Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #280
Number of Views : Three
Release Date: August 5, 1998
Country of Origin: United States
Box Office: $73,000,000
Running time: 82 minutes
Director: Steve Miner
Screenplay: Robert Zappia, Matt Greenberg
Characters: John Carpenter, Debra Hill
Producers: Moustapha Akkad, Malek Akkad, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Paul Freeman, Kevin Williamson
Special Effects: Thomas E. Surprenant, James MacKinnon, Jeff Himmel
Score: John Ottman, Marco Beltrami
Cinematography: Daryn Okada
Editing: Patrick Lussier
Studios: Dimension Films, Nightfall Productions, Touchstone Pictures, Miramax Films
Distributor: Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
Stars: Jamie Lee Curtis, Josh Hartnett, Michelle Williams, Adam Arkin, Adam Hann-Byrd, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe, Janet Leigh, LL Cool J, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Branden Williams, Nancy Stephens, Beau Billingslea, Matt Winston, Larisa Miller, Emmalee Thompson, Chris Durand
Suggested Audio Candy
John Ottman & Marco Beltrami “Main Theme”
We all know that Michael Myers is partial to anniversaries. Every year, around the same time, he dusts himself off and sets off to prune his family tree. He’s nothing if not consistent and a rather excellent timekeeper to boot. However, twenty years is a fairly spectacular milestone for a Boogeyman such as he thus, in 1998 an extra special party was invariably going to be thrown in his honor. Alas, his oldest adversary Dr. Sam Loomis had passed on by this point so it was left to another old flame to pick up the reigns where she left them many years ago. Expecting Jamie Lee Curtis to return after her extended hiatus must have seemed like a tall order, especially given the fact that the series had long since been running on auto pilot. Halloweens 5 & 6 respectively had done little to raise morale in the camp and it was beginning to look like the long-suffering residents of Haddonfield could breathe easy once more.
Director Steve Miner had an almighty task on his hands with H20. Box office takings had plummeted and folk had begun to lose faith in the franchise after two misguided sequels had failed to make any lasting impression on critics and cinema-goers alike. The Shape, once a formidable figure in horror, had become little more than a slightly better dressed Voorhees and plot-wise all manner of liberties had been taken with the formula which had seen it teetering above a vast chasm of its own inconsistency. Laurie Strode’s spiritual successor Jamie Lloyd, the linchpin which held the series together in the interim, had surrendered her party hat and Tommy Doyle had managed to give Michael the slip so, in the interest of not hurting her siblings feelings, Strode decided to put in a shift for old time’s sake.
Actually, Curtis was chomping at the bit to make her comeback and saw this as an opportunity to reunite once again with John Carpenter. Unfortunately his asking price of $10m was deemed exorbitant by Moustapha Akkad and thus never came to fruition. In Carpenter’s eyes this was warranted compensation for revenue he was entitled to twenty years prior and this had remained a bone of contention with him ever since. Considering the last three entries had seen only moderate returns, you can see why this would be considered something of a risk, although his involvement would surely have rallied the troops once more. With the master counting himself out, Miner (House, Warlock, Friday the 13th Parts II & III) was tasked with reviving the franchise’s flagging fortunes. Another miscalculation could have spelled the end for the Boogeyman.
Halloween H20’s transition from page to screen was anything but reassuring. An early draft by Daniel Farrands of all people (whose screenplay for part 6 was questionable at best) was promptly rebuffed and Kevin Williamson (Scream) also came up with a treatment which never saw the light of day. Ultimately it was decided that the previous three entries be largely ignored and, instead, the new screenwriting team of Robert Zappia and Matt Greenberg opted to take the series in an entirely different direction, focusing on Strode’s character and the lasting impact her adventures in babysitting had on her psyche. Sometimes it is best to cut your losses and, considering it marked a triumphant return to cinematic form, raking in over $70m in receipts in the process, the decision seemed more than justified.
Laurie (now living under the name Keri Tate) had spent the past two decades trying to piece together the fragments of her previous life and her intense paranoia had affected her relationship with her own son John (Josh Hartnett in his breakout role). Now headmistress at a private school in California, she spent half her time ostracizing John and the rest knocking back a concoction of painkillers and alcohol in an attempt at blanking out her traumatic past. After offing Dr Loomis’ assistant Marion (Nancy Stephens reprising her role) her sibling learned of her whereabouts and the usual cat-and-mouse ensued, only this time her offspring, his girlfriend Molly (the ever dependable Michelle Williams) and their friends were unwittingly implicated. Gee thanks mom.
From the offset one thing was abundantly clear and that is that Miner had no intention of taking chances. This was as workmanlike as they came, an exercise in slow-building tension which was a far more spiritual successor to the first two films and didn’t pander with the formula. There were no unnecessary side stories or revelations, merely a solid chase movie which painted by the numbers. This was both a curse and a blessing in Keeper’s books as, while it got the carts back on the tracks after a couple of misfires had threatened derailment, it just played it so safe. I enjoyed Halloween 4 greatly and believe 5 & 6, whilst woefully flawed in their execution, provided a distinct tone which never looked like being replicated. Having said that, H20 admittedly rarely set a foot wrong so I guess it’s horses for courses.
On this evidence, the messy haired Hartnett did more than enough to justify future success and Williams (who has since proved with Brokeback Mountain and Blue Valentine that she is a rather exclusive talent) excelled as his rabbit-in-headlights belle. In addition, there was a glorious cameo from Curtis’ own mother Janet Leigh (Psycho’s Marion Crane) in her first film for nearly two decades, and a small part for Joseph Gordon-Levitt (Inception, Looper) to help raise the bar some.
Rap Goliath LL Cool J also made a predictably affable appearance as campus security guard Ronny and, while somewhat superfluous to requirements, he brought no shame to the game. I grew up stomping the dance halls to Mama Said Knock You Out and I’m Bad, so had no problem with his attendance even though it appears he has a clause in his contract that prevents him ever biting the bullet. Where Michael Rapaport took picoseconds to dissolve like Alka Seltzer in Deep Blue Sea, James Todd’s calf was far too gristly for the same shark to masticate. Go figure. I’m telling you, the dude won’t die.
It took its sweet time getting to the meat, H20 did one thing absolutely right and milked our insecurities, Strode’s too, for all they were worth before brother and sister were finally reunited. This culminated in a breathless encounter which did the legacy proud as their eyes locked behind an oval window. The chase scenes were played to perfection and particular highlights involving a dumb-waiter pulley cart and waste disposal unit kept us teetering over our perches like inebriated budgerigars. This was where Miner got it very much on the money, he extracted every last droplet of tension from proceedings and was aided by John Ottman and Marco Beltrami’s ethereal score, Daryn Okada’s moody cinematography, and sharp editing by Patrick Lussier (who went on to direct the My Bloody Valentine remake). The stars were aligned from the start and Miner had an unprecedented hit on his hands.
I liked Halloween H20: 20 Years Later rather a lot. Curtis was in commanding form and exhibited all the histrionics which made her such an icon all those years ago, whilst tempering her performance with a fresh lick of vigor incited by her playing vigilant mother hen. Miner’s use of the Panavision widescreen format the original deployed so beautifully aided in creating parallels, showing great reverence for the source material and his film certainly ended emphatically. Despite numerous prosperity however, it never quite sealed the deal. The fact that I can’t quite pinpoint what was lacking speaks volumes.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 2/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: After the last installment had spoiled us for grue, the deaths here were markedly more restrained. Seven in total meant the lowest body count of the entire series and, outside of a little grisly injury detail, it was relatively bloodless although it did give a rare murder weapon run-out to an ice skate.
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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