This feature contains spoilers for Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and was written while I (im)patiently waited for the trailer to drop. As of publishing date, nothing yet.
If you had asked me, even only a little while ago if I was interested in a Halloween sequel or reboot, I could have confidently said no. However, the recent publicity surrounding David Gordon Green and David McBride’s new vision has me not only interested, but profoundly excited. The announcement of Jamie Lee Curtis returning to her role has been the main attraction and part of that is due to my affection for Halloween H20: 20 Years Later.
With the news that we are now only six months away from this new Halloween film, it seems only right to revisit Halloween H20. The sequel is close to it’s 20th Anniversary and remains a favourite of mine. I can’t claim too much slasher fandom, but there is no denying that the original Halloween is a masterclass in suspense and showcases how a film can be constructed to be undoubtedly scary without relying on huge amounts of gore. Not that there is anything wrong with gore, but often it is a go-to for films when they don’t have much else to fall back on.
It isn’t surprising that Halloween spawned a series of sequels, and despite the third instalment all have made some connection to Laurie Strode’s initial confrontations with The Shape. It is their connection (Halloween 2 reveals that they are siblings) which has sustained the series and it is arguably this which makes the Myers story more compelling.
However, it is possible that the family connection has given away too much about The Shape, who, throughout the franchise appears to manifest supernatural powers. Much like the Nightmare on Elm Street franchise, in which nightmares allow for increasingly elaborate set pieces, a supernatural Myers who cannot die allows for the resurgence of the villain no matter what tables his victims turn against him. The family connection perhaps grounds him as more human. This conflicting image of Myers is likely responsible for sustained interest in the character.
Rob Zombie’s two entries into the overall franchise have been (quite rightly, to my mind) criticised for providing too much insight into Myers. His delving into the Michael Myers backstory to offer an exploration of his burgeoning psychopathy is at odds with Carpenter’s first vision, even if it does point toward some sort of vague, psychoanalysis-inspired trigger point for the first murder. The fact that Carpenter’s initial goodwill toward the project swiftly dwindled after its release adds to the idea that Zombie’s idea of Halloween was not what either fans, nor creatives wanted.
The reboot/remake/sequel (delete as appropriate) is set to ignore every film other than the first. This means that the reveal of Michael and Laurie as siblings is set to be retconned, as are the other family connections (like Danielle Harris’ role in the later films). Carpenter’s current involvement with the project in terms of music lends further weight to the establishment of a ‘new’ canon.
As a fan of H20, I initially felt a little conflicted by this as my usual consumption of the Halloween franchise is made up of the original and H20. Even with an established canon, as outlined above, the films will obviously still exist, so it is certainly possible to use the franchise as a kind of ‘pick and mix’ and I’ll certainly always include H20 as part of my viewership.
The original Halloween is a “less-is-more” kind of film. Whenever I think of it I think of how little gore there is, even though other films at the time were not holding anything back. The stripped-back nature of Halloween always feels by design, rather than a lack of budget or means to do more involved or elaborate death sequences. H20 arrives at a time of slickly-produced teen slashers which relied upon more blood, removing more of the slow-burn stalking. That isn’t to say those films don’t have well-executed moments of tension, just that they have increased their pacing to suit audience demands. Certainly, H20 owes a great deal to Scream, an influence it wears proudly on it’s sleeves. References to this, the original film and more than tipping a hat to Curtis’ familial Psycho connections are fun and as they occur at the beginning of the film it doesn’t interfere when it decides to move into a more serious tone later.
While there’s undoubtedly room for these films and certainly Scream and H20 are linked by mutual appreciation for one another, for me, it is still Jamie Lee Curtis who holds it together. Clearly changed and tormented by her final girl experience, Laurie is a damaged alcoholic, attempting to balance her dignified position as a head teacher, becoming comfortable with new love interest, Will, (Adam Arkin) and dealing with her son reaching the same age as she was during the initial attacks.
October 31st understandably makes Laurie (now going by Keri Tate after faking her own death) a bit jumpy. An upcoming school trip also increases her anxiety around her son John (Josh Hartnett). He, his girlfriend Molly (Michelle Williams), Charlie (Adam Hann-Bird) and Sarah (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe), intend to stay behind from the trip and enjoy a weekend to themselves. It is exactly the kind of behaviour that triggers Myer’s moralistic murderousness and it just so happens that he’s already on his way.
The only thing I can reliably compare H20’s structure to, particularly in the latter half, is a professional wrestling match. Myers’ silence means that there’s relatively little dialogue outside of some screaming and other exclamations after the attacks begin and so a great deal of it falls to physical storytelling. While this can be incredibly heavy-handed, it also has the potential to create crowd-pleasing and visually memorable moments. The moment where Laurie and Michael first lay eyes on one another through a small window is a standout. The dumb waiter within the house also offers an example of wrestling and slasher film’s convention of returning to the same item or move to different effect. The dumb waiter is first a delivery vehicle for an innocent surprise, later it becomes a hiding space (in much the same manner as the closet) and finally, it is directly responsible for Sarah falling victim to Myers.
In terms of the heavy-handed, Laurie’s dream sequence in which we receive a trip around a room, seemingly through Michael’s eyes is punctuated by smash cuts to important information – particularly the infamous closet. The closet motif comes up a lot within the film and crucially, it is where Laurie locks John and Molly for safety. This call back to the original film offers a dual purpose – fans of the original get to appreciate the reference, but it also shows that Laurie has learned from her experience. Perhaps more indicative of her learning however, is that she is carrying a gun when her paranoia reaches it’s peak and has maintained a level of physical fitness suitable for carrying fire axes and outrunning supernatural forces.
The element which I really enjoy about H20 is that while the teenagers are the focus for much of the film, Laurie is always made more important and after all the references to other films are exhausted it is her and Michael’s final showdown which lends the film it’s weight. For me, this is what makes Resurrection such a disappointment to me. It removes all of Laurie’s power, has her succumb to her fear again, after leaving her so powerful. The retconning of the final moments of H20 is frustrating, because it offers closure and unlike Scream, gives us our hero truly triumphant, although clearly damaged by her experiences. This is something which elevates it from being a teen slasher movie into something with further importance within the genre, at least to my mind. The end of films in which the villain’s hand reappears or jumps out at the end that having an ending like this marks it as a subversion.
Of course, in the history of the Halloween franchise there has been relatively little quality control. It is no secret that Moustapha Akkad was an unashamed fan of the Myers character and regularly threw money at productions just to see another film made. I don’t for a second think that this is a bad thing. All films should have people that dedicated to their continuation, particularly those maligned genres like horror. His support of the franchise has absolutely contributed to the establishment of Michael Myers as a horror icon in as big a way as Debra Hill and John Carpenter.
Is H20 perfect? Not by a long way, but as viewers we all have our favourites. I have fond memories of watching it at sleepovers – horror was always a go-to. I can certainly pinpoint watching the scene where Joseph Gordon-Levitt is found with an ice skate in his face to have piqued my interest in special effects and contributed to a further need to learn about film. However, I don’t feel too concerned any more about it being dropped as an entry in the Halloween series. As already stated, the film will still exist and is complete enough to watch alone, without the addition of any others.
The proposed new Halloween could easily become a favourite of mine, from the initial publicity photographs, Carpenter and Curtis involvement and promises from the writing and directing team that they care deeply about the original film. The image of Curtis standing in the doorway with Michael behind her instantly made me think it could be something special and certainly the legacy of H20 is at least partially responsible for that. Halloween 2018 has a lot to live up to, but so far, I’m very excited to see what’s in store.