Halloween H20 (1998)
Directed by: Steve Miner
Written by: Debra Hill, John Carpenter, Matt Greenberg, Robert Zappia
Starring: Adam Arkin, Jamie Lee Curtis, Janet Leigh, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Hartnett, LL Cool J, Michelle Williams
Reviewed By Ross Hughes
And we come full circle!
The unexpected success of all things Scream made the Slash genre all fashionable again in the late nineties. Written by Halloween fan Kevin Williamson, the horror not only reinvented the genre for a whole new generation, but also created a new horror icon in the shape of GhostFace. What was cool about the whole film was that it took the rules that was created by Halloween and remixed it. No more were the girls just dumb blondes who were meat for the bogyman, these were street wise teens who themselves had watched a lot of horror movies and so knew the rules. The ironic moment in Scream is when Ghostface is downstairs, creeping behind the virgin film buff Randy while the young lad is watching, you guessed it, Halloween. its that moment that reunited the newcomers of the Slash trend and the old generation, who had grown a bit too old of seeing the same thing all over again, I mean how many nightmares can one of Freddy and how many camping trips can you take down Camp Crystal Lake.
Anyone who thought that Scream was just a lucky blip were in for a huge shock. When I know what you did last summer became a huge box office draw, followed by Urban Legend, it was quite clear to everyone that this kind of horror was back, and that meant over Dimension films, they started to get excited. Having bought the rights to all things Myers and then seeing the franchise crash and burn with the very edited Halloween 6, they knew they had a chance to bring back the bogyman who started the whole trend. The question was though how?. With die hard fans having watched the proper end of the last chapter which had poor Loomis carrying the dreaded symbol that haunted Michael, and of course the other version which had Myers battered to death by a metal pipe, any ideas for this series to jump on the new found bandwagon of all things Slash was proving to be difficult. Until of course, an unlikely source stepped out of the shadows.
Jamie Lee Curtis was one day thinking of her role has Laurie Strode in the original Halloween when she realised that soon it would be twenty years since she played her most remembered role. Having stepped away from the horror genre apart from the not so good Mother’s Boys in the early nineties, she wondered what would Laurie be doing now. For some reason she had an urge to reprise this role and her dream was to get John Carpenter back in the chair for a twenty year anniversary picture. At first Carpenter was willing, he came really close to signing on the dotted line but the story goes that having been angry at all the money that the producers made from the original film, he wanted to get some back, and demanded over $10 million dollars to direct the picture. With the studio turning down his asking price, Carpenter walked, and with it probably the last chance all Halloween fans had in seeing the master back in the film that made him such an horror legend.
Steve Miner quickly replaced him, which was not a bad thing, having worked on previous Friday 13th films and was also responsible for the ski mask look given to Jason, after part two had him walking around with a brown sack over his head. Miner was a safe bet, he knew the slasher formula well, and soon things was taking shape. Kevin Williamson whose debut Scream was such a blast of fresh air was asked by Curtis herself to come up with a script for the new film. This is where H20 loses many die hard fans of the franchise. The original script had references to everything that went on in the previous sequels, but those involved including Curtis did not want this! They wanted H20 to be a direct sequel to Halloween II and ignore everything that went on afterwards. Now I can partly understand this. The series had become muddled, confused and so far removed from the the origins of Carpenter’s film, that the franchise was dead and buried. The two versions of part six showed how much of a mess this had become, if good old Donald Pleasence was still alive and had a chance to star in this film, then the makers would have had a major problem because some fans had seen what happened to his character so it was virtually impossible for him to had been in this. Of course all this is a stupid discussion by myself because the legend had sadly died, so that lttle problem was solved, even though he does somehow get a quite great tribute in the eventful film. The other problem though was too big to ignore, the fact they did not care and just ignored it and then somehow get away with it, showed a lack of respect too many fans….
