"Halloween: 20 Years Later" (1998) Review

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Halloween: 20 Years Later (aka "H20") - Directed by Steve Miner

The Halloween franchise was in dire need of resuscitation by the late 1990s. Despite continued, near-universal praise for John Carpenter's original 1978 film and its well-received 1981 follow up, the series had been on shaky ground ever since then, watered down by far too many nonsensical, shoddily executed sequels. A third, in-name-only installment (1982's not-nearly-as-bad-as-you've-heard Halloween III: Season of the Witch) unsuccessfully tried to change gears and turn the Halloween saga into an annual anthology series of stand-alone horror films, without serial killer Michael Myers. When that idea tanked, producers brought Myers back to the screen in 1988's strictly average Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers. The next several "Halloween" installments (1989's awful Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers and 1995's execrable Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers) attempted to create a "back story" for the mysterious serial killer, eventually re-imagining him as the Earthly representative of an ancient evil and the idol of an underground Druid death cult...or some such nonsense. Box office dollars dwindled with each new installment, and the series' continuity quickly became a jumbled mess. There was only one thing to do... go back to basics.

By 1996, the smash hit Scream re-ignited interest in classic slasher films by shining a light-hearted spotlight on the genre's many conventions and cliche's, as well as grounding the story in more "realistic" situations. Miramax/Dimension Films, which owned both the Scream and Halloween properties, approached Scream scribe Kevin Williamson to help them "reboot" the aging Halloween saga in time to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original film. Williamson and two other screenwriters devised a new continuity for the seventh film which wisely chose to erase the "Cult of the Thorn" nonsense of the previous three installments, and instead picked up exactly where 1981's Halloween II left off. Fans rejoiced at the news that Jamie Lee Curtis was returning to the franchise to reprise her role as Laurie Strode, and the stage was set for Halloween: 20 Years Later -- the first true "Halloween" sequel in more than fifteen years.

Trailer

Is it just me, or is the Japanese poster for the film cooler than the American one?
Is it just me, or is the Japanese poster for the film cooler than the American one? | Source

The Movie...

As H20 begins, we are re-introduced to Nurse Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), who was last seen in 1981's Halloween II, assisting Dr. Sam Loomis (the late, great Donald Pleasance ) in his pursuit of Michael Myers. It's two days before Halloween '98 and when Marion comes home from work, she discovers that her house has been broken into. She calls the police but while she waits for them to arrive, Marion receives a long overdue, fatal visit from Michael Myers himself ... and this is before the opening credits even roll! During said credits, we learn that Nurse Chambers had been caring for the late Dr. Loomis in his declining years, and the reason Myers dropped by was to ransack the Doctor's files in order to find out what happened to his sister, Laurie Strode.

Laurie, meanwhile, seems to have done pretty well for herself in the two decades since the Worst Family Reunion of her Life. She faked her death and is now living under an assumed name ("Keri Tate"), serving as the headmistress of Hillcrest Academy, a posh private boarding school hidden away in the California hills. Her teenage son John (Josh Hartnett, in his film debut) is the only one who knows her dark family secret, and that her confident exterior hides a woman who depends on a steady diet of pills and booze to keep the constant nightmares and flashbacks at bay.

It's Oct. 31st at Hillcrest Academy, and as the rest of the student body prepares for a school-wide camping trip to Yosemite (do private schools really do such things? Never mind, it's just a convenient plot device to empty the campus so the real action can start) John and his girlfriend Molly (future Academy Award nominee Michelle Williams, who was just coming off of TV's "Dawson's Creek" at this time) and their friends Charlie (Adam Hann-Byrd) and Sarah (Jodi Lynn O'Keefe) are plotting to stay behind and throw their own private, lovey-dovey Halloween party deep in the basement of the main campus building. Laurie/Keri has no idea that her son is still on the school grounds and is settling down for a romantic evening of her own with her boyfriend, the school's guidance counselor (Adam Arkin). Eventually, of course, the kids' secret celebration is interrupted by a certain Mr. Myers, who has been sneaking around the campus for the entire day waiting for the right moment to strike. Poor Charlie and Sarah are quickly done away with, and John and Molly run screaming to Laurie/Keri's front door with Michael right behind them, causing Laurie's Mama Bear instincts to kick in. Needless to say, that's when the fun REALLY starts. This is what we bought our tickets for -- to watch Laurie Strode finally cast off 20 years of post-traumatic stress disorder and kick her brother's ass!!

I won't spoil the rest of the film for you in case you haven't seen it, but suffice to say that the last 20 minutes or so of Halloween H20 are very satisfying stuff. Laurie and Michael put each other through the wringer in a cat-and-mouse battle that encompasses the entire school before a finale that would've ... and should've ... been the perfect ending to the "Halloween" film series once and for all. (But of course, they had to go and make Halloween: Resurrection in 2002 and screw it all up. *SIGH*...)

The showdown we waited 20 years for is about to begin!!
The showdown we waited 20 years for is about to begin!! | Source

Summing it up...

H20 is not a perfect film by any means, but it is a heck of a lot of fun nonetheless, and it's certainly leagues ahead of any of the three preceding films. Director Steve Miner knows a thing or two about slasher flicks (he's also got two "Friday the 13th" films on his resume), so rather than going for an out-and-out gore fest, he sets up Halloween H20 as a slow burner that builds to an action packed finale. Curtis seems to be having a blast slipping back into the role that made her famous, and though the younger cast members do their jobs well enough, only Hartnett and Williams have enough screen time to show much personality, and rapper LL Cool J is more or less wasted in a thankless bit part as the school's security guard.

