Sunday, October 28, 2012

Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later

Even though the sixth film in the franchise was another critical and fan failure the chances of getting another sequel were slim. That is until Jamie Lee Curtis got the idea to make a 20th anniversary film celebrating the original. She asked Carpenter to come back aboard to direct, but he refused. Kevin Williamson, writer of the Scream films, was hired to write the script and veteran slasher director Steve Miner of Friday the 13th Part 2 and 3 fame signed on to take the helm. The fact that Jamie Lee Curtis was involved seemed to attract a diverse cast and crew.  Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later was born.

Taking place 20 years after the original, and disavowing sequels 4-6, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) is in the witness protection program under the name Keri Tate, and teaches at a prestigious private school in California. Her rebellious son John (Josh Hartnett) attends classes there as well, and along with his girlfriend Molly (Michelle Williams), his best friend Charlie (Adam Hann-Byrd) and his girl Sarah (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe), decide to ditch the school’s annual Halloween camping trip and stay on campus for a little party of their own. Little do they know that Michael Myers has been in hiding for the past 20 years waiting for this night to finish the murderous rampage that he began in 1978. Only this time his sister is ready for him…
Although the film is radically different from Williamson’s original treatment, which acknowledged sequels 4-6 as canon, the film moves along at a brisk pace and features some clever references to the original, as well as some witty jabs at the clich├ęs it created and other horror franchises (most notably Psycho). The characters are written extremely well and are easy to like and root for when The Shape comes calling. Jamie Lee Curtis puts everything she has into her part of the broken and emotionally worn out Laurie Strode. Now a fully functioning alcoholic she prefers to run away from her problems, either literally or in the form of drink, instead of facing them. She views herself as a coward and it’s taking its toll on her son as well. It’s an interesting and refreshing take on this character and due to it the film is brought to a higher level.

The young cast is pretty decent. This being Josh Hartnett’s first major role, he shows that he has the acting chops and physicality of a young James Dean. Michelle Williams, taking a break from her role on Williamson’s TV series Dawson’s Creek, plays what is essentially the young version of Laurie in the modern age (well, 1998 modern age). She sees The Shape outside her classroom windows and knows that something is amiss while everyone else is oblivious. Everyone else pulls off their characters rather well, with only LL Cool J standing out like a sore thumb as the school’s security guard. For some reason he’s been tasked as the film’s comic relief and it doesn’t work in the slightest.
The script takes its time setting up the characters and the environment before unleashing a torrent of mayhem upon it, and the stalk sequences are pretty effective and thrilling. However, the moment Laurie realizes that she has to face her demons in the flesh, which was foreshadowed by a clever Frankenstein reference earlier in the film, and take her life into her own hands is when the flick really takes off. Seeing Laurie fight back against her psychotic brother always gives me goosebumps when she begins to beat the everlovin' shit out of him. It’s an awesome sequence that is filmed perfectly with an effective score by Marco Beltrami (the scores from the Scream movies were repurposed here with minimal use of the music from credited composer John Ottman).

The very fitting and emotionally cathartic final scene brings this series to a very appropriate ending. We’ve finally seen Laurie fight against what fate had apparently laid out for her (set up in the first film) and put a stop to the force that was slowly killing her from within, let alone at the tip of a butcher knife.

The movie is far from perfect however. The romance between Laurie and a fellow teacher, played haplessly by Adam Arkin, is forced down our throats and is thoroughly unconvincing. The use of multiple Shatner masks for The Shape (the director couldn’t decide on which one he liked the best and kept swapping them out over the course of filming) is distracting in the extreme, especially when one is very obviously completely CGI. Sometimes the mask changes within the same scene, like when Laurie and Michael face off through a window. See the pictures below:
CGI Mask:
And then there’s the aforementioned LL Cool J debacle. I also have to say that the presence of Dr. Loomis is sorely missed here. Donald Pleasence added so much to the majority of the other films, and even though I enjoy this installment immensely I will admit that his death leaves an empty hole in the center of all the movies in which he’s not featured.

Smart, witty and thrilling, Halloween H20 is by far my favorite of all the sequels. It harkens back to the source material and brings the story full circle. And best of all, there’s closure. I have to say that the series, at this point in time, went out in style.

4.5 out of 5

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