I am one of the major critics of Rob Zombie second Halloween film for reasons I get to very much in the future, but he himself was a Halloween fan and he too done something to his version of the franchise that I totally admire, and that was bring back Danielle Harris to the film even though it was a different character. Zombie knew to his credit that Harris is as important to the franchise for many fans, in the same way Curtis was, damn he not only killed Harris off in his remake, but also bought her back for the sequel, and somehow even now there is talk that she may be back for the third in that franchise. Her role has Jamie Lloyd in parts 4 and 5 won the affection of many fans and only a money dispute stopped her from starring in the sixth chapter. Jamie of course was the daughter of Laurie who had been killed in a car crash. With, Curtis wanted to return to the franchise they solved “her death” by saying in H20 that she was moved to a witness protection act under the name of Keri Tate and has become a school mistress with a teenage son in tow in the shape of John (Josh Harnett). “What about Jamie?” fans cry, well there is no mention, like I said H20 decides to rewrite the Halloween series, in this universe, everything all fans know, did not happen, and that is why to this day H20 despite most accepting its a really good solid Myers film, it fails to be held in the hearts of many, due to changes they made.
if you look at many websites for everything Halloween, you will see that H20 is split into two camps when it comes to affection. Now I know some horror fans who totally adore Halloween and only ever watch the original, the sequel and then H20. I mighty respect that. For a trilogy of films it works perfectly. You have a beginning, a middle and an end, and watched back to back, they are an enjoyable treat. But then you have fans like myself, who despite their flaws, love all the other sequels to the franchise, who were stunned to find that Laurie had died in a car crash and had left a young daughter. Its not ok just to dismiss all past events to make the return of Laurie possible, because what you have done is insult all those people who have invested their time in the franchise and the characters like Jamie Lloyd who we have grown to love!
The reason I had to mention all this is because its maybe why H20 for this horror fanatic is a good but not great addition to the saga. Yes the quality is better than anything parts 5 and 6 offered, and of course the return of Curtis was such a massive boast for fans, even though what we did get, and what nearly all Halloween fans are in agreement with, is that H20 was nothing more than a watered down version of the original, put into a style that would please all Scream fans, such was the tone of the movie.
This was evidenced from the theme music that was a mix of John Carpenter still classy original and the strains of the Scream theme.
Ok, I have had a rant so take that all into account, how does this anniversary picture turn out! Well despite their choice of ignoring all things past, the writers do try to make the fans happy by adding homage’s from the original two sequels. The film starts with the tune of Mr Sandman, a song that was played during Halloween’s original sequel. Also adding to the memory the first person we see is Marion (Nancy Stephens) the nurse who shared the car with Dr Loomis when they encounter the first escape of Michael Myers all those years ago. Arriving home from work, Marion finds her house broken into and this is where Scream’s play by the slash rules but bend them a little comes into effect. Marion does everything normal people would do, she does not enter the house but goes for help. When her house is searched by the local teens and declared safe, she enters the house and sees her home office ransacked. When she finds the Laurie Strode file empty with the personal information inside missing, she knows something is wrong and again runs out of the house, only like in the Scream films, doing the right thing sometimes does not bring the right results and soon we see the arrival of Myers himself, its here the first sign shows that the film really means business. The look of Myers is great, the mask is cool, he is leaner and meaner, and the first kill is well executed.
The opening sequence I have to say is really strong. When the police arrive and tell the story of who Myers is to the new fans coming into the franchise, one of the cops laugh off the idea that it could be him because he is too old now to be in action. “Michael Myers…yeah right” his arrogance voice says, he closes the door and then bang!!!! the music kicks in, the titles appear and the voiceover of Donald Pleasence is in full swing. It is somewhat a fitting tribute to the great man who was just as important to the franchise to the masked fiend himself.
We then meet Laurie or should I now say Keri Tate, screaming in bed over another nightmare of her brother. She is now living in California and is the School Mistress of a posh school. Failing to get over her past and with the day Halloween again in full swing, her son is tired of the constant worrying from her over someone who is probably dead, and her boyfriend Will (a freaky George Clooney elder brother lookalike Adam Arkin) whose frustrated because she will not open up to him!. The film also suggests a drink problem which never actually has the time to follow through.
