Sunday, May 31, 2015

#1,749. Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later (1998)

Directed By: Steve Miner

Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Hartnett, Adam Arkin

Tag line: "20 years ago, HE changed the face of Halloween. Tonight, he's back!"

Trivia: Janet Leigh's first role in a feature film for 18 years. Her previous theatrical film was 1980's The Fog

Two decades after her Laurie Strode experienced the most horrifying night of her life, Jamie Lee Curtis returned to the series that made her a star, and in so doing helped deliver one of the Halloween franchise’s most entertaining sequels.

Twenty years have passed since her terrifying encounter with brother / serial killer Michael Myers, during which time Laurie Strode (Curtis) faked her own death, changed her name (to Keri Tate), moved to a new town (Summer Glen, California), and had a son, John (Josh Hartnett), who's now old enough to be in high school. Serving as the headmistress of Hillcrest Academy, the private school that John attends, Laurie / Keri leads a seemingly normal life, and is even dating fellow educator Will (Adam Arkin), with whom she’s very much in love. But try as she might to forget the past, Laurie continues to experience nightmares of that terrible Halloween in Haddonfield, and fears Michael will one day track her down.

Unfortunately, those fears are about to become a reality. After murdering Marion Chambers (Nancy Stephens), who for years worked closely with Dr. Loomis, Michael (played by Chris Durand) finds a file detailing the current whereabouts of his long-lost sister. Within days, he arrives at Hillcrest, and while most of the students are gone for the weekend, John and his girlfriend Molly (Michelle Williams) are having an intimate get-together with pals Charlie (Adam Hann-Byrd) and Sarah (Jodi Lyn O'Keefe), a gathering that’s interrupted when “Uncle Michael” makes his way into the school. Despite the fact her nightmare has returned, Laurie (who was herself enjoying a romantic night with Will) is determined to protect John at all costs. Armed with an axe and a new attitude, she sets out to find Michael, leading to a sibling showdown that, one way or another, will bring this tragic story to an end.

With Halloween H2O, the Halloween franchise moved in a different direction, ignoring the events of the previous three sequels in order to follow an entirely new timeline. I admit to being a fan of Halloween 4 and 5, yet I had no problem whatsoever with this change, thanks in part to Curtis’ strong portrayal of a more mature Laurie, one who, in spite of her apprehensions, decides that 20 years of running is enough. While the sudden, often unannounced appearance of Michael Myers can still send a shiver up your spine, we find ourselves in the unlikely position of hoping he’ll turn up so that Laurie can get a crack at him. And as cinematic showdowns go, this one’s got plenty of energy (a scene set in the school's abandoned cafeteria, where an angry Michael searches frantically for Laurie, will have you poised on the edge of your seat).

H20 has other strengths as well, including the opening sequence, i.e. the murder of Marion Chambers, which also features a young Joseph Gordon Levitt (he played Marion’s skateboarding neighbor, Jimmy). In addition, LL Cool J adds some humor as the school’s security guard, and Janet Leigh has a brief role as Laurie’s secretary, marking the second time mother and daughter shared the big screen (the first being John Carpenter’s 1980 horror film The Fog). Unlike most slasher films, Halloween H2O also gives us well-rounded teen characters, which had as much to do with the performances as anything else (Hartnett, in his film debut, does a fine job as the son dragged into the middle of a decades-old family squabble).

But when it comes down to it, it’s the battle between Laurie and Michael that ranks H2O right up there with Halloween II as one of the series’ best entries.

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