31 Days Of Horror: Halloween H20

We kick off a new Halloween storyline with Halloween H20 (1998), which ignores the ‘Thorn trilogy’ of Halloween 4/5/6.  In this storyline, Laurie Strode didn’t have a daughter called Jamie in 1981 and then die with Jamie’s father in a car crash in 1987; instead, she faked her death in a car crash sometime before 1981, moved to California and changed her identity to Keri Tate, got married, had a son called John in 1981, got divorced, and became the headmistress of a private boarding school.  Everyone caught up?  Great.

Halloween H20
A good example of the late ’90s ‘head lineup’ poster popularised by Scream.

We get a reprise of the Chordettes’ Mr Sandman playing over the opening scene, symbolising the continuation from Halloween II.  Still gloriously creepy!  The action opens in Langdon, Illinois, where Marion Whittington, the nurse from the first and second films, is still chain-smoking away.  She arrives home to find her house has been broken into, and sensibly goes to get help rather than investigating by herself.

There’s a Friday the 13th series reference as Marion bumps into someone in a hockey mask.  It turns out to be neighbour kid Jimmy, played by Joseph Gordon-Levitt in a beautifully late ’90s bit of casting.  Despite Marion’s exhortations to wait for the police, Jimmy goes straight in to explore the house.  Marion’s office has been ransacked, but nothing else has been touched; however, Jimmy spends so long nicking beer from Marion’s fridge that it’s dark outside by the time he comes out, and the police STILL haven’t shown up yet!

The power goes out as soon as Marion goes into her house, because that’s Michael Myers’ MO.  She investigates the ransacked office to find that the ‘Laurie Strode’ file is missing, and immediately realises who’s responsible.  She heads over to Jimmy’s house to get help again, but it’s too late – Jimmy has taken an ice skate to the face from Michael, and his friend’s dead too.  The police finally show up just as Michael catches up with Marion, and Michael drives away at the same moment they start discovering the bodies.

Next morning, we get a backstory infodump from the detectives investigating the case.  Marion’s house turns out to have belonged to Dr Loomis – ‘he was that shrink who died years ago, she took care of him’ – meaning that the office and the files were the property of Loomis.  Appropriately, we get a voiceover of Donald Pleasence’s monologue about Michael from the first film, along with a montage of newspaper clippings explaining what happened, over the opening credits.

A couple of notes from the credits: Marco Beltrami from Scream did the additional music for this film!  Also, there’s a photocopy of Laurie’s high school yearbook that reads ‘Class of ’78’, but it should be ‘Class of ’79’, because she was in her senior year in October 1978.

Laurie, as I explained at the start, is now ‘Keri Tate’, a headteacher in California.  She’s having nightmares about twenty years ago, and is shown still to have the scar from where Michael slashed her in the first film.

Josh Hartnett makes his first film appearance as Laurie’s son John.  He’s used to dealing with his mother’s nightmares and gets her some pills from the bathroom.  He receives a birthday card from his father, two months late, revealing that he’s seventeen.  Laurie, as you might expect, is horribly overprotective of him and is refusing to let him go on a school trip to Yosemite.

John complains to his friends Charlie, Molly and Sarah about not being allowed to go, and because it’s now the postmodern post-Scream era, we get a Psycho reference from Charlie – ‘in twenty years you’re probably still going to be living with her, running some weird hotel out in the middle of nowhere’.

Laurie is having hallucinations about seeing Michael everywhere.  This is apparently a normal occurrence, especially around Hallowe’en.  Meanwhile, the teenage characters make non-Yosemite plans, deciding to have a Hallowe’en party in the school while everyone else is away on the school trip.

We then get a scene with a mother and child attempting to use a roadside public toilet – the ladies’ are locked, so they use the gents’.  This is the standard ‘Michael needs to change cars while travelling to Haddonfield’ scene, although unusually, he doesn’t kill them – perhaps it was considered a bit too brutal, but it comes across as out of character.

Laurie turns out to be having a secret relationship with Will Brennan, the school counselor.  The school secretary Norma, meanwhile, is played by Janet Leigh, who was Jamie Lee Curtis’ real-life mother and whose most famous role was Psycho shower victim Marion.  I’m very fond of this particular horror callback!

LL Cool J is, I believe, the earliest example of the curious trend of late ’90s/early ’00s slashers featuring R&B stars who weren’t generally known for their acting.  In this film, though, it’s an inspired choice – his characterisation as Ronny, the security guard and wannabe novelist, is hilarious, with him constantly on the phone to his wife reading out the bad erotica he’s been writing!

John has Ronny wrapped around his little finger, and persuades him to look the other way while he and Charlie sneak out to town to get supplies for the party.  Laurie is also in town, and is clearly freaked out by the kids in costumes roaming the streets.  On her lunch date with Will, she turns out to be using alcohol to deal with the stress, sneaking an extra glass of Chardonnay while Will is in the bathroom.  I quite like this character beat.

In case we hadn’t guessed, John then explains to Charlie that he can’t steal booze from Laurie’s cupboard because she’s a ‘functioning alcoholic’ and would notice if it went missing.  Charlie goes shoplifting for it instead, which is a pretty good indication he’s not going to survive this film.  Laurie catches them in town and drives them home, and we see Michael Myers brazenly pulling up in his car right behind them at the school gates.  Nobody notices for some reason.

