Monday, October 8, 2018

40 Years of Halloween - Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later

Cody and Priscilla have differing levels of enthusiasm for the seventh Halloween film.

Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers was, with an assist from Halloween 5, so successful at turning the Halloween franchise into an overly complicated mess that the details of that film were going to be ignored in a follow-up no matter what it was. At first, the next Halloween sequel was intended to go direct-to-video, and screenwriter Robert Zappia was working on an idea that involved slasher Michael Myers stalking a newly introduced family member (since Halloween II convinced people a family member had to be involved for Myers to want to kill people) at an all-girls boarding school while the detective tracking Myers consulted an incarcerated killer to get some insight into the mind of a madman. The detective side of things being an unnecessary rip-off of The Silence of the Lambs; as if any other killer could tell how Michael Myers operates. But before Zappia's idea could go into production, the seventh Halloween became something much more special than that.

Around 1996, original Halloween (and Halloween II) star Jamie Lee Curtis started publicly talking about the fact that she wanted to return to the Halloween franchise in a new 20th anniversary sequel from the first film's director and producer, John Carpenter and Debra Hill. Of course, the people in control of the Halloween franchise immediately went to work trying to make Curtis's idea happen... And while the project didn't quite turn out the way she intended, since Carpenter and Hill both opted out along the way, she did end up starring in a compromised version of her 20th anniversary sequel idea.

The first time I saw Curtis mention this possibility was in the pages of a free promo magazine being given out at a movie theatre, around the time when she was promoting the release of the '96 family comedy House Arrest.

It's really cool when actors are able to not only admit to their horror past, but most importantly be proud of it. A lot of actors who go on to become big industry names are so ashamed of their humble beginnings that talking about it is off-limits. It's truly awesome of Curtis to be so into it; makes me like her more and more.

While I liked the idea of the team behind the original Halloween getting back together again in '96, I wondered how it could be possible, since Halloween 4 had told us that Laurie Strode had been killed in a car accident.

Curtis got her Forever Young director Steve Miner (who also happened to be the director of Friday the 13th Part 2 and 3) to take the helm of the sequel - which was originally announced under the title Halloween 7: The Revenge of Laurie Strode, but ended up being called Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. Zappia worked Halloween heroine Laurie Strode into his "Myers stalks a relative at a boarding school" (no longer an all-girls school) story, then his script was worked on by a screenwriter named Matt Greenberg and received major uncredited rewrites from the writer who was one of the biggest names in horror at that time, Kevin Williamson. Williamson had made his love for Halloween and Jamie Lee Curtis very clear in his breakthrough film Scream, and Miner had directed the pilot episode of his series Dawson's Creek, so everyone in this team seemed to be quite pleased with each other.

And I was quite pleased with the team. Being a fan of Steve Miner for years, and more recently Kevin Williamson, I remember being very excited when I heard the news back then. I'm also very glad that they didn't go with the all-girls school story. The story we've got is much more appealing to my taste.

Zappia's direct-to-video Halloween 7 would have disregarded the cult stuff that was in Curse, but H20 went even further with ignoring things. A stipulation for both Curtis and Miner was that this sequel would ignore all of the Halloweens that didn't star Curtis as Laurie Strode. So Halloweens 4, 5, and 6 (and of course 3) were wiped out of existence as far as this one was concerned.

Bye bye Jamie Lloyd.

And this was, in large part, why I hated Halloween H20 when it was first released. This sort of thing wasn't done back then; this was before we were hit with a deluge of remakes and reboots. Continuity was important to fans of the big '70s/'80s horror franchises, some of us would actually put time and effort into figuring out the timelines and trying to explain away inconsistencies. Halloween was the first of them to outright say "Never mind, none of that stuff even happened."

Continuity hadn't really been something solid about the Halloween movies since part 3. A Halloween movie without Michael Myers? That bothered me way more than ignoring those sequels. The only way for me to hate H20 would be if it was a lousy movie, and it isn't.

