Halloween H20: 20 Years Later

One Last Stab?

Sequels to John Carpenter’s Halloween resemble cover versions of a classic hit tune churned out as misguided “tributes”. Any amount of stylistic innovation or fresh viewpoints are foredoomed to be taken as sacrilege. And sticking to the formula that Joe Bob Briggs has held up as the perfect design for any sequel (“The same movie made all over again”), will be received as a dull lack of imagination infected with shallow opportunism.

Though Carpenter has resisted the urge to return to the extended killing spree of Michael Meyers, Jamie Lee Curtis saw this as an opportunity to not only star in a movie that gives her a very juicy part, but also to re-examine her early claim to fame and put it in perspective.

Like the modern Godzilla series, H20 chooses to ignore the whole flock of inferior sequels and is a direct sequel to Halloween 2. Emotionally scarred survivor Laurie Strode has successfully faked her own death in an attempt to escape her belief that Meyers also survived to pursue her. She’s right, of course. Not only did Meyers recover from burning to death, but his nifty William Shatner mask survived, too. In fact, he looks too good – The Shape appears to be played by a younger actor here, which I think diminishes his menace.

I don’t wonder much about how Meyers manages to recover from being dead all those times, but I am curious about where he’s supposed to have been the past 20 years. Perhaps he’s spent some time as a private detective, as once he decides to go after his sister again he knows just how to find her.

Curtis has somehow (perhaps with the help of old Dr. Loomis?) established a new identity and is teaching literature classes at a northern California private school, where her 17-year old son is a student. She’s a “functioning” alcoholic” and overprotective mother, trying to hide from her haunting past. Curtis is in charge here, giving one of the best performances of her career. Especially well done are her several emotionally complicated scenes with Adam Arkin, who plays her boyfriend and the school counselor.

Director Steve Miner (who helmed two Friday the 13th sequels) is clearly no Carpenter – his attempts to build suspense are marred by a pitiful over-reliance on ‘bus’ tactics (false scares) – but with a cast that can hold its own, it’s enough for him to just let them loose and keep the pictures looking pretty. Some of the running time is devoted to gently sending up slasher sequels, and horror films in general – some of which comes in the casting of Jamie’s mom Janet Leigh, still driving the classic car that Marion Crane drove to the Bates Motel. This is not surprising when you notice that Kevin Williamson is listed as an executive producer. Williamson’s script for Scream 2 (cameoing here via a video clip) was a virtual catalogue of what’s right and wrong with the genre.

Various characters are introduced as obvious cannon fodder and are dutifully slaughtered by Meyers with minimum fuss. This is merely slasher movie ritual – an unimpressive body count that had me cringing, and not for the right reasons. I was worried that the entire film was about to bury itself in the mediocrity that marked the series’ previous installments. But once that business is out of the way, the story gets to concentrate on the point of this movie, an extended climax in which Strode (and Curtis) faces the nightmare that made her what she is today, honors the nightmare, then brings it to a satisfying conclusion.

The script provides us with some footnotes in the form of comic relief security guard LL Cool J, who is constantly on the phone reading his amateur fiction to his girlfriend. After his heroine fails to fall for some smooth talk, the girlfriend’s response is: “Good! Make her smart!” Laurie Strode has always been one of horror cinema’s smartest heroines. Nice to see that everyone involve has opted to cap off this series in a smart way.

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