Harvey’s Hellhole: Halloween H20: 20 Years Later

Welcome to Harvey’s Hellhole, a monthly column devoted to spotlighting the movies that were poorly marketed, mishandled, reshaped, neglected or just straight-up destroyed by Harvey Weinstein during his reign as one of the most powerful studio chiefs in Hollywood. With the newly-released Halloween Ends slaying at the box office, let’s talk about that other Halloween movie from 24 years ago that was supposed to be the final nail in the slasher-movie saga’s coffin.

While I wouldn’t go as far as to say that Halloween H20: 20 Years Later is the best film in the Halloween universe, it is my favorite one to talk about. 

When it was released in August of 1998, the term “legacyquel” didn’t exist, while Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer — young, hip thrillers both starring a babealicious Party of Five cast member running away from a dude with a sharp object — had made slasher films popular again at the multiplexes. So, it was inevitable that Miramax-owned Scream distributor Dimension Films, which bought the rights to the OG slasher-film franchise in the mid ‘90s (it first released the sixth film, Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers, in 1995), would make an installment that spruced up the Michael Myers story for the sexy, savvy, self-referential ‘90s. 

Jamie Lee Curtis, who hadn’t done a Halloween movie since Halloween II, wanted to be a part of that. She agreed to star, even briefly bringing in original Halloween co-writer/director John Carpenter to helm it. Carpenter dropped out when the Weinsteins turned down his demands of a $10 million fee and a three-picture Dimension deal. Steve Miner, who directed the first and second Friday the 13th sequels, stepped in.

H20 connects straight to Halloween II, ignoring standalone third film Halloween III: Season of the Witch and the Jamie Lloyd/Tommy Doyle trilogy that followed. This one finds Curtis’s Laurie Strode hiding out at a California private school as headmistress Keri Tate. Still tormented by dreams of her homicidal bro (whom she hopes died in that fire at the end of Halloween II), she dulls the trauma with meds and alcohol. She also keeps close tabs on her teenage son (a lippy Josh Hartnett), who also goes to the school. Of course, the kid would like to live a normal teen existence, smooching with his girlfriend (Dawson’s Creek-era Michelle Williams) and hanging out with pals. But Mom still thinks Michael will strike again, especially since the 20th anniversary of the Haddonfield murders is right around the corner.

Kevin Williamson, who wrote Scream and Summer, was one of several screenwriters involved with churning out the story. Although he’s not credited as a writer, he attended to rewrites and character alterations during production. He must’ve come up with the film’s humorous asides (like LL Cool J’s security guard/wannabe romance novelist reading passages to his fed-up wife over the phone) and myriad meta references (Curtis’s mom Janet Leigh shows up as her secretary, literally driving out of the picture in the car she drove in Psycho). 

Curtis wanted H20 to be the grand finale of the series, with Strode turning the tables on her longtime tormentor and sending him straight to hell. Unfortunately, longtime producer Moustapha Akkad made a clause declaring that no Halloween film could kill off the man in the Bill Shatner mask. An angry Curtis and the filmmakers reached a compromise where Strode would off someone in a mask at the end, but still opening up the possibility of Myers coming back in another sequel. (Unfortunately, the next sequel was this one.) 

When H20 came out, I was amused at how this Halloween was unabashedly marketed to all the new, young horror fans. I still remember the Entertainment Weekly with Curtis and Williams on the cover, the original final girl virtually giving the latest final girl a co-sign. The movie even includes a scene where the recently-released Scream 2 is playing on a dorm-room TV screen. (The TV was originally supposed to show a scene from the Mike Myers flop So I Married an Axe Murderer — another meta gag I’m sure was Williamson’s.) It worked — the $17 million film eventually made $75 million.

I wouldn’t have been mad if they had closed things out with this one. A recent rewatch reminded me how quick and entertainingly effective scary movies were back in the day. (Ends clocks in at 110 minutes, but H20 is a much-appreciated 86 minutes.) And while the casualties are surprisingly minimal (then-teen TV stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Jodi Lyn O’Keefe are a couple of the handful of dumb asses who get it), the suspense is still smartly staged. Miner really goes wild with the Steadicam shots in some scenes, as the camera breezily follows potential, unsuspecting victims around whatever setting they’re in from a distance, making the viewer feel just as stalker-y as the movie’s actual stalker.

Even though Curtis has said she’s done running from a guy with a knife, I don’t believe for one second that Ends marks the end of the Halloween universe. With Moustapha Akkad’s son Malek now handling producing duties (the elder Akkad died in the 2005 Amman bombings with his daughter Rima), you know he’s gonna keep the tradition of bringing back The Shape/Evil on Two Legs/Good Ol’ Stabby for future films. After all, these movies have been remade and retconned to the point where it’s practically the first movie franchise with multiverses. (Suck it, MCU!) 

So, if you don’t mind, I’m gonna take a cue from Halloween H20: 20 Years Later and pretend that the movies that came after didn’t happen.

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later is available to rent or buy. (It’s also streaming for free on Pluto TV — but it’s in Spanish.)

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