On its opening night, I went to see SORORITY ROW, a flick that is a silly remake of a just-as- silly 1980s slasher. Slashers aren’t my favorite horror flicks, so why this lame remake inspired me, I’ll never know. But inspire it did, and I set myself the task of reviewing a bunch of school-based slashers. Below is the tenth in this series of reviews.
People are free to choose their favorite 80s slasher from the Freddy-Michael-Jason-Leatherface pool for whatever reason they want, but it would be hard to argue: when it comes to artistry, the HALLOWEEN films far outdo the others. John Carpenter set the benchmark for the series (and also for the other slasher franchises) with a taut thriller that boasted a great script from him and Debra Hill and the beautiful cinematography of Dean Cundey. Even the lesser entries all shared a more artistic slant and were generally better produced than, say, the FRIDAY THE 13TH’s (note I’m not including the “Haddonfield, home of hillbilly Hell” Rob Zombie entries, which eschewed all taste on every level). So when Jamie Lee Curtis decided to return after 20 years, with a concept by Kevin Williamson, it was no surprise that HALLOWEEN H20 almost equaled Carpenter’s film in quality. When I look at Williamson’s devotion to 80s slashers, it’s no surprise that he turned the film into perhaps the highest quality school slasher ever made.
The film starts out as sly homage. The nurse from the original HALLOWEEN returns home to Dr. Loomis’ house to discover there’s been a break in. Things abruptly end badly for her and two neighborhood kids. It then introduces Laurie Strode, who’s been in hiding for 20 years since the fire she thought claimed Michael Myers. Dousing her fears in a sea of booze, she’s alienated her son John, a student at the boarding school where she’s headmistress. John decides to skip out on a trip and spend Halloween night with his girlfriend Molly and two friends, all of which leads up to Laurie’s confrontation with Michael.
Credit Jamie Lee’s edgy performance as the linchpin to the film’s success. Here is a woman falling apart, dealing with 20 years worth of after-effects, trying to shield her son from the terrors of the world. This Laurie is abrasive, constantly snapping at people. It’s a brave place for Jamie Lee to take the much beloved character, for fear of turning the audience on her. But it’s the right choice. I’ve always wondered if the “last girls” in horror movies were actually less fortunate than those who died; while these movies want us to smile on the survivors, I constantly predict they’ll end up on therapist couches, dealing with the trauma for the rest of their lives. H20 portrays exactly that; the night Michael came home has crippled her from living a normal life.
“The night that Michael came home” is frequently in view in H20, as a number of scenes parallel Carpenter’s classic. Done wrong, these could have buried the film by making it a mere rip off. But director Steve Miner and the writers do a fine job of paying honor without delving into self-parody. Watching Molly gaze out a window and see Michael fits here, because Laurie asks her a pointed question about Frankenstein; Molly’s answer involves fate, and unknowingly echoes Laurie’s own feelings about her fate. Best is when Michael starts to chase her and she finds a closet. Her response is both classic and realistic. Clearly modeling this film after the first, Miner crafts an excellent HALLOWEEN film, and an impressive horror film in general.
What’s new to the mix is the school location. It affords some great sets, with wide, gloomy spaces between buildings. The kitchen with its dumbwaiter and assortment of knives is perfect for creating tension once Michael arrives with his penchant for cutlery. A tense scene at the gate manages to work despite the buffoonery of LL Cool J in the thankless role of Ronny the security guard. The ploy of a field trip removes most of the student population, clearing out the place of all but a few unwitting victims and making Michael’s path to John and Laurie that much more direct. This film uses the school better than probably any of the other school slashers, mainly because it’s just a better film. I have to admit it’s odd for me writing my first review of a HALLOWEEN film to be included in this series, but I would guess Williamson crafted the idea with flicks from the rest of this series in mind. It’s a testament to the project that it manages to look back to the slasher heyday without all the post-ironic dreck of the SCREAM era.
Most important is that the movie makes Michael Myers scary again. The direct connect makes it seem as if those 20 intervening years had never gone by, and “the night he came home” is one long nightmare. The Shape is out in full force, it’s October 31, and you’ll be lucky to get out alive.
The supporting cast of his victims holds up well. Josh Harnett and Michelle Williams play John and Molly as real teens; I could feel John’s frustration of harboring the secret and trying to hold Mom together. Adam Arkin is good as the love interest who doesn’t know the whole story, but there’s not enough of him. And Janet Leigh, with shades of PSYCHO in one of her final film roles, is a joy in her small role.
Dimension put this out on DVD ages ago, and blundered by releasing boxes that promised a commentary with Jamie Lee that didn’t exist. All we get are a decent featurette in which she and others discuss the project and the legacy of HALLOWEEN. There’s also a trivia game, but it’s kind of lame.
In 1998, H2O reminded fans why the franchise is the Cadillac of the slashers. It’s a classy school slasher that pays respect to Carpenter’s classic while being a great movie on its own.