Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Halloween: H20 (1998)

Halloween: H20
Director: Steve Miner
Starring: Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Hartnett, Adam Arkin, Michelle Williams, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, LL Cool J, Jodi Lynn O-Keefe, Nancy Stephens
Rated: R

I can't, I'm having my nipples pierced.
            ~Will Brennan

Halloween Water? hahahhahahahahah
            ~Every jackass in 1998 who thought they were telling an original joke.

As the stock in this series was seriously plummeting, luck struck the Halloween franchise's side.  Scream came out and resurrected interest and acclaim in the slasher film.  The film also played as a love letter to films like Halloween.  Also, Halloween was happening upon its 20th anniversary.  This brought Jamie Lee Curtis and John Carpenter back out of the woodwork to try and give this thing another go in celebration.  Shit was about to get real.  Dr. Loomis might not be around any more but Laurie Strode was coming home!

Things weren't so peachy on the Carpenter end though.  He wanted some retribution pay for what he had created and that Moustapha Akkad had raked in the dough for.  Moustapha and he couldn't come to an agreement, so Carpenter walked in the very early stages.  To fend of fanboy questioning, Carpenter said he wanted to put Michael Myers in space for the movie.  With Carpenter gone, Kevin Williamson (writer of Scream 1&2 and I Know What You Did Last Summer) was brought in.  This brought some excitement abound.  If anyone knew how to pull this off, it was him.  People bitch now, but Williamson's style with slashers was heavily praised and loved for quite some time.  Williamson was only available for an outline and treatment stage, but from one viewing of the movie you can tell he was all over it.

There was a giant decision made here that has, very stupidly, divided fans for this film.  It's brought an angst toward this movie that has ZERO to do with the actual quality of the film.  The decision was made to sever all ties with the previous 3 films (the Jamie Lloyd/Thorn Trilogy).  This new one would serve as the defacto Halloween 3 instead of the follow up to Halloween: The Curse Of Michael Myers.  Yes, erasing things from continuity stinks.  I liked little Jamie just as much as everyone else.  I wanted to see where Tommy, Kara, Danny and baby Steven were going at the time, too.  But, now being an adult, having 15 more years of film experience behind me, I've realized this is one of the best decisions the franchise ever made.  With Curtis' and Williamson on this project and coming in the wake of Scream, this was going to attract a bigger audience than all that came before.  Both Halloween 5 and 6 were becoming much more "inside baseball" and more tight knit continuity wise.  People were going to get severely confused walking into this, because most general movies goers (sucky as it is) don't do homework or don't want to do the required homework.
Also, look at the story where it was when we left 6.  And you can't count the producer's cut, because its not accessible to the general public.  This story was a mess.  It was getting way too weird and well off from what Halloween was to begin with.  The box office was also deemed a big disappointment.  With things the way they were, the Halloween franchise was doomed to become straight to video.  Don't believe me?  Look at Hellraiser.  Yes, you 20-30 some odd fans on a message board refuse to believe this, but it is pretty obvious and in plain site that the movie going audience did not want to see it.  And you fans, you don't make up for enough of the box office.  And weren't making up for enough leading up to it that this decision wasn't very hard.  Yes, you wanted just a line of dialogue to make it count saying something about Jamie and Laurie Strode leaving class to go vomit in a bathroom upset about it.  That only creates more problems with your main character and makes her unlikeable.  Why does she keep her son and not Jamie (who would only have been roughly THE SAME AGE timelinewise).  If there was Jamie, then where's the Thorn cult?  It raises too many questions and once again gets too fan-fic-y which was in need of being left in the dust.
Here's what I can say to those so upset over the series' chance at a clean slate.  HALLOWEEN 4, HALLOWEEN 5 and HALLOWEEN 6 still freakin' exist!  You can buy them on Amazon, watch them on know what, you probably already own them.  Pop them in your player.  They still work.  This film did not erase them from history, only from continuity.  Its a pet peeve of my for the very fanboy mentality that begrudges things so silly like that.  You're also not as up on film or knowledgeable on it if you cannot see the rationalization behind what was happening here.  Halloween went further into crazy town than any of its colleagues (seriously, there may have been bad entries, but the films were always accessible).  It was at a point in its story that was going to be really hard to dig out of and bring people back if they wanted to continue.  And that audience probably was only going to exist in a straight to video market.

