Countdown to Halloween: The Legacy of Michael Myers Part 7
In anticipation of the upcoming sequelboot of the Halloween franchise, in which every entry but the first are to be eliminated from canon, I decided to give one last look at the whole series before it is banished into the Soul Stone for good. As it currently stands, the Halloween series has a pretty crazy continuity, complete with alternate endings, ridiculous retcons, and an unrelated anthology entry about magic masks that fill kids’ heads with bugs. There’s a reboot and a sequel to the reboot, both of which have multiple conflicting endings of their own as well. It’s a glorious mess, so there’s really no reason to treat any future story developments as anything out of the ordinary. No, Michael Myers has never made it to outer space, nor has he dueled with another horror heavy (although Halloween vs Hellraiser did almost happen) but he’s certainly been around the block enough times to merit an investigation into just what has kept this killer alive for so long, and just why we are now throwing most of his work in the canonical trash. I will be watching the entire series in order of release, starting with John Carpenter’s seminal 1978 classic which, for my money, remains one of the finest fright films ever made. Check out the whole series here!
Halloween H20: 20 Years Later
“This summer, terror won’t be taking a vacation”
Director: Steve Miner
Writer: Robert Zappia, Matt Greenberg, Kevin Williamson (uncredited)
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Atkins, “and introducing” Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, LL Cool J, Nancy Stephens
Michael Myers played by: Chris Durand
Plot: Twenty years after facing off with The Shape, Laurie Strode, who has been living under an assumed identity, must come face to face with her brother/tormentor one last time in an effort to protect her son and free herself from her troubled past.
Review: At this point in my epic rewatch task, H20, despite having an absolutely ridiculous title, is easily the best sequel. It evenly mixes homage and narrative progression, while seeking to put a nice tidy thematic bow on Laurie’s story. At the same time, this emerged in the post-Scream glut of Dimension horror films which require pretty teens, a comic relief rapper, and the inclusion of at least one song by Creed. H20 ticks all of these boxes without feeling like a film set only on ticking boxes. This is an organic close to the story, and it’s easy to see why Jamie Lee Curtis returned to the series. Curtis herself indicated that this was a love letter to fans of the franchise, and in that regard it is a grand success. After watching the series dip pretty low, my heart warmed to see such effort being put back into things with this entry, even if the title makes very little sense.
Seriously, what does the “H20” portion even mean? We know that the film takes place 20 years after the first two entries because the “20 Years Later” portion of the title gives us that info. “H20” would seem to suggest that this film has something to do with water, but it very much does not. My memories of the 90s are beginning to fade, so I can only assume that half-baked double entendres (single entendres, really) were a thing that the kids were into at the time. Yes, I am sure that we will look back on sequels with the numbered digits replacing letters to be just as silly in a few years time (if not already).
I can’t overstate how good Curtis is here. She very much feels like the same Laurie Strode from the first two films, especially when she screams or does that great shift from scared to threatening that she does so well any time her character stands up to Myers. Throw in the added stressor of having to protect her son John from a very dangerous world, and you’ve got a version of Strode that is informed by her absence from the series up until this point. Bringing Laurie back was surely a novelty move in concept, but Curtis elevates it into the series capper that it was intended to be (at least by Curtis herself). It’s also a fun development to have her, the headmistress of a cushy private high school, in a romantic relationship with the school’s guidance counselor. Not only is it pretty adorable, but it affords some great opportunities for expository dialogue to cleanly retcon some of the messier pieces of Halloween mythology while also giving us one character whose death with carry some weight (if I could offer one criticism of the film, it’s that you can predict who will live and die from moment one, and those who do die don’t matter anyway). The setting is also used to great effect. The academy that houses most of the action feels like a real place, with real boundaries. The geography is solid through and through. The dorms are cushy as hell, but even these smaller sets are captured in a way that allows us to feel the walls closing in as Myers stalks the campus. The few scenes that happen outside of the school have the same level of tangibility. Be it the truck stop bathroom where Myers steals a car so spooky in design that it’s comical, to the strip of downtown businesses (which look awfully similar to the “downtown” sets of other films - I think this may have popped up again in Man of Steel), the California town on display is a perfect surrogate for the Haddonfield of the original film. It exists, and Myers exists within it.
And just what happened between the previous entry and this one? Doesn’t matter. In the new timeline parts 3,4,5, and 6 don’t exist. H20 seeks to make a trilogy out of the story, and successfully does so.
