, itís just plain weird to have a Halloween film without him.

Furthermore, the character of Laurie is far removed from the virginal Girl Scout from the original; while this is to be expected given her circumstances, the character is rendered nigh unlikeable, especially when compared to Loomis, whose presence always rendered Michael a true villain. In H20, Laurie is a mean-spirited drunk who rarely elicits any sympathy. Sure, the character kind of coasts on the good will that was built up by her first two appearances, but something about the character just seems off here. Of course, I could be harboring a bit of resentment towards Curtis herself, who was at least a bit responsible for the direction this film took. That said, Curtis does turn in a good performance because, for all I know, maybe we are supposed to be a little off-put by Laurie. Interestingly enough, the original screenplay included a scene that would have tied H20 to the previous films, and it would have also strengthened Laurieís character. The scene in question featured one of Laurieís students giving a report about Michaelís exploits during Halloween 4-6, which caused Laurie to hastily exit the room before throwing up after being reminded of her daughterís demise.

That sceneís inclusion would have gone a long way towards my enjoyment of the film; also, it would have made Laurie a more complex character that would have been facing more than one demon. As it stands, however, Laurie is just a raving paranoid, and not nearly as effective as Dr. Loomis was in the same role. But enough about Laurie, as there are other characters in the film, for better or worse, the most notable being John and his group friends. Since the filmís release, fans have noticed the influence of the Scream series on this installment of the Halloween franchise, and itís most evident in the treatment of the teens. That film's screenwriter, Kevin Williamson, had an uncredited rewrite on H20, and his penchant for snappy, smart dialogue rears its head in the film, and this is not really a bad thing because the teens feel like more than walking clichťs. Still, itís an odd fit for the Halloween series for whatever reason; again, I think the lack of Pleasence shows here, as the film begins to feel like a standard teen slasher for the first time.

The middle act of the film that focuses on all of these characters is where the film begins to stall, unfortunately, as the opening really hooks you in. While this somewhat follows the originalís formula, these characters arenít nearly as interesting as Carpenterís characters in the original. Furthermore, the film lacks that Halloween atmosphere that the original absolutely nailed. I think that people took to calling this a Scream film featuring Michael Myers precisely because it really doesnít feel like a proper Halloween film, and a lot of this might have to do with the setting, as the film removes us from the small-town Middle America and relocates us to California. I would be remiss to forget how the musical score plays a role in this as well, as John Ottmanís original score was replaced with bits of music from Scream; this is most notable in the final climax, and the Halloween: 25 Years of Terror documentary explores this in detail and shows that such a change was not for the better.

Of course, a horror film is only as good as its killer, so Myers is a critical piece of the puzzle here. Though he's a little wobbly, Iíd say that Chris Durandís Myers harks back to the original conception of Myers as ďThe Shape,Ē as he doesnít exhibit the hulking, Jason-esque qualities that the character began to exhibit with Halloween 4. Instead, this Myers prefers to slink around in the shadows and strike when the moment is right. When this Myers does strike, he does exhibit a bit of unrestrained violence thatís not exactly in line with what we saw in the first two films; however, for the most part, Durandís performance is solid and he gets a lot of moments to show off (especially in the final showdown with Laurie). The biggest detraction from the character isnít Durandís fault at all, but the filmmakersí, who couldnít agree on the look of the Myers mask throughout production. As a result, there are no less than 4 different masks used throughout the film, including a CGI one that looks like it was made in Microsoft paint (pictured left).

The filmís final showdown is the big centerpiece that was meant to bring the entire series full-circle, and I have to admit that the ending here is nice in terms of closure, even if I tend to like how Halloween: Resurrection lets us know that Michael is still out there somewhere. However, for the purposes of this film, the final moments are pretty powerful stuff and pretty shocking to boot. Back in í98, it was hard to believe that the film ended as it did, even if it was somewhat easy to figure out how it could be ret-conned (and it indeed was with the next installment). It seems like Miner and crew at least had it in mind to give the film a good, rousing conclusion, and, had the Halloween series ended there (all continuity issues notwithstanding), I think I would have been somewhat satisfied.

And I think thatís how I ultimately feel about H20óit leaves me somewhat satisfied. I want to love the film, as I think it gets a lot right, but, ultimately, the continuity issues make it hard for me to do so. In the ten years since its release, Iíve kept an open mind towards every fan theory that attempts to reconcile all the various continuity issues, but I havenít found one to suit my liking yet. Even without such issues, the film has weak points (the somewhat dull middle act, the inordinate amount of fake scares, the lack of a Halloween atmosphere), but I like the idea behind the film. Still, with the inclusion of the aforementioned scene to tie together the entire series and a few other tweaks, this really could have been something special. As it stands, Iíd actually rather watch the first six Halloween films (and that includes the massively underrated Halloween 3≠) before Iíd watch this one. Donít get me wrongóitís a slick, decent film, which isn't surprising. Even though Iíve shown quite a distaste for Steve Miner before, I canít discredit the manís ability to put together a good slasher movie. In fact, I canít believe heíd turn out something as awful as his Day of the Dead remake. Still, it would have been interesting if Moustapha Akkad hadnít balked at John Carpenterís salary demand to return for this installment. I often wonder if Carpenter would have chosen the same route of ignoring the previous films; at any rate, I think it the film would have ended up better, even if Carpenter had only turned out one memorable film in the past ten years at that point (In the Mouth of Madness).

Ultimately, this is a film everyone should seeómake no doubt about that. Of course, all Halloween fans will want to own it. For everyone else, however, itís teetering on the edge of a full-blown purchase and a simple rental. However, I think the filmís shoddy DVD makes this an easy call. Even though itís dubbed a ďCollectorís Edition,Ē itís really anything but. Featuring a non-anamorphic trailer, a short documentary, and a Creed music video, itís really nothing to write home about. Dimension mentioned a true special edition, but, as is the case with many of Dimensionís promises, such a DVD has faded into obscurity with no release coming in the immediate future. Itís possible it could happen with this year being the tenth anniversary, but we havenít heard a peep from Dimension so far. Thus, unless youíre just a huge Halloween fan, itís a rental at best. Rent it!

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