halloween 7Following the original “Halloween” from director John Carpenter in 1978, this franchise had for all intents and purposes succumbed to the very same pratfalls that have befallen virtually every other horror franchise in existence. What this means is that the series that birthed the very sub-genre it exists within had become nothing more than another lame slasher franchise cranking out useless sequel after sequel, paying little attention to the fact that the stories were fast becoming old and tired.

In 1995, after the sixth film in the series massively disappointed audiences, the future for the franchise no doubt lay in question. Not to mention, the impending twentieth anniversary of the original “Halloween” loomed on the horizon, and it was looking as if the date would be remembered with little to no fanfare. However, all of that changed in the summer of 1998, when original star Jamie Lee Curtis reprised her role of Laurie Strode for the seventh installment in the series, “Halloween H20: 20 Years Later”.

“Halloween H20: 20 Years Later” is essentially summed up by the title. Basically, 20 years after the terrible events that victimized Laurie Strode, she continues to live in fear of the possibility that one day her killer brother may finally find her. Living under assumed names, Laurie and her 17-year-old son (Josh Hartnett) are doing their best to keep their dark family secret buried, while carrying on with some semblance of a normal life. However, some secrets are too powerful to be kept hidden forever, and Michael is determined to finish what he started all those years ago.

Over the course of the 17 year gap that separates “Halloween 2” and “Halloween H20” there was numerous other installments released as a part of the franchise. With the release of “H20” all of the sequels beyond the second movie have been omitted from the series’ accepted continuity. For those who are curious, the reason is that movies 3 through 6 did not feature Jamie Lee Curtis or her character Laurie Strode; instead, the focus shifted to Laurie’s orphaned daughter (apparently Laurie died in a car wreck or something like that) who is now being hunted by her dear old Uncle Michael. Even though some plot threads from those previous films were somewhat promising; in the end, it was easier to disregard them for the story in “H20” rather than to rewrite some of the history. While all of this was not incredibly important, I did feel that some exposition was needed for those who may not be aware of why the plots from movies 3 through 6 are never even touched upon, and in fact, most are contradicted by events in “Halloween H20”. Anyways, that’s a basic rundown on the history of the “Halloween” franchise.

If you ever watched any of the previous sequels, then you undoubtedly noticed that the quality of writing took a serious nose-dive from where the series began (which in itself wasn’t exactly brilliant from start to finish). Along with the massive slate cleaning that “H20” brought to the series, the writing for this sequel was much stronger than all of the previous installments thanks to screenwriters Robert Zappia (“Five Days to Midnight”) and Matt Greenberg (“Reign of Fire”), along with some re-writes by Kevin Williamson (“Scream”).

The overall plot for the film is relatively solid, albeit with a few head scratching moments as most horror movies tend to have, but more on that later. The story took a mature approach to the ramifications of that horrific Halloween night and how even after all this time Laurie still lives in fear of her brother’s possible return. Even though at first glance the premise that Michael has supposedly been waiting all this time to come after his sister once again seems a bit far-fetched; the manner in which that plot point was handled was surprisingly effective. I also appreciated the attempt to bring a potential resolution to the conflict set up so long ago between Laurie and Michael. If for no other reason, that portion of the story alone is worth watching for longtime fans of the original who have always wanted to see brother and sister come face-to-face once more.

It has become quite clear that the success of horror hits such as “Scream” or “I Know What You Did Last Summer” made an impact on the characters’ interactions in this film and almost any other horror films that have followed them. The banter, especially between the teenagers, is fast-paced and loaded with innuendo and pop culture references (as are most teenage conversations). I also noticed that when the adult characters were on the screen the slick, fairly well-written dialogue didn’t just disappear or become stale, as is so often the case; instead, it matured (without being too heavy-handed) to tackle the bigger issues that the adult characters, most notably Laurie, were facing throughout the movie.

