Halloween Month: Halloween: 20 Years Later, H20 (1998)
It wouldn’t be Halloween month without a revisiting a film from this well-loved franchise. This time round we’re swapping Haddonfield for sunny California; where Laurie Strode returns under a new identity for a showdown with her murderous long-lost brother, 20 years after the night HE came home. Halloween: 20 Years Later or most commonly referred to as H20 (easily confused with the chemical name for water!) unsurprisingly returned to the slasher screen following the resurgence in popularity for the sub-genre thanks to Scream. Miramax’s genre based film company Dimension garnered success with Scream and also owned the rights to the Halloween franchise so it made perfect sense to attempt to generate another horror hit. Considering fans were disappointed with the outcome of the sixth film in the franchise, The Curse of Michael Myers following negative feedback at test screenings that resulted in cuts, another film in the series was therefore a must.
Twenty years following the Haddonfield Halloween Massacre, Michael Myers breaks into the home of Dr. Sam Loomis and steals confidential papers that contain information about his long-lost sister’s whereabouts while slashing his way through some brand new victims including Joseph Gordon-Levitt in an early role. Now, we’re in the post-Scream era, there needed to be a big important opening death scene to convey that anything can happen. Nurse Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens) Loomis’s nurse in the first film was therefore one of the first to be butchered by Michael. Under the new identity of Keri Tate, Laurie is now a headmistress at Hillcrest Academy, still living in fear of the traumatic events she suffered at the hands of Myers while raising a teenage son and turning to alcoholism to cope. Soon enough Laurie is confronted by her past as Michael continues to kill until he gets to her.
In the late 90’s every slasher poster was constructed by featuring images of the cast posing with their ‘afraid faces’ at the forefront, spawned after the success of Fisherman stalk n’ slash flick I Know What You Did Last Summer. Typically a famous rapper of the time (in this case LL Cool J) would also star and be a main attraction on the cover to y’know be hip! In all fairness LL Cool J gives an entertaining performance in the movie, much better than Busta Rhymes in Halloween: Resurrection but we’ll talk about that insulting film later!
While it wasn’t the worst idea in the world to resurrect this franchise and provide the grizzly showdown fans had been waiting for, H20 goes by in a blur with a short run time of 86 minutes, making it the shortest of all the Halloween movies to unsatisfying effect. There’s heaps of potential there to explore while placing the story in a 90’s context. Laurie Strode’s arc is strong, Jamie Lee Curtis packs a punch in her performance and updates Laurie from frightened teenager to a headstrong but damaged woman. Ultimately, H20 is Laurie’s story however the inclusion of younger teen characters didn’t bring as much depth as it could have which has its short run time to blame; causing the film to feel rushed and underdeveloped. Fresh off the new teen show at the time, Dawson’s Creek, Michelle Williams starred as Molly Cartwell. Williams is the one actress in the film that didn’t receive enough screen-time which was a shame considering how talented she is, there was potential for a new scream-Queen in the making rather than just the ‘girlfriend’ archetype. To its credit, while slightly bloodier than the 1978 original, H20 didn’t go down the gratuity route with the camera lingering on gruesome death scenes like studios had insisted on with previous sequels in order to keep up with horror trends. It managed to keep the spirit of Halloween while generating its own edge to determine that a Halloween movie could translate into post-modern 90’s horror.
In general the Halloween franchise is a problematic mess in terms of its story arc. H20 decisively ignored the presence of IV, V and The Curse of Michael Myers. Part IV indicated that Laurie Strode had died in a tragic accident leaving a daughter she had around 1980 in the care of foster parents. Her apparent husband only referred to as Mr. Lloyd was also killed. Clearly the idea was to awaken the terror all over again, ten years after the Haddonfield massacre with Laurie 2.0. Same story, different characters with links back to the original. Young Jamie Lloyd (the first horror role for Danielle Harris) was subsequently targeted by her psychotic uncle throughout the span of three films. Jamie (later played by J.C. Brandy) eventually met her demise in the sixth part, The Curse of Michael Myers, prior to that she had a child.
In H20, its revealed that Laurie faked her own death to escape her evil brother all those years ago. There’s no mention of the daughter she would have practically abandoned or the notion of a grandchild, however as mentioned Laurie does have a teenage son John Tate (Josh Hartnett). John is seventeen in the film to make it all the more fitting that he’s the same age his mother was when she was originally targeted by Myers. The time span between Laurie faking her own death and then having another child doesn’t really add up, considering John would have been born in 1981. It has been said in Kevin Williamson’s (Writer of Scream & Scream 2) original idea, there was to be a scene where the Jamie Lloyd arc was acknowledged. A bitchy student at Hillcrest Academy reads out a class report on Michael Myers reign of terror discussing what happened to Jamie. The revelations become too much for Laurie, who is seen to flee the classroom to throw up. Many fans tend to place the 1978 movie, 1981 sequel and H20 as in canon with parts 4-6 set in a separate universe while avoiding the horrible Halloween: Resurrection completely.
