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'Halloween: H20': It's Quick With the Dead

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 4, 1998

  Movie Critic

Halloween: H20 Jamie Lee Curtis is back for a rematch with Michael Myers in "Halloween: H20." (Dimension)

Steve Miner
Jamie Lee Curtis;
Josh Hartnett;
Adam Arkin;
Michelle Williams;
Adam Hann-Byrd;
Jodi Lyn O'Keefe;
LL Cool J;
Chris Durand
Running Time:
1 hour, 22 minutes
Under 17 restricted

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In "Halloween: H20," they don't have to cut to the chase; it's all chase.

Hasty, doltish and, thank God, short, the movie watches as, yet again, a blank-masked psychopath named Michael Myers folds, spindles and mutilates his way through a batch of high school seniors. We've only seen this six times before.

What's missing is the sense of Puritan retribution the original "Halloween" creator, John Carpenter, brought to the canon, a brilliant stroke that gave the first film a titillating subtext. Carpenter's Mike did only "bad girls" while sparing the virginal, the cheerful and the perky. This new Mikey: He'll kill anything.

What's not missing is Jamie Lee Curtis, the original virgin survivor of 20 years ago, then as now Mike's sister – talk about a dysfunctional family! Like Mikey, she's grown up; unlike her brother (who's been in an asylum for two decades), she can be a virgin no more, as she has a 17-year-old son (Josh Hartnett). She also has a boyfriend, played by Adam Arkin, a counselor at the posh private high school where Curtis is headmistress. She's also got a motherly secretary, who in real life is her mother, the peppy Janet Leigh.

Do you get the idea all these successful professional actors should be doing something better with their time than acting in movies like this? Slasher films were a famous late-'70s entry-level ordeal for young actors – besides Curtis, Crispin Glover and Corey Feldman come to mind, but the real trophy of the oeuvre was Kevin Bacon (an arrow through his chest – from the back). But Curtis, Leigh and Arkin are grown-ups, with mutual funds, mortgages, IRAs; they know what escrow means and how to apply for a tax extension. They balance checkbooks, drive in carpools, drink martinis. Really, is this any way for an adult to act?

Here's the story, all of it, all its nuances, subtleties, subtexts and symbols included: Michael comes back. So it's not a "story" at all, but just behavior arranged sequentially, stemming from his intractable nihilism, which requires that he kill everything that carries his own DNA as well as anybody in the same, or substantially similar, Zip code.

Michael, behind the William Shatner mask that he wears even in public – gee, nobody notices – escapes from his sanitarium and bloodily tracks his sister down; the killing starts, usually with a kitchen knife, though a corkscrew comes in mighty handy, as does a fire ax of the sort commonly found in today's high schools. To juice up the tension, one of the potential victims is Curtis's own son, which would be Michael's nephew, for those inclined to work out the genealogy.

The movie, directed by Steve Miner, a "Friday the 13th" vet, never quite gins up the giddy, sick, politically incorrect power of the more high-powered "Screams" of late. It actually seems rather sedate, kill-wise, treating us to mere flashes of blood torrents, but no true details of evisceration as in the fabled days of gore.

But – thank God for small mercies – it's over so fast! Barely 82 minutes long, it's as if one day on the set, everybody looked at each other and decided mutually: Enough is enough. Let's just end the damn thing and go home early.


© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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