Note: this review contains SPOILERS.
Rebooting the franchise
After John Carpenter and Debra Hill’s Halloween (1978), Jamie Lee Curtis appeared in Carpenter’s The Fog (1980), Paul Lynch’s Prom Night (1980), Roger Spottiswood’s Terror Train (1980), and Halloween II (1981) for producers/writers Carpenter and Hill, but as Curtis admits in the Halloween H20 promo featurette, Laurie Strode was a role she always felt worth revisiting, and the looming 20th anniversary of the first Halloween actually motivated the actress to propose a cinematic return.
Enter Kevin Williamson, fresh off the success from his Scream diptych - a pair of films that pretty much brought the once-loathed slasher genre back into vogue. Admittedly inspired by Halloween and the genre rules codified in its sequels and imitators, Williamson seemed to be the ideal choice to reinvigorate the once-sacred Halloween franchise that had degenerated from a brand-name series about an unstoppable serial killer into a global Celtic cult where evil is furthered by having killer Michael Myers commit incest with his offspring by candlelight and chorals.
The silliness within Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995) and its theatrical and Producer’s Cut seemed to signal the end of the franchise, but Curtis’ proposal, as developed by Williamson, and ultimately written by Matt Greenberg (1408, Reign of Fire) and Robert Zappia ignored Parts 3 thru 6, and picked up with a divorced Laurie now living quietly under a new name in California with her 17 year old son.
The revised Halloween chronology went like this: Laurie faked her death by car crash to avoid a still-at-large Michael, and three years after the ambulance ride at the end of Part 2, she gave birth to son John, instead of a daughter named Jamie, who appears in Parts 4 and 5, and is butchered early into Part 6 after giving birth to a child fathered my uncle Michael.
Mining a potent backstory
Part 7’s simpler, leaner backstory enabled the filmmakers to concentrate on Laurie, a character carrying 20 years of emotional trauma and self-abuse, and how the return of her personal boogeyman threatens her son who happens to be the same age as when Laurie was stalked by big brother Michael.
The sibling link between Laurie and Michael was, according to Carpenter in the DVD’s featurette, a desperate ploy to introduce some shocking element into Part 2 because he quickly realized the Strode saga couldn’t go much further; either Michael dies, or he just keeps chasing Laurie film-to-film like a cartoon character.
Whether or not you’re accepting of the brother-sister element, Carpenter is the one who introduced the link that allowed executive producers Moustapha and Malek Akkad to keep the series alive in all its wonky permutations, but that element also gives Laurie Strode in H20 a powerful past that ensures her character cannot be dialed down to a screaming ex-babysitter; she’s a desperate and paranoid woman stuck in a lifelong quest to keep her surviving family safe.
Curtis doesn’t even need to mine the character because the smallest gestures easily convey to us Laurie’s awful position in trying to establish a new love life with guidance counsellor Will Brennan (Adam Arkin), and we know by letting down her guard even for a little love, she’s endangering his life as well as her own.
The writers as well as director Steve Miner (Friday the 13th Part II, Friday the 13th 3-D) filled the movie with all kinds of genre and Halloween references, and there’s the delightful casting of Curtis’ real-life mom Janet Leigh (the two also appeared in The Fog) as a colleague from the private school where Laurie’s hiding out. Miner also exploits the widescreen ratio much in the way Carpenter filled the frame with sly peripheral shocks, although Miner’s knack for kinetic editing kicks into gear during the chase and assault sequences.
Curtis’ squinty-eyed son Josh Hartnett also made his film debut in H20, and the supporting cast of teens includes Michelle Williams (at the time co-starring in Williamson’s TV series Dawson’s Creek), Adam Hann-Byrd (The Ice Storm), and Jodi Lyn O’Keefe (TV’s Nash Bridges).