Michael Myers tends to get his work started the night before Halloween, but this time he needed an extra day head start. The film opens on October 29, 1998, when Langdon, Illinois resident Marion Whittington (Nancy Stephens), a nurse who was known as Marion Chambers back when she was in Halloween and Halloween II, comes home from work to find that her house has been broken into. Sometime in the twenty years since the events of the first two films, Marion became the caregiver for Michael Myers' psychiatrist / nemesis Dr. Sam Loomis and moved him into a room in her house. Loomis passed away a few years ago, but whoever broke in ransacked him room and went through his files...

We know immediately that Myers was the one who did this. It becomes even more obvious when we see him stalking around the property and killing people. Marion, the hockey fan neighbor kid (played by Joseph Gordon Levitt), and the neighbor's pal (Branden Williams) are all killed by Myers during the opening scene.

I like the back story with Marion, and the opening scene had an impact on me when I watched the movie for the first time. If I was ever, even a bit in doubt about whether or not I'd enjoy this new Halloween movie, that sequence of events wiped the doubt out. Michael Myers is back!

Levitt's character Jimmy is first seen wearing a hockey mask, which had to be a nod to Miner's F13 history. Then Myers kills him by sticking a hockey skate into his face (off screen), which seems more like a Jason Voorhees move than a Myers kill.

Another reason why I love the opening scene.

A couple detectives investigating the crime scene the next day deliver the expository dialogue required to let us know that Michael Myers has been missing since the fiery conclusion of Halloween II. Loomis spent the last decade-plus of his life obsessing over Myers, wondering where he had disappeared to. Newspaper clippings on Loomis's wall cover Myers' crimes - and also the fact that Laurie Strode was killed in a car accident (the one hold-over from Halloween 4). But Laurie wasn't really killed. She faked her death and went into hiding under the name Keri Tate... and Myers has apparently gleaned this information from Loomis's files, as he hits the road to go find his long-lost sister Laurie in her new place of residence: Summer Glen, California.

The way they show Loomis's obsession with Myers is very fitting, considering what we know about the doctor - counting in all the sequels or not. Though would he have kept information about Laurie so easy to access? Or maybe he didn't, and it was more Marion's doing, organizing papers after Loomis passed away.

At one point, Charles S. Dutton had been cast to play one of those detectives, as the character was supposed to be around for the rest of the movie. He was basically the new Loomis replacement, following Myers to California. But Miner wanted the film to be as quick and simple as possible, so that character was cut out. The detectives only have one quick scene before the main title sequence, which features a voiceover by a Donald Pleasence sound-alike repeating lines from the first Halloween.

I'm with Miner. Simple is usually better. And a replacement for Loomis? No, thanks.

When the 1971 Buick Skylark Myers stole from Marion's neighbor gets a flat tire somewhere in northern California, he pulls over at a rest stop, then apparently decides to hang out in the men's restroom while waiting for someone else to show up. The first people to arrive are a mother and her young daughter, who are forced to go into the men's room when they find the door to the ladies room locked. Rather than kill these two, Myers just steals the car keys from the woman's purse while she's in a stall. He drives off in his new ride, a 1956 International Harvester Travelall.

I'm not a mom, but even as an 18-year-old that scene gave me the creeps. Not just because of Michael Myers, but mostly because of how careless that woman is with her little daughter. You go inside the stall with your little girl, for crying out loud. It's the men's room, in the middle of nowhere.

I like that they had Myers take the keys without harming either of them. It fits his character as established in the first two movies. He doesn't kill everyone who crosses his path, he's picky about his victims.

And I have to wonder, why was she driving that old truck anyway? Seems like such an odd vehicle for a mom to be driving.

That Travelall is the perfect creepy vehicle for Michael Myers to be driving around in, but a very strange choice for the character he got it from.

When we catch up with Laurie Strode / Keri Tate, we find that she's a bit of a mess. She has a good job as headmistress of the boarding school Hillcrest Academy, and even has a little home on the grounds of the gated campus, but she's also plagued by nightmares and hallucinations of Michael Myers. In addition to being on all sorts of pharmaceuticals, she self-medicates with an excessive amount of alcohol.

