An outsider’s take on the ‘Halloween’ saga: ‘Halloween H20: 20 Years Later’ (1998) (Movie review)

Although I’ve seen some of the “Halloween” films, I haven’t seen them recently enough to remember them. So this watch/rewatch of the saga marks my first time thinking about them as a movie reviewer. Armed with categories suggested by “Halloween” superfan Michael (Olinger, not Myers), here’s my review of the seventh entry, “Halloween H20: 20 Years Later” (1998).

OVERALL THOUGHTS

The world of horror movies opened up to me with “Scream” (1996), because I was the right age for it and because the meta angle was fresh at the time. I saw “Halloween H20” back in the day (in the theater, I think), and found it quite tame – one of the many post-“Scream” films that failed to capture that same cleverness. (“Scream 2” plays on a TV screen in the girls’ dorm room; is that the best meta moment “H20” could come up with?)

While there’s truth to “H20” being a mediocre wake-of-“Scream” film, the bigger reason for its existence is to conclude a “Laurie Strode trilogy” that started with “Halloween” I and II and then got truncated when Laurie (Jamie Lee Curtis) dies off screen. (“H20” is a direct sequel to the first two films, taking advantage of Curtis’ willingness to return.) There is meat on the bones of that arc, but everything around it is familiar. Only in “Halloween 5” has it seemed more like Michael Myers (Chris Durand) is going through the motions, and while this film’s teens are much more fleshed out than in “H5,” I didn’t care all that much about them.

BEST CHARACTER

Laurie shows resourcefulness in I and II, but her dominant feeling is fear. Two decades later, even after having successfully faked her death and changed her identity to Keri Tate, headmistress of a California private school, and raised a son (Josh Hartnett’s John), she’s still ruled by fear. But then she goes on the offensive in the final act, and makes absolutely sure Michael is dead by chopping off his head.

BEST SCARE

This is a tough one, because “H20” isn’t scary; it’s content to get fleeting tension out of things like keys being slightly out of reach as the killer stalks closer, backed by a dramatic score (gone is Alan Howarth’s subtle touch from previous sequels). But there is a nicely staged moment where the school’s gate guard, Ronny (LL Cool J), is examining Michael’s truck and The Shape walks behind him to enter the grounds.

BEST DEATH

It’s not a Michael Myers kill this time (although he has a few good ones, including the repurposing of a hockey skate). Rather, it’s when Laurie decapitates Michael at the end. That kill is a fitting final statement to Laurie’s arc and – intentionally or not — it gives closure to people who have had enough of the “Halloween” saga.

FUNNIEST MOMENT

This should be easier to answer, since “H20” tries to be funny via Ronny reading passages of his romance novel to his wife on the phone. Also, it stars Curtis, who has a naturally funny energy. So let’s see … Oh, it’s mildly amusing when teacher Will (Adam Arkin) and the girls – Molly (Michelle Williams) and Sarah (Jody Lynn O’Keefe) — exchange barbs about how they’re going to celebrate Halloween. He’s going to get his nipples pierced and they’re going to find some guys and roofie their drinks.

THAT SEEMS FAMILIAR

When Michael reaches through the gap in a fence to swipe at John and Molly, he is so in Ghostface mode. (To be fair, Michael also does the wild knife swing in “Halloween II.”)

Also familiar: The surprise survival of LL Cool J’s character (the bullet just grazed him, how about that?) is repeated in the following year’s “Deep Blue Sea.”

THAT DOESN’T AGE WELL

If large breasts are a trait of 1970s and ’80s slasher films, the taboo of nudity has been swapped for the taboo of swearing by 1998. “H20” is filled with S-words and F-words, and even though that’s how teens talked in the ’90s (with “Scream” freeing them up to be vulgar), it’s to the point of making all the characters sound the same.

MOST SURPRISING ELEMENT

Frankly, I’m surprised by how thin “H20” is as an overall movie, since it’s supposed to be an exciting fresh take that gets to the heart of “Laurie vs. Michael.” It’s old hat within its own franchise – Michael stalking and killing people, because that’s what he does – but also redolent of its contemporaries. For example, it features an energetic score that blends the “Halloween” vibe with a full orchestra, yet it doesn’t improve on the understated old stuff. It’s merely more mainstream. I’m surprised to say that “Halloween” feels like product for the first time.

HOW OVER-THE-TOP IS DONALD PLEASENCE?

Loomis is not in this film (although there is a voiceover), but “H20” is dedicated to the late Pleasence, as was “Halloween 6.” The actor was a legend, sure, but dedicating two mediocre sequels to him seems over-the-top – and simultaneously kind of an insult.

THE MASK

The mask’s expression seems more flat than before, and the hair is messy enough to compete with late-’90s heartthrob Hartnett’s famously unruly locks.

NEW REVELATIONS ABOUT MICHAEL

We can surmise that Michael really did die in the fire since it was a famous case and everyone talks about him being dead, and he hasn’t reappeared in the two decades since. So apparently his body was around long enough that he was pronounced dead, his corpse was buried in a pauper’s cemetery that was not carefully minded, and the case was closed. Then he somehow comes back to life shortly before the events of this film. The explanation of Myers’ resurrection should’ve perhaps been the pre-credits prologue to “H20,” especially since the film needs to establish that it’s an alternate reality from “H4” through “H6.”

Thematically speaking, Michael is back because it’s John’s 17th birthday, and Laurie is thinking about how she was 17 on that fateful night in 1978. Laurie metaphorically resurrects Michael with her fresh burst of fear for her son, as well as her need for closure. The “H20” filmmakers almost aggressively tell us nothing about Michael, keeping the focus on what The Shape means to Laurie.

Still, there is one moment of characterization: When Michael is pinned between a van and a tree, he reaches for his sister’s hand. The “Jamie trilogy” had made Michael marginally more sympathetic by revealing that he is a psychological Frankenstein’s monster rather than someone entirely in control of his own actions. On this timeline, Michael is back to being a straightforward “Shape,” but that one moment suggests a shred of humanity.

FORGOTTEN THREADS

“H20” purposely forgets about the Jamie trilogy, which built up the mythology around Michael and established that Laurie had a child, Jamie, and then died off-screen. In the back of my mind, I always felt Laurie’s off-screen death was suspicious, and “H20” indeed reveals that Laurie faked her death in a car accident and started a new life (on this timeline, anyway). Exactly how she pulled that off is completely unexplained, though.

WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?

In the “Halloween” films, Michael often “dies” at the end, but we fully expect him to come back. Here, though, Laurie chops off Michael’s head, making the question of “How in the world is he gonna survive that?” wholly relevant. I’m guessing the eighth film will resurrect Michael via supernatural means, and hopefully it will also provide answers about how he came back for this entry.

More “Halloween” reviews:

“Halloween” (1978)

“Halloween II” (1981)

“Halloween III: Season of the Witch”

“Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers”

“Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers”

“Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers”

“Halloween: Resurrection”

“Halloween” (2007)

“Halloween II” (2009)

“Halloween” (2018)

All 11 “Halloween” movies, ranked


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