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Alive And Kicking: Halloween 20 Years Later

October 18, 2008

HALLOWEEN: 20 YEARS LATER (H2O) (1998)
d. Steve Miner 

Now we’re talking! After the dismal and misguided part 6 comes this invigorating jolt to the franchise. A large credit goes to the fantastic script and the great ensemble cast.

Oh Shit!

Oh, Crap!

This movie gingerly skips over the events of Parts 3-6, while not entirely retconning them, and picks up plot threads from Part 2. A fairly wise move that allows the film to feel like it’s starting fresh because it dumps the Thorn cult subplot and goes back to its roots (far more successfully than Part 4 had been touted).

Picking up 20 years from the original events, the film reintroduces Laurie Strode who has been relocated by the WPA to Glenwood, CA under the new name, Keri Tate. She teaches at the posh Hillcrest Academy where her son, John (Josh Hartnett in his first major role) also attends. She is still haunted by visions of her brother, Michael, and it is causing tension between her and her son.

The great thing about giving her a son, other than to raise the stakes of what she has to lose, is that we get a relationship that allows her to be human and sympathetic. She has been medicating herself to suppress her memories of that haunting and fateful night, but, in classic horror movie return-of-the-repressed  type fashion, Michael comes back.

He first starts in Langdon, Illinois where he pays a visit to the assistant nurse of Dr. Loomis (Nancy Stephen reprising her role!) and discovers the new identity of his sister. And this initial scene telegraphs how smart and fresh the script will serve up the rest of the scares and thrills; it learned from the Kevin Williamson school of horror screenwriting.

On a side note, Michael looks a lot leaner in this film; he definitely lost the bulk he gained from film to film and it makes him scary fast; like a wiry starved rat. And it seems they cast Chris Durand mainly for his eyes; he does a great job of exuding childlike innocence with pure evil — like a kid intrigued by pulling the wings off flies.

In any case, Michael makes his way towards the academy, which, on the weekend of Halloween, is emptied of practically all the staff and student body (who have gone on a trip to Yosemite) except for a few who remain behind to party it up. This group includes Laurie’s son, his girlfriend (a young Michelle Williams) and another couple. During the time he is traveling, like a fateful bullet on its way to its target, the movie allows us to get to know the characters a little.

And when Michael strikes, as he does, these kids are allowed to fight back and even express how scared shitless they are. Just these actions alone are pretty revolutionary for a slasher film. They truly become our stand-ins because they smartly challenge our suspension of disbelief. What I mean to say is, whenever we watch these kinds of films, we hate it when the characters are stupid and do stupid things. In this movie, they are allowed to do smart things, like fight back. They’re still outmatched by the unkillable Michael, but the very effort allows us to root for them and makes it even more painful when the characters we like end up dying.

For example, when Laurie has a chance to flee with her son and girlfriend she decides to stay and confront Michael. Now this may seem like a stupid thing, but it’s set up in such a way that her action becomes noble and heroic. It’s a kick-ass moment for the character, because up until this point in her life (even reaching back into Parts 1 and 2), she never fought back or really stood up for herself; she was always running away. Here she takes charge, and it is empowering.

Even John Carpenter’s original score benefits from the reboot; it is scored with lush and moody strings and doesn’t fully reveal itself in its original sparse piano melody until after the final scene plays out.

And the final scene is incredible. It is the best death scene in any Halloween picture that made me cheer out loud for the victor. You have to see it.

So, because of a smart script, and a great cast (including Adam Arkin and LL Cool J in great supporting roles) the Halloween franchise finally gets a sequel fairly worthy, and in some instances, even better than the original source movie. Three and a half stars, hands down.

Next up, we’ll see how they squander all this good will in Halloween: Resurrection.

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