The piece below was written during the 2023 SAG-AFTRA strike. Without the labor of the actors currently on strike, the art being covered in this piece wouldn't exist.
Curiously timed to the film’s 25th anniversary, Halloween: 20 Years Later (henceforth H20) makes the move to 4KUHD this spooky season. Coming on the heels of the recently wrapped David Gordon Green trilogy that put a bow on the saga of Laurie Strode and Michael Myers, or as much of a bow as can be put on any long-running franchise. Knowing how that part of the story plays out makes revisiting H20 an interesting prospect.
Positioning itself as a direct sequel to Halloween ll, H20 picks up with Laurie Strode (Academy Award winner, but not for this film, Jamie Lee Curtis) having faked her death and relocated to California where she’s living under the name Keri Tate and leading a quiet life as headmistress of a private school where she can keep a close eye on her son John (Josh Hartnett). In short order the school is cleared out for the weekend, leaving Laurie with her boyfriend and colleague Will (Adam Arkin) behind for a romantic weekend together. Also looking for a little romance are John, his girlfriend Molly (Michelle Williams), and their friends Charlie (Adam Hann-Byrd) and Sarah (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe). Also looking to take advantage of the quiet campus is Michael Myers (Chris Durand) and he’s not there for an amorous time.
As a post-Scream slasher, H20 walks a wobbly path. It’s fast-paced, with a handful of noteworthy kills and effective fake-outs. With Scream writer Kevin Williamson on board as a producer, his influence on H20 is undeniable (and there are a couple Scream references worked in for good measure). As a slasher, H20 hits the notes it needs to. Its highlights include a tense bit of business with a hand in a garbage disposal and Sarah’s unfortunate run in with Michael, which delivers the film’s gnarliest violence. As a Halloween movie, it works because of Jamie Lee Curtis’ performance. She gets to go deeper into the PTSD angle of Laurie’s character in Green’s trilogy, but this first at-bat with it is effective in its own right. In H20, Laurie sees Michael everywhere she goes and the threat of him haunts every aspect of her life. The way Laurie snaps at John when she catches him off-campus during lunch is an incisive bit of acting by Curtis, letting a lifetime’s worth of terror and anger seep out a very brief exchange. The handful of scenes where Laurie gets to confront her anxieties head on are the film’s strongest moments. With a sub-90 minute runtime, H20 doesn’t have much room for thematic depth, but Curtis makes the most of what she gets.
The overall result is a perfectly fine meat-and-potatoes slasher served with a heavy dose of meta commentary and humor. That aspect is what elevates it above the sluggish Halloween 4-6. H20 is not a laugh riot by any means, but its also not self-serious to the point of parody. Most of the humor comes via LL Cool J’s campus security guard Ronny. Ronny spends most of the movie in his little security post at the front gate and he spends all of his time on the phone with his wife. While keeping a bunch of rich white kids safe is his day job, Ronny dreams of writing romance novels. He’s constantly reading his work to his wife who is the kind of tough crowd every aspiring writer needs. When Ronny describes a woman as having “tumultuous, round, melon breasts,” that’s hilarious. And it’s funnier when his wife makes fun of him for it. Honestly, it’s a real disappointment that there isn’t a special feature with more of Ronny reading his work. Two quick scenes between Janet Leigh and daughter Jamie Lee Curtis prove surprisingly poignant and give the film something unique, even if it’s brief. Two generations of family coming together, two generations of horror icons sharing the screen (while packing in an impressive number of Psycho references into very little screen time).
H20 is one of my favorite entries in the series. It scratches a particular nostalgic itch by transporting me back to a time when I was excited by each new slasher that followed in the wake of Scream. I first saw Scream as a 12 year old with very lenient parents when it came to video store rentals. That was the first horror film I ever watched and it sent me down a path that would take me to movies from all over the world, and every kind of cinematic fright from the visceral to psychological to unnerving to disturbing to existential and everything in between. H20 arrived in that sweet spot where I was still susceptible to every trick it throws at an audience for a jump. More importantly, I wanted that feeling. I wanted to be scared out of my wits. At this point I can’t remember if H20 delivered what I was looking for when I watched it back in 1998. But I do have many fond memories of watching it while home sick throughout middle and high school, and those are the kind of memories more obvious nostalgia plays can’t match.
Starting with an ice skate to the face and finishing with a decapitation, Halloween: H20 remains a fun slasher and a slightly above average Halloween entry. The newly available 4K UHD comes with no special features, but does come in a slick looking Limited Editon Steelbook with a handsome transparent slipcover with printed accents, as well as a digital copy.