Exactly how much Williamson was involved with the shooting script isn’t clear, but the dialogue occasionally sparkles with the self-reference and wit from Scream (1996), and the character of the security guard (played by LL Cool J) aspires to become the successful writer that ex-reporter/best-selling author Gale Weathers became in Scream 2 (1997). Clips from Scream 2 are also seen on the TV when Williams and O’Keefe bid goodbye to counsellor Arkin from their dorm room.
H20 is the best sequel between Parts 2 thru 8, but the film has its share of unintentional scars that upset the film’s dramatic flow. The finale where Michael and Laurie have one more confrontation feels abrupt; it’s obvious the filmmakers wanted her to have one more go at her personal boogeyman, and full credit to them for making the final round permanently fatal.
Music by committee
The film’s running time is brief, and if one ignores the opening teaser with nurse Marion Chambers (reprised by Nancy Stephens from Part 1) and two neighbourhood kids (including Joseph Gordon-Levitt), Carpenter’s realization is still true: beyond a face-to-face confrontation between Laurie and Michael, there’s little else to flesh out in H20 without cluttering up the film with extra deaths and filler dialogue.
The filmmakers managed to exploit the right elements within Carpenter’s original Halloween mythos, and there was an attempt to give the film a slightly upscale veneer with a mostly orchestral score by John Ottman (interviewed early into post-production in the DVD’s featurette), who enjoyed great success with his breakthrough score for The Usual Suspects (1994), and his gorgeous, gothic music for the underrated shocker Snow White: A Tale of Terror (1997).
It’s probably the latter film that made the filmmakers think Ottman’s combination of orchestral elements and wordless chorals would add extra class to the film, and H20 is the first time we get to hear Carpenter’s theme performed with an orchestra, but in the final theatrical mix, Ottman’s theme arrangements are all that remain, because the producers at Dimension felt a pastiche of cues from Scream and Scream 2 by Marco Beltrami worked better.
Beltrami was engaged to expand cues used in the film’s temp track, and pretty much all of the aggressive and dissonant music heard in the shock and suspense scenes are Beltrami’s, and they stink; not because the music is bad, but because they new cues are literally repeated and extended sections of snippets from the Scream films. They’re also completely out of place with Ottman’s more fluid and harmonically pleasing style, and by including the work of both composers, H20 is marred by a schizophrenic score.
Ottman’s score may have been too ornamental and elegant for the film (he did get some vindication when he directed, edited, scored, and mixed Urban Legends 2), but the meddlesome approach to the score’s design rests solely with the film’s studio, Dimension, because they also allowed Beltrami’s Scream 2 to be chopped up and spliced with material from Hans Zimmer’s Broken Arrow (1996) - cues leftover from Scream 2’s temp track.
Franchising by committee
The bizarre irony is that excluding Scream, Dimension began to reveal a fast-fix management style that affected a few high profile productions: Scream 2, Halloween VI, and H20 already acknowledged, there’s also the reshoots done for Guillermo Del Toro’s Mimic (1997) by Robert Rodriguez, and reshoots and re-editing for Hellraiser: Bloodline (1996), and the massive reshoots in Wes Craven and Kevin Williamson’s disastrous return to satirical horror, Cursed (2005). (Williamson’s 1999 solo directorial venture, Teaching Mrs. Tingle, was an even bigger mess, stemming purely from a truly lousy script.)
H20 still succeeds as a salute to Carpenter’s pioneering slasher film as well as giving fans closure to a beloved character (not to mention seeing her beat the crap out of, stab, and behead her S.O.B. brother from Hell), and for Carpenter purists, it makes up for the lethargic sequel he and co-producer Hill made in 1981, with Rick Rosenthal as director. Rosenthal, though, would return to the franchise 20 years later and direct the most laughable sequel in the series, Halloween Resurrection.
Films in the Halloween franchise include Halloween (1978), Halloween II (1981), Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Halloween IV: The Return of Michael Myers (1988), Halloween V (1989), Halloween VI: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995), the seventh part, Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later (1998), the eighth part, Halloween: Resurrection (2002), and Rob Zombie’s Halloween (2007).
© 2008 Mark R. Hasan