The idea for Halloween: 20 Years Later initially came about when Jamie Lee Curtis expressed interest in developing a movie to mark the anniversary of one of slasher film’s greatest. Excitingly John Carpenter was named as a possible director and Curtis eagerly wanted to collaborate with him again. Carpenter did agree to direct but with a starting fee of $10 million which he deemed as fair after some financial problems with the revenue following the original Halloween. His salary for H20 would have been his compensation however when he was refused the money he made the decision to step away from directing a further sequel. The directorial reigns ended up in the hands of Steve Miner, director of Friday the 13th Part II and III. Its possible that if Carpenter had been director then fans may have experienced an even better film than the final product despite Miner’s horror background.
As previously mentioned the initial treatment for H20 was written by Kevin Williamson. Known for his edgy and witty dialogue and ability to challenge horror conventions incredibly well. If Williamson had written the finished screenplay and teamed up with Carpenter as director, much like his pairing with Wes Craven two years previous then H20 could have been even bigger than Scream. There were attempts in H20 at being meta. When the characters of Sarah (Jodi Lynn O’Keefe) and Molly (Michelle Williams) are preparing for their Halloween party, the scene where Cici Cooper (Sarah Michelle Gellar) is terrorized by Ghostface in Scream 2 plays on the television. The purpose of this was to break the fourth wall. In Scream, Jamie Kennedy’s character Randy Meeks dissected and analysed the first Halloween film as part of constructing the rules of the horror genre. Incorporating the Cici death scene in H20 came as a homage. Originally, it was said that Sarah and Molly were to be watching So I Married an Axe Murderer (1993) with an in-joke that they were watching a film starring Mike Myers which in terms of irony works a lot better. The Scream 2 clip was added in post-production as a nod to Williamson’s involvement.
Another reference to Scream is where Laurie tells her son and his girlfriend to “go down the street to the Becker’s house” which is of course referring to Drew Barrymoore’s short-lived character Casey Becker who spectacularly opens the first Scream movie. However in Halloween, there is a similar line which is “go down the street to the McKenzie’s house”, it was also uttered in the Barrymoore death scene. The most meta aspect of all was the casting of Jamie Lee Curtis’s real life mother Janet Leigh as her secretary Norma. Leigh was of course famous for her portrayal of Marion Crane in Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece, Psycho (1960) and is even accompanied with the original car from the legendary film. Having these two appear together in the film is a real joy for fans especially with the tongue-in-cheek dialogue between them. Curtis and Leigh had starred alongside each other in John Carpenter’s The Fog (1980) however their characters did interact as much, sharing only one scene to my recollection. P.J. Soles was asked to play the role of Norma Watson initially but was sceptical toward the idea of playing a different character to Lynda, her character from the 1978 film who was killed off.
John Ottoman composed the score for this instalment but was however displeased after part of the Scream score by Marco Beltrami was placed in during post-production as producers opted for a darker, 90s slasher edge. The inclusion of Mr Sandman performed by The Chordettes to open the film on the Dimension logo added in a nice touch and brought in a reference to the old school Halloween. Another controversial aspect of production that was discussed in documentary Halloween: 25 Years of Terror (2006) was a dispute regarding the masks used for Michael Myers. Several re-shoots were done with a CGI mask inserted over footage of Chris Durand (The Myers Actor) and in total 4 masks were created.
H20 opened in the August of 1998 to a mix of reviews. Many were disappointed with its ignorance of previous instalments while other criticized its slow pace. It is a difficult film to watch considering the knowledge of what came after it especially with how final this film feels. Laurie’s battle with Myers is one of epic proportions, providing the satisfying closure the series deserved as she unapologetically slays him with an axe. It is considered one of the more favourable sequels and is second highest grossing instalment within the franchise, next to Rob Zombie’s 2007 remake. As a stand alone it has its moments. The cinematography is stunning, romanticizing the Halloween season, capturing the holiday incredibly well. Even though underdeveloped the young cast do well with the given material. Josh Hartnett is believable as Cutis’s teenage son and Curtis herself delivers a phenomenal and unforgettable performance.
H20 is one to watch this Halloween because despite its flaws it wouldn’t be Halloween without it and it has Laurie Strode kick some psychopath ass!
Hayley Alice Roberts.