The Night He Goes to School (Halloween H20, 1998)
By 1997, slashers had almost seemed like a dead genre. Frankly, Halloween 6 could have been the death bell. Yet, 1996 was also the year that slasher pics got a shot in the arm. A little movie called Scream-a satirical look at the genre was a major hit that had people talking. It seemed to poke fun at the conventions of the slasher film, while following them quite a bite (though taking opportunity to turn some of them on their head). Scream proclaimed Halloween the grand-daddy of them all. And that got producers talking.
There were, as I recall, talks to bring back Carpenter (which I thought was exciting). Then there came talk of involvement from Kevin Williamson, writer of Scream (both one and two). This also excited fans. But the thing that really got people talking? Jamie Lee Curtis was back in the game. This brought about an interesting turn.
A few facts. Donald Pleasence was dead by the time they were writing this. Laurie Strode was dead according to previous films. So what did they do?
The filmmakers took an approach that both wiped the slate clean and yet adhered to some film continuity. It’s clear that none of the events in 4-6 happened now. As far as H2O is concerned? The series started with Halloween and the story had ended in Halloween 2. And now, the story was continuing 20 years later. For some this was upsetting, to others? It was a bit of relief.
The director Steve Miner (a veteran of the Friday the 13th series) had taken quite a task. Dimension was giving a big push to this new film. The end result is satisfying. I would say that it is one of the best of the sequels. The story is told at a fast pace, and they make sure not to confuse the audience. It’s clear from the start that Dr. Loomis has passed. And we rapidly learn Michael is still alive and still obsessed with his sister…a woman the world thought dead. But it turns out she has gone underground to avoid the pressures of the fame. And to avoid Michael. She’s now pretty much a functional alcoholic single mom. She is the head of a prestiges private school in the middle of nowhere. She is haunted by images of Michael.
Her life of paranoia is driving an ongoing wedge between her and son John (Josh Hartnett) -What? Not the family name?! At first she is prohibiting him from going on the school camping which aggravates him as he was looking forward to being with his girlfriend Molly (Michelle Williams). But as slasher films tend to go, Jon and Molly slip aside and stay at the school with their rebel friends Sarah (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) and Charlie (Adam Hann-Byrd, whose career pretty much halted after this film-apparently to go to college).
So this leaves the school empty, except for Laurie, her boyfriend (and fellow faculty member) Will (Adam Arkin) and the security guard Ronny (LL Cool J) . The kids, of course are hiding out and decide to have a night of romantic fun and reckless sex (or reckless fun and romantic sex, I don’t know). Michael is quietly stalking the grounds by this time, not quite as carefree in his slashing as the earlier films. Sarah and Charlie are clearly knife fodder and Michael dispatches them quite ruthlessly. These are some of the most intense sequences the franchise has seen in a long time, with some genuine discomfort and suspense.
John and Molly seek out Laurie, who is not to excited at the sight of her big brother. Getting John and Molly off the campus, she turns back and decides this must end. Grabbing an ax she starts to stalk Michael. We get a very solid cat and mouse sequence that finally appears to result in Michael’s death. But Laurie is no idiot, after Michael’s body is loaded into an ambulance in a body bag, she steals the vehicle, waiting for what she knows is going to happen.
Michael rises from the body bag, so Laurie intentionally crashes the ambulance. Michael is pinned between a branch and the ambulance. There is a somewhat touching moment, where Michael reaches out to Laurie in an almost child like fashion. And for a moment? Laurie hesitates, ax in hand. Then she swings the ax and takes Michael’s head off.
All in all, Halloween:H20 works extremely well. Easily the best of the sequels. And as sequels go, it makes sense without having seen the original-without relying heavily on “plot exposition” guy. The actors all do fine jobs and the direction and cinematography is good, with a great use of shadow. Really, this film works well. And had this been the last movie? It would have ended the series on a high note. Of course, it was not the last, so the really high note they could have ended on? Squandered. But I still like this one. It offers closure to the story, and Laurie comes out heroic and on top.