Film Review: Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later

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The movie poster for Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later. The tagline is a bit goofy, to be honest.

Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen this film.

As a ’90s kid, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later was my Halloween film. It was the film we always circled back to as kids, and thought was terrifying. This film is rather unique for the time, too, because it completely retconned the entire franchise. Even though there was Halloween III: Season of the Witch (which didn’t have Michael Myers), Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers, Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers, and Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers, none of those movies existed in the franchise continuity in this film’s storyline. Instead, we’re starting 20 years after the events of the first two films in the franchise. Laurie Strode is still Michael Myers’ sister, but now she’s going by Keri Tate and living in California to escape her brother. One flaw in her plan is to become the headmistress of the Hillcrest Academy boarding school. That seems like a pretty public facing position to take on when you’re trying to remain in the shadows, no?

And, she’s doing so knowing he’s still out there. There’s no presumption that he’s been arrested or is dead (well, a lot of others presume he’s dead). After the events of the first film, we know he survived and vanished after being shot six times by Dr. Sam Loomis. Then after the second one, he’s burned alive, but … That’s an interesting element I do wish they had played with more: What was Michael Myers doing for 20 years? It does look back to the original, though, where he waited 15 years to break out of Smith’s Grove and go after Laurie Strode the first time.

Even 22 years later, I think the opening sequence with a 17-year-old Joseph Gordon-Levitt might be the best opening to any of the sequels? It’s tense, as Michael Myers stalks Marion Chambers-Whittington (played by Nancy Stephens), and she’s trying to yell for help because police are at the next house over, but they don’t hear or notice her in time. She even fights back in that scrappy way Jamie Strode did in the original film, but to no avail. It sets the mood for the film well.

And for someone at 17 only getting less than 10 minutes of screen time, Gordon-Levitt’s character, Jimmy Howell, might also rank up there as one of the better characters in the franchise? Because we just like him. For one, he’s stepping up to help Marion after she’s spooked inside Dr. Sam Loomis’ house. But also, in these 10 minutes, he comes across as a fun, interesting character. Dude just wants to play some hockey and drink beer.

Overall, this film is stacked with other great actors including Jamie Lee Curtis (playing Laurie Strode), of course, but also, Adam Arikin (as Will Brennan), Michelle Williams (as Molly Cartwell), and I think even LL Cool J (as Ronald “Ronny” Jones) while not getting great material to work with, is still fun in this movie. I’ll also always have a soft spot in my heart for Josh Hartnett (as John Tate).

The Halloween podcast I’ve been binging lately, Halloweenies, really hated this movie, and in particular, they argued that Chris Durand (as Michael Myers) might be the worst Michael Myers in terms of his gait and stature. That is, he didn’t look like a threat and wasn’t menacing with his walk. But I couldn’t disagree more with that. He’s not Nick Castle and as I’ve said numerous times, nobody has compared to that original Michael Myers walk, but in terms of stature, I think Durand is the closest to Castle and the original look of The Shape. In the other films, Myers is too bulky or weirdly shaped for my tastes. Him being somewhat small and such is what makes him being a force of evil so scary. Because he looks like a normal man! Not a stuntman.

That said, I do agree with them that the mask isn’t as good as I remember. As a kid, I thought it was scary as hell. As a teen, I thought it was cool as hell. Now as an adult, I can see the criticism that it looks off. The main issue is that the eye holes of the mask are too big.

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You can see way too much of his eyes here.

I will say, it is weird how the homicide detective is dismissive of the break-in and murders possibly being the work of Michael Myers. “Tell them [the Haddonfield Police Department] to look for a guy with a cane and Alzheimer’s.” What?! Michael Myers was 21 in 1978. In 1998, he would be 41. He’s still fully capable of killing and butchering people, including his sister. Now, the criticism from the podcast I do agree with on that point is that Durand doesn’t come across like a guy in his early 40s; he comes across like a guy in his early 20s. He doesn’t seem remotely the same age as Jamie Lee Curtis. Durand was 35 here, so he’s not too far off of Michael Myers’ actual age, but for some reason, he comes across even younger than his own age.

Aside from not understanding how age works, why would the homicide detective be incredulous about it? Is it to play into the idea that Michael Myers, as The Boogeyman, is more myth than reality? I can get behind that, but also, he did kill numerous people and was never captured, so it’s weird to be so blasé about this.

