Junkfood Horror: Halloween H20

By  · Published on October 29th, 2010

Junkfood Horror: Halloween H20

Welcome back to Junkfood Cinema: where the tricks and the treats are indistinguishable. This is the internet’s spookiest of bad movie columns dedicated to digging up the corpses of long-dead schlock. I’m tempted to do a Vincent Price laugh, but that doesn’t come through in text too well.

Every week I slash a bad movie down to size and then, through a seance of praise, invite its spirit into my own heart. The result is truly terrifying. I will then pair the film with a supernaturally tasty junkfood item to haunt your waistline as the movie haunts your brain!

So, as it turns out, horror sequels win the month of October here at JFC. And being that we are just two days removed from my favorite holiday, I thought it best to wrap up the year’s creepiest month with another film in the Halloween franchise. Today’s film is Halloween H20.

Quick premise rundown. Laurie Strode, sister of mass murderer Michael Myers, survives not one but two attempts on her life by her sibling on Halloween night in 1978. Shortly thereafter, not convinced that her brother actually died in that hospital fire, she fakes her own death and moves out to California. Twenty years later, under an assumed name, she is the head mistress of a prestigious preparatory school which her own son attends. She struggles to put the past behind her and just when she thinks she has made strides toward recovery, an unexpected family reunion opens the door to her worst nightmare.

What Makes It Bad?

I think, more than anything, Halloween H20’s biggest setback is its title. Yes, I understand that this film was released twenty years after John Carpenter’s immortal classic and there is a momentousness there worthy of celebration. But perhaps it would have served the film better to not have employed 6th grade chemistry to bestow a catchy label on this sequel. Halloween H20 sounds as if Michael Myers will be squaring off against Aquaman and spooks the trick-or-treaters of Atlantis. Actually, that might sell. I’m going to write up a treatment of that. Dibs!

Remember how amazing the 90’s were for cinema? Me neither! But unfortunately, the 1990’s went and threw up all over Halloween H20. Unlike most films that make the mistake of dating themselves, fashion disasters are not the chief violations of timelessness in H20. While the hopelessly unwashed hockey hoodlums at the beginning do reek of Kevin Smith runoff, the majority of the film takes place at a preparatory school so the uniforms do their part to conceal any potential decade-influenced apparel nightmares. But all the hard work the costuming department did to not seal the film in a 90’s time capsule is undone by the radio blasting Creed…you know, to set the mood for a horror film? Oh, and the words “introducing Josh Hartnett” solidly cement this film in the 90’s as does the inclusion of then 3rd Rock from the Sun star Joseph Gordon-Levitt; wonder if we’ll ever hear from that kid again. Ironically, he does get Inceptioned in this film, but instead of an idea, Myers incepts a hockey skate into his brain.

The other element that painfully dates H20 is the fact that, structurally, it’s a carbon copy of Scream. Originally, the script for H20 was to be written by Scream scribe Kevin Williamson and, though that didn’t pan out, much of his treatment made it into the final film; explaining the similarities. There is of course the famous Williamson opening kill sequence that became his trademark in the Scream franchise. The music in this film sound familiar by any chance? That’s because H20 composer John Ottman’s score was rejected late in post so instead they just recycled the music cues from the first two Screams. There is something insulting in the assumption that a Halloween film in the 90’s couldn’t stand on its own without a Scream influence when if not for the former, the latter wouldn’t even freaking exist!

But beyond all the petty, fanboy needling, H20’s real failure as a horror film is that the kills just aren’t that great or near plentiful enough. By the time we reach the climax, we are dealing with a victim pool of seven people. This may seem mathematically nitpicky, but for my money there is no reason more than half of those people should survive! Would American really have been that heartbroken if L.L. Cool J. had died? Seriously, does that guy have the Fred “The Hammer” Williamson you-can’t-kill-me clause in his contract? Because there is also no reason he should have survived Deep Blue Sea. In the film’s entirety, there are six kills and three of them are off screen. I think they had to intentionally drop a few more f-bombs lest the film had earned a PG-13 rating. Super lame!

I don’t like that the film almost completely ignores Halloweens 4–6. While I’m fairly certain none of those films appear on AFI’s Top 100 list, a little more research is needed to confirm, it muddies the chronology not to acknowledge them. More specifically, the problem is that Halloween 4 is the film that introduces the plot device that Laurie Strode died in a car accident which justifies her not being around to raise her own daughter Jamie. But when H20 uses the same car accident device, it makes us wonder if Laurie didn’t just abandon her daughter to move out to California and start a better life. What a bitch!

Why I love It!

About a year ago, (I gushed obsessively over Halloween and my love for it. It is a film that defined my movie geekdom and this was the first sequel to come out in theaters while I was old enough that my parents would let me see it. I remember liking it then, but even revisiting it as a critic now I still enjoy it. I honestly think it’s the best love letter in cinematic form ever written to the original. Especially in hindsight of Rob Zombie’s butchering of the film he claims to love so much, H20 is a monument to Halloween fandom.

From the moment the film opens, you get the sense that the filmmakers just plain get it. Not only does it begin with an eerie chorus of Mr. Sandman-the opening song of Halloween II that became almost as indelible to the franchise as the Carpenter theme-but the prologue also centers on Nurse Chambers. Why does this matter? This seemingly insignificant character is actually the same nurse who was in the car with Dr. Loomis the night that Michael first escaped. I dig the fact that they brought back a character so connected with the original mythology and yet one to whom most viewers probably never gave a second thought. There are also bits of dialogue and the framing of shots that either subtly allude to the original film or wholesale steal from it…lovingly so.

Jamie Lee Curtis rocks the house in H20. Having her come back to the series is nothing short of inspired. The destinations to which the franchise sailed without her are unique, but it is a concentrated commitment to the series’ roots to bring her back and complete her story. What’s really interesting to me is the shift in her character between the first two films and H20. She goes from being a weak, put-upon victim to a powerful heroine in full control of her destiny. The transition is very similar to the change in Linda Hamilton from Terminator to Terminator 2. When she locks herself into the campus, when it’s just she and Michael, and she marches toward a final showdown with axe in hand, I got chills.

The ending of the film is triumphant and puts the perfect punctuation on the entire franchise. When she refuses to believe Michael is dead and hijacks the morgue van, you already know shit is about to get real…again. In that final moment, when Michael is pinned by the wrecked van and reaches out to Laurie, there is a hint, a glimmer of compassion in both their gazes. But Laurie is smart enough to know that the evil inside him can never be quelled and makes the smart, albeit brutal, choice to end his life forever. The jarring squeal of the theme starting up again as she severs his head from his body is breathtaking. She breathes heavily for a moment and the credits roll. Few horror franchises ever have a conclusion that satisfying. That is it, the denouement of their entire relationship and conclusion of one of the greatest horror sagas ever written. I will now stick my fingers in my ears as you remind me of the existence of Halloween: Resurrection.

Junkfood Pairing: Hershey’s Candy Corn Kisses

Thank God for Hershey’s. If not for them, I would have to eat handful after handful of kisses AND candy corn in order to create the effect now eloquently encapsulated in their new Candy Corn Kisses. In this metaphor, Halloween would be the candy corn; classic treat as integral to the holiday as any other tradition. H20 would be the sleek, sweet update that adds to the original without taking anything away from it. In any event HAPPY HALLOWEEN EVERYBODY!

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Longtime FSR columnist, current host of FSR’s Junkfood Cinema podcast. President of the Austin Film Critics Association.