Sharp-eyed genre fans will appreciate the little in-joke featuring Janet Leigh of "Psycho" fame (she also happens to be Jamie Lee Curtis' mother) as well as numerous nods to the original films.

Halloween H20 can be purchased for around five bucks from the fine folks at Echo Bridge Entertainment, a budget label which distributes a number of Dimension/Miramax's back catalog titles (including Halloween 5 and 6, as well as their other genre series like Hellraiser, From Dusk Til Dawn, and Children of the Corn). The single-disc DVD is bare-bones and lacks any special features, but for such a bargain price, most "Halloween" fans aren't likely to complain. My advice: skip "5" and "6" and go right to this one. This film, along with the first two, are the only "Halloween" flicks you really need.

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Comments 19 comments

Painted Seahorse profile image

Painted Seahorse 5 years ago from Woodstock, GA

Great review, and perfect for the upcoming Halloween. I've seen Halloween I and II, and parts of this one, but I might have to check it out again (along with some other scary classics to get in the right mood this October).


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 5 years ago from The Garden State Author

Cool, glad you enjoyed it. I'm always watching scary movies during the Halloween season, so it was inevitable that I'd write up one of the "Halloween" films sooner or later. :)


Skeelo profile image

Skeelo 5 years ago from Scotland

Nice review dude. I really liked H20. It was the 1st movie of the franchise I watched and one of my favourites to this day.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 5 years ago from The Garden State Author

Be thankful you started with "H20" and not the godawful "5" or "6." Haha.


Robwrite profile image

Robwrite 5 years ago from Bay Ridge Brooklyn NY

I never really liked any of the franchise entires after the second. The series rolled quickly downhill. H2O wisely erased everything after Halloween 2 and was better than anything in between, but I still feeli it was another unnessesary sequel. Nowhere near the calibre of the original.

Rob


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 5 years ago from The Garden State Author

Hey Robwrite - I agree with you to a certain extent, there was really no reason for "H20" to be made in the first place except to suck more $$$ out of the fans (haha) but at least they went "back to basics" and tried to close the book on the saga rather than drag out the "Druid Thorn Cult" crapola for another movie.

As I said in the article, this would've been a fine ending to the Halloween series altogether... but nope, they had to make another stupid sequel after this one ("Resurrection") and painted themselves into a corner again. They had no choice but to hire Rob Zombie and do the "remake" thing.


Ardie profile image

Ardie 5 years ago from Neverland

I've never been able to watch any of the Halloween movies - they creep me out majorly! But I also really love horror flicks. So how do I deal with the contradicting love of scary movies and hate of Michael Myers? Easy - I still watch scary movies but freak out if I hear Michael Myers' music or if I see a picture of him looking in a window at an unsuspecting female. ((Shudders))


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 5 years ago from The Garden State Author

Ardie - if hearing Michael Myers' theme song freaks you out, then that means it's doing what it's supposed to! (Bwahahahahahahahaha!!!)


Skeelo profile image

Skeelo 5 years ago from Scotland

Lol dude, I'm actually one of the few people who loved the 6th. I loved the Producer's Cut anyway. I don't know how much it differentiates from the original version though.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 5 years ago from The Garden State Author

I've never seen the "Producer's Cut" of 6, I'm told it's a lot better than what was officially released tho.


Skeelo profile image

Skeelo 5 years ago from Scotland

Yeah that's the general consensus. I've only seen the Producer's Cut and I thought it was a good movie. I don't know how much it differs from the original version but you should check out (the full movie is on Youtube).


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 5 years ago from The Garden State Author

I'm sure I'll get around to it eventually, but to be honest, I've seen "6" enough times that I don't really need to see it again anytime soon, even if it is a different version. Haha.


Shawn Dudley profile image

Shawn Dudley 4 years ago from Los Angeles, California

This one was good. It was nice to see Jamie reunited with her mother (Janet Leigh who was in The Fog) and it was a fresh enough take on the story to make it interesting again (after a long drought).

I have to mention that Michelle Williams has come a long way since this film, she's now one of the most critically respected young actresses in Hollywood with many memorable indie films to her credit.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 4 years ago from The Garden State Author

Hi Shawn -- yeah, I wonder what Michelle Williams thinks of this film when she looks back on it.

I just saw the other major female character, Jodi Lynn O'Keefe, on the TV show "Castle" last night. I hadn't seen her in years, had wondered where she'd disappeared to.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 3 years ago from The Garden State Author

Updated!


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 2 years ago from The Garden State Author

Updated...


Boxcar123 16 months ago

Just too bad Jaime Lee decided to return after Donald Pleasance had passed away......and that she couldn't convince John Carpenter to return. I enjoyed this one more than the previous sequels (H4-H6) but still felt it didn't live up to the first two films....It felt like a different Michael Myers to me. Always bothered me that they could never get the mask right as well. Another intelligent and fair review by FatFreddy. Have any thoughts on the Halloween 4 script that Dennis Etchison and Carpenter worked on that was rejected by Moustapha Akkad? Be interested in what you have to say about that idea that never got pursued.


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 16 months ago from The Garden State Author

I don't know much about Carpenter's limited involvement with H4 during its planning stages, other than he was supposedly offered the director's chair but he wanted too much money. Haha


FatFreddysCat profile image

FatFreddysCat 8 days ago from The Garden State Author

Updated

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