Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later

(Steve Miner, US, 1998)


Halloween H20 gives new meaning to the term film noir. Rarely have I seen a movie so utterly cloaked in blackness from start to end. Partly the justification is atmospheric – director Steve Miner’s desperate attempt to give an old formula a new ingredient of style. But mostly, I suspect, the obscurity is a ruse to ensure that this slasher film reaches the widest possible audience, despite its obligatory quotient of fanciful violence. As in too many current horror movies, easy laughs seem more of a priority here than evocations of true terror.

This movie is an attempt to revive the success of the original Halloween (1978), while politely forgetting its many B-grade sequels. Jamie Lee Curtis returns as Laurie, still haunted by her trauma of long ago. Her murderous brother Michael (Chris Durand), it appears, is on the loose again – and making his way to the school where Laurie now works under a different, assumed name.

This is a short (86 minute) feature with a strange, lop-sided structure, making one wonder what might have gone missing in post-production. It takes forever to work through a couple of narrative decoys or false starts. Once Laurie and "The Shape" are finally in the same building, the real action of the story ends almost abruptly as it begins. Padding out this thin panoply are desultory, post-Scream (1996) nods to other horror movies (including a cameo from Janet Leigh).

Undoubtedly the weirdest aspect of this venture is its militant lack of any faintly disturbing resonance. The gaggle of school kids who flounce around the plot are the cleanest teens in movie memory: not a smidgin of sex, drugs or rock’n’roll between them. Even the possibly troubled, overly exclusive relationship between Laurie and her son John (Josh Hartnett) – shades of Curtis’ role in the gloriously trashy Mother’s Boys (1994) – never builds to anything intriguing.

Curtis, however, is always a joy to watch. She approaches her cardboard role here with fierce seriousness, lending commendable gravity to the moments when Laurie must (literally) face and overcome her deepest terrors. Fans of contemporary horror (particularly Wes Craven’s films) know that female empowerment has been a rallying cry of the genre for about fifteen years. Still, it’s a delight when Jamie, stalking dark corridors, answers the nervous query “What do we do now?” with: “Try to live!”

MORE Miner: Forever Young, Lake Placid, Soul Man

© Adrian Martin October 1998

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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