October Horrorshow: Halloween H20: 20 Years Later

What a clumsy title. H20. Does it relate to water? Not at all. That’s a zero on the end, not the letter ‘O’. H20, then, is the shortened version of what this movie should have been called — Halloween: 20 Years Later — only shoved right in the middle of the title. Beware films that can’t even get their titles right. As it turns out, though, this flick is redemption for a franchise that had been foundering for the entire 1980s and ’90s.

Halloween III is the stepchild no one talks about, while Halloweens 4 through 6 are little better than straight to video cash grabs, relying on brand strength over competence. The plot threads in 4-6 were so tangled and messy that for this film, all that nonsense was retconned. No more Jamie Lloyd, no more Undertaker impersonator, no more missing baby. The series went back to the core elements that made it such a success in the first two films — Michael Myers and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Once upon a time, horror flicks couldn’t get enough Jamie Lee Curtis. She starred in five horror flicks from 1978 through 1981. Her piercing scream became instantly recognizable to horror fans. In fact, her first line in this film is a vintage scream, as her character, Laurie Strode, awakes from a nightmare.

Laurie has been traumatized by her encounter with Michael Myers twenty years before in Haddonfield, Illinois. Since then she has changed her name and moved to California, all to flee from a maniacal killer whom she is convinced is still out there...somewhere. Her trauma has also led her to become a high-functioning alcoholic and over-protective mother to her 17-year old son, John (Josh Hartnett). Laurie may be having nightmares about the possibility of Michael Myers returning, but poor John is living a nightmare everyday. Not only is his mother a bit of a loon, she’s the headmistress at the boarding school he attends. The poor guy can’t get away with anything.

Anyway, Halloween is fast approaching, and a plot contrivance ensures that the boarding school is emptied of all but a small number of students and staff — just enough for a decent body count. Right on cue, Michael Myers finds his way out to the school after stacking a few bodies back in Illinois and begins stalking the cast.

This is pretty boilerplate stuff, but after the train wrecks of the previous films it was important for this film to get the simple stuff right. And that’s what it did. There’s nothing too showy. The gore isn’t over the top. There’s no black magic subplot or any other nonsense. There’s just an unstoppable madman pursuing a small cast in an isolated environment. It’s a pure slasher film. It’s almost as if the producers realized how badly they had mishandled the franchise and were making up for it by giving the fans what they wanted all along.

This flick isn’t great. It was still produced by the same people that screwed things up so much in the first place (Moustapha Akkad and company), and was directed by Steve Miner. Horror fans will know Miner from directing the second and third entries in the Friday the 13th franchise. His workaday approach to horror fit exactly into the vision of this film. No great talents arrived to save the Halloween franchise, but all involved recognized that the right thing to do was stick to the core elements of what made the first film work. Fans only had to wait twenty years.