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Halloween H2O: 20 Years Later

Rated R, 83 min. Directed by Steve Miner. Starring Jamie Lee Curtis, Adam Arkin, Josh Hartnett, Janet Leigh, Jodi Lynn O'Keefe, Adam Hann-Byrd, LL Cool J, Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

REVIEWED By Marc Savlov, Fri., Aug. 7, 1998

Has it really been 20 years already? It seems like only yesterday good-girl babysitter Laurie Strode battled it out with her inhuman, Captain Kirk-bemasked, butcher knife-wielding sibling Michael Myers and revolutionized the face of the American horror film. I remember driving through an overcast Albany one afternoon in '78 and pestering my dad to swing by the Loew's and take in a matinee -- I was 12 and the suggestion carried little fatherly imperative that day, but I more than made up for it by spending much of the Eighties mooning over freshly minted scream queen Curtis in her post-Halloween roles (The Fog creeps me out to this day). And now, the final chapter, one hopes, of yet another sagging franchise. As if Halloweens 3-5 never existed (hardly a stretch), H2O catches up to a damaged version of its protagonist 20 years to the day after the events of the first film. (We know this is so because a subtitle proclaims that it's “October 31, 1998,” quickly followed by “Halloween.” Duh.) Strode (Curtis) is now Keri Tate, a “functioning alcoholic” and principal of a smallish private high school sequestered outside a small Southern California town. She's also the mother of 17-year-old Josh (Hartnett), who, in the fine tradition of teenagers everywhere, resents mom's asphyxiative apron strings. Guys, like girls, just wanna have fun, and when the opportunity arises to ditch the school camping trip and hang out with a trio of equally horny friends, Josh takes the bait and stays behind while mom hallucinates her evil brother at every available juncture, this despite the marginally reassuring presence of her romance-inclined counselor (Arkin). Michael, of course, is back in town, and without Donald Pleasence's Dr. Loomis around to keep him on a leash, suburbia's favorite bogeyman makes a beeline to the school and begins slicing, dicing, and julienning assorted victims as he moves toward Laurie and her son. Film geeks will chuckle over Curtis' real-life mom Janet Leigh in a cameo as Laurie/Keri's busybody secretary (if you're a real geek, you'll recognize her car and that snatch of Bernard Herrmann straight off), but H20, like the original, isn't a particularly humorous affair. For one thing, Laurie's character arc has bottomed out, resulting in a powerful heroine coming off as a paranoid lush. In the real world, I suppose, that's how things might have turned out, but the Laurie Strode of Halloweens 1 and 2 never struck me as a quitter. Miner strives to imbue the film with the requisite autumnal haze of the original but then gives up midway through and instead resorts to the standard stalk 'n' slash formulas. It's heartening to see a beloved character revived like this (at one point during the screening I attended, audience members actually stood up and cheered), but H2O -- for all its good, gory intentions -- is barely a shadow of the original. There's no frisson, no sense of the impossible here, though whether that's due to Miner and company or simply the passage of time is up for debate. It's a fitting enough capstone for one of horror cinema's more memorable series, I suppose, but when it ended I wanted, more than anything else, to go peruse the original.
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