Because of this decision, the project became appealing to the film's director, Steven Miner.  Steve and Jamie Lee Curtis had previously worked together on a film called Forever Young.  But, its not that pedigree that made him an awesome choice for the job.  Steve had directed Friday the 13th Part 2 and Part 3 (he also served as a producer on the 1st).  He was a veteran when it came to the slasher.  His Part 2, is also one of the strongest slasher films of all time.  The funniest thing, is in interviews Steve always said he was making a sequel to the original, no sequels counted.  Ah, but Steve, if you were, you wouldn't have a story here.  I think he meant that he was making a sequel to Michael's original night of attack.
In sort of a fresh take, the film removes itself from Haddonfield, Illinois.  We get a taste of what Halloween films were in the opening, set in Langden, IL.  This gives us the "big opening kill" that became a requirement from the Scream franchise.  Nancy Stephens who played Marion Chambers in 1 and 2 serves as the story's big character death and then Joseph Gordon-Levitt is here as the famous face kill.  Funny enough, he's probably more popular now and a much bigger death than he was back in 1998 as a TV star.  This opening is rather well constructed and doesn't dick around getting to its point.  It's well done, pretty funny and very creepy.  This would be last time for quite a while in here that Michael would kill anyone.  It also gives us a nice little cameo of sorts into the character of Dr. Loomis (who STILL manages to survive that hospital explosion in this timeline!).

