Slasher movies were extremely popular during the ’80s. So much so that horror fans could expect to see at least one Friday the 13th title, a Nightmare On Elm Street title and a Halloween title released each and every year. The studios were able to do this because these movies were relatively cheap to make, did not require big name stars or have to be filmed internationally and for the most part, they made a profit.
Sure, the studios got an earful from critics and occasionally, a studio, like Paramount, proud of it’s prestige pictures such as Ordinary People, Terms of Endearment and Witness would secretly feel ashamed for releasing a Jason movie every summer/fall. After the dismal Part 8 in 1989, the studio was glad to rid itself of the Friday franchise.
Had the era of slasher movies ended?
When Jason did return in 1993’s Jason Goes To Hell, it received a less than welcome responses from horror fans. Ditto for 1991’s Freddy’s Dead which featured cameos by Roseanne and Tom Arnold as it’s major drawing tool.
But what about Michael Myers and Halloween? He never had it much better. Halloween Five: The Revenge of Michael Myers opened in October 1989 and another Myers movie would not go before the cameras for another five years. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers opened in 1995 (barely) and later disowned by just about everyone associated with it.
It looked like the era of the slasher was dead. Until Scream was released in 1996 and became a huge hit. Jason and Freddy would have to wait many more years to come back but Michael Myers was the first one to be brought back to pick up the knife.
Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later released in 1998, is several leagues better than the four previous entries when the series started venturing into supernatural elements involving something called a “curse of Thorn” which was what fueled Michael’s lust for killing and granted him the power of immunity. This story-line was originally supposed to continue into part seven (H20) but thankfully, all that was done away with when Scream screenwriter, Kevin Williamson was brought into development although, initially, parts 4 and 5 were alluded too.
The original script by Robert Zappia was supposed to be a continuation to part 6 and aimed at being a small direct to VHS entry. When Williamson was brought in at the behest of Miramax/Dimension Films’ Bob Weinstein, they added the Laurie Strode story arc into it hoping Jamie Lee Curtis would be up for reprising her famous role. Curtis did agree one on stipulation: Michael must be killed off for good.
Halloween H20 does away with the history of the previous five Halloween movies. As Halloween II took place immediately following Halloween, we can assume that movie exists in this universe though. At first, this film, originally titled Halloween 7: The Revenge of Laurie Strode, would have referenced parts 4, 5 and 6 but in the end, the decision was made to ignore those and I’m one of the people who are glad they did.
For the first time since Halloween II, Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie Strode, horror’s favorite final girl. Laurie has grown up considerably during the past 20 years. She tried her best to get on with her life. She moved away from Haddonfield, Illinois to California many years ago and assumed a new identity, Keri Tate. Laurie is headmistress at Hillcrest Academy (she was after all the brightest student in class back in Carpenter’s original) and a mom to 17-year-old John (Josh Hartnett) who both seem fine that dad split years ago. Since John is 17, he was born in 1981, three years after the events of the first Halloween. Perhaps Laurie’s ex-husband was a college lover who helped Laurie get over that wicked night many years ago. It’s never explained to us who the father is (Ben Trainer, maybe?). Laurie is clearly over him but she hasn’t sworn off men completely. She is now dating Will Brennan (Adam Arkin), a guidance counselor who also works at the school. It’s a clever point that of all the students at the school, the person running it is the one is most need of Will’s guidance.
Laurie has nightmares (regularly as we learn from her son), she drinks a bit (but she’s not out of control with it) and she’s a stern but fair headmistress. She probably loves Christmas and the 4th of July but she hates Halloween—and for good reason.
The first 15 minutes of H20 ranks among the entire series’ best. The first character who appears on-screen is Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens) who fans remember as Dr. Loomis’s former colleague from the very first movie. Chambers returns home from work one evening to find her office ransacked. She runs out to find two neighborhood teens who offer to check her place out. Chambers did notice that one file, in particular, was missing a file regarding Laurie Strode. With the place checked out, the nurse returns only to realize someone is in her house – Michael Myers, the same person who attacked her in Loomis’s car 20 years earlier. With Laurie’s file in hand, Michael begins his slaughter. The date is the day before Halloween, 1998.
This is a great opening sequence that does three things well; quickly establishes the story with a familiar character, provides humor and shocks and lets us know that this will feel like a Halloween movie which is very important. It even has some of that classic John Carpenter camera and framing composition that so combined film elegance with sinister brutality the first movie is particular known for. We don’t have a five minute gliding tracking shot because it would be nuts to attempt to re-create that but there are a few nifty moments including one with Michael in a kitchen who pulls a knife from the counter — his primary killing instrument of choice — and it’s like watching Jason reclaim his hockey mask after a long absence. Chris Durand’s portrayal of Michael is great fun to watch. It’s the best on-screen Michael performance since Dick Warlock’s of Halloween II.
Another sequence that works very well is a scene that takes place inside a rest stop where a mother and daughter pull over to use. Inside, the door is closed on them and the only person inside with them is Michael who grabs the mothers bag and takes the keys. It’s a really effective and suspenseful scene especially when we see Michael’s busted mask in the mirror. It’s a scene that plays so well, it was actually used again in 2018’s Halloween.
Back at Hillcrest, there is lots of excitement happening as the students are leaving for a weekend trip to Yosemite. Most students that is. John is not going per directives of Laurie. Laurie wants to protect John from perhaps Michael or perhaps something else. Michael might have been missing since 1978 but in a way, Michael is always a part of Laurie’s mind. She sees him in her dreams and in windows and standing on street corners. To Laurie, even if Michael truly is gone, there are still other “Michael’s” out there and they can appear one day in your life from absolutely nowhere and affect it forever. Nobody knows this better than Laurie.
