Reboot attempt number 3 with added postmodernism- Halloween H20: Twenty Years Later
Back in the early 90’s it was wisely observed that slasher movies were dead, and in no small part the Halloween series was noticed standing over the corpse saying “It’s a fair cop, officer”. The relentless parade of sub par sequels, and mindless killing machines, delivered without an iota of charm or wit had quite simply killed not only slashers, but horror in general. We were all set to bury the corpse, and move on to maybe sci-fi horror (the likes of Event Horizon weren’t far away), but a funny thing happened on the way to the funeral. Wes Craven, one of the godfathers of the genre came back with Scream. Now, Scream was seminal at the time, not only was it a good film in its own right, but it gave the entire genre a shot in the arm. Admittedly, it did also usher in the age of postmodernism, but that’s not its fault. With the brave new dawn of “clever” slasher movies upon us, the decision was made to have another look at the Halloween films, and maybe update them to the 1990’s. The result was Halloween H20.
Contains the very welcome return of Jamie Lee Curtis and spoilers below
Maybe it’s because I’m now on to film number 7 in this hateful series, but I have to say that H20 came as a breath of fresh air, and a welcome shot of quality to the moribund mess. I know it’s generally reviled for amongst other things having LL Cool J in it, being as generic as it comes, having LL Cool J in it, being unimaginative, having LL Cool J in it, being smug and postmodern, having LL Cool J in it, being stuffed full of references to other films like a terminally hateful pinata of hipsterism waiting for someone to smash it, and above all else having LL Cool J in it, but this strikes me as a touch unfair. H20 isn’t a bad film at all.
Wisely deciding to ignore parts 4-6 (Season of the Witch doesn’t count), H20 picks up as a direct sequel to Halloween 2, but set 20 years on from that film. Laurie Strode is now headmistress of a posh boarding school, a functional alcoholic and stuffed more full of anti-depressants than the average pharmacy. She has a teenage son, played by Josh Hartnett, who attends the school and hangs around with his douchebag friends and girlfriend (played by Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe and Michelle Williams) all the while craving his freedom. Except the spectre of his murderous uncle hangs heavily over the Strode family, and he’s a prisoner to history. Anyhoo, Michael has broken out of whatever asylum with a revolving door that he’s been incarcerated in, and stolen Laurie’s file from Loomis’ residence. He’s on the way back. At the same time, there’s a camping trip that John is desperate to go on, but mother says no. Eventually she rethinks it, but in the meantime he’s organised a party/ group sex event with his friends so bunks off the trip. Roll on Halloween night, and Myers stalks the halls of the school merrily eviscerating people that get in his way in his attempt to get to Laurie (LL Cool J and Adam Arkin are the two most important). There’s a big showdown and Laurie shows him what for by absolutely making sure that he’s dead this time. The end.
This isn’t actually a bad film. It’s not a great film, and it really isn’t, but there are moments that elevate the material. The opening, for example, with a very young Joseph Gordon Levitt blundering across a corpse with an ice skate buried in its face is a startlingly good piece of shot composition, as is Jamie Lee Curtis’ eventual face to face with Michael. The film has a number of trump cards to play, and, as a rule, plays them very effectively.
Firstly, the acting. The return of Jamie Lee Curtis shows just how far ahead of all the other pretenders (including O’Keefe and Williams) she always has been, and she puts in a first rate shift as Laurie. The absence of Pleasance does hurt the film, but with Laurie now a responsibility figure, there’s no real need to bring Loomis back. Furthermore, it is well thought out that Laurie is completely traumatised by her experiences, and absolutely fitting with the whole babysitter motif that she’s now headmistress at a boarding school- this is simply in loco parentis on a grand scale. Hartnett is a plank, but we know that, while LL Cool J sucks something fierce, mostly because the character is partially meant as comic relief, but comes across as irritating.
