By: Garrett Collins
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, Adam Arkin, Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Janet Leigh, LL Cool J, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Halloween H2O was released twenty years after the first film changed horror forever, ten years after the end of the 80s slasher craze, and two years after Scream reignited interest in the horror genre for the foreseeable future. These are all very important things to think about when dissecting this installment, because the film takes great pains to remind us of all that made the series great to begin with. Not only do we see the return of Curtis to the role that made her famous, we also see the producing and writing capabilities of Scream scribe Kevin Williamson at the forefront. It made for an interesting marriage, and after the debacle that was the previous Halloween film –or, it can be argued, the previous four- a VERY welcome one. Mix in a little late 90s hipness, and you have an installment of the Halloween franchise that for all intents and purposes brings it right back to its feet after spending so many sequels laying on its back.
All this being said, the film starts off on a bad note with me. I find the movie’s title a little too tediously hip and off putting. So even before the opening credits roll, I am worried. We then see an odd –and long- intro scene as Nancy Stephens (the nurse who accompanied Loomis to the sanitarium in the beginning scenes of the first film) comes home to a spooked out house and sends Levitt of all people inside to have a look. Again, the film has not set a story in motion yet, and all this set-up with then young up and coming star Levitt walking around and knocking pans off shelves by blindly wielding a hockey stick did nothing to make me think I was in good hands. The director –Steve Miner, who directed Friday the 13ths 2 & 3, as well as Curtis in Forever Young- does all he can with what he was given, setting up shots of Michael in the distance in one shot and out of frame the next. But the scene is a mess from the start, and by the time Stephens finds Levitt with an ice skate in his skull, I am not asking questions about when a plot is going to eventually unfold, but instead wondering when an actual Halloween film is going to start.
Fortunately, there aren’t many more moments like this once Curtis gets onscreen. It was nice seeing her back, and when she wakes up screaming from nightmares about that first encounter she had with her brother Michael all those years ago, I am finally smiling while watching a Halloween film, something I haven’t done in many a sequel. There are obvious references to how her life has panned out, such as when she is seen teaching about how Frankenstein is about redemption. This redemption mirrors her character’s made throughout H2O, though it is hard to see in her introductory scenes, as she has become a hardcore drinker. From waking up and pouring a glass of vodka first thing in the morning to declaring a refill of a still full wine glass, we get a general idea of how the events from Halloweens past have affected her. Curtis is excellent at playing the pathos of her character, and one thing that has to be said about Halloween H2O is that after many sequels of waiting, we finally have an established character worth caring about.
It should be stated that even though Halloween is an established franchise, everything that made Williamson’s previous script Scream such a fun first time watch is also very prevalent here. For example, Curtis’s real life mom Leigh plays a school secretary named Norma -her character’s name in Psycho- who drives the car she drove in that very film. She even comes up to Curtis at one point and asks if she can give a little ‘maternal advice.’ I attribute this kind of smart referential writing to Williamson, and I enjoyed seeing him wield more of these swords the longer the movie went on.
As far as the film itself goes, there is no doubt its quality is mounds of Halloween candy better than before. It is a much sleeker film, and I would even bet that the body count is remarkably similar to the 1978 movie. But like most horror films, Halloween H2O is rife with needless character after needless character. There’s Arkin –the man you get when you can’t get Clooney- who plays a romantic foil for Laurie. But his character leaves absolutely no impression because once he is offed, Laurie could care less and moves on with her mission. There is also the inclusion of LL Cool J, whose presence in this film seems to be one long wink at the audience that says, ‘yes, black people DO survive horror films.’
The plot of Halloween H2O is a little too convenient, as we find out that attendees of Hillcrest Academy High School are headed to Yosemite for a field trip –on Halloween-, and John (Hartnett) is told by her mom that he cannot go. After a series of unforeseeable events, what we end up with story wise is John and three of his friends being stalked around the school by Michael. Some of the best parts of H2O are in this section, as there is a very brutal kill that takes place in and around a laundry elevator, and Miner stages perhaps the best stalk sequence of the entire series. As Williams fumbles with and drops the keys to the gate keeping Michael out, he picks them up and a very suspenseful few seconds revolves around whether he will find the right key before Laurie lets them in. And then of course the image of the film happens, as Laurie looks at her brother for the first time in twenty years through the glass of a circular window.
Overall, Halloween H2O is a pretty joyous ride, and a nice return to what made the series fun to begin with. Sure, there was never a time when I was scared, but Miner knows that it is a losing battle to go for scares, and decides to go for thrills instead. He and Williamson weave the tale of these two characters finally meeting for the very last time in a crisp moving 84 minutes. It was a ride I was happy to take, and the final shot of this film puts a perfect stamp on a series that finally got back on the rails after riding off them for so long. Wait, did I say this was the LAST time?