Welcome to the seventh part of The Nights He Came Home – A Halloween Retrospective! Over the course of October this new special column, in which I revisit all of the original Halloween films in anticipation of that most spooky season, will be running every Monday and Thursday. Then, beginning on the 26th of October, daily posts with the unifying theme of the horror genre will be posted, leading up to an article on my choice of the 10 greatest horror films ever made. Today we examine Halloween H20: 20 Years Later (1998), which saw the return of Jamie Lee Curtis to the role of Laurie Strode. For previous entries in this series, click here.
After several lacklustre Halloween sequels (namely Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982), Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989), and Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)), I went into Halloween H20: 20 Years Later with dulled expectations. Original lead Jamie Lee Curtis was back, yes, but Donald Pleasence was missing from the line-up. I just didn’t see how the Halloween series could do something fresh and exciting after the original two films and a horde of sequels that declined in quality.
But I was entirely wrong. I’m very happy to say that H20 is without a doubt one of the best sequels in the franchise, and offers (another) conclusive end to the series. In effect, by rendering films 4–6 as out of the canon, Halloween (1978), Halloween II (1981), and H20 come together as an incredibly refreshing and masterful trilogy of films. H20 is easily on par with Halloween II in terms of quality, even without Donald Pleasence’s delightfully hammy acting.
After faking her death to start her life anew, Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) moves to Northern California. 20 years later she has a 17-year-old son named John (Josh Hartnett), a boyfriend named Will (Adam Arkin), and is headmistress at a private boarding school. She’s become something of an alcoholic and has failed to escape the events of that fateful night her brother came home. His body was never found after the events of Halloween II, so she lives in fear that he might come back to finish the job. As her son and his girlfriend (Michelle Williams) skive off of a weekend trip, Michael Myers (Chris Durand) returns to spread fear once more…
Jamie Lee Curtis’ return to the Halloween saga could not be better timed. With the untimely passing of Donald Pleasence, the series was effectively left without a lead hero from the original film. The answer? Get the other one back! The screenplay really goes a long way to show just how the events of the first two films have traumatised Laurie Strode and left a lasting mark on her life, and Jamie Lee Curtis effectively portrays all of this. What makes H20 even better is how Laurie copes with the return of Michael – rather than crumpling up into a weepy pile, ala Halloween and Halloween II, she gets an axe in hand and starts hunting him! The finale is really strong in this respect, and it’s exciting seeing the character reclaim the life that Michael stole from her.
The film also has a surprisingly strong supporting cast. In this respect, the film is most definitely a post-Scream slasher. All of the teenage characters (and many others) are likeable and recognisable in your own social circles. For the first time since perhaps the original, I was worried the characters I liked weren’t going to make it. Highlights include Josh Hartnett as John, Laurie’s son, and Adam Arkin as Will, her boyfriend. LL Cool J provides some great comic relief as the school guard who reads his terrible erotic fiction to his wife over the phone.
It’s also the first film since Halloween II in which Michael Myers has had a totally menacing presence. Power just reeks off of him, even with the not-so-stellar mask.
The direction of the film is also surprisingly strong. It’s got a visual flair that’s been missing since Halloween II. The film is also actually quite menacing and scary, relying on atmosphere more so than horrifying violence. This alone makes the film a step-up from most of the sequels. It’s an obviously higher budget affair than what has come before and the film benefits hugely from this.
H20 out-grossed Halloween’s domestic gross of $47 million with a whopping $55 million at the box office. Critically the film was met with mixed reviews, but many consider it to be one of the best sequels, if not the best sequel of the franchise.
Whilst H20 doesn’t quite reach the heights of Halloween it is the first sequel since those the original two that lives up to John Carpenter’s ideas. It feels like a completely natural extension of the franchise, and taken together this set of three films makes a perfect slasher trilogy. Highly recommended.
Next time on The Nights He Came Home, we come to the final part of this special column series as we examine the last film in the franchise, Halloween: Resurrection (2002), which sees the return of Halloween II director Rick Rosenthal! See you on Monday for the final part of The Nights He Came Home!