Studio: Dimension Films
Director: Steve Miner
Writer: Robert Zappia, Matt Greenberg
Producer: Paul Freeman
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin, Michelle Williams, Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Janet Leigh, Branden Williams, Nancy Stephens, Beau Billingslea, Josh Hartnett, LL Cool J, Joseph Gordon-Levitt
20 years after his original killing spree, Michael Myers returns to stalk Laurie Strode and her son on a private school campus.
It’s odd how a movie’s broad details can escape your memory after a period of time, even when that movie belongs to your favorite horror film series. In revisiting “Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later,” it dawned on me that I probably hadn’t seen the movie more than once, and evidently not since its theatrical release two decades earlier.
Without first peeking at the poster or credits, I would have sworn that the film was written by Kevin Williamson (it wasn’t; Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg penned the screenplay while Williamson served as an executive producer), Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays a big role as Josh Hartnett’s buddy (JGL dies in the pre-title prologue and has no interaction with Hartnett whatsoever), and Loretta Devine provides comic relief as a campus security guard (that would actually be LL Cool J).
Before wagging a shaming finger over that last one, bear in mind that Devine filled the same function in “Urban Legend,” which came out the following month, thus causing those two to blur together for me in the 19 years since. In any event, the notion that some of the biggest impressions left on me were of things that didn’t even happen says a lot about the film’s lasting impact.
Something I definitely didn’t forget about “Halloween H20” is its ending. I distinctly remember thinking it was about time a Final Girl definitively destroyed a slasher with something as irreversible as decapitation. I also remember feeling like Annie Wilkes when “Halloween: Resurrection” wiggled out of this permanence with its cheating twist that Michael framed a mute paramedic to take his place at the blade end of Laurie’s ax. (Insert eye roll.)
Back to the movie at hand, people popularly remember “Halloween H20” as the “Scream”-era “Halloween” film. Indeed, it has some of that same flavor of trendy young actors spouting slightly snarky dialogue, plus a Creed song on the soundtrack to really date it to that era. It also seems to be regarded as one of the better-received chapters in the series, certainly commercially. Although in light of where the franchise went both before and after, “Halloween H20” doesn’t hold up as one of the stronger takes on Michael Myers’ mythology.
For one thing, Michael Myers isn’t advanced as a villain in any significant way. Sure, the Thorn cult, druids, and Samhain claptrap made a mess out of these movies, but at least that was a forward-moving direction. Michael might be the least interesting aspect of “Halloween H20,” relegated to infrequent appearances and wearing one of the worst incarnations of his iconic white mask.
Laurie Strode on the other hand, becomes more developed as a personality than she was in her previous two appearances, and seeing Jamie Lee Curtis’ biggest bite on the role becomes the movie’s strongest selling point. Outside of Laurie’s characterization, “Halloween H20” sets up themes more than a substantial story. A classroom discussion concerning Frankenstein confronting his monster offers the most obvious parallel. Family drama involving the effect Laurie’s trauma has on the relationship with her son John also plants roots for a few arcs. Most of that subtext dies on the vine though, as “Halloween H20” plays it safe with routine fright flick formula.
The premise revolves around Laurie, now living in hiding as private school head mistress Keri Tate. Long story short, because the summary doesn’t demand any additional complications, Michael Myers mysteriously reappears after an extended absence and causes a kerfuffle on the gated campus where Laurie/Keri works. Collateral damage includes Laurie’s aforementioned teen son, who happens to be a student at the academy, as well as his nondescript friends and Laurie’s guidance counselor boyfriend played by second-billed Adam Arkin.
“Halloween H20” pays homage to the original film to the point of coming across like an obsessed fan stalker. Direct scene recreations include Sheriff Brackett’s “one good scare” bit, Michael distracting a daydreaming student by standing outside a classroom, Michael impaling a man on a knife with one hand, Laurie telling two kids to go down the street for help, even hiding in a closet and having Michael’s final fall lay him out like a summertime snow angel. The writers clearly had John Carpenter and Deborah Hill’s 1978 script wide open on their drafting table to faithfully follow as a template.
A couple of these little things seem kind of cool at first, like Janet Leigh throwing plentiful fourth wall winks at “Psycho” as well as at her real-life daughter. But they don’t really amount to much narratively, which is a sentiment that applies to quite a bit of the ancillary antics going on.
A running gag where LL Cool J reads amateur erotic fiction to his girlfriend over the phone becomes a time wasting goof long before it adds any endearment to his personality. Speaking of personalities, John’s pals Charlie and Sarah have none to speak of. Take out a quick kiss along with a shoehorned scene of a basement rendezvous and there would be nothing to John’s relationship with his girlfriend Molly either.
Act three pays even less attention to these people than act one. Laurie’s rocky relationship with her son stands out as never seeing a resolution. John basically turns into an inconvenient object to be chucked out of the way so Laurie can arrive unimpeded at her final showdown with Michael.
By its end, “Halloween H20” unfolds into a pretty plain slasher movie. Veteran director Steve Miner, who’d been around an adjacent block before with two “Friday the 13th” films, had already bet most of the movie’s money on audio stings accompanying mistakenly bumping bodies to fill some unknown jump scare quota. The film’s latter half then settles for a series of near miss escapes or hide-and-seek chases where specific participants aren’t even important.
“Halloween H20: 20 Years Later” remains more or less watchable. Yet as I learned on this second go, the movie works better in your memory than it does in the moment, mainly because it has the most stars and best production value of any entry in the series. But combine its mediocrity with the fact that it connects only to “Halloween: Resurrection” on this particular path of franchise continuity and you have a sequel that is ambivalently inessential.
Review Score: 55