Beyond the Slimy Wall: Halloween:H20
By Stephanie Star Smith
February 16, 2006
We here at BOP are an eclectic group, and our tastes in movies run from the serious cinephiles to the foreign-film aficionados to niche film lovers. Thus was born the idea for this weekly column, devoted to horror films of all shapes and sizes, but concentrating on those B- and C-grade films that mainstream reviewers disdain, but are the bread-and-butter of every spook-movie lover's viewing. So come with me as we venture Beyond the Slimy Wall, uncovering the treasures - and burying the time-wasting bombs - that await those who dare to love the scare.
Sooner or later, every film franchise faces stagnation. No matter how interesting your premise and/or characters, after time, the idea runs out of steam, and you're faced with one of two choices: end the franchise, which by that point usually involves a whimper instead of a bang; or revitalize the series, which generally means adding new characters, new nemeses, or a new lead actor.
In the case of the Halloween franchise, it involved bringing back one of the original stars, which not only revitalized the franchise, but actually made it scary again.
Because let's face it, there's only so many times you can watch Michael Myers go running around offing nubile young teens before you are bored to tears. Much like Friday the 13th's Jason Voorhees, Myers is trapped in that silent mask-wearing shtick, and that gets pretty old pretty fast (Freddy Krueger, on the other hand, largely avoids this fate by being able to talk, although sometimes you wish he'd shut it, given the dreck that's been written for him). Fortunately for the folks at Dimension Films, the Halloween franchise had the proverbial ace up its sleeve: Jamie Lee Curtis, who hadn't been part of the series since the first sequel.
So for the 20th anniversary of the first film's release - hence the H20 of the title - Curtis' character, Laurie Strode, returns to once again do battle with her fratricidal brother. We learn fairly quickly that Laurie, fearing one day Michael would escape the loony bin for the 4,623rd time and come looking for her, faked her death and assumed a new identity. Now going by the name Keri Tate, she is the head mistress of an exclusive boarding school which is attended by her son, John (the delectable Josh Hartnett in his first film role). No one knows Laurie's past, but pretty much everyone, including her boyfriend, faculty member Will (Adam Arkin) and her son, know that something is troubling her, so much so that she sleeps very little and has more than a passing acquaintance with the bottle. It's also known throughout the school that Headmistress does not like Hallowe'en, and doesn't allow any celebrations of the holiday on-campus, though again, nobody knows why.
The stage is now set for brother Michael's return, and harbingers such as Laurie's increasingly realistic nightmares concerning her brother's reappearance and her feeling of being followed and watched fill her with a greater sense of foreboding than usual at the approach of the dreaded Samhain. At first, Laurie puts down her increased anxiety to the fact that in the film's timeline, it is also approaching the 20th anniversary of the events in the first film. She also feels a certain degree of safety living on-campus, the school being relatively secure as boarding schools go. But the Foreshadowing Fairy pays the school a visit, and convinces John and three of his friends to plan a surreptitious Hallowe'en party on the nearly-empty campus (most of the other students have left for fall break. Laurie's growing unease leads her to confide in Will as to why she detests All Hallows' Eve so very much, and the Foreshadowing Fairy appears again to prompt Laurie to confess her stress level over Hallowe'en is greater than usual. As the night wears on, strange things start happening, and Laurie is forced to confront the very real possibility that her greatest fear has come to pass and Michael is once again on the prowl. Laurie soon realizes that if she's to have any hope of saving those she loves and those for whom she is responsible, and possibly reclaim something approaching a normal life, she must face her brother and end his life before he can end hers and whoever else's that might cross his path.
Though Halloween:H20 starts slowly, it does a good job of laying a solid foundation for the action to come, and once it reaches the proverbial fireworks factory approximately halfway through its 86 minutes, the story really takes off. The script manages to take the well-worn set pieces and red herrings of the genre and put them into a fresh perspective, engaging even the seasoned slasher viewer's attention and turning the obligatory Red-Shirt, Red-Shirt, Who's the Next Red-Shirt? gambit into an action sequence that engender genuine concern for who will survive to the final reel. The customary fake ending is also handled in a rather novel fashion, and includes a twist that you not only don't see coming from the second act, but that evokes true shock and surprise.
Of course, the acting is well above the run-of-the-mill pretty-and-vacant standard for most slasher fare, with Curtis, Arkin and Hartnett adding not only much-needed class but serious acting chops to the proceedings. The supporting cast are no slouches either, with LL Cool J in particular giving another of his charismatic acting turns. Helmer Steve Miner, no stranger to the horror genre, keeps the story moving at a brisk pace, and real scares-to-gotcha moments ratio wonderfully well-balanced.
Halloween:H20 proves that you can return to familiar territory and make it fresh and interesting, and even those who (wisely) bailed after Halloween 2 will find it well worth investing the not-quite-hour-and-a-half of their viewing on H20. As resurrecting franchises go, this is a pretty good effort all around.
I see by the shadows falling from my bust of Pallas that our time is up. Until next time, then, when we will once again venture Beyond the Slimy Wall.