2018 is a big year for Halloween. John Carpenter’s iconic slasher film celebrates it’s 40th anniversary this October. That same month, David Gordon Green reboots the franchise anew with a sequel that rewrites Laurie Strode’s history, shelving everything after the end of the first film. But lest we forget, it’s also the 20th anniversary of another Halloween sequel that pulled the same trick, 1998’s Halloween H20, which arrived in theaters 20 years after the original (hence that horrible title) and brought Jamie Lee Curtis back to the franchise for the first time since 1981’s Halloween II by ignoring all the sequels that came after.
In essence, Halloween H20 took the franchise back to basics; the old-school essentials from the original slasher craze. Curtis’ return as Laurie Strode wasn’t just a momentous occasion for fans, it underscored a decision to wipe out the doomsday cults, psychic powers, and all the wild diversions that fueled Michael Myers’ journey through five sequels and countless victims. Halloween H20 was all about getting back the simplicity: Laurie Strode vs. her crazy, kitchen-knife-wielding brother.
Of course, Laurie wasn’t a precocious teenager any more. By the time we catch up with her in H20, she’s a grown woman, a mother, and a survivor. A functioning alcoholic, Laurie is mostly coping with her PTSD — she sustains a romantic relationship, a career as the dean of a private school, and she’s raising a son, John (Josh Hartnett). But the cracks are showing, particularly in her relationship with John, who naturally bucks at her paranoid helicopter parenting. He’s a good kid, more Laurie than Michael if we’re picking a branch on the family tree, but he’s a teenager in need of freedom, and when he and his friends sneak past school security to skip a field trip, H20 sidesteps the retro slasher vibe and leans into the trends of the contemporary teen slashers that dominated theatrical horror in the 1990s.
That makes Halloween H20 a fascinating piece of cinema that somehow encapsulates decades’ worth of slasher aesthetic into a single, slightly sloppy, but mostly effective horror movie. Heavily rewritten from a script and story by Robert Zappia, H20 recruited 90s horror heavyweight Kevin Williamson (who also wrote Scream, I Know What You Did Last Summer and The Faculty) to bring his signature touch, ensuring that H20 feels like a prime product of its era (well, that and the cast of familiar teen heartthrobs and WB stars). While the dialogue may not be self-aware and meta on the level of Scream or even The Faculty, H20 represents a crescendo in the intertextual trends of the era; a self-contained crystallization of the slasher genre that’s equal parts reboot, sequel, and sometimes even a bit of a remake.
H20 doesn’t just nod to Carpenter’s original, it often mirrors it directly. Take, for instance, the sequence where Molly (Michelle Williams) spots Michael Myers for the first time, glimpsing him out her classroom window. It’s a near copycat of the scene where Laurie spies The Shape in Halloween, even down to the on-the-nose lectures about fate from the instructors. Except H20 inverts it and makes it a piece of self-commentary, because the instructor is Laurie, lecturing Molly on taking responsibility for your monsters, even as she fears her brother may be coming back to town at any moment. There’s also the return (and demise) Marion Chambers, former nurse of Donald Pleasance‘s franchise icon Sam Loomis.