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Why Halloween H20: 20 Years Later is the most underrated horror sequel ever

By the late 1990s, the Halloween franchise was looking about as dead as one of Michael Myers’ victims. It had been a while since the glory days of the original or the sequel, which were released at a time when slasher movies reigned supreme at the box office. Halloween III: Season of the Witch was notable for not following Michael Myers at all, with the filmmakers hoping to turn the Halloween franchise into an anthology series. But critics and audiences weren’t interested in other stories carrying the Halloween name and the movie received negative reviews and low box office returns.

Then came the Jamie Lloyd saga in Halloween 4 and 5, which also brought back Michael Myers and his now familiar mode of stalking babysitters and surviving multiple gunshots. Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers was initially panned upon release, with many critics saying it wasn’t as strong as the original. However, it made a profit at the box office, bringing in more money than Halloween III. Many retrospective reviews have also been much kinder to the film, with many claiming it’s one of the best in the series. It’s also the movie that gave birth to Scream Queen Danielle Harris, who starred as Michael’s newest target (and niece), Jamie Lloyd.

The series then began its long and steady decline in Halloween 5: The Revenge of Michael Myers. For the most part, the movie was a recycled version of every other slasher of the ’80s. Michael Myers chases, finds, and kills any unfortunate victim that crosses his path. Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers was released in 1995 and was heavily panned … and I mean heavily. The film holds a 9% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, making it by far the worst film in the series (and that’s saying something).

In 1998, 20 years after the premiere of the original Halloween movie, Jamie Lee Curtis reprised her iconic role as Laurie Strode in Halloween H20: 20 Years Later. This marked Curtis’ first appearance in the series since Halloween II in 1981 and her return to the role that established her as an actress. With this film, the Halloween franchise had a lot to prove. It needed to show the world that Michael Myers was still scary and Laurie Strode was still relevant to a new generation of viewers. H20 needed to be great, and luckily, it was. Here’s why.

The return of Jamie Lee Curtis

Laure Strode (Jamie Lee Curtis) wields an ax, ready to kill Michael in Halloween H20
Image courtesy of Miramax

Finally, after being absent from four films, Jamie Lee Curtis returned for Halloween: H20. This not only sent a message that H20 would be a return to form, but it also showed the series still had star power. In the movie, Curtis reprises her role as Laurie Strode, who was killed offscreen in a plane crash in Halloween 4.  In H20, she reveals she faked her own death in order to escape Michael Myers for good. Now, she’s the headmistress at a remote prep school in Northern California, safely secluded away from the world … or so she thinks.

First and foremost, Curtis gave a great performance, bringing a level of distinction to the series that had been missing for decades. On top of that, she’s a character the audience cares about and has a history with. When watching Halloween 6, you don’t really care if a then-unknown Paul Rudd dies because he’s just some random guy who pops up in the sixth installment of a franchise.

You do care if Curtis dies though. By 1998, Curtis had fully cemented herself as the ultimate Scream Queen, not just from Halloween, but also for starring in movies like The Fog, Terror Train, and Prom Night as well. For horror fans, it was thrilling to see Curtis return to a franchise that many thought had puttered out and died.

The location was fantastic

Sarah's body is hung from the light switch in the pantry in Halloween H20
Image courtesy of Miramax

Having Laurie Strode hiding out in a rural prep school not only fit the character perfectly, but it also made for an excellent setting for the movie. The original Halloween was so successful because it was all about the chase. There was genuine terror and suspense in watching Michael Myers lurk and hide in a sleepy, and seemingly safe, small town. Giving him free run of a remote prep school (which is completely deserted aside from Curtis and a few students thanks to a field trip to Yosemite that’s taken the entire student body into the mountains) was brilliant.

The school’s design also added to the suspense. Built into a series of mission-style buildings, the school was a winding maze of hallways, dormitories, classrooms, and cafeterias. It had a level of thought and intricacy that the Halloween franchise hadn’t seen in a long time.

A great example of this is the film’s clever use of a dumbwaiter. In one of the early scenes, a student is seen working in the kitchen, using the device that transports dishes or small packages from one floor to another, making it seem like just another day at school. But once the killing starts, Michael uses it as a hiding place for a body, and then, to escape Myers, Sarah (Jodi Lyn O’Keefe) has to shove herself inside the dumbwaiter (next to her dead boyfriend) to try and escape. H20′s ability to realize and utilize its setting made the school come to life, giving the film a tangible feeling that had been lost in the previous sequels.

The movie had great characters

LL Cool J reads a passage from his novel to his girlfriend in the movie Halloween H20
Image courtesy of Miramax

Curtis’ return was more than just a gimmick to attract audiences. In the film, she’s dealing with trauma, unable to let go of her constant fear that Michael will someday return. It’s ruined her romantic relationships and is even causing her teenage son (Josh Hartnett) to become distant. Her character feels real and damaged…which is exactly how Laurie Strode would feel after a lifetime of running and hiding.

The other characters have a personality too, they’re more than just bodies for Myers to slash through. Ronny (LL Cool J) is the school’s security guard, but he’s also an aspiring novelist wanting to write romantic fiction; John (Josh Hartnett) is Strode’s son, who is desperate to live his life and escape her overbearing paranoia; and Will (Adam Arkin) is the school’s guidance counselor who is also in a secret relationship with Strode.