Its here that H20 tries to mirror the style of Carpenter’s original in that the gore has been replaced by tension and suspense. But the original done it well because we did not know who or what this shape was, and why he was targeting these three babysitters. The feeling of impending doom is unbearable at times in the classic 70’s film and the reason it fails to succeed so well here is because having been in the spotlight for the last twenty years, Michael Myers is just not scary anymore. This is no fault of H2O but where once this human being seemed like an unstoppable force of evil with a supernatural edge, all the sequels, books and comics have made the mystery all but disappear, and despite the best efforts of all involved here, he is a pale shadow of what he was, even though the fun in seeing him in action is well put on screen here.
Another downside of H20 is the fact that the script is very thin on the ground. Its just a case of getting from A to B, with all fans waiting for night to fall and Myers to start having fun. There is some delights in the day sequences though. The film contains the best in-joke of all nineties horror, involving the two scream queens Curtis and Psycho shower victim Janet Leigh. With Curtis struggling with her past, Leigh who plays the school secretary approaches her with the line “Can I be Maternal!” which plays on the fact that she is her real life mother. She goes on about how people do not know what is around each corner before saying goodbye and walks towards the very same car she drove on her way to Bates Motel while all this is happening, the Psycho tune plays in the background. It is a great horror moment and every time I watch it, my horror juices go in full flow.
While the film stalls for the action to begin, more homage’s are shown, The Sandman theme is played over the radio, the character of Michelle Williams looks out of her school class window and spots Myers looking back, which brings back memories of Laurie doing the same all those years ago. We are also subjected to the most pointless character of the franchise in LL Cool J’s school security guard. Its not that Cool J is bad in this but he serves no purpose in this film, even when Myers tries to get past him to get into the school grounds. In any other Halloween film, Cool J would be perfect fodder for the kitchen knife, but he comes in and out of the movie like a yo yo and also gives a scene which I still cringe at now. His shadow on the wall and a gun going off could possibly be one of the most cheesy moments in the franchise and for one moment, seriously brings the standard down!
But luckily when the sibling reunite, the film is in full swing. The moment Laurie/Keri encounters her brother for the first time in a long while between a glass window of a door, the wait is worth it. Another thing of note is that you can actually label H20 more as a thriller than horror, there are only seven murders (three off screen) and the ones we see are quite tame to what the Slash genre usually offers. You may gasp when I say the words thriller but you only have to rewatch the final half in which the horror angle is replaced with the A L I E N S path which enables Curtis to finally getting her Ripley moment. You can see why she was so eager to reprise her role, this was never intended for her to back to her scream queen roots, she is in this to what Sarah Conner would become in T2.
The showdown sees more more homage’s, there is a nice play on the memorable wardrobe moment from the original, we also get the fall from the balcony shot and a redo of a famous line that was also honoured by being spoken at the beginning of Scream! The moment that makes me laugh and what is a bit of trivia to you all is that despite their best intentions to ignore the sequels, they failed because the scene in which Laurie hides underneath the school desks while Myers stands on top, was actually written for Halloween IV with Jamie hiding under the desks. They run out of time to film those scenes but it was remembered and added here, which shows that maybe the sequels were not as badly written as made out.
H2O also suffers from being the most unlooked Halloween film of them all. The sunny weather and move from Haddonfield does not make the Halloween theme shine through. There are no kids dressed up, no trick treating, if it was not for a caption which states the date of October 31st then the events of this film could have happened on any day of the year!
But H20 is all about closure and for that the film succeeds on all its part. The makers were worried that the ending of this film would get out before its release, and lucky it did not. I remember sitting there confused, stunned and angry at the final shot. Not because it sucked, but because this a normal reaction of a diehard fan who realised that there was no where back for this franchise, and this really was the end, and how fitting it was between two people who started it all, Laurie and Michael. I may moan about the changes of the timeline, but its quite beautiful that they managed to pull this last scene off.
H2O marked the ending of a much loved series. Having been shot, burnt, shot again, buried underneath a mineshaft, to your good old Doctor becoming the person who you are, there was no way back for the boogeyman and….what?, they made another one!…they could not have!!! it was impossible…….
The fact they did, and also destroy every good thing that H20 had in its climax is another review for another time……….
OVERALL: Compare it to Carpenter’s classic, its a decent end to a long running franchise, compare it to what came next……its a modern masterpiece….