Halloween: 20 Years Later (H20)

Saturday, February 23rd, 2008 @ 4:47 am | DVD, Halloween

Halloween: 20 Years Later (H20)
Tagline: This summer, terror won’t be taking a vacation.
Released: 1998
Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Hartnett, Adam Arkin, and Michelle Williams
Directed by Steve Miner
Written by Robert Zapia, Matt Greenberg, and Kevin Williamson (uncredited)

Format: DVD
Distributed by Dimension Films
DVD Release Date: October 19, 1999

Features:
Widescreen Presentation (2.35:1)
Unmasking the Horror
Trivia Game
Music Video – “What’s this Life For” performed by Creed

Premise: This smart and suspenseful thriller scares up a bone-chilling good time with original scream queen Jamie Lee Curtis (True Lies, Halloween I & II) and a hot cast of hip young stars! Now the headmistress of a private school, Laurie Strode (Curtis) is struggling with the horrifying, 20-year-old memories of the maniacal killer Michael Myers… when he suddenly reappears with a vengeance! And this Halloween, his terror will strike a whole new generation! Laurie’s rebellious son John (Josh Hartnett – The Faculty), his girlfriend (Michelle Williams – TV’s Dawson’s Creek), and the school security guard (LL Cool J) will become Michael’s newest victims unless Laurie can conquer her greatest fears and put evil in its place once and for all! The time has come again for you to experience the frightening fun of Halloween – the motion picture series that totally redefined terror!

Plot Breakdown (spoilers): On October 29th, 1998, in Langdon, Illinois, Nurse Marion Chambers-Wittington (Nancy Stephens, Halloween and Halloween II) returns home to find her house has been burglarized. Alarmed, she asks assistance from Jimmy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a teen who lives next door, and his accompanying friend. After calling the police, Jimmy investigates Marion’s house and is unable to find anything out of place, except that her office was ransacked. After the boys leave, Marion inspects the mess in her office. She notices a file folder labeled Laurie Strode, which has been opened and the contents taken. Feeling like someone is still there, she rushes to Jimmy’s house, only to discover he and his friend have been killed. As she tries to escape the murder scene, the killer makes himself known: Michael Myers. Marion attempts to flee, though Myers catches up to her and slits her throat. As the police finally arrive, answering the original burglary report, Myers manages to slip by them into the night. The next morning, detectives note Dr. Loomis’s files on Myers in Marion’s home and alert Haddonfield that Michael Myers, whose body has been missing for 20 years, might be returning home.

On October 31st, in Summer Glenn, California, a secluded private school is planning a field trip. The buses leave that night, and students are expected to be packed and ready by time the buses leave. Keri Tate (Jamie Lee Curtis), headmistress of the school, begins the morning by arguing with her 17 year-old son, John (Josh Hartnett), about going on the trip. She feels he isn’t ready to go alone without her supervision. As the day goes on, Keri is haunted by the tragic events that took place on Halloween 20 years ago, when Michael Myers tracked her down and tried to kill her. Since then, she has become a functioning alcoholic, overbearing parent, and unable to maintain intimate relationships. Her boyfriend, Will (Adam Arkin), who works as a counselor at the school, notes her mood and her attempts to distance him. Later, before the buses leave, Keri has a change of heart and gives John her permission to go on the trip. However, unbeknownst to Keri, John, his girlfriend Molly (Michelle Williams), and friends Sarah and Charlie, plan on having a covert Halloween party in the empty school. As the buses depart, Michael Myers unnoticeably gains entrance onto the grounds, and disconnects the phone lines.

Later that night, Keri confides in Will that she is really Laurie Strode, the survivor of the 1978 Halloween murders. She had faked her death in a car accident years ago to go into hiding under an assumed name. She prays every year that her brother, Michael Myers, will be unable to find her. While Keri discloses her past to Will, John and his friends continue with their private Halloween party. Myers stalks the unsuspecting teens, and after the pairs separate, kills Charlie and Sarah. John and Molly, concerned that their two friends have not returned, set out to find them. Meanwhile, Keri notices that John’s camping equipment is still in his room and believes him to be somewhere on campus. Worried, she grabs a gun under her pillow and sets out to look for him, with Will in tow.

As John and Molly continue their search, they soon discover the dead body of Sarah, with Michael Myers revealing himself soon after. The two teens escape with Myers in pursuit, eventually ending up outside the doors of the locked dorm. Keri and Will, who could hear the kids’ screaming, get to the locked door moments before Myers catches up to them, and after kids are safely inside, Keri and Michael come face-to-face through the door’s port window. While Keri reaches for her gun, Myers disappears. Afterward, Keri and Will secure the kids in a closet and go looking for the elusive killer. Myers soon emerges, killing Will and prompting Keri to run. She gathers the kids and the three make it to her SUV, driving off toward the school’s front gate. When they arrive, Keri gets out and instructs the kids to drive to the nearest house and call the police. After the vehicle leaves, Keri destroys the gate’s controls, locking herself in with Myers. She grabs a fire axe and sets off into the school looking for Michael.