In fact, aside from the first kills of the movie that take place before the opening credits, the real action doesn’t start until about 46 minutes and Michael’s first kill isn’t until 58 minutes in. A good chunk of H20 is about building the story and the characters, making it much more impactful when Michael finally shows up.

Fun fact: Jamie Lee Curtis’ mom, Janet Leigh, also has a small part in the film. It’s not only an Easter egg for fans because Leigh is Curtis’ mom, but also because Leigh is a horror legend herself, having starred in Psycho (yes, that’s her in the infamous shower scene).

Curtis was reborn as a Final Girl

Laurie Strode finally sees Michael Myers through a window in Halloween H20
Image courtesy of Miramax

Jamie Lee Curtis was already a notable Scream Queen and Final Girl before H20, but in the film, she had a bit of a rebirth. Toward the end, Curtis decides to stay and fight Michael. She sends her son and his girlfriend (Michelle Williams) away from the school and locks the gates as they leave. While now commonplace in the new reboot trilogy, H20 was the first film where Curtis willingly decided to stay and fight, realizing it was her destiny to kill Michael herself.

The moment that shift happens, Laurie Strode’s character changes. She goes from hunted to hunter, and the cat-and-mouse chase begins. It was also one of the first times in horror history where a Final Girl willingly decides to stay behind and fight, not because she needs to survive, but because she wants to.

Strode could have left with her son, escaping and giving herself another year (or potentially more) of freedom. But instead, she chose to stay. In order to give herself her life back and to ensure her son’s safety, she knew she couldn’t just run away once again. Older, wiser, and bearing more responsibility, Strode took on a new role in H20.

It breathed new life into a stale franchise

Halloween H20: 20 Years Later | 'The Boy Behind The Mask' (HD) - Jamie Lee Curtis | MIRAMAX

It could be said that H20 wasn’t just a great film, but also saved the entire franchise. Halloween 6‘s box office gross was only a little over $15 million … an absolutely abysmal return for what was once one of the biggest horror franchises ever. But just three years three later, H20 went on to gross $55 million in the U.S. and an additional $20 million in overseas markets.

It performed better than the other recent entries because it helped reground the series. All the Satanic cult plot threads and even the idea of Michael Myers being immortal were scrapped for a more realistic, earthly portrayal of the killer. By bringing the series back to its roots, it felt more real and scary. Making Michael Myers mortal made him scarier because he was now a human killing his family … something that is horrific, but that also happens in real life.

H20 also helped bring back a lot of suspense that was lost in previous sequels. It had way fewer kills than Halloween 4, 5, and 6, making the movie less about being a brainless splatterfest and more about the fear of a lurking killer — the same type of horror that made the original so successful in 1978.

Was it all for nothing?

Michael Myers breaks his hand through a glass door in Halloween (2018)
Image courtesy of Miramax and Blumhouse

Sadly, after breathing fresh life into the franchise, the series once again managed to destroy itself with 2002’s unbearably boring Halloween Resurrection which featured a lackluster cast that couldn’t act and killed Curtis off in the first 15 minutes. It was supposed to be shocking to see the franchise kill off its star in the first scene, but in reality, it was an omen of what was in store … bad decisions. Resurrection had no twists or turns or suspense or fun of any kind. It was a B movie that somehow got released in theaters, completely killing the second life H20 had created for the reawakened franchise.

The new reboot trilogy (which itself isn’t that good) has completely ignored the previous timeline, claiming that the 2018 film picks up after Halloween II. Had it been a stellar film with outstanding sequels, it maybe could have gotten away with turning the previous installments into bastard children it pretends don’t exist, but with Halloween Kills holding a lousy 39% on Rotten Tomatoes (much less than H20), the new series honestly has no right to disregard the past films.

Halloween H20 has also gotten the raw end of the deal in other ways too. Some fans have come to the defense of Halloween III and The Curse of Michael Myers in recent years, loving the fact that they were hated upon release and seen as black sheep in the franchise. H20 is still too new, executing its suspense without flair, to receive that revisionist critical praise.

And so, H20 remains the true black sheep of the Halloween franchise, a film that gets no respect because it’s merely good, not great like the original, campy like the third and sixth installments, or new like the 2018 version. Yet H20 is worthy to be considered as not only a good Halloween installment, but one of the best sequels in the horror genre.

The film brought the series back from the dead and eliminated most of the pointless mythology that had bogged down the sequels.  It also enabled the franchise to compete against the new slasher films of the late ’90s like Scream and I Know What You Did Last Summer, introducing a new generation to The Shape and his weird connection to Laurie Strode. Most importantly, it brought back Jamie Lee Curtis to her roots as a Final Girl and gave her a role worthy of her underrated talents, which had been wasted in family fare like House Arrest and awful comedies like Fierce Creatures.

With the release of Halloween Ends, it’s time to pay proper respect to the film sequel that truly legitimized Laurie’s traumatic legacy and brought a nearly-dead franchise back to life.

You can stream Halloween H20: 20 Years Later on almost every streaming service including YouTube and Apple TV.

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