Halloween H20 (1998) Review – A Glimmer of Hope

When you think about it, with the knowledge of just how far the franchise had fallen, resetting Halloween and returning to Michael Myers’ obsession with Laurie Strode sounds like a bit of a desperate attempt to cling to relevancy. Based on the plot synopsis, it first appears to be nothing but retreading old ground. But the fact of the matter is, despite its surprisingly short 86 minute runtime, Halloween H20 is the first film in a long time to introduce a breath of fresh air into the franchise, that manages to utilise things we’ve all seen before in new ways, and makes Michael just a bit scarier than he had been in his last outing.

After Michael raids the home of the late Doctor Loomis’ niece for the location of Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) in his paperwork, he is able to locate his sister who has since changed her name and made a new life for herself. Still haunted by her relation to Michael and the events of the 1978 film, Laurie’s trauma puts a strain on her relationship with her son. But when Michael’s presence is detected by her she refuses to be the one hunted by him, and takes her fate into her own hands by vowing to hunt and kill him herself. It’s a very simplistic, low stakes plot that works for those reasons.

A lot of this movie is made better by Jamie Lee Curtis herself who is a great actress bringing a lot of charisma to her part. You can definitely feel that she is still deeply affected by the events of previous movies and, despite that being the centre of her character, never feel too weighed down in her negative emotions and thus the film doesn’t feel dreary or melodramatic as far as her character is concerned. Although, I will say that her character arc involving a child becoming slowly estranged from her, with an absent father and a new love interest entering her life reminded me more of Freaky Friday than I’d have liked to have been during a horror film.

The teens in this movie don’t get a lot of attention or development because they’re simply here to die by Michael’s hand with the exception of John, Laurie’s son. Though the two who die do feel cliche, in that modern horror insufferable teen sort of way, and even John to a lesser extent, it’s never distracting or offputting. I think the film allowing John and his girlfriend to live instead of brutally dying was a good step made by this film, in so far as preventing it from becoming as cynical as its predecessors, in which they aged up their protagonist to kill her at the start of the 6th movie.

Then there’s Michael himself, who is at the top of his game. I don’t think the masked killer has been this good in the franchise since Halloween 2 (1981). It’s not just that he feels much more like a stalker again, as opposed to an action villain performing insane feats whenever he’s on-screen, but also that he’s (finally) depicted as being truly unpredictable. A lot of characters, both important and throw-away, interact with him throughout the film but only half of them end up dead or even wounded – You never know if Michael is going to kill them or just take advantage of their presence and leave them be. The introduction, with Loomis’ niece, is good for this reason – She gets help from her neighbours when discovering that her house has been looted but they find no one inside. When she enters her home safely we expect her to get jumped by Michael, but she simply isn’t. It’s only when she returns to her neighbour’s house, to find that the killer has transferred himself into that home to do a murder, that we get the first bit of action in the film. It’s a slower, steadier way of building tension that I missed from the earlier films, even including Halloween 3. What makes it work is that the woman would have lived, were it not for her insistence on checking in her neighbours who she had no indication were in any kind of danger.

There’s a similar scene where a lady and her daughter stop at the side of the road to use the bathroom and are forced to use the men’s room when the ladies’ door is locked. The daughter sings a creepy nursery rhyme while on the toilet and the mom catches a glimpse of Michael inside while she’s singing. We expect Michael to go mad and kill them, but he settles for stealing their car. It’s still a tense scene, despite the lack of violence, and it just makes Michael feel more threatening as we don’t know what we are to expect from him.

Even when he reaches the school Laurie and her son live at, he doesn’t kill the first person he sees; Opting to stalk and deceive the security guard from the shadows so that he can gain entry instead of brute-forcing his way through the gates and killing him.

The kill count is pretty low in this film and even the first two murders that occur happen offscreen, with the viewers merely discovering the aftermath. But that’s not to say there’s no killing at all; Loomis’ niece dies, as do two of the teens at the school and Laurie’s love interest. The film is also quite graphic compared to the previous entries, though not to the same extent as something like Halloween 2 (1981).

