'Halloween: H20'

HolidaysHalloweenMoviesEntertainmentJohn CarpenterDeathLL Cool J

Wednesday August 5, 1998

     "Halloween: H20" is as stylish and scary as it is ultra-violent. It brings back a stunning Jamie Lee Curtis in the role that made her a star and it's a work of superior craftsmanship in all aspects. But it is so gory you really do have to brace yourself.
     For all the considerable artistry that went into the making of a picture that would have the impact of John Carpenter's 1978 original, "Halloween: H20" is first and foremost a very brutal slasher movie that leaves nothing to the imagination. At least it doesn't linger morbidly over all the blood and guts it spills and is laced with dark humor. Hard-core horror fans and teenagers are likely to make "Halloween: H20" a big hit, but it's just as likely to turn off other segments of the movie-going audience.
     *
     It was perhaps inevitable that the "Halloween" franchise would be revived now that the horror film cycle was so successfully regenerated with "Scream" and then "I Know What You Did Last Summer," both written by the genre-aware Kevin Williamson, who serves, not surprisingly, as a co-executive producer of "H20."
     Twenty years have passed, but baby-sitter Laurie Strode (Curtis), now 37, is understandably haunted by the specter of her demented, knife-wielding brother Michael Myers murdering their sister and barely escaping death herself. Laurie has even gone to the extreme of faking her own death in a car accident--never mind that Michael supposedly died in a fire--and taking the new name of Keri Tate. Today, Tate, a single mother, is the assured headmistress (and teacher) at a posh, exceedingly secluded--wouldn't you know?--private school in Northern California. (It's actually silent star Antonio Moreno's elegant Spanish-style estate in Silver Lake.)
     Behind the scenes she's a pill-popper and is described by her son John (Josh Hartnett) as a "functioning alcoholic." Despite how haunted Tate feels, she does have the prospect of some happiness, caught up in a romance with a sensitive, adoring school counselor (Adam Arkin) on her staff.
     But now that the 20th anniversary of the masked, crazed Michael's attack approaches, Tate is getting pretty jittery. Even so, she decides to stay on at her home on the school grounds, deserted for the holiday. Having grounded her son, she at the last minute OKs his going on a school outing, which Arkin will help chaperon. Unknown to her, John has decided to stick with his plans to do some secret partying on school grounds with his girlfriend (Michelle Williams) and another couple (Adam Hann-Byrd and Jodi Lyn O'Keefe).
     In short, Michael (Chris Durand, truly chilling), who of course is going to turn up, has five targets on hand, not to mention others along the way, including the school's good-natured watchman (LL Cool J, one of the film's warmest presences).
     Writers Robert Zappa and Matt Greenberg and director Steve Miner have shrewdly anchored their take-no-prisoners blood bath with a strong, sympathetic character for Curtis to portray. On one level, the film is about a woman gathering courage to fight back at her own demons. Tate evolves from a trenchant but fragile woman to one who learns to assert herself with the bold determination of the cop Curtis played in "Blue Steel." It's hard to imagine Curtis participating in a "Halloween" sequel unless her part was exceptional, and it is.
     Curtis' physicality is matched by her far-ranging, sharply nuanced acting. Smart, sexy and earthy, Curtis is overdue for a big role that takes her beyond genre into more personal dramas. She is surrounded by capable players, including her own mother, a radiant Janet Leigh, who is amusing as a well-meaning busybody school secretary. (Note the car Leigh is driving; it's the same 1957 Ford Fairlane she drove in "Psycho," one of the film's many tributes.)
     Hartnett, who first came to attention in the short-lived but much-praised TV series "Crackers," makes his impressive screen debut in a role that calls for him to reveal sensitivity, stubbornness and intelligence. Tall, boyishly handsome, Hartnett has a commanding screen presence.
     As violent as "Halloween: H20" is, it nevertheless represents well-controlled direction on the part of Miner, who directed two "Friday the 13th" installments and "Warlock." "Halloween: H20" is a handsome film, and as essential to its impact as Curtis herself is the fluid, shadowy, mood-setting camera work of Daryn Okada. Another major asset in setting mood is John Ottman's portentous score, which incorporates the "Halloween Theme," composed by the original film's director, Carpenter.      "Halloween: H20" may be hard to take, but when it comes to suspenseful thrills and chills, there's no denying it delivers the goods.


Halloween: H20, 1998. R, for terror, violence and gore, and for language. A Dimension Films release of a Nightfall production. Director Steve Miner. Producer Paul Freeman. Executive producer Moustapha Akkad. Co-executive producers Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Williamson. Screenplay by Robert Zappa and Matt Greenberg from a story by Zappa. Based on characters created by Debra Hill and John Carpenter. Cinematographer Daryn Okada. Editor Patrick Lusser. Costumes Deborah Everton. Music John Ottman. "Halloween" theme by John Carpenter. Production designer John Willet. Art director Dawn Snyder. Set decorator Beau Petersen. Running time: 1 hour, 26 minutes. Jamie Lee Curtis as Laurie Strode/Keri Tate. Chris Durand as Michael Myers. Adam Arkin as Will Brennan. Josh Hartnett as John Tate. LL Cool J as Ronny.

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