20 years after John Carpenter’s seminal slasher classic crept in through cinema’s back window that cinema carelessly left open while babysitting; and 20 years BEFORE Blumhouse made their gritty, blockbusting love letter to white masks and stabby knives; came Halloween H20, a lean mean tribute movie that sprung from the slasher resurgence that happened in the wake of Scream.
Sporting a story treatment by Scream scripter Kevin Williamson himself and boasting a full blown return by original star Jamie Lee Curtis (it was more of a big deal back then) Halloween H20 scrapped a large amount of what had gone before, keeping only the first and second movies as cannon and dialed way back on all the unnecessary piles of back story cluttering up Michael’s ability to be scary again. Gone is the poorly explained Samhain cult from part 6, gone is the mysterious thorn tattoo on Michael’s wrist that popped up out of nowhere in part 5 and gone is Laurie’s extended family from part 4. Clean slates rule.
20 years after her impromptu reunion with her serial killer brother turned predictably sour, Laurie Strode has settled down under a false identity as the head mistress of a private school in Northern California and has single handedly raised her son after an ugly divorce. Her teenage close encounter with an unkillable knife swinger hasn’t left her entirely unscathed however, as she is a full blown, high functioning alcoholic and is prone to being seriously over protective and jumpy during the titular holiday period.
She’s got good cause to be to because on the eve of Halloween, after her son’s 17 birthday, Michael resurfaces after bloodily obtaining information as to where Laurie has been based and makes a beeline for his sister and her son and woe betide anyone else in the vicinity.
H20 leans heavily on Carpenter’s original to tell a story you don’t actually get that often in the slasher genre and that’s a story about a survivor. What happens to a person after such an experience and how would that person deal with it again if that experience reared it’s head again 20 years later? While the film isn’t exactly TOO bothered in delving too deeply into this storyline (these teens aren’t going to stab themselves, after all) it’s a refreshing and mature angle to take with such a long running series and makes it stand out from all the other ripoffs doing the rounds at the time. Another wise decision the film makes is to not cram the movie with the usual kind of stock idiot usually found wholesale in the genre. A pre credits scene sees a nurse (played by Nancy Stephens who featured in Halloween 1&2) stalked by the relentless killer but who plays everything smart (doesn’t investigate random weird noises, calls the police immediately, actually leaves the house) and STILL gets killed regardless. Putting the emphasis on the stalk part of the stalk and slash instead of frenzied bloodletting raises the quality of proceedings as well with Laurie’s climatic bout of cat and mouse with her murderous sibling legitimately exciting With Michael utilising his supernatural strength to lower himself down from a hiding place in the ceiling and Laurie countering with hit and run attacks and copious amounts of knives, watching this duel of wits is a fitting tribute to the classic. In fact the scene where Laurie finally decides to stand her ground and take the fight to Myers screaming his name as the iconic theme kicks in is one of the strongest moments of the whole franchise and should raise goosebumps in long term fans.
The cast is crazy strong, Curtis is joined by Josh Hartnet, Michelle Williams, L.L Cool J (cheekily trying his luck before trying to survive Deep Blue Sea a year later) and, in a sweet cameo, Psycho’s Janet Leigh herself.
It’s not perfect. You could argue that maybe the film is TOO lean, maybe dangerously bordering on slight, Michael’s mask design is utterly horrendous with it visibly changing from scene to scene as different FX houses were drafted in to redo it (at one point it’s actually rendered in CGI) and in order to give certain scenes a certain punch, John Ottman’s orchestral version of Carpenter’s synths are frequently and bluntly replaced with off cuts from Marco Beltrami’s score from Scream 2.
However, this is still high grade Halloween and director Steve Miner (no stranger to massacring a cast what with two Friday The 13th’s and Lake Placid under his belt) keeps things running smoothly and professionally to produce an roof raising final scene that ranks as once of my favorite slasher scenes of all time.