At first glance, the 20th anniversary “Halloween” film should have been spectacular. It boasted a story by Kevin Williamson, whose work on “Scream” made him hotter than First Baptist Hell. Jamie Lee Curtis (“True Lies”) was returning to the role of Laurie Strode after a long absence, and her supporting cast of Josh Harnett, Michelle Williams, LL Cool J and Janet Leigh were of a higher caliber than usual. The budget was tripled and the film would be made under the guidance of veteran horror helmer Steve Miner (“Texas Rangers”).
With all that going for it, why is “Halloween H20” such a miserable failure?
“Halloween H20” explains that Laurie Strode (Curtis) never really died in an automobile accident as we were told. She faked her own death, changed her identity, and moved far away from Haddonfield — all in an effort to hide from her homicidal brother, Michael Myers. Laurie is now the headmistress for a private school and raises a rebellious teenage son as a single parent. But she’s still haunted by her memories of Michael Myers and lives in terror of the day he will return. That day comes to pass when he tracks her down one Halloween night, intent on finishing what he started years ago. Laurie realizes she has a choice: be a helpless victim or face her fear and fight back.
Jaime Lee Curtis slips comfortably back into a role she hasn’t played in more than a decade. She even convincingly displays character development, showing us a woman who bears deep scars from a teenage trauma. The character is most impressive when she decides to take a stand. Laurie seems to stand straighter, has a more determined look, and sheds any fear of Michael Myers. No longer is she a scared victim hiding behind alcohol and pills; this Laurie is ready to face Myers head on and you can’t help but admire her for that.
Sadly, the rest of the cast isn’t as impressive. LL Cool J (“SWAT”) gives a decent performance as a security guard with aspirations to write romance novels, but he never has enough screen time to save the film from mediocrity. Michelle Williams is a gorgeous sight, but her performance doesn’t match the beauty and she remains glorified eye candy. Janet Leigh is excellent when she’s onscreen, but that’s as rare as a solar eclipse. As for Josh Harnett (“Pearl Harbor”), he acts like he’s not taking his job as an actor seriously. Adam Arkin is one of the few bright spots, showing up as a sympathetic counselor in love with Laurie. He looks at her with genuine affection and seems to honestly want to help.
Unfortunately it’s easy to see why Kevin Williamson insisted his name be taken off the film, especially after you see what Robert Zappa and Matt Greenburg did to Williamson’s script. The problem with “H20” is that it’s boring, mostly relying on false scares rather than the blood and gore we’ve come to know and love from the “Halloween” films. It doesn’t help that Michael Myers is hardly around. The film seems content to focus on a “Scream”-esque group of teens while relegating Myers mostly to the third act. The musical score also leaves a lot to be desired, and for some insane reason John Ottman’s superior music was mostly dumped in favor of Marco Beltrami’s.
Credit ought to be given to Steven Miner, who tries to direct a scary film in spite of everything working against him. He does an excellent job crediting suspense, even when there’s no actual payoff. Effective camera angles and lighting give “Halloween H20” a nice visual flair, and Miner manages to move the film along at an even pace. It’s sad to see a talented director like Miner use everything in his bag of tricks, only to be defeated by a movie’s insurmountable problems.
Watching “Halloween H20”, you feel like someone on the Hindenburg yelling at the captain to switch on the “No Smoking” sign. You want to cry out a warning because, despite all the promise, you know something horrific is going to happen. In this case, the horror is the ineptness of a film that should have been far better than it was.
Steve Miner (director)
CAST: Jamie Lee Curtis …. Laurie Strode/Keri Tate
Josh Hartnett …. John Tate
Adam Arkin …. Will Brennan
Michelle Williams …. Molly Cartwell
LL Cool J …. Ronald ‘Ronny’ Jones
Jodi Lyn O’Keefe …. Sarah Wainthrope
Janet Leigh …. Norma Watson