Now, as I alluded to a moment ago, there were some weak spots in the story though. The biggest weakness this film had was with some of the characters. It seems that ever since “Halloween” started this sub-genre of horror that every other film of this kind must feature the same basic cast of characters in some form or another. You’ve got the rebellious guy, the smart girl, and the horny guy and his female equal, and so on and so forth. While this cast is smaller than many other horror films, it still fills most of the roles with standard stock characters. The only difference here is that in the case of Josh Hartnett and Michelle Williams, they actually appeared to be trying to bring some depth and realism to their characters; thus, serving to elevate their status above all the others in the pantheon of unoriginal character archetypes in horror films. But beyond those two, the rest of the teenaged characters were typical carbon copies left over from previous horror movies.

Another couple of issues with this film revolved around the improbability of how Michael either knows to be in certain places to kill someone or somehow catches up to a person running, despite the fact that he’s walking as slowly and methodically as possible. Those two faults are not exclusive to this series rather they are common issues in almost every single horror franchise in existence. It does not matter what horror franchise you look at, this is a problem area that is universal and has always irritated me. What I want to know is, “Why most directors choose to go along with this obvious absurdity?” And lastly, the pacing early on in the story was a little on the slow side. I enjoyed the opening moments of the film that served as a set-up for the remainder of the movie, but the 15 to 20 minutes that followed struggled to keep things going strong. Note to the writers of horror films, the key is to always keep the audience on edge, it worked for John Carpenter in 1978, and I’m willing to bet it still does even now.

As for the performances in this movie, let us begin by discussing the return of Jamie Lee Curtis to the role that made her into a household name. Jamie’s performance as Laurie is much more mature and refined here than it was in the original film, and let’s just forget about the colossal waste of time that summed up her appearance in the initial sequel. Jamie skillfully portrays the radical change in her character from a woman who continues to be victimized by her memories to a woman ready for a final showdown with her tormentor. From the quieter moments between mother and son, to her soul-bearing confession as to who she really is, to her inevitable moment of truth; Jamie Lee excels in every respect and the movie definitely benefits from her terrific return to the series.

In the supporting roles are mostly up-and-coming talents, although some of these talents are obviously stronger than others. Leading the way for the supporting cast members, as I noted earlier, are Josh Hartnett (“Pearl Harbor”) and Michelle Williams (“Brokeback Mountain”). Both appeared to be committed to their roles, not willing to sit idly by and just speak the lines and hit their marks in as uninspired a fashion as possible; instead, they opted to let their characters emotions and motivations shine through naturally. Plus, their characters’ onscreen chemistry seemed more genuine than most in horror franchises, resulting in their romantic relationship becoming more believable than one would expect.

Next, we have LL Cool J (TV’s “NCIS: Los Angeles”) as a mediocre security guard with lofty aspirations. LL has proven in several other projects since his role in this movie that he clearly has acting talent; however, in this role he is merely average. At times his portrayal seemed a little shaky as if he couldn’t quite get a handle on the character; however, this problem could be more a fault of the script than the actor in the role. Still, despite a potentially weak character arc, LL should have been able to do more with the role; instead, he seemed to rest on his laurels causing his performance to suffer as a result.

Bringing up the rear in the performance category are Jodi Lyn O’Keefe (“The Crow: Salvation”) and Adam Hann-Byrd (“Jumanji”) in the heavily clichéd roles of the sex-crazed teenagers in the movie. Both roles are only included in the movie to fulfill some prerequisite that apparently stipulates that every horror film have at least one promiscuous couple within the cast. While almost every movie has one or two meaningless roles in their lineup, horror films always seem to make sure those roles are the most irritating to audiences; all the while, finding their way into more scenes than they deserve within the movie. I will admit that at least the writers seemed to attempt to flesh out Jodi and Adam’s characters. Yet an over-reliance on sexual puns and unoriginality within the roles overshadowed all efforts to elevate the characters above being anything more than typical throwaway horny teenagers.

“Halloween H20: 20 Years Later” is the first sequel in the franchise to even come close to rivaling the original in any respect. While the film is stronger in some areas than the first “Halloween”, it still never manages to recapture the atmosphere and style that was so integral to that one’s success. Until someone can either channel John Carpenter’s directing choices and abilities into another one of these installments or coax Carpenter into returning for another round, I doubt we’ll ever see a movie in this franchise reach the level of the first one.

“Halloween H20: 20 Years Later” is rated R for violence, language, and sensuality.