Secondly, the direction. Steve Miner was a fairly obvious choice for a post-Scream Halloween, given that he has a number of slasher films on his resume (Friday 2 and 3), and was languishing in TV Land directing Dawson’s Crack at the time (not a typo), the series that launched Scream creator Kevin Williamson. Miner displays an assured hand playing to the film’s strengths, and turns in some very, very messy kills indeed (the dumb waiter on Sarah’s leg still makes me wince).
So far so good. However, there is a monumental downside to this film, that only really becomes apparent in hindsight. Halloween H20 has aged incredibly badly, it simply is more a product of its time than the original that spawned it. This was the post-Scream Horror Landscape, so it was simply inconceivable to make a slasher movie without jamming it full of references- in this case Janet Leigh appears as a mother figure to Jamie Lee, and there are untold visual references both to the original film and to Psycho (arguably the grand daddy of Slasher movies – even if Peeping Tom set the model).This does, and I’m not exaggerating here, become very fucking tiresome very fucking quickly, and the sheer smugness of some of them (Janet Leigh’s car, for example) wouldn’t be out of place in Scott Pilgrim.
Secondly, the body count is low. Very low, in fact. By film 7 of a franchise, we’re expecting the bodies to pile up in a quite inconceivable fashion. However, here there’s only a handful of victims, and I only a few of them are on Camera. The film even wimps out of killing LL Cool J, for fuck’s sake, and his character is the very definition of a pointless add on. While some of the kills are incredibly nasty (the aforementioned dumb waiter), I find myself torn on this one. I’m all for going back to the relatively bloodless original, but to do so there has to be an element of suspense instead of gore. This is singularly lacking, and H20 feels like it is trying to have its cake and eat it too on this front. Oh, and there’s nary a boob to be seen. Other than Hartnett and LL Cool J, who are as big a pair of tits to ever appear on camera.
Which brings me on to the latent racism of LL Cool J’s character. There’s absolutely no need for the security guard at a posh boarding school to be played by a black rapper. Furthermore, lots of the dialogue that he spouts sounds as if its a dismal parody of proper “ghetto” speak. They attempt to give the character some depth, by having him as a frustrated and talentless scribe of filthy romance novels that flirt with pornography, but the dialogue from his (thankfully never seen) girlfriend in reponse to it is painful- she sounds like Brenda in the cinema in Scary Movie. It’s clichéd and obnoxious character writing that plays up to some of the worst stereotypes of African Americans thrown out by Hollywood. Hell, I hate this paragraph, because I feel that I’ve come over all Guardian Film Critic (have a look at the recent review of Trading Places there), but if I’ve noticed it then you can bet your bottom dollar that its there loud and proud, as I very rarely spot this sort of thing.
I actually quite admire the attempt made to reboot the series and clear out the crap, but at the same time I struggle to think of a series with as many attempts at rebooting it as Halloween. At last count, including the shitty remakes, there has been 4 attempts at relaunching it in one guise or another (the anthology of 3, the end of 4, H20, and the remake) in 10 films! That’s ridiculous and shows that any film in this series is crushed by the burden of expectation that the original set, and that fans of the series want. All people seem to want is The Shape messily butchering teens, and any attempt to deviate from this template tends to go down like a cup of cold sick. But, at the same time, anyone that comes to make a film in this series also seems to be painfully aware that the premise cannot, and more to the point simply won’t, support endless identikit thrillers. H20 merely fits in to this pattern- albeit being significantly better than the various other attempts.
Overall, meh. H20 is an OK film, it’s not earth shattering, but it’s not crap. However, compared to the last 3 films in this misbegotten wretch of a franchise that I’ve endured and the utterly rancid three following it, then I have to say that H20 stands out like a lighthouse of quality in a sea of shite. Yes, it’s smug, and I agree that Postmodernism can suck a fat one, but it is suitably polished, there are some good set pieces and Jamie Lee Curtis carries the film above and beyond the call of duty. As such, I’m going for a ludicrously generous 2 pumpkins out of a possible for, and this rating is in no small part influenced by the crap coming.
Next up, it’s Michael v Busta Rhymes.