The crop of expendable students are a fun group of late 90s slasher tropes. There’s the horny, bad kid who is clearly very smart but tainted by money (corkscrew to the neck and crammed into a Chekhov’s dumbwaiter), the goth chick (stabbed to death - also ends up in dumbwaiter), two bad boy jock bros (ice skate to the face, hockey stick to the back), the good girl (survives), the heroic boy (survives), and the final girl (survives, duh). Only this time, the final girl is a woman in her forties.
There’s a fantastic moment during the third act turn which results from the film’s most brilliantly conceived set piece. Both John and his girlfriend Molly are on the run from Myers. John, to his credit, is the only person in the entire franchise who I can remember attempting to straight up fight The Shape. When the killer grabs Molly, John decks him good, laying him flat on his ass. It’s a cathartic moment for sure, but a fleeting one at that. Myers is back on his feet within seconds, and the two teenagers have made their way toward the dormitories. Each dorm has a communal entrance blocked by a gate. John and Molly find themselves trapped between the gate and the door as Myers swings his knife inches from heir faces. Conveniently, Laurie opens the door from inside just as Myers gets through the gate. She slams the door shut, and the two heavies meet face to face through a small window. Myers does the classic head tilt, and for the first time since Halloween 2, we get a clear look at his eyes. It’s a haunting, exciting moment. Fun story: I remember seeing this film in the theater with my dad, and it was at this very moment that the screen lit up with a sea of red dots. Back in 1998, laser pointers were a thing, and they predated cell phones as the cinema’s greatest annoyance.
From this point forward, Myers’ eyes are prominently featured in just about every shot he’s in. It’s an important choice for this to be the case given the oddly touching final moments of the film. You see, throughout the film, everyone tries to comfort Laurie by telling her Michael Myers is surely dead, but we learn pretty quickly that they are wrong. After seemingly being killed, Laurie once again refuses the assertions of her colleagues, and decides to take Myers’ corpse on a final joyride. Some great stunt work sends Myers through the windshield of a van, leaving him pinned between the van’s front end and a felled tree. Laurie and Michael share a moment where she looks into his eyes, seemingly to see some piece of her bother’s humanity. He reaches out to her in what appears to be a request for mercy (or potentially a ploy to draw her close). Miner’s camera lingers on this exchange for juuuust enough time to play with the audience’s allegiances. Do we want her to unmask her brother? Let him live? Attempt to speak with him? It’s a tough call, and a lot of the ambiguous feelings the audience experiences are informed by Myers’ eyes. For a split second, the cold emptiness that Loomis obsessively described seems to vacate him... but then Laurie cuts his head clean off with an axe. A fitting end to the character.
Miner directs this entry with a modern flourish, but it is given the same blocking as Carpenter’s original. Myers is always in frame when he stalks, and the playful reveals of each of his kills mirror that of the original film as well. Even the original color scheme seems to have returned. The music, by John Ottman, Jeremy Sweet, and Marco Beltrami (uncredited) gives Carpenter’s iconic melody an orchestral treatment, and it works better than any of the previous musical updates did. It allows for the same tones to unsettle us while sidestepping any reminders of how unfailingly superior Carpenter’s stripped down score is to its imitators. When you’re this far into a franchise, this is essential. So many sequels serve to highlight their own comparative shortcomings, and H20 takes every measure not to.
We’re reaching the end of the 90s at this point, and slasher films have come full circle. Ever since Scream deconstructed them just two years prior, a sweet spot has been found. The gore of the 80s is fully intact, while the aggressive sexualization of violence has dissolved. The return of Jamie Lee Curtis allows this film to avoid the “whodunit” angle of slashers at the time by making this a character based story rather than a plot based one. In this way, H20 feels more like the original film than any of its sequels or imitators. It also somehow brings Michael Myers back to the cold blooded, motiveless killer of the original while holding on to the sibling relationship between he and Laurie.
I don’t know where to put this note, so I’ll just say it as an afterthought: When Michael Myers is flipping rows of tables as Laurie crawls away under them, it’s a moment of primo Halloween horror. Dare I say masterful?
Another nice touch is the inclusion of Curtis’ real life mother, Janet Leigh, as a supporting character. She makes one reference to being a “maternal” force for Laurie, as well as a handful of references to Psycho, her most famous role. She drives the car from Psycho, mentions that the girls’ dorm shower has a clogged drain, and is referenced in a comment made to John that one day he and Laurie would be running a spooky motel together. A riff from Bernard Hermann’s Psycho score accompanies Leigh as her character exits the movie. Such fun!