Upon entering the school’s second level, Keri shouts out at Michael, only to have him come down behind her. Knowing, she strikes him in the chest with the axe, albeit to no effect. The two engage in a game of cat-and-mouse, until Keri is able to surprise Michael, stabbing him numerous times, and pushing him off the second floor balcony to the ground below. Later, after the police arrive, Myers’s body is placed in a body bag and loaded into a coroners’ van. Keri, knowing Michael’s not really dead, grabs her axe and steals the van, driving off with Michael’s body. Under Keri’s watchful eye, Myers eventually escapes the body bag and tries to kill her. Keri slams on the brakes, sending Myers through the windshield. In a desperate attempt to kill him, she drives full speed at Myers, pinning him to the front of the van and then sending the vehicle tumbling down a hill, where it pins Myers against a tree. Keri, now wounded from being thrown from the van, finds her axe and approaches the trapped killer. Michael reaches out to her. Instinctively, she reaches out, and pulls back while remembering everything he’s done to her. Keri chops his heads off with the axe, finally killing him. Michael’s head then rolls down the hill.

Halloween: H20

The Good: Halloween: H20 is a good tribute to the original film. Many of the story elements parallel the original Halloween, taking a 20-year-old premise and updating it for the times. Curtis carries H20 with her performance, giving the damaged Laurie Strode a depth rarely seen in horror films – the viewer can easily tell she felt very passionately about the role and story. The rest of the cast also performs well here and Miner’s directing is clean and focused. Pacing is brisk, with the story being presented more as a “thriller.” Michael Myers is written very effectively, in that his actions are swift and brutal – true to his original character. A “tip-of-the-hat” to horror classic, Psycho, is a welcomed addition too. Janet Leigh appears as Curtis’s assistant, with a scene involving the car from that famous film. John Carpenter has been very vocal about the first film being influenced by Psycho, and it is good to see it received tribute as well. Kevin Williamson, creator of Dawson’s Creek and Scream, was involved in various areas of production on this particular sequel, including coming up with the treatment the film was based on. Although not directly credited, he provided rewrites in character dialogue, which is seen heavily throughout the teen moments. In true Scream style, many scenes showcase what worked on that film.

The DVD release is adequate, with the Halloween: H20 themed music video by Creed, trivia game, and documentary: Unmasking the Horror. Of all the features, Unmasking makes the biggest impact. This short documentary focuses on the making of H20, along with the making of the original Halloween. Curtis, Miner, Williamson, and the rest of the cast all give interesting interviews, along with John Carpenter, Moustapha Akkad, and famous horror writer/director Wes Craven. Overall, the documentary does a good job of covering H20’s production and highlighting the impact of the original film. The trivia game is also a fun little addition, taking information given in the documentary and covering the first film and its sequels.

The Bad: Perhaps the biggest criticism for this film is that it relies too heavily on the style of Scream. It is a valid criticism, as the style makes the film more “hip” than scary, running the risk of being a spoof of itself. The brisk pacing is also a concern, as the film wastes no time on any extra character moments – running at break-neck speed toward the climax. This film also lacks any reference to the other sequels, and though it does not contradict them, it doesn’t acknowledge them either. In the original script, Sarah does a book report on the Haddonfield murders, covering the events of Halloweens 4-6. This scene was cut by Miner in an effort to have a direct sequel to the original film. Curtis’s performance, while excellent, falters on some scenes, making some serious character moments seem humorous. Donald Pleasence, who always added a sense of credibility to the Halloween series, is sorely missed here. Dr. Loomis is mentioned to have passed away “a couple years ago,” and even though there are references to the character, it just is not the same without the late Pleasence’s presence. Atmosphere is severely lacking in this film as well, with the California setting. The viewer will be unable to distinguish whether it is summer or fall, giving little credence to the Halloween title. Michael’s mask also has issues with consistency, with reshot scenes spliced in with original shots.

Odd omissions from the DVD release include the film’s trailer and a deleted scene featuring Keri and Will making a Jack-O-Lantern, discussing his dysfunctional family. With all the other bonus materials, it is a strange choice to leave out such common features.

Final Comments: A good homage to the original film, backed up with Curtis’s excellent performance. The film’s style relies too heavily on what worked for the film Scream, though it does not distract from the story’s impact. The DVD release is adequate, with an exceptional making-of featurette.
Grade: B+ (film) | B (DVD release)

 

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