Sunday, 4 December 2016

Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998)


Director: Steve Miner
Screenplay: Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg
Cast: Jamie Lee Curtis (as Laurie Strode/Keri Tate); Chris Durand (as Michael Myers); Josh Hartnett (as John Tate); Michelle Williams (as Molly Cartwell); Adam Arkin (as Will Brennan); LL Cool J (as Ronald "Ronny" Jones)
A Night of a Thousand Horror (Movies) #67

When I first reviewed this film on Letterboxd I knew my over-excited positivity would decrease a little on the rewatch, even admitting this in the review itself, but after the mess that was The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), H20 is a breath of fresh air. Even if Halloween parts 4 to 5 were fun, H20 feels like a necessary re-write when usually discontinuing continuity in horror sequels comes off as insulting to previous films. Unlike most of the other sequels in the franchise, only part 3 Season of the Witch (1982) aiming for something profound, you have a film here in H20 which finally deals with what most horror sequels never do, a final girl dealing with her survival in a way surprisingly thoughtful. The final result is more significantly flawed than on a first viewing, but still an admirable attempt considering the franchise could have easily circled the drain by now as Friday the 13th and any horror franchise usually does. Where twenty years on from the first film, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) has been under witness protection as Keri Tate, headmistress of a private boarding school in California, a single mother with a nineteen year old son John Tate (Josh Hartnett) who feels caged living with her, a functioning alcoholic and plagued by nightmares of her brother Michael Myers still. In a slasher film which actually deals with survivor trauma and psychological scars, it becomes unfortunate for Laurie when Myers has found out where she lives, in a prologue back in Haddonfield, and intends a family reunion.

The biggest distinction from previous films is how H20 looks and feels like a glossy A-list Hollywood film even if it's less than eighty minutes long. The sudden shift from electronic synth you fell in love with from John Carpenter to a full orchestral score by John Ottman and Marco Beltrami may be jarring at first but for the film in general this sudden shift to a more gloomy, classical style turns out to be a great virtue to give it its own personality and cut the dead weight of the previous films from it. Steve Miner surprisingly, considering how memorably gritty Friday the 13th Part 2 (1981) was, is able to transition to this style well as a director, in how the camera glides along corridors or the gothic ting slightly felt, even in sunny California in the late nineties, in the night-time scenes. It does have to juggle this seriousness with a more comedic tone - the snarkier, self reflective dialogue that came after Kevin Williamson and Scream (1996), or LL Cool J as the gate guard whose ultimate goal in life is to become an erotic novel author - but considering how for the most part H20 takes itself seriously, the tone is appropriately dark when it needs to be.


The irony is that the traditional slasher that takes place in the middle of the film, of Michael Myers stalking Josh Hartnett and the young cast (including a young Michelle Williams) is the least interesting aspects of H20. Everything about Laurie Strode is compelling, helped by Jamie Lee Curtis' performance and how the story takes the character's plight seriously, a person constantly plagued with nightmares and, through a love interest Will (Adam Arkin), a background detailed of her having to struggle with being the lone survivor of the first film without resolution but only shock. It's a surprisingly level of depth for this genre and it also finally explains the issues I had been sat on the wall with slasher films about, stuck between liking them and hating the genre, in how whilst the economy of the genre is compelling (a killer picking people one by one), it's the Italian counterpart the giallo which is ultimately more rewarding. Even if the stories could be ridiculous, there's more concern about the plot in giallo with the murders having to be emphasised in context of said story, in vast contrast to the slashers which, sadly, mostly don't spin forward memorable plots to add to their main meat of narrative. Most of what's made the Halloween sequels interesting is the build up to death scenes or the plots, no matter how silly they got, and it's clear here that, unless you're talking about the first film where John Carpenter was such a talented working director, scenes of slashing are ultimately tedious for me by themselves like shoot-outs and fight scenes are in action movies.


As a result, the film lags badly in the middle. Thankfully said film is so short this doesn't sabotage the whole narrative but on revisiting the film it's a drastic effect on your viewing experience difficult to shake off. Why H20 still manages to succeed in the context of all the other Halloween sequels, barring Season of the Witch, is that there's more to engage with. From the nice cameo of Curtis' real life mother Janet Leigh as Strode's secretary Norma to LL Cool J, who was also able to make something as dumb as Deep Blue Sea (1999) bearable with his charisma, a lot still stands out and that's before you get to the climax proper. A proper sequel to a horror film, rather than just repetition, where Strode gets an axe and goes after Myers herself. Here, even if the film's still a popcorn horror flick, you can make an argument for it being symbolic of a woman having to conquer her demons, or for the viewer of any ilk to place themselves in Strode's shoes and portray Myers as any form of psychological or physical bogeyman, and especially with its end moment, it should've been the best way any franchise finishes. Sadly this wasn't the case - Halloween: Resurrection (2002) is next before they remade the series - but it doesn't detract from Halloween H20's reward barring the dreadful Creed song over the end credits.


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