I should also mention that LL Cool J’s arc as an erotic fiction writer is quite comical. He ultimately decides to write an erotic thriller after having survived the events of the film, a development that his never seen, often heard skeptic of a girlfriend champions. It’s silly and I love it.
For a film that could have been a total throwaway (and was almost a straight to video release), H20 ties things up in a more satisfying way than any horror fan could reasonably expect.
Best kill: Mirroring the best kill from Halloween II, we find Laurie at one end of a hallway with her lover, Will, while looming shadow approaches from the other end. Will empties the contents of his gun into the pursuer only to find that it is not Michael Myers, but Ronny the security guy (LL Cool J). Will and Laurie approach Ronny to check the damage, only to come face to face with Michael Myers. Myers stabs Will in the back and lifts him off the ground from behind. Both Myers and Will make eye contact with Laurie as she incredulously ponders her bad fortune. The entire extended sequence is an incredible mix of homage and fresh scares. Check it out in the video below. Be sure to take note of the cheat employed at the outset when it is indeed and image of Myers coming around the corner and not Ronny. It’s just a split second, but it’s a smart move by Miner.
Best line: An exchange between Norma and Laurie (know as Keri Tate at the time) after Norma catches Laurie off guard, scaring her.
Norma: Oh, Miss Tate. I didn’t mean to make you jump. It’s Halloween, I guess everyone’s entitled to one good scare.
Laurie: I’ve had my share.
What a great tag to the first film!
Worst line: Just after all of the students have left on a field trip, guidance counselor Will is checking on the handful of students who have opted to stay behind. He enters the dorm of Molly & Sarah, and the following tongue-in-cheek exchange occurs.
Will: What are you two up to tonight?
Sarah: Well, we thought we’d hit the town, pick up some guys. Ya know, drop some roofies in their drinks, have a whole date rape evening.
Will: Oh... sounds good.
Molly: Care to join us?
Will: I can’t. I’m, uh, I’m having my nipples pierced.
I’ll admit that it’s a charming exchange in practice, but a goofy one nonetheless.
Mask: Two different mask designs are used in this movie. Midway through production the mask was redesigned and rebuilt, and CGI was used to try and bridge the gap between the two. Had this awful attempt at CGI (see below photo set) not been employed, I probably wouldn’t have noticed a change in design, because short of this truly abysmal digital creation, the masks look fantastic. One appears to be similar to the mask used in part six, which was my favorite of the sequel masks. The other looks to be more influenced by the original, and still very best mask, only cleaner. This iteration of Michael Myers is probably the best of the sequels, as well. He’s as big and threatening as in Carpenter’s film, and the actor has clearly worked to mimic some of his movements as well. There is one shot where he kinda looks like Butthead, but that’s just because his slicked back hair doesn’t look threatening from an upward angle.
Dr. Loomis’ Health: Loomis is dead, and frankly, the people in his life are probably safer for it. That said, the one character besides Laurie who has a direct connection to him, Marion Chambers, is handily dispatched by Myers at the outset of this entry. I still blame Loomis. The late doctor delivers a voiceover in the film’s prologue which lifts lines from the original, but instead of using the exact audio, a soundalike actor handles the reading. Honestly, you can’t tell it’s not Pleasence unless you’re really listening. It actually serves the story well to have Loomis canonically dead at this point, and not just because a replacement actor couldn’t do the role justice. This is Laurie’s story, and the inclusion of Loomis would have pointlessly diluted it.
Lore: There’s a fair amount of retconning going on here. As I said before, entries 3,4,5, and 6 are no longer canon. Laurie’s daughter Jamie no longer exists, but the car accident which killed Laurie between entries has remained, only now it has been reframed as part of Laurie’s plan to fake her own death. Laurie has a son, whose father is only mentioned in passing as an “abusive, chainsmoking methadone addict.” Marion Chambers, who first appeared in Halloween is now dead, and it’s made clear that she spent the years since the night of Halloween 1978 caring for Loomis until his death. Michael Myers’ hands are no longer burned (as far as I could see), but it is still canon that he was involved in the explosion at the end of part two. No matter. By the end of H20, Michael Myers has been decapitated and Laurie has been freed from the bondage of fear. There’s just no way that Myers will return, right?