The highlight of this film is where Laurie decides not to run from Michael and to instead pursue him, once securing her child’s safety. It truly is a moment that gives you the chills when she marches up to the school calling out to Michael fearlessly, as John Carpenter’s theme plays over her actions instead of the killer’s. It’s a nice reversal and, although their confrontation is brief and more action-orientated than the rest of the movie, it is nonetheless an entertaining and satisfying one.

Another highlight is when Laurie and Michael first meet, after John has a close encounter with him.

After knocking Michael unconscious, Laurie proceeds to hijack the ambulance that took his body and drives it off a cliff to secure Michael’s demise. With Michael trapped under the wreckage, reaching out to his sister and showing the first signs of human emotion since the tear he shed in Halloween 5, Laurie decapitates him. For the fourth time in the franchise’s history, Michael had been officially and irreversible killed.

Or had he?

A big part of what made Jame Lee Curits return to this film was her insistence that they finally kill Michael Myers. I recall watching some special features or an interview a while ago where she was saying in a very exaggerated tone “how could he come back? We cut his damn head off!” But what the poor actress probably didn’t know is that somewhere, buried at the bottom of some corporate document, was a line of text reading that Michael could not be shown to die onscreen. So, I guess the filmmakers settled for making it so it appeared as though Michael had died when he actually hadn’t? But I don’t know – decapitation seems pretty final to me. It’s not a cutaway either, we see the axe hit his neck and are given a close-up of his head on the ground.

If the person she killed wasn’t Michael, how did he survive first getting blasted through the windscreen of the ambulance before getting up as though he had sustained no injury? How did he survive Laurie speeding into him with an incredibly heavy vehicle thereafter? How did he survive rolling down a massive cliff and getting crushed by it, again, without dying immediately or having any visible injuries in a film I’ve already called a little graphic? It doesn’t line up for me. And it’s a shame because, if that person – whoever the hell they were – had been Michael, I believe it would have been a very fitting end to this movie and Laurie’s character arc. The film works much better for me if I just choose to believe Michael did actually die here.

The only other complaint I have about the film regards Michael’s mask. When he is actually wearing it, it’s fine. But there are some scenes where he clearly isn’t wearing it and it is replaced with a CGI mask plastered on his face. I don’t know why they decided to CGI his mask on for a couple of shots of the film, but in each and every one of them it looks ridiculously awful. Thankfully, it only happens two or three times and not during the major conflict between he and Laurie.

Overall, Halloween H20 is probably the best Halloween film to happen for a very long time. Yeah, it’s short, but it’s also straight to the point and still delivers a simplistic story that is satisfying. It feels very self-aware and in on the fact that there’s not a lot left to do with this franchise. Resultingly it cuts to the chase and gets to the point. I’d rather this than another Halloween 6 where Michael spends half the movie killing random people I don’t care about. I would highly recommend it, as I find it to be one of the best films in the franchise.

At the end of every Halloween review, I rank the films I have seen so far from best to worst. Find the updated list below:

  1. Halloween (1978)
  2. Halloween H20 (1998)
  3. Halloween 2 (1981)
  4. Halloween 3: Season of the Witch (1983)
  5. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers (1988)
  6. Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers (1989)
  7. Halloween 6: The Curse of Michael Myers (1995)

2 thoughts on “Halloween H20 (1998) Review – A Glimmer of Hope

Add yours

  1. Interesting Scream vibe to this too, maybe as a result of Kevin Williamson having been involved in the early versions of the script I think. The slasher genre was sort of going through a moulting process at the time I think, which helped this feel a bit fresher. I agree with your ranking.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It’s interesting you say that. I got some Scream vibes here but not as much as I did from the sequel. I’ve already watched Resurrection in prep for the review and my immediate thought was that movie felt like a rejected scream concept.

      Liked by 1 person

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