With Yosemite out of the question, John and his friends decide to throw a small Halloween party at school instead. John’s girlfriend Molly (Michelle Williams), his friend Charlie (Adam Hann-Byrd) and his girlfriend Sarah (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) plan on having fun on their own while everyone else is away and with security guard Ronny (LL Cool J) looking out for them, the party should be go off without a hitch. What lasting damage could happen during a four-person hang out on Halloween night? It’s not like anyone is going to get killed or something, right?
Over dinner after some wine, Laurie decides to reveal her true identity to Will who assures her that if Micheal is even still alive, he’s far, far away from there and has no way of finding her. Not good guidance there Will because it turns out Michael is alive and he’s at Hillcrest and he has found Laurie. And John.
Michael has become the party-crasher nobody wanted to see and it isn’t long before he starts carving up the remaining students like pumpkins. First Charlie and Sarah are his victims which leaves John and Molly trying to escape him.
Running through the school and then outside the grounds, the pair manage to find Laurie who quickly lets them in only to come face-to-face with Michael, her brother, the “man” who’s been haunting and terrifying her emotional and mental state for 20 years.
H20 now becomes a cat-and-mouse game between Laurie and Michael throughout the halls of Hillcrest and director Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part 2 and Part III) employs some nice camera moves throughout here which creates some genuine suspense. Once again Laurie watches as Michael slashes and dices people she cares about very much (sorry, Will). You can almost hear Laurie think to herself, “Christ, do we have to do this every 20 years?” (It turned out, yes, they do).
With John now in danger, who has now seen dear old uncle in action for himself, Laurie becomes protector of those younger than her just like she did while protecting Tommy and Lindsey from Michael back in 1978. Laurie now has to protect John and Molly from the killing-machine, the “boogeyman” or “pure evil” as Dr. Loomis has referred to him.
While the first Halloween was a study in the unstoppable force of “pure evil” intruding in on our comfortable world, H20 is a study in how that evil affects us in our lives as we move forward and asks what can we do to overcome it? Laurie has been expecting Michael to show up and look for revenge so seeing him, on Halloween night doesn’t come as a complete surprise to her. Nor does the fact that he’s after John. This time, Laurie won’t be hiding in a closet while Michael comes at her. Laurie has been preparing herself for this night for 20 years. As Keri Tate, she re-invented herself and that means she left behind the frightened, teenage Laurie Strode back in Haddonfield.
Thinking back on that night back in 1978, Laurie made a promise to young Tommy that she was “not about to let anything happen” to him. Laurie kept her word. She protected Tommy and Lyndsay. Now, fighting Michael, exactly 20 years later to the very same hour, we can imagine her telling herself the same thing regarding John, her son. There’s no way she’s about to let anything happen to him either and THIS is who Laurie Strode is.
To Curtis, doing this movie might have been a way to make some money during the late 90s but you can tell she’s fiercely protective of this character and that Strode is a complete flesh-and-blood person to her. This is actually one of Curtis’s all-time great performances—maybe even better than her performance in the original Halloween where Laurie spent a lot of that movie whimpering in a closet. She was a lot better in the first half of that movie where we see Laurie posses a strong intelligence and we see that Laurie here.
When it appears Laurie got the upper hand on Michael, she knows the situation well enough that unless Michael is truly dead, there will be no rest. During the last minutes of this movie, after Laurie drove off in the ambulance Michael was placed in, she decides to confront him and make sure he’ll never see another October 31st again. Brother and sister wind up alone for the first time ever. We know it’s a moment he’s been waiting his entire life for and she has been waiting half of hers for. After Laurie pins him between a vehicle and a tree, he reaches out for her, his eyes filled with sorrow even. When she meets his hand with hers, she then delivers the ultimate blow to him by chopping his head clear off his body with a fire axe. The head rolls on the ground where the eyes of Michael Myers stare into nothing which is exactly how Loomis once described them. Eyes which stared at nothing.
Unlike most of its predecessors, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later takes place mostly during the day. This makes it a viable companion to the original 1978 movie which also took place during the day of October 31 (for a large part anyway.) I could hardly stand to watch those barely-lit, rainy ’80s installments though I realize there’s sort a bit of nostalgia for them.
I also like that most of the jokey winks to the audience that were so prevalent in both Scream and Scream 2 are absent in Halloween H20. Those things are fine in moderation, but the Scream movies beat audiences over the head so often with it that it easily became annoying very fast.
This was supposed to be the end of Michael Myers but producer Moustapha Akkad felt differently. He wanted the Halloween series to keep going—and they did. The less said about what came after the better. Now we’re at a point in the now 41-year-old series where we’re supposed to forget Parts II through 8 (and the two Rob Zombie installments which I’m quite fine with forgetting) but for some reason, I feel H20 shouldn’t be discarded. Even accounting last year’s installment, these two actually fit nicely. I’d be okay with considering the 1978 Halloween, H20 and last years as the three official Halloween movies which should only matter. (Maybe I’d include 1981’s Part II as well because it certainly has its fans and the continuity at least makes sense).
Now with two more Halloween titles on the way, we’ll have to see where the series winds up. Until then, with October 31 coming up, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later is not an entry to skip over and if you do get scared while watching it, just remember, Laurie Strode is not about to let anything happen to you.