No boos; just booze.

Laurie is also the overly protective mother of a son who has just turned 17, which is one of the major things that sets H20 apart from the timeline of Halloweens 4 - 6. If John turned 17 in 1998, he was either exactly the same age as Laurie's 4 - 6 daughter Jamie Lloyd (it's said in 1988's Halloween 4 that she is 7) or a year younger than her (1989's Halloween 5 goofed and said she was 9 one year after she was 7), so it would make no sense for Laurie to go into hiding with her son and leave her daughter behind in Michael Myers' favorite stomping ground, Haddonfield, Illinois. There was never any reference to Jamie losing a brother, only a line that said Laurie's husband was also killed in the accident with her, so there's no logical way to combine these two timelines. (Although some fans did try.) We don't find out the identity of John's father, we're just told that he is "an abusive, chain-smoking methadone addict" who dumped Laurie.

As we know... age, years, time; none of that matters in the Halloweeniverse.

Played by Josh Hartnett, John is ready to rebel against Laurie's over-protective ways, and the way he intends to do that is by going on a school trip to Yosemite National Park. But the buses leave Halloween evening and Laurie just isn't having it. So John starts making plans to score some booze and hang out with his girlfriend Molly (Williamson and Miner's Dawson's Creek star Michelle Williams), his horndog buddy Charlie (Adam Hann-Byrd), and Charlie's girlfriend Sarah (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe). By the time Laurie finds her chill and agrees to let John go to Yosemite, he's already all-in on the party with his friends idea, so he stays behind on campus.

I like their little group, I buy them as buddies. Michelle Williams seems a bit subdued at first, but her performance grows with the movie.

When Adam Hann-Byrd was first cast as Charlie, the character was going to be a Michael Myers copycat killer. Thankfully, no copycat shenanigans made it into the movie. Having a teenage Myers wannabe running around in this would have been a very bad idea, and I don't see how it would have fit in at all.

I agree. Glad it never happened.

Laurie figures it's time to relax after she has a couple tense exchanges with John about her phobias stifling him, and after a classroom scene that's very reminiscent of the scene in the first movie where Laurie was discussing fate in a classroom. Molly even looks out the window at one point and sees Myers lurking at the edge of school property, like Laurie saw him standing across the street from her classroom in 1978. Here the subject is Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein, and Molly has a read on Frankenstein that Laurie finds very striking: Molly says Dr. Frankenstein should have faced the monster he created sooner, before the monster destroyed the people around him. Frankenstein only faced the monster once he had nothing to lose. "It was about redemption. It was his fate."

Laurie will be facing her own monster when Michael Myers arrives to stalk and slash.

Also on campus when he shows up are the security guard, Ronny (LL Cool J), who dreams of being a novelist and spends his work time reading his writing to his wife over the phone, and Laurie's boyfriend Will Brennan (Adam Arkin), who is a counselor at the school and is finally able to get to the root of Laurie's issues on this Halloween evening.

It makes sense that Ronny has to write on the job, since he seems to be sitting in his little guard shack 24 hours a day. We see him there at lunch, we see him there at night. The guy never leaves, there is no other guard.

LL never disappointed me back then. It was always entertaining to see him as the funny black guy in a horror movie. Some people complain about him/his character, but I think he's lots of fun.

Will isn't a great character, but I enjoy the way Arkin plays him. The way he jokingly says "That's sucky" when Laurie first starts telling him her dark back story, before he realizes she's being serious, is one of my favorite things in the movie.

Laurie's secretary is played by Curtis's mom Janet Leigh, who was in 1960's Psycho and brings a whole bunch of Psycho references with her to this movie. Her character's name is Norma, she's concerned about an issue in the school showers, she drives the same sort of car Leigh drove in Psycho. These are fitting references, since Carpenter put plenty of Psycho references into the original Halloween. Leigh also repeats a line from the original Halloween about everyone being entitled to one good scare on this holiday. Lucky for Norma, she has left the school before Myers gets there.