The film harkens back to becoming a more simple film playing in suspense and restraint.  However, the masterwork of Carpenter isn't really there.  Where H20 WANTS to be have the stalking Michael, its instead other people's POV during Michael's haunts and never Michael.  In the original and somewhat imitated well in Halloween II, POV shots aside, we feel like we are in Michael's shoes being the voyeur at times.  It gives the audience member a level of discomfort and leaves the character onscreen lackadaisical not knowing they are being watched.  While yes, this movie was during that period in horror with "self aware" characters, this is not what I'm talking about.  Every time we get Michael but he's not attacking, its because some character sees him or knows that he's there, if you catch my drift.  It creates for less suspense and a weaker build to the chase.
Halloween: H20 does do well in the character department and that's to Williamson's credit.  Our supporting players are all pretty colorful and memorable.  The highlight being Adam Arkin's "Will Brennan".  Believe it or not folks, back in the 1998 this guy was considered "the poor man's George Clooney".  He absolutely hits one out of the park with his line delivery and cheeky humor.  His character is also given a very good relationship onscreen with Keri (aka Laurie) as the two seem very much involved yet very far apart.  The kids in this film are much better cast and acted than previous entries and there's not a whole slew of them.  Josh Hartnett makes his feature film debut and he's all right here.  His anger scenes feel a little fake, but eh, its his first movie.  A role I thought might kill the film was LL Cool J, but he delivers a neutral presence here and is actually given some meat to a role that could have been just some fodder.  In a piece of trivia, Charles Dutton was originally cast in the film as a detective, but that role relegated to a smaller part in the film at the beginning.
Jamie Lee Curtis returns and you can actually tell she wants to be here.  Laurie had faked her death and now goes by Keri Tate.  She's been haunted by that Halloween night for 20 years.  She's a broken divorced woman and has a rough relationship with her son.  There is some alcoholism, pill popping and anger issues on display here, which is a nice turn to trouble our hero.  However, looking back, most of the depiction of her dealing with post traumatic stress and the fear of her brother returning to kill her play out like a Meredith Baxter ABC Sunday Night Movie from the 1980s.  Its the friendly and harmless kind of portrayal where they show you all the necessary tid bits of it but never truly grind it out.  It's more of an accessory to the character than it is playing any sort of role in the actual events and narrative of the story.  Its almost as important a detail as "Michelle Williams wears jacket".
Some of this film doesn't really hold up, but it truly killed in 1998.  If you're a person who's far more into the characters and rooting for them, this film is going to be your type of slasher.  The series hadn't seen this since Halloween 4, and to be honest, Halloween II having it is there but kind of thin.  The opening of the film is rather strong.  People will love or hate hanging out in the middle.  But it must be pointed out that the film is very short.  There is no denying though, that from the time Michael attacks to the very end, this is pretty fun and thrilling film.  And that's what keeps this thing afloat.  And then from the moment Laurie tells the kids to go to the Becker's it is on.  Laurie chasing after Michael and battling him to the death is still quite awesome to this day.  This is what we paid to see.  It's also the first time in a notable slasher that the heroine stopped and went right the f**k  after the killer and took it to him.
I also love the end where Laurie just won't buy that he's dead until he's dead dead, stealing the coroner's van.  The end moment of Halloween: H20 is phenomenal.  For some reason, each anniversary movie just knows how to pull of a great ending.  Laurie chops Michael's head off, ending it all!  PERFECT!  The music cue and chopping is timed expertly on multiple viewings.  Its something that still gets me.  I know its coming but...when....OH there it is!  She faced her fears, she confronted her monster and she chopped its damn head off!  And no bullshit scene of "everybody made it!" after.  Just her finally feeling free of this constraint.  Its the perfect capper to this series.  I can't think of a better way to call it a day.
Now, on first viewing this movie just works.  Subsequently however, things start seeping through the cracks and reveals a kind of messy production.  Let's start with Michael's mask.  Howe many were used?  9?  Sorry if I ruin the movie for you, but the mask is incredibly inconsistent in the movie.  There is even a scene with a CGI mask.  The movie starts out using the mask from Curse of Michael Myers then goes away from that.  One of the mask has big eyeholes and you can see eyes and surrounding skin far too easily.  One of them has too fluffy of hair.  Another too plain.  But sometimes the mask will change in the same scene from shot to shot.  Apparently nobody was ever happy with the mask.  They continually were changing it and also doing reshoots with it.  It's pretty messy and it shows.  Another aspect is the score.  John Ottman actually wrote a really fantastic score, but for some reason, the Weinstein's didn't like it.  They chopped and used their favorite parts of it.  What else did they use to fill out the rest?  Oh, the scores for Scream & Scream 2.  This aspect doesn't help to separate from the Scream-generation feel of the film either.  And the original score stuff plays far too repetitive and obvious in scenes.  There weren't enough callbacks to Carpenter's original tunes either.  One more thing, it looks all cool and everything with Halloween making callbacks to Scream as Scream did in its first installment.  However, that'd be a bit more special if it wasn't a guy high-fiving himself within the film.  Kevin Williamson wrote Scream and then had a lot of work on this.  Its not natural, its someone trying to be cute.  Knowing that face kind of makes you want to groan when these things happen.  Something that DOES work is Janet Leigh's cameo and the car and score homage to Psycho.  That's the only acknowledgement that should really be around.
I loved Halloween: H20 when it was released in theaters.  It has the distinction of being the only film I've ever seen twice in one day.  I saw it the first show on the day it opened (a Wednesday I believe) and I saw it in the packed late night show as well.  I had been jacked and waiting for it.  Over the years, its sort of lost a little bit of favor from me, but I still think its quite good and one of the best 90s slashers you'll find.  In fact, its one of the only ones that isn't a "whodunit" murder myster of them all.  We know exactly who the hell it is from the get go.  The movie has plenty of its faults (many slashers will when dissected), but its key points still hold up and pack a punch.  This seventh entry refreshed and recharged the series closed the book on the highest note it possibly could have.  Michael Myers was finished and leaving us in good graces.  Everything came full circle.  It was quite popular with audiences.  H20 took home the highest grossing opening weekend, opening day and (without inflation) the highest box office total for the series.  What a way to go out, eh?

Next Time:  Unfortunately, it wasn't the end.  Damnit, you guys are make me watch this damn thing again.  AHHHHHHHHHHHHHH

I'll leave you with one more negative thing from this movie:

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