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HALLOWEEN H20

by: Michael Dequina

Review by Scott Renshaw

It was 20 years ago that teenage babysitter Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) and her long-institutionalized, homicidal brother Michael Myers took sibling squabbling to a new plateau, one involving cutlery and the creative use of wire hangers. The film was John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN, a low-budget phenomenon which launched the much-loathed but immensely profitable "teen slasher" genre. Masked and/or mutilated maniacs proliferated, the numbers on the sequels clicking by faster than the number of customers served by McDonald's. It's no wonder Dimension Films tagged the sub-title TWENTY YEARS LATER on HALLOWEEN H20; they probably feared viewers would actually think this was the 20th film in the series.

This sequel, of course, is banking on something a bit more than name recognition to draw viewers: nostalgia. After nearly two decades (including the 1981 sequel HALLOWEEN 2), Jamie Lee Curtis returns to the role that made her famous, showing us how effectively Laurie Strode recovered from that one traumatic Halloween night, namely not at all. Living under an assumed name as the headmistress of a California private school, Laurie is a walking psychological disaster area. Behind her are an abusive marriage and years of therapy; still with her are an alcohol problem, a prescription drug problem, recurring nightmares and a paralyzing fear of letting her teenage son John (Josh Hartnett) out of her sight. If you've ever wondered what surviving the carnage of a teen slasher movie would do to someone, here's your answer.

That effective bit of back story carries HALLOWEEN H20 over the pitfalls of genre convention which even executive producer Kevin Williamson -- the post-modernist horror connoisseur behind SCREAM and SCREAM 2 -- can't quite shake off. The events begin with Michael raiding the files of the late Dr. Loomis (the late Donald Pleasance, to whom the film is dedicated) to find Laurie's new identity, though why he would demonstrate the grand sense of theater to wait until the 20th anniversary is never quite clear. From there he proceeds to make his way west, reserving most of his wrath for the libidinous, in keeping with the fine sex-equals-death tradition of slasher film-making. Blood is spilled, startling musical cues accompany every movement into frame by the most innocuous character, and kitchen implements are used contrary to the safety instructions.

The one thing Williamson and director Steve Miner do bring to the proceedings is a bit more understated menace. Surprisingly, every encounter between Michael and an unfortunate stranger does not result in an impromptu Ginzu aeration. The threat of impending death is sometimes used strictly as a threat, raising the stakes of every subsequent encounter because you know it's possible to survive. This killer's singularity of purpose, combined with some well-crafted set-pieces, allows this HALLOWEEN to score more points with tension than it does with shock value.

Clearly it also scores on the basis of its climactic showdown. Though Hartnett, Michelle Williams and Jodi Lyn O'Keefe are on hand for teen hormone value, Curtis is unquestionably the star of this show. Laurie's resourcefulness in the original HALLOWEEN made her an uncommon screen heroine, and the same quality is present this time around. She goes into battle armed not just with an axe, but with twenty years of history and a convincing grim determination. It's actually here that Williamson's sensibility shows through most obviously; playing on genre expectations, HALLOWEEN H20 shows Laurie not trusting anything as mundane as a body bag to guarantee that Michael won't be back to continue tormenting her in HALLOWEEN H21. The return of Laurie Strode could have been a cheap publicity stunt. Instead,

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