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Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998)
Tonight's Feature Presentation

HALLOWEEN H20: TWENTY YEARS LATER (1998)

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Hartnett, Adam Arkin, Janet Leigh, Michelle Williams, Jodi Lyn O'Keefe

Written By: Robert Zappia (also story), Matt Greenberg Directed By: Steve Miner

The Short Version

Finally… the sequel that everyone was begging for!

The previous four are wisely ignored and treated as nonexistent.

Even after all this time, Jamie Lee Curtis = Best Final Girl Ever.

She brings this flick to heights it otherwise would not be reaching.

Face it, slasher fans: you need to attend the reunion that is Halloween H20: 20 Years Later.


The Long Version

What Kind Of Cheese Is It?

BBQ BACON CHEESEBURGER.

A welcome treat, especially after a long absence; the sauce does a decent job of hiding any shortcomings.


Pairs Well With...

CHEAP CHARDONNAY.

It’s one way to deal with PTSD, anyway.

“Could I get another glass of chardonnay, please?  Today.”

“What do we do?”

“Try to live.”


Once upon a time, a man named John Carpenter decided to make a modestly budgeted horror movie about an apparently unstoppable masked killer terrorizing a small Illinois town.  That movie was called Halloween, and it was and is awesome.

A few years later, Carpenter stepped away from the Director’s chair, but the original flick’s two biggest stars came back for Halloween II, a direct sequel in every sense of the word, given that it’s supposed to take place on the same night as the first film.  While not quite “awesome,” it was still “damn good,” and far and away the best follow-up flick offered up by any of the Big Three slasher franchises.

And then… disaster.  The third film was a sequel in name only and had nothing to do with the original killer.  After audiences revolted at that idea, Michael Myers was resurrected for the next three films, the storyline for which went off on a huge tangent that was successful enough to keep going, but still left a bad taste in the mouths of many fans.

So when it was announced that twenty years after the first film came out, the story would be coming back to its original roots, ignoring everything after Halloween II, and bringing back the Best Final Girl of All Time, you’d better believe that slasher fans everywhere were overjoyed at the news.  But does the end result live up to all of the goodwill that heralded its arrival?  Well… yes and no.

Our story begins in Langdon, Illinois on October 29, 1998.  A nurse (Nancy Stephens, reprising her role from the first two films) arrives home to find that the place has been broken into.  The boy next door, Jimmy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Looper) offers to do a walk through to make sure the intruder is gone; he fails to find the culprit, but does find one ransacked office before purloining a couple of beers on the way out.  Upon examining the office herself to see if anything’s missing, the nurse finds just one thing gone: the file for a certain Laurie Strode.  Too bad she – and the boy next door – won’t have the chance to do anything with that information, because guess who’s back in Illinois after twenty years?  Whackity-whack!

Meanwhile, in Summer Glen, California, a woman known to all as Keri Tate (Jamie Lee Curtis, Blue Steel) is working as the headmistress of a posh private high school which her son, John (Josh Harnett, Sin City), also happens to attend.  It seems that she’s always a nervous wreck around Halloween for some reason; almost as if she’s waiting for something really awful to happen.  The fact that her real name is Laurie Strode couldn’t have anything to do with that, could it?

Gosh, I wonder what someone wanted that file for…

Looking at things from a simple story perspective, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later has a ton of things going for it.  Let’s start with those.

First and foremost, it brings back Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode.  Beginning with the character, the script does something I for one would never have expected: it treats her realistically.  Think of it: what if you had been put through the Hell that was Laurie Strode’s Halloween Night of 1978?  Would you have come through it all well-adjusted, extroverted, and normal?  Of course not.  And so, when we find out that Laurie had herself a disastrous marriage (within two years of That Night, I might add) and now lives as a functional alcoholic with an impressive collection of anti-anxiety medications and painkillers loading up her medicine cabinet, it all makes perfect sense.  So does the “overprotective parent” thing, for that matter.  But just as impressive as the fact that this script deals with her in a sensible way is the additional fact that it doesn’t at all diminish her capacity to eventually face down the menace of Michael Myers for a third time.  This is where Jamie Lee Curtis picks up the well-crafted ball and runs with it, coming back to the role the made her a star and returning the favor in spades.  If anything, she’s an even stronger “Final Girl” now than she was before, and considering past evidence, that’s damn impressive.  Whether a scene calls for her to be a barely contained anxious wreck or to be an axe wielding ass kicker, Curtis gives it her all here, and at the end of the day, she is the payoff that everyone’s been waiting for since 1981.

The script also does a nice job of tying things together with what came before without getting bogged down by details best left undealt with.  Bringing back Nurse Marion for the opening scene that bridges past and present is a very nice touch.  The fact that there is no explanation given for how Michael managed to survive Halloween II is also a nice touch; trying to explain that could have easily derailed everything, and besides, the return of the killer is a mulligan that slasher audiences are always willing to give.  That Laurie might have changed her name to start a new life is also a detail that makes sense.  (Though it turns out that this is a holdover from an early draft that didn’t dismiss the existence of the previous three sequels; again, it’s much better that clear heads prevailed and decided to go with “nothing between Halloween II and this really happened” as a production philosophy.)