Absolutely love this scene! It has been one of my favorites since the first time I watched H20. All kinds of cool!

Myers sneaks past Ronny to get inside the campus gate at 45 minutes into the movie, leaving the remaining 36 minutes to focus on the way he crashes the four-teen Halloween party (by killing people), and then the Laurie vs. Michael rematch 20 years in the making.

As the killing begins, Laurie is tipped off to the fact that something is wrong when she comes to a realization: John just turned 17. She was 17 when Michael Myers attacked her in 1978. Their older sister Judith was 17 when the 6-year-old Michael killed her in 1963. Apparently Myers likes to kill his relatives when they're 17, so he must be after John now... The problem with this logic is, if you watch the original Halloween you'll see that the date on Judith's tombstone indicates she was 15, about to turn 16, when she was killed.

Like I said... it doesn't really matter. It's a Halloween movie. They'll make it work when they want it to, and then they'll go "oh no, that never happened actually".

I find the stalk and slash portion of the film to be lackluster, it goes by a bit too quick for my taste. There is some great stuff in there; scenes involving a garbage disposal, a dumbwaiter, an "enhanced" version of one of my favorite kills from Halloween II... but it's over as soon as it begins. This portion of the film could have been elongated; I think H20 could have benefited from being longer than its 86 minutes (including end credits).

I think the pace works.

Much of my disappointment comes from the performance of Chris Durand as Michael Myers. He didn't bring anything interesting, creepy, or cool to the character - and even worse, they stuck him in a series of terrible masks. Miner wanted a white, expressionless mask and neglected to consider the original mask's William Shatner roots, so he was filming Myers with this awful, cheap-looking imitation. The studio ordered reshoots to put a better mask on Myers, but the final one still looks dopey as hell. While they were waiting for the replacement mask to be delivered, they used a mask left over from Halloween 6 to shoot the opening sequence with Myers going after Marion, and there's even a scene late in the film where they tried to use CGI to fix their first mask... It's all terrible.

The mask debacle, yes. I wish they would've handled that better. No complaints about Durand as Myers from me, though.

Once some characters are dead and John and Molly are safely on their way to the nearest neighbor, Laurie turns the tables on Myers. She makes sure the campus gate will remain closed, grabs an axe, and goes hunting for her brother. It's not an easy task. Laurie loses her axe very quickly, suffers the same arm wound she received in '78, and has to hide from Myers in a room full of tables as he flips them over two-by-two (a scene originally written for the school sequence in Halloween 4, where it would have been little Jamie Lloyd hiding under tables)... but she eventually manages to stab him several times and knock him off a balcony. Myers is down for the count, but Laurie is interrupted before she can deliver one last blow.

I was so irritated when I was watching all of this in 1998. For one thing, I had been annoyed with Laurie's attitude and behavior all through the movie. This shrill, alcoholic Laurie was not the character I had come to see. Then in the end we're hanging out with Michael Myers as he walks through the school, watching for Laurie to come lunging out of the shadows instead of the other way around. It didn't sit well with me. With twenty years of distance, I can appreciate it more - but like so much else in this movie, this "revenge" portion of the film is underwhelming to me.

I guess I was already old enough to appreciate the fact that the character was damaged from her terrible past, back in '98 when the movie came out. It wouldn't have felt right if she was just a happy-go-lucky person with all the tragedy surrounding her. And the fact that she has a son to protect now definitely puts her worries and issues on overdrive, which it should.

Even though Laurie didn't get to finish him off, Myers is put in a body bag and loaded into a coroner's van. But Laurie knows how this slasher movie stuff works, she knows Myers isn't really dead, so she grabs her axe again and carjacks the coroner, speeding off into the night with Myers' bagged body in the back of the van.

Myers does rise from the body bag. Laurie inflicts more damage on him, ultimately chopping off his head. His severed head rolls across the ground, then the end credits start to roll. But Myers sure was acting strange before Laurie cut off his head, wasn't he?

