"Halloween: 20 Years Later" (1998) Review
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.
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*...)
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.