And the ending… Oh, yes.  The ending is written well.  Back to that shortly.

Along with the core Halloween material, more nice touches were added to the story when the part of Keri/Laurie’s secretary at the school went to Janet Leigh, who, of course, also happens to be the Jamie Lee Curtis’ mother… and who also happened to take a very famous shower for Alfred Hitchcock back in the day.  Her screen time is peppered with references to Psycho in a completely unobnoxious way that comes across as truly respectful homage, with perhaps the most clever of all being that she ends up driving the very same car that she did back in 1960, right down to the license plate number.  Very nice; very smooth.

And speaking of Hitchcock…  I’m not going to be ridiculous and compare the work of director Steve Miner (yes, the same guy who wrecked Friday the 13th Part 2 and Part 3) to Hitch, but nevertheless, the stylistic inspiration for the final sequence is obvious, and from a visual perspective plays very much in the same vein that one might expect from a Hitchcock film.  It proves to be the perfect stylistic choice, and only serves to heighten the awesomeness of… something that I’m going to let you experience for yourself.  Like I said before, the ending rocks.

As for the rest of Miner’s work, it’s reasonably decent for a slasher flick, and indeed much better than what he did during two tries for the other guy in the hockey mask.  As happened during those films, many of the kills happen off screen, and even those the audience gets to see are quick.  (To be fair, though, this was 1998; the sanitization of Hollywood was coming into effect across the board, so that’s par for the course for the time.)  However, all is not lost, because there are some gruesome moments to be had, particularly involving one hell of a nasty ankle injury that’s definitely squirm-worthy.  And quick though the shot may be, what happens to poor Joseph Gordon-Levitt at least merits a “daaaaamn.”

So far, so good, right?  Yes, except…

The writing’s decent overall – even the mom vs. teenage son stuff is handled well – but the character of Laurie’s alleged love interest is a train wreck.  The relationship comes across as a blatantly forced plot device geared specifically toward making one scene happen, and that scene is an even bigger train wreck thanks to Adam Arkin (“Northern Exposure”) phoning it in; though, to be fair, he looks to be phoning in all of his scenes, so at least he’s consistent.  Meanwhile, it’s only the likability of LL Cool J (Rollerball) that makes the character of the security guard tolerable; otherwise, the term “half baked” comes to mind.

And then there’s the matter of Michael Myers.

I don’t have any complaints with how he’s written, but I do have issues with how he’s presented and how he’s portrayed.  Physically, he’s a disaster: he looks less like Michael Myers than he does like a skinny kid dressing up as Michael Myers for trick or treat.  Much of this comes from the mask – well, the main one, anyway, since the mask was actually switched partway through the production with no story element to back it up.  (What?)  The mask is too tight to the actor’s face, the eyes far too exposed under overly wide openings, and that hair is so stupidly wild that it becomes a near comical distraction.  As a result, Michael Myers becomes less of a menacing, otherworldly Shape than he does just a skinny, regular human being with a mask.  (At least for definitions of regular that allow one to survive an axe to the chest, but hey.)  The costuming problems are only augmented by the performance of Chris Durand (Uncle Sam), who provides no menacing presence whatsoever and who approaches his movements like a mid-speed automaton only interested in getting from Point A to Point B and making a stabbing motion on cue.  I hate to pull out the word “amateurish,” but it’s there.  If not for the fact that Jamie Lee Curtis and the rest of the knife bait do most of his acting for him, he’d be almost intolerable to watch in any scene that doesn’t involve him standing still or nearly so.  Fortunately, though, the others are there, so it’s possible to deal.

What is completely inexcusable, however, is the horrible voice over during the credits, wherein lines originally read by Donald Pleasance as Dr. Loomis during the earlier films are re-read by a different actor who is definitely not Donald Pleasance.  (He’s voice actor Tom Kane.)  Roughly ninety-nine percent of this film’s target audience will notice that, and considering that the movie is actually dedicated to the memory of the late Mr. Pleasance (who died in 1995), it’s doubly inexcusable.  It doesn’t matter that he’s not alive to speak the words anew; these are lines he already read.  Loop the audio; people do it all the time!  I’m certain that there’s some explanation for why this wasn’t done and that said explanation probably involves lawyers, but if they couldn’t do it right, it shouldn’t have been done at all.

Speaking of which, there was an original score commissioned for Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, but you only get to hear a small part of it.  (Primarily a version of John Carpenter’s original theme that gets heavily watered down by an unnecessary orchestra.)  When the powers that be decided that the rest of the score they asked for didn’t fit the mood they wanted, they instead elected to recycle music from Scream 2, Scream 3, and Mimic, straight off the rack.  Talk about rejection.

And yet, no matter what’s wrong with Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later, the fact is that the good outweighs the bad, especially for fans of the original films who felt like the later sequels were just a bizarre mess.  Sure, it’s got its share of faults, but at its core, this script does a very nice job of bridging the gap between the old stuff and the current stuff, and let’s face it: Final Girl Jamie Lee Curtis covers up a multitude of sins.

Bottom line, if you’re a slasher fan, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later is a family reunion you absolutely have to attend.

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- Reviewed by Ziggy Berkeley, October, 2012


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