John meets up with girlfriend Molly to show her his decorations for the party – he’s excited as he’s never celebrated Hallowe’en before.  In class, Molly reprises Laurie’s classroom scene from 1978 – she sees Michael Myers staring at her from outside, but is distracted by being asked a question by the teacher (in this case Laurie, who apparently teaches English class as well as being headmistress – the class discussion is on Frankenstein, because postmodernism!).

At the end of the class, Laurie reveals that she’s changed her mind about Yosemite, and gives John the permission slip.  He’s already decided he’s not going, though, as he wants to party with his friends.  The school clears out for the trip, leaving the building deserted.

Laurie bumps into Norma, who repeats the Sheriff Brackett line from 1978 (‘it’s Hallowe’en…I guess everyone’s entitled to one good scare’), and then launches into an absolutely shameless Psycho callback sequence.  ‘I know it’s not my place, but if I could be maternal for a minute…we’ve all had bad things happen to us,’ she says to Laurie, then gets into the car she drove in Psycho, while the Psycho soundtrack plays in the background!

Ronny finally notices Michael’s car, and goes out to investigate.  I love how Michael just casually saunters past him while he’s checking out the car!

The phone lines are cut, cutting off Ronny’s wife, which is a shame ’cause she’s one of the best things about this film.

Laurie sees Michael approaching her, and assumes she’s hallucinating again.  Before she can wonder why she can’t get rid of the hallucination as usual by squeezing her eyes shut, Will shows up, and they decide to go back to her place once he’s checked on the students staying behind.

In Molly and Sarah’s dorm room, they’re watching the video of Scream 2, because this is the late ’90s.  This, incidentally, results in one of those fictional universe paradoxes where, as we saw yesterday, the Halloween series exists as a fictional story in the Scream universe, and as we see now, the Scream series exists as a fictional story in the Halloween universe.  I would love to see the version of Scream that exists in the Halloween universe – it’d be a very different film without all the Halloween references!

Sarah stubs out her cigarette just as Will enters the room.  There is no way on earth he wouldn’t be able to smell it!

Back at home, Laurie has a whole tumbler of vodka plus a swig of gin to calm her nerves.  Will shows up with a pumpkin, and suddenly Laurie doesn’t seem so against celebrating Hallowe’en.  She tells Will her backstory, and suddenly realises that both she and her sister Judith were seventeen when Michael came to kill them, the same age that John is now.  Freaked out, she tries to call the Yosemite trip to make sure John’s okay.  The phone lines have been cut, and she notices that John never picked up his camping gear.  Laurie immediately grabs a gun, and nearly ends up shooting Ronny, who has come to her house to report about the strange car.

About five different characters say ‘I’ll be right back’ in this film, which is probably another Scream reference.  Charlie dies offscreen, and after discovering his body, Sarah gets chased down by Michael, leaving John and Molly the lone party survivors.  They escape through a window, and Michael gives chase, slowing them down by stabbing John in the leg.  There’s a brilliantly tense sequence where they’ve managed to get through a locked gate but can’t open the door behind it, meaning they have to cower from Michael trying to stab them through the gate.  Laurie gets them through the door just in time, and the small window in the door allows her to come face-to-mask with her brother for the first time in twenty years.

‘Do as I say, now,’ orders Laurie as she ushers John and Molly into a locked room, which is exactly what she said to Tommy and Lindsey in the first film when hiding them in the same way.

Will accidentally shoots Ronny, apparently killing him.  This has become a bit of a theme in these films!  As they’re checking Ronny’s body, Michael sneaks up and kills Will.  Laurie manages to escape with John and Molly in her car.  At the school entrance, she gets out of the car to open the gate.  ‘I want you to drive down the road to the Beckers, get them to call an ambulance and get the police,’ she says to Molly, paraphrasing words we’ve now heard many times during this horrorthon!

Laurie stays in the school to confront Michael, grabbing an axe to fight with.  After a lengthy fight sequence around the school, where it’s no longer clear who’s chasing who, she seemingly manages to kill him, and then drops the damn knife AGAIN, just as she was always doing in the first film.  Luckily, though, she has another one, and goes down to make sure she’s finished the job.  Unfortunately, just as she’s about to stab Michael, Ronny shows up and stops her, apparently not dead after all.  To be honest, I don’t think stabbing Michael would have killed him – he’s too superhuman for that.

Ronny, despite having been shot several times, seems perfectly fine in the aftermath, chatting away to his wife on the phone about his new idea for the ‘erotic thriller’ he’s going to write!  Maybe Will was just a really bad shot.

Despite the fact that hundreds of police and ambulance workers have shown up to deal with the situation, Laurie decides to take matters into her own hands and drives Michael’s body away in a van so she can kill him properly.  When she sees him wake up, she brakes hard so he goes flying through the windscreen, and then runs him over, sending the van crashing down a hill into a tree and jumping out of the van just in time.

After the crash, there’s a sort of oddly touching moment where the trapped Michael reaches out a hand to Laurie, and she reaches back, nearly touching but not quite.  Then she chops his head off with an axe, which is the only sensible way to deal with Michael Myers, and the film ends.

Incidentally, this is the second Halloween film in a row that has an ‘In Memory of Donald Pleasence’ caption during the end credits.

Another Halloween film tomorrow!

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