Ed. note– Halloween in November brought me to rewatch H20 and reread my old review, which was an eye-opening experience. If anything, proof that I’m not always on my mark. For reasons of comparison, check out my full original review here.– P.F.
Back in 2011, I watched HALLOWEEN H20 for my School-based Slashers series. I had run through over a dozen of them around that time, and most of them were absolute 80s trash. Some of them were poorly filmed, inadequately lighted and ludicrously plotted and acted, so at that point H20 must’ve looked like some kind of minor masterpiece to me. Among all those school-based slashers, it probably is. But removed from that context— as a horror movie—as a HALLOWEEN sequel—as a series of moving images on film—it is not a good movie, despite what I said in my initial review. In no way had “HALLOWEEN H20 almost equaled Carpenter’s film in quality,” nor is it anywhere near “a classy school slasher that pays respect to Carpenter’s classic while being a great movie on its own.” I may have tarnished any reviewing integrity by even suggesting such things possible of H20. But I’m only human, and fully admit that, with my brain worn down by a series of cheapjack 80s slashers, I missed the mark by a wide margin with my original review. Which is why I’m re-reviewing it as part of my Halloween in November.
H20’s problems are evident straight from the start. The first act revolves around nurse Marion, one of Michael’s keepers from Carpenter’s originals. She comes home to find her house broken into, gets two neighborhood kids to check it out, and then things go sideways. If this were the thrust of the movie’s plot, this would be fine. But it’s merely a prologue intent to dole out fan service, with a minor player whose character never needed an arc. Once Michael dispatches these three, there’s some rather insulting expository dialogue from cops on the scene just in case you’ve never seen a HALLOWEEN movie. Followed by Dr. Loomis’ voice over newspaper clippings summing up the first two films. Seriously, I never understand why studios figure they need to jam stuff like this into the sixth sequel in a franchise. Fans from two decades earlier know all this, and younger kids could’ve caught up with the series on these relics called VHS tapes. If this entire opening were summed up in clips over 90 seconds, this would be a small sin. But it takes 13 minutes in a film that clocks in at 86 minutes with credits included. Which is wasted time.
It then jumps to the main plot. Laurie Strode has renamed herself Kerri Tate, moved on to become a headmistress at a private school in California, and has had a son. This is our big return to a series stalwart, the protagonist of Carpenter’s original, and arguably the greatest final girl in the history of horror. But the Laurie I find here is fundamentally broken. She’s a pill popping alcoholic, self- medicating to stave off the horrible memories of the night HE came home. I understand Jamie Lee Curtis’ edgy take on the character, as it would be only natural for Strode’s life to be a tangle of fears in Michael Myer’s wake. But this presents a problem, as Laurie Strode is not the likable teen from the earlier movies, but a bitchy, overprotective single mom who can’t get past her teen troubles. Her opening scene is her literally waking up from the first movie and then denying her 17 year old son John from going on a class trip because she’s afraid of The Shape. I feel for John, who just wants to do the normal teen things Laurie once did, before that Halloween night. I grew to like Laurie much more later in the film, but I wish I could’ve liked her from the beginning.
The plot itself isn’t so bad, with Laurie eventually granting John to go on the trip with his girlfriend and their friends. They ditch, and hang around the spooky campus grounds, giving Michael ample territory to stalk and slash as he cuts a path to his reunion with Laurie. And Laurie’s fight for survival is fairly exciting, especially once she turns the tables and becomes the aggressor. But man, there is a lot of garbage weighing this flick down as it goes.
The worst of all of this is a problem of the film’s era. H20 came out in the SCREAM period, when all of horror thought it had to be ironic and self-referential. For example, Janet Leigh’s cameo as a secretary—which I called “joyous” in my original review—now stands out as a sore thumb PSYCHO reference that has no place but to point out a horror classic. It does nothing to further the plot, and it’s a character with absolutely no payoff. And it’s made even worse because it follows an earlier dialogue scene in which a character tells John that in 20 years he’ll be running some motel with his mom. Leigh’s character even offers to “be maternal for a moment,” in a scene played out by real-life mother and daughter. Uy yuy yuy, there’s cheeky and then there’s hit you in the face with a sledgehammer.
And speaking of useless characters and sledgehammer subtlety, there’s LL Cool J in one of the most demeaning parts for a Black character in horror. He’s a gate watchman at the campus, and a terrible, unpublished writer who follows the trope of the Black comic relief in horror flicks (Cool J filled the same role in DEEP BLUE SEA). The comedy is lame, and there’s absolutely no reason the knife-happy Myers doesn’t murder him.
In fact, who Michael Myers murders and who he spares has no particular rationale. He’ll let a rest stop patron survive, but he’ll kill two goofy kids in the prologue. Wipe out some partying teens, but not hang around to kill Laurie’s son? It’s so random, it defies any sort of logic. Either he has a plan or he doesn’t. This script can’t decide.
The ending certainly was well-planned, as Laurie Strode gets to end her nightmare once and for all. Having faced her demons, maybe now Laurie can get past that night HE came home. It finishes on a nice note. Except, of course, HALLOWEEN RESURRECTION came along a few years later and ruined that beautiful sense of closure. But that’s RESURRECTION’s sins, not H20’s.
Look, H20 is not without its high points. It’s got some decent scenes of tension, and it reunited Jamie Lee Curtis with the franchise after almost two decades. But it’s got far too many flaws to be the “classy school slasher that pays respect to Carpenter’s classic while being a great movie on its own.” If anything, it proves I can get caught up in a flick sometimes and overly praise it because of my whimsy. But I’m not knee deep in school-based slashers this time around, so I trust this re-review is on the mark, even if H20 wasn’t so much on its mark as I originally thought.