She’s tried everything. Therapy, self-help books, yoga, 12-step groups, pills, even alcohol. But she can’t let go. She can’t stop dreaming about him. She can’t stop seeing him everywhere she goes.
For 20 years, Laurie Strode has been haunted by the memories of her homicidal brother, Michael Myers, and with good reason. On Halloween night 1978, he stalked her unsuccessfully for two movies. He killed several of her friends.
But despite faking her death in a publicized car accident and secretly relocating from Illinois to California under a new identity, there is no closure. How can there be when, against all the rules of nature and common sense, he’s still out there.
This is the set-up for Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, an unusual sequel in this long-running horror saga. Disappearing almost all of the events of the last four films (Season Of The Witch to The Curse Of Michael Myers) and literarily resuscitating its original, dead protagonist, it’s definitely an improvement over the last chapter. But despite some welcome intelligence, some funny bits and a few genuine scares, it feels unnecessary.
Once again, Jamie Lee Curtis plays Laurie who now goes by the name of Keri Tate. She’s a divorced academic with a 17-year-old son (Josh Harnett in his first film role) who runs a private high school. (There is zero mention of Jamie Lloyd, her orphaned daughter from Halloweens 4, 5 & 6.) Now dating Will Brennan (Adam Arkin), the school’s guidance counsellor, she’s reluctant to tell him about her past.
Meanwhile, without any clear explanation, Myers is loose (did he escape the institution again?) and back in Illinois to take care of some unfinished business. The nurse he didn’t kill from the original Halloween has a file on Laurie which apparently reveals her current location. He finds her house, rampages through her office until he finds out the truth and then sticks around to slit her throat. (His first appearance is a decent scare.) He also puts down a couple of her teenage neighbours including Joseph Gordon-Levitt. (I’m glad I no longer own hockey skates.)
As the 20th Anniversary of the original Halloween massacre approaches, Laurie suffers night terrors and starts hallucinating. She looks out the window and there’s his reflection. She turns around and instead of seeing Will, she sees the man in the Shatner mask. No wonder she’s hittin’ the booze hard.
Not helping matters is a school trip her son John wants to go on. Now the same age she was when her brother first came after her, she forbids it much to his disappointment. Realizing wrongly, as it turns out, that she’s way too overprotective (in turn, he’s tired and growing ever more resentful of being her caregiver), she signs the permission slip but by that point, John has made other plans. Along with his girlfriend Molly (Michelle Williams) and their mutual friends, Charlie (occasionally amusing Adam Hann-Byrd from Little Man Tate) and his partner, Sarah (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe), he’s staying on campus for a romantic night.
A terrible idea, of course, because Michael Myers is secretly driving around in a stolen car (when did he learn to drive?) and he now knows about Laurie’s new life. Thanks to the school’s distracted security guard (LL Cool J) who tries to convince his girlfriend via telephone that he’s got a future penning erotica (spoiler: he doesn’t), Myers very easily slips by him once the gate is open.
And just like that, we’re down to one couple.
Meanwhile, Laurie confesses all to Will and after suddenly remembering the age of her son, she panics and soon discovers he never left for that school camping trip.
One of my biggest annoyances with this movie is its overuse of false alarms, those irritating moments when we’re expecting something terrible to happen only to be fooled again and again. I saw most of them a mile away, although one actually made me jump but it’s such a cheat. Having someone unexpectedly jump into frame is such an easy way to spook you.
That reliance on an old horror cliché grows tired very quickly as does the indestructability of Michael Myers in general. Ok, I get it. He’s supposed to be more than human than human, an unrepentant monster with superhuman strength and extraordinary healing powers. He’s not like other men.
But come on. Haven’t the filmmakers in this series stretched out this idea beyond all credibility?
Despite wisely erasing all but one of the events of four previous sequels, it’s still not believable that he’s alive, ditto Laurie, for that matter. (It’s never properly explained how she was able to fool people, including her now erased daughter, into thinking she’s been dead this whole time. We’re just asked to accept it without question.) And because the original remains a tough act to follow (after watching the TV version three decades ago as a terrified 10-year-old, I’ve never seen the theatrical cut in its entirety), there’s no escaping the routine nature of watching Myers hack up a bunch of people for no good reason.
Since this is the central focus of this series (psycho in a mask killing a bunch of teenagers because of an unchecked compulsion), a concept that’s been ripped off far too often for too many years, there’s little room for originality and true suspense. It’s hard to be surprised when you’ve seen it all before.
As a result, Halloween H20: 20 Years Later, despite some genuine laughs, some effective atmosphere and welcome intelligence (the reference to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein novel is a sharp touch), can’t truly erase the missteps of its tarnished legacy.
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Sunday, October 4, 2015