I didn't think so, not back then anyway.

This was another stipulation shared by Curtis and Miner: they would only make this movie if they were allowed to kill Michael Myers at the end of it. That's when franchise producer Moustapha Akkad stepped up and refused to let them kill off this character, who he would be bringing back for more sequels. So they made a compromise - Laurie would think she had killed Myers, but they would put in clues that the man in the mask during the final moments wasn't really Myers. He had switched clothes with someone at the crime scene and escaped. It's obvious to see now that it isn't Myers at the end of the movie. The confused way he's moving, touching his mask, reaching out toward Laurie in a helpless manner... But when I first saw the movie, I thought this was just more of the bad portrayal of Myers. It was like Laurie had kicked his ass so badly, he was snapping out of his evil state of mind and asking her for help. It's a relief that wasn't the case.

I feel like if the movie had ended before the van scene, with either Laurie finishing Myers off somehow, or with him disappearing, it wouldn't have been quite as satisfying. The end is brilliant, because watching it back then, it really made me think that this was it, that there was no way to come back from that. And then to find out later that it wasn't exactly what we thought... at last a Halloween "no, not really" moment I could get behind.

H20 was a success and became widely regarded as one of the best sequels in the series. It wasn't quite what Curtis wanted it to be, but she accomplished a portion of what she intended to with it. She returned to the character of Laurie Strode and brought an end to the Michael Myers saga... Or so Laurie thought.

It is without a doubt one of my favorite sequels. Along with part 2 I can honestly say they're the ones I find myself wanting to watch more often whenever I'm in the mood for some Boogeyman action. I'm not a fan of part 3, and that doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the lack of Myers. 4, 5, and 6 are okay, but 1, 2, and H20 are just better. What came after shouldn't even be mentioned, period.

The problem with the Halloween franchise is, every time it makes a comeback it whiffs on the follow-up. Halloween 4 was Myers' triumphant return, Halloween 5 was the start of his downfall. H20 rebooted the timeline to wipe out mistakes and reconnect to the good old days, but it was followed by the worst sequel of the bunch. And Jamie Lee Curtis was contractually obligated to appear in it.

Like I said, let's not talk about it. What a waste, it could've been so much better. Oh well, at least we have some very good, fun and entertaining sequels to pick from.

H20 has everything I love in a horror movie. The pace is great, the story makes sense (if you ignore most of the sequels), acting, writing and directing are all basically on the same level, and it's not a disappointing one at all. We have a badass- but still human, with problems and issues like the rest of us - Laurie. There are great kills and a lot of suspense. The score is one of my favorite aspects, like it's been with most Halloween movies.I also care about the characters enough to hope that most of them will make it out alive.


The one thing I dislike about H20 is the Myers mask, as mentioned. CGI or not, it's mostly off. When it is CGI it becomes very distracting. It's a shame, if they could've come up with a better one, I would find myself at loss for "buts". But since nothing is perfect, this is no exception.

Whenever people tell me they don't like this movie - which isn't too often, thankfully - I urge them to give it a re-watch. That's what I did with Cody. He was always saying how much he disliked H20, and I showed him, that there are so many great things about it. And every single time I watch it, I only find myself enjoying it more and more. Plus, it feels like a Halloween movie, even though there's no Haddonfield. To me, it's a must watch for fall/Halloween. Even when I'm too busy, I try to fit in a watch every year around that time; never fails to hit the spot.

Jamie Lee Curtis called this film "a love letter to the fans", but twenty years ago I didn't take it as a love letter. I was disappointed, I was disturbed by choices that were made, I was upset that they wiped Jamie Lloyd out of existence. I have a more positive outlook on H20 now. I still don't think it's great, but I can appreciate what Curtis and her collaborators were trying to do with it. The stalk and slash sequences could have been expanded, and the film could have dug deeper into the drama, done a more effective job of dealing with Laurie's trauma. But as it is, it's a fine movie. It could have been a lot better, but it's not as bad as I thought it was at the time.

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