A small detail I hadn’t noticed in prior viewings (I’ve seen this so many times) is when Laurie Strode wakes up screaming from a nightmare about Michael Myers, and her son, John, is there to comfort her, we get a good look at her left arm, which has a knife scar. The scar she would have received in the original film from Michael Myers! I love when filmmakers pay attention to the little continuity details like that.

The overall idea in this film is that Laurie is traumatized by the events that took place when she was 17 with her brother, and is terrified that he’ll come back to finish her off, but also, that now that her son John is 17, he, too, could be in danger. That’s nice symmetry there. But also, as a meditation on trauma and grief, and how that presents itself (she’s a bit of an alcoholic and a control freak, understandably, to be honest) is really well-done. And poor John just wants to go to Yo-SEMITE.

Another one of the most effective scenes in the film, and arguably any of the sequels, is when the mom and her daughter pull off to use the restroom at a rest stop, but unbeknownst to them, Michael Myers is there, and is in need of new transportation (he got a flat, which is funny to imagine). It was so tense, particularly because he’s in the bathroom with them, and there’s a little girl there. It also technically takes place in the daytime. The best part about it, too, is that you only get a small glance at Michael Myers, and he doesn’t even kill them. That subverts expectations, and is always welcome.

Something that also links back to the original is that we get some kills at the beginning, but then go nearly an hour without any other kills. That’s good slow-burn territory. Really, none of the kills, like the original, are too gory, either, and the ones at the beginning, besides the throat slit, occurred off-screen.

And when we do get another killing, also off-screen, it’s another highly effective, subversive scene, where we think Charlie (played by Adam Hann-Byrd) is going to have his hand mangled by the garbage disposal (whether on accident or because of Michael Myers) and instead, survives that only to die in a confrontation with Michael Myers. If that scene doesn’t make you tense wondering when his hand is going to get mangled, then you have ice in your veins.

When we do finally get a more gruesome on-screen killing of Sarah (played by Jodi Lynn O’Keefe), it’s another makes-you-cringe-in-a-tense way scene because she gets her ankle smashed by the dumbwaiter and is trying to slither away from Michael Myers.

One of the things that really sells the final 20-some minutes of the film is Hartnett’s and Williams’ characters’ reactions to seeing Sarah dead, and then Michael Myers. They sell the fear and urgency of the situation (to get the heck out of there) well. All of which leads to a nice homage to the first one with another intense keys bit.

And then one of my favorite shots in the entire franchise, including the original, when Laurie Strode comes face-to-face with her brother again for the first time in 20 years through the oval window of the door.

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Another obvious homage now, but that I didn’t connect before is how Laurie Strode then has John and Molly hide in the closet, just like she had Lindsey Wallace and Tommy Doyle hide in the closet in the original film. I get giddy about that stuff!

The arc in this for Laurie Strode is great, too. She’s been terrified and drinking away her fear, but then she turns after sending John and Molly away, and it’s, “I’m done with this crap. Let’s go”

It’s so bad-ass and fully-earned. You’re ready for it. She grabs an ax, the music kicks in, she’s on that dark campus, and she starts screaming, “MICHAEL! MICHAEL!” If that doesn’t give you chills, I reiterate that you have ice in the veins. It’s so cool.

We then get another one of my favorite shots when Michael Myers drops down from the ceiling one-handed behind her. Then he starts flipping tables with one hand, looking unstoppable. It’s great.

This entire 16 minutes from the ax to the end of the film is one of the best ending sequences in franchise history, too, perhaps even more effective than the first sequel. I obviously don’t agree with killing Michael Myers off by chopping his head off, but it is a great visual and a fitting conclusion to the story, if you were going to conclude it.

Overall, when you look at everything I’ve laid out here:

  • An awesome opening sequence that set the stage.
  • Slow-burn for the next 40 minutes or so, with great characterization of Laurie Strode, and decent characterization with John and Molly, mostly.
  • When Michael Myers does show up, we get tense scenes involving Charlie, Sarah, and then John and Molly.
  • We get an iconic face-to-face with Laurie Strode and Michael Myers.
  • The last 16 minutes is some of the most effective work in the entire franchise.

All of that in only 80 minutes. That’s a tight, and in my view, effective horror film. Yeah, the mask is off because of how big the eye holes are, but that’s my main criticism of the film. That’s not too bad.

The podcast folks also said it was too ’90s, and sticks out for that reason, but I didn’t get that vibe at all. They mostly cited the use of a Creed song, but the Creed song happens for like 10 seconds, and then is the closing credits song (after the Halloween theme). So I don’t think that dates it, either.

I would still hold up H20 as one of the best the franchise has to offer. I enjoy it immensely.

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