Sadly, Halloween: H20 has nothing to do with water. It isn’t the Michael Myers brand’s equivalent of Jason X, sending its masked killer into the deep sea instead of deep space. No, the title of this 1998 slasher, the seventh in the Halloween series, merely exploits the fact that “Halloween” starts with an “H,” and that this installment takes place 20 years after the original. That “h2o” is also a universally known yet wholly unrelated combination of characters is simply, ya know, earworm-y title gravy. I actually can’t recall water, in any capacity, appearing in a single frame of this film. The liquid most often featured is alcohol, like chardonnay and vodka, which Keri Tate, better known as Laurie Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis), slugs back to quell fears of the brother who offed her promiscuous friends in the ’70s. Having faked her death, changed her name, and given birth to a son, John, Laurie (as we’ll call her herein) is now the headmistress of Hillcrest Academy, a tony private high school in a remote part of California, and the perfect secluded, hallway-rich setting for a killer to stalk and stab. At this school, LL Cool J, one year away from the equally sinful delight Deep Blue Sea, plays token-black security guard Ronnie; Adam Arkin plays Laurie’s colleague and love interest, Will; and Josh Hartnett, in his feature debut, plays grown-up John, who, at the edge of seventeen, serves to prove that Myers may just have a long-standing Stevie Nicks obsession.
As Laurie explains to Will when she finally spills the truth of her past, young Myers cut her older sister’s life short at 17, terrorized Laurie and her friends at the same age, and, natch, will come after her son now too. This epiphany hits Laurie around the film’s halfway mark, after John, girlfriend Molly (Michelle Williams), buddy Charlie (Adam Hann-Byrd), and Charlie’s squeeze Sarah (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) have ditched the class trip to Yosemite for a secret, All Hallow’s Eve ménage à quatre. Laurie is thrown into a frantic, camp-tastic tizzy, responding to her suddenly dead landline by immediately reaching for the revolver she keeps under her pillow (Arkin’s WTF reaction is priceless). Convinced within seconds that the dreaded time has finally come, Laurie hustles through the scene like your typical filmic conspiracy theorist, who might be stocked up on doomsday provisions in the basement. It all works, for one, because we know Laurie’s right, and because we also know she’s a genuine crackpot, having seen the loaded cabinet of pills that keep her functional (what we don’t see, alas, is a loaded fridge of Activia yogurt that keeps her regular). From here, Halloween: Not Really About Water hits the gas, moving breathlessly toward its finale to the tune of John Ottman’s score, which Dimension Films’ Bob Weinstein shamelessly padded with snippets of Marco Beltrami’s Scream music. (No matter. It’s just one more thing to distract from such exchanges as, “What do we do?!” “Try to live!”)
Obviously, there’s plenty to poke fun at here, but this movie, clocking in at just 86 minutes, is in fact an exquisitely lean and tight little thriller. At first in the creative hands of Scream scribe Kevin Williamson, who maintained a producing credit, H20 was an unabashed byproduct of Wes Craven’s ’90s sensation, which did for Dimension what Pulp Fiction did for Miramax. Yet, in the hands of director and horror vet Steve Miner, who cut his teeth on the Friday the 13th franchise, it took on its own compact life. And since it essentially ignores Halloween III through VI anyway, I’ve always thought it best to pretend the story simply continued here. To employ a cliché, there’s never a dull moment in the film, not when a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt gets an ice skate to the face after investigating a burglarized home, and not when Laurie chats with pupil Molly about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, where it’s established that Victor had to finally face down his monster. Such is the crux of this movie, of course—finally squaring off with the beast—but the road to getting there is paved with some remarkable sequences. One wickedly intense chase sees Myers pursuing Molly and John, who lock themselves in a caged vestibule that leaves them within inches of Myers’s slicing knife, and who accidentally drop the gate keys, which he then fishes through to get to them. Another memorable bit includes Curtis’s mom, Janet Leigh, who plays school secretary Norma, and winkingly tells Laurie “we’ve all had bad things happen to us,” before stepping into Marion Crane’s Ford Sedan from Psycho.
I saw Halloween: H20 at a drive-in with my sister. I remember thinking that Hartnett was one of few cute boys who looked cutest with his hair as messy as possible (a thought The Faculty would only reinforce); that a dumbwaiter, which nearly cuts off Sarah’s foot, is something I’d never want to climb into; and that I was super-impressed that the filmmakers cooked up a way to definitively kill off the boogeyman. I don’t want to spoil the ending for you, but in the last scene, Laurie decapitates Myers with an axe after pinning him between a downed tree and totaled van. People would ask me what I thought of the film, and in all my teenage naïveté, I responded, “Well, I’ll tell you one thing: this is definitely the last Halloween movie.” What a chump. Not four years later, Myers’s head was reattached for Halloween: Resurrection, which practically decapitated itself by casting the likes of Busta Rhymes and Tyra Banks. Ultimately, I think I learned a valuable lesson from this taut and watchable trifle: The Halloween series, or any horror saga, is like a hydra. Cut off one head, and you’ll just get more sequels, maybe even Rob Zombie reimaginings, sprouting up in its place.