Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998) review

Halloween H20 posterDirector: Steve Miner

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, Adam Arkin, LL Cool J, Janet Leigh, Chris Durand

JOHN – It just occurred to me today that I’ve never celebrated Halloween before.

MOLLY – And why’s that?

JOHN – Oh, we’ve got a psychotic serial killer in the family who loves to butcher people on Halloween, and I just thought it in bad taste to celebrate.

After the train wreck that was Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers I’m surprised Dimension Films and Miramax had the gall to bring ol’ paleface back yet again.

Still, bring him back they did, in a film made to mark the 20th anniversary of the original Halloween. And you know something? They actually did a decent job this time.

Perhaps realising the previous film had become a confusing mess with a plot consisting of evil cults, a convoluted bloodline, adopted children and Paul Rudd, Halloween H20 scraps it all and instead provides an alternative timeline in which the events of Halloween 4, Halloween 5 and Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers never happened.

No, as far as this film is concerned the timeline goes Halloween, Halloween II, Halloween H20, bringing things back to basics and simply providing what made the original film so well-loved two decades before: a scary man chasing some teenagers.

That means you, Hartnett. Deal with it
That means you, Hartnett. Deal with it

After kicking off with an unnecessary but half-decent prologue in which a 16-year-old Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets an ice hockey skate embedded into his face, H20 turns its main focus to Hillcrest Academy, a private school.

The school’s students are all set to head off on a trip to Yosemite, except for four of them: they’ve decided it would be a better idea to spend Halloween alone together in a big empty school building.

Here’s the twist. One of the students, John Tate (Josh Hartnett), has never had the chance to properly enjoy Halloween. That’s because his mum, ‘Keri Tate’, is actually Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) living under a new identity after the events of Halloween and Halloween II twenty years earlier.

Here’s the second twist. She’s the headmistress of the school, and she’s staying behind too while everyone else goes off on their trip. And here’s the third twist: Michael Myers is back, innit.

"I really need to take back that mirror"
“I really need to take back that mirror”

That’s really all there is to it. There’s no more weird cult, no more complicated plots, no more weird shit like Halloween 6‘s baby hunt and Halloween 5‘s mute telepathic child. Just Michael Myers and a group of people in an enclosed space running around like pricks.

As a result, with all the shite scraped off it, H20 ends up being one of the better films in a series that’s had more than its fair share of disappointments.

The main four teens are likeable enough and never really threaten to be annoying, and at least two of them (Hartnett and Williams: conveniently, the two who ended up making it big) succeed in accomplishing that all-too-rare slasher film feat of making the viewer actually care about their well-being.

Meanwhile, the real star is undoubtedly Jamie Lee Curtis. Playing a Laurie Strode who’s no longer the fresh-faced teenager she was in the first films but now a struggling alcoholic in her late 30s, she’s compelling to watch as she tries to deal with the fact that her son is becoming a young man and is becoming frustrated by her over-protectiveness.

Oh, and LL Cool J's in there too for some reason
Oh, and LL Cool J’s in there too for some reason

It’s usually the case that if a movie star got their first big break in a low-budget horror film they tend to want to forget it ever happened. Horror is still (wrongly) considered a genre with very little artistic merit in Hollywood, and as such most big actors with horror film pasts would rather they remained dirty little secrets.

Kudos then to Curtis, who has stated countless times in the past that she owes her career to Halloween and was more than happy to return in H20 to repay the series. Despite becoming a well-respected actress with two Golden Globes and a BAFTA to her name in the years following Halloween, it’s refreshing to see she didn’t feel it was beneath her to return to the little slasher series that offered her the first rung on the career ladder.

(On a side note, Curtis is also notable for appearing and giving interviews in many of the behind-the-scenes and retrospective documentaries filmed for various Halloween DVDs, something Mr Depp and Mr Bacon have never done for A Nightmare On Elm Street and Friday The 13th.)

While it’s entertaining enough as a standard slasher, H20 is also a celebration of Halloween as a whole and as such there are plenty of little in-jokes and references in there for fans.

Look! It's Janet Leigh with the car from Psycho!
Look! It’s Janet Leigh with the car from Psycho!

As well as the new orchestral version of the famous score (which, if I’m being honest, I’m not too keen on: it’s too grandiose when the original’s effectiveness was in its simplicity), there are also little nods like Laurie turning off the radio when Mr Sandman plays (the song was used in Halloween II) and the reuse of the line “it’s Halloween, I guess everyone’s entitled to one good scare.”

The references even go beyond the Halloween series at times, most notably with the presence of Janet Leigh as Laurie’s secretary. For those not in the know, Leigh is the real-life mother of Jamie Lee Curtis, and is best known for her role in the Hitchcock classic Psycho. As a result, the scene in which Leigh leaves the school in a familiar car while equally familiar music plays is a treat for horror fans.

Halloween H20 was never going to be a deep, dark film that encouraged viewers to look deep within themselves and answer dark personal questions, but given how seriously previous entries had started to take themselves it’s just the sort of mindless slasher story the series needed.

For the perfect triple-bill watch Halloween, Halloween II and Halloween H20 back-to-back-to-back. Then you could conclude by watching the first ten minutes of Halloween: Resurrection, but more on that in a few days.

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HOW CAN I SEE IT?
In the UK it’s DVD-only I’m afraid. You can buy it here. As for the US, here’s the DVD and here’s the Blu-ray.

Americans looking for some more hi-def goodness are encouraged to go for this pleasantly cheap Blu-ray triple-pack which features Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers, Halloween H20 and Halloween: Resurrection on one disc.

As for streaming options, at the time of writing UK peeps can stream it on either LOVEFiLM or Netflix UK. It’s not available on Netflix US.

SHOW ME THE TRAILER:

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3 thoughts on “Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998) review

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